He ripped off the cushions. A quarter from ’93 but nothing else. Peered under the couch. Flip the recliner? Between the wall and the mattress on the floor? In the library bathroom that read NO SHOWERS resting on top of the toilet paper dispenser? Under the car seat next to the survivors of a number nine with big mac sauce? Search parties limit themselves to a week. But this wasn’t a missing Norwegian hiker just finding themselves in the third world. He tore the living room to shreds.
He needed his hit. Time paused. Sweet synthetic mango directly to brain. Dopamine after dopamine hit. The Juul™ wasn’t like a cigarette. It lacked the temporal charm of a dart. Juul was instantaneous. There was no ritual. Cigarette had a ritual. He ran his fingers through the couch again. He quit cigs using patented Juul™ technology. Drove back to the library. Checked the desks, the bathroom, near where the homeless hang out and drink Gatorade. Still couldn’t find it.
He walked back to his car. 1997 Honda Prelude. Sat down in the driver’s seat and did the math. $29.99 for a new silver one plus $15.99 for pods plus tobacco tax for $47.73. Would cost him four hours at $11 hour. Too much. He grew frustrated. Slammed open the door and threw his wallet at the passenger seat. Shifted around Long John Silver’s bags on the floor to find it. Spilled cocktail sauce on the floormat. Looked for some wayward pile of brown napkins in the dash. He found a small token from his past – a glovebox aged pack of L&M menthol 100’s.
He cracked open the box. Cellophane held in the formaldehyde. He quit weeks ago. No one wanted to be around him. Hide it from mom. Don’t let the tinder girl find out. Brush your teeth two times over. Spit spit spit. No one longed for a cigarette outside the bar anymore. Too good for it. Cigarettes broke time. They put it on a pause. The Juul was compatible with modernity. Regulatory bodies tried. They stomped out the smoker. Spit in his face and segregated him to the smoke on the side of the building on a rusty metal bench. But they couldn’t stop 15-year-olds from asphyxiating themselves on fruit punch flavored glycerin in the freshman bathroom.
The advent of the e-cigarette brought upon the nihilation of a ritual. The smoker was a ceremonial creature. He needed a flame for his vice. But the fire was never his. He didn’t steal it from the Gods though – he stole it from the wannabe Ramona Flowers girl with blue hair and gauges from the bar when he bummed an American spirit from her. Cigarettes and lighters not only transcended time, but private property. There were everyone’s in a sense, like a whisper down the alley when the brand is never the same but the headrush is.
He found the green bic with the safety broken off in the console. Stepped outside of his car to lean on the hot paint. He had the slightest worry about the pre-owned trade in value. Affixed the cigarette to his cracked lips, lit it and inhaled. The first drag felt like a quaking nut with your dream girl – a visceral rush down his spine. Cigarettes conjured the aura of a cowboy, a soldier, a sailor. Each in their own right essential proxies for modernity. Between each flick of the ash onto the asphalt he brought it back to his mouth for another ghastly drag until the brown butt. It joined the ranks of every other discarded cigarette as he wound it between his pointer finger and thumb and flicked into the sewer.
He stepped back into the car to head back home. He thought for a second and fumbled his noxious fingers into the keyhole. As he slipped into the dirty upholstery seat, he graced something metallic. A silver sliver shimmered in the sun. He finally found his piece of modernity. He tapped the juul for it to broadcast an oscillating red like a plane far off in the night sky. He hastily brought it to his lips and summoned a ghastly minty green 5.0% nicotine hit to his throat. Cleaner than a cigarette but somehow less attractive.
The epitome of the modern era was found in that metal stick. It violated every ritual that the cigarette required. It did not break the temporal experience like a cigarette – where a simple press to the lips melted away anxiety. It snuck into moments of everyday, rips of crème brûlée flavored vapor no more distinct than a sip of lukewarm coffee. As essential it was to one addicted to nicotine, it never disappeared. He drove on home. He took another drag from the metal rectangle. It flashed red like a cell tower in the distance. It was dead.
Roth Emwebs writes at his blog Memoirs of a Zoomer.