hellacious…

So for Christmas I received one of those

Word of the Day calendars and, until today,

I must say I’ve been generally unimpressed,

but then ‘hellacious’ appeared, out of nowhere

and I must say I’m astonished by its formidable

difficulty but sad to discover there has been

nothing – absolutely nothing – in my life

worthy of such an adjective except those infrequent

moments of exaggeration a younger generation

seems damnably committed to enjoy every other moment

of their lives questioning whether their collective

amygdala can sustain such outrage in a perpetual

fit of outrage while I sip my coffee, wonder at the

weather, plan a walk with the dog, and change the

world with words they’ll never read let alone see,

which is, apparently, damn hellacious.

Toddling… 6

The show ended every day as calmly and warmly as it began with a personal touch from Miss Nancy. She would wander off casually toward the side of the set and grab her magic, psychedelic mirror and start to sing The Magic Mirror song.

She would hold up an opaque mirror and talk from behind it. “Romper Bomper Stomper Boo, tell me, tell me, tell me who…. Magid mirror tell me today, did all my friends have fun at play?” The screen would go into elliptical swirls and twirls of rainbow colors like Miss Nancy was on an acid trip, but when it faded back to her the opaque mirror part was gone and we were looking into Miss Nancy’s face and she would say the names of the kids she was seeing through her magic mirror.

She’d say “I see Judy, Ricky, Caroline and I see Mark this morning and Amanda and Timmy and on and on and on….” But she never said my name, and my name’s not that unique. She tried to cover the omission with “And of course I see you too, and tomorrow I’ll be looking for you tomorrow morning in the Romper Room School.” I don’t know; maybe I just missed it, but even on my Special Day, as she used to call a kid’s birthday, she didn’t say ‘And I see Danny!’

Mom asked quite often, “Did she say your name today Danny?” and I’d always answer with a ‘No’. “Well, maybe tomorrow she will; you’ll see,” mom would say in encouragement (mom was a Do Bee kind of mom). And I’d think ‘Hey, yea, maybe she will say my name tomorrow. It could happen!’ And I’d be hooked and wait the twenty-three and a half hours hoping.

Mom had a way of turning disappointments into hopes, she made my world my world, she was my world – that’s what moms do for their toddlers. And all she asked was that I say please and thank you, and eventually to distinguish between can and may (“Can addresses ability, may speaks to permission.

So you should have said, ‘May I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch?’ not ‘Can I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch?’ ‘). She wiped my nose, combed my hair, tucked-in my shirt, tied my shoes, did my laundry, cleaned my room, made my bed, wiped my nose, washed my face, cleaned-out my ears, combed my hair, always found Bunny when I mislaid him, encouraged me, scolded me, touched me, hugged me, held my hand, took me everywhere with her – she loved me, and I loved her. “Mom?” “Yes, Danny?” “Mom, I love you,” and she’d blush, stop what she was doing, and always respond, “Oh Danny, I love you too!” I loved her so much that I hated everyone else, even dad. It’s really quite normal for young kids to live with a zero-sum take on life – that if you love something so much, it must mean you hate everything else since you’ve only got 100% of everything, like love, and since mom got all 100% (it would have been an insult not to reciprocate her obvious 100% love for me with, say, 63% for her and 37% for dad). “Danny, you don’t hate your dad! That’s really not a nice thing to say.” “‘But I love you mom!?” was my only response – it’s every toddler’s only response, that is until we learn that we can love more than one thing at a time and are better because of it.

It’s all about figuring out what makes my mom, my mom. Now she gave birth to me, and that happened because of something she did with dad, but I had to learn that mom and dad were one thing – married.

Mom and dad married was like peanut butter and jelly on a sandwich was just one thing (who eats peanut butter without jelly, but word has it that Elvis liked to eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but that’s another matter altogether). This was why mom just smiled at me when I told her I was going to marry her. I once said that I was going to marry Miss Nancy of Romper Room, but I always loved mom the best. I couldn’t marry mom, of course, but she wasn’t going to tell me that. Not even dad said more than, “Hey, that’s my wife you’re proposing to young man!” when I informed him I was going to marry her.

I didn’t really think marriage was anything more than being with someone who is very special to you so that everyone else would know that person was special to you. What that something you did to that special someone was I had no clue. Dad said he asked mom to marry him and she said yes, and it was time for me to go to bed. “Okay dad, goodnight.

I’m going to marry her, just like you.” “Okay, Danny, you do that.” As he was tucking me into bed I asked, “What does it mean to get married?” “Well, that’s a good question,” dad said, but he didn’t really answer so I pressed, “What do people do when they get married?”

Maybe I thought this angle might improve my chances for an answer, but I was wrong. “Well, after the ceremony, there is a party called a reception where everyone eats dinner and dances and celebrates with the married couple.” “Then what?” I said. “Well, then the couple goes on a honeymoon.” “And?” “And what, Danny?” dad responded. “And, what’s a honeymoon?” “Well,” dad paused, again, “a honeymoon is kind of like a vacation for the couple and…they start their marriage together, and….” And dad stopped there. “Okay, thanks dad. Goodnight.”

And I went to sleep and dad seemed relieved at the end of the questions, but I never married mom.

*** *** ***

It all depends…

Call it predestination, inevitable or just plain the way it is

but we’re told to take what we’re given because the giving

and granting is beyond our control; it starts in recovery,

it’s the way to pray and accept what’s possible, how and

where we’re born, or just the way things are; it forces us

to retell all life’s lesser episodes, misery and mediocrity

by means of melancholy muses that show wisdom and

maturity and measure everything by the one thing that

just is or else you’re a complainer, dissatisfied and

without the faith that makes resignation into a virtue

and truly nothing at all depends on what happens next.

Toddling… 5

The show, like almost every show on TV that I watched, tried to communicate and reinforce basic American values of hard work, honesty, thriftiness, wholesome virtues of modesty and chastity (that’s why Elvis was such a problem to some people).

For instance, Romper Room taught you not only how to stand up straight (a chief virtue of adolescence), but it also taught kids to avoid complaining (like, I’m tried, I’m hot, I’m cold, I’m thirsty, I’m bored, I can’t, and the cardinal sin, I don’t want to, which covered everything). Instead Romper Room modeled ideal behavior in the Do Bee song; Mr. Do Bee would lead and everyone knew what it meant to be a Do Bee instead of a Don’t Bee.

It started with the chorus, “Did you ever see a do bee, a do bee, a do bee? Did you ever see a do bee? Go this way and that.” And then broke into verse after verse (back to the chorus in between the gung-ho, Marine-like chant of the stanzas), “Go this way and that way, and this way and that way.

Did you ever see a do be go this way and that?” And then bow, raise this hand and then that hand; and if you raise your hands you certainly have to wave them, “Did you ever see a do bee wave this hand and that?”

I did, just about every morning. And, last but not lease, you’d “Clap this way and that,” and the last stanza’s “that” would trail off and everyone would sit, exhausted, on their seats or on the rug and quietly model a controlled afterglow of excitement (whenever we did action songs at birthday parties we’d go crazy and get out of control and someone would get hurt, as the parents promised, If you don’t settle down, someone’s going to get hurt.

And, Sure, it’s all fun-and-games until someone gets hurt.). But no one ever got hurt, unruly, boisterous, wild or crabby on Romper Room.

The only time I got out of control was when I mislaid my Bunny. By that time I was four Bunny was just a rag with strings, but it started out as a baby toy – a stuffed animal that I had in my crib since I was in my crib.

Over time, with day after day with a toddler, Bunny began to show signs of wear with every inch and ounce I gained. Bunny started out blue (I was a boy, after all), then became brown as the fur wore off to reveal the fabric underneath, then it tore and the stuffing fell out, but I still hung-on to Bunny even though Bunny was now just a ragged thing with strands and stitching dangling from it that I would rub in between my fingers as I went to sleep.

When I lost Bunny I couldn’t go to sleep; I could be in bed but I cried and refused to sleep. I loved  Bunny. Once I left Bunny in the station wagon, and another time I put Bunny in the bread keeper-drawer in the kitchen, and one hysterical night I refused to sleep without Bunny even though it was late and I didn’t know where I had put Bunny that day. Mom and dad looked everywhere, tried to bribe me with the promise of a new Bunny in the morning, threatened me with grave bodily harm if I continued to whine and cry for Bunny, until they got me up and led me on a tour of everywhere I’d been that day in the house.

When we got to the kitchen, I checked the bread keeper-drawer (Bunny was there last time), I checked the oven but mom barked that Bunny couldn’t be in there because she had baked a casserole in there just hours ago. And we checked the clothes’ hamper in the bathroom and in the closet in the hallway, the one in the basement where some toys were stored, and we had already checked the closet in my bedroom.

We eventually returned to the kitchen and started going through the cabinets and mom even checked in the cold cuts drawer in the refrigerator, but I was standing looking out the screen door. “Did you take Bunny with you when you went with mom to the store?” dad asked, but I wasn’t looking toward the station wagon.

I was looking into the yard, “I think Bunny is out in the yard, by the swing.” Mom said Bunny couldn’t be there because I wasn’t outside that day. “Yes, I was” (I needed Bunny so I had to be honest even though it would get me in trouble because I had slipped out in the afternoon and played on the swing when mom thought I was watching TV while she was taking care of Mary up in her bedroom). Dad didn’t ask how Bunny got outside, but when he returned with a ragged, brown, stringy piece of fabric just moments later I jumped for it and gladly hurried off to bed without saying a word.

I guess mom and dad were so happy I was going to bed that it never bothered them that I had gone outside when I shouldn’t have. The next morning I took Bunny to breakfast with me and then to Romper Room, just like every other day.

*** *** ***

Speaking freely…

From the grave, few speak freely if at all,

and wish as one might to write an autobiographical eulogy

there’s really no way to see it through is there;

and that’s the sweet release from trying to control

what refuses to be controlled and those who refuse to bend;

but if you suspect I did not like you – and you know

who you are – you’re probably correct in your suspicion

and it makes me smile to write it today long before (I hope)

these words come to pass; and for those who I should

have shown greater deference – and you also know

who you are and so does everyone else around you

as they suffer your insufferable ways – you were also

correct and I really regret having to admit that because

it will only encourage you; and finally to those whom

I have loved well without always showing said wellness,

I offer the only consolation available to me – I did.

Waiting for the storm…

It’s been coming for so long now, and we’ve been

alerted, warned, marketed to purchase another

shovel, some salt, a snow blower, maybe a generator

in case every bit of the infrastructure crumbles, and

cautioned about shoveling snow if we’re not young

anymore but the young don’t see the need to do

such things, in part because there’s no app for that

and in part because they don’t see the same things

that frighten those of us who shouldn’t shovel

heavy snow, light snow, too much snow, or just plain snow.

Toddling… 4

Instead of gaining weight because she quit smoking, mom was getting fat because she was pregnant. I would stand in her shadow, literally, as her extended abdomen cast an eclipse of the sun in my direction.

Eventually, I asked the inevitable, “Mommy, how does a baby get in your tummy?” I wasn’t asking for an explanation complete with pictures or a lecture in reproductive biology, or even an answer to what she and dad were doing under the covers the night I walked-in on them dancing in bed. Every kid wanted to know because we didn’t know and it was so special and so important according to all the adults, “Oh, you look beautiful!” and  “You’re positively glowing!” And they had parties for the baby and the baby got presents.

All mom would say to my how question was, “Danny, you say the darndest things!” It wasn’t like it was a unique question, it was just a question she didn’t (or couldn’t) answer. And Art Linkletter had already cornered the market on the phrase, Kids Say the Darndest Things, in a series of books he published with that title (the first was the number one best seller for two whole years), and Linkletter was on television with his show People are Funny and House Party for most of the ’50’s and ’60’s. He would put a microphone in a kid’s face and ask some poor little boys a simple question like, “Is it okay for a boy to kiss a girl?” And the boys would say, “As long as she’s your mommy” and “Not until you’re eighteen years old, until then it’s against the law” and “If you kiss a girl then you have to marry her – it’s the right thing to do.” And when he asked something like “How can you tell when two people are married?” The kids said, “When they’re a boy and a girl” and “When they have a baby” and “You have to watch to see if they are yelling at the same kid.” And when he asked, “Do your parents fight?” (and the mom’s looked embarrassed and shy, covering their blushing faces with their hands), kids would say things like, “Yep, all the time, but it’s usually my fault” and another one said, “No,  because mommy is having another baby” and everyone in the audience laughed and giggled and the kid didn’t understand why so he insisted, “She is so having a baby! You should see her big, fat tummy.” When Linkletter asked the boy where the baby came from the kid protested with, “Well, I didn’t put it there.”

That was a bit too racy for my mom’s tastes (reality TV isn’t for everybody, I guess), so I’d have the channel turned to my kind of programming and that usually meant Channel 9 in Chicago, WGN. It ran all the kids shows that I watched during the days at home with mommy pregnant with Mary and then with Johnny. Mom would watch soap operas while I was taking my naps, but I’d get most of the early morning and lunchtime viewing I wanted with shows like Romper Room.

And none of these shows talked about where babies came from (like the Linkletter joke: “A second grader came home from school and said to her mother, ‘Mom, guess what? We learned how to make babies today.’ The mother, more than a little surprised, tried to keep her cool. ‘That’s interesting,’ she said, ‘How do you make babies?’ ‘It’s simple,’ replied the girl. ‘You just change ‘y’ to ‘i’ and add ‘es.'” That was better than Linkletter’s characteristic joke, Q: How do two porcupines mate? A: Very carefully).

My days always started with a bowl of cereal (and I’d always add sugar), toast and sometimes a little fruit (those pictures of a ‘Well balanced breakfast to start off your day’ worked on my mom).

Sometimes I’d sit with dad and mom, but dad didn’t want the television on (even though I could see it just sitting there across the room). There was never a newspaper at the breakfast table, just mom, dad and me. Dad would read the paper at night, after dinner, but before he’d go out on the front porch to just stand there, he’d sit in his chair and read through the paper, from cover to cover, from the news to the local interest stories to the business news to sports, and sometimes even the funnies (I’d climb on his lap toward the end of his reading because that was when he’d get to the funnies and even though I couldn’t read, dad would sometimes read them to me and I’d look at the cartoon drawings, but it was more enjoyable than funny).

As soon as dad kissed mom and me goodbye in the mornings I’d turn to mom and ask if I could turn on the television, “Yes you may, Danny. Are you going to watch Romper Room?” I’d sit too close to the TV and mom would order me not to sit so close or I’d go blind, and I’d oblige her by scooting back an inch or two, still just feet, not a yard, from the console Zenith television with knobs and a hidden panel concealing the important controls that I was forbidden to touch).

The television would hum when I clicked it on and there would be a hiss, sometimes a flash on the bowed tube – it looked like a bubble, bulging and stretching out as if the shows were pressing against the inside of the screen trying to get out. It warmed up and brightened slowly; the sound of the program playing coming through the speaker first, then the image to match coming into focus in a minute or so. This anticipation was thrilling and agonizing at the same time.

Romper Room was a preschool educational show that ran in almost every television market in the country starting in the mid-1950’s. (We didn’t know it was education, of course.) There was really no such thing as preschool for kids in The Hills in the late 50’s though; instead we had moms and we stayed home with them like normal families while dads went off to work (like Ward and June Clever on the 1957 debut of Leave It To Beaver). Years later, when dad started referring to the TV as “The idiot box” and “The boob tube,” it was his way of complaining about the valueless, entertainment that television was to him. But Romper Room was purely educational – a classroom setting complete with teacher, students, activities, and lessons.

Bert and Nancy Claster came-up with the idea for Romper Room and syndicated the show, first from Baltimore and then from Chicago, and Miss Nancy (who was actually Nancy Claster and took the hostess job because the actress backed-out at the last minute, which was obviously a poor career move) was seen in American homes for ten years until the Clasters’ daughter, Miss Sally, took over in 1964.

They also franchised the show in 150 markets and local Miss So-and-So’s, trained by the Clasters, brought the alphabet, the days of the week, reading from books, lessons and lectures in good manners, and action songs to all of us each and every morning as if we were in a kind of pre-kindergarten schoolroom.

The show had less than ten kids on it each day and they weren’t passive, just like true viewers (and I was one) rarely spent the whole show on our bottoms. When the music for the Posture Basket Song started-up, I’d hop up to retrieve a paper picnic plate to do the action song along at home. “See me walk so straight and tall, I won’t let my basket fall…. Watch me hold my head up high, Like a soldier marching by. A back that’s straight and strong you see – Helps to make a healthy me.”

And I’d walk around the room with the plate balanced on my head, moving too quickly and the plate would fly off so I’d scramble to pick it up and get back in step with Miss Nancy.

The show even had a snack time in between an action song and the alphabet, and before the kids on set had their milk and cookies they’d say a prayer, God is great / God is good / let us thank him / for our food. And I’d ask mom if I could have a cookie and of course she’d say no because it was still early in the morning and I’d just finished a wholesome bowl of sugared cereal, so a cookie wouldn’t have been healthy this early in the day.

New memories…

Try as we may, new memories just aren’t as good as

the other ones – those small and ordinary things that

appear without reason but are casual, expected things

like my cheap coffee maker that outlasted every

fancy brewer, the feel of that red-handled snow brush

that made its home in three different cars when

we lived without a garage (and I missed not having

a garage, but that’s another memory), and those

unexpected and uninvited throw blanket that’s

been ‘mine’ for longer than you’ve been mine, and

try as I do, I can’t make something a better memory

by thinking happy thoughts or wishing it were so.

It’s that time of year…

It was cute in December – every single window of many

blinking and shining with holiday lights, colorful and not,

large and small, inside and out, and draped over

overgrown bushes on all sides – the kind every older

person’s house enjoys; but then it becomes January

and all that seasonal effort must be unplugged,

undonned and undone, and that energy is harder

to come by so the lights remain and shine alone

on the block and then in the neighborhood and

you wonder when complaints will start, which

they do and it makes you wonder if some over

zealous board or commission has some rule and fines

for such instances (or soon will thanks to this

one house), and then, just as gracelessly, the lights

disappear – all but a Santa with a 60 watt bulb and

a small tree awkwardly lighted in the corner of

the back yard that’s only visible from the house

or taller passers-by like me who just have to know

what the fuss is about.

Toddling… 3

By the time mom was ready to have her baby that everyone would know as Mary the cocktail parties had slowed considerably, mom had stopped dancing and she would sit next to dad on the couch while other couples would slosh around with a drink in one hand and a partner in the other; that is, the drinking was still going strong (but mom sipped something that looked and tasted like Coke that she let me sip and then sent me off to bed with Bunny), and only a few people were smoking.

They never told me when, but they told me how they both quit smoking – cold turkey, like everyone did before everyone thought smoking was an addictive behavior and the smoker was a victim of an evil drug called nicotine.

It was all made worse because cigarette companies cured the tobacco so that it was milder and people could inhale it more, and mechanized processes made it cheaper to make a pack, and then someone invented the safety match, and cigarette companies paid just about everyone to advertise their products.

Some doctors (the smart ones) started to worry so in the 1950’s the Public Health Service started telling people that smoking cigarettes could give you heart disease, lung cancer, cancer of the mouth, esophageal cancer (or it would be easier to say just about any kind of cancer, since that’s the point), asthma (that would be preferable to cancer, I’m guessing), respiratory problems like bronchitis and emphysema, decreased pulmonary function (meaning you’d run out of breath dancing in our living room), and intrauterine growth retardation and the corresponding low birth weight (I was almost nine pounds so either mom didn’t smoke when she was pregnant with me or I would have been fourteen pounds at birth unless she had). In 1957 Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney said, “The Public Health Service feels the weight of the evidence is increasingly pointing in one direction; that excessive smoking is one of the causative factors in lung cancer.” And it was that word, “excessive,” that was the out for those who kept smoking – the too much of a good thing can kill you, kind of logic.

You see, it wouldn’t be scary if the chances of getting cancer from smoking were relatively low, especially since four out of ten young adult Americans smoked in the 1950’s, but people started smoking more and more – from three thousand cigarettes per year per smoker in 1950 to nearly four thousand per year per smoker in 1960.

And people started dying more and more (at a pack-a-day plus, it was unavoidable). Even though everyone died eventually, chances were 70% higher that if you were a smoker you’d die of cancer, younger and sooner. So if you wanted to live, or just improve your quality of life, you had to buck the trend and quit (as in, just stop – cold turkey) smoking. As a result, chewing gum companies made a mint, and cigarette companies countered with a smoking = quality of life campaign, like the one for Camel’s in the 50’s,

The thorough test of any cigarette is steady smoking. Smoke only Camels for the next thirty days… And see how mild Camels are, pack after pack… how well they agree with your throat as you steady smoke. See if you don’t find Camel more enjoyable than any other cigarette you’ve ever smoked.

And Rock Hudson said, “I’ve tried ‘em all, but it’s Camels for me! Why? Because, There is more pure pleasure in Camels! More flavor, genuine mildness! Good reasons why today more people smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” And the ad from 1956 ended with, Remember this: pleasure helps your disposition. “And for more pleasure – have a Camel!” Who could argue with that?!

Arguing with that, or with people in general, was also attributed to poor quality cigarettes or the lack of cigarettes altogether, so another Camel ad read,

MAD AS A WET HEN? That’s natural when little annoyances ruffle you. But the psychological fact is: pleasure helps your disposition. That’s why everyday pleasures, like smoking for instance, are important. If you’re a smoker, you’re wise to choose the cigarette that gives the most pleasure. And that’s a Camel!

It seems that the Camel people had stumbled onto something. And they weren’t alone. Chesterfield went sexy and smoky in their ads in the 50’s; like, “PACKS MORE PLEASURE – because it’s More Perfectly Packed. Firm and pleasing to the lips…mild yet deeply satisfying to the taste – Chesterfield satisfies the most.”

And there was a picture of a busty, firm woman with bright red lips sucking on the phallic cigarette, cheeks drawn in, eyes rolled up just a bit. Chesterfield even had a Girl of the Month before Playboy had the centerfold. They might as well have portrayed a spent male and a rosy cheeked model tucked beneath bed sheets, puffing away at their Chesterfields looking like the afterglow of orgasm. Smoking was sexy, and linking it with sex, sexuality, having sex, or just having had sex, sold cigarettes.

For people who actually quit smoking in the 1950’s didn’t seem to think of it as a great burden. They didn’t require the sympathy of their culture, no detoxification, no fits of addictive withdrawal, no support groups, and no cigarettes (just second-hand smoke which they still enjoyed).

From the Journal of the American Medical Association to Reader’s Digest and its abridged version of Roy Norr’s newsletter, “Cancer by the Carton,” everyone was starting to be told that people were dying because they were smoking. And people started to get the message, but so did the cigarette companies. So, if you wanted to quit because of the health concerns but didn’t really want to give up the pleasure and relaxation of smoking the cigarette companies had an alternative for you: filters! In 1950 less than 2% of cigarettes were filtered, and by 1960 it was more than half of all cigarettes. So,

Winston smokers believe that smoking should be fun. That means real flavor – full, rich, tobacco flavor – and Winston’s really got it! This filter cigarette tastes good – like a cigarette should! Along with Winston’s filter flavor, you get a filter that really does the job. The exclusive Winston filter works so effectively, yet lets you draw so easily and enjoy yourself so fully.

Cigarette companies called filter tipped cigarettes “less harmful” and “smoother too,” and said the filters trapped the dangerous stuff that killed you but let the flavor through (but they had to use harsher tobacco so the filtered smoke would still taste like the good old days smoke that killed you right up front without a mediator). And everyone believed them; kind of like selling death to someone as “less harmful” and “smoother” at the same time. After the Public Health Service said cigarettes would kill you and ruin what life you had left, more people ended up smoking in America by the end of the 1950’s. So the Surgeon General had to really go after the problem and released the infamous January 11, 1964 report, supported by an advisory committee of over a hundred doctors, from Drs. Ackerman to Zukel, saying,

In the early part of the 16th century, soon after the introduction of tobacco into Spain and England by explorers returning from the New World, controversy developed from differing opinions as to the effects of the human use of the leaf and products derived from it by combustion or other means.

Pipe-smoking, chewing. and snuffing of tobacco were praised for pleasurable and reputed medicinal actions. At the same time, smoking was condemned as a foul-smelling, loathsome custom, harmful to the brain and lungs. The chief question was then as it is now: is the use of tobacco bad or good for health, or devoid of effects on health?

It was pretty gusty, considering that the Surgeon General was about to tell half of the adults in America that something they were doing, something they did everywhere they went – at baseball games and parties, at home and work, in restaurants, parks, trains, cars, cabs, buses, bars and bedrooms, with drinks, after dinner, after sex  – was not only bad for them, but also bad for America.

At the time smoking – why you did it and how you quit doing it – was all a matter of character, of will power, of what kind of person you were. There was no clearly unique personality of a smoker (probably because one-third of all adult women and two-thirds of all males were smokers in the 1950’s so the personality type would have been simply your average American). The Surgeon General’s report put it this way,

Nonetheless, there are many, though not always clear, relationships between smoking and a variety of social end economic variables. Taken altogether, there emerges the picture of smoking as a behavior that has over many years become tied closely to many of the complexities of our present society.

There can be no doubt that smoking as a habit is determined in some measure by a variety of such social forces as are reflected in demographic data of the kind reviewed above.

But it will be some time before the specific interrelations can be disentangled. Since man is not a passive target of such forces but an active participant, no possible explanation can omit consideration of the way in which he reacts to and, in turn, creates such forces, in short, a consideration of personality factors.

You see, it’s about will-power, about what kind of people Americans are; and in the 50’s the American aphrodisiac was will-power. Americans are not victims, we’re not addicts, and we’re not bad people. And by the early 60’s, when smokers gave reasons for quitting, few of them said they were afraid of cancer.

They explained their choices with macho reasons like, “Because I wanted to” or “Because I just didn’t like the taste of smoking” or “Because I didn’t like spending so much of my money on cigarettes.” It was personal and the Surgeon General made it even more so when his report said that parents were killing their kids because more kids took up smoking when mom and dad smoked.

Killing their own kids! Kids also started smoking in order to seem more grown-up, and some did it to spite mom and dad. Both had the same motivation – acting like equals with parents.

Mom and dad explained that they smoked to relax themselves, to relieve stress (or maybe just to show other people they were under a lot of stress and pretend to be more important than they were – no one figured that one out either), or to lose weight – dieting to death, so to speak.

*** *** ***