Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How i started smoking

I started smoking when I was sixteen years old for the best reason anyone can start smoking: to be cool. And back then it was cool. I hung out with the older punk rocker kids at my high school, eighteen year olds outfitted with ripped Dead Kennedys t-shirts, thrift store blue jeans, and black leather bracelets adorned with metal studs. I wore the same uniform, typically all black, with a mess of blue hair that, on the rare occasions I wasn’t too lazy, I would glue and spray into four inch spikes all across my head. The band logos that were emblazoned on my chest were enough to catch the older kids’ attention, and within days of my freshman year of high school I was one of the gang. They had cars, they had girlfriends and boyfriends, they had an unmistakable sense of cool about them. They got detentions, wore sunglasses in class, and drank beer. They took trips to porn stores in other states, they went to the Wisconsin Dells on whims, and, most importantly, they smoked cigarettes. This was the one thing that was always around. In class they would bum each other Marlboro Reds, Camel Turkish Silvers, or, on rare occasions, Kools. They wouldn’t be a foot out of the door after school was over before lighting up and being chased off school property by the security guard. Their cars would have a thick air of stale smoke and the piles of butts lined the ashtray even though they religiously pitched them out of the windows at police cars or jocks.

Dave was my best friend. He came up to me in my freshman Spanish class to say “Fuck yeah, Anti-Flag!” with a brown finger pointed at my chest. We found out that our mothers worked together and drank together. We were both half Hispanic. We could both grow facial hair; Dave’s wispy sideburns that almost went all the way to his jaw bone, and my moustache that I could get to an almost dark line if I didn’t shave for a month. I would tag along with Dave everywhere. Punk rock shows in people’s basements, twenty four hour diners, random road trips to the Mississippi River. And he would drive and smoke cigarettes. Always sharing, he would look at me and say “WYL! SQUARE!?” every time. I never understood why he would call them “squares” but it didn’t really matter. I was trying to fit in so I would never ask. But smoking seemed like a big step for me. I grew up in the era of “Truth” ads, of health classes showing cancerous lungs, of my parents telling me if I smoked they would kill me, and with a few dead relatives, their deaths attributed to the pack and a half a day that they would consume. So I said no. For two years, I would continue to say no.

My first girlfriend and I had started dating around the same time I met Dave; the beginning of my freshman year and her junior year. As time passed, the obligatory talks of college, and the trips that it would take to see each other, and the never-vocalizing-but-subtly-questioning issues of faithfulness. After a blow out at Applebee’s (over what is lost to the history books, or at least the poor waitress who had to deal with it), we decided to call it quits. She wrote me a long letter, seven or eight pages that I read just the first paragraph of after we broke up. I still wonder what it said. I wasn’t overly emotional about it. I was just ready to go be a sixteen-year-old in the summer. After I threw the letter away, I called Dave to demand a trip to Wisconsin to buy fireworks.

It was in the car that he asked, once again, if I would like a cigarette. And I did. And I smoked that cigarette, and I smoked another cigarette, and before the end of the night I had to buy Dave a new pack because I had learned how to chain smoke. Only a few of those pillars of smoke had made their way into my lungs, but as I got out of his car and took the back door into my house, I felt like I was going to die. The cold sweats started, the rooms got harder to walk through as I got dizzier, and my stomach started thrashing about. My breathing was hard and every exhale smelled like smoke, making the whole situation worse. I spent that night on my bathroom floor, and the next day, after washing the puke that came in the night off of myself, I went out and found a mom and pop gas station to buy cigarettes at without an ID.

I wasn’t stressed out. I wasn’t mad at my ex, or trying to ignore my problems. I was just trying to get a new persona to land myself a new girlfriend. I figured, if the rest of my friends smoked, and looked so fucking cool doing it, then what was to stop me?

That was six years ago. In the grand scheme of thing, that’s just a blink of the eye. But for me, that is an omen about a number that is just getting larger. A number that will be greater than the amount of women I’ve slept with, larger than how many apartments I’ve lived in, more than the amount of times that I was dumped or cheated on. More than the number of bands I started, or got kicked out of. Slightly more than the number of schools I failed out of, hearts that I’ve broken, windows I’ve shattered, bones that I’ve splintered, abortions I’ve paid for, hands that I’ve held, shoulders I’ve cried on, men that I’ve blown, teachers I’ve slept with, bribes I’ve given police officers, drugs that I’ve tried, addictions I’ve kicked, or how many times that I have tried to kill myself. It’s a number that can’t get smaller, and even if I stopped now, who’s to say that I will stop forever, and that it won’t grow larger still?

I switched to rolling tobacco when I dropped out of college for the first time. I couldn’t afford the filters, but for the same price as a pack I got a pound of tobacco. The giant bag sat in my room getting steadily more empty, each miserably rolled square acting as sacrificial tribute to me, tobacco’s God. As I burned through money and took years off of my life, I started to think about how cool I really was.

I was a college drop out. I had to get tested for STDs. I didn’t have any. I was a failed drug dealer. I listened to weird college ambient rock music that no one who wasn’t fucked up enjoyed. I had no girlfriend, I had no car. I wore sunglasses while going into stores to hide the blood that was trying to push its way out through my eyes. I drank cheap whisky from the bottle.

It was the lifestyle I idolized back in high school, but suddenly it didn’t seem all that cool at all.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pizza Slut (original)

This is currently being expanded.

“Dude, smell my fingers.” It was my second interaction with Kevin that made me not like him. Having at one point been fourteen years old, I could already describe the acidic, sour, fishy smell that would flood my head with a world of imagery I would just as soon not think about. Yet, here stood a man (by age only), middle and fore fingers extended with a greying smile stretched over his still acne ridden face. Kevin was new at the Pizza Hut, which wasn’t saying all that much. I had worked there for six months, and had the second most seniority. But more to the point, on one of Kevin’s earliest shifts, he stood in front of me, asking me to sniff his hand.

“Let me guess. You’ve met Megan?” There was no guess work involved. Kevin worked at Pizza Hut; Kevin had a penis. By suburban Illinois standards, that meant that he would eventually meet what we lovingly referred to as “The Wild Hog.”

“Yeah, man! That girl is a freak, dog! A little bit on the porker side, though, but whatever man. Bitch gives great head.” I heard the same thing with every new delivery driver, line cook, or server that graced the hallowed halls of the red roofed sex pit. They would all come up to me, eyes begging for approval, throw a hand on my shoulder (or some other macho, male bonding physical act), and talk about fucking Megan. The story is usually the same, save for some variations on a theme. They all met her, she gave them “mad eye!”, they “put on some moves,” and within twenty minutes they were in the walk in refrigerator, pressed up against the racks of pre-cooked meat, shredded cheese, and salad bar ingredients. When they turn the building into whatever fast food restaurant it will become once the Hut shuts down, the new employees will wonder what that stench is that won’t leave the back. And it will be Megan. Her presence in the store will be felt for generations, and not just in the form of the offspring that one of the many Kevins that pass though will sire.

Megan’s story can’t be told without telling a more important story of what never happened. Or without telling who Megan was, which is a far better place to start. Megan and I grew up together. She was a neighborhood kid, a tomboy, a punk rocker, and an attention whore. She wasn’t pretty, but you didn’t shudder when you looked at her, and you could always count on her for a stolen bottle of liquor or a gram of weed, if you were desperate. You could call her, and with some pleading and promises of a ride to a show in Milwaukee, or a value meal at Burger King, she would call someone, or do something, to get you what you wanted. Megan would always force you to drive her around and smoke with her, talking about all the favors you owed her, regardless of the money she owed you. The smoke would billow out of her mouth, seemingly endless as it turned to steam mixing with the cool autumn air, and she would cough out “Dude, we need to fucking do something. I can’t live in this town forever. Let’s get a group together and, like, buy some land in Montana or some shit. We can grow some primo bud out there. And we don’t have to worry about being single or whatever, because fuck it. You know?” She would die single, but didn’t care. She didn’t wear makeup, played softball, and drank beer more often than I did. But that was when we were sixteen. And we all grow up, or grow old, or just change.

Megan got me a job at the Pizza Hut. She worked there for all of a month before getting promoted to manager and hiring me. I went for an interview that consisted of her throwing me a black polo shirt and telling me to start learning the menu because my first day was tomorrow. I had just graduated high school, and she had a semester left. She wore makeup at this point. Heavy eye liner, bright eye shadow, and a blood red lipstick. Not the bright red you see on models, but a crimson that made it look like she feasted on the innocent. A look topped with fried, bleach blonde and black intertwined hair. She had gained weight from drinking more and playing softball less. But her breasts made up most of that. Supple isn’t the right word, because that implies beauty, and what Megan had were just big, nothing more. This is where two paths diverged.

There is a moment where even the hardest of smokers chooses if they really want to smoke that next cigarette. If the hot taste of smoke will be worth the effort of pulling the long tube from the pack and setting it ablaze. If the sting in the bottom of their lung will be eclipsed by the rush in their head of the nicotine surging through their blood. If the smell of the embers will ignite something inside of them that can only come from the act of inhaling, exhaling, raising, lowering, then snuffing out. This is what the thought of Megan in the refrigerator brings to mind. Here’s how it goes in detail:

Megan pulls you by the front of your shirt into the walk-in. You try to decide whether you taste the Newport cigarettes on her breath or the alcohol that has been pickling her tongue. You decide on both, in equal parts, before you realize that she has your pants undone and is tugging on your penis like a starved prisoner of war finally receiving a goddamn cheeseburger. It won’t feel good, but the fervor with which she attacks you will trick you into thinking something great is going to happen if you just let it. You will pull down her pants to her knees, with little effort because she wears pants with elastic waist bands. With no other foreplay, you will be inside her, and you will wonder how after only a few seconds she is already screaming into your ears. She’ll pull on your hair just as hard as she pulled on your dick, and with her other hand she will grab fistfuls of the toppings to her right. You might start to question if this was a good idea; getting mixed up with a girl who so willingly sticks her hands in a box of thawed ground sausage. She will have her legs wrapped tight around you, and you will feel every movement she makes a few seconds after she makes them, as the aftershocks work their way through her cottage cheese thighs. Any romantic notion you had of “making love” will be lost as you realize that the two of you are simply “fucking.” This revelation will hit you when you get a whiff of the expired marinara sauce, or when the door opens and you hear “SHIT! I’ll get it later! Homie is in there riding the Wild Hog!” She’ll probably ask you if you’re finished, and you will say yes. No matter what, you will say yes.

Sometimes there are men like Kevin who enjoy it. More often than not, anyone who partakes in Megan ends up leaving within the month.

Megan stayed at Pizza Hut long after I moved to the city. That didn’t stop us from talking about our lives anytime I was back north. She would tell me about her pregnancy scares, the times she was “raped” (only a handful sounded true, the rest, who knows), or Pizza Hut business. I would tell her about the drugs I was doing, living in the big city, and eventually how rehab was going. There was a period of time where I wasn’t sure which one of us was doing better than the other. Megan was trapped in the town she hated, suffering for the brief affections of men who would just as soon fuck the pans of prepped breadsticks, perhaps even more-so, as the dough didn’t talk. I was trying to get on my feet, falling, and trying to pull myself up again. And all the while there were the Kevins, boldly talking about their five minutes in the refrigerator, spewing disparaging remarks about their one time lover’s weight, appearance, or promiscuity.

The last time I saw Megan we shared a cigarette and walked around our old neighborhood. Neither of us lived there anymore (she had gotten a rundown apartment on the other side of town), but we walked the same streets, soaking up as much nostalgia as we could. The ember had faded, the filter was burned, but we kept walking. As we started to come back to the car, Megan looked at me and said “Dude, let’s just fucking leave. Right now. Let’s pool our cash and buy some land out in Montana. Start fresh. Where no one will know us, and we don’t have to pretend anymore. We won’t have to worry about our pasts, because fuck it, you know?”

I just laughed and drove her home.