Sometimes, as I wander I wonder:
There is strange irony in the Pentagon's possible ban against smoking in the military. Asking soldiers addicted to Pall Malls or Marlboros to quit smoking for health's sake, when he or she may die from a bullet or an IED within the next 30 minutes or so, won't play well among the troops.
This is total turn-around for the Pentagon, with its history of getting youths hooked on nicotine. When in the Air Force in the South Pacific, I, along with my buddies, were issued weekly rations of free cigarettes. Not yet caught in this web of addiction, I passed mine on to my buddies.
I was less generous at the end of the war when stationed just outside Tokyo. A pack of cigarettes could be swapped for a six-course dinner at Tokyo's renowned Imperial Hotel, or a half-case of good Japanese beer, and other pleasures long denied the troops.
But that was in another time and place and culture.
Would that everyone would quit smoking by choice rather than by edict, simply for the many benefits of not being enslaved by such a noxious habit.
The first serious effort to curb smoking was launched by Joe Califano, secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, in the late '70s, when labeling cigarettes as hazardous to one's health was initiated. At the time, an N.C. Tobacco Institute representative said that Califano was discriminating against the tobacco industry.
"You know that social diseases -- such as gonorrhea and syphilis -- are just as much if not more cause for concern than smoking," he argued.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Califano is said to have replied, "But I can't figure out the best place to put the warning label."
Even if the Pentagon's proposed ban is approved, it won't go into effect for 20 years or so and will be accomplished by recruiting only nonsmokers. By then, thousands more young Americans will have died from war or from smoking.
Being really poor
When I read that Frank McCourt, author of "Angela's Ashes," had died, I thought of his classic treatise on what being truly poor must be like.
Oh, yes, many among us have thought we were poor at one time or another in our lives . Have you noticed how political candidates like to cite as a badge of honor their hardscrabble days as qualification for holding public office?
Few Americans in recent history have experienced the poverty McCourt knew growing up in Ireland as the son of a loving but alcoholic father who usually stopped by the pub on the way home on payday and drank up most of his meager earnings. McCourt was forever haunted by the memory of watching a baby sister and toddler twin brothers die.
During World War II, when his dad was leaving Ireland to work in a British munitions factory, McCourt's mother somehow procured an egg for the father's farewell breakfast.
"Dad peels off the shell. He slices the egg five ways and gives each of us a bit to put on our bread," McCourt writes. "Mam says Don't be such a fool. Dad says, What would a man be doing with a whole egg to himself. Mam had tears on her eyelashes."
Now that's being poor, the likes of which few of us today have encountered.
Along with free air
There's an old Doris Day movie titled "With Six You Get Egg Roll." I thought of the term when we recently stopped at a gas station near Burlington.
Not only do you get cheap, or at least cheaper, gas. You also get free air, free coffee and a free sampling of Christian soul-saving efforts.
A sign at the pump reads: "Pay after Pumping. We Trust Our Customers."
Inside, at the cash register, is a stack of free cards urging customers to attend a nearby Baptist church. The card asked "Have you obeyed Acts 2:37?"
At home I looked up the reference. The answer is yes. But that doesn't mean I'm guaranteed a reserved seat in heaven.
Anyway, I imagine that that Jews, Catholics, Muslims, nonbelievers and others are welcome. As long as they pay after pumping.
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