Blowin’ Smoke

The Taker family tree.

The Taker family tree.

I don’t have a family tree. The family systematically broke it down into small pieces. And smoked it. Now it’s all gone. So much for my roots.

Rich, smooth flavor. A tad barky and leafy, perhaps. But lungs has gots to be choked to the max. Our family motto is apparently “smoke whatever you can improvise.”

My entire family smokes its guts out and yet, perversely, I’m the black sheep. Oh, the irony. That’s rich. I’m also pretty much the only non-smoker around.

I was pretty young on the day I was born. I have it on good authority that mom smoked throughout her pregnancy. I think mom and dad were smoking in the delivery room. Then they swaddled me up and carried me to the car. It was raining. (That’s Oregon for ya.) They placed me in the middle of the bench seat in their 1955 Olds, made sure the windows were tightly rolled up and started puffing away. I think, together, they killed a pack before I crossed the threshold to my new home on this forsaken prison planet. Personally I think they should have been locked up for child abuse.

My formative years were spent inside a hover cloud of nicotine haze. I guess my parents couldn’t bring themselves to take the more immediate route of simply throwing me into the nearest wood chipper. This was an era before the movie Fargo hit the scene so they opted for the long, drawn out tried and true method of slow killing using noxious gasses forced out of their lungs.

What a flavorful way to go.

I read with some interest the other day that CVS Pharmacy has decided to stop selling cigarettes. What? Who even knew such a thing was possible? Cripes. And I thought it was weird that my pet food store had miles of cigarettes behind the counter. Two great tastes in a single trip, eh? I mean, who the fuck has time to buy pet food without getting cigarettes? Try to be reasonable, people. Geez.

Some people hailed the radical decision from CVS. But, apparently, it didn’t please everyone. FOX News immediately proclaimed there was a “debate” over CVS’s decision. Really? Who was debating it besides FOX News? They empaneled some guests to discuss the issue. What’s to discuss? I thought FOX News was behind free markets and business decisions free of governmental interference?

Luckily FOX News is around to ask the burning questions when issues like this come to light (meh).

“Is it OK legally … to restrict tobacco availability in a private store like this? … For people who smoke, you know, they have a right to buy cigarettes. It’s not illegal.”

–Gretchen Carlson, The Real Story, Fox News Channel

Another FOX personality, Neil Cavuto, wondered if CVS was “getting scaredy cat.” Yes, insightful analysis from a real news organization. You don’t go to FOX News for truth and logic. You go for the maximum spin. They even found a way to spin a company deciding not to sell cigarettes and get shots in on Obama in the process.

Later in life, as a boy, and again as a young man, we’d visit my grandparent’s ranch. Acres of pasture for the horses, a barn complete with animals, and grandpa’s garden where he’d hang shiny streamers to scare away the deer. I’d catch salamanders in the creek along the property line and we’d hike all the way down to the railroad tracks. It was a beautiful natural space in the heart of Oregon green country.

Meanwhile the Taker clan would assemble on the deck and smoke until it looked like a nuclear mushroom cloud over the house.

As I got older it began to dawn on me. Looking around I noticed that I was the aberration. Somehow, against all odds, I was one of the few that got missed. I never smoked. At least, not directly.

I began to get curious. I started to notice a trend. My core family unit (mom, dad, sister and myself) consisted of four people. 75 percent of them smoked. I was the odd man out.

My dad died of cancer and smoked until the day he died. We used to get in real fights when I’d talk to him about quitting. He’d have none of it. Now he’s gone. He was diagnosed in a March and died the following October. It took about eight months.

Mom quit when I was in my early 20s. She’s still alive and well. Obviously another freak show.

My sister (and all of her kids) are clutched in the krav maga death grip of tobacco. That’s four out of four of my nieces and nephews. A whopping 100 percent smoking rate in that particular family unit. This just reinforces my belief that children of parents who smoke are more likely to be smokers themselves.

That’s when I started to see the broader context. My entire family is in the crosshairs of big tobacco and under attack. It’s been that way for generations. I thought about making a complete family tree diagram using cigarette symbols but even I don’t have the time and energy for such a shitty activity. Suffice it to say the green tree icons on the diagram would be outnumbered by a ratio of about 9 to 1.

The Taker clan isn’t destined to be around much longer. Smoke ’em if you got ’em. At least, apparently, it was delicious. What a drag.

14 responses

  1. This is SO good, Tombee. Also, your parents were Don and Betty Draper?!


    1. Yes, they were. Dad also liked to drink. I remember waking up on the boat. We’d climb up to the wheelhouse. His shirt was off but he’d be wearing the captain’s hat. He was already smoking, of course. Then he’d reach into a cupboard under the wheel and pull out Black Velvet and swig directly from the bottle.

      That’s what we called “breakfast.”


      1. Yeah, I’d read that memoir. But you have to write it first.


  2. I get why people in my grandparents’ generation smoked…but when I see young people today doing it, I am baffled.
    I have to share: At the esteemed hospital where I work, our staff CARDIOLOGIST (who, I should add is a native of a country where cigarette smoking is apparently not such a big deal) is a chain smoker. A mere couple of years ago when you could still smoke on hospital property,(This is N.C., after all) I was coming into work and he was exiting the e.r. He hadn’t even cleared the doors and he was lighting up. Now that you can’t smoke on hospital grounds you can often see him in his scrubs across the street at the bus stop leaning up against the sign smoking. I know I shouldn’t, but I find it hilarious.


    1. I know that 80% of the people who work in restaurant kitchens smoke. I call this going Anthony Bourdain. But when I drive up to a place to eat the last thing I want to see is the chef out back making love to a cigarette. Ugh. That place has zero appeal now. At least try to maintain the illusion. I know everyone in the kitchen is a smoker but can’t we at least pretend for the customer’s sake?

      Yes, the hospital in my former hometown had a similar policy. Smokers had to go all the way to the bus stop where they’d assemble in their medical garb and puff away. I always found that visual rather sad.

      Like you I can almost understand why our grandparent’s generation smoked, although I still don’t see the appeal. When I see young people smoking, though, it really gets me. I generally perceive such stupidity as an overblown desire to be “cool.” After all, they do it in the movies, right? No doubt there’s a little reverse psychology in there, too. They get told so much not to do it so they run out and do the opposite.


  3. Smoking is a pernicious habit. I haven’t had a cigarette in years, but I’m very much still a junkie. Having said that, I tend to be sympathetic with smokers up to a point. Like you, I’ve lost a parent to lung cancer, so I’m not being glib about it, but I think as a society we’ve become waaay to hard on smokers (at least here in California; when I lived in Oregon & Washington many years ago, they were much friendlier to smokers, although I suspect that’s changed). Ultimately, I think it boils down to choice. Again (see that part about me being a junkie), I don’t pretend it’s an EASY choice, but it’s a choice. I can’t decide to not be addicted, but I can decide to not smoke.

    I think it’s pretty amazing (and as you said, typically unlikely) that you emerged from the Taker Tobacco Cloud with healthy pink lungs.


    1. Grats! I can only imagine what a monumental achievement it is to quit smoking. Last year for Survivor: Abyss Island I went without sugar for 39 days. It was rough. Personally I don’t understand why smoking is allowed in public spaces. It’s proven harmful to others. I think smoking is a legal right, but it should take place at home and away from public areas. People have a right to fresh air. I don’t understand why the rights of smokers have to extend to the public square and trump the rights of nonsmokers. That doesn’t make sense to me.

      I think it’s amazing, too, although, due to family, I highly doubt my lungs are healthy and pink. A nonsmoker getting cancer from secondhand smoke is some kind of poetic justice. I’ll probably be the next to go.


  4. There is another answer.
    It’s called the at-home DNA test. On sale today at Wal-Mart.


    1. You know, I did fail to explore the milkman theory as it pertains to my conception. As I often ask my mom, “How do you know I’m yours?”


  5. Snoring Dog Studio | Reply

    Congrats on staying tobacco-free. Research bears out what you mention – children of smokers are far more likely to smoke than children of nonsmokers. I work for the tobacco prevention program in my state and have for many years. Throughout the years, because of the knowledge I’ve gained through study and research, I’ve become convinced that the tobacco industry is the most evil legal industry there is. Yes, it’s a choice to start smoking and it’s a choice to set a quit date. But the addiction, for many, is fierce and quitting is made harder because the tobacco industry adds chemicals to cigs to boost the nicotine’s effect. Add to that the relentless pursuit by the industry for customers, the fight to help people quit is never-ending. I’m the only one in my program at work who believes in harm reduction – so, though I don’t endorse them, e-cigarettes are far less harmful than the combustible cigs. By the way – try to stay away from the secondhand smoke, if you can.


    1. Woot! Pleased to know you! 🙂 I agree completely about the tobacco industry.

      Interesting point I forgot to mention about the whole FOX News angle. I almost forgot there is a surprising conservative angle on smoking. I wrote about it previously right here on this very blog way back in 2009.

      It involves a group called Americans For Prosperity and the Koch brothers.

      “AFP advocates pro-tobacco industry positions on issues like cigarette taxes and clean indoor air laws. The name “Americans for Prosperity” will sound familiar to tobacco prevention policy advocates, as Americans for Prosperity worked around the U.S. in recent years to defeat both smokefree workplace laws and cigarette excise tax increases.”

      Don’t be a “Koch sucker”

      Maybe FOX News was just towing the party line?

      I have made it my mission in life to live an existence that is 100% tobacco free. As such, secondhand smoke makes me extremely testy. Our library is on a city block with a coffee shop on one side and a bar on the other. Oregon’s “no smoking permitted within 10 feet” of a doorway rule is a friggin’ joke. You have to run a gauntlet of poisonous death cloud just to reach the front door of the library. You know, a place where kids go a lot and stuff.

      “Go to the library, cough up a lung,” that’s what I always say.


  6. My mom smoked for years and years, got emphysema and quit cold-turkey. I kept wanting to know why it took THAT to be the kick in the ass — my dad’s or her children’s beseeching fell on deaf ears. I also have a buddy that’s been a year smoke-free after 20+ years of smoking, so good for him. He’s using the money he WOULD have spent on cigarettes this year to treat himself to a great vacation. That’s cool.


    1. Dad almost kicked my ass when I begged him to stop. Somehow the behavior became entwined with his identity and he took the request as a personal attack.

      I can’t imagine dropping $150 a month (or more) on any habit. My #1 vice costs about $5 a month. (Granulated sugar.)

      My logic regarding cold turkey: I know the doctor (which I don’t have) told me, “You have to immediately cut out XYZ or you’ll die” I would be able to cut it out, no matter what it was. Even if it had its meat hooks in me like cigarettes. Knowing that, I could go proactive and cut it out now, on my own, without the benefit of his advice. But I don’t do that. I choose to wait for it to become “official.” Logic fail.


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