I started smoking at a very young age, pilfering Herbert Tareyton’s, Viceroy’s, Salem’s, Winton’s, or whatever was the cigarette du jour, out of my mother’s purse. I can remember being as young as eight taking a puff or two on the cancer sticks. I didn’t inhale at that age but just puffed and blew the smoke out emulating my mother. During junior and senior high school I continued to buy and bum the smokes not from addiction but from thinking it was cool. Being in a Doo Wop signing group I tended to limit the nicotine that I exposed myself to thinking it would hinder my 1st tenor voice. Whether it be the nicotine and tars or the testosterone, my voice eventually deepened causing me to abandon the tenor voice anyway.
During my three years in the army I began to smoke cigarettes quite regularly. There were several reasons for that as I recall. One, almost all soldiers smoked, hence prompting me to fit in. Two, there were down times, especially overseas, where boredom got the better of you and it was just something to do and have in your hand to supplement the whiskey glass. Booze was always cheap and readily available, tempting even the strongest amongst us.
When I got out of the military in 1968 I had weaned myself from the cigarettes and actually could just quit cold turkey whenever I felt I wanted or needed to. Three weeks after getting out of the army I landed a technician job with Pacific Telephone in Sacramento, Ca. In about four months I had successfully passed my apprenticeship and was fully qualified to work unsupervised. With that accreditation I also became eligible and expected to provide coverage on weekends for the evening and night crews as the phone company was a 24/7/365 operation. The lower seniority employees, as I was, had to cover the 4 PM – 12 midnight and the 12 midnight – 8 AM shifts on Saturdays and Sundays.
I hadn’t smoked for probably six months and one night, or early Saturday morning at the toll office I was bored out of my gourd. There was nothing going on at the office, I was the only person occupying the entire 8th floor, all the trouble tickets had been resolved. No one was calling from distant offices to test a circuit or fix a broken private line or data circuit. At two or three in the morning you couldn’t call home and talk to the wife or kids and the equipment bays and frames made radio reception impossible.
There was a vending machine in the hall by the elevator and I decided I would buy a pack of cigarettes to smoke just to pass the time until 8 AM when my relief person would be there. I bought the cigarettes and received a free packet of matches and went into the men’s room to take care of some business that required a guy to sit down. For sanitary reasons I pulled one of the tissues out of the dispenser for use on the toilet seat and poked out the little flap on what I always called the ‘ass gasket’ and it settled gently into the toilet bowl water beneath me.
When I got comfy I opened the filtered Marlboro’s, tapped out a cigarette, and put the opened pack back into my shirt pocket. It took a few strikes with the paper matchsticks but fire eventually sprung from the pack of twenty red heads. I lit the cigarette and took a powerful drag for my first smoke in half a year. Initially the smoke stung my eyes as I pulled the smoke into my lungs and relaxed as I threw the still burning match between my legs into the water below. I thought the smoke would be offensive at first but I was wrong and I closed my eyes for a moment and savored the distraction from doing nothing.
To my surprise I began to smell smoke other than the familiar aroma of the tobacco. The match that I had casually thrown between my legs didn’t make it into the water, it found the dry end of the ‘ass gasket’ flap and as tissue is prone to do ignited into a beautiful yellow flame that began billowing up between my thighs. In a split second the tissue was fully engulfed in flames and I jumped up from the commode to evade the heat. As I jumped up the ‘ass gasket’ came with me due to the pucker factor. I squatted a little bit and the ‘ass gasket’ released and fell into my shorts and began to singe my Jockeys. I began swatting whatever was left of the tissue and did get the flame extinguished from around my ankles. After checking for damage and finding minor skin burns and burnt hair in places where I think you can imagine, I knew what I had to do.
I took the nineteen smokes remaining in the pack, tore them up in as many pieces as I could and along with the matches threw them in the toilet and sent them on their way with an exaggerated flush. So, in 1968, 42 years ago, at the time of this writing, I quit smoking for good. I need no warning label to convince me that smoking can be hazardous to your health and your manhood as well.