subtitle: zen and the art of sneaking one whilst the wife is asleep
out the door. sixty yards. right turn—second guess; about face. one hundred fifty yards. left turn. to the end of the road—i pass another hooded figure; i am you and what i see is me? across the street, under the streetlight and into the blackened park.
if my mother knew what i was doing here tonight she'd maybe cluck her tongue at me. maybe.
i see the picnic table in the center of the park's single light (a/(h²+r²)), but the very fact of its visibility rules it out immediately. tonight's work suggests shadow. i lean against a wooden construction barrier covering a muddy hole where too many construction trucks have driven. fascist object, taking away my civil right to step haplessly into the filth if i damn well please, i'll show you.
i tear open the paper/plastic wrapper, pull out one of what i came for. click, puff, puff. for moments all i see is an afterimage of the lighter's sparks and tenuous flame (the crowning achievement of the human race; the machine and very means of alchemy). click, puff, puff. kindle, baby. click, puff, puff.
i had forgotten the taste of this particular brand. acrid to be sure, no cubano, but not wholly unpleasant and linked in memory to far more pleasant nights than this. i fill my mouth again and again, and try and fail to blow smoke rings. some of the foul stuff leaks into my lungs, and oh how i cough. some hobbit i'd make.
who originally thought of this? who decided it would be a good idea to pick some stinky weed, dry it, wrap it in paper, burn it, and breathe the smoke? and in spite of the lungs' immediate and intense instructions not to do it again went ahead and did it again? i conclude it must have been a teenager. probably looking for a way to piss off his dad.
puff, puff. at this short distance the combustion is audible. is it the actual oxidation, or some residual water flash-boiling out of the dessicated leaves and escaping into the entropy-addicted universe? at any rate it's beautiful.
and you: i watch you not seeing me see you trundle down the sidewalk, hands in pockets and mind (omnipresent) in who knows what. have we ever been here before, you and i, roles reversed?
i dare a cop to spot me, approach and smell the smoke, ask questions. in my head i'm oh-so-brash, agreeing to produce my identification only when he produces the warrant, and only if it has been signed by the attorney general himself. puff, puff. what a troublemaker i'll never be.
and you: i see you jogging, see the thin white wires connecting your consciousness to some hidden marvelous device and wonder if i'd enjoy what you're listening to, if i myself have listened to those same words jogging that same road, syncopating steps with the same rhythm of inhale/exhale. i decide it's as unlikely as anything possibly could be—though it is true that everything that happens does in fact happen.
puff, puff. i spit, trying to extinguish the burning that always fills my sinuses when i perform this foolish self-poisoning act, the burning that triggers so strange a response, the burning i hope i never get used to.
there, the school where so recently i made my slow four-year migration from front corners to rear corners. there, the water tower in whose shadow i have lived so long but which i have never climbed. there, the field where i made my first real football tackle. there, a house worth possibly more than all the money i've seen so far. puff, puff.
and you: i can see your balcony from here, can see how he's holding you, and think what you have might last.
existence in every direction, i think. i exist in space and time, always will exist. existence forever, in every direction. this does not comfort me. by ways nothing ever ends, but by the same ways nothing ever begins, does it?
uncharacteristic thoughts, even for such uncharacteristic circumstances, i meta-think. perhaps i've been here too long. puff.
i crush out the cherry-red tip. i'm tempted to leave the ashen remains on the swing set for some naïve elementary schoolkid to find and titter over. the temptation passes.
on the walk home, the chill and the essential loneliness make me feel like a character in one of my own off-center stories. i consider how this one will end, and just who's doing the writing.