Zippity


It used to be Smooth Boy’s Zippo, but Smooth Boy is dead. I run my thumb over the striker wheel, addicted to the friction of metal sparking flint, and pass my index finger back and forth through the flame. I like the weight and the slick cold touch of it. I imagine myself going back in time to a pre-literate civilization and having them worshiping me as the living god of fire. The flame wavers like a tired stripper going through the motions. I hold my fingertip in the heart of it until the first throb of pain makes me jerk it back. Smooth Boy was my name for him, his real name doesn’t matter.

He lived a few doors down from me at The Carlyle, a Rogers Park SRO, where the hallway smells of moldy carpet and nicotine. I work nights and sleep days. My job consists of knowing zip codes and loading boxes. The snap-click-flick of the lighter is a mesmerizing rhythm, dulling memories that flash and pop.

A Zippo will last a lifetime with proper maintenance. It lasted a lifetime for Smooth Boy. I unscrew the spring holding the flint and replace the worn nub with a fresh cylindrical hulk. I pull the wick up with tweezers and snip off the carbon-frayed edges. Finally, I fill it until fluid oozes over the sides leaving the woozy scent of naphtha on my fingers. I must remember to take a generous supply of fluid, wicks, and flint with me when I travel back in time.

But I would need more than fire to convince an ancient society of my godliness. Jesus could turn water into wine, and look where he ended up. I would try for more showmanship, with less call for charity and love. Kool-Aid turns bitter water sweet, a pound of it would be worth its weight in gold.  I could prepare a nice little dog and pony show, but the arrow of time moves relentlessly forward.  If people could travel back in time, then why aren’t they here now saving us from ourselves?  I know that nothing will save me, not Kool-Aid, not fire, not any man-made god.

I called him Smooth Boy because he resembled an anime character with almost Asian eyes, soft face, spiky black hair, and a chin suggesting a vague blend of east and west.  He could have been as young as twenty or as old as forty.  We never talked, passing each other in the hall with a slight head nod and momentary eye contact, enough to recognize each other's existence without the need to push for details.  I’d often see him out front when I left for work, snapping and clicking the lighter with the same motion that lives on in me. He was one of those people who smoked outside no matter what the weather.

The night of our first and last real conversation was in the late spring. I’d left my room without a jacket, trusting it was going to remain warm through the length of my shift.  He was seated on the low slung pipe fence that surrounds the parkway where a few weeds grow amidst lumps of dog crap, Styrofoam litter, and a dead honey locust tree.





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This is me: home-writer, book-reader, dog-lover and occasional poet. I make this website to share my and my friends texts with You, dear Reader. Please: read carefully, don't be scary, upgrade your mood and be king and leave your comment. :)