The dire consequences of exploding cigarettes

Opinion: Columns

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By John Stanger


The hobby shop was located on Westgate, a quaint street with Tudor-style storefronts that ran from Harlem Avenue to Marion Street, between Lake Street and North Boulevard.

I never knew the owner's name, but my friends and I named him "Colonel" because he always wore khakis. His shirts had epaulets, his shoes were spit-shined and his pants always had a sharp crease.

The hobby shop was where many guys bought baseball cards, model airplanes and exploding cigarettes.

My earliest purchases were baseball cards. The owner was a fair man, and I never paid more for a card than what it was worth, and from the time I was 12 until I was 17, I built a sizable collection of cards, which I kept in mint condition.

I kept my cards in an airtight box in our attic but, alas, when the house was sold in 1972, I discovered that the cards had disappeared.

Some of my friends spent their money on other merchandise, such as magic games and trick cards that the owner had in stock.

I was interested, too, in the model airplanes that the owner sold. He carried the simplest ones with the rubber-band-driven propellers to the quite complex gasoline-powered ones. Over a period of three years, I bought, constructed, and crashed both types of planes.

A very popular item that the owner had in stock was exploding cigarettes.

I don't know what was inside the cigarettes, but after a person lit one and took a couple of puffs, the cigarette would pop. The "explosion" never harmed anyone, but it certainly made the person jump.

In my family, every member smoked except for my grandmother and me.

I must admit the thought crossed my mind to buy a pack of these cigarettes and leave them on the kitchen table.

The idea was only a fleeting one, however, because the consequences would have been dire for me if someone in my family had taken a few puffs and the cigarette had exploded.

If that had happened, the victim would have known who planted the cigarettes.

One Saturday afternoon, my pal Charlie Mack bought a pack and told me he would leave the pack on the Mack's kitchen table that night, knowing that one or both of his parents would take the bait.

Charlie was certain that after the cigarette popped, his dad or mother would laugh. But Charlie's parents were serious, stoic people, so Charlie's plan failed.

When I saw him at school on Monday, I asked how the trick worked.

Charlie told me that when the cigarette popped in his dad's face, his dad became very angry. First, he sent Charlie to his bedroom for the rest of the night. Second, Mr. Mack assigned Charlie to two weeks of janitorial duties in their house and yard. Third, Charlie was not allowed to socialize after school or on weekends for two weeks.

Charlie's dad's word was good. I did not see Charlie on the ballfield either after school or on weekends for two weeks.

I was very grateful that better judgment was my guide.

John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor  (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn't gotten far in 77 years.

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