Walking Cross-Town. With Cigarette.

Dawn. Manhattan. 6:10 a.m.

I exit an early morning train.

The Up escalator from the tunnel in Grand Central Station to Madison Ave., is down, again.

Commuters, a wolf pack building at the bottom of stairs, jostle for position before funneling into a single line formation up 70+ stairs.

My Apple Watch silently counts steps, counts heart beats.

I’m looking down, stepping deliberately, not wanting to take a header on the concrete steps. The alternatives (to a header) were awful: clipping the heal of the man in front, or flopping backward into the Pack, both scenarios setting off Dominos. Rubberneckers would pull out iPhones to catch the scene, photos later sold to the NY Post and run in the afternoon edition. “Dummy Triggers Dominos, Sends 20 to hospital. Grand Central exit to Madison closed for the morning as Paramedics clean up the carnage.”

A soft morning light beams ahead, a few more steps. I exit without incident, not without anxiety. What’s the bloody rush?

Winded.

I flick my watch to check heart beat. 114. No chance. No way. No how.

The “Walk” sign has turned, but I need a moment to clear vertigo, the head is spinning, the lungs gulp oxygen.

He was two ahead. Middle-Aged. 6′ 2″. Suit. Balding. He lights his cigarette, closes his eyes, pulls in deeply, pauses, and exhales. He sets off briskly down 47th. In his wake, he deposits a stain of nicotine, his secondhand smoke fills my lungs. My eyes water.

I’m in pursuit. How can this guy, a Middle-Aged smoker, blow right by me? And he’s not slowing down.

His left hand is tucked in his pant pocket. His right hand swings, the cigarette is caressed between his index and middle finger. He periodically flicks the ash, the ember glows red.  Is that flick, a smoker’s tick, a natural reflex, or just an instinctual sixth sense when a smoker just knows, it’s time.

It’s quite impressive, awesome really, how this Mind can retrieve a moment, and connect that moment to this moment, in vivid technicolor, a humiliating moment from a time gone by. This one, from College.

“Have you ever smoked a Cuban?” “Oh, of course.” “Here, go ahead.”  I light the cigar and try to inhale – the movement akin to blowing a trumpet with all mouth, no lips – I’m red faced. They snicker. “You need to clip the end, stupid.” Not knowing what a cigar cutter was, I gnawed off of the end of the fine cuban with my two front teeth, and lit it up again. I wrap my lips around the jagged edges of the cigar, and inhale a mouth full of tobacco leaf, all in a cloud of smoke. The Leaf slides down my throat, tripping the gag reflex. I bend over, spitting it all out in the smoke storm.

30 years later, they are still laughing. And the short, undistinguished smoking career is over.

But I digress.

I trail him, and can’t quite understand why I don’t pass this guy, and his secondhand smoke.

I hover five steps behind, admiring the elegance of a Smoker, the tilt of his head skyward, his exhale followed by the stream of smoke evaporating into the skyline. Smoker just then finding his moment of peace, the joy of being swept away in his nicotine high.

Meditation, of some sort, I’m sure. Peace that you’ve never found.

And then, there’s me.

Parsing Murakami…

“I never had the urge…” but “I could hear the scratch of the match”

…and recall the bitter taste of the leaf.

 


Notes:

  • Post inspiration: “I never had the urge. But at that instant, for the first time in forever, I thought about how great it would be to have a cigarette between my lips and light it. I could hear the scratch of the match.” ~ Haruki Murakami, Killing Commendatore: A Novel. (Knopf, October 9, 2018)
  • Photo: Cigarette by Maritè Toledo
  • Related Posts: Commuting Series

Comments

  1. Your commute to work, is like another world! My Nona smoked until she died at 94yrs and never had health problems? Me..I tried it in my 20’s thinking it was what you had to do, to be cool, but I choked on it and had sore throats all the time. I think some people are born to smoke. It looks good on them, like the guy ahead of you. Why are you puffing and he’s not? The mystery of life. Your a great writer, he’s not. Glad we are all different. Makes your writing so interesting Mr K. 👏💚

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Your thoughts dance – granted, to a step that is uniquely yours. Yet, each time you invite us to join you, I am able to follow effortlessly. The Fred Astaire of letters, and we who awkwardly fidget on the sidelines, become Ginger Rogers.😉

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Ohhh, WMS, WMS (and more beautifully than I could, too). You draw us into your circle, pal, bringing us along on your journey in such an easy, inviting way. I was matching you stride for stride, watching the smoker caressing that cigarette between index and middle finger (fabulous visual!) and catching periodic whiffs of tobacco smoke. I have never been a smoker, but for a short period in my younger years, my dad smoked a pipe, and I loved the smells of the different tobaccos. I also used to watch my David smoke as he worked through a problem in the shop (thankfully he quit, but I digress). You are right…there is something mesmerizing about the way a longtime smoker moves and engages with the cigarette…a ritualized act that offers a cessation in activity, a moment to ponder, reflect, and gather one’s thoughts. Fascinating. Have a great day!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. One vice I’m glad you never stuck with. Looks elegant from a distance but then you have the yellowed teeth, stained fingers, lingering smell, burn holes in your clothes…..not so elegant close up.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. we each find our peace in our own way

    Liked by 1 person

  6. If you ever want to learn the fine art of cigar smoking and reverse the fear instilled in you as a youth, Kurt, Steve and Ray have your back.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. David, I’ve been both. You, the younger non-smoker huffing a puffing behind the Smoker, and the guy ahead of you waving his cigarette on my way down the Avenue. My five year-old son came into the bedroom one morning and bravely declared, “Dad, your breath stinks!” It didn’t stop me. Nicotine is like that. It messes with the mind and lungs while convincing the Smoker his breath is just fine and he’s just enjoying a walk down the Avenue with a Camel. Only the fedora is missing. It took 25 years for this Smoker to burn his Camels.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My husband was a heavy smoker. Then one day our daughter left a letter for him. No one saw the letter other than her and him. But he quit. After 45 years of smoking!

    It’s not elegant and it stinks.

    But, I love fragrances with a tobacco note in them.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. David, David…. this MUST be your best post ever, no, EVER! 😉
    My Ex was a smoker and when he realised that I really, really couldn’t stand his smoking (he started with pipe smoking shortly after we got married, which was ok-ish for me) and that my latent asthma got worse (as my distaste for smoking), he switched to the cheap ‘cigars’, we call them ‘Stumpen’ and there is no translation for it, they were stinking so badly that the people living on top of our flat moved away!
    But the way how you described this very fit smoker makes me (nearly) think differently …. 😉 A fabulous piece of writing/art/live report and a reminder that we are not all made to be smokers, as we aren’t made to be sportive or clever or beautiful. We are all the best version of just ourselves.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. You know I love these posts of yours that are all yours. You are not afraid to show us your vulnerabilities and do so, so very eloquently at that. ‘Tis true, some smokers look so elegant and cool… All I can say, is that I quit 22 years ago and have not ever had the urge to restart. You realise after how much you stink all over. Of course, the five friends and family members now deceased thanks to cigarettes helps keep me away…

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Best not to be a smoker. He won’t be leading the race for long.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Long live the smokers!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Love your commuter series, DK. Your observations, while living in the Now right there on the street, are most interesting. And good for you that you had the (smoking)career destroying experience in college, lucky you.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I love the walking cross town series…Loved the college cigar reveal…you are such a great writer..recently I wrote a comment on your .com about the impact of a black lung and a clear lung Is saw on a field trip..I never have given smoking a try…in addition I am frugal, they smell bad and to me smoking act isn’t sexy…and your description of ash flicking reminds me of the kitchen cooking scene in “Sixteen Candles” when one of the grandmothers has a dangling, long ash section about to fall into the food…she cups her hand under the ash and crisis averted…///btw have you watched the recent video of the miss-functioning escalator? Scary, and it is like falling Dominoes piling up…

    Liked by 1 person

  15. there is a video which comes with a warning that some may find this upsetting…this happened in a metro station in Rome in the past week: I am not posting it people can google .independent.co.uk/news/world/Europe

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m sorry, David, but I’m laughing too!!

    I started smoking at age 13, and quit for the last time at 36. Crazy strong addiction. Be glad you never started!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I think it is this glamour that first captivates the smoker. It looks cool, Bogey-like. Sexy even, Right down to the scratch of the match and the flick of the ash. Captivating.

    I think the best thing for me was seeing a wrangler at a horse riding stable in Southern California when I was younger. It’s one of those images that etches itself into memory, unbidden. He couldn’t have been much over 45 or 50, and was smoking through a hole in his neck. Horrified, that image remained with me, virtually canceling out the pleasure of riding a horse for an hour and a half. I couldn’t wait to get home and ask my nurse mother what in the heck that was about. She dragged out the medical textbooks and showed me color photographs of lung and throat cancer victims. The inside and out kinds of graphic images. The black cross section of a smoker’s lungs.

    A few years later, I married a smoker and gave it a try. But the habit never quite caught on, I suspect because of this memory. So I guess I ought to thank this guy, even if it really did horrify my teenaged self.

    Nicely done, David. Carry on. 🌺

    Like

  18. I absolutely love this and the title caught my attention as I have recently begun to give up on the cigarettes. I have cut down substantially and now, when I do light up, it is deliberate rather than automatic if that makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I smoked for eight terrible years, David, and cannot see it as elegant… Nope – not elegant. Perhaps a person is ‘elegant’; his/her demeanour is elegant. But smoking is ridiculously horrendous! Lung cancer; smell, nicotine stains, breath reeking of ill-health, smoker’s cough. Nope, just can’t see it as elegant.
    I stopped smoking when I developed the smoker’s cough. Ugg. I’d grown up in a house with both parents smoking… Father was an asthmatic, mother had a cough.. Ugg..
    Can’t for the life of me see it as elegant…

    Liked by 1 person

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