28 September 2007

First Cigarette

I met my first cigarette at the Metro, the bar where we were getting a beer after class one night. Isaac had driven Zoh, Ali, and I to 8th Street Tobacco. Jacob Pride met us there. The boys bought loose tobacco, and Ali bought a pack of Djarum Blacks for the girls to share. When we got to the Metro, we crammed ourselves into a booth. A desk light sat on the edge of the table, and every time Ali’s need brushed against the outlet, it flickered wildly. Sometimes it went out completely, and we sat in the smoky darkness until Ali could find the plug again. I was nervous, and the Newcastle bottle cooled my palms. I didn’t know anyone there very well, and I didn’t know Jacob at all. I did know his cousin, Sam, and I wondered if Jacob, like Sam, would be one to sneak Miller Light in a gas station fountain drink cup into class.

Ali packed the Blacks, took one for herself, and offered the pack to Zoh’s delicate fingers. She took one, and I watched those fingers ignite the tobacco-filled stick, and place it to her lips. She inhaled, gently, and after a few seconds’ stillness, a blue-grey cloud slipped out of her mouth, and formed a nebulous haze three inches above her forehead. I watched this process for a while, learning how it worked. I held my breath after she inhaled, and anticipated the moment smoke would slide across the invisible gap in her lips with her neck arched back. Ali practiced smoke rings with Jacob in the background. Isaac rolled cigarette after cigarette, pausing to consider the flavor between each drag. I sipped a Newcastle, and half of another before Ali thrust a Black in my hands, and said “Here, smoke it.”

I had to ask how. “Easy,” she said, “Just breathe in, and take the smoke with you.” I did, and the rich, sweet smoke overtook my throat. There was the taste of candy on my lips; the filter was laced with cinnamon and cloves. I didn’t know how to bring the air into my lungs, so I held it there, on my tongue and at the roof of my mouth for a while before I tilted my head back and blew the now stale smoke up into the air. My exhale was sloppy and moist, and instead of the smoke blowing neatly away from my face to dissipate into the air, it drooped miserably near my cheeks. I repeated this for as long as I could stand, which was only about an inch and a half of my cigarette’s life. I finally had to snuff it out, leaving it crumpled and pathetic in the ashtray before I excused myself to the restroom and splashed cold water on my face.

Staring at my flushed complexion in the mirror, I clutched the porcelain of the sink and whispered, “Don’t throw up. Don’t throw up. Don’t throw up.” I could taste mingled beer and tobacco on my tongue, and heated spices in my hair. Traces of cigarette clung to my fingertips. I regained control of my senses, and walked back to the table. The air was muggy and stale, and I couldn’t feel a breeze through my turtleneck. Someone suggested we leave, and as crisp air washed over my face, I felt relieved. January air filled me, flushing out the hot cigarette breath that clung to my lungs. Later I would brush my teeth, only to still taste it on my tongue.

16 September 2007

Arts in the Heart 2007

"Why do I drink so much? Why do I drink so much? What kind of drunkard would I be if I didn't drink so much?"

Who needs Bukowski when you've got poets who write lines like that? Oh yeah, that bit of poetic intrique was also sung. By an old man. With an Irish lilt. (Hearing that reminded me of my favorite Garrison Keillor joke: Two Irishmen walk out of a bar...) And so opened my Saturday night. Somewhere after that, I ate curried goat. Delicious. I mean it. I usually have an aversion to green foods that aren't sold in the produce section, but I think I'll have to add curried goat to the list of green things that are okay. (Green M&Ms might have to wait a while, though. No, that's a lie, I'll pretty much eat a green M&M anytime.)

Meanwhile, the reason I heard Irish jokes and ate goat: Arts in the Heart this year was pretty much fantastic. Some really great artists showed up- favorites were Grunge Goddess Pottery, a guy that made the image of a nude woman in stained glass, and Batik by a Sri Lankan named Rita. The Batik booth was the best. Her Batiks can be viewed here. (The ones I openly fawned over were similar to "Expression of Music," "Immortal Love," and  "Peacock Couple," but they're all stunning.) The whole process of making these canvasses is intense, time-consuming work. It's labor, but they're absolutely breathtaking in the end. I'd never even heard of this medium, but it's centuries old and pretty rare in today's market (for Western cultures, anyway; apparently in India, kids learn how to do this).

So, regardless of Weiss' philosophy test I've got on Monday, I'll be heading downtown tomorrow to ogle more art. Also to read (along with the gracious help of Zoh, Isaac, and Mike) a part of my play. 1-3:30 on the Cafe Stage--me and all the other Porter Fleming Winners are hanging out to read some stuff. (The link's for a map.) Not that I know any of the other Porter Fleming winners, but we'll get together and read anyway. Afterwards, I'll probably be heading to the Carribean booth for some plantains. And then maybe for some Indian food. And then back to Rita's booth just to stare (I'm much to poor to buy something I can stare at in my underwear).