Rather than abandon my insatiable craving for cigarettes with the psychological assistance of a nicotine patch or the bitter gum, I have slowly weaned myself from the smoldering magic wands that have kept me calm for nearly two decades by limiting myself first to a half a pack a day, then just five, and now I am down to just three within a twenty-four hour period.
I find myself aghast as I walk these sidewalks of Brooklyn and take notice of the many unfinished fags that hurried commuters trample underfoot before descending into New York’s underground railway. This new mind of mine, now free of the clutches of dependence on substances, races like the A train between Columbus Circle and 125th Street– Harlem. I quickly do the math, adding up the cost of all those butts on the sidewalk and conclude that this morning alone, subway commuters entering the G train station on Lafayette and Bedford wasted nearly a grand in chemically infused, unfinished cigarettes.
Occasionally a commuter fails to trample an unfinished Marlboro as he or she rushes with coffee in one hand and briefcase in other down freshly hosed cement subway stairs—but I walk on by with my head held high—no longer looking down to consider a means of fulfilling this addition that was costing me $10 a day. Marlboros are not my brand anyway!
No longer must I scrape and cry over cigarettes I can no longer afford—not now, for outside of Goodwill Industries at 25 Elm Place in Brooklyn, ex-convicts sell what in the eyes of New York City police officers is a Federal offense—the ‘Lucy’ or ‘Loosie’ cigarette. There once was a time when corner delis in Kings County sold loose cigarettes, referred to through local tongues as a “Lucy”, but now, even the most shady of Arab deli owners refuse to take the risk of selling loose cigarettes for it is a major crime in Jewish run—Bloomberg New York—where the tax on cigarettes has proven to be an addiction within itself to this cash strapped city, where only the poor are forced to pay their fair share.
Being a white male smoker amidst a sea of black welfare faces hanging out at the corner of Livingston Street and Elm Place was at first intimidating. We all await the 9 a.m. start of Goodwill Industry’s ‘Back to Work Program’ with our Lucy in hand.
Slowly I approached the dark skinned man with a backpack who puts his life on the line each day for us addicted, poor folk. We appear here every morning in this cruel age of taxation without representation—a row of chimneys outside of Goodwill Industries—smoldering and following the rules so that our food stamp benefits do not get terminated by the City of New York. The black man sells Lucys for a mere fifty cents, but we must be careful where we buy contraband, for the police monitor this city block with suspicion.
“Hi,” I said to the man in Michael Jordon sneakers selling cigarettes, likely bootlegged from South Carolina. “May I ask how much for a pack?”
The obese Barry White look-alike offers a frown of mistrust, so I say, “I’m in the program too. I’ll show you my Medicaid card if ya want.”
The crowd of chain- smokers simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief as I admit this fact, immediately embracing me as one of their own and not some undercover cracker cop. Barry White, this generation’s version of the Kennedy family, places his bear-paw hand upon my shoulder to lift my spirits—
“Five bucks dude,” he shares, chuckling over the new term in the black community to politely refer to a friendly white guy. “You can call me ‘Smooth,” he says.
“It certainly is a pleasure to meet you Smooth. I’ll take four Lucys instead of a pack. I am quitting soon.”
Smooth effortlessly, (on the down-low), picked four fresh Newports from a pack that he had hung like a Christmas tree ornament upon a carpet of Jheri curled chest hair, swiping my five dollar bill with his free hand, slapping me five with his knuckles as not to attract attention from passing police cars—pretending of course that I was one of the brothas.
“Listen,” I said after thanking him, “If I ask for a pack tomorrow, please offer me just two Lucy’s—I really am trying to quit.”
“No problem, dude, but just so you know, I can’t stand to see a man beg. That’s why I do what I do.”
“You’re a saint,” I said with the sweet taste of smoke pouring from my lips.