On the street

Art Buchwald

June 14, 1993|By Art Buchwald

ONE of the saddest sights in a big city now are the smokers standing outside their office buildings puffing away because they are no longer permitted to smoke inside.

There are no more guilt-ridden people on earth.

They never look you in the eye. Most of them are bent over, hiding their faces, staring at the cracks in the sidewalk. They inhale and exhale, hoping not to be noticed by the passing crowd.

Father Crowly of "Our Lady of the Virginia Slims" ministers to those who are obsessed with the tobacco weed. He offered to give me a tour.

"This is my flock," he said, pointing to a group huddled in the doorway of the General Motors building.

"They are so hopeless that no one else will have anything to do with them."

"They seem to be coughing a lot," I told him.

"That does not mean they are not good people. You see the fellow in the pin-striped suit with the Countess Mara neckties? He works for an advertising agency and he's out on the sidewalk every seven minutes."

"What's so wrong with that?"

"He works on the 50th floor. Every time he sneaks down he gets short of breath.

"The woman with her back to us is Regina Dumbarton. She is a two-pack-a-day person and is terribly frightened that if Clinton puts a new tax on cigarettes she will have to sell her apartment to pay for her habit. She could never afford those costs on the salary she makes in her health insurance firm."

"Father, is smoking a sin?"

"It will be if they put a new tax on it."

"What do you tell people who live in dread that this could happen?"

"I tell them to get down on their knees and pray to the tobacco lobby."

"How did you get involved in saving these souls?"

"One time the Marlboro man was in the confessional and he was smoking. I breathed in his secondary smoke, and I was hooked."

"Then what?"

"The cardinal issued an decree that he didn't want smoking in church, so I went out on the sidewalk where I met all these addicts that no one cared for."

We walked past Saks Fifth Avenue. Customers as well as employees were standing outside the store, not speaking to each other but lighting their cigarettes as if they hoped to find a message there.

Father Crowly said, "Some of my hardest cases are customers who don't know if they should be inside or outside the store."

"What do you do for them?"

"Give them absolution as well as coffee and doughnuts. It can be darn cold in the winter smoking in the street. These people have to have coffee with their cigarettes."

Father Crowly went up to one of the smokers standing in the shadow of Radio City Music Hall. The man's hand was shaking as he tried to light his smoke.

Father Crowly took out a Zippo and lit it for him.

"God bless you, Father," the man said.

Crowly tapped him on the head, "Even chain-smokers need love."

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