The Lyin' Dutchman, age 7The Lyin’ Dutchman, age 7

Smoking kills. Apparently, however,  it kills in a decidedly random pattern, as evidenced by my family. We seem to be tougher than cigarettes and there are quite a few of us who smoke like freight trains (present company exempt). We are the family that Big Tobacco wishes they’d known during all of those messy legal troubles a few years back. I’ve watched as my father, The Lyin’ Dutchman himself, swore on his grave to his pulmonologist that he’d never touch another smoke, only to pick up the habit within weeks of his discharge, blowing off his diagnosis of emphysema as “a bad cough”. Hard as a coffin nail, the old man refuses to give up his beloved butts, claiming that they’re really no big deal and that doctors, on the whole, are idiots.

As kids, this presented my brothers and I quite the conundrum. Most kids smoke as a form of rebellion against their oppressive parents who don’t know the meaning of cool. But we were actually encouraged to smoke from, like, age ten. I wasn’t a fan and never could manage to pick up the habit, something which no doubt brought my father great shame. He smoked during meals, in the car, in the shower, in other peoples homes, in stores, at work, at Little League games and any other time he deemed fit. To be fair, when I was growing up, smoking was NOT as socially frowned upon; in fact, if you looked at any faded pics from my youth, at least 87% of the adults are holding on to cigarettes, as ubiquitous as cell phones are today. Auto parts stores had a smoking requirement if you were ever to be taken seriously as a customer.

And this…..this was the environment that The Lyin’ Dutchman was born to inhabit – that era when it was thought that women really did appreciate a nice swat on the ass as they walked by, when veiled bigotry was a way of doing business and cars got 7 miles per gallon. There are pictures of him riding the carousel at Disneyland with a cigarette clenched in his teeth, eyes set with the maniacal intensity of a crusty sea captain, and me on the horse behind him, choking on the smoke and face twisted up tight to avoid his exhaust. All of our household furniture had the associated burns and smelling like Harry’s Cocktail Lounge upon arrival at school was the norm. Unfortunately, as society progressed and we left smoking to angst ridden teens and twenty-something models looking to cover up the scent of their bulimic lunches, The Dutchman chose to remain behind. He still enjoys referring to complete strangers as “sweetheart” and casually muttering racial epithets at dining establishments. And oddly enough, he still seems irritated when informed that he cannot light up in an airplane, an indignation that he’ll remedy by strolling around airports with an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips; this lets everyone know he’s both cool and insane.

Just like they won’t know about life before the personal computer, riding in the back of a truck or the fear we had of the Soviet Union, The Heathens won’t have to worry about growing up in a house where there is the deathly pall of faded yellow on the walls or the mess of ashtrays and the associated stench. On the side of town where I work, we see a substantial share of folks who are living in squalor, and I’ve come to associate poverty with a certain smell; it always reeks of piss, cigarettes and cat shit. I think that’s a universal odor, known to firefighters, cops and EMS personnel the world over. So where those of my parents generation viewed smoking as a sign of urbane sophistication, I see it as living in a socioeconomic condition where cat waste is considered interior decor. No wonder my father hates cats.

This is not to say there aren’t plenty of good people out there who smoke: we ALL make conscious, horrible decisions when it comes to our habits and vices. I can’t rationalize my partaking of a dip now and then, nor my copious abuse of the liver, but then, when can we rationalize our bad choices? At the very least, should I take up smoking, my family history dictates that I can inhale with impunity. I just need to get my mind around having a cat using my house as a toilet.