When Smoke Unveils the Fog of Our Memory

by G.T.

        My friend, “Ralph”, who requested that he be anonymous and chose the name Ralph as a pseudonym, sent me a text poem on Thursday night. Ralph wanted me to post his poem on my blog. I wasn’t comfortable posting somebody’s poem, a friend’s verse no less, without a story behind it, not to forget having it published anonymously. Why the hell did you write it, Ralph?

        Last night, Ralph and I had a bite to eat at a pizza place that is not necessarily local, but offers a good deal on pizza by the slice. Five bucks for a giant slice and a can of pop. That’s how you judge towns around here: by their pizza slices. After that, we stopped at the book store and he tried, for what must be the hundredth time, to convince me to read The Scarlet Letter. One of his selling points was reading a passage in the beginning, and showing me one of the last chapters, “Another View of Hester”. I had told him about Philip Roth, and showed him a chapter from Portnoy’s Complaint, “Cunt Crazy”. We’ll both have to take a look at each other’s titles. Before I headed inside for the night, I said to Ralph, “Before I forget, tell me the story behind your poem.”

        Ralph is currently a student-teacher instructing Junior and Senior English classes at a suburban high school. Thursday night, he was reading in his garage, as he often does, writing notes inside the pages of a book, as he always does, that he is teaching to one of his classes. After reading, Ralph placed the book face-down on a table beside him. I found it intriguing that Ralph made it clear that he always places a book face-down after he’s done reading. This point of intrigue brings to my attention another point of intrigue: Ralph’s professing of every routine, mundane or eccentric, that he does in his day-to-day life.

        With the book, face-down mind you, on the table, Ralph sets all of his pens, each a different color, a gift from a hipster friend of which Ralph made jest, on top of the book. Done reading, Ralph lit a cigarette. When lighting it, he inhaled a bit too much, and tasted the butane from the bic lighter. He asked if I had ever done the same, and I actually haven’t. That aside, the mistake of sucking in the gaseous tang of the lighter fluid reminded him of when he started smoking, many years ago. As a novice to the habit, he often overdid the act of lighting a smoke. This led to several windows of reminiscence, an augmentation of his memory, of his teenage years and, well, although Ralph is still quite young, not being much older than myself, I’ll risk sounding farcical and say that it reminded him of his “youth”. A realization, one that I know Ralph has struggles coming to acceptable terms with, presented itself in rather bad taste, no pun intended. He is now an adult. He is at the podium, not the seat. His students are seated, and depend on him, however willingly or unwillingly, that he instruct them. Hoodies are replaced with a collared button down shirt and tie. He requested anonymity, because he can no longer smoke unrepentantly. He must lead by example, and that always requires sacrifice. Weekends are planning periods, grading papers, and for leisure, it’s golf outings with his father. He’s always golfed with his father, but entering the realm of professionalism, Ralph says the word “golf” in a very different tone. Or at least I think so.

        Today happens to be Ralph’s birthday.

        Happy birthday. Here’s the poem that you were so kind to share with me.

                                                                     I imbibed a small
                                                                     amount of butane
                                                                     when lighting my
                                                                     cigarette and it
                                                                     reminded me of
                                                                     adolescence, warm
                                                                     summers, debauched
                                                                     winters, and love.
                                                                     Somehow parking lots
                                                                     slip through
                                                                     my recollections.

        Show me a man who doesn’t envision waterfalls at the sight of a raindrop.