The prompt for today’s Chatham Writers Group was “Cigarettes”. I never smoked cigarettes, but I cobbled together a memoir of my experiences with others who smoked.
I never smoked a cigarette. I smoked a cigar once, handed to me by a co-worker back in the day when that was the method of celebrating the arrival of a baby. It was a White Owl with a blue “It’s A Boy” label. It gave me a headache and I was nauseous for awhile afterwards. I smoked a pipe for about 3 days once, a corncob model that I won at one of those Jersey shore boardwalk game of chance entities. I tried a chaw of tobacco for 20 seconds, I can’t say anymore about it without gagging. I have no personal first hand smoking experiences to call on, but there are plenty of second hand smoke stories for me to relate. These are from a time before work places and restaurants became smoke free.
My boss, whose name was Roy, poked his head into the office I shared with my colleague Jeff and extended his hand towards us, gripping two quarters between his thumb and forefinger. “Hi guys,” he said, “grab yourselves a couple of drinks and meet me in my office in five, I’d like to run a couple of ideas past you.”
Roy was dumping pencil shavings into his waste basket when Jeff and I shuffled into his office, cups of Coke sweating condensation in our hands. Motioning for us to sit down, he seated himself behind his desk, took a sip from his coffee cup and lit up a Benson & Hedges 100. He began to about his project ideas. With a freshly sharpened pencil in his right hand, he scratched out a couple of formulas for alloying additions. In his left hand he gripped both his cigarette and coffee, occasionally putting his cup down and leaning to flick ash into the waste basket. Roy had a habit of tilting back in his chair to gaze at the ceiling while trying to flesh out his theories. Deep in thought, appearing to be counting the holes in the ceiling tiles, he failed to notice the thin tendril of smoke that began to drift from his waste basket. Jeff and I spotted it and tried to get Roy’s attention. He held up a palm and said, “Hear me out on this..” and started to talk while concentrating on the ceiling tile. The smoke from the waste basket grew in density, and started to smell like burning wood – the pencil shavings.
Roy was still talking when Jeff and I, with great urgency, declared, “Roy, smoke is coming from your waste basket.”
Roy tilted his chair forward and looked at us with furrowed brow and simply asked, “What?” In answer to his query, a flame shot up from the center of the basket. Roy did see that. His eyes got big and he uttered “hmmm.” He tossed the remainder of his coffee into the basket. His effort did not adequately extinguish the flames, and in short order, Jeff and I added our Cokes to the wild fire. Disaster was averted. Roy excused himself while he carried the waste basket, which still had some wisps of smoking trailing from it, to some undisclosed location outside of the office area. He returned, sat down behind his desk, lit another cigarette and said, “Now, we were discussing adding more carbon to see if we can improve the material toughness.” Roy never spoke of The Great Pencil Shaving Conflagration of 1975. Nor did he offer to refresh our fire suppressing Cokes.
What toppings would you like…
I had begun new job in Rockford, IL. Trying to be helpful, my new co-workers talked, at great length, about the many restaurants in the area that offered the legendary Chicago style, deep dish and stuffed crust pizza. These pizzas were too huge, even the 4 slice size, for just me to consume. However, I was in the mood for a good meatball sub and was provided the name of Gerry’s Pizza, right next to the hotel I was staying in. Just across the parking lot, you couldn’t beat it for convenience. My co-workers had talked it up so much, I spent most of my day at work salivating about the meatball sub. Quitting time came and I made a quick stop at the grocery store to get a 6 pack of beer, then to my hotel to put the beer in the fridge. I hustled across the parking lot to Gerry’s to order a meatball sub. I was a little put off when I entered the pizza place, the smell of cigarettes hung heavy in the air and there was even a thin cloud of smoke, clinging to the ceiling of the hall that led to the dining room and order counter. But my sandwich was takeout, I wasn’t eating there. Putting aside my initial misgiving, I boldly strode down the hall, turned to where orders were placed and skidded to a halt. Gerry and Mrs. Gerry were working on a pizza, adding toppings – which is not unusual. But it was the cigarette dangling from the corner of Mrs. Gerry’s mouth, as she hovered over the pizza, that gave me pause. Smoke drifted up from a long ash that curved perilously in the direction of the pizza. When Mrs. Gerry noticed I was at the counter, she lifted her head to look at me. Her right eye was red, and runny from attracting the line of smoke from her thin cigarette. Mrs. Gerry deftly removed the cigarette from her mouth just before the ash tumbled to the floor. It made me ponder how many pizzas and sandwiches were made with that one special topping.
“What can I get ya?” Croaked Mrs. Gerry.
“Ummm, do you have a pay phone?” I asked.
“In the hall,” she pointed the direction with the remainder of her cigarette, “you walked right past it.”
“Thank you,” was all I said. I went back the way I came, past the pay phone and left Gerry’s Pizza quicker than I had entered.
The Chatham Writers Group
September 18, 2022