It’s time for a smoke break. Not just because I miss those days when I worked in a restaurant, waiting for the rush to die out so I could sneak out the employee door in the back of the place, out onto the stained concrete near the industrial-sized garbage bins, a space reserved for employees to steal a few minutes’ worth of alone time. It was best if a couple of the girls I worked with joined me, and then we’d hash over the evening, bitching about crappy tips and the short-tempered cooks, taking sweet, hurried drags of our smokes (Marlboro Lights, menthol for everyone but me) shivering if it was winter (server aprons tie around your waist and offer zero protection from the cold but damned if we wasted time shrugging into our coats), planning the rest of our night – which typically included a round of drinks after the final customer had cashed out. After hours, we’d sit and roll silverware (if you’ve never worked in a restaurant, bar, or café, I think you may have missed a rather crucial part of the human experience) and sip tap beer or rail-pour gin-n-tonics, counting our nightly take and tipping out the busboys and bartenders, all set to relive the whole routine tomorrow night.
These days, years removed from my time as a server (I say with only a *touch* of irony, as I am now a mother), I tend to look back through some pretty rosy lenses, idealizing that era when I didn’t feel the crush of guilt whenever I craved a smoke break, the feel of a cigarette between my lips, the subsequent exhalation of a rush of pure, undiluted relaxation. I know it’s a terrible, awful habit, and I haven’t truly smoked in nearly the same amount of time (not counting the very occasional “I’m actually out of the house on a Friday night, drink in my hand, and hey, do you have a light, I totally owe you” moments), but I still miss it. I argue/rationalize with myself – writers are notorious smokers, right? Why did I ever quit? And then I remind myself that this is the 21st century, and probably even F. Scott Fitzgerald would have some serious qualms about his formerly hard livin’ lifestyle.
I can’t pretend that after hours spent at my laptop, especially late into the night, I don’t have to talk myself down from the urge to drive over to the gas station and pick up a pack of smokes. Summer nights are the worst for that kind of craving – how many hours did I spend, especially that charmed June-July-August I worked out in Wyoming, sitting around campfires with rowdy friends (similarly employed at guest ranches in the Park County area), the lot of us all but howling at the moon, thrilling to the gorgeous, sharp-edged outline of the Tetons on the horizon, beneath the diamond-spangled sky in which I’ve never seen so many stars – blowing smokes rings with someone’s dashboard radio playing in the background? Too many to count, but not nearly enough in retrospect. Maybe its the companionship of fellow smokers I miss, too, that sense of now-or-never, the easygoing banter – I tend to work in solitude these days, a necessity of accomplishing any sort of lengthy writing on any given day. And I love writing – I don’t mind the isolation, usually – until I start craving a good old-fashioned smoke break. It’s why I chew the ends off pencils, tapping them incessantly on my desk the same way I used to tap my box of Lights before opening them. It’s why I often write characters who smoke – living vicariously in the little worlds I create in my fiction. Maybe it simply boils down to the fact that I need a new, less hazardous and more mature habit for those moments. *crushing out metaphorical cigarette* 😉