I excused myself from the house and ambled toward 30th. Looking both ways, I dashed across the street, then paused and extracted the pack from my left pocket and the lighter from my right. Prayed the wind would be kind to the Dollar Tree lighter, and was rewarded with its quarter-inch blue flame, which soon kissed the end of my Black. They broke contact in a flutter of white smoke, and I puffed out the slow breath I'd taken and pulled the first real drag down my throat as I started walking.

The next fifteen minutes were nothing special. I know my neighborhood; my reappraisal of it served only to confirm it's still a place worth walking through. I tried to extract some of the mythical inspirational benefits of the nicotine, but my thoughts drifted around. Walking usually precludes thinking; it's meditative, unordered, relaxing. I don't walk to think, but to clear my head. I bounced from reflecting on the code I need to write, to wanting to finish watching Das Boot, to the still-bare gray trees, to wondering how much smoke would cling to me. Certainly far less than last night, when I lit up in the basement and watched a decently-sized cloud swirl around my hand and in front of my face, and went quietly upstairs for a can of Lysol. That antiqued odor, the comforting mark of a smoker's habitat, couldn't be allowed to remain down here, my home but my parents' home, and so I ruefully chased it away.

Eventually I noticed the inevitable march of the little red ring toward the filter, and spotting a plastic storage barrel half-sawed into a decent trash can, bent down and wiped it off in the street, until it was gray against gray, and dropped it in the barrel, and walked on back home.

Rounding the bend on 30th toward Whitmore, my circle nearly come full, a black man in a jacket took much the same maneuver I had, one cigarette before, from the opposite end of the street. As we passed, he asked, "Hey, do you smoke cigarettes?" and I answered, "Yeah." As he followed up, "You got any?" I turned around and we walked back toward each other. "Sure...cloves okay?"

"They smoke the same." True enough.

I pulled out the pack and slid out a cigarette, he said thanks, and we went our own directions again, no need for a light. I headed up the hill to the house, tasting a careful exhalation, the afterimage of my Djarum. When people ask, I never have change, but even at 35 cents a fag (not that I'd ever call it one, here in Nebraska), I won't smoke them fast enough to enjoy every one fresh. Besides, it was my first time handing a stranger a cigarette.

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