Steve used to take a leaf of newspaper and a strip of cedar bark and roll them into a cigarette that was just perfect for a seven-year-old: adults smelled what they believed was campfire.
So Steve and his brothers puffed stogies in the woods and felt like men. They felt as free as the smoke that wafted through the forest, moving around obstacles like water, like Bruce Lee.
Steve’s dad smoked the real stuff, though—Prince Albert pipe tobacco. He’d sit in front of the TV, drink coffee, and pull rich, white smoke into his lungs.
Being a wily seven-year-old, Steve would go in and drop next to his dad, make something up about needing a break from playing. Then he’d watch as his father would roll a cigarette. Inevitably, the old man would set the smoke down before lighting it, to sip from his mug.
That’s when Steve would snatch the rollie and stuff it in his shirt pocket. His father would roll another one, as though he had no recollection of his previous actions, and another, and another.
Over the course of an hour or so, Steve would pocket a bundle of hand-rolled cigarettes to share with his compadres, then he’d jet off to the woods to smoke.
But before he hit the door, his father would yelp, “Aye, where you goin’?”
“Out to play,” Steve would say.
“What about them cigarettes?” came the reply.
Steve is in his fifties today and suffers from emphysema. When he walks, his heart beats hard and erratically. He pushes a grocery cart. It’s weighted with sacks of rocks on one side to keep it from tipping. Clothing and blankets billow over its edges.
Steve never learned to read or write, and hasn’t been able to get a job since his 30s when his cataracts first set in. He’s been living on the streets since.
Just before Thanksgiving, he spent two days pushing his cart two blocks (takes long when you can't breath) so he could be near the Chuckarama and collect some handouts. When he’d received about five or six doggy bags, he took the afternoon to push his cart down a block. There he setup a tent behind a chainlink fence, between a shed and warehouse.
He crawled inside, lit a cigarette, and burned a hole in the tent.
It rained all night and snowed the next day.