lucky strike 2.jpg

Jeff McCrory

USA

Jeff McCrory lives in California with his wife, daughter and pets, including a pair of giant African mantises.  He works with the mentally ill and writes in his spare time.

Wanting and Getting

 

I want what I want. Cigarette butts litter the sidewalk outside the corner liquor store, their filters jaundiced by drags gone by. The eyes of the drunk panhandler sitting in the periphery are the same dirty yellow color. A year or six months from now, I could be him. Or worse. Dead. My wife said in not so many words that she was going to kill herself if I leave her for the woman whose name I’m not allowed to say in front of her. It doesn’t matter. I want what I want.

So I step inside. I have a little coin in my pocket, and I’m free to have whatever I choose. Right then it occurs to me that I’m going to have to choose. I make a cursory perusal of the store. Most of the commodities on offer — pork rinds, skin mags, boxes of Nag Champa — are beneath consideration. So what’s it gonna be then? A six pack of beer? Nah. A fifth of Wild Turkey? No. A candy bar, a Rockstar, a piece of peppered jerky? None of these.

I approach the turbaned man behind the cash register. He is what somebody along the line taught me to think of as a Hindu, and I try to placate the bad karma festering in his dark eyes by using my overly polite white person voice. I ask for a pack of Lucky Strikes, please. Because I’m feeling lucky, I guess.

He gets them and tosses them on the counter like he doesn’t give a fuck about any of this shit. He names a price. He’s curt, just shy of being openly rude. I wonder: Has it been a long night for him? Is he up to his neck in debt? Are shoplifters robbing him blind? It doesn’t matter. I want what I want.

I pluck a little yellow disposable lighter out of a display and place it next to the Luckys. It’s been years since I smoked last. I don’t really want to start again, but my mind has been warped by a million movie cliches. I have to smoke one last cigarette before I pull the trigger on my own firing squad.

And what exactly does that mean? I’m always talking myself into riddles that I can’t solve, and I need to stop. Plainly put, it means I’m going to go home, pack a suitcase and leave my comfortable nest to try to make a life with a Vietnamese woman a decade my junior. It is not going to work out. I know it’s not, but I still want it.

I stand outside the store, the night breeze blowing through my shaggy hair. I’m feeling tragic like I’m — who? Marlon Brando? Everyone thinks of “China Girl” as a Bowie tune, and it is true he co-wrote it, but people in the know, people like me, will inform you that Iggy Pop first recorded the song in ‘77, during his and Bowie’s wild years in Berlin. Bowie’s version is the better of the two, but at the same time its slick, radio-friendly production is a sad testament to the fact that the pinnacle of the thin white duke’s career was already in the past.

And what is the pinnacle of my career? What’s my place in the universe? Well, for one, I’m a redundant compendium of pop music trivia, and if that doesn’t impress, I can also point to the fact that I’ve made two women ugly cry in the recent past, the one because I said I wanted to leave her, the other because I don’t seem to know what I really want. It doesn’t matter if I don’t know what I really want. I still want it.

I peel the cellophane off the Lucky Strikes and bend back the lid. The cigarettes are packed together so beautifully. It’s a shame I have to ruin the symmetry. They are perfect just the way they are. I would like to stand here forever, just looking at them. Why do people always have to want what they want? It’s such a shame.

I take out a smoke and light up. The cigarette tastes good, but not that good, not good like when I was young. My pinnacle came and went in 1993, when I was seventeen. We grow old out of boredom. Everything turns stale. I drop the cigarette and ground it out with my toe.

The night wind blows. I hug myself and rub my arms for warmth. It’s time to go home to my suicidal wife, sit with her in bed and hold her hand until she falls asleep. Then I’ll tread quietly downstairs and call my anxious girlfriend. She’ll want to know if I’ve made up my mind, and I’ll lie to her, so she won’t stay up half the night, convincing herself to break it off with me.

But before I go, I want to do something nice for somebody.

I walk over to the drunk panhandler and drop the Luckys at his feet. I toss down the little yellow lighter, too.

He sweeps up both and pockets them. He seems a lot less grateful than I expected him to be. In fact, he doesn’t even say thank you. I want him to recognize my generosity, so I say, “It’s almost a full pack.”

“It’s alright,” he says, apparently taking my words for an apology. “You got a dollar?”

“Sorry,” I say, my remorse still falsely assumed, though now by me. In fact, I do have a couple spare dollars in my wallet. I just don’t want to give them to the ungrateful panhandler. Has he ever had an unselfish impulse in his entire life? Would one even dare to guess the number of people he has hurt over the years? Will he ever be forgiven?

“It’s okay,” the whiskered face says, looking up at me for the first time. “What mama say. You get what you get.”

“Yep, that’s right,” I say, glibly, as if such wisdom were so cheap I could have bought it at the corner liquor store.

###

I want what I want.  Cigarette butts litter the sidewalk outside the corner liquor store, their filters jaundiced by drags gone by. The eyes of the drunk panhandler sitting in the periphery are the same dirty yellow color. A year or six months from now, I could be him. Or worse. Dead. My wife said in not so many words that she was going to kill herself if I leave her for the woman whose name I’m not allowed to say in front of her.  It doesn’t matter.  I want what I want.

So I step inside without sympathy or remorse for anybody or anything. I have a little coin in my pocket, and I’m free to have whatever I choose. Right then it occurs to me that I’m going to have to choose. I make a cursory perusal of the store. Most of the commodities on offer — the pork rinds, the skin mags, the boxes of Nag Champa — are beneath consideration. So what’s it gonna be then? A six pack of beer? Nah. A fifth of Wild Turkey? No. A candy bar, a Rockstar, a thin slab of peppered jerky? None of these.

I approach the turbaned man behind the cash register. He is what somebody along the line taught me to think of as a Hindu, and I try to placate the bad karma festering in his dark eyes by using my overly polite white person voice. I ask for a pack of Lucky Strikes, please. Because I’m feeling lucky, I guess.

He gets them and tosses them on the counter like he doesn’t give a fuck about any of this shit. He names a price. He’s curt, just shy of being openly rude. I wonder: Has it been a long night for him? Is he up to his neck in debt? Are shoplifters robbing him blind? It doesn’t matter. I want what I want.

I pluck a little yellow disposable lighter out of a display and place it next to the Luckys. It’s been years since I smoked last. I don’t really want to start again, but my mind has been warped by a million movie cliches. I have to smoke one last cigarette before I pull the trigger on my own firing squad.

And what exactly does that mean? I’m always talking myself into riddles that I can’t solve, and I need to stop. Plainly put, it means I’m going to go home, pack a suitcase and leave my comfortable nest to try to make a life with a Vietnamese woman a decade my junior. It is not going to work out. I know it’s not, but I still want it.

I stand outside the store, the night breeze blowing through my shaggy hair. I’m feeling tragic like I’m — who? Marlon Brando? Everyone thinks of “China Girl” as a Bowie tune, and it is true he co-wrote it, but people in the know, people like me, will inform you that Iggy Pop first recorded the song in ‘77, during his and Bowie’s wild years in Berlin. Bowie’s version is the better of the two, but at the same time its slick, radio-friendly production is a sad testament to the fact that the pinnacle of the thin white duke’s career was already in the past.

And what is the pinnacle of my career? What’s my place in the universe? Well, for one, I’m a redundant compendium of pop music trivia, and if that doesn’t impress, I can also point to the fact that I’ve made two women ugly cry in the recent past, the one because I said I wanted to leave her, the other because I don’t seem to know what I really want. It doesn’t matter if I don’t know what I really want. I still want it.

I peel the cellophane off the Lucky Strikes and bend back the lid. The cigarettes are packed together so beautifully. It’s a shame I have to ruin the symmetry. They are perfect just the way they are. I would like to stand here forever, just looking at them. Why do people always have to want what they want? It’s such a shame.

I take out a smoke and light up. The cigarette tastes good, but not that good, not good like when I was young. My pinnacle came and went in 1993, when I was seventeen. We grow old out of boredom. Everything turns stale. I drop the cigarette and ground it out with my toe.

The night wind blows. I hug myself and rub my arms for warmth. It’s time to go home to my suicidal wife, sit with her in bed and hold her hand until she falls asleep. Then I’ll tread quietly downstairs and call my anxious girlfriend. She’ll want to know if I’ve made up my mind, and I’ll lie to her, so she won’t stay up half the night, convincing herself to break it off with me.

But before I go, I want to do something nice for somebody.

I walk over to the drunk panhandler and drop the Luckys at his feet. I toss down the little yellow lighter, too.

He sweeps up both and pockets them. He seems a lot less grateful than I expected him to be. In fact, he doesn’t even say thank you. I want him to recognize my generosity, so I say, “It’s almost a full pack.”

“It’s alright,” he says, apparently taking my words for an apology. “You got a dollar?”

I sadly shake my head. “Sorry,” I say, and maybe I am this time, though I know it still means nothing.

“It’s okay,” the whiskered face says, looking up at me for the first time. “What mama say. You get what you get. Uh-huh. You get what you get.”

“Yep,” I say with glib aplomb, as if such wisdom were so cheap I could have bought it at the corner liquor store.

###

The night you went out for smokes, having to decide whether or not to leave your wife for a younger woman

You want what you want.  Cigarette butts litter the sidewalk outside the corner liquor store, their filters jaundiced by drags gone by. The eyes of the drunk panhandler sitting in the periphery are the same yellowy color. A year or six months from now, you could be him. Or worse. You may die. Your wife said in not so many words that she was going to kill herself if you leave her.  It doesn’t matter.  You want what you want.

You enter the store, and it occurs to you you are going to have to choose something. What? You make a cursory perusal. Most of the commodies on offer — the pork rinds, the skin mags and the boxes of Nag Champa — are beneath consideration. So what’s it gonna be then? A six pack of beer? Nah. A fifth of Wild Turkey? No. A candy bar, a Rockstar, a strip of beef jerky? None of these.

You approach the turbaned man behind the cash register. He is what you learned a long time ago to think of as a Hindu, and you try to placate the bad karma festering in his dark eyes by using your polite white person voice. You ask for a pack of Lucky Strikes.

He gets them and tosses them on the counter like he doesn’t give a fuck about any of this shit. He informs you you owe him ten bucks and some change, and he’s not very nice about it. Has it been a long night for him? Did sales plummet last quarter? Are the shoplifters robbing him blind? It doesn’t matter. You want what you want. You pluck a little yellow disposable lighter out of a display and set it next to the Luckys. It’s been years since you smoked last. You don’t really want to start again, but your mind has been warped by a million movie cliches. You have to smoke one last cigarette before you pull the trigger on your own firing squad.

You stand outside the store, the night breeze blowing through your shaggy hair. You’re feeling tragic like you’re — who? Marlon Brando? Everyone thinks of “China Girl” as a Bowie tune, and it is true he co-wrote it, but you know Iggy Pop first recorded the song during his and Bowie’s wild years in Berlin. Bowie’s version is the better of two, but its slick, radio-friendly production is a sad testament that the pinnacle of his career was already in the past.

And what is the pinnacle of your career? What’s your place in the universe? Well, for one, you are a redundant compendium of pop music trivia, and if that doesn’t impress, you can also point to the fact that you’ve made two women ugly cry, the one because you said you want to leave her, the other because you don’t seem to know what you really want. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you really want. You still want it.

You peel the cellophane off the Lucky Strikes and bend back the lid. It is shame you have to ruin the symmetry of the score. Twenty cancer sticks packed together so beautifully. They are perfect just the way they are. You would like to stand here forever, just looking at them. Why do people always have to want what they want? It is such a shame. You take out a smoke and light up. The cigarette tastes good, but not that good, not good like when you were still a young man.

The night wind keeps blowing, and you’re getting cold. It’s time to go home to your suicidal wife, sit with her in the bed, holding her hand, until she falls asleep, and then tread quietly downstairs to call your anxious girlfriend. But before you do, you’re gonna do something nice for somebody.

You go over to the drunk panhandler and drop the Luckys at his feet. You toss down the little yellow lighter, too.

He sweeps up both and pockets them. He seems a lot less grateful than you expected him to be. In fact, he doesn’t even say thank you. You want him to recognize your generosity, so you say, “It’s almost a full pack.”

“It’s alright. You got a dollar?”

You sadly shake your head. “Sorry,” you say, and maybe you are, though for reasons other than the obvious one.

“It’s okay,” he says, looking up at you for first time. “What mama say. You get what you get. Uh-huh. You get what you get.”

“Yep,” you say with glib aplomb, as if such wisdom were so cheap you could buy it at the corner liquor store.

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