Often I find myself pining for the good, old, carefree days of my 1990s childhood, when Will Smith seemed a trifle more down to earth and you could smoke in restaurants. I miss those days, both as an erstwhile fan of the Fresh Prince and as someone who works in a restaurant and hates himself just enough to enjoy a nice Parliament every
ten minutes or so now and again. I’m old enough that I can remember when going out to eat meant deciding whether you wanted to wait forty minutes for a table in the non-smoking section, where families dined peaceably and breathed clean, invisible air, or be seated immediately in the smoking section, where the patrons hacked bits of lung and trachea goo into their chicken Parmesans and dates were obscured across tabletops by the gray skrim of expunged smoke hanging between them. Even when I was too young to be a smoker myself, I thrilled whenever I dined out with a relative who smoked, or whenever my parents were willing to risk shortening their children’s lives in exchange for shortening their wait time. I loved the smoking section. The second-hand smoke bothered my eyes and dried out my nasal passages and left me blowing slime-yellow snot into tissues for hours after leaving, but I’m sucker: I totally bought into all those ads glamorizing cigarettes (back when there was such a thing as cigarette ads), showing impossibly cool camels shooting pool in Ray-Bans and backward baseball caps, too dapper for words in a tuxedo and black tie. I’d look at those ads, glossy in the pages of my mother’s fashion magazines, enraptured by the glamour they promised, and I guess I’d think to myself something along the lines of I wanna be that camel? Who knows. I also had phase in high school where I collected pictures of writers I admired smoking cigarettes (by “collected” I mean that I searched for these images online and printed them out behind my boss’s back at my after-school job at the local library), which probably didn’t help matters–or did help, I guess, depending on your feelings about things like heart disease and lung cancer.
The point is: I loved the smoking section. I loved the grim faces everyone had on (smokers always look grim; it’s not because they’re cranky, it’s because smoking is repulsive and you can’t help but make a repulsed face when you do it, that’s just facts). I loved the people who didn’t bother to put out their cigarettes if their food happened to arrived at an inopportune time, who were talented enough to smoke and eat simultaneously. I loved the old women with their mile-long 120’s who were still enough (because they were dying, I know realize) to keep the caterpillar of ash growing at the end of it from falling to dust on the table top. I loved the atmosphere: dirty, stinky, and with just a hint of macular degeneration. And even though it’s *heavy sigh* probably for the best that the prohibition against cigarettes is in full swing pretty much any where a queer boy of color could go without getting lynched or gang raped by six guys in an ’97 Ford-150, four of whom are named Jeremy, there comes a moment (or nine) during every shift I work where I find myself wishing there were clouds of smoke for me to walk through just so I don’t kill the woman at table twenty-one who is apparently going to die anyway if I don’t get there quickly with her fourth iced tea (with extra lemon!).