Cigarettes, jazz, and lonely women
All the woman wanted was a cigarette.
She said she was in town for some sort of conference and had heard that the Jazz Loft was the place to be, so here she was with her friends, all bubbly and excited to be out on the town in late night Detroit. Said she was from North Carolina. The Southern charm was very much in evidence, although the drawl was pretty much absent.
Those who know the Loft, which is really a Monday night jazz jam session that’s been going on at the same low-lit second-story Greektown location for roughly the past 3 years, know that the music doesn’t kick off until at least 11:30 or so and goes ’til around 2:30 a.m. Musician’s hours. It’s definitely one of those in-the-know type joints where those who know know it’s the place to go.
So there she was, standing near the bar with her equally trim and enthusiastic blonde girlfriend smiling broadly and anxious for conversation. She asked me if I had a cigarette, and I had to smile, shake my head and apologize.
“Sorry. Don’t smoke.”
“You don’t? Really? Oh good for you!” she said sincerely. “I really ought to quit myself.”
I chuckled, remembering the days not that many years ago when I still did smoke, and when I frequently used that very same line on folks from whom I might try and bum a cigarette. Anyway, seated across from me at the curved corner of the bar was my good friend Paul, who definitely smokes. His low-pitched voice has that telltale smoker’s rasp. Ms. North Carolina – never did get her name – sweetly asks if Paul might happen to have a cigarette she can borrow. At which point Paul gives his satanic grin and I know some shit is about to jump off.
So Paul tells her no, she can’t have a cigarette. And yes, he is a smoker. And yes, he does have his cigarettes on him and is about to light up another at any moment. But no she may not have a cigarette because she’s not a real smoker.
“Excuse me?” she asks, still trying to sound sweet and charming, but wearing the expression of someone who has just been shoved down a flight of stairs and is just now trying to get back up without looking too dazed or confused.
Paul’s grin stretches wider. The prey is in sight.
“Look, where are you from? You said you’re from North Carolina, right?”
She smiles gamely, then nods her head as she sneaks a glance at me.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“OK, first of all welcome to my city. Welcome to Detroit. And when you come to Detroit, expect people to be very blunt and direct, OK? Because that’s how we are. And I say you’re not a real smoker because you don’t have any cigarettes! And I just hate it when somebody who doesn’t smoke asks me for one of mine. These things cost almost $5.00 a pack now! You know that, right?”
At which point Ms. North Carolina looks over at me with a questioning expression and asks, “Is your friend always like this?”
And I reply, “I’m outta this, and don’t even try and drag me in. Y’all work it out.”
And I take this hands-off approach because it’s becoming quickly apparent as the cigarette dialogues continue that this dear sweet child is nowhere near as offended by Paul’s gruff approach as she makes out to be. Oh yeah, she was thrown for about the first two minutes, but then once she caught on to the rhythm of it all she starting to find it…oh let’s say invigorating.
Yeah. Girlfriend was getting turned on like a heat lamp. And, quite frankly, so was Paul. Matter of fact, if it hadn’t been for all the witnesses who were viewing this as prime time cheap late night entertainment, they probably would have gotten busy right there on top of the bar. But instead they had to keep pretending they were having this public brawl over the morality of bumming cigarettes from strangers in a strange land when all they really wanted was to set fire to their clothes and shake, rattle and roll all over them floorboards.
This went on for a total of about 15 minutes, at the conclusion of which Paul says Ms. North Carolina is more than welcome to join him and his friends in smoking a joint at some point in the near future, because sharing a joint is proper etiquette. But just don’t ask me for any more damned cigarettes.
“You really are pretty cocky aren’t you?” she asks with a sly grin.
“Not cocky, honey. Just confident.”
That show over, the real show kicks off after the Brothers Hale have a brief conversation with their bass player Ibrahim about what feels right. And Miles Davis feels most definitely about as right as anything can feel. The tiny, rectangular reddish colored room is shaped what you might call a shotgun style, with the small stage squeezed in tightly up front with two windows behind them overlooking the sparse late night Greektown travelers below. The tables and chairs are scattered in no particular arrangement from front to back, which is where most of the “early” crowd is gathering and mumbling conspiratorially in hushed, smoky tones.
The tune, appropriately, is “So What.”