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Life in the Time of Corona

To Butt in or Not

Patricia Edmisten

Patricia Edmisten is retired from the University of West Florida where she directed the office of International Education and Programs. Her two years in Peru as a Peace Corps volunteer influenced the direction of her life. She is a social justice activist and the author of eight books.

Yesterday being Sunday, we again attended our Corona-free church, located at the edge of the sea, a short trudge over squeaky white sand from the first parking lot inside the entrance to the Gulf Islands National Seashore at Fort Pickens. Shhhh. We like to keep attendance low.

Usually we set up the umbrella and then place the chairs in its shade, but this morning it was blissfully cooler than usual, and we thought we would expose our skin to the sun, reaping some Vitamin D. Before long, a tall, middle-aged man with a beer belly and ponytail ambled by, a huge smile on his face and a cigarette in his right hand. We smiled at each other and exchanged pleasantries. But I was suspicious. I kept staring at his cigarette. Is he going to flick it into the Gulf when he’s through puffing? And who these days smokes on the beach, for crying out loud? Isn’t breathing the fresh, briny air one of the reasons you come in the first place?

The visitor turned back shortly after passing us. I had not taken my eyes off his butt. Ha! He did it! I saw just where it landed. Didn’t he know how many thousands of years it takes for a cigarette filter to biodegrade? Did it ever? “You dropped your cigarette butt,” I said in what I thought was a nonchalant voice, waiting for an obscene reply. Instead, he smiled and acknowledged that yes, he dropped it, but gosh, he didn’t know why because he always just stubs them out and pockets them. He then feigned his own search, looking at the gentle surf as it flowed in and out.  I knew it wasn’t there. He had dropped it from his right hand, on the upper side. I made ready to stand up, but Joe put his hand on my arm.  “Don’t Patricia,” he cautioned. Undaunted, I walked over to the spot and, bending down to retrieve it, said, “here it is.” “Don’t,” the man said, I’ll get it.” He picked up the butt, pocketed it, and wished us well. Another close call for me and my mouth, but I wasn’t surprised because even a short time at the beach takes the edges off, even those caused by Corona.

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