Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Up in Smoke

For all his good works in our company from September’s opening school bell to the Christmas recess, Sister Lyse took up a collection to purchase Father B a well-earned holiday present. Each one of us in her fifth-grade class was asked to pony up a quarter, or a little more if possible. I remember Sister Lyse announcing to the class what she had finally settled upon as the gift: Father's B preferred smokes. That's right: Sister Lyse's fifth graders bought the man sporting a Roman collar a carton of Marlboro's for Christmas, which I’m sure he appreciated on his fixed income. It was certainly more practical than a tie.

Fast-forward several years and it’s America’s bicentennial year, and I’m now a freshman in high school. The seniors in the school have a dedicated room of their own christened the “smoking lounge." It is a place for the school's fledgling adults to convene, should they wish to puff away on poisonous pleasures during their free periods. I distinctly recall passing by it on my way to a class. The room teemed with seventeen- and eighteen-year-old boys and girls; shadowy silhouettes of high school students who were difficult to distinguish through thick curtains of stagnant second-hand smoke.

The smoking lounge went up in smoke, if you will, a year later. It was no longer kosher in Catholic schools—or any other schools for that matter—to encourage, or even give the slightest imprimatur, to this dirty habit so blatantly bad for one’s health. But smoking on the "special buses," which ferried us to school and back, remained acceptable throughout my high school years. And although they would probably deny it, the powers-that-be turned a blind eye.

Interestingly, the special buses were actually New York City buses that were leased by the school. In other words, they weren't very special at all. And it was against the law to smoke on all New York City transit, even during the more libertine 1970s. Yet, we teens rode to school and back in a miasma of nicotine on overly crammed buses every single day. We reeked of the stuff at the start of each school day and end of each school day. Now that couldn't have been very healthy. 

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