When I was seventeen, I did something silly. Well, ok - I did many silly things, but this was among the very silliest.

My friend's father was the head of the city's health department. He called me up one day and offered me a job for ten bucks an hour, and, being seventeen, I nearly leapt out of my underpants. Not only did it pay well, but it sounded like great fun. I would drive around the city with a cop and a "Tobacco Enforcement Officer" (don't laugh - it's true) walking into corner stores and attempting to buy cigarettes while generally looking underage. If they sold them to me, I brought the pack back to the car and the cop went to give them a warning. No fines, no lying about how old I was, no ethical dilemnas. And I got talk to men with guns. Yup, that was naive little me.

Or so I thought. When I returned to the car with my first pack, glowing victoriously and feeling important (next stop - FBI), I discovered that things weren't quite going to work out the way I had planned. The uniformed men jumped out of the car, patted me on the back, and proceeded to fine the poor kid at the cash $200. But he had such nice eyes.....oh....and he had this line of dirt under his nails, like he never had time to take a shower or even cared - it was charming. I sat back, alone in the car, consoling myself with the fact that he had probably killed hundreds of teeneagers by selling tobacco to them. Right? Who the fuck was I kidding??? For one thing, I smoked at the time, and therefore relied on the generosity and goodwill of many such people on a regular basis. They were not criminals. They were people who wanted to help me out, perhaps fellow smokers who harboured a secret comradery with everyone of their kind. I saw the look in their eyes, the little glint that said "I shouldn't do this, but us smokers have to stick together. Go get 'em kid!" This was not an "I enjoy killing small children" look. Not at all. If anything, they should be fining the tobacco companies.

I felt horrible. Especially after they left me in the car alone for twenty minutes while they bitched out this poor kid working the cash. He was probably younger than me. And he was going to lose his job. The job he ran to every day from school without even stopping to wash his hands.

From then on, every time someone sold to me, I would lean in just a little bit, push the bright red package back across the counter, and whisper "You don't want to sell these to me - trust me on this one. I'm a rat." They always thought I was joking at first. Crazy kids. And then a slow smile would spread across their face, like they had just run a red light and narrowly missed the car in the other lane that had swerved out of the way. I had given them something. I had taken it away and given it back. And they were always grateful. I even got to enjoy the frustrated look on the faces of the uniformed men when I returned empty-handed, time after time.

So I was a rat. There was no honor in it. The only pride I ever took in it was when I thought of how much money I sucked from those discipline-hungry assholes at the city health department. So it goes.