Tuesday, April 27, 2004

So I'm standing outside work a while ago, taking a smoking break, when a thirtysomething woman approaches and asks me for a cigarette. Even though I'm thinking, 'Are you kidding? These things are, like, a dollar each in New York,' I offer her a Marlboro Light because I was raised to be a gentleman, and a gentleman always holds the door open for a woman, precedes her through the revolving door, and -- when asked -- offers her an oral carcinogen that will result in a lingering, painful, suffocating death.

She looks at the pack in my hands.

"What's that? Is there a stamp?"

"These are legal," I say. "Just like you'd buy at the newsstand."

She looks again, and says, "Can I see them?"

I hand her the pack warily, ready to stop her if she tries to pull a cig-snatching. But she merely looks at the tax stamp and says, "I don't know. This tax stamp is from Virginia."

"Yes, well, I was there last weekend and bought a carton." Because it makes a lot more sense to buy cigarettes in a state where they practically give them away with each Happy Meal, instead of in Manhattan (motto: "The Healthiest Little Big City in the World!")

"I don't know." She slowly hands me back the pack.

"If you don't want one--"

"It's just that I don't know if it's okay. Sometimes these stamps..." She trails off, and I have no idea where she's going with this.

I smile, trying to mask my annoyance. "It's legal. It's just from Virginia."

She shakes her head. I begin to slide the pack back into my pocket, but stop when she says, "Maybe..." Then she trails off again.

"Do you want one or not?" I'm no longer trying to hide my annoyance.

"I want one." I begin to bring the pack out of my pocket. "But I shouldn't."

I sigh.

"And anyway," she says, flashing a sunny smile as she turns from me, "smoking is bad for you."

I want to tell her that, yes, smoking is bad. But it's better than getting your head bashed with an ashtray by someone you've thoroughly pissed off.

But then she was gone and the opportunity for either of those actions vanished. Dammit.