(March 2003, Manhattan)
I’m dressed in black as I exit the taxi (which is another story in itself) and walk into Molly’s.
Today has been pretty typical. I hit the snooze button a hundred times, cut myself shaving, was unable to get a taxi (it’s raining), and arrived at my corporate job where in the elevator I was greeted by an ex-Winston Lights smoker wearing a red jacket whom I’ve never met before who announced to me and all willing to listen “It’s Friday” like that is supposed to make me feel better.
All day long I deal with people who know how their day is going to go based on the day of the week. Today, I heard the phrase “It’s Friday” fourteen times. Tell me it’s Saturday and I’ll be happy.
It’s dark and smoky inside Molly’s and a man dressed in gray smoking a Camel Light is talking with an Irish bartender wearing a black tie and smoking a mini-cigar. They’re discussing the new anti-smoking law scheduled to go into effect Saturday at midnight and neither seems pleased with the new legislature about to be forced on entertainment establishments across Manhattan.
Both are drinking whiskey on the rocks. The bartender is explaining the law to the man smoking a Camel Light who just continues to reply “How can they do this, it’s a bar?” The man smoking a Camel Light smokes only when he drinks. He never has a cigarette in the morning, never in the evening, and never during stressful situations, unless there’s a drink in front of him. Then he smokes non-stop.
The news is on a small television hanging in the far corner and the headline stories are center around war, terrorism, and violence. The bartender puts down his cigar onto a glass ashtray shaped like half a football, says to gray shirt “I know”, and walks over to me. I light a Marlboro Light and order vodka on the rocks. The bartender brings over my drink and asks me if I’m going to be there Saturday night for their “Smoke them if got them” party and I tell him I’ll try even though I have nothing planned and will definitely be there. “We’re flying in authentic cigarette girls from the Stardust Casino in Las Vegas” says the bartender and I wonder for a second what makes them authentic and then I’m side tracked by a woman wearing an orange tank top who is sitting next to me annoyed by my smoke.
Apparently I look illiterate to this woman who for now we’ll call Dawn because she is quick to inform me that smoking cigarettes is bad for you and that she can’t wait for the new law to go into effect. I smirk and say “I know.” We talk for five minutes which seems like four hours (not in a good way) and I find out that she is from Long Island and smoked Newports for several years, finally quitting two years ago. Now during Dawn’s off hours she goes around informing people how bad cigarettes are for people. We all know Dawn We don’t enjoy Dawn’s company. We wish Dawn would just go away.
I light another Marlboro Light, Dawn leaves, and I check my messages on my cell phone. There’s no messages so I call Rachel who isn’t answering her phone and hasn’t returned any of my calls the last few days. I leave a message telling her about the party on Saturday at Molly’s and that I hope she’ll be there. Then I call Trent who also isn’t answering his phone, but don’t leave a message because Trent may in jail, and I’m guessing you’re not allowed to retrieve messages if you’re doing time for possession with intent to deliver. I order another drink, smoke another cigarette, and then I leave.
A sticker on the dividing window reads NO SMOKING ALLOWED IN THIS TAXI as we move toward Union Square. The taxi reeks of cigarette smoke and both front windows are open despite it being only forty degrees outside. The taxi driver is wearing a dark blue (almost black, maybe an old Yankees hat with the NY removed, I’m not sure) knit hat and is having a conversation, with someone unknown. I remove my pack of Marlboro Lights as I empty my pockets while looking for my wallet and the driver (who is watching me as he almost rear ends a yellow Honda) stops, turns around, and points to the sticker. I hold up my wallet that I’ve found and say “I know.” The taxi pulls up outside Kelly’s Tavern and as I exit the taxi I hear the driver lighting a Parliament Light. Don’t ask me how I know the brand, I just know.
I don’t see Rachel or any ashtrays as I walk into Kelly’s with my pack of Marlboro Lights in my right hand. I order a vodka rocks and then see a sign that reads: We’re one step ahead of the city, NO SMOKING ALLOWED.
I look over to a woman wearing a green shirt with a pink bow who is watching me read the sign and shake my head in disgust. “You know, each cigarette takes three minutes off your life.” Sitting to my left is a man dressed in a black suit smoking a clove cigarette. Comedian smoker. He’s telling jokes to the bartender and using his cigarette to accentuate the joke by jerking it when he hits the punch line. I leave.
On my way out as I’m finishing my drink I eavesdrop on a conversation happening by a cigarette machine where one man who is smoking and wearing a black T-shirt that reads SUPERSTAR is saying to a man not smoking wearing a white T-shirt that reads LOSER how his friend Jamie is “Bigger than Mark.” A second later he is discussing an exam and describes a professor he has at NYU as “Smaller than Mark.” This is too much for me, and I need a cigarette so I step out into the street where two bartenders, the bouncer, and four others from the kitchen are smoking cigarettes. All of them are one step ahead of the city.
Trent calls as I get into a taxi and he tells me to meet at a bar called THE SMOKEHOUSE in Midtown. I tell him I’ll be there shortly and then ask the taxi driver if he knows where the bar is and he says he does and asks me how my night is going. I say it’s going all right and we continue a pleasant discussion mostly about the weather and I’m enjoying myself (partly due to the vodka) despite a sticker on the dividing window that reads ABSOLUTELY NO SMOKING. Oh. Absolutely. Got it. I ask the driver what he thinks about the new non-smoking law and he says he’s trying not to think about it because it makes him mad and wished I’d never brought it up. Then my taxi is cut off by a black BMW being driven by an Asian man, who is smoking a Kool, and my driver screams “Kung Fu motherfuckers!” and then hits the gas hard. We proceed to almost hit four more vehicles with the driver yelling the following phrases in an Arabic accent: “Learn to drive you dumb mother fucker!” to a woman eating Yogurt while driving a red Jeep; “Die motherfucker” to an elderly ex-smoking woman driving a white van; and just plain “Motherfucker!” to another taxi being driven by a man wearing a black tie smoking a Raleigh. The taxi driver in the black tie flipped us off, and mouthed something with the word motherfucker in it. The new law hasn’t gone into effect yet and I’ve already almost died.