I started smoking at a very early age. My cousin Corky and I tried smoking the dried long “beans” of the locust tree. We gathered hollow reeds from the meadowlands to serve as pipe stems, and then hollowed out horse chestnuts to use as pipe bowls. We would collect short butts from the bus stops and harvest the tobacco for our pipes. Sometimes a really long one would be discarded, and we could smoke it immediately “as is.”
Magazine advertisements for Camel cigarettes promoted their health benefits. Models posing as doctors with stethescopes in white coats extolled Camels’ benefits for the “T-Zone,” the area of the face that included the mouth, throat and sinuses, and claimed that some high percentage of doctors smoked Camels. We hated the taste of Camels. OK, I admit—all my extra cash did not go for bubble gum. When we accumulated nineteen cents, it was enough for a pack of regular size Chesterfields (my favorite) or Old Golds (Corky’s). We eschewed filters and stuck to the brands that boasted, “You can light either end.”
We liked to gather over at Roger’s Garage. In back, an old truck still had an intact cab and windows. There we played “give up,” a smoking game in which we smoked as many cigarettes as fast as we could with the windows tightly closed. The first to give up lost the game. My mother certainly smelled the smoke, but she was nice enough to ask: “You’re not smoking, Ken, are you?” Of course not!
Roger’s Garage was also a great spot on winter nights. We stoked the potbellied stove with wood until it glowed red and it felt like 120 degrees inside the little office. We also peed in or on the pot stove (it didn’t matter where it hit because it instantly turned into steam) and for a few minutes the room would fill with a putrid stench. One time Old Man Rogers came in right after such an episode and yelled “WHO PEED ON THE POT STOVE?” That became a code expression for all things odiferous, starting with our buddy Don’s gym shoes and continuing through various exotic cheeses.