27 June 2009 The Last Refuge of the Persecuted Smoker
Thursday Morning…Lambert International Airport…St. Louis, Missouri
I walk in clean—no metal detected—and grab my carry–on bags, replace my shoes and the contents of my pockets, and glance at the clock in the Southwest Airlines terminal. 7:12am. That gives me twenty-eight minutes to find fire and absorb one of the two convenient smoking lounges between Gate E6 and me.
I stroll into the first News & Gifts and ask the attendant for a book of matches. He says he’s all out and instead offers to sell me a cheap, transparent, non-BIC lighter with ST. LOUIS written vertically on it in a font that looks suspiciously like Gmail’s WIDE. I decline. And so he tells me I can walk to the next News & Gifts in the terminal where he assures me, “She will have.”
“Oh yes yes. Chure.”
“…cuz or else I’ll just buy a lighter now and get it over with.”
“No no. It tis nota problem.”
He’s dark-skinned, balding, maybe in his early forties or sixties. Indian? Bengladeshi? Maybe. I begin to leave when I suddenly realize—
“Hold on. So if I buy a lighter from you, am I allowed to take it with me on the plane?”
“Of course. Yes.”
“Really??? When did that happen?”
“Ha? I donot understand.”
“Before you couldn’t…” I mutter, mostly to myself.
He shrugs and smiles, “I donot know.”
“Don’t worry about it. Have a good one, man.”
“Yes. You too.”
7:17am. I can see E6 isn’t yet boarding as I arrive at the second News & Gifts where a queue has formed, and so my eyes kill time on magazine covers. TIME is a ‘Latina Justice’ likely discussed in the US News & World’s ‘Progress Report’ on the nation’s first black president. VIBE is a studio photograph of the great (Missouri-born) white hip-hop phenom from Detroit. I don’t recognize the PLAYBOY’s cover girl while a MAXIM Magazine is sold in an aluminum sleeve to the man in front of me wearing a white leather cowboy hat, denim, and boots with scars. He doesn’t thank the attendant for his change as he meanders from the shop.
“Hallo,” says the attendant, a North African (?) in her twenties (?).
“Morning. Can I getta book of matches, please?”
She ducks behind the counter emerging with the same smile and says, “(It’s the) Last juan.” I thank her and make for the smoking lounge at 7:22am noting en route that they still aren’t boarding at E6.
In the smoking lounge, I find the denim cowboy has removed his hat and placed it on the empty chair to his right. He reads his now-sleeveless MAXIM–doesn’t skim, scan, or feast his eyes–reads something in the top right hand corner of the page, eyeballs twitching across the type.
I light up, open my notebook, and write:
St. Louis and St. Charles Co County and neighboring St. Charles , where I’ve now lived for 18 of my 25 years. have for as long as I can remember been home to a retail chain called “Dirt Cheap: Cigarettes & Beer,” advertised on television commercials featuring the owner and someone dressed as a bright yellow chicken that jumps up and down yelling ‘Cheap! Cheap! Fun! Fun!” before a montage of weekly specials is concluded by the owner standing proudly in front his store and saying, “And as always, thank you for choosing Dirt Cheap, the last refuge of the persecuted smoker. We do appreciate your business.”
I believe him, and Missourians apprecia
“…passenger Pahblo…uh, Manrkwez (huh?) please come to gate E4 (E4!?!?! FUCK!) …Your flight is boarding…Last call fo…”
In a single motion, I drop my cigarette and grab my camera bag redirecting the butt in mid-flight across my pant leg, and then maybe onto the floor but I can’t say for certain because I am gone, hollering like a banshee toward the correct departure gate where I can feel several dozen sets of bored, waiting eyeballs watching me from Gate E6 as I produce the boarding pass for my one-way flight to Baltimore, Maryland.