Writing For School Papers & On Smoking
This is a piece I wrote for the school paper. Though it’s adapted from something I had scrawled down on a legal pad sometime during December. I think it has some strong points but after reporting for paper for lecture, I kind of realized that I’m not much of a reporter. It seems the prose only works if the topic and a phrase or two up and appear to me and harass me until I write about it.
There are very few pieces of advice that I have remembered from when I was young. However, on a ski-lift outside Burlington, Vermont when I was perhaps 8 years old, I went on a ski-lift with a stranger (I couldn’t lift the bar on my own). I remember his name as Matt. He had dark, tightly curled hair. He lifted a cigarette to his lips, lit it, and told me to never start smoking and “if you do don’t smoke them down to the filter like I do” as he threw the butt away. 10 years have passed since I rode the ski-lift with Matt and now I’m the one with cigarettes on my lips—not something I altogether predicted. I’ll be honest. My tastes and consumption is fairly mild. I smoke Turkish Golds and American Spirits, not more than 3, even on a bad day.
But between the flick of my Zippo and the first smoke-filtered breath, Matt’s advice has come to me: I watch the ash burn its way down toward the filter. And when the smoke becomes harsh and I know the heat is coming closer to my fingertips, I realized that I didn’t follow either part of Matt’s advice: not only do I smoke cigarettes, I smoke them down the filter.
Attending school hasn’t helped my habit much. You try to quit during exams. There are a fair amount of smokers here and I think we mostly recognize each other. You’ll see them outside Curtis after dinner when it’s warm, on the deck at Crawford, and the warm spot at Shep. Now that you can see your breath without smoking, they’ll be huddled near but not too close to doorways all around A-quad. As a group we do each other a lot of favors. I bummed a Camel Light off a professor and offered to pay her back in kind the next time I saw her. She gracefully declined—and that’s fairly typical of all smokers. We know we’ll be out sometime and you’ll hook us up.
This of course, is during the day-time; which I suppose means I’ve crossed the line from social smoker to “smoker” smoker. However we have social smokers too here: outside any Sunset Apartment building on Friday, Saturday, Monday, or Wednesday you’ll hear the gentle strains of “Bottoms up! Bottoms up!” drifting down and see the smoke drifting up. There’ll be a motley line of guys and girls leaning against the railings, probably sweaty, talking animatedly or just looking up, depending on how their night is going. The firefly cherries telling whoever walks by they’re out for a smoke. The security guards might be there too–waiting for someone to come by with an open container, sure, but if you’re smoking with him there’s a certain understanding that you’ve come to. You’d lend him a lighter. You can make small talk on the noise of the party that’s spilling out of the building.
And trust us we know: we don’t look cool, we’re taking years off our life, we smell like smoke and probably taste like it too. We’re a forgiving group though. After all we share at least one vice with each other—and that means even if we don’t know each other, we can still say at least “hey”… and maybe ask for a cigarette.