Everybody was doing it. My position was like your mother’s. If everybody was crossing the highway blindfolded, would you do that? If everybody was poking themselves in the eye with a sharp stick, would you do that?
Mickey Mantle smoked, I knew, because a big ad in the sports magazine said so. Probably Joe DiMaggio too. I still thought it was stupid. We all wanted to try it because, what the hell, your dad did. Your big brothers too. Maybe even your mom and your big sister. Priests. Nuns, for all I knew. So we tried it but I was only doing it on the dare and, once I showed I could cough like all those guys coming back from the war, I said screw that. It stinks and it hurts. Also there was the time my father discovered my Chesterfields in a drawer. Pretty embarrassing to be that dumb. There wasn’t any real punishment for getting busted. After all, he was the guy who drove me to the family market with the window down in all types of weather so he could spit out all that crap he was coughing up with the boxes of Smith Bros. cough drops on the dash. There was plenty of coughing all around. They didn’t show that too much in the movies where all the cool people were firing up fags left and right. I was asthmatic at an early age and missed a lot of school with respiratory stuff.
Chewing tobacco was the baseball thing; still is, I guess. Nellie Fox with that squirrel mug did not look attractive to me but he was a hell of a player. Many others of course. We had a neighbor who was a truck driver and his thing was to mow his lawn while smoking a stogie with a pinch of snuff going at the same time and breaks for sipping dago red. We all admired Joey. But chew was, and is, way too gross for me. Adults did a lot of stupid things but I wasn’t going to be like that.
When someone got gassed on the base paths or after doing something strenuous, well that was a clue that this young man was a smoker. There were more than a few who were really good at 12 or 13 years old but who began to look suddenly old by 18 or 19. At the same time, if you were growing up to be a man there were certain things expected of you and then, if you did what was expected, well, you could choose your personal rewards and they were your own business and no one else could say shit. I understood that somewhat, but why anyone would choose such unpleasant, smelly things to do was a bit beyond me. I liked running as fast as I could more than just about anything. I had really had enough moments of difficult breathing and saw no reason to add more. That was for dumb asses.