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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Never

November 1st, 2006

BY DAN PETERSON

Iam one of the least qualified guys on the planet to speak of smoking and drinking. I do neither and never have. I was cured of this early on by my father, who did both. He was a policeman, ending up as a lieutenant, in Evanston, Illinois. When I was about three or so, and we are talking 1939 here, he used to have some of the guys on his shift over to the house once a month for a session of poker: stud, draw and the rest.

manfrowningatbottle.pngOf course, they all smoked and all had a glass next to them. I thought it was beer and I wanted to taste it. So I was making a nuisance of myself: “Beer, Daddy, beer!” It was not beer but, rather, whiskey. I had no clue as to the difference. My dad said, “You want beer? Stick out your tongue.” Which I did. He dipped his index finger in the whiskey and then put it on my tongue. I tried to spit out the taste for an hour.

After that hour in the bathroom, while my mother was asking my father, “How could you?”, I was cured from any thoughts of beer or hard liquor forever. I would never raise a glass of brew or spirits to my lips again. You never forget these things. If I think about it, I can still taste that one drop of whiskey on my tongue. Perhaps it was not bad but merely too strong for me. Whatever, I was on the wagon for life.

My dad was also a chain smoker. Strange, because he’d been an athlete, a fine swimmer, in his youth, even challenging (but never beating) the legendary Johnny Weissmuller in semi-official events in Lake Michigan, before schools had swimming pools. But once he became a cop, which is a high-tension job, he began smoking and drinking coffee laced with sugar and cream. His RPMs were definitely up.

When I say chain smoker, I mean just that. Five packs a day of those Philip Morris short cigarettes (not the longer types) with no filters. How he lived to the age of eighty-six is one of the mysteries of medical science. When he died, in 1992, I figured the stock of Philip Morris would drop off the charts. He even smoked in bed, getting up during the night to light up every so often, which scared my mother out of her mind nightly.

He’d also smoke at the dinner table. One bite, one puff, one bite, one puff, etc. For some reason, that secondary smoke always wafted its way to where I was sitting. I soon hated that smell — and still do. So there was no way I’d ever begin smoking, even when my friends were experimenting in this vice. And I did not like their secondary smoke any more than I liked that coming from my dad’s cigarettes.

I think there was also a medical reason for my not wanting to take in any sort of banned substance. I’m extremely sensitive to any drug or medicine. I am allergic but if I take a pill to combat that, I am TKO instantly. If I so much as take an aspirin, I’m nearly asleep. So, I tend to sneeze my way through the allergy and cold seasons rather than ingest anything that will knock me out or alter my behavior.

Now they say wine is not a liquor, though there is alcohol, in its content, but is, rather, a food. I live in Italy, the wine capital of the universe, no matter what the French say. Yet I don’t drink the wine here or anywhere else. A friend tried to get me to do so. With dinner, which is the key. I was groggy as though I’d been given a right cross by Mike Tyson. So, I miss out on the world’s best wines.

Has all this abstinence caused me any problems? None. Even when I was in the Kappa Sigma house at Illinois, in 1954-55, I was the only one of sixty guys that did not smoke or drink. The other fifty-nine did both. No problem. I was the world’s first true “designated driver.” The juniors and seniors would kidnap me on Fridays and keep me prisoner while they drove over to Danville to drink themselves into oblivion.

They were great, of course, and bought me dinner. I then had to stay with them during their binge, as Champaign was thirty miles away and there was no way back. Once the spree was over, they’d flip me the keys and I would pilot them safely back to the house. I will not speak of several incidents that occurred on those return trips as I do not want the long arm of the law to reach me fifty years after the fact! •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Smoking & Drinking Issue, Peterson | Link to this Entry

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