He was like, 85. I’d say that span of living is nice ‘n long for compromised lungs that had a daily cascade of chemical toxins assaulting them. The cowboy rancher got hired to be the face of filtered cigarettes back in the day because – let’s face it – filters are for pussies. Thus, they needed a Sam Elliot sort to make it marketable to men. Fastforward a bit, and thanks to this so-pansy-it-needed-supercharged-testosterone-to-sell product, the tobacco actor’s in good company now (assuming he and the rest of the spokesmen all went to Marlboro heaven) because a handful of other former poster child puffers only recently kicked the bucket too. (Isn’t it funny how we use “kick the bucket” – which I assume is meant to be kicking the bucket while you stand necklaced with a noose – for all deaths? Even non-suicides? Even though, in a way, cigarettes are a kind of slow suicide? I digress…) But – bringing the rope out of that parenthetical aside and stretching it into a segue bridge that culminates in a lasso – mayhaps being a cowboy had something to do with he and his kind even living this long. I mean, think about it. Your days are numbered the moment you pick up a toxic habit like smoking. Making it into your 80s is pretty damned good, considering.
So, could these dudes’ day jobs have been what added life to their years and years to their lives?
I mean, these guys were the real deal, most of ‘em (not initially, but later on). They got rodeo guys, stunt dudes, and all around real salt-of-the-earth-but-I’ll-still-steal-yo-girl-without-even-trying cowboys to market their breathable morgue tickets. And while most folk rat racing off to a rat wheel of tasks in a fluorescent catacomb called “work” would die pretty quickly, the cowboys kept doing what cowboys do: endure. Now, I don’t know much about being a cowboy, but in this one autobio I recently read, the author explained how much better it is to spend your days outside, breathing the air, working with your hands. He said two things about it that resonated with me. Things that happen when you’re working outside – doing something you like:
1.) You’re willing to stretch your “nine to five” into “sunrise till sunset”.
2.) There’s something about it one can’t quite explain in words.
Here, from a far lower level and in a building adjacent but across the way (for the sake of trying to empathize), I can make a personal analogy – how it feels working out, outdoors. No, I can’t explain that magic that it does. Yes, I can get lost in it – stuck running for hours longer than intended. No, none of that happens in a gym where I half hope the treadmill timer I’m looking at every three seconds will culminate in a tombstone. Or a Tombstone Pizza. (Which I don’t even eat because it’ll probably get you to the former faster than the cigarettes themselves – filtered or not.)
(Heart Attack Grill owner holding up ashes of a customer. “Paging Dr. CarneVorkian….”)
Yes, cigarettes aren’t America’s only vice. So, no judgement here on whether you’re clogging your arteries or lungs. ‘cause living a “clean” life may work well for me – but this dude’s story is a reminder that I needed this week on how I can do better on the brain-level. First, I’ll say: don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating tobacco use and you’ll probably get cancer and die from it. But if we’re all gonna die anyway and you’re not willing to quit, why feel guilty about what’s making you happy just because it expedites that process? The rest of us really get tricked into thinking visible forms of toxicity are the only kind there are (like cigarettes, drink, drugs). Meanwhile, people like me are perfectly equipped to poison ourselves with our own invisible elixirs of stress hormones – caused by anxious thoughts we don’t need to indulge but do. And then die of a heart attack before 50.
So take a tip from these Marlboro Men who outlasted most of their customers:
Maybe enduring isn’t so much about how deadly our vices are.
Maybe it’s about how lively our lives are.