You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it. Robin Williams

Location: Kentucky, United States

Saturday, October 19, 2002

I was sitting in the cafeteria at work looking out the window and watching the smokers trying to hide from the cold wind. Everyone was huddled together and it struck me how strange this might look to someone from outside our culture. Standing in the rain inhaling toxic smoke and fumes from a factory packaged, chemically treated cylinder of dried leaves. Where did we get the idea that this was normal behavior? What line did we cross and how far back did we cross it?

My father’s nickname for many years was “Cigar”, pronounced “See-gar”. He always had one clamped in the side of his mouth and I don’t mean one of those fancy hand-rolled jobs that come in a glass tube. He smoked the cheap ones. We would buy them by the box at Walgreens Drug store. Sometimes he would send me in to get them. They came in a cardboard box printed to look like it was made out of wood. I still have one of the boxes in my closet at home. Dad worked a Civil Service job at Fort Knox, over an hour away, five days a week until he retired. The tar on the inside of the windshield of his Chevy was so thick you could flake it off with your fingernails. I remember lying on the floor in our living room when the air was still and looking up at a layer of smoke hanging above me like low flying cirrus clouds. I thought it was pretty. I was raised in it, and it was part of our childhood fantasies. We had candy cigarettes to puff on; Pall Malls and Camels were our favorites. There were bubble gum cigars that came with a paper wrapper just like a real one, but it wasn’t as much fun as letting the sweet chalky cigarette dangle out the sides of our mouths as we played grown-up games.

My grandfather raised two acres of tobacco out back of our house each year. There is a black and white photo of me around age three leaning next to Papaw. We are standing in front of his Tobacco “base”; the plants are huge behind me. It was a good year for the crop. He must have felt the need to preserve the memory for later generations. He raised tobacco until I was old enough to help. Most people around here tell me I was lucky to have missed it. It is very hard, messy work, especially when it comes to stripping time when the leaves have to be pulled off and graded for size and quality. I always wanted to ride the tobacco planter though. Papaw always hired it done. I would watch as the tractor pulled the planter down the rows, two people riding behind, alternating placing the tender plants in the fingers of the machine to be placed in the ground. Later Papaw had to go out and “top” the plants by cutting out the flowering spike. This made the leaves grow stronger. “The leaves are where the money is”. Then at harvest the plants were cut and hung upside down in the dark barn to air cure. When the tobacco came into “case” the stripping began, ending in the tobacco being brought to sale at auction.

This is tobacco country. Brown and Williamson have offices in the Galleria, in downtown Louisville. The ashtrays out front always seem to be overflowing. Whether this is decoration or not I don’t know, but I have never seen anyone actually smoking there. Though I must admit I always felt uncomfortable walking by and usually hurried along. The place exudes power, big money power. I felt that way even when I was one of them, even when I was a smoker.

My first tobacco experience was like many young boys. On an overnight high school band trip we decided to pick up some Swisher Sweets cigars, the cherry flavored ones with the little plastic holder. That night after the band contest we were all big men, smoking and playing poker, trying not to show how queasy we were from the fumes. Later while working my first job as a bus boy at Rough River State Park, I tried a pipe. I bought it in the park gift shop and picked up the tobacco from a bait shop on the way home. I liked the way the wood looked on the bowl, how it felt in my hand. I did not like how hard it was to keep lit or how I could never get the knack of holding it in my mouth without using my hands. The smell of pipe smoke always seemed pleasant to me. The reality was a little harder to swallow. This lasted until one night after work, while driving my used Ford Maverick at high speed along a country road I dropped the lit pipe in my lap. The car and I both survived, but after putting out the fire in my groin area the pipe left via the driver’s side window.

My next job was in fast food. I met and dated this little girl. She smoked and all her friends smoked. Soon I was smoking too. At least I was working on it. Starting smoking is not an easy thing to do. Breathing in a lung full of smoke while trying to look cool takes practice. While working at the grill flipping burgers I would take a break every thirty minutes or so, go to the bathroom and smoke as much of a cigarette as I could get down. I would wait until the dizziness subsided then go back to work. This process repeated itself for several days until I was proudly smoking a whole cigarette at a time. I was not getting a whole lot of work done in this period though, but as a teenager, I did have my priorities.

I ended up a smoking Respiratory Therapist. It is odd how many Respiratory Technicians smoke. Before they did away with smoking in our hospital the ceiling tiles in our department were yellow from nicotine stains. We would all come down from the floor from giving “Lungers” breathing treatments and light up. I have worked in the field over twenty years. If you think dying of cancer is bad, you haven’t seen anything. Take in a deep breath and hold it, now let out about half of it and hold it again. Without letting that volume of air out try talking for a few minutes. That is what living with Emphysema is like. I don’t want to get too graphic here and patient confidentiality keeps me from being very specific, but I have seen people coughing up sputum, working so hard to clear it they throw up. Then while still gasping and weak light up another cigarette and not have enough air to smoke it with.

I smoked for thirteen years. Quitting was easy; it only took four years and a divorce. Actually, smoking had nothing to do with the divorce. The divorce made the smoking worse. Before that, I had tried tapering down and quitting. This rarely works; until you stop, you’re still smoking but you’re telling yourself you have really quit. I tried cold turkey, keeping a diary of how many days it had been since my last smoke. That actually lasted for over a year, but I could tell you to the minute when I had smoked my last cigarette. When your this preoccupied with something it still has control over you whether you admit it or not. Then the divorce came. I started smoking upwards of three packs a day for about a year. I did not need a lighter any more; I just kept lighting one off the other. Then I met Bev, she had Rachel and Jason and I knew I had found my home. I did not want the kids exposed to smoking and so I laid them down. Now it was not about me anymore. I loved my kids before they were even mine. The cigarette addiction was buried by love. I went from a three pack a day habit to nonsmoker in two weeks. Now, fifteen years later I can not even stand to be in the room with tobacco smoke. Sometimes I am a little too vocal about smoking, and I did not intend to get preachy here, but as a reformed smoker, I have been there. I know it is possible to quit, and as a Respiratory Therapist working in Tobacco Country I have seen many people’s lives destroyed by smoking. There are so many ways to quit now. There is no reason not to try.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Where I've been

Big Mamma died. It was the most beautiful service I have ever seen. Family brought in her handmade quilts and sewing. Pictures were everywhere. The family tree on poster board going all the way back to Daniel Boone's brother. A tape was played of her singing childrens songs and telling stories. I saw family laughing and crying at the same time. At the gravesite, a grand-daughter recited the final stanza of a poem that Big had known since the fourth grade.

At the same time we found out my wife needed surgery. That happened a few days after the funeral. it's been a hard couple of weeks.At one point I tried working on the blog photo page with a new editor and trashed the whole site. I lost all the archive files and if it hadn't been for backing up the original site it would have been gone too.

The youngest is back from a trip to Disney World with his cousins. We had
missed him badly. J, left alone, has made the coolest desktop ever for our
XP PC. It's all Apple OSX. He's used a bunch of emulators, tweaked and
prodded to make it work. It's really cool. I'll try to get him to show me
what he's done and I'll leave the links here.

The new photolog is now on the site. Tell me what you think. Another Time.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Later he'll eat crow

Boy rings police over grandma's dumplings
Tue Oct 1, 9:23 AM ET

LINZ, Austria (Reuters) - A four-year-old Austrian boy was so disgusted by his grandmother's plum dumplings that he dialled emergency services for help, Austrian state television ORF has reported. When the startled policeman on the other end of the line in Linz, Upper Austria, asked the young caller what he thought the police should do, the boy was clueless, Tuesday's report said. The officer pleaded with the boy to give grandmother's plum dumplings (Zwetschkenknoedel) another chance. He agreed and hung up.

This or That Tuesday

1. Front or rear wheel drive?
Rear wheel: How many race cars are front wheel drive? That should tell you something. my wife and I keep revisiting this discussion. She prefers front wheel drive. She says because the engine weight is over the drive train the car is less likely to lose traction. I agree, but have you ever lost traction with a front wheel drive car? The back end has a mind of its own. Once during a bad winter storm I drove over twelve miles on the parkway and stayed in a skid the entire way. It was fun, and no there were not any other cars out. I'm "one of those crazy people" who like to get out on the roads when it snows. That is until we bought a front wheel drive.

2. Car or truck or van?

Two brand new SL Saturns; we could do a commercial.

3. Fancy or utilitarian?

A car is just a tool to get me from one place to another. It's like the old saying; if I've got any money left over from buying books, I buy food and clothing.

4. Power or manual windows/locks?

Power; they came standard on the model we bought. I must say however I am completely spoiled by the keychain clicker. I've forgotten how to open the trunk with a key.

5. Small econobox or giant luxo cruiser?
See SL above.

6. Factory or aftermarket radio?

Factory, but it is the only thing on a car that I will alter. Satellite radio has my interest.

7. Lease or buy?

I know of too many horror stories to ever consider a lease.

8. Perform own maintenance or farm it out?

One of the best things about Saturn is the Car Care program. For less than the price of the oil changes I get ALL scheduled maintenance through 60,000 miles.

9. Hi-test brand name or cheap-o fuel?

Low grade brand name.

10. Run-it-till-the-wheels-fall-off or a new one every two years?

Our last car had to be hauled away for junk. Like the "Deacons One Horse Shay" everything was worn out. If you have never heard of the Deacon here it is.

The Deacon's Masterpiece

HAVE you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it--ah, but stay,
And I'll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits,--
Have you ever heard of that, I say?

Seventeen hundred and fifty-five,
Georgius Secundus was then alive,--
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock's army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.

Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always somewhere a weaker spot,--
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace,--lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will,--
Above or below, or within or without,--
And that's the reason, beyond a doubt,
A chaise breaks down, but doesn't wear out.

But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do),
With an "I dew vum," or an "I tell yeou,"
He would build one shay to beat the taown
'N' the keounty 'n' all the kentry raoun';
It should be so built that it couldn' break daown:
--"Fur," said the Deacon, "'t's mighty plain
Thut the weakes' place mus' stan' the strain;
'N' the way t' fix it, uz I maintain,
Is only jest
T' make that place uz strong uz the rest."

So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That couldn't be split nor bent nor broke,--
That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thills;
The crossbars were ash, from the strightest trees,
The panels of white-wood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;
The hubs of logs from the "Settler's ellum,"--
Last of its timber,--they couldn't sell 'em,
Never an axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips,
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he "put her through."--
"There!" said the Deacon, "naow she'll dew!"

DO! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and Deaconess dropped away,
Children and grandchildren--where were they?
But there stood the stout old-one-hoss shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day!

EIGHTEEN HUNDRED; -- it came and found
The Deacon's masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hundred increased by ten;--
"Hahnsum kerridge" they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came;--
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arrive,
And then came fifty, and FIFTY-FIVE,

Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This as a moral that runs at large;
Take it,--You're welcome.--No extra charge.)
FIRST OF NOVEMBER--the-Earthquake-day,--
There are traces of age in the one-hoss-shay,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There couldn't be,--for the Deacon's art
Had made it so like in every part
That there wasn't a chance for one to start.
For the wheels were just as strong as the thills,
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floor,
And the whipple-tree neither less nor more,
And spring and axle and hub encore,
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out!

First of November, 'Fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
"Huddup!" said the parson. Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday text,--
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the--Moses--was coming next.
All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet'n'-house on the hill.
--First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill,--
And the parson was sitting up on a rock,
At half-past nine by the meet'n'-house clock,--
Just the hour of the Earthquake shock!
--What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you're not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once,--
All at once, and nothing first,--
Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
Logic is logic. That's all I say.

Oliver Wendell Holmes