Read the previous installment of Patrick’s “Smoking, a History” here.
They come in this thin box that fits the average pocket. They smell good. They smell good enough that you can smoke one and put it out and put it back in the pack and girls won’t look at you like you’re ugly. Like you smell ugly.
In the off chance that a girl will agree to sex they might allow you to smoke a Djarum clove in their bed after the deed is done. And I don’t mean to be explicit, but it’s likelier for a non-smoker to smoke a clove cigarette in this state than any other variety of cigarette.
Cloves are a way of saying: Hey, I’m having a great time tonight, I’ll pretend, because I’m pretending a lot tonight anyway, pretending I’m a smoker because smoking’s cool. I like Cassavetes movies. I like Billy Wilder movies. I’m a smoker, but just tonight.
I suggest the sexually active smoker to keep with them a pack of clove cigarettes if for no other reason than to be ridiculed. Ridicule, if spun well, leads to sex. Girls like to make fun of boys before they fuck them. It’s the way it is. It’s evolution.
No longer is anyone asked out for a nice meal at a restaurant on a Friday night with some chance of getting to know one another.
We’re full up with bars and drink, enough that this whole sex thing will work. We’ll try and be wet and the other will try and be hard and neither will feel a thing. And after we’ll smoke, and in the morning they’ll make breakfast for us. Omelets or pancakes. Crepes if you want a fiancé.
This is science.
Sacrificing a desired chronology, when I was about sixteen I used to take walks with a man, a bit older, in his early twenties, Jacques. He had lots of tattoos and a labret piercing and a proclivity for walking through graveyards, which were always out of our way.
Certainly, his name wasn’t birth-certified as Jacques, but he did have a massive permanent ink rendition of a cannabis leaf stealing the majority of his back. The thing that set his weed-leaf tattoo apart from the rest were the grinning gremlins and smarmy demons that peeked out from the leaf’s crannies.
Also, he prattled on about doing heroin, which he hadn’t actually done, with a romanticism usually reserved for wanting to be asked into a ménage à trois-inclined vampiress’s lair or, if you’d prefer, finding the perfect song for your wedding dance. But there’s no epiphany in calculation. And there’s no romance in money.
Jacques was weirdly quiet. And he bedded vampiresses and vixens nightly. Something about his false timidity had the girls guessing right onto his double mattress.
I remember stumbling in once looking for something or other and only after finding that something or other did I see silhouetted with aid of his PC’s monitor two fingers motioning that I leave as soon as possible.
In that small space between the combined aromas of pineapple, tequila, and clove cigarettes, do I resound his memory. But it’s pretty exceptional that I find myself at a luau held at a Mexican restaurant with goth-folk in attendance. Last night was the first time come to think of it. Which is why I think of Jacques now.
Last I heard he’d moved to Vancouver to try and be an extra in their burgeoning film scene. Rumor had it he’d found his variety of Shangri-La and started shooting.
We all need goals.
It’s to be expected that I’ll say: Don’t smoke cigarettes period. They kill you. There, I’ve said it. Let’s move on.
But not before I say this.
If you think smoking is just the pits, the worst, so easy to stop, or important enough that it matters not how difficult it is not to stop, please do approach a smoker and say something like, “Those are bad for your health” or, “Don’t you know those’ll kill you?”
It’s the only way to save us. It’s your civic and moral obligation to walk up to me, not passing me, but to go out of your way to interrupt while I’m minding my own, to come to me and say something oblique like, “Those aren’t good for you,” or, “Those are bad for your health.”
This kid-glove tactic, I can only imagine, is entirely effective, and for those of you who do this already I want to thank you for saving all those countless lives. We all quit the next day, and we admired your attire and went out and bought those cute shorts and manly shirts you wore so admirably, because, like you, we desire to be admired and respected for intruding when necessary. It’s like you’re America and we’re Vietnam and collectively we thank you for your kindness nay, your morality.
Gross in the extremis.
This Dutch tobacco imprint pretends not. The black box makes the case for quitting clear. Well, almost. An embossed silver skull wearing a top hat grins, as skulls must, clenching a cigarette in its teeth. Presumably a Black Death cigarette.
They seem like a cigarette Rob Zombie would smoke. Or Maynyard or Marilyn Manson, or Jerry Only, maybe Danzig on an unconfident day, or any of those dudes who just love to affect an adolescent death obsession. Eli Roth. Folks like that.
But no. It was a French girl. Not French-American. A girl from France. A Parisian, even. We met last year at the Bakersfield ren faire. She was in plainclothes and holding a tankard of mead, which in her grasp, she seemed an Elf in contemporary repose.
I tightened my sash and got to talking to her about the abundance of mead and buxom wenches, which is when she launched into some Frenchy diatribe about who knows what.
Eventually, after my wandering eyes settled on her quite splendid body, her mouth that O’d like a solstice wreath, flaxen hair spun sweeter than Rapunzel’s, and legs that stretched up like giraffe necks, did I decide to find my buddy.
Keith is fluent in berets and croissants and Sarkozys and the like so I asked him to translate.
She was seventeen. Bummer. Had no boyfriend. Cool. Was engaged. Bummer. But was going to call it off. Sweet. Had come to the States to clear her head and had flown into PDX earlier that week.
She’d hopped trains down to Eugene and taken a bus until her cash had run out. Which left her there, with me, in Bakersfield, in plainclothes while I suddenly felt silly in my warrior attire.
The three of us left immediately to retire to Keith’s parents’ basement for doobies and beers.
Keith and I were on about man things, trying to impress Frenchie, but none of it was working. She went outside, Keith told me, for a cigarette.
I pulled Keith close and tore the real horsehair from his bespoken centaur suit as I explained that Frenchie was to be mine, that I’d marry her first chance I got, and to lay off. I would translate love as needed.
Outside I found her ignoring the burning cigarette she held lady-like.
Inside I had my own but asked her, through pidgin sign language, for one of hers. From a Trader Joe’s tote she produced the pack of Black Deaths.
Her eyes said, “Come then, tell me a story.” So I told her about Mary, about how wonderful we could have been together, trying to show her I was ready to commit. She nodded some, mostly staring at the empty suburban street.
It took some time but through a lot of giggling and guessing I understood that she’d brought a loaf of bread from Paris, and on the trains she’d ridden she’d used the loaf as a pillow, and now would I like a sandwich?
I would, I tried telling her.
After leading her to the kitchen I withdrew to the bathroom to wash the warpaint off my chest and face.
Moving toward the stairs, which led to Keith’s room, to the basement, I saw her bent at the waist, digging through the fridge, considering condiments.
In that crystalline moment I knew that together we’d get the patches and the gums and the pills that make you quit but also maybe make you kill yourself but our love was so strong that we would be together forever. I’d learn French. And I have.
Keith’s shirt didn’t fit quite right as I’d left my satchel at the faire.
I came up behind her, wrapped my arms around her shoulders, told her some mon cherie things and she kissed me. It was romantic.
Through Keith I understood that though she would have loved to sleep with me she had something like night terrors so she took to the guest room.
It was a restless night, a thing full of marriage proposal ideas, of watching our bilingual children grow and inherently love Sesame Street alongside Godard and La Jetéeand The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Shit like that.
But, well. Keith had driven her to the airport, he told me. That she’d said she’d had to go. That she’d made an awful mistake. That her punishment would be severe. That she loved me, but love, sometimes, is the same as fun. And fun she couldn’t have. Not anymore.
A month later I spotted Frenchie at Jumbo’s and she said to me, in perfect Southern Californian English, “Sorry dude, I don’t date chubby guys.”
They go well with heroin. With lost love. With fake love. With imposters. With whiskey weekends spent alone. But maybe they go best, and are the perfect bride for something simpler. Watching The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and falling asleep.
Which is why, so long ago, I cashed in my Camel Dollars for a flame retardant sleeping bag.
Patrick Benjamin is a writer living near Los Angeles. He lives with his sister and grandmother.