Saturday, July 06, 2013

Beer and Cigarettes and the Night

Lately, with the onset of summer and a quieter vibe around the great public university, I sometimes find myself repairing in early afternoon to a pub in Albany; The Pub, in fact.  It's an island of beery solitude on a weekday afternoon when most people are still at work.  People smoke out on the front deck, because the City of Albany is not as draconian about such things as the City of Berkeley.  Since they sell tobacco products along with the beer, one may smoke outside.  I don't.  I promised I would not inflict such things on my family, and nasty breath is part of that, not to mention horrendous health problems caused by smoking regularly.  Still, I have always loved having a smoke or two with a drink or two.  That combination always made me feel unhinged and free, I guess because we're not supposed to do such things.  There's a part of me that doesn't deal well with forces of popular morality.  I find it hard to behave as some think I should because they have decided I should.  I don't necessarily need to rebel to the point of hurting others, but I sometimes need to rebel.  I used to have an unstated, maybe even unconscious (but I doubt it) desire to be like Neal Cassady or Jack Kerouac, and range free and weird with Camels and cheap wine across a landscape that includes places where the real characters roamed and partied and created literature I still admire and absorb.  I'm like most people in my desire to be unshackled from day to day drudgery and responsibility and to my imagination and shallow interpretation back in the day, the Beats managed that.  Of course, if I did that now I would lose my family...then where would I be?  It doesn't bear thinking about. 

I am among the few I know who never was badly hooked by nicotine found in tobacco.  I could go out regularly with friends who smoked and drank and I could smoke all night, then the following weekend go out with friends did not smoke, and have absolutely no compulsion to smoke and remain that way for any period of time until I went out again with smokers.  I never did carry cigarettes around by day and step out for a smoke during the workday.  I did have a brief moment of feeling that I was slipping into the abyss of being a regular smoker, so I stopped for about half a year, and it never returned though I continued to smoke socially.  When I promised my wife I wouldn't inflict it on the family, I had no trouble giving it up.  Being a physically active person to the point of bloody-mindedness helps.  You can't climb steep hills as fast as possible if your heart and lungs don't work well.  Mostly, I think I'm just incredibly lucky.

One enduring and delightful memory of that time is of hand-rolled cigarettes of rich Amsterdam shag tobacco, smoked very slowly, like joints only not passed around, accompanied by good malty ale, sitting on the deck of The Pub (then known to us all as Club Blacklung) playing Trivial Pursuit on a foggy autumn night.  Solano Avenue gets very quiet around midnight, and in those days The Pub hadn't become the hipster haven it is now so it was a pleasant and cool place to be on a Saturday night when I hadn't any special woman to spend it with.  Cars seemed to quietly wander by rather than zoom.  Occasionally a late pedestrian would pass by and peer up at the group, as though looking for a familiar face.  A pair of Albany police cars would zip past with lights flashing and someone would yell "Donut sale!"

I used to love the lonely sounds of the late night slipping through the quiet chatter and laughter that surrounded me.   The smell of beer and tobacco would join with scents wafting from various nearby restaurants.  I felt protected by the night.  I was alone a lot in those days and lived with a certain mild fear of permanent bachelorhood, but I had good friends and they were a pressure free lifeline, and I associate smoking and drinking with those happy evenings that punctuated lonely times.  I recall many great nights there after which I would sometimes walk the three miles to my flat in downtown Berkeley, sometimes drive.  Some nights, well, mornings, being by myself after a night of good company was perfect and I would sink down into my bed feeling bloated and satisfied.  Other times, I couldn't sleep because I powerfully felt the loneliness of living there on my own, and I would wander out again to the cold, damp embrace of the dark early morning hours until I felt sleep taking hold and I'd go back home.

I feel oddly nostalgic for some sensations from those times, though I do not feel at all nostalgic for the times themselves.  I miss the night and the feeling of hiding within it, striding along Berkeley's silent streets.  I miss the freedom of moving only on my own schedule, but now I have higher matters to look after.  I have two children and a wife.  I'm a morning guy now.  So, I limit my moments of personal rebellion to things like a glass of whisky with my coffee at Vesuvio's on a workday morning after sitting on a pier for an hour or so reading and staring at the bay.  After that, a stroll around the City on a pretty day, and I'm off home feeling renewed for a little while.  It doesn't have the impact that The Night had, but then again, I don't need it the way I did back then.  That's another story for another entry.  Selah.



Blogger Roy said...

Stephen King wrote that quitting smoking almost ruined is ability to write. Obviously you don't have that problem--which is good for all of us.
I concluded a while back that I don't miss smoking and drinking so much, but I do miss being young enough to get away with it. I recall the best cigarette of the day was the one I lit up while rounding the turn onto El Camino as I left the Palo Alto High parking lot after my last class. Windows down, left elbow hanging out the window . . . ahh, yes.
Anyway, meant to say, I enjoyed your post. Thanks.

5:46 AM  
Anonymous Mme. Coelacanth said...

Savoring the lingering sensation of Oh, Yes evoked by your description of hiding within the night. Sunlight offers sustenance to the masses, but the night air wraps you in its whispery cool cocoon, heightening the senses and accelerating one's pulse with its intimacy...even without the inhalation of nicotine ;-)

7:16 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Hi Roy,

As always, thanks for commenting and the kind complements. I love the image of you rounding the turn onto El Camino, and in my mind I embellished a little to turn it into a nice four wheel drift peel out at too high a speed, with rubber left on the pavement, your right hand palming the steering wheel into the turn, your left hand high in the air with a cigarette between two fingers as you wave sardonically at the shop teacher who shakes his head ruefully and swears he's gonna get you someday.

Yeah, quitting smoking didn't ruin anything really, I just have to find other ways to create those reflective moments it afforded; that bizarre quality of relaxation achieved in the act of inhaling a stimulant.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

Dear Madame,

What a great phrase!

"...the night air wraps you in its whispery cocoon,...."

Can I use that later?

The rest is spot on. I would have cogitated for hours and never come up with that, and it's true. It does heighten the senses and accelerate the pulse. Nicotine is superfluous to and perhaps even blunts that genuine sensual feeling it the night can provide.

9:04 AM  
Blogger Don said...

My girl smokes, though she didn't for more than our first year. She's gone back to it as a wonderful if temporary antidote for the stresses she's under (which are considerable). Sometimes there's nothing like a real cigarette; and sometimes she hates the taste and goes back to the e-cigs, which are basically nicotine-laced fag-shaped inhalers. Interesting flavors they have, but they lack the rough edge that sometimes makes tobacco a necessity.

There are moves afoot to ban e-cigarettes too, but not for health reasons. Rather because they undermine the anti-smoking message, especially since, emitting nothing but vapor, they can be smoked in bars and restaurants and thus serve as a bad influence. That of course makes perfect sense, and is why we banned public consumption of ginger ale and root beer. Oh wait, I get ahead of myself. Berkeley will lead that charge soon enough.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

Not only that, the person in Berkeley that starts the lawsuit to ban root beer and ginger ale will be someone who works at a 7-11 that sells them by the gallon. The person will claim that the continued pervasive presence of these drinks caused him/her to drink them too much and get fat and diabetic. Thus the lawsuit to ban them from businesses inside Berkeley.

8:02 AM  

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