By Michael McNealy, Correspondent
The other day it occurred to me – walking to the Alewife Station on a fresh, crisp fall day – that I was guilty, again, of freeloading.
Up ahead of me just a small distance, a man walked as well, followed by a trail of lingering smoke. I was inhaling, cost free, the trace elements as I walked behind.
I was mortified, ashamed and embarrassed.
I wondered what a pack of smokes cost so I googled it – $9-$11 a pack. We’ll average it to $10. I calculated the math in my head – OK, later on paper. One pack of 20 cigarettes with an estimated 10 drags per cigarette, equated to 5 cents an inhalation.
But I wasn’t paying.
My heart sank, my head bowed low, and I angrily screamed within, “Why can’t I escape my freeloading habits?”
When I passed him, he saw the look on my face, my obvious struggle to provide an apology for freeloading on his smoke. Words failed me and instead I just grimaced.
My freeloading habits started early when I was born, when my mother and father smoked freely at home. That was okay then though – I was just a small child. I had the excuse that I didn’t have a job or any form of income to pay for my cigarettes. I could freeload my days in glorious haze, because there was no guilt back then.
As I got older, I started to generate a little income from mowing the lawn, doing yard work, and the like. It wasn’t a job that the government knew about, you know, it was off the books. But I was a kid and I wanted to pay for baseball cards and gum instead, so I continued to freeload the smoke from my parents. They didn’t seem to mind, which I thought was odd.
By the time I had a job that was on the books – you know, the one that pays someone named FICA some of your salary – I had set a new course. While I still used my money for other things, I was adamant that I would not freeload their smoke. My parents could pay for all else, but not for my smoke.
And so I developed my very own good habit of avoiding their smoke so as not to sponge off. I’d go to my room and close the door shut. And then, smartly I thought, place a towel on the floor between the door and the rug. My airspace secured, I was happy again, so independent and no longer freeloading.
Challenges still remained to be sure, especially when I needed a ride in the car. Those car trips presented their own set of issues, especially when it was very cold outside.
I would open a window and gulp a breath of fresh air, and then hold my breath until I gave up. Then breathe again, and again from the open window. And hold my breath tight before almost passing out.
Of course, I insisted that my friends follow my lead. No friend of mine would be a freeloader either.
Oh how my conscience was clear on those days! I knew no one could point his finger at me and declare, “J’accuse!”
But still, there were days when I’d go to a store – when I would still end up freeloading without any intent. Sadly, it seemed, I was completely surrounded.
Fortunately for me, the state and local governments injected their sense of civic outrage against me and other pathological freeloaders. “We’re not a nation of moochers,” they said. “You must pay for your smoke!”
So they enacted laws to protect the smokers and their high-priced cigarettes and cigars. Those laws stated clearly, and without obfuscation, that the smoke our smokers produced would no longer be available for free in the restaurants or bars, the town centers or stores. No longer free on planes and trains and taxicab cars.
No, I could no longer go there to get my free smoke – I would have to pay for it myself and create it in the safety of my own home.
Now my conscience seemed clear of any smoky temptation – the state had saved me from transgression.
It seems, however, a loophole still exists that they failed to address.
While these laws are all there to protect me from stealing from you in the privacy of your home, there remain myriad permutations through which I can pilfer while walking, or biking, or even while running.
And so my dear smokers, if you will, please help me. Stop walking while smoking or smoking while walking. That way I can stop with my freeloading smoke stalking.