I pulled out of the high school parking lot onto the street between the school and the football field. There were maybe 70 people lined up along the gravel shoulder between the asphalt and the grass. I wondered what was going on for a moment.
Then I noticed little glowing wands in their hands and mouths. Ah, the smokers, the outcasts forbidden from school property. There they stood banished to a narrow, ugly strip of land puffing away.
I could smell them through my air vents. I inhaled. It probably sounds weird, but I like the smell of second hand smoke…. outdoors.
Inside is a whole different experience. Indoors, cigarette smoke smells like dusty spider webs. The smoke sticks to my nose hairs, what’s left of the hair on my head and penetrates my clothes.
When I played football in high school, some of our best fans smoked right up close to the sideline. It was a whole different time. One of my favorite gridiron memories is the smell of second-hand cigarette smoke mixed with sweat, perfume, mud, cold grass, hotdogs, coffee and popcorn.
The crowd hugged the sidelines, and you could turn around and talk to the spectators during the game. My Uncle Mel smoked and helped run the chain markers. He was my own personal coach. If he saw an opposing player doing something tricky, he’d call me over. I’d stand there with cigarette smoke twirling around my helmet, and listen to him.
Moms and Dads prowled back and forth, offering advice and encouragement. The crowd was part of the game. My Grandpa and Grandma Wooten parked their car closer to the sidelines than the spectators are today.
Don Glowicki, a retired Elk Rapids football coach, remembers an opposing coach who chewed tobacco on the sidelines. Both my JV and varsity head football coaches smoked, just not during the games.
Andy Griffith smoked. All the beautiful women in the magazine ads or TV commercials smoked, or were attracted to guys who did. Rock ‘n’ Roll stars smoked.
But smoking was against the rules if you played high school sports. Talk about getting mixed signals.
When I was in my teens our football coaches were two of the most important men in my life. I wanted to be like them.
A friend and I got hold of a pack of cigarettes. I can’t remember if we bought them or if somebody purchased them for us. We hid our forbidden treasure in a plastic bag under the railroad tracks north of the Marion Livestock Auction.
Later I dug them up and carried them around on my Cushman motor scooter like Marlon Brando in The Wild One. I tried showing off for the guys by playing a game of pick-up basketball while smoking. That didn’t work.
It’s hard to dribble and shoot, let alone breathe with a lit cigarette dangling from your mouth. That was the end of my teenage smoking days, except for a true story from the same pack in this month’s poem.
Motorcycle Parable #2
Coach smoked Newports,
so I’d smoke Newports too.
I liked the mint-colored
spiffy boomerang shape
on the package,
and that sensual magazine ad
of the pretty woman
in her sexy-summer dress
pulled up above her knees
wading in the sparkling creek.
My parents were gone for the day.
I dug up my cigarette pack
wrapped in a plastic bag
hidden under the water tank.
I fired up my Cushman motor scooter.
In my imagination
it was a Harley Davidson
I stripped off my T-shirt,
lit up and rode off into the immortal wind,
posing over my handlebars
for the river goddess.
Without a windshield
the cigarette burned like a fuse
spraying tobacco sparks
all over my angel face
and hairless chest.
A painful quarter mile
down the rebel road
I pulled over
and put my cigarette sparkler out.
Lesson: Do not smoke cigarettes
while riding a motorcycle
without a windshield.