Smoking isn’t really ‘in’ these days, for the same reasons that slathering one’s body with tanning oil at the beach isn’t ‘in’ — it’s smelly, it’s bad for your skin, it gives you cancer, and doctors have been making condescending remarks to us about it for decades.
So less and less people are smoking, which is good, unless you, like me, still smoke, because you’re part of some illicit and nefarious minority, the likes of which are only portrayed on TV as hit men, or recovering junkies, or people in PSAs with half their body missing telling you not to smoke.
The smokers left are an extreme bunch, and many of them do not have the funds to buy their own cigarettes, so they look to less-transient smokers like myself to supply them with nicotine through the Smoker’s Bumming Society.
But I’m not complaining. A cigarette costs, like, fifty cents, and the experience gained from the interaction is worth so much more.
For instance, I was smoking outside a restaurant in Catskill last week when a dude in his 20s approached me for a stoag.
He informed me he had just A) gotten “super-high,” and B) trained for an upcoming cage match, activities that seem like they wouldn’t go well together.
After insisting I was drunk (I wasn’t), he asked about the restaurant I was in front of, specifically if they had a bar, and if the bartenders would let him drink for free. I told him there was no way that would happen, so he then just proceeded to ask everyone passing by on the sidewalk if they would buy him a drink.
This is a pretty benign interaction compared to the ones I had while living in San Francisco’s Mission District, thanks to the plethora of insane street-people the neighborhood featured.
They were always smoking crack and getting into arguments with other insane street-people, pastimes that really leave you needing a smoke. Once, a skinny woman showing under-boob and taking belts from a pint of vodka bummed a cigarette from me, then leaned in close, as though she had an interesting secret to tell, and started to lick my ear.
“Ah!” I said, stepping back.
“Sixty dollars for more of THAT,” she informed me. “IF you can handle it.”
I couldn’t, so she approached the next potential customer — a young Asian guy who was obviously only there waiting for a ride — and started stroking his arm.
“Don’t TOUCH me,” he yelped, drawing away.
He could only draw away so far, though, because he was waiting for the ride, so the woman kept coming up to him until he was forced to pace around in a circle, glaring over his shoulder at the woman teetering behind.
The insane street-people of the Mission District also commonly asked me for money, but I didn’t have any, so all they got was a cigarette. Back on the East Coast in the present day, I at least have A LITTLE money, so I occasionally get suckered into giving it out.
Passing the Red Dot in Hudson one day, a twitchy-looking guy in his 40s crouching next to a woman I’m gonna assume was his lady-friend beckoned me over and we had the following conversation:
Guy: Yo, bro, you got two dollars?
Guy: (gesturing to his lady-friend) Yo bro, her period just dropped.
Guy: I’m serious bro. We needta get some tampons like, NOW.
So I gave him the two bucks. From my myriad experiences being hit up for cigarettes and/or cash, I could tell this was a ploy to get money for something less legitimate than tampons, but the ploy was so good I feel the guy DESERVED the cash.
It was certainly worth it for the story.
One evening a few years ago in Albany, I was decompressing from my job writing for a failing newspaper by smoking outside my apartment.
A deranged homeless Ukrainian man instantly sidled up to me to bum one of my Winstons. When the subject of my employment came up, he told me of a situation that would “make you tons of cash, you know what I’m saying?”
Allegedly, while the Ukrainian gentleman was attempting to take a leisurely shit by the Albany Oil depot, a crackhead couple parked their car at a train crossing and commenced smoking crack and violently arguing.
They were allegedly too blitzed to notice a train coming at them, but “at like five miles an hour, you know what I’m saying?”
The train collided with the car, then just kind of continued on its way with the car wedged to its front. The woman leapt out, then started jogging alongside the car while screaming at the guy to jump until the Ukrainian, mid-shit, lost sight of the whole situation as it passed behind some buildings.
“You go down there with a camera for a night, you get the good stories,” the man said.
See? TOTALLY worth fifty cents.