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Desperately seeking cigs

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A heavy smoker experiencing nicotine withdrawal--and finding convenience store shelves barren--rivals for pathos a distraught mother hunting food for her starving baby. I don't mean to belittle the smoker's plight. Lack of food or electricity are minor annoyances by comparison.

My friends aren't yet over the dearth of cigarettes during the summer storms--and the lack of generosity in those who had a stash at home. Beer was plentiful; it flowed like wine. Snow parties in my neighborhood were numerous, heavily attended and alcohol-soaked. Cigarettes, however, were guarded as closely as a cache of water on the planet Dune. If the commandment "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" were amended to include cigs, my friends would all be going to hell. Such coveting you've never witnessed.

One friend's lamentations began to take on the form of a Luddite tract, disguised as some sort of withdrawal-induced hallucination. As we trudged together in the snow, heading toward the grocery store to load up with food, SUVs passed by us. Their warm passengers waved and smiled, this new breed of American pashas extending their privilege to the simple act of getting to the grocery store. My companion, wind-whipped and frostbitten, looked after one passing people-mover and told me to listen carefully to the sound it made. Suddenly he held forth: "In the old days, the steam trains, all steamed up and heading home, used to say cigarettes tch tch, cigarettes tch tch--the sound of a train on an old track, steaming homeward, smoking."

I don't know where he stole that bit of lyricism from, but it concentrated my attention on the SUVs disappearing down the road ahead of us. They made a relentless crunching sound as they crushed ice-laden twigs beneath their tires. If they arrived at the store well before we did, as they most certainly would, I knew some of those drivers would soon be steaming homeward, smoking. I fear for their immortal souls.

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