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2009-06-10 - 10:55 p.m.

My current smoking ban comes with a few allowances. Buying smokes is strictly verboten. Purchasing a pack ensures twenty swiftly smoldered squares and quick trip back onto the wagon. I didn't fly through two rather expensive boxes of patches to fold that easily. However, a spare cig here and there isn’t out of bounds. Having one or two in a day isn’t awful. It’s still far less than the twenty some odd cancer sticks I was sliding down my throat like so many mini-burgers from White Castle, back in the day.

So after surviving a long day of work, and managing a hair cut that didn’t make me look twelve, I gave myself permission to bum a smoke should one make itself available.

My first targets were a trip-tic of flannel making their way up St. Marks. Big rims, hair that seemed to drool off the top of their heads, and well beaten chucks; these three were doing little to save themselves from the hipster brand.

“Pardon me...”

I got the lead one to look up.

“Can I a smoke of you?”

In the past few weeks, when I’ve dared to bother someone for a stick of tar, I’ve insisted on at least making the motions of payment. So far, only one has taken me up on the offer. These three, each of them with a smoke, probably turned their ears off as soon as I said the word “bum.”

“Ehhh...I...Sorry...” Was all he could manage, along with an awkward shrug.

I nodded solemnly, and raised my hand in an understanding salute. All the while, I prayed that spiders would nest in each of their Baby’s-First-Beards.

Luckily, only a few doors down, there was a bar. And where there is a bar, there are at least a few smokers loitering out front. In this case it was two older suits. A grey haired distinguished gentlemen who’d already doffed his jacket and rolled his sleeves, and his slightly more stout friend, who insisted on keeping his single breasted jacked closed, even in the seventy degree weather.

“Pardon me, I don’t suppose I could buy a smoke off you?”

“Oh!” The stout man patted his pockets while saying out loud, “I left them inside.”

I was about to turn away with another wilted wave, when he continued.

“Give me a second.”

And off he went inside. His friend smiled a bit.
“He rolls them himself.” The gentleman raised an eyebrow to that.

His friend rolled back out, toting a leather trimmed cigarette case and a wide grin. He popped it open, revealing what appeared to be a dozen odd cigarettes that looked no different that your standard Camel. The only tell tale sign of a non-professional packing was the amount of loose tobacco dancing about in the case. He handed one over, and I went into my pocket for a dollar.

“No, no. See what you think. They’re a little strong.”

I pinched the cigarette and felt a filter pushing back. I’d seen people roll filters into their smokes before, but the wrapper on this was perfect. The writing stopping just before the filter. It could have been a body double for a Marlboro.

“I’ve got a machine. Rolls it right up.”

He lit the cigarette for me and immediately the difference jumped at me. He wasn’t wrong, the tobacco was strong, and it hit the back of my throat like sand paper. When I glanced down at the smoke, though, a full quarter of the thing had gone up in a plume of white wisps. The tar-baby may have looked pretty, but there was about a third of the tobacco of a normal smoke in it. It would have taken all of five strong pulls to drag that cig to the filter.

“Thanks. It is strong. Much obliged.”

“Well, enjoy it.”

I saluted, this time earnestly. And walked around the corner. I laughed a little at the strange little smoke. The tobacco was fantastic, the aesthetics perfect, but all in all...hollow.

‘Man needs to learn how to pack,’ I thought.

I was chuckling as I sat down on my scooter. I was chuckling as I looked up into the mirror. And I will forever remember that I was smoking the best dressed half cigarette in the world, when I looked into my scooter’s rear view mirror, and saw my first grey hair sticking out the side of my head.

I wished I’d asked for at least two smokes from the gentlemen at the bar.

P.S. When I got home I spent a full ten minutes staring at my side burns in the mirror. Grey hairs are hard to tell from blond ones. Many a second opinion will be requested tomorrow.

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