It curled like a ribbon, wafting upward, moving at its leisure until it was suddenly still, hanging, suspended. I watched the man take another draw on his cigar as he leaned back in his beach chair. I watched the smoke do its dance, again.
I hate cigars, and I despised this man for smoking one so close to my tiny, self-proclaimed beach space that I had no choice but to inhale its stale, cheap scent. As if I would appreciate the scent of a fine cigar. Because I wouldn’t.
Cigars remind me of one of my restaurant’s regular guests who walks in, sits down, talks, drinks–does everything except chew–with an unlit, half-smoked cigar in his mouth. Cigars conjure my step father, whom I miss on only very rare occasions, but whom I nevertheless admit to missing now and then, but only when I want to share a peculiar moment of my hospitality realm that was his livelihood, or to regale him about something RG Son or RG Daughter has accomplished, because I never accomplished enough in his eyes.
No, I don’t like cigars.
Later, when the breeze caressed my bare legs and arms like the softest of silk, as I walked my lizard-hunting pup along the quiet streets of my neighborhood, I smelled the fruit-infused smoke of a pipe I could not see. I envisioned a beautiful pipe in one of the nearby stucco homes, carefully polished and quietly cherished, only smoked at the calm end of the day.
I love the smell of pipe tobacco because it brings me close again to my uncle, gone now for 15 years, whom I miss all the time. He was always proud of me and my writing, and he adored my kids simply for their sweetness, because they were too young to have accomplished much when he died quite suddenly and quite young.
It had been a long time since I had breathed in the sweetness of pipe tobacco. I miss it, too, all the time.
Within a block, I was almost startled by the remarkably recognizable scent of weed emanating from the quite visible, hand-rolled cigarettes squeezed between the fingers of the teenage boys in the park. They made no attempt to hide their activity, so I made no attempt not to notice them. I watched the tallest of the group, his large hands and large feet yet to be grown into, suck the magic smoke deep into his lungs, hold it, and then exhale so very slowly.
How long has it been, I wondered as I watched this boy who no doubt makes his parents crazy with worry every day, how many decades? I say I never would again, and I won’t, I am pretty sure. But for just a moment, for just that precise moment at dusk on a quiet, breezy evening, I admit I wondered what it would feel like to inhale, one more time.
Dark now, the pup panting and tired, the breeze still, steps from my apartment, I stood transfixed and breathed deeply the soothing aroma of the sandlewood incense wafting through the screened porch of the group rental house next to my apartment building. For one last moment, the smoke carried me to the long-ago apartments of friends with whom I am now long out of touch. Faded, torn sofas covered in batik print cloths, soft-toned wind chimes, sparkling crystals in the living room windows. I breathed deeply, eyes closed.
I will never forget those young friends, no matter how long it has been since I have seen them, no matter how long it has been since I have even thought of them.
It is precisely at these quiet times, the times when the smoke swirls through the still warm air and the wind chimes sound and I am able to freeze the past in the present scent, that I would willingly pass through the stale smoke, the burnt residue, the sweet scent, the soothing aroma. I would inhale it all, very deep within me, not caring at all about the burn in my lungs.