April 24, 2003

The guy upstairs is smoking this morning: I can smell it, even with both nostrils closed.

I'm not talking about Upstairs Neighbor Guy -- he of the infamous squeaky broken closet door and midnight clog-dancing parties -- but the guy who lives a couple of doors down from Upstairs Neighbor Guy. David and I call him The Old Hippie Dude: he looks like Papa John Phillips, during the height of his romance with the freebase pipe. Every morning and every evening, The Old Hippie Dude leans over the balcony, in front of his apartment, and sucks down one Camel Non-Filter after another. We see him standing up there when we're leaving for work in the mornings, and then again in the evenings when we're carrying our groceries in from the parking lot. When the conditions are right -- when the skies are clear, when the wind is blowing from the east, when we've got all of our doors and windows cracked open -- the fumes from his cigarette come wafting over the railing and into our downstairs apartment, like exhaust from a flatulent Buick.

Then again, sometimes the conditions don't even have to be 'right.'

This morning, for instance. Even though I've got everything shut tighter than a drum -- my doors, my windows, my curtains, my sinuses -- I can smell it. I don't even have to look outside to know that The Old Hippie Dude is standing up there above me, right this very minute ... one hand dangling over the railing, a burning cigarette clamped between his bony fingers. The smell is seeping through the double-paned glass next to where I sit typing, even with the window closed and locked and the curtains drawn tight.

Earlier this week, somebody asked me to name my #1 pet peeve. I ticked down the usual list in my head -- big dogs, small children, cell phones in the bathroom, cucumbers in the House Salad -- but eventually I had to go with my initial gut response. Cigarette smoke, is what I ended up writing. I hate it more than anything. And it's a fact: I hate cigarettes more than dogs and cell phones and cucumbers put together. They say there's nobody more obnoxious than a reformed smoker, and I suppose I'm living proof of that. I'm not sure how it happened, exactly. When I was a smoker, I hated being preached at by people who didn't smoke. (Or -- even worse -- by people who used to smoke but quit.) I swore that when I eventually kicked the habit -- for me, it was always 'when,' not 'if' -- I would never allow myself to become so self-righteous and annoying. And yet, the more time that separates me from that last Salem Slim Light, six years ago this summer, the more intolerant I seem to become.

In public, I've tried to be at least marginally polite, especially when I'm in the company of friends and family who smoke. (Or when I'm tiptoeing around the issue here on *FootNotes.*) There are a lot of very nice people who I love and admire and correspond with regularly -- a lot of very nice people who read my Internet journal -- even a few very nice people to whom I've given birth [ahem] or otherwise share DNA [ahem] -- who currently find themselves in the insidious grip of nicotine addiction. I've tried to be very careful not to offend them with a lot of overt anti-smoking rhetoric and proselytizing. It's not the person I disapprove of, has been my subliminal message, all along. It's the behavior.

Today, though, I'm not much in the mood to be subliminal.

A lovely man who used to be an important part of my life died quietly in his sleep, yesterday morning, after a grueling five-year battle with lung cancer. Cigarettes are what killed him. He'd managed to quit, in recent years, but by then it was too late. The family -- and the world -- is diminished by his loss.

And so are my reserves of tolerance.

I'm not about to run outside and point a garden hose at The Old Hippie Dude, ordering him to put out his cigarette or else. That's never going to be my style. Plus it would mean getting dressed this morning ... and basically, I plan to spend this entire day in my pajamas. And I'm probably not ever going to turn *FootNotes* into my personal anti-smoking platform: I would lose at least three or four very important readers in TicTac, if I were to ever go that route. But I am likely to be slightly less 'sensitive' and 'subliminal' and 'nice' about the subject, from here on out.

And I am definitely going to move away from this goddamn WINDOW for the rest of the day.

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i'm home sick today, if you hadn't figured that out already.