The History of Smoking(1994— )
I never did it to look older.
I never did it to rebel.
I never did it to look cool (at first).
I never did it to fit in.
I did it because of charity.
Summer 1994. Home, finished with my sophomore year of college.
I’m a busboy at swanky, exclusive Waverley Country Club. There’s a no tipping policy.
We work a lot of parties and wedding receptions, which run late.
Cleaning up one night there’s a half pack of cigarettes.
And I pocket them.
I can’t remember the brand. Or if they were regulars or lights.
Or if the filters were white or brown.
I know they weren’t menthols or Lucky Strikes or anything exotic.
I had my first cigarettes in my parents’ driveway, next to the baby blue Plymouth Horizon.
It was late and everyone was asleep.
I did this for a couple nights. It’s not bad.
I didn’t choke or cough and my parents didn’t catch me.
I had a tendency to chew on pens, so it did satisfy a certain nervous, oral something.
But I’m practical. I didn’t like it well enough to get cancer, stink up my clothes, spend money, and stain my fingernails like my former driver’s ed instructor.
Besides nobody (that I know) at my small, Christian, liberal arts college in the Midwest smoked.
It’s a non-smoking campus.
Not that I am this methodical at the time.
It just didn’t really grab me.
I would smoke pipes, in a park with my friends at the end of our junior year.
And then there were the cigars at a wedding.
It is Christmas break, senior year, and we’re in the parking lot of a hotel in Western Illinois.
It’s cold and few of us have smoked cigars before.
They’re cheap convenience store ones-despite what the name (Dutch Masters) and ersatz Rembrant artwork would have you believe.
Pieces break off in our mouths and we’re spitting, coughing, and hacking like little kids caught smoking and forced to finish a pack.
Our throats are raw and sore in the morning.
It puts me off of cigars for about four years.
(Over five years later, at a New Haven gas station, I’ll see an empty, lidless Dutch Masters box
on a stack of newspapers and I’ll think of the wedding and college and a girl.)
Then, the summer after graduation, another wedding. The groom gives us pipes as a gift.
It’s more symbolic than anything, a physical reminder of the one time we all smoked together in college, as well as an indicator that we are going our separate ways, geographically and otherwise.
I won’t even light mine for months.
I’ll occasionally smoke it, living south of Boston, living like an old man.
Chess, tea, jazz hardcover books, aimless walks, cardigan sweaters, dinner for one-as if getting
a jump on my autumn years.
A girl from college, Korea by way of Minnesota, comes up from Princeton one weekend.
Last year a friend had called her “The last of the elegant smokers.”
On a sloping porch, she smokes my pipe. Maybe we share it.
It was six years ago and I can’t be sure.
I haven’t seen her since.
During this restless post-college period (Graduation and its discontents), many of my college
friends and acquaintances will become smokers. Maybe they always were.
I guess I wasn’t even curious because I never ask for one. Maybe I think I was being decent, consistent with my innocent adolescent image of myself.
Good kids don’t smoke.
The pipe does make sporadic appearances; on the stone streets of a Romanian town,
under the stars at a New Hampshire lake, on an Oregon beach, in a North Shore driveway.
I never learn to blow a decent smoke ring.
The Cigarette Years.
Back, slightly dazed, in New England for grad school.
At a favorite cousin’s (second cousin, technically) wedding, in a Stop & Shop parking lot, I smoke my first cigarette in five years.
It’s with mostly strangers united by the college we all attended.
A girl who will soon be across the ocean offers a light, but it goes out. I should’ve lightly taken her wrist, like the movies.
Standing outside the closed supermarket, on a Saturday night, I feel I’m having a missed adolescent moment.
I always was a late bloomer.
Then several times in a week I’m stopped and asked, “Do you have a cigarette?”
Of course I don’t. And I feel a bit bad,but oddly flatted that I look like someone who might smoke.
So I decide to buy cigarettes to offer strangers.
The first pack I buy at a gas station in Ipswich is Kamel Reds
because a high school friend mentioned them once.
That’s really how it started.
(To be continued)
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
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