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I’m standing in a corner store in the East Village. I am newly 18 and as tradition, make a pilgrimage to purchase my first pack of cigarettes. I have never smoked a cigarette, I have no brand loyalty.
I cross a river to buy these cigarettes in order to avoid running into anyone I know.
Legally an adult, but too cowardly to act in my own backyard.
On the train ride over my friend and I discuss what to purchase. I argue for the standard Marlborough Reds. They are iconic and a part of Americana. My cousins in Poland tell me that the American versions are coveted. In Europe they have pictures of the effects of smoking. In America the packaging is more of an unblemished work of art. By the time I am a block away from the store I have changed my mind. Virginia Slims, they’ll make a better anecdote for my first cigarettes smoked.
In front of me the options are overwhelming. I am severely underprepared. A simple purchase has become more complicated. As my eyes continue to scan the options my fingers tightly wrap around my ID.
I spot a yellow box. I ask the counter person about the box. I’ve never seen them before.
“American Spirits.” He is annoyed that I continue not to buy anything.
“I’ll take a pack” I say as I place my ID on the counter.
He does not care as he glances at my ID.
My decision is immediate and feels right.
I walk out with the pack in my hand. I examine the packaging. I am a sucker for packaging and I find this packaging gorgeous. I enjoy the tone of yellow and the design of the chief smoking the pipe. The font and symbols on the pack appeal to me. This packaging is sleek and clean and yet loud enough for my tastes. This packaging makes me believe I made a good choice for my first pack.
That yellow box will continue to be the only pack of cigarettes I will buy.
I do not like cigarettes. I don’t enjoy them, but they have come in handy in situations.
When too drunk and I need something to focus my mind, they provided enough carbon dioxide for me to get my bearings. I am not a scientist, but a purveyor of anecdotes; I do not know if there was something in them that assisted with drunken haze or if it was all in my mind.
When there was a girl I walked to talk to one on one at a bar, asking her if she wanted to go out for a cigarette allowed us to find a quieter private space. Most times the cigarette was never lit.
When I go to an event I put some cigarettes in a cigarette case. I have meet many interesting people, they asked for a cigarette and the case helped continue the conversation. Untold birthday cakes lit because a cigarette doesn’t travel without a lighter.
In the summer time I would have a pack rolled up in the sleeve. I saw a picture of someone from the 50’s doing it and I liked the look. The fact that it was a conversation starter was just an added benefit.
Back then it was mainly the yellow packaging that raised curiosity with many people. Not so much anymore. American Spirits picked up a hipster reputation around my parts.
Now everyone knows what they are and tell me they enjoy their mellow flavor.
I have no idea what they’re talking about.
They taste like a cigarette to me: sickening sober, delicious drunk.
A useful accessory in a yellow box without a bow.