29 January 2008

Butts out

A LIFETIME SECOND-HAND SMOKER BELLIES UP TO THE BAR OF RAINBO CLUB. You're a smoker, the woman beside him reassures, "You smoke as much as anyone in here including that beat-up leather jacket. The buzz won't be the same, I guarantee you." The faded circa-1950s down-at-heel west side-Wicker Park-Ukrainian Village Bohemian vibe is nearly vanquished: no sawdust and dogs underfoot; the old man who hits on your sister is on oxygen; and now the end of the haze of gray-to-blue that's risen since 1936. Three hours before midnight a recently married couple hustle up: a last chance to share a smoke in their favorite tavern. A photographer shooting close-ups makes smokers aware of the rude detritus scattered about: no flash, only ash in trays and dusting fingertips. A veteran of gestures checks her iPhone while lighting someone else up. Singles and Abe Lincolns carpet the bar. The place hasn't had a cigarette sales license in weeks. Somebody's brought five Parliament hard packs across from D&D. Junk everywhere. The stroke of midnight is anticlimactic, no one's quit yet, but then there's always today. Closing time and out into the air. The sidewalk at closing: a crumpled fold of a Red Eye: pretty cover girl sucks one down. Flag up, flag down: the slushed streets race with traceries of taxi tracks, pulled to corners, zooming southward and eastward, a crush of dozens of revelers, one hand up in hope of a cab, the other glowing with one last, unconfined drag.