By Bruce Levine
This is a true story. Okay, I’ve changed the names to protect whoever, but otherwise it’s a true story.
My name is Ben and I’m a musician. Not the kind that plays in a rock band or at parties; I’m a musical director—conductor—pianist. I do things like theatre shows, you know, Broadway musicals, and variety shows, like the ones they used to have in the hotels in the Catskills or in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
One of the places I used to work, many years ago, playing and conducting for singers and comics, was in the 55+ communities in New Jersey, a lot like the 55+ communities in Florida, but these were in New Jersey. You get the picture, I’m sure. And I played so many shows at this one community that I became friendly, even friends, with many of the residents so when they decided to have their annual Talent Show one year they asked me if I would play for them. These were really nice people who I enjoyed being with so, even though I normally only played for professional shows; I couldn’t say no, and I accepted happily.
As rehearsals began, it immediately became clear that everyone was absolutely awful, but they were having so much fun and working so hard and cared so much that it didn’t matter that they were awful. The show was just fun.
Anyway, at that time, I smoked a lot, and even though it was many years ago, they’d already made it a rule that there was no smoking in the clubhouse where their “theatre” was. But the room which contained the stage had a row of doors at one side which abutted the pool so, during breaks, I could stand in the doorway and smoke which meant that I was halfway inside and halfway out. I told you that I’d become friends with these people, so no one complained.
One evening, I was standing in the doorway smoking and one of the men came over, waving his hand at me like he was waving the fumes from a pot on the stove to consume the wondrous aroma of whatever was cooking.
“Blow the smoke in my face,” he said.
“What?” I answered, thinking that I’d heard him wrong.
“Blow the smoke in my face,” he repeated.
“Why?” I asked.
He then proceeded to tell me this story.
“Thirty years ago, I was a heavy smoker, and I used to love to smoke. But my wife didn’t smoke and gradually, she decided that she didn’t like me smoking either. One day, she complained that ‘The house is starting to smell like smoke. Go outside.’ So, I did. Whenever I wanted to smoke, I went outside. Then, after a while, she started to complain that ‘Your clothes still smell like smoke’ and said that I’d have to quit smoking. I liked to smoke, so I continued for a while, outside, but, eventually, she gave me an ultimatum—‘If you don’t quit smoking, I’m going to leave you!’
So, I quit.
Thirty years later, I’m not sure I made the right decision.”