The Nonsmoker

Best known for his lively book See Here, Private Hargrove, MARION HARGROVE was a widely traveled writer and editor for the Army during the war. He is now engaged in magazine work in New York.


FRED WILLIS, when he gave up smoking, had a particularly bad case of the Reformed Smoker’s compulsion to waylay normal people in the hall and recite to them a standard speech of testimonial. I must have icard him give The Speech a dozen times in less than a week. I thought I was in for it again the afternoon George Nobble joined us down at the end of the bar. I saw George reaching for his cigarettes, and I tried to signal him not to start passing them around, jut apparently he missed the warning, which just isn’t like George.

“Gasper?” he said, proffering the pack to Fred.

“Not for me,” said Fred, a certain happy gleam coming into his eye. I’ve sworn off.” I could see that he was winding up for The Speech, but George was in there ahead of him.

“Tried that once myself,” said George. “ Worst thing a man can do.”

“I just suddenly decided— said Fred, and that’s as far as he got.

“I guess,” said George, “I was one of the worst nonsmokers alive. At one point I stopped to figure it out, and I figured I was doing without two packs of cigarettes a day. When it gets to that stage, a man has to do something. He’s not controlling the habit any more; it’s controlling him.”

There was a little pucker of confusion between Fred’s eyebrows, but the fervor of reform was bright in his eyes. “I’d get up in the morning,” he said stoutly, “with this horrible taste in my mouth —”

“Know it exactly,” said George. “A terrible bland, naked taste, like somebody had gone over the inside of your mouth with a toothbrush. Human mouth isn’t supposed to feel like that in the morning. A man needs to wake up gradually, cough and wheeze a little, and start groping for his weeds. Taste of tobacco tar gives a man the courage to get his eyes open.”

“Oh, come on now,” said Fred. “I’m serious.”

“It’s a very serious thing,” said George. “Do you know, for instance, what nonsmoking does to the taste buds? Before I took up nonsmoking I had no idea what food actually tasted like. When I actually began to taste, my wife’s cooking, I damned near divorced heron the spot. I think if I had given up one more pack of cigarettes, it would have been the ruination of the marriage.”

Fred dipped restlessly into the bowl of peanuts on the bar. “There’s a financial consideration,” he said. “Did you ever stop to figure

“ Yes,” said George. “The actual cost of nonsmoking in dollars and cents. I figure, well, say I smoke three packs a day, in the course of a year I’ve given the Federal and state governments $164.25 — in little painless dribs and drabs. That’s money they would otherwise gouge out of me in income tax. I’ll bet you never stopped to think what widespread nonsmoking would mean, tax wise, to a man in your income bracket. I think you would be appalled.”

“I read a magazine article,” Fred said, rather desperately. “It’s not the tobacco that makes the habit.”

“Of course it isn’t,” said George. “It’s the whole mechanical process involved in nonsmoking. It gives you something to do with your hands. You can drum them on a table top, or play with the stem of your cocktail glass — or just tremble a little, the way you’re doing now.”

Fred put his hands into his pockets.

“I must say, though,” said George, “you’re certainly looking well. You’ve put on a lot of weight, haven’t you?’

“Not an awful lot,” said Fred. “I’m going to start doing some exercises. Get myself really in trim.”

There was a long silence. Fred seemed quite thoughtful.

“Another round, Mr. Clancy,” George finally said to the bartender. “Cigarette, Fred?’

“I don’t mind if I do,” Fred said absently. “It might help me with this awful craving for peanuts.”