Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stretching the point? Or poor choice of words?

This blog entry is going to be interactive (I hope), as I’d appreciate a little feedback on this one. I know I have some strong-minded, opinionated readers out there, and I’m curious to hear what you think.

If you’re not comfortable with leaving your opinion in the comments section, then might I suggest using the “Ton-Fifty-MAIL” link in the sidebar and sending me your thoughts. Thank you.

— • — • —

Last week I wrote the following column for the paper I work for:

Being a non-smoker, and one who spends an occasional evening in a barroom in the pursuit of various bar-related activities...darts, cards, sporting events on oversized high-definition television’d think that I’d be jumping up and down at the idea of a statewide smoking ban.

Several years ago, I would’ve said it didn’t bother me one way or the other. I was well aware of all the elements that make up a bar’s “atmosphere”...smoky haze included.

And I could sit next to smokers and watch a game and be relatively unaffected, save for the smoky clothes that would need to hit the washing machine as soon as possible after arriving home.

Many eating and drinking establishments do a pretty good job of eliminating as much of the smoke as possible, making the environment tolerable for non-smokers. But there are definite exceptions.

Sunday night, I spent a few hours in one of those exceptions, and the way I felt almost all day Monday made me an instant proponent of the smoking ban.

The smoke in that bar was as heavy and thick as a dense fog, and it seemed as if some of it had been lingering there since before I became the legal drinking age.

Monday I walked around for most of the day in a dense fog of my own, light-headed and generally out of sorts. Can’t blame the beers, because I only had a couple. I point my finger at the cloud of smoke in which I sat and breathed.

I shot a few dart tournaments in that bar years ago, and didn’t come away with the day-after effect like I did this time. So it can probably be attributed to me getting older, and I accept that reasoning.

“Just don’t go in that bar if that’s the effect it has on you for a day or more after,” I can hear you smokers telling me. And that’s as valid an argument as any of those that are made in favor of the smoking ban.

If I want to go and play cards among a group that likes to have a few (dozen) cigarettes while they fondle their poker chips, then I have to accept the consequences that I just may feel like crap for the next 24 or 48 hours.

Or I can wait until a different night during the week when the poker group convenes in a location that is better suited to handling and eliminating the smoke from the air. Because smoking ban or no smoking ban, I bet the air in this particular bar will be able to be sliced with a knife for the next decade.

I use this extreme example because it’s still fresh in my hazy brain, as I’m writing this column after having felt under the weather for the past too many hours.

As much as I applaud the smoking ban from a non-smoker’s point of view, I also understand a smoker’s right to light up a cancer stick in a bar if he or she chooses. Not so much in a restaurant, a bar? That’s a finer point to argue.

Then one’s ever died of second-hand beer or whiskey consumption, have they?

— • — • —

That column was published on Thursday, and Friday morning I found the following comment in my inbox. It’s being copied and pasted as it was sent, so all punctuation and spelling and etc., are the sender’s. (My column is called, “What The Parrot Saw,” which explains the greeting.)

Hey Parrot.....

"no one's ever died of second-hand beer or whiskey consumption"........  REALLY???

Think about that comment for a minute and then answer this question:  Why is that Geske woman in prison ???  Isn't that just one example of "second-hand beer or whiskey consumption" and it's aftermath ?????  I think you owe a HUGE apology to the families of those people who were victims of "second-hand beer or whiskey" consumption !!!

The rest of the column was right on............if I don't want to smell from other people's cigarettes, I'll go elsewhere BUT I should have that choice, not have Big Brother shove it in my face !!  What's next ??????????????????

And here is what I sent to the reader as a reply...

Hi, XXXX...

I appreciate your comments.

While you make a valid point, I think you're assuming an extra step in the process...that being the one where the bar patron is careless enough to get into a 3,000-pound vehicle after his or her beer or whiskey consumption and go hurtling down the highway at 60 mph without all of their faculties about them.

My point in the column was that if someone sits in a bar next to someone who smokes...or a group of people who smoke...over a period of time, it's possible that the non-smoker could develop serious health problems through no fault of his or her own, except for choosing to spend time in that environment.

Whereas if someone sits in a bar and drinks soda next to patrons who are filling themselves full of beer or whiskey...their consumption has no effect on the soda drinker during his or her time in that establishment.

Perhaps I could have worded it a bit differently, but the phrase "second-hand" used in this example has nothing to do with a person's actions or judgment when they leave the establishment.

Thank you for your feedback, and thanks for reading!


— • — • —

So tell me...

Did you read the last line in my column and cringe, wondering why I chose to end it with such a bonehead statement? Or did you not immediately make the connection between that statement and drunken driving, as my reader did?

If your first reaction was that I’m an insensitive idiot for ending the column that way, and that I should never again be left alone to play with words and a keyboard, don’t be afraid to tear into me for it. I can take it. And I’d like to know.

“It is now proved beyond a doubt
that smoking is one of the leading
causes of statistics.”
—Fletcher Knebel


  1. You are requiring me to be a bit more thoughtful than I would like this early in the morning but what a fascinating question.

    While I understand the point about the ramifications of an action further down in a chain of events, to me secondhand implies a more direct consequence.

    If you use a poison fertilizer in your garden and it gets in to my water supply and kills me, that is secondhand. If the fertilizer grows you a giant zucchini and you kill me with it, that isn't.

    I think your response was right on.


  2. I take great offense…to the fact that you say you spend an “occasional evening in a barroom.” Occasional?

    I’m willing to admit that I’m normally out of touch on things non-sports and/or non-music, but have they changed the definition of the word occasional?... :)

    In all seriousness though, I read the column a couple times to make sure my first impression was still my impression…and it is. I took it exactly how you meant it.

    It didn’t cross my mind that you were talking about someone driving under the influence and causing injury (or worse yet, death) to anybody due to their driving.

    It was pretty clear to me you were making the comparison between the documented results of breathing in the smoke of someone else versus getting intoxicated merely by sitting in the same room as someone who’s drinking.

    With all due respect to your reader, they’re reading it the way they want to because I’m presuming (sadly enough) they’ve had an experience themselves or to someone they know that resulted from someone getting behind the wheel having had too much to drink.

    Would that be me and someone made a clearly callused and insensitive remark, I’d have the same response. But your statement was neither callused nor insensitive and drew a clear comparison…in my opinion.

  3. unsurprisingly, i can see both readings, but i think your intentions are clear and your reader is jumping from point A to point K, or thereabouts...

    first, as you intended: the analogy is clear: the direct effects of sitting in a smoke filled bar with smokers as a non-smoker compared to the direct effects of sitting in a bar with drinkers. the effects are clearly different, as smoke has external and therefore public effects in this situation and alcohol's effects are internal and therefore (mostly) private, and definitely without the direct health impacts on others.

    second, how it was read by X reader: someone *could* take this analogy into a broader context because of their own issues (as the kid suggests), BUT not because of how you wrote it. in this case, they're making huge leaps of logic and not reading carefully. (but isn't that what so much of mainstream televised media does--encourages people to not read closely and carefully and instead make inane comparisons even when said comparisons don't make sense?!? that annoys me.)

    so, my final analysis is that your analogy works and is not disrespectful to the victims of drunk driving accidents. and, i think you responded to the reader appropriately.

    (and, having been under the same second-hand smoke haze twice in recent weeks, i couldn't agree more with your overall opinion here:)

  4. As a general rule, I never give too much thought to the concerns of those who overuse their punctuation the way your commenter does. However, I understand why you wouldn't want to come off as insensitive to drunk driving victims. Honestly, your last line did not make me think of drunk driving. I guess I can understand why someone hyper sensitive to it due to personal experiences may have gone there after reading your article, but I think your point was a fine one, was clearly innocuous, and hardly warrants all those unnecessary !!!!!!!s and ?????????s.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for your feedback. And not just because all of it agreed with me.

    I sat on my opinion for a few days before I sent her that e-mail reply, to roll it around in my brain, and I kept coming back to my first reaction being the "right" one, at least for me.

    It truly is unfortunate if someone close to this reader was a victim of a drunk driving accident, but if the majority of my readers didn't read my comment that way (I haven't received any other e-mails, nor have I received a reply from the original commenter in response to my, um...reply. *whew* follow that?), then I have to assume that it was one person twisting my point a bit.

    Scott...The zucchini analogy was fan-tastic. Great point, and thanks for the laugh.

    TheKid..."Occasional" is a relative term. Compared to you, I tend to visit B-Dub's occasionally. I think you can agree with that statement, yes? :O)

    Perhaps I can be dubbed an "occasional barfly." Perhaps.

    dharmagirl...I tried to read it both ways, too. And did...several times. But my conclusion was the same as yours.

    Mrs. White... Yes!!(!!!) Too much of a good thing (and punctuation is a wonderful thing) can be a horrible thing. That's why I posted it "as is."