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Remember when people used to smoke EVERYWHERE? I was bold enough to light a cigarette on a public bus once. The look I got from the bus driver prompted me to toss it out the window unfinished but what made me think I could get away with that? It was 1991. Much more of the world smelled of cigarette smoke in those days. Our inconsiderately deadly habit was justified and supported because there were special snowflake sections in restaurants made just for us poison cloud makers. Bars? Forget it. If you came to a bar to complain about cigarette smoke, you may as well grab a six pack and drink at home because nobody was gonna give up their cigarette chaser because you weren't savvy enough to realize that smoking and drinking were inseparable. I'll put my cigarette out on a Southwest flight but I'll never concede the bar!

I was in Newburgh, New York in September 2004 for my grandmother's funeral. I was in a bar down the street from my mother's apartment, waiting for my brother to show up and join me for some drinks. I asked the bartender for an ashtray.

"Why do you need an ashtray? Just flick the ashes on the ground."

HUH? I'm not flicking ashes on the bar floor. That's just rude. It's LITTERING for christsake!

The kind, elderly bartender looked at me with pity because he realized what I didn't know.

"Oh. You don't know that New York banned smoking in bars. Hahaha! It's okay, honey. What would you like to drink?"

Fucking California! They started this shit and now it's gonna spread to OHIO. WTF am I supposed to do at a bar with no fucking cigarette? Every bar is ruined now. Thanks a lot, America! I can't wait to go home. I'm not even going straight to the house. I'm gonna stop at a bar, have a vodka and a fucking cigarette like the Founding Fathers intended!

Next thing I knew, Ohio had banned smoking in bars. Fuck my life. I'm drinking at home from now on.

Fast forward to 2012.

I worked as a bartender for a few weeks recently. There's one asshole who tries to get away with smoking in the bathroom everyday. I'm about to kill this fucker. What kind of fiend can't go stand outside and smoke for a few minutes? Take the glass with you and GTFO this bar with that contraband!

Because times change.

Why did the times change? How did we adjust so quickly when we were pushed, kicking and screaming to the edge of our wits because the world closed in on us business by business and brick by brick until we weren't welcome anywhere anymore with our cancer sticks?

Because our convictions about being free to kill others with our clouds of death fell on the deaf ears of people who wanted to LIVE. They presented a better case and a stronger argument. And they were right. Me screaming to the heavens; "You can't even smoke on EARTH anymore WTF?!?" seemed silly when the surgeon general made it clear that I was killing myself and other people as well. And they had data that proved their case.

Case closed. Matter of fact, I'm gonna quit smoking. The world has left me behind. I don't want to be left behind. I am a PROGRESSIVE. (and I don't wanna die)

I vaguely remember a world of highways littered with paper, playgrounds strewn with Styrofoam Big Mac boxes and people who left huge piles of used cigarette butts anywhere they felt like it because the ashtray in their car was overflowing. Keep America Beautiful worked overtime since 1953 to bring awareness and action to the issue of pollution and littering but they still had a ways to go.

Around that time (1981), newly inaugurated President Reagan stepped up to endorse the Clean Community System started by the Keep America Beautiful campaign in 1975. With the endorsement of the president, things seemed to move relatively quickly. At least it seemed that way to me as a child of about 7 or 8.

One sunny, warm afternoon in elementary school, we were all rounded up by the teachers who gave us each a trash bag. Like everyone else, I was super psyched to spend the rest of the school day outside doing whatever but what I didn't realize right away is that I was participating in an exercise designed to brainwash me...but in a good way.

We giggled and chased each other around the school grounds, happy to be outside, even if we were doing nothing but picking up stupid papers and old discarded paper cups and sticky food wrappers. We ran after each other with candy wrappers covered in ants, we called each other "litterbugs" and summoned invisible forcefields to protect us from whoever was the current possessor of The Touch. For those of you who aren't familiar with The Touch, it's a horrifying state of infection that occurs when a kid touches something gross. Miraculously, the contagion disappears when the current possessor of The Touch passes it to another kid by the magic of touching their arm, leg or clothing. The newly infected now has the obligation to rid themselves from The Touch by passing it to another kid. Yelling "FORCEFIELD!!!" in time, before the infected kid touches you is your only vaccination against it.

For some reason, my older, more worldly 4th grade friend came up with a plot to snatch a comb from the back pocket of a tall, blonde 6th grader she liked. Operation Take Mike's Comb was promptly aborted when he turned around and chased us with something gross.

So, we spent the day, filling up our bags with litter, wishing everyday was clean-up day. Doing chores at home is never that fun.

At the end of the day, our teachers and our principal gathered us on the kickball blacktop where we, the entire school, joined hands in a circle. There were some words said by grownups that I can't remember and I think we sang a song.

Looking back on that day and all the details I can remember, I get a little misty-eyed. It didn't feel sentimental at the time. I didn't have the capacity for sentimental for something like that, not at that age. It was just a good time and a day we got to spend outside instead of in the stuffy classroom.

We weren't the only kids who would be permanently enlightened by one sunny afternoon having fun and cleaning up our school. This happened at many other schools across the nation.

And the world looks so much better now. I'll carry around a bag of dog poop for blocks until I find a garbage can. People don't generally throw things on the ground anymore. Not much anyway. They get "looks". Fuckin Litterbugs. Did they grow up in the Dark Ages or what?

They get the same looks and fines (if they get caught) I would get if I tried to light a cigarette in a bar in 2013.


I said all that to say this;

The lessons we learn from one day in the afternoon of a child's life should never be taken lightly. I'm turning 40 this year and I'm here to tell the story of that afternoon in my childhood that changed me forever, even if it did lead to the hilarious hypocrisy of me being appalled at a bartender that I thought was suggesting to me that I LITTER the floor with cigarette ashes 23 years later.

I'm here to tell you that I witnessed the world change in at least two major ways that I can name off the top of my head. I'm here to tell you that I remember the world when it was dirty and smoky and littered and nobody gave a crap about things that are normal to give a crap about today.

I'm here to tell you that I'm HERE.

You know who isn't here?

My 14 year old friend, Sonya Crane aka Punkin who died of a gunshot wound to the neck, accidentally discharged by her 13 year old friend who was showing off his parents' gun to a group of kids who cut school to hang out at his house while his parents were working. I don't remember people talking about how fucked up it was that there were so many guns for kids to find. I remember everybody focusing on Sonya doing something "bad" like cutting school. This is why you don't cut school, kids. You could get shot and then you'll all be busted for truancy.

Also not here are 20 kids who died at school a few weeks ago on a peaceful afternoon. They can't come back from the dead when they're 40 years old and describe to us how it feels to be shot and then die. They can't make a PSA about being an innocent victim of an assault weapon. They won't show up in a few decades and write a diary about the bad old days when people roamed the streets with guns that could kill an army of elephants within 60 seconds.

That afternoon in the lives of those 20 children were not spent playing paintball and simulating gun deaths, they actually died. They learned that day to be scared of guns. Millions of other kids and adults who met the same fate learned that, too.

If we will never hear their voices describe the fear and the terror then we have to be their voices. We have to make sure that afternoon in their lives is never forgotten or misinterpreted or made light of. Let's not deny them a chance to change the world just because their voices have been silenced.

If we do that, we will be able to look back on a time when the world was different. The children who grow up in this time may not understand what we've done but at least they'll grow up.

Please. Let's not fight today. Let's dream about a better, safer future like the one we live in. It's not perfect but every new generation makes it better. None of us should have to die for it.

That's all. Have a great day, y'all. :-)

Originally posted to GenXangster on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 07:03 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Beautiful (19+ / 0-)

    I hope your vision comes to pass. I too remember a world of cigarette smoke everywhere. I thought it would never change, and it was a bit of a miracle to me when it did. Changing America's gun culture would be a bigger miracle and one devoutly to be wished for.

    I, too, had a litterbug moment when I was in 6th grade. We were coming back from a field trip - 6 kids in a van driven by a beloved science teacher, Mr. Blake. And for some insane reason, as we were driving through a gritty industrial area, I tossed a paper bag with the remnants of my lunch out the window. And Mr. Blake calmly stopped the car and told me to get out and walk back and pick up the bag. Which I proceeded to do. And from that day I have never, ever, discarded any litter in the wrong place. God bless Mr. Blake.

    I hope you succeed in giving up smoking. It will be so good for your health!

  •  I was always sick in college (14+ / 0-)

    After graduating from a high school where smoking was prohibited anywhere on the school grounds, even for the teachers, I attended a university where everybody smoked everywhere. Some of our professors even lit up in class.

    There was a permanent fog in the hallways, and one basically needed a face mask to enter a professor's office. While I was there, I never made the connection why I was perpetually sick.

    I had a barking cough reminiscent of my grandfather, who had spent five years in a POW camp in Siberia. If there was a cold going around, I would catch it. I missed at least a week of class every semester. I never made the connection, though, because I didn't smoke.

    For one semester, I was an exchange student at a university that had already outlawed smoking. Lo and behold, I was healthy the entire time. No cough, no headaches, no sore throat. I attributed it to the warmer climate. The health problems came  back as soon as I went home. I blamed them on the colder weather.

    The light came on only a few years after I had graduated and went back to my alma mater to visit a former professor of mine. By then, smoking inside the building (except in tenured professors' offices) was outlawed, and I noticed that for the first time ever, I could see all the way down the hallways. Wow, there was a window back there! I never knew.

    Even though my prof's office still smelled like an ash tray, this time I didn't have the urge to cough my lungs out. I finally made the connection, and ever since then, I have not tolerated people smoking indoors around me. Four years of compromised health was enough.

    261.A wealthy man can afford anything except a conscience. -Ferengi Rules of Acquisition

    by MaikeH on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 08:47:08 AM PST

  •  What I most like about the writing (17+ / 0-)

    here is the attitudinal shift subtly extended from self being "imposed upon" as an adult, but accepting something (and making a game of it) so readily as a child when a lesson is being "imposed on" us. I'm a bit older and remember Woodsie Owl for my younger siblings and the Native American crying at seeing litter ads on TV. My mom also got one of those "Thanks for Not Smoking in Our House" stickers for the front door when I was in high school in the 70s. It had a picture of a house as a face, choking on smoke. It didn't stop me from smoking, except in our house of course. What really brings this home is how you present how personally we take the affront when the societal pressure is "for our own good" and society's but seems to impose on our "freedoms" and how acceptable it becomes when the public good (and personal good) gets realized.

    Seat belt laws are another area, and motorcycle helmet laws are another. The latter apply to me because I ride, and I do wear my helmet even going through a state that has no law. I accept that my head, going 60MPH is not really a match for the pavement. And my riders must wear a helmet, too. No exclusions.

    Now the gun thing. These are some really steamed up folk. It's going to take time, as you and others have said. Sorry to hear about punkin. What a terrible loss.

    I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

    by dannyboy1 on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 09:40:56 AM PST

    •  One of the VERY BEST diaries I've read on KOS... (7+ / 0-)

      Like Fishgrease, Meteor Blades, etc.

      Courage is the absence of fear * "Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." -- Jack Layton

      by sturunner on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 11:04:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree.... (6+ / 0-)

        this is what I come here to read and today I found it again.  Thanks for the comparison.  I taught a class last semester and we talked about the benefits of unleaded gasoline.  I told them how quickly the change came about and asked them what had been some of the consequences- were we healthier or were the results insignificant.  They guessed insignificant, but of course the changes were far reaching and beneficial.  Lead turned out to increase blood pressure and now we link it to a decrease in violence.  Changing to lead in the first place was political, and changing back to ethanol as an anti knock agent was also beneficial.  I have been thinking about that comparison, but smoking is a better one.

        You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. Aldous Huxley

        by murrayewv on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 04:27:56 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent diary - t&r'd (14+ / 0-)

    I was just discussing changes in attitude like this with my 30-something son.  For his generation, using seatbelts and asking someone to be a designated driver when you're out drinking is no big deal, and certainly not a measure of his masculinity.  Smoking cigarettes - same thing.    Women aren't automatically measured by the cleanliness of the kitchen floor and bathroom sink (at least not in my neighborhood ;)  nor are men immediately judged by the number of male offspring they've sired.   Attitudes change, and sometimes surprisingly fast.  In my wildest dreams I never hoped we would get to the day when my dear friends could live openly without fear and actually get legally married (after 41yrs together) even though they don't have a vagina or an ovary between the two of them :)  

    I wish it hadn't taken such horror and pain to get all of us talking about guns, but change will happen.  It has to.

    Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable.

    by FindingMyVoice on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 12:35:55 PM PST

  •  I am standing up and cheering! (12+ / 0-)

    in your general direction, from afar. You grabbed me with your first words.

    When it comes to the acceptance of smoking you're completely right, the world has changed.

    And so too will the world change on the matter of guns.

    I feel quite sad to think you lost a young friend all those years ago. Growing up in Canada we did not have a gun problem like you have in the USA.

    But I did lose five of my high school friends to drinking and driving crashes before that was considered to be a serious offense. I wonder what might those kids might have done with another 40 years of life. Very sad to think of all that potential wasted.

    Thanks for the great piece.

  •  I'm not one that cries often, but this (15+ / 0-)

    brought tears to my eyes.  I've had those moments when there's a shift, if you will, and I just know I'm never going to shift back.

    My best friends brother, R.B., was murdered, execution style, when he was only 15 yrs. old. We were 17.  Her mother, my OTHER mom, was unable to function at all And so I, along with a minister,  went with her to identify his body, helped with funeral arrangements, flowers, etc.  As we're picking out an outfit for him, I was literally SLAMMED and suddenly the wall is holding me up. In his bedroom. That moment changed me forever. He was my brother too.  When a tragedy like this happens, the effect on everyone is profound and often, it's years later that we look back, see the back we've been on and understand why.  HE is why I chose to work E.R. for years.

    R.B. wasn't alone. HIS best friend was with him at the time and murdered as well. Their bodies were found along a highway.  
    Several months later, a young man was arrested.  He confessed to the murders immediately. He had PLANNED this. His excuse? They had looked at his girlfriend too long a few days before. Are you FREAKING KIDDING ME?  That bastard took more than a life. He took faith, hope and dreams. He had no remorse.

    20 years later, my best friend confronted him in prison. I went with her. Not surprisingly, he still showed no remorse but she forgave him. She told me she did it for herself, to keep healing. "Our" mother committed suicide 2 years after this tragedy and she told me that was a large part of her need to take this step.

    She chose to become a school counselor and works with teenagers.  She wanted to make a difference, make this a better world and she has.  She took that bull by the horns and she's still throwing that thing around.  She is AMAZING to me.
    Whether it's accidental or premeditated, death is death and it changes us.  And it had damned well better or we're not human.

    Those 20 babies were all our babies and yes, we must be their voice.  We must be the change they would want to see.

    OUTSTANDING diary!  Thank you...

    I do benefits for all religions. I'd hate to blow the hereafter on a technicality. Bob Hope

    by bluebuckeyewmn on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 01:28:50 PM PST

  •  Great diary. Thank you. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DianeNYS, GenXangster, Bisbonian

    Take back the House in 2014!!!! ( 50-state strategy needed)

    by mungley on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 06:31:31 PM PST

  •  Utterly marvelous diary! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GenXangster, Bisbonian, sturunner

    Thank you so much for this, it's a masterpiece.

    "Some of you are going to die... martyrs, of course, to the Freedom that I will provide!"

    by emperor nobody on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 03:01:58 AM PST

  •  How things have changed, indeed! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This diary brings back many memories.  When I was a little kid, I remember going on summer trips out west -- always west, for people in western SD never traveled east -- and my parents would pack the space between the front seat (no bucket seats then)  and the back seat with "stuff", which would be covered with several blankets forming a sort of padded bench for me.  I had my books and coloring books and whatever else.  I'd often ride on my stomach with my feet poking out the window, reading my way across who knows how many states.  And when I'd look out, I saw hundreds of signs advertising local restaurants, motels, bars, or stores.  I even remember the old Burma Shave signs (For anyone under 50, you'd better google that one), but old curmudgeons like myself will remember whereof I speak.  

    No one's mentioned her, but Lady Byrd Johnson was a prime mover behind an effort to beautify America, often saying, "Where flowers bloom, so does hope."  She was a committed advocate of the Highway Beautification Act, which, among other things, limited billboards along Federal highways, which infuriated businessmen in tourism and retail.  I can remember Ted Hustead of Wall Drug fame railing against "that goddamned Johnson woman!"  (Ted was a friend of my father's.)  She was in fact the first First Lady who took on any specific cause or charity while in the White House. I have great respect for the lady -- but not so much for her husband.  

    -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

    by GulfExpat on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 04:56:03 AM PST

  •  Sadly, even the littering hasn't changed enough. (0+ / 0-)

    When I worked school grounds maintenance in Colorado, I'd spend at least 2 hours a day just on cleaning up trash. Especially cigarette butts in non-grass areas along the streets.

    Once when I took over a school previously handled by a coworker who was a far-right "conservative" smoker, it took a full week just to pick up all of the trash!

  •  Thanks for this! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gardener in PA

    Sometimes I get mired down in thinking that nothing can or will ever change, that there's just no hope, that nothing can be done--and then something like this hits me smack between the eyes.

    And then I reflect on the major paradigm shifts that I've personally experienced--when I was a little girl we weren't allowed to wear pants to school, EVER.

    Everybody smoked, everywhere, to the point where I was the only one of six in my hospital maternity ward who didn't smoke (around the new babies, gross!) and also the only one breastfeeding.

    I remember the litter everywhere and how nowadays it simply shocks me to see a pile of trash out on the ground.

    My parents had cocktail parties all the time and everybody got smashed--including me, because apparently it was fucking hilarious to let an eight year old mix the drinks and test them for the right mixture. Afterward everyone drove home and nobody thought a thing about it.

    I remember being UP IN ARMS RAAARGH about mandatory seatbelt laws and how it TOOK AWAY OUR FREEDOMZ!1! Likewise about mandatory liability insurance for drivers. Wouldn't go one foot in a car now without the belt firmly buckled and my current insurance card in my wallet.

    I can legally smoke a joint any time I care to drive ten miles up to Washington rather than being in fear of prison. Never thought I'd see THAT day!

    The list gets longer every day, thank goodness, and I'm hoping that some day we can add how back in the day crazy gun nuts were allowed to keep giant arsenals and walk around in public strapped and how nobody told these assholes that enough is enough and there are some things you really can only enjoy in private.

    Thanks for the head change, OP, I needed that.

    "Nothing's wrong, son, look at the news!" -- Firesign Theater

    by SmartAleq on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 12:40:41 PM PST

  •  Excellent, excellent diary. Wonderful... (0+ / 0-)

    I cannot thank you enough.

  •  I've been thinking... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ..along the same line.  When my friends who despair about the number of guns on the street or others confidently declare that our society will never change in their love of guns, I mention the changes I've seen.  Smoking is one - they can't believe that I had to sit next to a chain smoker when I was pregnant.  Another is the shift regarding same sex marriage.  Just as mentioned above, not everyone has changed (still too much litter on my walks), but a societal shift has occurred.

    Let's hope this one happens soon and thoroughly.

  •  Hopeful diary (0+ / 0-)

    Smoking, littering, seat's easy to forget the small steps and big strides made over time, but I'm grateful to be reminded. May we do the same with smart gun regulation.

    My memory was jostled...I just remembered that when our kids were small we would go to the beach and they had to take along a small garbage bag and each one had to fill it to the brim with litter before they even thought of asking for an ice cream cone. They were more than happy to do this, no complaints.


    "Live right. Think left." Gregory Peck

    by bookwoman on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 03:48:13 PM PST

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