Today, as I returned from my lunch break, I quickly put out my cigarette and throw it in the trash, but I paused… life experience does that to you. Instead, I brushed the ashes against the pavement until the residual tobacco started to fall out. I didn’t stop until I made it all the way down to the filter. Then, after inspecting the cigarette for anything resembling a dying ember, I brushed it against my shoe once more, threw it in the trash can and stared at it for thirty seconds.
Since I started smoking my sophomore year of college, people have given me a slew of reasons why I should stop. There’s a risk of cancer and it turns your teeth and fingernails yellow. You always go around smelling like smoke and nobody wants to kiss an ashtray. Little do people know that the reason that I smoke is to deal with the moments when they preach to me about how bad smoking is… and if I stopped smoking, they would preach to me about something else, and then I would take my abandoned lighter and set them on fire because the lack of nicotine in my system would cause me to lash out and act irrationally, but I suppose that the idea of catching something on fire is not a joke I should be making… not this close to the disaster.
Yesterday was, simply put, a shit show. I was late to work because I got stuck in the worst traffic I’ve seen since I watched a Bristol NASCAR race, and then when I finally got to the metro, I got on the wrong train a grand total of three times. I’m not sure how someone boards the wrong train three times, but let me tell you, it’s not an easy feat. You seriously have to try and be that much of a metro area failure. Finally, after I rode the train back to my starting location, I got the hang of the system and made it to work. I was assigned work that I completely butchered and had to redo from scratch, so as the day went on, my annoyance with myself and those around me only continued to increase. Because I had carpooled into work, I was supposed to meet up with my roommate Ben so that he would pick me up at the Clarendon metro.
I had beaten him to our predetermined location, and after the intense struggle that I had with the traffic and the trains and the public relations, I decided that I deserved a cigarette. I lit up, and in about six minutes, the cigarette was gone. I casually brushed off the embers and tossed it into the trashcan. A bus had pulled up and let off people at the corner I was standing at, and a man got off and looked at me and said, “Hey.” Naturally, I responded back, but as he walked away, he kept glancing back at me… or at least, around me. About thirty seconds later, I looked back, and there it was… the trash can was smoking.
Being the logical, level-headed person I am, I started blowing on the smoke, like a birthday candle or a stray eyelash on your hand. With the extra wind power, the smoke caught ahold of some paper and the trash can was literally on fire. The next step I took is one that seemed like the natural choice in my mind: I spit on it, because I obviously can generate enough saliva to put out a trash fire. As the fire continues to grow larger and larger, actual logic began to sit in, and I came to the conclusion that if I continued to put my head inside of this burning trash can, I was going to pass out and fall in, which would not only kill me, but essentially provide more material for the trash can to burn. I turned to the small Asian woman sitting at the bus stop beside the trash can and calmly explained the situation by saying, Oh crap. Oh crap. It’s on fire. I caught the trash can on fire. Her response was to not say anything, grab her belongings, and walk away.
By this time, the smoke and fire was entertaining enough to start drawing in a crowd. I’ve never really understood what it is about disaster that attracts people to come in closer to it, but then again, I guess I’m not really allowed to talk, considering that my solution to extinguishing a fire consisted of spitting on it. I ran across the street into a restaurant and interrupted a man at the front desk, I’m really sorry. I don’t mean to bother you, but I just set a trash can on fire. Can I get some water? And because apparently no one was on their A game, he said, What? What did you do? I thought that my explanation was pretty crystal clear. I caught a trash can on fire, and I needed water to put it out. There really was no time to explain it any further, I just need some water. Now. He came back with a glass, and I shot back across the streets in slacks and a dress shirt, strategically dousing the fire with an unusually large glass of water.
In a really strange turn of events, no one actually saw me smoke or throw the cigarette into the trash can, including the officer sitting across the street who had been there since I lit the cigarette in the first place. People were coming up to me and saying things like, Way to be thinking on your feet! and Thank you for being on top of it today! but my personal favorite was Wow, way to go. Did someone throw a lit cigarette into the trash can? to which I responded, Yeah, I think so. People are so stupid. The officer who had been sitting in his car the entire time, leaned out the window and said, Hey, you. Shit, I was busted. Was that trash can on fire? I responded, yes sir. Did you get it put out? I responded, yes sir. Thank you for being a good citizen. You’re a good man. So, somehow I managed to be the village hero for the day by putting out a fire… that I started.
And I guess, in the grand scheme of things, I really am scared of cancer, and even more scared of smelling like smoke or having yellow teeth, but the one thing that people have never told me about smoking is that cigarettes can catch things on fire. I go back to all the safety videos that we were made to watch as children (when smoking was allowed in restaurants… what?!), and I remember seeing videos about old women who would smoke in bed and then end up catching themselves and everything else on fire. If you’re an advocate of people stopping smoking, that’s what I encourage you to tell people about. The cancer thing, the appearance thing, the wrinkles thing… that horse is dead, and not from second hand smoke inhalation. Start going around and telling people that if they don’t stop smoking they’re going to catch some shit on fire. As I was having a cigarette today, I crossed my eyes and looked down at the end of the butt and saw the embers glowing bright orange. All I could think about is that I could be next… yesterday was the trash can, but with one wrong move, tomorrow… I could go up in flames.