Published in Strays.
“What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.” —Seneca
How does the saying go, “The best revenge is living well”? Isn’t that the truth? Looking out over the balcony, there’s a calm to the traffic — no horns, no revving of engines, no screeching tires or thumping speakers. To the east, the cars merge effortlessly – the mechanics of a zipper in fine form, seamlessly consolidating two lanes of all-but-silent single-colored two-door sedans into one. To the west, Main Street – smily pedestrians waving as drivers yield to the crosswalks, their children holding hands as they march in unison, moving briskly so as to be of as little an inconvenience to the commuters as possible. The drivers get to work on time, the children to school, the pedestrians to their routines.
A cigarette burns too close to the fingers as I lean out over the rail to smell the nothingness of the air, and with the sizzle of the skin I flinch, losing my grip on the smoldering stub, sending it falling to the ground. “Howdy, neighbor, I think you dropped this,” he says, raising his voice while looking up at me with a distended smile, extending his arm to emphasize that he’s the one who the butt fell by. “I used to smoke these, too, pal. Watch out,” he continues, with his smile now reaching the edges of his face, “you could have dropped this on the patrol. That sorta thing could land you in hot water!” Living well. Just once I’d like to listen to music on a stereo, the speakers so loud that my walls shake. Or bump into somebody on the subway. I remember when I was a kid, and we’d have spitting contests — then, drinking contests in our teens. Now, they only let you smoke on Fridays, and when you do you have to smoke whatever these things are. I miss real cigarettes. Maybe living well is just payback for the way things used to be.