Smoking Days: Pt.1
3:45am, November 2002.
Time to get up.
Gotta stay driven.
Gotta stay.... hungry.
The garage I had been sleeping in was quiet and musty. The only sound was the low hum of my computer a few feet away. This was the first time in my life that I had a job which truly required determination and perseverance, and I didn't even have my own place. I wasn't very good at perseverance. A voice from deep inside me said "This is too hard, just go back to bed, somehow it will all work out". That voice, the voice of pure optimism and sloth. The voice that had somehow crept into my psyche after years of being a peacekeeper, but never being at peace myself.
It was the 3rd day of training, 4:30am to 5:00pm. everyday for 10 days. What was I thinking? I could get a much easier job and not have to get up so early... it's not worth the money. I resolved not to go. I listened to that voice, not knowing that it was my deepest adversary.
But, like most stories go, someone of great influence was there to push me. To keep me from lying down. My mother called, as though she somehow sensed that today of all days I would be ready to give up. So, I made up some lame excuse to tell my trainer about getting pulled over by a cop and then having car trouble. I normally don't lie, but being late even once meant that I could no longer work of this particular company.
In the aftermath of 9/11 the airport security business was in shambles. The government had stepped in and quickly removed all employees who were not legal citizens, or those who could not pass a rigorous series of tests. These people were often given one chance to remain employed... they were to become lowly ticket checkers, no longer trusted with the handling of bags, or screening of passengers. It was necessary but painful, like many events following 9/11.
After a time, the government agreed to let 2 airports across the country attempt to bring in private security firms again. The terms were strict, and all new employees were to undergo very intense training.
So there I was, one of a few hundred selected to take over for the TSA, to give a private firm their shot at a big government contract at SFO. I was subjected to everything from visual acuity tests, to a prostate exam. Once completed, they put us into a line to be measured and fitted for uniforms. We were given baggy blue slacks and white shirts with those shoulder straps on them, all were stamped with a serial number as though we were entering a prison facility.
The first day was hard. 4am to 6pm. But that was nothing compared to the first month. Four weeks of 14 hour workdays, 7 days a week. People cried when they heard that we would be getting our first days off. Others cried when they were told that they failed one of the regular re-testing regiments, and that if they failed a 2nd time, they would be fired or forced to load baggage under the cosway. These were intense times for everyone. People were constantly on edge. I took solace in the work, it kept my mind off of less pleasant things.
And then one day, I can't recall the exact event. I began to notice Rebbecca. A small-fr
Rebbecca was a 43 year old woman who'd lost everything. She had a rich boyfriend for many years, and lived a life of privilege. But, like all shallow things, time became her enemy and she was abandoned. I immediately admired her courage to still be living life the best way she could, and never giving up, even when she didn't seem to have any real goal to strive for.
Rebbecca was also a smoker; so eventually, the day came when I was feeling abnormally stressed, and I asked her for a cigarette. She smoked those female cigs, the "slim" kind. I felt like kind of a sissy smoking it, but then something happened. I had smoked cigarettes, cigars, even pot before. However at that moment, in that place, with that woman, a great calm rushed over me. For the first time I wasn't smoking to look cool or to experiment. I was smoking for camaraderie, for sanctuary.
The smoke entered and exited my lungs with a light burning sensation, followed by a feeling. I felt that I was no longer a young college dropout that was just trying to get by in this world. I was just a person, and she was just a person... and we were just connecting the way people long to connect.
She didn't judge me when I asked her, she didn't say a word about the dangers to my health. She understood that some days you just need to smoke. Especially in that place, with those people.
Thus began my smoking days. Smoking days are days of profound solitude, days bonding with people who would normally mean nothing to me, and the days I felt love slip away. I've never been a "pack a day" smoker, not even half a pack. Smoking has been my ceremony, my social lubricant, the thing run to when the world throws me another curve ball.
This was only the beginning though.
My smoking days have lasted 7 years, and during that time I've seen love, death, hatred, success, failure and a whole host of experiences. Some I'll share here, at a later time... some will never be spoken of publicly, even anonymously. But all of it is real. This is me. For what it's worth.