He is a man in his late seventies or early eighties who crosses the highway at the traffic light every morning. His destination
is a coffee shop in a small plaza. He is the kind of person most people don't pay much attention to. You could say he is one of the
invisible elderly we only see if they step right in your path. He uses a cane and bends forward from his waist as he shuffles. His
clothes are non-descript as are his features. He glances from side to side without moving his head, almost as if he was hoping nobody
would notice him. Dangling from his lips or between his fingers is the ever-present smoldering cigarette. He enters and takes a seat
in the first empty booth. A few of the regulars greet him with a pleasant ," Good Morning Walter". The other regulars don't pay him
any attention, as do those who don't know him.
The coffee shop has a self-service array of large thermos containers for the customers.
Walter pumps himself a small paper cup of regular black and returns to his seat. He sits with one leg spread out from the bench in
a manner that will cause patrons to step around him lest they get tripped. For the better part of an hour he will sit and glance in
his usual furtive manner, while he consumes his coffee. During the hour he will get up about every fifteen minutes to go outside,
regardless of the weather, and smoke a cigarette. Walter likes the Marlboro Hard Packs. Most days Walter doesn't have to pay for his
coffee and some days he is given a pastry by the proprietor.
Walter's income is unknown but those who thought about it might think
it was very limited. Most likely he is trying to survive on a small pension. He did tell a few people one time that he had a career
in the Navy. If so, he couldn't have earned much in Social Security wages and probably is receiving a small pension from the US Military.
years of the daily routine recently came to a sudden halt for Walter and the coffee shop. No, he didn't get hit while crossing the
highway. He didn't fall over from a heart attack or some other sudden illness.
Walter was told by the proprietor to never set foot
in his place of business again. It seems that he could not adjust to an honor system that all the other customers accept . The self-service
coffee extends to self-service for pastries and in some cases, long-time customers would step behind the counter , slice a bagel ,
place it in the toaster, wait for it to drop and retrieve butter patties from the refrigerator below the counter. The honor system
allows customers to pay at the counter and make their own change from cash left there by previous customers. When the proprietor has
time or the inclination he will pick up all the cash and ring it up in his register. This works well because the regulars serve themselves
the same items every day and know the exact prices.
It happened one busy morning last week. The proprietor walked by the counter and
placed a five-dollar bill folded and on edge along with a passel of other bills and change. He walked out to the back of his establishment,
saw Walter walk to the counter and when he returned the bill was missing. When confronted, Walter denied taking it , but he was caught
dead to rights. Why would a man who was treated so well at the coffee shop and who relied so much on his daily routine, sacrifice
everything for a few dollars? The best answer is probably because he is a thief and has been one most of his life. Some have said
he worked as a bartender when he was young and he probably got into the habit of taking business money on the job.
If he took about
five dollars a day during fifteen years of patronage at the coffee shop, that is a considerable loss of business. But, in today's
economy he would need eleven dollars and fifty cents just to pay for his cigarette habit. The figures are staggering when you think
about them. Here is a man who probably makes the average pension, about $750 a month. He smokes two packs a day at $5.75 each. That
amounts to $345.00 a month.Walter sucks up 46 percent of his income and blows it out his nostrils.
Remember when the tobacco company
executives were questioned at a congressional hearing and asked if they thought cigarette smoking was addictive? and they all answered
the same way "cigarettes are not addictive. " A large percentage of the crime today is related to drugs. People have been known to
go to unbelievable extremes of shop-lifting, burglary and armed robbery to satisfy their habits. When we think of drugs, what comes
to mind are the well-known poppy and coca derivatives. Add to the list the alkaloid nicotine from the tobacco plant. Heroin, among
youth as young as twelve, is a major problem in Boston and other cities. One reason is the low price of four dollars for a bag of
quality stuff. These same kids are addicted to tobacco but they have a decision to make when they get five bucks." Do I buy a pack
of butts for $5.75 or a bag for $4.00?I need both but that will take all the cash I have. I have to find some easy money someplace."
There are no excuses that can be made for these kids or Walter. Stealing is still stealing. It is just necessary to know that when
it comes to drugs( nicotine included) there is very little society can do.The last seven presidents tried with their "wars on drugs"
and all that did was help them get elected.