The Five Year Plan


Thanks so much for teaching this class, Grace. Here is my final draft.

The Five Year Plan

All I was focused on was the one remaining unoccupied seat on the other side of the subway car. I made a beeline for it, and sat down. I was silently celebrating my good fortune, so took me a few seconds to realize that anything was amiss.

About five feet away from me, there was a guy standing there, smoking a cigarette. Kind of leaning against the side of the car, casually puffing away. As if it was the 1960s and he was at a dinner party, not on an N train in Astoria, New York in 2012. But that actually wasn't even the strangest thing about this scene.

Nobody was saying a word to him. Reproachful glances, sure, but nothing vocalized. And there were people all around. This was 9 AM on Wednesday. Now, this is a city where is illegal to smoke outside at a public park. A city known for its brash and outspoken citizens. Where we publish calorie counts next to fast food menus in giant letters and soon would ban any soda over 16 ounces. And we were acting as if this was totally normal. This was because he had a tiny head.

When I say tiny head, I don't mean that his head was slightly on the smaller side. I mean absolutely freakishly small. Like the guy in the waiting room in hell that was sitting next to Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice kind of small. So small, in fact, that all of the rest of us strangers there on the subway car made this silent, unspoken pact to cut this guy a break. Look the other way, as the car filled up with smoke.

The truth is, I love to smoke. First hand smoke, not second hand. Not that you would know it if you met me. I rarely do it anymore.

Strangely enough, I started this habit when I was well past an age when I should know better. And it turns out that it's not easy to get started when you are twenty-two years old. Lots of coughing. I looked like an idiot. Thankfully, I had some new friends who could teach me some of the finer points. They coached me on how to inhale. How to knock the pack against the palm of my hand before I opened it. For the first year or so after I started though, I would often get quizzical looks from strangers when I lit up.

""You're not really a smoker, are you?"" They would say.

""No, no, I am,"" I would protest, all the while thinking, what the fuck am I doing wrong? Why was was it so obvious?

Once I finally got the hang of it, there was no turning back. I was in love. It was the perfect vice for me to take up. Somewhat self destructive, but only just so. Seven minutes increments where I could shed my goody two shoes exterior.

To say that my family was not pleased would be an understatement. I had always been the good kid, the perfect student, the one who attended Space Academy to train as an astronaut and played on the god damned volleyball team.

In response to my their outrage, and my own well developed sense of identity as a non-smoker, I came up with the five year plan. I decided that I would smoke for five years, start to finish. After all, in the scheme of one's life, how bad could five years of smoking be? A tiny percentage, really. Hopefully. I felt that I had more than earned this respite from healthiness. Why five? It's my favorite number. I didn't put much more thinking into the plan beyond that. That said, I did feel very good about it. And very committed. I had taken my rebellion and contained it into a tidy, little box.

Five years came and went surprisingly fast. I stopped only briefly after that milestone. It turns out that I have an underdeveloped sense of guilt. Quitting is not easy, I thought. There was no point beating myself up about it. I think my mom took this news the hardest.

""What about the plan?"" she said. ""I have been telling everyone this was only for five years.""

""I've changed my mind,"" was my feeble response. I really had meant it, originally. I wasn't trying to hoodwink anyone. But my plan had changed. From the five year plan, to no plan in particular.
While smoking, I have met fascinating people, and gotten job opportunities. It has kept me company on nights when I would otherwise have felt much more alone. It was my entry into the rank of amateur misfit. And it has taught me how it feels to be judged, and made me less inclined to judge others for their own shortcomings. Still, I'm not sure if you've heard -- it causes cancer.

So there we were, consciously, silently, ignoring this man with the tiny head puffing away for about four stops.

Whatever gets you through, man. At Queensboro Plaza, a guy got on and broke the spell.
""Would you mind putting that out?""

The tiny headed man unceremoniously dropped his cigarette to the floor, and snubbed it out with his shoe. It was already burned down to the filter anyway."