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Up in Smoke
Hey listen here, I don’t know you and you certainly don’t know me. So don’t you want to get acquainted? Ain’t that the proper thing to do? I certainly look proper, don’t I? The name’s Bo Braham. Oh, well, pleasant to meet you too. Lovely weather out, eh? Oh, what I do for a livin’? Well, you see, that’s kind of a funny story. I smoke pipes. Yes, I smoke pipes. Yes, for my job. Self employed. I test out the tobacco you see? Tobacco smoking carries on a very rewarding business. One may dare to say thriving even. I make a penny a day. And you wondered why I looked so put together. What health risks? Listen here; I ain’t affected by any of these health risks. I’m no sissy. Do I look like a sissy to you? Cause I can fight you if you need the proof. Oh, you’re leaving? Don’t leave. Wait hold up here, I apologize. Sometimes I can come off a little rough around the edges, but I can assure you, I’m pretty mushy on the inside. Stay.
Maybe I’ll get a little personal. Folks like it when you do that sort of thing. It makes ‘em feel special that you’re confiding in them. Don’t you want to feel special? I thought so. Well I smoke pipes. I smoke pipes all day long. I smoke ‘em in the morning when the shine rises high and the itty bitty birds are chirping. I smoke ‘em in the evening when the moon tucks itself in. I smoke ‘em on Sundays and Easter and Christmas. Sometimes, I wake up at one in the early mornin’ and I smoke. I smoke in the bathroom. Sometimes I do it in the shower with the water running up and down my spine. I do bed smoking too. When one of those old restaurants says I can’t smoke, I leave. When Chrissie was in the pre-school, they said I couldn’t smoke out on their kiddy playground, so we picked up and left. I’d never leave my pipe behind. I’m a pretty committed worker. Some say I’m greedy, smoking all day. The neighbors don’t like the smell. Get a life they say. Get a job they say. Get a grip. I just don’t do a darn thing. I don’t like ‘em anyway.
You know all those people who say I’m greedy, they don’t understand. My hands that hold that pipe, my hands look pretty da** cracked. These hands have held plenty more than a pipe and you can quote me to that. I deserve it. You say it’s just a pipe. What could it possibly do for you? But man, it’s tranquil. It’s elusive. My mind don’t have to think no more. I just load up my Balkan Sobranie Original Mixture and I smoke. Sometimes, I inhale the sizzling ashes sleeping in the bowl. Sometimes, I outline the sculpted wood with my big old finger. Sometimes, I just sit and watch the flame dancing and laugh a little. Sometimes, I watch until the flame disappears and cry a little. I feel stimulated. I feel happy. I get peace.
You know Einstein liked it, too. He said, “I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.” I mean I knew the people ‘socaited the men with a genius before, but man do I know it now. People who don’t pipe smoke, they don’t understand. It takes skill to smoke it just right. If you smoke too hard, it doesn’t taste too good. And you sure don’t want a tongue bite. I could explain to you the proper way all day long. But most folks leave after about two minutes of my jabbering. And I certainly don’t want to bore you. Well I’ve been talking about myself all this da** time. Tell me something about you.
I hate it. I hate that pipe. If one day I got my hands on that thing, oh man let me tell you what I would do. I would hold it, right up to my daddy’s face. I would look at him right in the eyes, and tell him that I’m destroying it. Daddy, I’m destroying that thing that destroyed you. I would take it, crumble it and throw it in the fire. And I’d make him sit down and watch it burn.
Now you have to understand me here. I’m not this horrible person. I’m only fifteen years old. But I could swear on anything, that the first time my own daddy held me, he held me smoking that pipe. Now my daddy’s a good, honest man. He has never caused harm to anybody. Well except for himself.
My mama used to tell me how he started. It dates a late night in September, 1977. My daddy sat in a bar, twenty-five years old and drunk. Then, like a fantasy or something, he saw it, lying there in the seat next to him. Alone, just like my daddy. He turned to see a man walking out the door and hollered at him. Daddy said, “Sir, you forgot your pipe, sir! Sir!” But the man just nodded and faded away. Like a ghost. Or at least that’s what my mama says. In reality, the man said to Daddy, “Take it son; I don’t want that thing no more.” But it doesn’t sound as good like that. And my Daddy likes to say that the universe was telling him to smoke it. And he smoked it. He did.
My daddy said his famous words right about at that moment. That moment that he first met his best pal, Nick O’Tine. He said, “If you ever see this pipe without me, don’t doubt it, I’ll be dead.”
“Come ‘ere,” I holler up at Chrissie. Now don’t you go judging me for hollering like that. I’m not the kind of man to holler for no good reason. You see I don’t need no help. Chrissie’s only lived through fifteen years for God’s sake; I can do my man’s work myself. I just need to see her. I’m no sissy but my Chrissie hasn’t talked to me in days. Hopping mad, I tell you, hopping mad. God, help me, I don’t know why. Maybe all women are like that. Because her mama just kept getting angrier and angrier and then one day, she walked her purdy little self out my door.
Now Chrissie walks herself downstairs. She gives me that look, that mad look, and I know that Chrissie ain’t putting me on. Steaming mad, I tell you, steaming mad. And she keeps doing this thing where she glares at my hand, but I only have my pipe in it. I don’t really know why that would cause a problem. So I just give her a real big old smile and wave her down.
“Dad, what do you want?” She says it so mean, with such hate. It hits me like a wasp’s stinger. Ever got stung by a wasp? Well you feel it, the hate. You feel it. The hate left her mouth and met me right in the heart. But I’m a man. I do what we Braham men do best, push it off.
“Chrissie, take a load off. Come sit with your old man.” And she does. She don’t look too happy doing it, but she does. My baby Chrissie comes and sits on my lap, like a little girl sitting on Old St. Nick. I brush her hair aside and take a good hard look at her.
“Aw Chrissie, you’re a mirror of your mama. Now don’t be mad at your old man. All we’ve got is each other.” And when it really comes down to the meat of things, she’s all I got. But then that something happened. It comes out of nowhere. Chrissie gets up from my lap.
Her head falls, all bent over like a puppet doll and all these tears keep coming down like a big old waterfall. I can hear all those weird animal sounds she’s making. She keeps on sniffling and she turns her back on me. I stare at the back of her shoes and I can’t seem to remember what the front looks like. So I open my mouth to say something. My mouth’s pretty big but I can’t seem to find any words in there.
“Why did you call me down here?” She spoke all mad.
“Don’t be sassin’. It don’t matter.” She wasn’t really sassin’, I just don’t want to tell her. I sense it would cause a breaking between us. I sense the walls are caving in. I sense it.
But she goes, “Tell me Daddy, I want to know.” And then I open my big old mouth to calm her but I get all screwed up and don’t know what to say and she screams. She screams. Now I’ve spoken to a lot of people. And I’ve heard a lot of things. But that sounded meaner than anything I’d never heard before.
I want to be a good and honest man. I think, maybe if I just tell her, we would laugh it off like the chickens and the geese do. We could get ourselves some soda pop and forget it. So I told her.
“Chrissie, I just needed some help filling my pipe. My hand’s giving out. Couldn’t you just give me a hand?” And she walked her purdy little self out the door.
I didn’t leave. I just went outside to cool off. I need to feel the wind. I need air.
You understand me right? I’m not trying to hurt my daddy. But he drove my mother away, he drove all his friends away and now it’s me. And he has no idea. He just sits on his a** all day and smokes. He just sits on his fat lazy a** and smokes that da** pipe. What’s the matter with him? Doesn’t he want a life, doesn’t he want a family? Doesn’t he want me?
I take all my anger and put it into my hands. My hands take the chair from the porch and I throw it. The chair soars through the sky and I exhale. It crumbles. My hate feels so strong. It feels pretty da** strong.
And then I get this weird feeling. I get the feeling that I need to help him. I can’t just let him smoke himself to death. I need to help. So I get up off my own lazy a** and I walk inside. But Daddy isn’t where I left him. He isn’t anywhere.
Bo (at the same time)
Johnny Cash cried, “What have I become? My sweetest friend. Everyone I know goes away in the end. And you could have it all. My empire of dirt. I will let you down. I will make you hurt.”
I let my baby down. I let myself down. It finally enters my mind, clearer than a summer night sky. The pipe did all this. I stare at it in my hands. I roll it around. I take it and put it in my mouth. And I blow. And for that second, I feel the sweetest satisfaction. And then I remember my baby left me. And my pipe can’t bring her back.
So I get up. And I put on my winter coat, all bright and yellow like a bee’s coat. I zip it up real speedy but my finger gets all cut on the da** zipper. I take my boots and my gloves and my hat. The wind blows mighty chilly today, lots of ice. I don’t want to go ahead and freeze to death. And I put my pipe down. I put my pipe down and I get in the car and I drive.
The clock keeps ticking. I watch the bird pop out at every freaking hour until finally, finally the doorbell rings. I know Daddy’s there. I’m sure of it. I can’t help myself. I race to the door; faster than I have ever ran before. I can’t help smiling as I open it up.
But Daddy doesn’t stand in the doorway. His big arms aren’t reaching out to hug me. Instead I find myself staring at two men in blue: the police. You don’t have to guess what they say. You probably already know. I already know. Predictable, ain’t it? But for some reason, I don’t believe it.
You know when people say one thing and it just doesn’t sink in. Like I heard the words, but they just didn’t penetrate. I didn’t feel the gravity of them. I just laugh. I just laugh. And then they hug me and they tell me that my mama’s coming soon. And they leave.
I sit for awhile, stunned. I still don’t believe it. It’s all some trick. Daddy’s playing with me. He wants to test me. See if I really care. I do care Daddy, I do care. But then this thing happens. I get up and walk past the living room. And then I look back.
I stare at the large chair in its solitude. It sits the same as it always has, faded and worn. The legs still wobble, as though a penny could break it. The onions still linger in our dusty box behind the chair, smelling up the place. A blue haze covers the walls. Not just any blue, but an empty blue. The kind of blue that makes you feel really lonely. I walk mechanically, gravitated towards the chair. The wooden floor creaks and I swear I hear it groan. A little spider scurries past my foot. I think about stepping on it, but it runs away too quickly. Then I see it. There, in the chair rests the pipe alone. And I know it. I know it. I know the policemen spoke the truth. Because Daddy always said, “If you ever see this pipe without me, don’t doubt it, I’ll be dead.”