It isn’t really that I even feel attached to the nicotine anymore. I started smoking early on in college, standing around at parties after the beer ran out and needing something to do with my hands. I wanted to look cool for this girl I liked and something about a menthol Camel seemed to do the trick. While it wasn’t much longer before I gave up on the idea of girls, the cigarettes have managed to stick with me years later.
Frat party or not, I still have a need to look detached and derelict if not outright dangerous. Days may go by without cravings, but as soon as I need some stage business while I wait for someone outside of a bar, I reach for my cigarette case (another affectation to try to appear interesting) and light up a five-minute cure for social anxiety.
When you get up in the morning, putting certain things in your pockets—keys, wallet, phone, Xanax—eventually gets burned into your muscle memory. Because I’m not a consistent smoker, a lighter hasn’t quite made its way onto the list of things that will end up in my jeans after I’ve sleepwalked through my morning routine. Inevitably, this means I’ll have to ask a stranger for a light while I’m filling empty time loitering on the street.
As conversations with strangers go, this one should be fairly simple. Smokers aren’t uncommon, but they still conduct themselves as members of a kind of implied social club—kind of like Jews or Wes Anderson fans. They don’t usually consider the request to be an imposition since they’ve surely been in a similar position before and will be again. Nevertheless, despite a smoker’s willingness to accommodate his tovarishch, the exchange typically reveals the fundamental lack of trust that exists between New Yorkers.
After the brief “where did I put my lighter” dance, your new friend will reach out, cup his hand and attempt to light your cigarette for you. The frustration on his face is evident as he futilely tries to start a fire in a wind tunnel—it’s difficult to light your cigarette on a breezy fall afternoon in the city and virtually impossible to light someone else’s. Still, he isn’t trying to be neighborly, rather that he’s so concerned that you’ll abscond with his precious blue Bic that he’d rather turn a five second transaction into a Sisyphean trial.
Dude, really… what the fuck do you think I’m going to do?
Is that my game in your mind? I walk around with a pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights preying on naïve simpletons who didn’t get to the “Protecting Your Valuables” chapter in The New Yorker’s Handbook before they hit a bump and fell off the turnip trick? Did Nancy Grace expose a community of grifters canvassing the city collecting half-beat Texaco lighters before convening in a caravan parked on the outskirts of town? Even if she did, that woman is insane and so are you for listening to her.
There’s no such thing as The Zippo Gang so just let me hold the lighter, asshole. This is an insult to us both.