Some things that once made sense no longer do

BY BOB WACHS, News + Record Staff
Posted 7/11/19

Do you ever pause from time to time to reflect on your past, specifically things you once did regularly without giving them a second thought?

When ­— and if — you do that, does it seem …

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Some things that once made sense no longer do

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Do you ever pause from time to time to reflect on your past, specifically things you once did regularly without giving them a second thought?

When ­— and if — you do that, does it seem comical or even ridiculous, given the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, that you did those things routinely as a normal part of your life.

Take smoking, for instance, at least for me. I started smoking in high school. It was cool, made me look cool, I thought. I had a job at Dan McCrimmon’s Drug Store on Main Street in downtown Pittsboro. Dan sold cigarettes, by the pack — 20 cents — and by the carton ($1.85 for a carton of Winstons). One of the tasks at the end of the day was to burn the store’s trash in a firepit out back. Rather than simply stand around and wait for the fire to die out, I would smoke and practice blowing smoke rings, blowing smoke out of my nose, out of my nose and mouth at the same time and the famous “French inhale” — blowing smoke out of your mouth and then inhale it into your nose.

If that had been an Olympic sport, I would have been captain of the American team.

Obviously, after high school, I took my newly-acquired habit to Chapel Hill and to UNC, where I would spend seven years trying to complete a four-year course of study. One of the things I finally learned, as I have mentioned before, was that going to class, paying attention to the teacher and not to the blonde in the third row, reading the material and studying had a direct correlation to how well I did in the class, as in the difference between an “F” and a “B.”

It did not take long for me to learn a great truth, namely that I could be comforted in the learning process in the classroom by smoking therein. Now that wasn’t the case for every building, but for the older ones that in those days had no A/C, the big 12-foot tall windows — six in a line — would be raised, and if you got a seat next to the window, you could smoke.

And get this: not only could you smoke in class but most of those old buildings had tile floors like Mama had in her kitchen. So, when you finished your smoke, just drop the stub on the floor at your seat and grind it out. But if you were too lazy to step on your smoke, just let it burn itself out. There were some really interesting patterns on those floors.

Eventually, I grew tired of trying to graduate and turned to trying to impress the blonde in the third row by blowing five smoke rings in her general direction. Later, I learned that her boyfriend was a defensive tackle on the football team named “Bubba” who ate pine trees for a snack, so I stopped wasting my talents on her.

There’s no way possible anything like smoking in class would ever happen on a campus today. They’re all anti-tobacco, an especially interesting situation when you consider that Mr. Duke, who made his fortune in tobacco, lavished quite a bit of pocket change on the institution in Durham that today bears his name.

In time, I quit smoking and gained 74 pounds but at least I wasn’t marking up any floors. It just seems so out of character, so stupid today, but back in those days, it was part of what made me Joe Cool.

At least for 15 minutes.


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