Please, do not harm the squirrels

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 30, 2007

Sorry sir; you’ll have to move along.”

I looked up at a towering black male, dressed as a security officer, who had just said those words to me. I didn’t think I wasn’t bothering a soul; sitting at a table in the shade while flipping through a sports magazine I purchased just moments earlier.

What was I doing wrong? Was I offending others because I can read? Did I knock over a little, old lady for the seat at that shady table? Did I forget to use my deodorant that morning? Was I in need of a breath mint?

Nope, it was none of those. Instead, I was asked to leave my peaceful perch because I am a smoker.

It was Friday afternoon, shortly past lunchtime, when I committed my dastardly deed. I was outside a hotel (smoking is not permitted inside) in uptown Charlotte where I was attending the North Carolina Press Association’s annual summer convention.

I plopped down in the shade, fired-up a Winston and began to read a story on the upcoming NFL season when the law enforcement wanna-be interrupted my solitude.

Fact…I was outside within the Bank of America Plaza, a beautiful area with plants and waterfalls. A few tables and chairs encircled the area and I simply took advantage of their comfort. Fact…the next closet table to me was about 12 feet away and no one was using it at the time.

But yet I’m the bad guy because I choose to smoke.

The security officer informed me that smoking was not permitted in the area in which I was seated. He then pointed to a No Smoking sign. I had to strain my eyes to see it. It was about the size of a cigarette pack, its wording etched in black against a dark colored building.

I told the officer that I failed to see the sign and then politely asked where it was permissible to smoke. He, just as polite, told me to move outside the elevated area of the plaza and I could smoke closer to the street; where there were more people and no chairs.

Gee, thanks!

What’s next…no smoking on the beach? Oops, too late; the town council of Sunset Beach, S.C. just passed an ordinance preventing smoking on their four miles of sand fronting the Atlantic Ocean.

Let me get this straight…I can drink beer on a beach, grill a burger on a beach, make love on a beach and even pee in the ocean if I so choose, but I can’t smoke.

I made a prediction years ago that the anti-smoking campaign will one day round-up all us nicotine fiends, herd us into a tiny opening in the woods where we can enjoy our habit. Then, some tree-hugging environmentalist will get the guv’ment to fund his or her $10.5 million study that cigarette smoke causes squirrels to lose their nuts.

Yes, I completely understand the health risks of tobacco products, but as an adult and as a free American, I have the right to choose my own lifestyle, complete with legal vices. If I want to kill myself smoking, jogging or overeating, that’s my choice. I didn’t see the Charlotte security officer discouraging the young man using a skateboard within the plaza or telling the couple seated across the way that the burgers and fries they were dining on were bad for their health.

For just once, I would love to eavesdrop on a doctor/patient health question and answer session like the following:

Q: I’ve heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life; is this true?

A: Your heart is only good for so many beats and that’s it. Don’t waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that’s like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?

A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is also made out of grain. Bottoms up!

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?

A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.

Q: Aren’t fried foods bad for you?

A: Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil. In fact, they’re permeated in it. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?

Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?

A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.

Q: Is swimming good for your figure?

A: If swimming is good for your figure, then explain whales to me.

Q: Is getting in-shape important for my lifestyle?

A: Round is a shape!

Remember: Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways n Coors Light in one hand n a big, fat cheeseburger in the other – body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, &uot;WOO HOO, What a Ride!&uot;