A Pack of Cigarettes
This morning, as I sit at my computer in the bedroom, I hear the TV in the living room that is tuned to an Italian station. I’m trying to filter things out.
Separate the laugh track from the joke, the crematorium from the barbeque.
It all started when I found a pack of cigarettes someone had lost or thrown away. A pack of red Pall Malls on a wet side road out by the airport. It slides around on my dash. Though it is empty, I am unable to throw it away, like the crack in the windshield of my 94 Mazda pickup I never get around to repairing. A semi-religious object, collecting dust and fading in the sunlight.
The junk mail, pizza discount coupons, unopened Christmas cards and pink receipts from Jiffy Lube come and go, but it is still there. Like a tackle ducked in a high school football game decades ago, you keep ducking every day. The smoke is always inside you, never to be exhaled.
The fact is that inside there were four cigarettes and a Bic lighter. I threw away the bus transfer ticket someone had slipped into the cellophane wrapper. It does not seem to matter now. But at the time it put me in a kind of thoughtful mood. Like I was watching myself in a black and white Fellini movie shot in the 1950’s. Cigarettes left over from a scene of expansive drinking. Crazy people arguing with crazy people who say the world is not crazy.
I haven’t smoked a cigarette in twenty years. It was quite a rush. But after finishing the last one several days later, I’ve had no urge to smoke another.
“Di presso,” someone shouts in the living room.
Back on the side road a squadron of F-15’s is taking off, one by one, a noise recorded by a microphone dropped into Hell.
I remember 1973 in a situation where I was supposed to marry this girl. It was predictable. A walk over. But the generals were wrong for some reason. I smoked a lot of pot, and she smoked a lot of cigarettes when she was drinking. She was Irish, and as Dylan Thomas once remarked about his wife, that is all you need to know. She was on the pill and therefore, you know, frisky. Then she felt guilty and drank. True to the pattern, she was divorced and I was a virgin semi-schizophrenic. We both drank and fucked like conspiracy theorists on the grassy knoll, wearing the grass off the knoll down to the truth. Also predictably, she had the same first name as the girl in the dream. The last memory I have of all this is her breath reeking of cigarette smoke, both of us drunk, Magruder shouting “Action” as I started to choke, or maybe she started to choke me. Then I pushed her off.
The pilots probably could not see me down there by the Columbia Slough that day, in a 94 Mazda B 400 pickup truck, an obscure courier with nothing to do, lighting a cigarette.
The night before I found the cigarettes I had another high school dream. I was in the hallway in front of my locker. My science project was suddenly too large to pull out. I was sweating. Things were breaking off. The hallway was clogged. Then the girl I was too shy to approach touched me on the shoulder and told me that President Kennedy had been shot.
She still shows up in my dreams from time to time. One of my friends told me that she liked me, but not as a boyfriend. I made Lee Harvey Oswald look like Charles Boyer.
I became someone who speaks with “regrettable candor.”
Both of us were part of the body count.
When I am about forty, I evolve into a Roman Catholic. But even then I find myself the oddball in Dealy Plaza. You can find me at the only traditional Latin Mass in Portland, seething over every deviation from the rubrics, every instance of dubious locution by the priest. Nobis quoque peccatoribus…
When I found the pack of Pall Malls I was intellectually (mostly) involved with an Albanian woman. She had recently moved to Boston with her husband, son and a small village of relatives. She had published a book of poems while still in Albania. She was twenty-eight. We found each other on an online poetry workshop, where she posted comments in broken English. We started talking. She asked me for advice; I asked her for advice. I translated a few of her poems. Then she divorced her husband, and I realized that the Internet was controlled by the same people who control Woody Allen.
Her Facebook pictures vanished in a vicarious way. Gone. Lots of nice people, men and women clearly delineated. Interesting.
The pack of cigarettes slides back and forth on the dashboard.
There was a lot of dancing and drinking in the photos of her family. Her husband wore something in a holster on his belt. He looked elated most of the time. I figured he must have been quite a guy. I mean, his wife was an exceptional woman. True, she never mentioned his name – but I assumed that was part of the culture. Then, a few months later, I got a message from her in which she mentioned that she might dissolve her marriage. I replied with regrettable candor, and have not heard from her since.
Last night I saw a picture of her dancing with a young man in a nightclub. He did not look particularly Albanian.
I hope it was just part of some false flag operation by competing dating companies.
It seems her son and I have the same first name. Lee.
The F-15’s slide back and forth in the sky. I understand more Italian every week.
self improvement essayBill Jansen was born in Forest Grove, Oregon in 1946. He received a B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Oregon in 1968. His work has appeared recently in The Centrifugal Eye, Jelly Fish Whispers, and most significantly in Asinine Poetry. He still lives and writes in Forest Grove, Oregon