Watching a recent documentary about the civil rights movement, I was struck by one dramatic difference between the United States of the 1950’s and 1960’s and the United States of today.
Not the status of blacks. Nor the status of women. The status of smokers.
They were everywhere. The documentary included old news footage of a civil rights leader testifying before Congress. He was sitting behind a microphone, answering questions, and after every response he would take another draw on his cigarette. No doubt many of the Congressmen asking the questions were doing much the same thing.
Now, if anyone would dare to light a cigarette in the hallowed halls of our nation’s capitol, somebody would call security faster than you could say “Marlboro Man”.
During the 50’s and 60’s, getting ready for a governmental session or a business meeting probably meant having a secretary set out pens and notepads for every participant and make sure there were plenty of clean ashtrays. Clean, probably, because she had emptied them at the end of the previous meeting.
Now, getting ready for a governmental session or a business meeting probably means having an intern make sure the Wifi and the Power Point projector are working. Any participants archaic enough to need pens and paper are expected to bring their own. There probably isn’t an ashtray in the whole building. The few remaining smokers in the group will arrive at the last possible minute, because they’ve been somewhere outside in the smoking area grabbing a quick cigarette before the meeting.
There is, however, still something the intern needs to put at every place: a plastic bottle of water.
In today’s world, bottles of water are as common as cigarettes were several decades ago. We carry them on walks. We keep them at our desks and in our cars. We take them to athletic events, concerts, and meetings. And I’m sure no one testifying before Congress—or in any other hot seat—would be without one.
In many ways, too, bottles of water have become useful props in the same way cigarettes used to be. You need some time to frame an answer to a difficult question? Then: take a puff of tobacco. Now: take a sip of water. You aren’t being quite precisely truthful? Then: hide your face behind a cloud of smoke. Now: hide your face behind your water bottle. And now, of course, if you get really desperate, you can always ask for a break so you can go to the restroom. Nobody will question it; after all, you have been drinking all that water.
In future documentaries about our particular time in history, viewers are going to point this out to each other: “Just look—there’s a plastic water bottle at every seat! Couldn’t any of these people go ten minutes without a drink?”
The change from ubiquitous cigarettes to ubiquitous water bottles certainly is an improvement. Water guzzlers have to be healthier than smokers, especially when you factor in the fitness benefits of all those extra trips to the bathroom.
Water is a lot cheaper than tobacco, too. Well, except maybe for those deluded souls who pay extra for the special ultra-pure kinds that supposedly come from secret, super-beneficial springs in the rain forest or the mountains. But even if you buy the store brands by the case, you’re paying a lot for liquid you can get almost anywhere for free. And that doesn’t even count the larger cost of making all those plastic bottles and dealing with the billions of empties.
Imbibers who care about the planet and are really frugal carry reusable bottles, filled with pure, filtered water from that secret, special location—the nearest faucet. Just think of it as the 21st Century version of rolling your own.
There is one final advantage of drinking over smoking. If a clueless nicotine addict is foolish enough to light up in your presence, all you have to do is douse the cigarette with your bottle of water.
Growing up in the “Hard Times” of the l930’s , I wonder at the people who actually buy water, when there is so much of potable water every where, even if you have to suck it up in the palm of your hand at a nearby rest room from a cold water faucet. I do love the way you can write a column each week for our amusement and delight.
I absolutely agree about buying bottled water. (Though in the interests of full disclosure, I have to confess that last week, driving through New Mexico on a hot day, I did buy a bottle of cold water with great appreciation.