Hi, My Friend Has Asthma.

The other day, I was in a place where A) it’s illegal to smoke and/or B) a lot of children hang out. A bus stop, let’s say. Or a playground. Someone was smoking, and since I knew I had the law on my side (or I wanted to protect my children from second-hand smoke), I went up to this person and asked them to please put out their cigarette. They responded, “Sure, no problem,” and, without any grumbling, immediately extinguished it.

That was a joke, of course. I’ve given up on asking people to put out their cigarettes. The handful of times I’ve tried it, occasionally they would put it out while muttering “under their breath” about how demanding I am. Other times, it was like they thought I came up to them in order to start a philosophical debate. “No, no, no. You misunderstand. That ‘No Smoking’ sign [right behind me] means that you’re not allowed to smoke from where the sign is until the wall over there,” someone explained to me once. I…had no response to that one.

So I’ve mostly stopped trying. At bus stops, I don’t bother. I can just imagine the, “But I’m not at the bus stop; I’m just near the bus stop,” or the muttering or the flat-out, “No, it’s not against the law.” And, because there are no stickers (HINT HINT HINT), I can’t prove it.

It’s me, I think. I’m just too hostile about it; that’s why I’m getting all these bad reactions. What with my “excuse me”s and my “please”s. Seriously, there is no way of asking someone not to smoke that doesn’t sound either belligerent or passive-aggressive (although I’m still not sure whether there’s such a thing as being passive-aggressive in Hebrew).

The other problem is that by the time someone gets out a cigarette, they’re kind of by definition in need of a smoke, and they’re not likely to be in the mood for a complete stranger to walk up to them and tell them what to do, especially if “what to do” involves not smoking. I hear that, and I understand that as a non-smoker I have no idea what it’s like…but but but. I mean, I know smokers. I know smokers who have tried to quit. I know smokers who have not touched a single cigarette while pregnant and then gone back to it like a gasping fish the second the placenta was delivered, and I think it’s amazing that they were able to fight the cravings like that for nine full months.

I’m just saying, if these women can fight their cravings for nine months, maybe you can hold out another half-hour.

(Too harsh?)

My friends with asthma have a much better success rate than I do. They go up to people and say, “Hi, I have asthma, and smoke really makes it act up. Could you please put out your cigarette?”

Voila, no cigarette, no argument.

* * * * *

The first time I was offered a cigarette, I was eleven years old. I had been playing for a few years in the town softball league, where all the other girls went to school together, they all knew each other, they all had straight, shiny hair; and none of them had bangs.

Despite all these differences, there was a group of three or four girls that year who were friendly and even spent time hanging out with me, talking about things other than the batting order and how a walk is as good as a hit. (Clap clap.) One time, we had a ten-minute break after warm-up before the game started, so we walked to some nearby cul-de-sac to kill time.

One of the girls took out a box of cigarettes. She lit one and started passing out the rest. Everyone took one in turn, and then she reached me.

“Want one?” she asked.

This is it, I thought. This is what you’ve been training for your whole life. Defying peer pressure, avoiding lung cancer, being strong in the face of adversary… it all boils down to this one moment.

The air was thick with suspense. Fireworks exploded in the sky. The music crescendoed.

“No, thanks,” I said.

“Okay,” she responded, and moved on to the next girl.

Later, when my parents asked why I smelled like smoke, I lied my polyester pants off and told them one of the other parents had been smoking near the game. (I guess I was afraid that they would freak out and pull me off the team. In retrospect, I think I was confusing my parents with… not my parents.)

* * * * *

I suppose I could start pretending that I also have asthma, but that level dishonesty makes me uncomfortable.

What I could do is say, “Hi, my friend has asthma, and smoke really makes it act up. Could you please put out your cigarette?” Which is technically true. And if I pair it with a shoulder roll in the direction of the bus stop, then the person I’m talking to might–on his or her own initiative–come to the conclusion that said friend is at this particular bus stop and is affected by this particular smoke.

True, this is probably not going to work as well if the bus stop is empty. Although, then the smoker might get scared that I’m a paranoid-schizophrenic and put out the cigarette just to avoid getting into a confrontation with me. Although, statistically, paranoid-schizophrenics are no more dangerous than anyone else. Although, most people don’t know that. Although, is it morally wrong to take advantage of ableist stereotypes like that, even for a just cause?

Really, I guess I should be thanking them for giving me this opportunity for moral introspection.

About the Author
Tzippy grew up in the vicinity of Teaneck, "Ir HaKodesh." She made aliyah because there just wasn't enough kosher pizza.