STERILE GENERALS WARNING: this entry may be hazardous to your sense of certainty about remaining a non-smoker.

I don’t smoke. Right now there is a lucky strike between my third finger and pinky, and as I type and every so often, I pause to bring it up to my lips. I inhale deeply and breathe the smoke out through my nose, yawn: so it really gets back up in there. But all this is irrelevant because, as I said, I don’t smoke.

I do (and have) posed as a smoker. In a coffee bar in East Cleveland in the line for the ATM at Shaker Square at Grant on Forbes where all the PAT buses stop in Pittsburgh. At first the cigarette was just a plaything but it has become a door way to a kind of underground culture, like uncovering the secret language or a banned religion. The tradition that had me sold on it all was the “ancient fire sharing ritual.”

the ancient fire sharing ritual:

Stand in the cold making smoke with a little bud of fire. Nurture it, keep it living. The cold isn’t so bad as long as there is the fire. Keep it going because there are no more matches.

A stranger comes by wrapped in winter clothes. “A light.” He asks with a hint of desperation (as if for guidence.) Don’t fumble in your pockets. Stay cool. Lean forward, just a bit. The stranger with his dry, unlit cigarette will do the same. Like a plane refuelling in mid-flight delicately the tips will touch and the little fire multiply.

For a instant two faces will be inches from each other. You will know what the stranger smells like, if he’s happy, hear him breathe-- then off into the night he will disappear caring a bit of the fire you started, or if you are wise, and didn’t waste matches, the fire you gathered from another stranger’s lips.
Non-smokers? They just ask each other for the time! They’ll never know. It’s worth all the pain to come. So, now, I can see it: I am a smoker.

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