Sitting atop my blue steel steed, the light had already turned green before realizing I was staring at a cigarette butt. It has been proven smoking is bad for your health but that is not the direction I am going with this. And while yes those that still defy death by smoking feel the need to throw their butts on the ground is beyond me is also where I am not going. This is about the person I became after my first cigarette.
There was a time when smoking was acceptable, even a rite of passage. Maybe it still is. Growing up in the 70’s everyone around me smoked in one form or another. Whether a few tokes off a cigarette to sneaking a single from parents and smoking it in a secluded section of our nearby park passing it between one another like a joint.
I have a lot of memories of firsts, but some stand out more than others. I will never forget the dizzying feeling of the very first toke off a Marlboro red provided by Ricky Peterson, a pimply faced, greasy haired troublemaker of a kid. Cliché as that reads it was true and seems to be common characteristics for all troublemakers.
He was persuasive that day. At age 15 while we were exploring the park, he came up to us and showed us his pack of reds. In awe of a whole pack, he led me and two best friends Jim and Tim (real names) to the secluded smoking section of the park known only to those wanting to experiment and minimize the risk of being caught. Never mind that smoke caught up in your clothing is a dead giveaway. Anytime Mom asked, “What’s that smell? Have you been smoking?” My reply, “Mom! I’m an athlete. Athletes don’t smoke.” Besides, she was an athlete and smoker herself back in those days when smoking and being an athlete was an acceptable combination.
Camouflaged by cattails and low hanging tree branches anyone passing by this private section of the park would be unable to see us. The price paid for such seclusion meant having to fend off the swarms of mosquitoes. A smorgasbord of blood, word was out as they came at us in droves. We didn’t care we wanted to smoke and were excited at the prospect of finally passing through the halls of innocence and into delinquency.
Taking out the fresh pack of reds, Ricky held it up for the three of us to behold. Smacking the pack three times in the palm of his hand he explained that was his way of making sure the tobacco was tightly packed in each cigarette. “Cool,” we replied in unison as Ricky removed the plastic wrapper like a pro who’d been smoking for years. Ricky was two years older than us, but he handled that pack like a veteran. Taking off the silver wrapping that kept those sticks fresh he pulled one out and turned it upside down. We had never seen that done and asked why. “For luck,” he said while pulling out his lighter.
Taking four cigarettes from the pack he passed one to each of us. Wow a whole cigarette for our first time. A mix of nervousness and excitement coursed through my body charting a path for the nicotine to eventually take over. In Pavlovian fashion, my mouth watered in anticipation as the sound of the sky-blue Bic lighter pierced my ears. Feeling the heat from the flame I looked up to see Ricky holding the lighter in front of my face waiting to marry cigarette to flame. I put it in my mouth, tilted my head slightly downward before Ricky stopped me from going too far. “Careful there, you’ll singe your hair.” He was right my bangs were just within range. If you pay attention, the sound of flame meeting cigarette causes a sound. Riveted, my friends were so quiet we could hear the faint sound of singe after the conjugation of flame and cigarette. Only to be broken by a “whoa” in unison from Tim and Jim as I took my first toke. “This is how they do it in the movies,” I thought to myself.
Feeling the rush of smoke enter my throat, it burned. Trying to suck in more was too much for my virgin lungs and of course coughed it all out. Ricky laughed, but my friends were more supportive as they patted me on my shoulder. Even though my first puff wasn’t a complete success I still felt dizziness from the nicotine taking over. “Wow,” I said in amazement. Ricky got a kick of that, and this time offered up a hearty, supportive laugh and pat on the back.
After that first puff the subsequent remainder of the cigarette continued to be a dizzying experience. However, I was more drawn to the defying parents and society aspect. I crossed the line and did something we were not supposed to do that day. Pushing past limitations set by family and society was the beginning of many such risk-taking incidents that have defined a life of risk-taking and something I will be examining in the next post.
Smoke em if you got em and come on back!