A Place to Smoke

Cigarette butts speckle the ground all around the ashtrays. The grainy concrete is coated with a layer of ash, coffee, and the occasional brown tarnish of dip spit. Colorful flip-top boxes lie beside the benches supporting the individuals coming out for a break from the stress of school. The benches provide the only moderately clean surface upon which haggard college students recuperate before their next class or adventure of the day. The few trees provide a calming ambiance as everyone fights for their shade during the sultry hours of the mid-afternoon sun. Yellow flowers and green bushes are planted all around to evoke a sense of nature not found in the concrete terrain of the city. However, we’re surrounded by brick and concrete walls containing on-lookers who peer out there windows and wonder how anyone can spend so much time in one place with nothing to do but smoke cigarettes and gossip about the previous night. Sometimes they wave and we return the greeting with inappropriate gestures.

The sweet, caramel smell of tobacco lingers in the air adding a certain thickness to the atmosphere that some people wrinkle their nose to or cover it with their shirt. It’s an aroma most parents try to hide their children from for fear that they might get curious of the appeal of the little cylinders only sold behind the counters of drug stores and gas stations. But to the people sitting here, the smell’s a craving they’ve been looking for since they went to bed the night before. Just the smell sets off an addiction for the paper wrapped plant that does so much for us. Even now one of these is helping me write this paper I’ve probably waited too long to write.

Company might be a hard thing to come by in the morning, but the peacefulness of the usually crowded area is enough to attract anyone looking for a relaxing way to start the day. The air is still except for the bustling Atlanta traffic taking place behind the towering dormitories shielding us from the everyday commuters. The cool benches provide a comfortable crutch where weary students prepare for their early class. However, the best part of the morning atmosphere of the smoking circle is the taste of the first cigarette of the day. The delicate smoke slides across my tongue and down my throat so much smoother than the night before and the first clouds are exhaled from my lungs leaving a layer of carbon monoxide loitering above me.

As the day drags on residents of the Commons start to emerge from their dwellings upstairs or return from classes. They may spend hours on end sitting here burning through packs they’ve scrounged change together for just to repeat the same pathetic routine and make another trip to the gas station tomorrow. There’s no doubt it’s an expensive habit, but for most, getting through a day without a cigarette is a struggle none of us think we can go through. It’s not that life is too hard, because then we couldn’t afford to waste our day simply conversing with newly made friends, but something about poisoning ourselves with god-knows-what makes our time here a little easier even if it’s making it shorter at the same time.

It’s strange how such a health altering habit tends to bring people together. I’ve been at school for only a couple months and already relate to many of the people here. There’s just something about knowing that we’ll probably all die the same cancer related death that allows us to open up and share our lives with each other in a way that most people would never let someone they just met know. Maybe it’s because we see the life being sucked from every person here with every exhale of smoke from the exhaust pipes we consider lungs. It makes us listen to each other more intently than if we were to talk to some stranger on the streets and it leaves us feeling heard rather than simply acknowledged. That’s just the way things work. But not everyone understands self-destructive behaviors.

Some of us wonder why the courtyard is split into two parts, a smoking section and a non-smoking section, but we can see the disgust in the glances of non-smokers who look at us like we’re a decaying race wasting away our lives. Why would they want anything to do with us? We’re a dying breed that thrives off addictions. We contaminate their only somewhat clean air with more carbon monoxide than just what is produced from the cars they drive. They hide us from the rest of the future scholars, here to learn and better their lives and prepare for a future where they may improve society with ideas never thought up before. But who’s to say creativity doesn’t lie in the midst of us.

Everyone seems to have their own style in the smoking section and it seems like every type of person ventures out there at some point. The conversations held between people show the sundry interests gathered to smoke and relax. Occasionally the musicians bring out their instruments for an improvisational performance or take requests from people to have a sing along and brighten the mood. Debates may take place between liberals and conservatives over issues facing society today. They never get heated but voices are raised to get points across when someone thinks their idea is superior. Every now and then someone will cook something tasty like broccoli cornbread or brownies and bring it outside for everyone to sample. Film buffs discuss the last movie they watched for their film history class or their favorite genres of movies and pull deeper meanings out of the art the director has produced with certain angles and effects. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to be in the presence of a Resident Advisor and can inquire on the last bust they had. We always find a way to entertain ourselves with everyone who journeys to the circle and there’s always ample conversation that anyone can join in on and become better acquainted with everyone else.

When the sun goes down and the climate of the smoking circle drops to an autumnal temperature, more than just the regulars venture out for a smoke. It may not be allowed, but most of the students have found ways to obtain an intoxicated state of mind and began to crave the nicotine that mellows inebriation produced from a long night of partying. This allows creates the most fascinating conversations. Even the sober scholar can learn something from the rapturous dialogue articulated by dipsomaniacs. It makes a more interesting evening innovating sober ideas based of drunken thoughts. They might not be the best ideas for most situations but contemplating them with friends and acquaintances is one of my favorite past-times in the smoking circle. Who else would have thought of a name like the smircle for the smoking circle?

The earliest hours of the morning are the best times to be in the presence of these addicts. Waiting around here long enough pays off in the end. People start to tire and head inside to get at least a few hours of sleep before classes start later in the morning or afternoon. This is when the closest companionships are developed. Right about now I’m listening to completely improvised music being cultivated by some of the several people I’ve had exquisite heart-to-hearts with and associate with on an emotional level. Only a couple people make it to four o’clock in the morning when the temperatures drops to the lower part of the thermometer and our eye lids feel like they’re being weighted down with cinderblocks. But the serenity of the night and the cool air bring out the desire for company in all of us. The setting is just too perfect to let opportunities to connect with new people pass you by.

To the typical passersby, five blue benches, four ashtrays, and the smell of burning tobacco may seem like a future of yellow teeth and asphyxiation. But regulars of the smoking circle know what this place brings. Maybe these are things that can happen just about anywhere. Maybe this is something people find in their everyday lives elsewhere and this is nothing more than a place for bad habits to be advocated. Maybe we haven’t picked the best life choices and we’ll pay for that with our health later in life, but I have no regrets in coming to the smoking circle and harboring my fixation tying me down from what other people may enjoy in life. People might not see this as living in the moment or seizing the day because it seems like all we do is sit around all day and smoke, but this description based on appearance doesn’t do the smoking circle justice. It’s a residence that has brought a diverse group of people together and built relationships between them that will be remembered for years to come. Engaging in conversation with close friends while enjoying a cigarette and taking the time to get to know new people on a more personal level is something I value significantly high in life. I have found this at the smoking circle and will remember it as an eminently important place in my college career.