I was sitting on a bench with a friend — I have five, plus one close acquaintance — outside on the Square the other day when he pulled a little leather case from his shirt pocket and began the involved process of filling up his vaping contraption for a “smoke.”
The word “smoke” is in quote marks because he’s not really smoking, but every time I type the word “vaping,” my spell-check on this outdated writing machine gets all upset and condescending and asks if I didn’t really mean to type “aping,” “japing,” or “gaping.”
There are too many new words nowadays anyway, so I’ll just stick with “smoking.”
It’s a complicated addiction, this electronic-cigarette smoking, and one I wouldn’t personally get into, mainly because I’m lazy and prefer the simpler vices of the one- or, maybe, two-step varieties.
Whatever the case, my friend, has been trying to quit his two-pack-a-day habit of smoking real cigarettes for years and now believes that sucking nicotine-infused steam into his lungs will put him back on the road to health. I don’t know if it will, but he’s my friend and the reason we — and the four others — remain so is that we don’t much ever get into each other’s business.
He fires up, and we hear a pretty loud “humph” from our left.
One bench over, a frazzled-looking young mother with three kids was changing a yowling little baby’s diaper while, at the same time, trying to prevent what I guessed to be her 3- or 4-year-old son from feeding the half-eaten doughnut he’d scavenged from the trash can to his toddler sister.
“Do you mind!?” the lady says, wiping her baby’s butt, tossing the dirty diaper away and snatching the doughnut out of the other kid’s hand all in one astonishingly fluid motion.
“Mind what?” asks my friend.
“Not smoking,” she says as she installs a new diaper, sanitizes the 3-year-old’s hands and distributes juice boxes before the two words leave her mouth.
“It ain’t real smoke,” my friend says.
“I know that!” she snaps. “I just don’t want my kids seeing it and thinking its OK to have filthy habits”
“Tell ’em not to look at me, then,” my friend suggests. “And you might want to think about not exposin’ the rest of us to your nekkid baby, too. I swear, could’ve gone the rest of my life without seein’ a nekkid baby.”
I settle back in the bench and get comfortable, excited at the prospect of witnessing my pal getting his butt kicked by super mom and already anticipating how I will embellish the story as I tell it to our other friends.
All we get, though, is a how-dare-you glare and another loud “humph” as she packs her young’ns up and strides away to, presumably, report us to the role model police.
“I get that all the time,” he says, appearing bewildered while putting the tube to his lips, inhaling deeply and then exhaling a dense plume of “vapor” that momentarily blots out the sun.
“Here I am, spendin’ extra money on this damned thing so I won’t bother people with my second-hand smoke, and I still get jumped on,” he says. “I can’t hardly even sit out in the open air anymore and smoke a fake cigarette. Next thing you know, they’re gonna ban drinkin’ in bars and eatin’ in restaurants. Did you know that in New York City you can’t even buy a big Co-Cola anymore if you want one? What the hell is goin’ on?”
While I’m a big fan of bans on smoking real cigarettes in restaurants and enclosed spaces and bans on things that hurt other people, I think my friend is right about us getting terrifyingly close to becoming an absolute nanny-state society.
This is the society I live in, though, and despite the fact there are way too many people around these days who are absolutely convinced they know better than I do how I should live my life, I think I’ll stick around. The only thing I ask is that we put a little more effort into banning other second-hand stuff that, in my opinion, is a lot more obnoxious than second-hand smoke.
We can begin with a ban on second-hand burritos then start on second-hand brats in public places. I don’t like second-hand self-righteousness, either, or second-hand armchair quarter-backing.
A ban on second-hand MAGA/Democrat/NRA/Republican/Libertarian/PETA propaganda would be nice, and so would a ban on second-hand racism.
Of course, we all need to be protected from second-hand hipness and second-hand cellphone conversations. I’m pretty sick of second-hand lamentations about how awful it is that wealthy people and corporations are somehow being mistreated by the working class.
Second-hand stupidity by elected officials, I believe, has killed a whole lot more people than second-hand smoke. And I would really like to see a ban on second-hand discussions by “the Civil War was not about slavery” defenders and also a ban on second-hand anything that has to do with Facebook, Twitter or Fox News.
I could go on, of course, but y’all get the picture. So, I think I’ll take a nap instead.
I’m really exhausted from the effort of not doing all the things that other people have decided aren’t supposed to be good for me anymore.
William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at