The drone of the guitar hummed in my ears . I couldn’t quite get the sound out of my head, even after the band stopped and quiet returned to the basement bar. A soothing jazz track was playing over the speakers to the few people in attendance, and a murmur of conversation was starting to rise from those present. I decided to grab a smoke and a beer from the convenience store down the street. I motioned with my cigarette pack to the people I knew, and they, along with the bartender, smiled in acknowledgement as I strode towards the door. I felt bad. I wouldn’t be getting my drink from the man behind the counter, he’d always been kind in the past, but economics trumped kindness, and I made up for it in my mind thinking I’d buy one from him when the next band fired up.
I opened the door of the bar to the stairway up to street level. The humidity of the night hit me as a sudden damp wave. The summer day had stretched its fingers long into the night and I was huffing and puffing when I reached the top of the stairs.
The usually busy side street was quiet, save a few people from downstairs grabbing a smoke and a few people walking around for various unknown purposes. The main street a block away was still a buzz of life and traffic, but it seems the evening had dried up the flow down this way. I grabbed the soft pack of parliaments out my shirt pocket, my preferred place to keep smokes when I wore this shirt, and pulled a smoke out. I lit it with the lighter from my shorts pocket and nodded to the other smokers as I turned down the street towards the convenience store.
The block was short and I tried to look as nonchalant as I could, hoping to avoid the judgement of the other smokers, who I’d guess barely noticed me at all anyways. I took leisurely puffs before finding myself right outside the store and remembering that I was planning on saving the smoke for after I bought the beer.
I shrugged and took another puff. Too late now I guess.
In the back of my mind I remembered that there was another convenience store around the corner or down the block. One night there’d been a huge show here and this close store ran out of beer. A rare sight, one that filled me with a sort of silly joy at the depths of cheap debauchery we were engaged in. I’d walked around with some other thirsty folks, one of whom claimed to know the way. We took a circuitous route, the sort only a bunch of hammered people lost in conversation would take, but found a place, stocked up, and took another though similar weird route back.
I looked around the empty streets, took a puff and picked one of the side roads that looked right. I took a slow walk, knowing that my destination was close and that the whole point was killing time while I finished the smoke. Older apartment buildings seemed to be the preferred edifice in this area and they all seemed to be teeming with life. Lights were on, the flicker of TVs could be seen, laundry was molding on balconies. I remember the first time I passed this way everything was dark and we tried, and failed, to keep quiet for the neighbors. Seeing now that it was mostly families, a tinge of guilt passed through me.
I arrived at an intersection and was almost going to take a blind guess when I saw a convenience store logo with an arrow on one of the lamp posts. I followed its straightforward directions to the convenience store and finished my smoke as I came up to the door. A few teenagers were hanging out on the steps, phones in hand. I put my smoke in the public ashtray and went inside to grab a beer.
Emerging from the ice bath that was the store, cold beer in hand, I grabbed my pack of smokes again. I put fire to paper, took a drag, and cracked the beer. I smiled at the warm night and the cold beer, the contrast between the two, accentuated by the nicotine.
I took my time walking back to the bar, it seems this walk was the real highlight of the night.