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“it’s my last one”

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Having settled in at my old TCR Starbucks for the morning to work on the book – to finish work, the major overhaul anyway, on the second chapter. No anxiety, focused and clear-headed, have the right computer with me, table with a plug nearby and everything, typing away. And so I step outside for a cigarette having finished the first cup of coffee, and am almost through when via the peripheral bits of my pavement-gaze I see him coming at me. Youngish, early twenties, mentally-impaired though its unclear whether via disability or drug-use. Can I have a cigarette? It’s my last one. It’s my last one. But I’m homeless. I’m homeless. I’m homeless. Give me a cigarette, please.

Of course, it wasn’t my last one – it’s never my last one, as I never allow myself to run out of cigarettes. I stopped giving them out, giving anything out, shortly after I moved to New York when I was in grad school. The reason for this is relatively simple. In New York, the granted cigarette or change is often enough only a prelude to longer, more elaborate conversation with the grantee. Sometimes these longer conversations are simply annoying – you’ve given 50 cents, but now you’re going to hear the story of needing to get the bus back to see the blind mother, the broken eyeglasses, the friend in direr need than him. Sometimes it would turn threatening – the cigarette granted would mark you as a soft touch, and a slight suggestion of impending violence, so the logic goes, could yield a great windfall.

Just now, I said, Dude, it’s my last one. I have none to give. And I started to step, slowly then deliberately, back toward the glass front doors of the Starbucks. He followed, quite close behind, in my footsteps, as if to ensure that I hurry along. Right before I made it back in, I dropped the buttend of what I had been smoking, just a nub now, and without missing a stride he scooped the burning bit up off the pavement, stuck it in his mouth, and walked on downstreet. He never missed a stride.

With a slight but slow-subsiding tremor in my limbs, I joined the queue for another cup of coffee. When I returned to my table by the window, the one with the plug, I opened my laptop to the document that I was working on and OpenOffice helpfully notified me that I had misspelled choreography.

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 29, 2009 at 10:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

9 Responses

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  1. Is that what they call a “found object”?

    Now, I’m not condescending enough to tell you to stop smoking, but maybe I can terrify you by proxy:

    He had apparently been stabbed after being asked for a cigarette by a group of men, who grew angry when he refused – because he did not smoke.


    July 29, 2009 at 12:44 pm

  2. Of course, if they want to attack then it doesn’t matter if you smoke or not. Can you get a body guard?


    July 29, 2009 at 12:47 pm

  3. It was really sad, really unpleasant, the whole thing.

    I wish I could stop smoking, but then again, doesn’t that clip suggest that I should keep on with it, lest the same happens to me? Or are you suggesting I should quit, but keep some with me at all times? That’d be tough, you know….


    July 29, 2009 at 12:47 pm

  4. We crossed comments!


    July 29, 2009 at 12:48 pm

  5. Erm, yes, my comment didn’t really make sense in the context. It was the only cigarrete murder I could find.


    July 29, 2009 at 12:53 pm

  6. Aged about 15, I remember being approached by a scary-looking kid on the top deck of a bus. We were the only two up there. He asked me, aggressively, if I had any cigarettes. I didn’t.

    I’ll just have to smoke my own then, he says. And lights up with – as impossible as this sounds – a look both sheepish and completely shameless at the same time.


    July 29, 2009 at 1:13 pm

  7. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I was asked for a cigarette when I was living in Germany – and those that did ask immediately couldn’t be arsed to deal with a pack of tobacco & rolling papers. Maybe it’s just because Germans barely bother with the smoking ban, so they might as well just keep a pack on ’emselves.

    Here in Japan, no one EVER asks for a cigarette – but hell, you can buy a pack for 100 Yen at a vending machine that’s never more than a stone’s throw away. (Not that anyone dares speaking to strangers on the street anyway…)

    French kids have struck me as the most aggressive when asking for a loosey.


    July 29, 2009 at 4:54 pm

  8. But the French do have the best colloquialism for the request: basically, “can you repair my car?” Or, more loosely, “can you get me out of this jam?”


    July 29, 2009 at 8:17 pm

  9. ZSTC,

    My adolescence was thick strewn with parallel situations. All the time, that sort of thing happened.


    I like the term “loosey”! It does vary rather wildly from country to country. The worst experience I’ve ever had in this line – was weirdly terrifying – was in X’ian (avoid, terracotta warriors are boring, was part of a package, not my fault I was there). I was walking down the westernerless streets with my wife when I lit up, as I do often enough. Pass a group of young men a few drags in, who en masse charge over to me and gesturally indicate that I had to put out the cigarette, that I was in deep shit for smoking. They let me go when I made a big display of putting it out and carefully disposing of the butt in a garbage can (was thinking Singapore gummess on the street type issues). No one smokes on the street in downtown X’ian, I suppose by law, but you know, someone could have let me in on that at some point, because everyone smokes all the time everywhere else in China.


    How does that go en francais?


    July 29, 2009 at 9:37 pm

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