WARNING: PARENTAL DISCRETION ADVISED
Cigarettes get a pretty bad rap.
I’m not dense, I understand why. They coat clothes, they ruin teeth, and, in extremis, they give cancer. But in moderation, I think a cigarette or two can really improve an evening. Granted, I’ve never ridden a cigarette into the sunset, returning with gainful employment and the love of my life, but I have had a pack of menthols drag me by the collar into some pretty good conversations with strangers. I’ve gone outside in need of a buzz and compared surgery scars with roller derby girls, talked about what it’s like in the shit with a Korean War Huey Pilot, and discussed bar fights with a strange Australian man; all of this just because I have a drunken habit that forces me to go outside.
Cigarettes are by no means part of a healthy breakfast, but in my personal experience they’ve helped to nourish my story hole. Not all the time. Sometimes you see a man bodyslammed into the concrete by a bouncer, other times you just corrupt your lungs quietly and go back inside, but I would go so far as to say that at best they lead to adventure.
Case in point:
So there I was, there I was, there I was. San Francisco, 2:30 in the morning. I’d spent the day standing around, surrounded by Men too old to be doing ecstasy and girls too young to be doing acid; in other words at a music festival. My friends and I had capped off our evening by wandering a few bars in a district I’ve long since forgotten. We were throwing back tall can/fernet specials and dealing with the strange ambiance of watching Tom Cruise’s “Coctail” on a tv hanging above a Big Buck Hunter machine. In retrospect, this would be the most normal facet of the evening.
I stand under a street light, inhaling, shaving minutes off my life as my friends order in the large-windowed pizza shop behind me. I see a gentlemen behind me to the left, his shirt is a short sleeve baby blue cop-shirt. The likes of which you see in The Dukes of Hazzard.
“That’s a dope shirt,” I say glancing back, then the alcohol within me adds, “You a cop?”
You’d think he just heard a grenade go off in the jungles of Vietnam. His eyes take a break from rocketing back and forth in his skull to fix on me. They are endearingly shifty. The kind you’d find on a Tijuana kidney Harvester who has the decency to leave you a note telling you to call a hospital.
“No.” he grits through his teeth.
“Oh,” I reply, “I mean your shirt kind of looks like it. What’ve you been up to tonight, hitting the bars?”
“Nahman. I just came outside to get some air. Me and my boys have been in a room up there for four days.”He extends a finger in a vague direction upwards. “We been doing meth.”
“Oh, that’s…”-I try for a second to imagine what kind of meth fortress hotel he’s holed up in. I expect to turn around and find a two story hovel with half its shingles. But when I follow his hand in its upward line it appears that he’s pointing at a several-story-high office building in excellent repair. I think about how disappointed I am to not see a flaming heap, but then thought of multiple men freebasing using a Swingline stapler is way more amusing- “cool.” I say, nonplussed, “Sounds like a party.”
At this point I am content that there is not much more interest to be drawn from this situation. I flick the butt of my cigarette into the SF street (I’d had an assfull of 49ers fans this year) and prepare to say my goodbye. But as I open my mouth to utter some sort of pleasantry I hear this:
“Yeah, we got a girl up there…”
Allllright, I think, There are a lot of girls in a lot of places
“…we been takin’ turns hittin that…”
Oh, dear Jesus let this be a consensual thing…
“…we been paying her good…”
I think that makes this better? I’m not really…
“Wanna hear the cool thing?”
Well… it would be inconsiderate not to hear the rest of this gentleman’s story…
“I peed in her snatch.”
Now, I do my damnedest to look at all sexual forays in the same light. As long as all parties present are willing, of age, and aren’t cheating on a significant other, I don’t much care who sticks what into who using what substance as a lubricant. However, the sheer force of of this comment travelling through my ear canal, vibrating my cochlear membrane, being converted into electrical signals, and being sent up my auditory nerve to my brain strikes me like a two by four.
Dazed, I turn around to see the pizza shop again. Inside, behind that massive plate glass window, one of my friends has quite obviously napalmed the roof of his mouth with molten cheese. He is flailing about, wildly flapping his hands in front of his slack jaw. The other two sitting with him are laughing uproariously. I watch all of this on mute because I can’t hear through the window.
I marinate in the hilarity of this scene. Then I remember my place in the universe, and of the comment I have just heard, and I recall that one is never more than a couple yards away from something very absurd going on without even knowing it, and that the existence we endure is fucking bonkers.
“Did…” I mumble, “did she like it?”
“Oh, she loved it, I heard her moanin and shit.”
Trying not to act phazed, “Well, that’s good.”
“Where you staying?” He says sincerely.
“oh…” I point with the same vaguery with which he pointed at his “hotel” earlier, only I did so on purpose. “Somewhere over there at a hotel (this was a lie) I’m not the directions guy so…”
“Well, if you need a place to stay, you can come stay with us.”
I’ve put my life in danger a number of times just for the sake of adventure, but even I have lines.
“Rick,” one of my friends calls from the pizza place doorway, “c’mon the pizza’s getting cold.”
That was the last time I talked to that particular cigarette buddy.
I really did think about accepting that man’s offer for a second. Less because I wanted to participate in dubious activities and more because I was curious as to what that whole scene looked like. Then sanity and self preservation got the best of me, and I realized quitting while I was ahead, and not in several garbage bags, was likely the best call.
There’s a lot to be gleaned from this tale, though I’m not sure of what it precisely is. It might be a statement on why we want chemicals to alter our reality or about the vast swaths of the world we pass by every day without considering. It might even be a comment onbase animalistic needs. I don’t know, but what I do know is that that was the best cigarette I ever had in my life.
The pizza was mediocre.