Long before there were any notches on a beat-down headboard or a depraved selection of stories of how the notches got there, before jobs or deadlines, before past due notices and pleading no contest, there were cigarettes.
The second gateway drug after your friend’s mom and dad’s Kahlua and peppermint schnapps.
The daily dope of yellowing fingernails and raspy morning hacks, the hourly desire to tap the vein and choke the throat with that stinky, sweet tightening of every wonderful inhale…
6th grade. 1985. Metropolitan Learning Center. Northwest Portland, Oregon. Off-campus lunch hour. The Gypsy was a vast, dingy, dark neighborhood lounge where filthy day-drinkers and junkies hoping to escape the light of the afternoon often dwelled. In its doorway stood a cigarette machine that had a picture of a Marlboro cowboy corralling a herd of something while gripping a Full Flavor between his teeth. This was the notorious machine where the schoolkids would sneak into the bar’s entryway and stuff the machine with quarters and pull the knob that delivered those wonderful, brightly colored parcels of contraband.
One day it was Reed’s turn to get the smokes. Never having gone into The Gypsy or even began to fathom what a truly legendary dive bar it was, his introduction to such a venue was monumental. His eyes and mind were forever and beautifully wrecked for seeing such dimly lit debauchery thickly wallowing in a cloud of silent drinking and cigarette smoke.
As to not be spotted by the bartender, this child trembling, pushed what he hoped were enough coins into this towering machine. Frantic with nerves, he quickly saw the camel, that universal desert animal, dirty with gold and dust on its emblem and pulled the plastic, crystal knob that loudly delivered the cigarettes into the dispenser.
Reaching in, he snatched the smokes and booked it out the door, panting, dizzy, victorious.
Reed’s friends, standing across the street at the theater doorway, giggled and ran towards him as he swaggered down 21st Ave, the cock of the cigarette walk. He tossed the pack over his shoulder at the bunch and then watched his delinquent pals groan with disappointment. “C’mon, man, what the hell is this?”
“Whaddya mean,” Reed asked.
“Dude, these are straights.”
“Yeah. Straights. No filter. Tobacco in your mouth. Lung burn! Short and not sweet, have you ever tried them? How are we supposed to smoke these? Gross. You smoke ’em, they’re all yours,” throwing the pack back at Reed in disgust.
Be ready to sacrifice yourself to the gods of vice should you choose to live such a life of experience, excitement and excess. There will be a day when you’re compelled to ingest chemicals you’re not confident in. A day when you will be expected to finish off the rest of the drugs, a moment when, you alone, will have to reckon with the fact that your partners in crime will abruptly leave you high and dry the minute you think everything is great.