Cigar Story, Cigar Events
Smoking at one time was considered a rite of passage for young boys and I was no exception to this vision. The older teen age boys displayed their favorite cigarette box placed strategically somewhere on their clothing. The hipper boys rolled their smokes in the sleeve of t-shirts. Others put their wares in the front pocket of their shirts. The more daring placed their “crush proof ” box in the back pocket of jeans. Or as we called them dungarees.
You needed to have a crush proof box , soft packs were for the girls. The distaff side stored their smokes in purses , AKA pocket books.
There was a ritual for the cigarette smokers which went something like this:
Take your pack , examine it and hit it against your hand several times without damaging the box. The idea was to insure all the loose tobacco in your smokes were tighter. With a grand flourish remove the shrink-wrap which protected the cigarette box and it’s contents. Remove one smoke by tapping the box downward until a cigarette was exposed. Pull it from the pack with conviction, put the smoke into your mouth ,light it with a Zippo, pull one draw from the cigarette and exhale. The more accomplished smoker might push out a smoke ring or a steady stream of puffs. This depended on how much flash you wanted to show. The cooler the dude, the less of a necessity it was to showboat your Cig. It depended on where you stood in the pecking order.
So I was 11 years old and envious of the older teen boys puffing away. Baseball was my first order of business but smoking a cigarette was creeping up on my wish list. My friends talked about wanting to smoke but none of us had the gumption to actually do it. We also did not have the hard currency needed to buy a pack. In any group of boys there is always someone who was ahead of the curve and more adventurous. Living in the Bronx was adventurous enough for most of us.
Teddy Gurspan who was in the apartment directly across from me was the type of kid who lived on the edge. He was constantly pushing to do mostly stupid things and also was getting caught by his parents. I would hear his parents whipping him , screaming at him for another fool hardy episode. Some of the inane examples of Teddy’s reckless behavior were , the time he turned on the sprinklers in front of the apartment building where we lived. Water was gushing down the sidewalks into the street. Yes, he got caught.
Jumping over the roofs from building to building. The gap was small but if you missed , say goodbye. We also lived not far from the Harlem river and there were many manufacturing companies on the boarder of the river.
Tuck tape was a company who threw out defective tape in large bins outside of their plant. Teddy and others would jump into these bins to grab tape and stuff their pockets with the stash. Mind you , it was defective tape but still considered very valuable. The bins could close shut very easily as they were barely held up with a chain.
So back to the story about smoking. As both Teddy and I became more enamored of smoking a cigarette we pooled our money to score a pack. First we had to figure out what brand to buy. My sister smoked Kent which was too girlish but Marlboro, Camels or Lucky Strike were too bold for 11 year olds. In our research for the best brand , we would hang out in candy stores to see what patrons would buy. Additionally TV shows showed countless commercials of cigarettes. We opted for a new brand called Paxton, which had a snazzy plastic box of light green and white. We were so cool because no one smoked Paxton in our hood.
The plan was to meet after school, go to a near by candy store,buy the cigarettes and smoke in a park called the Aqueduct. The Aqueduct was actually a linear park which took the course of an underground pipeline from upstate NY to NYC for its water supply.
The cost of the pack of Paxton’s was 28 cents so the split would be 14 cents a piece but who would buy the smokes? Easily solved as the candy store owner did not care. I’m not sure if it there even was a legal age to buy cigarettes. I recall buying them for my sister in the past. We left the store and hurried to the park , wanting to light up and enter the ” cool, hip, ” world. We grabbed a butt , lit our matches and started to puff away. Both Teddy and I did not cough, choke or gag. Guess we were naturals.
There were other people on the Aqueduct , walking and not paying attention to us. All types of people it seemed and a great deal of drinking going on. Broken beer bottles were littering the ground. Now years later I realize this was a funky place to be walking around even in the daylight. Teddy and I were totally into our cigarettes , lighting one after another. As we walked , older guys were asking us if they could bum a smoke. We at first thought we should say no, but we knew , this was not the correct etiquette and we relented to their demands.
Our pack was growing smaller by the minute as we continued to walk the path. Finally we turned back as we needed to get back home. It was close to 5 and the rule was you had to be home by 530 pm. Teddy and I ran most of the way back to Nelson Ave so the wrath of our parents would not happen. We did get home on time and as for me , no one questioned where I was or what I was doing.
Teddy and I never bought a pack of cigarettes together again. The allure of the elusive butt was not that exciting as I thought it would be. I did smoke a couple every so often , grabbing a smoke from a friend mostly. There would be other experiments with many other tobacco products which are stories in their own right.
As for Teddy Gurspan , he moved to Brooklyn that year, and I ran into him when I was at the New York World’s fair in 1965. He was with a group of friends from his new neighborhood in Sheepshead Bay. He towered over me, looked like he was 26 and was loud, obnoxious and perhaps drunk and dangerous. We acknowledged each other, asked me if I still live in the Bronx and that was that. He had other ideas on his mind.