Everyone Who Smokes Virginia Slims Is Dead Except Me. Apparently.
I can't believe I paid $14 dollars for this nonsense for five months.
So, in the past few weeks, I’ve moved to Barcelona, settled in, and found the origin of the problem that led to this essay. When I studied abroad in Spain in 2012, I found a cigarette called ‘Nobel Styles’. They are smaller & slimmer than normal cigarettes, and I loved them. Since then, in every country, I hunt down the slimmest cigarette I can find. In Korea, they were “Simple Classics,” and in Russia, they were some name I can’t remember right now and it’s not important anyway. Point: I like slim cigarettes. This was never a problem until I returned home for the past five months and had only one option: Virginia Slims. This essay is about that.
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I can’t say I’ve ever had my finger on the pulse of “cool.”
For example, I have owned multiple leather jackets and not a single motorcycle; I got frosted tips six months after NSYNC broke up; the only commentary I have on an MMA fight is, “why can’t I have arms like that?”
I’ve always wanted to be cool but couldn’t puzzle it out. I thought my mom was cool, which probably explains a lot. But when I turned eighteen, I was able to do the one thing that is objectively cool.
Then, fifteen years later, outside a bar in Hyannis, the man who bummed a Virginia Slim off me frowned and asked, “Your grandmother teach you to smoke?”
And I tried to tell him, “Oh, no—I live out of the country mostly and slim cigarettes are more common abroad; these are the only ones that are slim like that, so when I’m in the states I smoke these.” But I could tell by the look on his face, it was too late to salvage my cool, so I let him show me a time-lapsed video of him putting in a window and tried not to wince when he walked off saying, “Thanks for the slim.”
I thought that was it. Nobody saw. And—as all cool folk know—if nobody saw who knows anything about anything, it doesn’t count against you.
But then, back home in Sturbridge, after visiting the Exxon three days in a row for a pack of Slims, the man behind the counter asked, “Buying these for your mom?” I told him, “No, they’re for me.”
“Really?” he said, ringing them up, then asked, “Sure they’re not for your wife or something?” And before I could respond, he continued, “I just never seen a man smoke these before. They any good?” I nodded, acknowledging, as we do, an end-note that says, I recognize I was being rude, so let’s move on. And so I moved on and thought he did, too.
But the next time I was in there while being rung up by a used leather purse of a woman, he came around a corner and called to her, “THEY’RE NOT FOR HIS WIFE.” The woman looked at me, then at the Virginia Slims. “Really?” She asked.
“YEAH, OR HIS MOTHER.”
“Woooow.” She shook her head as she handed them over.
I must have one of those faces that says: talk to me. My whole life people—especially cashiers—have done this—they see my face and think, well, that’s a nice face. Let’s throw words at it. And it’s never useful. Nobody ever says, “By the way, you’ve got something in your teeth,” or, “Did you hear? (insert something insightful).”
No, it’s words they casually scoop up off the floor of their brain. Something like, “Did you know you look like a jew?” or “Why are you buying all this cat food?” or—in the case of the ponytailed Cumberland Farms cashier who looked like well-trod carpet—“Wow, my grandmother used to smoke these! She’s dead.”
And then another: “I haven’t sold a pack of these in the whole time I’ve worked here, weird!” After I had to show her where they were kept (behind the Marlboro 27s sign).
I would have stopped going to the Cumberland Farms (as I had the Exxon) if it weren’t so conveniently located across from my apartment. Even though it got to where six of seven employees would spot me and have my Virginia Slims pulled out before I got to the counter, or—as I approached, reach toward the Marlboro 27’s sign questioningly. Since they never asked my name, I can only imagine I quickly became known internally as, “The Virginia Slims Guy,” which, after a lifetime of disparaging nicknames (Bendover, Beniffer, “Hey, you with the nose”) was somehow worse.
Some were polite about it. Others were curious. A pasty young cashier asked, “Those must taste good, huh?”
As though they must, right?
They must be the best goddamn cigarettes in the world for me to let one hang from my gingerly puckered lips.
My brother called them ‘vagina slims’ but my mother came to my defense by reminding him, “oh, that’s too easy.”
After fifteen years, my family long ago let me be about smoking. But adding Virginia Slims into the equation changed everything—as though it was only after I started smoking Virginia Slims people suspected I might have an addiction, rather than a cool idiosyncrasy.
Like, if I’m no longer leaning with one leg crooked up on the wall, leather jacket on, Marlboro Red hanging from my mouth—pretending I drive something other than my mom’s Mazda—I must have a problem.
There are, of course, those who would argue that smoking cigarettes has never, and will never, be cool. Nerds.
On the bright side, in five months, nobody mentioned cancer to me. It was as if anyone who saw me smoking thought, well, the first thing we need to make sure of is that—however long he might have left—he spends it looking cool, and not, as he does now, like a granny who freaky-Fridayed herself into the body of a grown man who is definitely not pulling off that jacket.
So, for all of my loved ones who have been deeply concerned for my social health, have no fear. I am back in Europe, where slim cigarettes are cool—or, at the very least, a place where, as I bumble my way through, “Nobel Style Por-favor-gracious-mucho, si!” The cashier can only conclude, “Poor idiot, he must not know…”
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It could be worse. You could be me, searching central Mexico for a cool chick who rolls her own smokes like an artist girlfriend of mine did fifteen years ago. On top of that, I'm too lazy to learn to roll my own, so I smoke loose cigarette tobacco out of a pot pipe, and I've worked hand-rolled cigarettes into ~25% of the stories I've written since then.
"I must have one of those faces that says: talk to me". You clearly haven't perfected the art of RBF.