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July 30th, 2009

The Butt Nazi

My friend, Emily, and I were driving back to work after a lunchtime visit to my house.  Em was at the wheel and I decided to have a cigarette before we made it back to the office.  We always smoke in Emily's car and, though both of us are trying to quit, the middle of the work week is the worst time to even attempt to enforce our heretofore feeble attempts.

I would like to preface this little tale this by stating that a couple of years ago I ordered a free gift from Camel (my preferred brand of smokes) in the form of a little pocket ashtray.  Essentially, it's a little oblong metal container with a flip-top head.  Flipping it up reveals an ashtray-type attachment where you can stub out your cigarette.  After the stubbing, you simply drop the butt down into the body of the tin.  Unfortunately, it is small and  fills up fairly quickly, but I consider that a small price to pay for the convenience of an always-ready ashtray.   I carry it in my purse and take it out when I get in my car, which I am loathe to admit I do occasionally smoke in, so that it is always available; whether I am driving or out somewhere in public and need somewhere to dispose of my cigarette butt.

I say this because the entire story I am about to relate is yet another example of the absurd irony that is my life (as any longtime reader of this blog can certainly attest!).  Irony follows me around as a constant companion, and, today, it was riding shotgun.

Knowing fate's predilection for irony in my life, I have often quipped that one day I will be without my trusty, portable ashtray, and on that day I will have need to dispose of my butt in the fashion I most despise:  throwing it on the ground.  What is so ironic about that, you ask?  Well, as I see it, millions of people every single day throw their cigarette butts on the ground.  Passer-by either pay no heed or 'tsk' disapproval silently to themselves.  Perhaps 10% of the time - likely even less - some busybody will stop what they are doing so as to approach the smoker and voice their objection to the method of disposal and overall displeasure with said smoker.  After all, as the bumper stickers say, "the world is not your ashtray."  Touche.  Since I agree with that statement, and I, nine times out of ten, have an acceptable method of ridding myself of my cast-off butts, it would be decidedly ironic that the one day I choose to litter (not without self-recrimination, I assure you), someone would take it upon themselves to say something to me about it.

Today was that day.

Em and I were at the light on Essen Lane, waiting to turn onto Jefferson Blvd. when we noticed an old man in the lane to our right (what would be the center lane) trying to get our attention.  Thinking he needed help, Emily hit the button for the power window and rolled down my side (me, I wouldn't have even rolled down the window - I pointedly ignore other drivers while stopped).  He stuttered at first, and then - with a Middle Eastern accent - proceeded to ask me, "Why do you throw your cigarette onto the ground instead of putting it in ashtray in your car?"

A million things ran through my head that ran the gamut of "there is no ashtray in the car" to "fuck off and mind your own business, you old busybody".

The greatest thing was that the light, at this point, had turned green and everyone in front of us, and him, had gone on through.  Traffic was heavy; it was lunchtime in Baton Rouge and we were at one of its busiest intersections.  People were either trying to get to lunch and make it back to work on time, or were returning from lunch and trying to make it back to work on time.

I opened my mouth to ask him why he felt the need to block traffic at noon to ask such a stupid question, but Emily was already laughing and muttering, "oh hell no", and rolling up my window.  Instead, I put on a look of complete flabbergast, shrugged, and said, innocently,  "I don't know" as if I didn't even understand the question.  Whatever his response might have been, I'll not know because Em was already speeding past to catch up to the light (and allow the pour souls behind us to get a move on).

By time we had turned on to Jefferson, we were both in a fit of giggles hard enough to make our stomachs hurt.  While the entire episode was laughable, what got us was the hand gesture he kept using as he was attempting to convince Em to roll down the window.  For whatever reason, to indicate he wanted to ask us about a cigarette, he had made a cutting-scissors motion with his hand.

We have decided that this is now our secret hand gesture for wanting a cigarette from each other and the man's actions have garnered him the moniker "The Butt Nazi".

So, what was the point of the Butt Nazi's assault?

Yes, technically, he was right; I should not have thrown my butt out of the window.  Normally I do not because it is wrong and I do not feel right doing so.  Yet, was my faux pas really worth holding traffic up for?  Did the Butt Nazi have nothing better to do with his time; no where important that he had to be?  Did he not give thought to all of the poor people behind him who actually might have somewhere important to be?  Being inconsiderate is being inconsiderate, no matter which way the cut goes, and we were both guilty of that.  I may have littered the "beautiful" city of Baton Rouge (hahaha), but at least I was minding my own damn business while doing so.

I have to wonder as well, what did he hope to accomplish by pointing out that I had thrown my butt out of the window?  Did he expect me to open my car door, get out and find it, and then proceed to hold it in my hand until I found a proper waste receptacle?  Was he offering to let me put my butt in his vehicle?

The actual question - the query he posed - gives nearly as much pause as the actions he performed to ask it.

"Why?" he asked.

Well, why does anyone throw a cigarette butt out of a car?  Perhaps because I was done with said cigarette.  I realize that's a giant leap of next-action thought there, but I find it to be in the realm of, oh let's say, certainty.  My intention in tossing the butt was not to end world hunger or to plant a cigarette butt seed that would sprout, in the middle of the road, a giant cigarette tree.  Yes, that does sound ridiculous, but so does asking someone "why" they would throw a cigarette butt out of a window.

Now, had the Butt Nazi said, "You should not throw your cigarettes out of the window," I would have readily agreed with him.

"Yes, sir, you are correct," I would have said,  "I should not."

But I did.  So what, then,  did he plan to do about it?  If the Butt Nazi was so terribly bothered by the butt being on the ground,  he was more than welcome to continue to hold up traffic,  get out of his vehicle, and find and retrieve said abandoned butt.  That is his right as an American.  Far be it from me to impinge on anyone's rights!

Frankly, the idea of his exiting his car, flagging to the mounting traffic stuck behind him to go around (with another obscure and incorrect hand gesture, of course), and searching the wet road until he found the offending butt (thereby saving Baton Rouge from any further landscape-destroying damage) would have only added to the belly-aching guffaws Emily and I shared the entire ride back to the office.  For that, at least, I am thankful for his meddling imprudence.

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