The reek of retribution

When it seems like pretty much everyone is actively looking for something to stoke their rage, sometimes it’s satisfying to see a complainer get his or her comeuppance. Even if you can sympathize with the original complaint, you must admit that some people manage to elevate chronic unhappiness to an art form — and why is it they seem to relish broadcasting their discontent?

So it was for my good friend, Dan, a number of years ago.

Now, I generally stick with my own stories because I’ve been collecting and curating them for decades. I don’t need stories that do not belong to me — I already have too many that are mine, alone. But this story is one of those rare exceptions.

Before you question the tale’s veracity, you should know my buddy, Dan, is a straight-laced fellow, unimaginative and prone to easy embarrassment. He goes to great lengths to save himself from potential shame, even when such potential lives only in his unimaginative imagination. Dan has a great sense of humor but he isn’t given to laughing at himself or being the butt of a joke.

I was familiar with the long-playing background of the story because it had been annoying Dan for some months — I have no doubt the story took place just as Dan related it. Honest and not inclined to hyperbole, Dan is incapable of making stuff up, especially when the best part of the story involves Dan, himself, committing what he considers an unspeakable act.

Besides, I have absolute confirmation from a trusted third party that the unspeakable act took place just as I am about to describe it.

But on with the story.

In spite of his restrained demeanor, Dan was possessed of a number of bad habits including his terrible diet, his fondness for adult beverages and his addiction to smoking cigarettes. An I.T. manager with offices on the seventh floor of a high-rise professional building, Dan could often be found haunting the building’s stairwells or public restrooms, sneaking a smoke. My friend preferred the dry warmth of the building’s usually-deserted tucked-away spaces where he could smoke in peace, unmolested by rain, snow or cranky non-smokers.

Of course, not everyone approved of Dan’s smoking.

In the mid-1990s, attitudes were changing and smoking was being banned almost everywhere. Non-smokers were feeling empowered to speak their minds, increasingly willing to vocalize their less-than-polite thoughts on people who smoked. So it was with poor Dan, who found himself the target of a pair of women who worked for an insurance agent on the 15th floor — eight floors above Dan’s office.

You’d think eight floors might be enough separation that a guy could smoke in peace, but, no.

The women started with snarky remarks, criticizing smoking and smokers in unkind language whenever they encountered Dan in elevators or the lobby. As their confidence and annoyance increased, the women policed the building’s public spaces, reading Dan the riot act when they caught him with a cigarette in a stairwell. At considerable personal expense, the women plastered the stairwells, hallways and restrooms of the building with large no smoking signs. Their anti-smoking remarks continued, frequently in the form of loudly spoken and not-very-nice conversations with each other whenever Dan was within earshot.

One day, Dan had retreated to the building’s courtyard to enjoy a cigarette. The weather was nice and, knowing he was smoking in an authorized area for once, my friend wasn’t particularly worried about any negative consequences. He was outside, warmed by the sunshine, no one disapproving. Dan leisurely finished his smoke, stubbing out the butt and placing it in a nearby ashtray. He moved into the main lobby and pressed the button for an elevator.

Moments later, the elevator doors slid apart and Dan was startled to see the two anti-smoking women inside — they were riding up from the underground parking garage beneath the lobby. Reeking of his just-extinguished Marlboro and feeling very small, Dan stepped into the elevator with the two women. The button for the 15th floor glowed brightly. As he pressed the button for the seventh floor, Dan waited for the snark to begin.

It did immediately.

“I’ve read all about the dangers of secondhand smoking,” began one of the women, earnestly and unnecessarily loudly. She went on as the lift passed the third floor. “But sometimes I wonder how unhealthy it is just to be around a smoker who’s not smoking.”

“Oh, I know,” replied the second woman, condescendingly eyeing Dan. The elevator stopped at the seventh floor as she finished, “It’s that obnoxious odor!”

Just as the word odor left the woman’s lips, the doors of the elevator opened. Simultaneously — and almost as a rude punctuation to her remark — Dan expelled what he later described as the mother of all farts. He said its shocking loudness was surpassed only by its awful funk, which he briefly noted with satisfaction as he briskly stepped off the elevator.

Turning, Dan grinned as he saw the women — frozen, mouths agape in shock — just as the doors closed and the elevator began its journey to the 15th floor carrying its two passengers and Dan’s filthy cloud of retribution.

Later, the third party who verified this part of the story described Dan’s offense as “startlingly loud and brassy.”

From that moment on, Dan said, the women’s anti-smoking militancy never waned. But my friend was pleased to note they were careful to avoid provocative language in enclosed spaces.

Photograph © Diane Diederich via Shutterstock

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