I work for a sales company that promotes cigarettes. Camels, to be exact. It’s really not a bad job. I go to bars, meet great people, keep myself amply supplied in the nation’s most expensive legal habit, and I love it. In short, I get paid to be a slacker. Occasionally, customers ask me if I don’t feel guilty about my job.
“You’re promoting cancer,” they protest. “You’re encouraging people to pollute the earth.” And as they sip their microbrews, eating greasy cheese sticks, I ask how am I any different than the bartender? Doesn’t he promote cancer? Doesn’t he encourage people to massacre one another with their cars in the streets?
To this, they say nothing. And I know to leave them alone. Until later, after a few more beers, and the bartender has pointed out my name is Joe, they come begging for my wares.
Isn’t that a riot? My name truly is Joe. Joe Ravenna. I really think I got the job because of my name. I’ll admit to being kind of a shady character – head shaved bald, nose ring, a tattoo on my temple, two on my fingers. I don’t exactly make the best first impression. I usually wear black, shin-high combat boots.
But, when I introduce myself to a drunken frat-boy or to a teased-hair sorority chick as Joe, and whip out my pack of Camels, I can tell by the smile on their face I am guaranteed a sale. They cannot resist the temptation of going home later that night, and saying to their drunken frat-boy clone of a roommate, “Dude, I like, bought these from Joe Camel.”
I’m a marketing wet dream come true.
I usually get from bar to bar by bus. Thankfully, many of the buses here run late enough into the evening that I don’t have to cab. The other night, while I was waiting for the 18 to come along, some fag waltzed into the bus stop. It was pouring down rain, and he wore a tweed jacket, working hard to have that “aren’t-I-all-pathetically-wet-and-cute” look.
“You just missed the 15,” I said, dropping my Camel bag to the ground beneath me and opening up a spot on the bench. “The 17 will be here in 10 minutes, and the 18 is suppose to be here now.”
“Oh, thanks,” he said as he sashayed his way towards me. “I just need to cross the bridge, but it is raining so darn hard.”
Queenie, I thought. And a very good looking guy. Thin and probably works out. Despite the fact that everything he had on at the moment was drenched, he dressed well. It occurred to me he probably writes poetry. Good thing he is gay, or us straight guys would be in trouble. “I thought about walking,” he continued, sitting cross-legged next to me. “But I really was worried about getting my shoes all wet.” I looked down, seeing his brown, patent and suede, saddle shoes. Fashionably unfunctional. Very him.
“Ah, not worth it,” I said, watching the rain pour down. I took a long drag on my cigarette.
“Mind if I bum one,” he asked? Without removing mine from my lips, I pulled my pack from my breast pocket and flicked my wrist. One solitary cigarette slid half-way out of the box, pro-offering itself.
“Thanks,” and he placed it between his lips. “So. What do you do?” he asked, puffing between words as I lit his stick with my Camel emblazoned lighter.
“Sell cigarettes,” I said, putting the lighter away and finally getting a chance to flick my growing ash.
“Get. Out,” he said blowing smoke out of the side of his mouth, and emphasizing the beginning of each word. He was fully flaming now, foot kicking over crossed-knee, slightly bent wrist, hand brushing back his hair. “You go from bar to bar then?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I like it. I have about 8 places I hit regularly throughout the month.”
“Nope. What about you. What do you do?”
“Grad student,” he sighed exasperatedly. “Writing my thesis on Walt Whitman. Don’t know what I’ll do with that.”
We sat for a moment, enjoying our cigarettes and the silent company. A shuttle pulled up, and dropped 3 people at our stop. They gave us dirty looks as they stood out in the rain. You’re not supposed to smoke in the bus shelter. City law. But I’ll be damned if I am going to give up my warm, dry seat. My taxes paid for this shelter, just like theirs did.
Finally, the 17 showed up.
“This will get you across the bridge,” I said.
“Thanks,” he said, and crushed his smoke out on the bottom of his shoe. He grabbed his bag, and climbed aboard.
Suddenly, I felt alone. The women standing next to me kept coughing while throwing me disapproving glances. Out of spite, I offered her a Camel, to which she cleared her throat most indignantly and walked away. As I puffed on the last bit of my cigarette, I missed the fag; he was a nice guy.