As if it weren’t bad enough I never get around to cleaning the shower, I was supposed to be polishing the cat all this time too, and all because nobody wants to buy cigarettes if they have to suck harder on them to keep them lit.

I’m not even sure about that last part. People who like cigarettes like them a whole, whole lot. They’ve already managed to get past the taste and the loogeys and the social stigma and the huddling next to the dumpster to get a fix, so what’s a little sucking? Nevertheless, forty years ago the tobacco industry, already worried that customers might be put off by the cancer thing, were loath to tinker with the product, and when it looked like the government was going to try to make them do it, they sprang into action.

At the time, it would have been unthinkable to ask guests to light up outside. My parents didn’t smoke but had ashtrays around for company; we all made ceramic ashtrays in school. But there were certain things we all learned were dangerous. Don’t run with scissors. Don’t take candy from strangers. Don’t roughhouse in the back seat of the Studebaker when Daddy’s trying to drive. And don’t smoke in bed. Seemed like people were always smoking in bed and bursting into flames. If you died from something other than being an old fuck, you were probably smoking in bed.

So there was some talk of making cigarettes safer by making them burn out faster, so at least you won’t die fast. And Big Tobacco got the notion that it would be SO much easier to just fireproof the whole house. It was like the NRA responding to a grade school massacre by calling for Kevlar gym shorts. Or the AMA combating diabetes by marketing stretchy pants. Boy howdy! Flame retardants for mattresses! Sofas! Carpets! Pajamas! Without them, you were one cigarette away from self-immolation. Big Tobacco got behind the campaign by drenching America’s fire marshals with money and whipping up a frenzy of concern about fire safety. They ended up having to change the cigarettes anyway, but the manufacturers of flame retardants took the ball from there and ginned up the Citizens For Fire Safety and lobbied and advertised and leaned on legislators, intimating that a vote against their chemicals was tantamount to setting our children on fire. They got pounds of fire retardant chemicals planted in every house, in furniture cushions, TVs and electronics, carpeting, and, um, breast milk–and they have succeeded in keeping spontaneous breast combustion incidents at or near zero. The stuff is in our watersheds, our shellfish, and ourselves, and we’re not sure what it’s doing to us, but as long as we keep trying to set ourselves on fire with the cigarettes we don’t smoke inside anymore, that’s a small price to pay for safety.

Larry would be one such small price. My cat Larry topped out at about thirteen pounds of pure love and at some point she kept eating and dropping more and more weight until the day she went all

wobbly and perplexed, and Dave bought us an ice cream cone and we licked it together and went to the vet one last time. Fatal feline thyroid disease, once rare, has spiked dramatically with the introduction of flame retardants, which cats ingest while grooming themselves. Now they’re recommending we sponge off our kitties once a day. I will say, Larry never did catch fire.

What else is small? Babies, sure! They also spend a lot of time on the carpet and furniture and put random stuff in their mouths. Dr. David Heimbach, a burn expert on the Citizens For Fire Safety payroll, is very concerned about babies. He gave dramatic testimony to the California state senate about a terrible death suffered by a baby whose parents put a candle in her crib, and setting aside for now the question whether those particular parents should have been reproducing, he was able to persuade the assembled legislators not to reduce the use of flame retardants. Fortunately, modern babies are way ahead of the game, sliding into the world already packed with the chemicals. If you did introduce some candle ambience into their cribs, the little guys would probably just smolder for a while and then go out. It turns out the good doctor’s anecdote was entirely fabricated, but the truth is a small price to pay for the health of the flame-retardant industry. The Obama administration is looking into trying to ban some of this stuff, but everyone knows he hates American babies.