Cancer Cubbies

Since coming back to college, I have made it a point to be more social. I have decided to make an effort to not be so antisocial anymore and talk with classmates, especially when we are forced into groups for some project. I usually stay on topic, not straying to matters of opinion; I have only made so much progress.

On campus there are designated outdoor smoking shelters which are covered to protect people from the rain. The covering seems to defeat the purpose, in my mind at least. The smoke should rise up and not be collected where it can then be breathed in yet again. I suppose second hand smoke matters little to those who have already breathed it in first hand. In these little cancer cubbies, people gather and are compelled to chat while they smoke. I see them while I kill time between classes. I watch as they converse freely with little or no sign of knowing each other outside of their time smoking. They make it look so easy. I briefly consider taking up smoking just to mingle with them. I know they would see right through my charade. My coughing would give me away instantly.

I used to smoke, sort of. When I started, I would sit on the roof of my maternal grandparent’s house with my older cousin and smoke. I must have been thirteen or fourteen years old. I’m not sure I ever did it properly, though. I never felt the mythical “buzz” smokers talk about. I was quite wiry in my youth, and cigarettes certainly never calmed me down.

A few years later I aided a friend in his decision to quit by helping him smoke his last pack with him. It’s really a nasty habit: stained fingers, teeth and ceilings; if you are fool enough to smoke indoors. And the smell; the awful reek of burnt tar and nicotine that moves one to move away from the person who created the stench. Then there is the whole lung situation. There must be something to it because millions of people smoke. The fact that they are dropping like flies, year after year, does not seem to curb the number of people who pick it up.

In my life, I have only bought one pack of cigarettes, and it wasn’t for me. When I was in high school, a friend discovered I was eighteen and asked me to buy her pack. She was seventeen and cute; I didn’t want to disappoint her. Since it was her money, I suppose I did not truly buy them. I was a middle-man between her and the tightly packed convenience store she drove me to. I had never been inside and I had to pretend I knew what I was talking about when I asked for the pack of cigarettes. For some reason I was nervous. Thankfully, her brand was not one of the ultra-effeminate ones with words like slim, misty, or vogue in the title. It was awkward enough without that added inconvenience in that small, conservative town I found myself living at the time.

When I was younger, we would visit family in Georgia. While we were there, my brother and I would get our hair cut at the salon where my aunt worked. She would offer to cut my hair in the latest fashions of the rural south, which tended to be rat-tails, mullets, or something semi-permed. I would look at my cousins’ hair and opt for just a trim.

My aunt would chat with my mother while she brought sharp instruments close to my scalp repeatedly; all the while a cigarette hung from her lips. Occasionally the cigarette would rest between her fingers as she combed my hair, snipping away with the other hand. On one such occasion she let too much time pass between flicking the ashes and the “cherry” dropped on my neck, burning my young, tender flesh. After that incident, I objected to her cutting my hair altogether, but I was always trumped by her and my mother’s insistence.

As the rain begins to fall back in Portland, the students smoking under the shelter take no notice. I briefly think how unfair it is that smokers get a shelter from the rain while outside. I think non-smokers should have somewhere to go as well. Then I remember, we do. I stand up and walk back inside.