Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Breakfast of Cigs by Manolo Gonzalez

As I sit at the gate, heading to Paris-Charles DeGaulle, as the information screen so aptly reminds me, I get a sudden need for a delicious, life-shortening cigarette. Well, as a fellow smoker might agree, one gets a sudden, if not expected, craving to smoke after one eats, especially something as hearty as food from the airport Burger King. Helps the food go down, they say. Well, I am craving a cigarette with nowhere to smoke it. So, I ask you this: where did all the smoking lounges go?

I remember a time where one could smoke inside the airplane. Ricky Ricardo in the airplane’s smoking lounge, Philip Seymour Hoffman at the airport smoker’s lounge. (He just looks like someone who would do that) The glory days where smoking bothered no one, and was even encouraged by the masses, have passed, and now, smokers of the world are trapped inside an overcrowded terminal with no way of indulging their inner demons. And that, my friends, is just rude.

Trapped. Trapped, I say. Because, when one has a consuming habit, that is what you relate to in a situation where you are closed off with no way to the outside world, and are bombarded with endless No Smoking signs on every pillar, every blank wall.

My legs, trembling from the need, the desire, shake up and down. I can’t stand it any longer! But what is someone like me to do? I guess I could go to the bar and have a drink to take my mind off my naughty vice, but when I drink I need to smoke. It’s all part of the look, so that’s no good. Starbucks? Eh, fuck coffee. One can’t have coffee without cigarettes. It would be like having Sonny without the Cher. Nothing is a better sinful combination than coffee and cigarettes, not even Spiro Agnew in a bikini, which would be priceless. Nope.

So, now the mind starts racing, trying to find a solution to this dilemma at hand; what would happen if I did light up my black Djarum in Gate 25? Would they sic the dogs on me? Would they taser me? Or maybe they would give me a complimentary cavity check? Whatever it is, it can’t be more than a fine. A lowly fine. It would be worth it, for a smoke. But would I have time to even finish one? Most likely not. I would probably be pounced upon faster than a nude Raquel Welch at a nursing home. Or maybe I’ll get arrested and miss my flight to Paris-Charles DeGaulle? Oh no, that must not happen.

So, now I seriously begin to contemplate leaving the terminal, going to the drop-off for a smoke, then do the security line all over again. I would have to remove my shoes and belt again, quite the pain. But, can one even do that? Do they let you walk in again after you’ve already walked in? The boarding pass is stamped and all. What if the line is obscenely long and I miss the flight? We wouldn’t want that. And, it’s also cold outside, and all I’ve got on is a measly sweater. That won’t do.

Three cops walk by, looking ultra-serious and solemn. They look constipated. As they walk past, I wonder if they intercepted my sinister plan of smoking? Well, that and the contraband matches that I so deviously snuck into the terminal, which, according to the lovely sign in the front, is a big no-no. But, what if I do go outside? I have 55 minutes until the flight is scheduled to board, and word in the street is that it is, unsurprisingly, running 20 minutes late. Fuck it, I’m going outside!

As I make my rushed way towards the smoke haven that is the drop-off, I take a peek and look at the security line that I will inevitably have to venture through again. It’s not too bad, not too bad at all, actually. Barely any sluggish faces pushing their carry-ons with their feet. So, with that information gladly in mind, I endeavor to go outside.

Those first puffs, the feeling of fulfillment, and even of gratitude is almost too much for me to bear. The joy rushes back into me, I calm down, my leg stops shaking. I spend the next glorious 20 minutes puffing away at two black Djarums. Standing by the trashcan, along with someone who appears to be Jack Palance’s father and a rather fat Canadian, I so feverishly enjoy the feeling of the supple filter between my chapped lips. I people watch and spot a sad blue Super Shuttle, and watch as a group of Koreans exit the van. At least 20 of them. As to how they all fit in that blue van, I will never know. Nor do I want to know.

Goddamn it’s cold outside, but I would stand naked in the middle of the Siberian wasteland for two fags. For two Virginia killing sticks. It’s ridiculous to even try to explain my exalted state; after so much planning, after so much scheming, I finally have reached the promised land. Still, it would be nice if those smoking lounges were still around.

I now have 35 minutes to get to the flight. Plenty of time. I walk back into the terminal, ready to face the long cock of the law. A couple of people, I imagined; exactly as it had been before I had left it. Little did I imagine, those 20 Koreans would be in line, and each of them appearing to have difficulty knowing what the hell having their boarding passes and passports in hand meant. This can’t bode well for me.

I now have 25 minutes to get to the plane, and I have just arrived at the formidable woman that stamps your boarding pass.

“You were already in here” she said.
“Yes. Yes I was.”
“And now you want to come back in?”
“Yes. Yes I do.”
“You can’t do that.” How dare she.
“I needed to go outside for some air.”
“Why were you outside?”
“I needed to smoke.”
“Well, sir, you should’ve smoked prior to passing the security check” she said. How helpful. I wanted to yell at her all the many reasons why someone like me can’t have a cigarette before they pass the security check, as there is no smoking area, but all I could come up with was a feeble “Ya don’t say?”
“We’re going to have to give you a special check.”
“To make sure you didn’t receive any contraband while outside.”
“But I was just outside. What could I have possible gotten outside? If I go through regular security they would pick it up, no?”
“Not if you hid it within your body, sir.”
“So you’re going to check that I didn’t shove anything up my ass while I was just outside?”
“Who would possibly do that!”
“You’d be surprised, sir.”
“Is that right? Well, I only have 25 minutes to catch my flight to Paris.”
“Well, sir, you should have thought about that before you exited the terminal.”
“I wouldn’t have had to exit the terminal if you people had kept the smoking lounge…”

I won’t bother you with what went on next. Needless to say, the lovely Cuban security guard got to know me very well. Too well for someone who didn’t even buy me dinner or give me a reach-around. Rude.

I barely reached my flight. The woman was about to close the door, and as we all know, once they close the door God help them if they should re-open it for someone who had just gone through a serious dilemma.

The airlines must be playing some sort of cruel joke. The seats are of course vile, but the worst part is that they insist on including ashtrays on the arms rests. Ashtrays? Really? As if by some miracle one were allowed to smoke in the plane. Such cruel teases must be reserved for sexy girls with red hair and strippers in New Jersey, but certainly not for airlines. As if that wasn’t enough to bear, the fat man sitting in the seat in front of you refuses to sit still, thus shaking your tray and making it impossible to even type on a computer. Oh no, now we must suffer through the brandishing of relics from a golden age once passed. Remnants from the time when Ricky Ricardo was allowed to smoke in an airplane, negated by the ever-lit sign with a cigarette crossed out. A paradox greater cannot exist in God’s green earth than seeing a hungry ashtray under a No Smoking sign. How can one be expected to endure a dozen hours of this taunting?

After six hours, the ashtray seems to follow me everywhere I look. It seems to mock me for my past sins; it taunts me. The feeling is almost unbearable. Thank God I’m not a nymphomaniac.

Ah, Paris: a smoker’s paradise. When I light up there, I get no angry faces of disgust as one does in Los Angeles; no death threats for endangering the air of the majestic seagull. None of that bullshit. Smoking in the taxi, smoking in the bistros, the cafés, the hospital. It’s a dream come true for any hedonistic man of the world. Happy at last. But, little did I know, fate would fuck me in the ass again.

At the baggage carousel in Charles DeGaulle, I stepped through the automatic sliding doors for a couple of glorious cigarettes as I waited for that obnoxious alarm and rotating red light that signals the operation of the carousel to go off. As to why they have the red spinning lights, I don’t know. They’re more like party lights to me. As I stood outside, gazing through the glass panes at the carousel, waiting for it to begin moving and spitting out bags, I saw a woman standing by the machine that gives you the pushcarts. It was quite bizarre, actually. She was this gorgeous Holly Golightly type, with a black cocktail dress, high heels, and enough diamonds to appease Elizabeth Taylor. At first I thought she was one of those overzealous First-Class passengers who are perpetually over-dressed. Then I thought she was just French, and that was explanation enough. Truth is, I have no idea what or who she was. All I recall is her standing still, holding a brown paper box in her hands, and staring right at me. She didn’t move, she didn’t flinch, the only thing that was moving was her chest, up and down, as she took her breaths. As if that wasn’t strange enough, the movements of her chest coincided with the drags of my cigarette, as if they were in tandem. I looked down to put out my cigarette for a second, I looked up, and she was completely gone. Truly, she was gone faster than Megan Fox’s career. If I didn’t have my cigarettes at the time, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Bloody French.

I arrived at The Plaza Athene, excited to sit in my dark suite and smoke long, sexy French cigarettes with a bottle of merlot by my side. Needless to say, that wasn’t the case.
“I am sorry sir, there was a mix up with your original reservation for a smoking room,” said the diminutive French concierge, his lapel pen glistening into my eyes. How irritating.
“Well, that’s fine, just give me another room.”
“Absolutely, sir, but I am sorry to inform you that there aren’t any smoking rooms available at the moment.” My heart sank deep into the depths of my bowels.
“There is nothing available?”
“Nothing, sir. I do apologize.”
I wanted to rip off the tiny Frenchman’s lapel and wipe that contemptuous smirk from his frog face, but I didn’t, because I’m classier than that. No, instead I took the room. That sad, disgusting, Non-Smoking room where the only smoke coming out of anything is from the coffee that’s brought in every morning, and by coffee I mean Grand Old Parr’s Whiskey. No more dreams of dark rooms and long, sexy French cigarettes and merlot. One can’t even dream of a blunt and a wine cooler. Nothing. My French paradise had now become my French prison. Soapy Franco television shows and commercials about orange juice have lost their charms, as without cigarettes, there is nothing.

I spent most of my time out and about the streets of Paris, as one would imagine. I would roam the beautiful twisted rues of Hugo’s time, while enjoying myself a deliciously satisfying cigarette. How French. How droll.

It started to snow, one especially cold evening it was. As I was standing outside, enjoying the firsts puffs of a cigarette, a large wind gust hurdling mounds of snow effectively ended my romance with that lone cigarette. I had no choice but to return to my isolated tower of urges and prepare myself for a smokeless night.

Outside my room the wind ravaged the lonely boulevard. The shrills of the wind, yelling “smoke, smoke” echoed through my walls and reverberated down my spine. No better time to have a cigarette than during a cold night to warm you up, I say. A nice cigarette and a sip of whiskey can make even the coldest human out there as warm as a prostitute’s thighs.

But once again, I found myself in the same rotten situation as I did in the airport - I was surrounded, enclosed, without a way out for a cigarette. How do I keep getting myself into these situations will always remain a blur to me, but it is moments like this that I wish there could be a smoking lounge inside my hotel room. After about 4 hours of pacing around my room, aimlessly, looking, searching, hoping for a calm in the weather so I could go out to my balcony and feel once more the sensual pleasure of a filter in my mouth, the smoke in my lungs. The feeling of fulfillment in my life once more is all I asked for. But, alas, the weather did not clear up ‘til morning, and by then, I was at the outer limits of desperation: a place where no man should ever go. That morning I had an entire pack of cigarettes. My life was once more complete.

France has a great history of smoking; its glamorous ways comparable to the aristocracy. Once the capital of the cigarette by my standards has now devolved itself into this new “smoking kills” fad that seems to be nothing more than a way to push the views of one group onto another. If we want to smoke then let us smoke, but don’t you dare deny our right to do so. You don’t smoke wherever you like, so let us smoke wherever we like! You say that the smoke annoys you? Yeah, well, your clean air annoys us! The glory days of cigars and brandy are gone, and now we smokers are left to scramble to the nearest dusty corner where smoking is permitted, next to the streetwalkers and the degenerates. It makes my blood curdle, especially when these bastards say stupid things like “stop smoking and save your life”. You can’t save a life. No matter what or who you are. Whether you’re a doctor, or a paramedic, or a cabaret singer who decided to stop smoking, you can’t save your life. A life cannot be saved. At most, you can postpone death. Or, even as such, elongate your life. But never save.

After a lovely smoke filled week in Paris, my time in the smoke haven was coming to a close. I started to dread having to re-enter once more the dismal abyss of airports, where no smoker is safe. Not safe, as for a smoker being without a place to smoke is like a truck driver being without a place to drive to, or a drover without a place to…drove.

I didn't want to take any chances. That next bitter cold morning, I stood outside Paris Charles DeGaulle, and smoked an entire box of Djarum Noirs, as they say. I was in no position to risk not being able to enjoy my delectable vice once inside, for, unlike last time, I had a layover in New York JFK, and God knows the Yankees don't let a cigarette anywhere near their compound of scattered modern buildings, who frightfully so, look about as modern as Joan Rivers. So, after many hours of smoking and thinking the night before, I decided to smoke as many cigarettes as humanly possible, before I was obliged to resign myself to the debauched rules of the modern airport, and, this being France, you never fucking know if there are the ever elusive Smoking Lounges of previous times in the actual airport. I didn't want to take any chances...bloody French.

That disgusting, arid air filled flight from Paris to New York was only my halfway point in the excursion of hell. And now, now that that horrid excuse for traveling was over, I had 2 hours to kill, or to kill myself, in a terminal of JFK. I had one unopened box of Djarum Black in my coat pocket, which just sat in there, mocking me. My black and silver Zippo, all the while, would click nervously against my thumb, yelling at me to put it to good use. The Zippo was yelling at me. I needed a smoke at once!

But, of course, I was stuck within the tacky stucco walls of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy airport. Where is a sophisto, a bon vivant, a man of the world who enjoys a smoke, supposed to smoke? The world has gotten progressively tacky. Less adventurous. Less glamorous. Traveling in style, as they did in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, as James Bond, smoking in the first class cabin while wearing a suit and Ray Bans and sipping on rum. Remember that? These days, people travel in pajamas and bring their own sandwiches wrapped in aluminum foil. Generic brand aluminum foil, mind you. It appears to me that with the acceptance of smoking and the riddance of all those tree hugging, PETA supporting, Prius driving pussies, the modern world may, quite perhaps, see the dawning of a resurgence of style, class, of glamour. But until then, we smokers are doomed to wait 2 hours in a stuffy, fluorescent terminal while waiting for our connecting flight to Los Angeles. Bull shit.

So, unable to smoke, I just sat there, in that cheap, plastic seat at JFK airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Los Angeles. If there is anything worse than the French in my eyes then it’s probably le Americans. The French may be strange, cowardly people, but at least they have art, delicious food, and nearly unrestricted smoking. That is much better compared to Americans, who have banned smoking everywhere from bars, to, get this, outside. Yes, it’s true. Smoking is banned in the open air, on the streets, in Santa Monica, California. It is illegal to smoke on the sidewalks of that now useless, and incredibly annoying city. But, that’s not the kicker, oh no. The kicker is that although one is not allowed to smoke standing outside, it is legal to smoke inside one’s vehicle with the windows down. Car exhaust is much better for the environment than a little cigarette smoke. Isn’t that right, Santa Monica, California? Douche bags. Let a man smoke!

The plane from New York to Los Angeles was, like usual, utterly and completely disgusting. I have seen cleaner surfaces on hemorrhoids than I have on commercial airplanes. It’s ghastly and appalling. Let me tell you, if I had my own private jet, one beautiful, luxurious, smoke filled private jet, with clean surfaces and endless, joyous smoking, I would be happy. I’d be happier than Liza Minnelli when she takes her pills.

I began to feel a little off, as in uncomfortable, or whatever, and decided to go to sleep. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it was a strange sensation. Not necessarily pain, but it wasn’t pleasant either. Aging sucks. It sucks more than Linda Lovelace.

After a couple of grueling hours, we arrived at LAX, that sterile, white zone fragranced with the smell of soft shell chicken tacos, and self-tanning lotion. As I walked towards baggage claim, I felt my legs sluggish and weak, most uncharacteristic of me. I rushed as fast as I could to the exit, right outside of the carousel room, so that I could smoke a cigarette and calm down from whatever it was that ailing me.

It had simply been too long without smoking a life-affirming cigarette, I said to myself. Next time, I travel by land. Last time I take commercial aviation, my body can’t handle it anymore. I can’t go five, six hours without a cigarette, just as a baby can’t go more than three hours without eating. It is a human necessity, and if my body asks for it, you can be damn sure I’m going to give it to it. I’m going to give it to it like Ike Turner to Tina.

The weather was a splendid 70 degrees or so outside of the baggage claim. I leaned against the glass pane, much like I had done at Charles DeGaulle, and took out my beloved Djarum Blacks. I put it to my lips, lit my new Zippo lighter that I bought at the Moulin Rouge, containing a picture of a, shall we say, vulnerable French girl, and lit my strongly needed cigarette.

That unique rush of euphoria took over my body again, and all was well once more.

As I took a drag from my cigarette I glanced inside the baggage claim to check if the carousel had begun to spin, and then I saw her. The Holly Golightly, the overdressed Parisian with the brown paper box, was standing inside, just as she had been in Paris-Charles DeGaulle. At that moment, my heart stopped inside my chest: could this be true? Is that fancy bitch really here, in Los Angeles, with that outdated brown paper box? I was completely paralyzed by her sight; that delicate beauty just staring at me. I tried to take another puff of my cigarette, but my arms seemed to be unable to move in her presence. She made the most intense eye contact with me that I had ever experienced in my life, and that is saying a lot. I’ve spoken face to face with Tom Cruise…that man makes you feel guilty if you blink, his contact is so intense.

With cigarette in hand, and eyes locked, she began to slowly saunter her way towards me, without even so much as a blink. I, too, found myself unable to break my eye contact with her. Her incredibly large and perfectly rotund eyes put me in a trance, and at the center of those eyes were completely jet-black pupils; like a fly in a bowl of milk.

She kept making her way towards me, then stopped about arm’s length from me. Confused, and a little aroused by this mysterious lady in black and diamonds, I began to feel that strange sensation again; the same sensation as in the plane.

With her two delicate and petite arms, she held out the brown paper box. I tried to reach for it (and “accidently” cop a feel of her boob, but I digress), but my arms were as immobile as before.

She unwrapped the brown paper, slowly, almost painstakingly slow, and then opened up the cardboard box that lay within the paper.

Well, you can pretty much guess my reaction when I took a peek inside the box and saw two decayed lungs lying inside. They were my lungs, actually. At first I didn’t realize that they were mine, but our syncopated breaths made it impossible to miss. Then, suddenly, as hard as I tried, and believe me, I tried harder than a four-hour erection, the lungs stopped their cycle of inflating and deflating.

I dropped to the floor, and with luscious cigarette in hand, died outside the domestic baggage claim at LAX. And the worst part is, my dear gentlemen, is that there is No Smoking in heaven. FML.

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