When we were nine, Louie and I copped a pack of Lucky Strikes. Mainly, he did. The smokes did come from his apartment, from the carton stashed in his mother’s dresser and I only waited on the back steps while he pilfered.
I brought the lights because someone was always smoking at my house and they only kept matches around in case the lighter didn’t work. In fact, there wasn’t a day I went without the ratchet noise of the thumb-induced spin of the friction wheel, the flame leaping up to ignite that orange ashy circle and hearing the metal lighter lid snap back in unison with a sharp flick of the wrist. Synchronized with a deep draw from a cigarette, cradled by my mom’s first and second fingers, or from a cigar pinched by dad’s thumb and forefinger and watching their faces magically reappear from the dissipating smoke, who wouldn’t want to light one up?
Louie and I ran a coupla blocks down to the railroad and a side-tracked box car, with its doors slid wide open, beckoning us, “Come on in for a smoke boys. Get out of that hot July sun.” So we clambered in, sat leaning against the side of the car and lit up.
Well, eventually, we lit up. There was coordination involved. I noticed Louie held his Lucky like a lady. I had kind of a smug satisfaction knowing I used my thumb, smoking like a man.
I about went cross-eyed looking down my nose to the end of the cigarette trying to get the match flame to line up with the end of the cigarette. I was either about four inches past the ignition point or in danger of scorching my lips. Finally, we decided to light each other’s cigarette but, even then, it never occurred to us to suck in when the match was in the right place.
There we sat, next to the door, in the shade of the boxcar, sucking on one cigarette after another. I told Louie that my folks talked about inhaling. We didn’t, quite, know for sure what that was until we discovered it by accident. Our eyes watered and our heads hurt. We coughed and gave serious thought to puking when, darkening our doorway, a silhouette of a head said, “Boys, give me a stick.”
We didn’t know what a stick was but, the guy scared us about half-to-death. We jumped up and wanted to flee but we were afraid to get near the door, our only avenue of escape, where the faceless head wanted a “stick.” We bounced from side to side in the car, even managed to knock one another down. Louie kept shouting, “Don’t hurt us. Give him a stick.”
I feared the silhouette might slide the doors shut and our bodies would be found frozen next winter in Winnipeg.
“Boys, just give me a cigarette. I ain’t going to hurt you.”
I kept thinking, “What he really means is that he ain’t going to hurt us much.”
Louie tossed the cigarettes over to the doorway, as kind of an offering. The silhouette took two and disappeared.
We peeked out the door of the boxcar. The coast was clear and we didn’t slow down until we got to Louie’s back porch.
We both were about to turn green when Louie said, “If you bring the matches I can get another pack tomorrow.”