Work of Art - Anything for a laugh

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By Art Trujillo

An impressive new video on Facebook, the social medium on computers, aims in setting the right example for children.

The brief video is quite graphic, something I wouldn’t recommend showing my youngest granddaughters.

It shows a woman going up an escalator, her daughter tagging along. As they reach the upper level, the mom discards a cigarette butt and stomps on it, and the child, probably no more than 5 years old, does the same. (I seriously doubt the child ever took a drag on the cigarette — it was probably just a prop. Nevertheless, having the child shown holding the smoked cigarette, and then littering with it, makes a point).

The video includes a potpourri of “things parents pass on to their children.” It features a domestic beating, shouting, road rage, more littering, the use of obscene language and gestures, and a session in which Junior replicates the same punches his dad throws during an attack on another person.

The message is that children learn from grown ups.

Coincidentally, about two weeks ago, I stopped to take a group photo of some youngsters. The photo wasn’t for publication but for the group’s personal collections. What did I see in the back row? It was a kid flipping off whoever would eventually look at the picture. I took a few extra shots to eliminate the flipping-off view.

Now what would have happened when we were kids if we’d graced the picture we appeared in with such  photographic classlessness?

Yeah, it’s easy to condemn all of the “me” generation, the children who never knew life without a cell phone, X-Box or Play Station. Granted, on average, kids today have infinitely more “stuff” than we had. And we needed to make our own fun.

Here comes one of the things we did, perhaps picked up from someone older:

One of my close friends in the Railroad barrio was Billy Martinez, who — as long as I live, will reign as the perpetual holder of the description, “Anything for a laugh.” Even today, some 20 years after Billy passed away, I find myself chuckling over some of his antics.

He introduced me to smoking — of a sort. No, none of us in our pre-teens could ever afford the 21 cents needed for a pack of Luckies. They were available at a gas station on Grand, on the site of what is now La Cocina de los Aragon’s. At the time ­— and we made sure to do comparison shopping ­— 21 cents was the cheapest price in town.

Billy came up with an even cheaper way of helping us pretend to be grown ups. He’d roll up copies of Life magazine until they had about 20 plies, cigar-style.

He’d light his new creation just enough to make the tip glow, and puff away. I watched, all the time fearing that the smell of slow-burning magazine smoke would remain on my clothes, causing a Level Three Interrogation when I got home. (More on L.T.I. in a future column).

In spite of my fear of retribution, I joined in. And here’s why: If I’m going to be accused of smoking, when all my inhalations were passive, I might as well join in.

Big mistake. Billy said he was able to smoke “three or four magazines in a row until I felt real drunk.” My first inhalation caused a gagging reflex that lasted the rest of the day. Now whether that experience was the impetus for the 25 years of smoking real cigarettes, I can’t be sure. But I wish that the first jolt would affect people so profoundly that they’d never pick up the habit/addiction.

Well, my anything-for-a-laugh buddy rehearsed some outlandish tales for when his parents came home. Among them: “Mannie [my childhood nickname] and I were just sitting in the house, talking, when a meter reader came over to check our circuits. Man! Did he ever smell like smoke.”

And another favorite, which he said was sure to convince his parents, was, “The oven door flew open all of a sudden and some logs fell out, and Mannie and I had to push them back in.”

A third alibi, never used, was, “We had the window to the alley open, and some guys walked by and they were smoking a magazine.”

The sardonic looks on Billy’s parents’ faces convinced me they didn’t believe a word of the fabrications. I later heard, he paid for it after his parents suggested I go home.         

• • •

A 40s movie appeared on Netflix the other night, featuring some of the long-since-passed-away actors like Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, Betty Grable and Clark Gable. I hadn’t even noticed that I was viewing a black-and-white flick.

Rather the more impressive thing — if “impressive thing” is the right word —  about the movie was the amount of drinking and smoking that took place. My, how they could shove those drinks and smoke! It makes you wonder how they could afford such vices.

I was raised in a family in which all eight of us smoked at various times. Today, the five offspring of J.D. and Marie Trujillo, never touch the stuff. Through the years I enjoyed a beer with my sons on Super Bowl Sunday, a custom that has disappeared. And none of us Trujillos has lit up a cigarette in decades.

My mom was a pack-a-day smoker of Luckies, unfiltered. Her friends urged her to quit the weed  — probably more to save money than for any health reason. Remember, even doctors smoked in those days, and many of them appeared in cigarette commercials and magazine ads.

Mom quit long before she died. I asked her about her travails with nicotine. “Once I threw them out the window as I was driving to work,” she said. “But later that day I drove by that spot and picked them up again.”

The clincher, she said, was in her decision to chain-smoke a whole pack — literally. The ordeal made her so sick — light the second cigarette with the first — that she never went back to that habit.

And that was good. We never knew whether or to what extent  the cigarettes may have had a deleterious effect on her lungs; but for sure, they affected her pocketbook.      
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com or art@rezio.net.