Ecce Mortis: The Damned

Friday midtown.  Friday payday.

“CEO Tobacconists.” Quality, overpriced cigars. Walk-in humidor. Air-conditioned smoking room. Customers relax. Smoke.  Watch wide-screen TV.  Recite the Smoker’s Ode:

green gone
brown dead
resurrection fire
leaf life
tumors bloom
like tulips
or teeth
oh wet pink lungs

Musty humidor. Fat, sticky Maduro. Smoking room television tuned to The War. Cigar store crowd. Executives Young, Middle-Aged, Old. Shiny black shoes. Gray Summer suits.

And me, “Plantman,” the indoor landscaper, the horticultural technician, keeper of The City’s Office Flora, in denim and Topiary Techniques t-shirt, smoked the darkest, most potent, if not largest, cigar in the room. Double-Maduro, Double-Corona. Sweet.

Television: Siren Air Strike Siren Air Strike Air Strike Air Strike Air Strike

Older men their war. Middle-aged their own. Younger Executives had not known war, cognizant of men their age in combat even as Young Executives ordered cigars. Senior Executives. Executives. Junior Executives. Vice-presidents. Managing Directors. Directors. Managing managers directing directors to be still. Be still.

Older wars superior to new, according to geezers. More skill, more man-to-man hand-to-hand. None of this push-button never see the hell you kill, like a video arcade, fish in a barrel, no thrill-glory, no scent of blood, you see.

Middle-aged nightmares recalled: guerrilla warfare, jungle rot, defoliants, lack moral such such such.

Arguments went so. Young men red-eared silent. Watched The War through smoke: planes tanks missiles blasting righteous wrath smote cities hammered eerie jigsaw puzzles of indignity, pain, confusion.

(“Listen to this tape of the footage background closely,” said an Executive who inadvertently recorded it while taping TV War Footage. “You’ll hear a baby, crying  far-away, sleepy, probably in shock, calling for its mama or papa or someone,” The Executive couldn’t tell.  “Kinda eerie, right?”)

Out the window Sol’s slow-mo plunge. Sticky-sweet Maduro rhythm concentrated puff-exhale. “Still Life With Plantman Under Purple Sky.” I reached the cream of cigar, the final third, blend of saliva with juices latent in the leaf. Damp puff ether of my cobalt self.

Young Executives had known no war, but anecdotes of old warriors. Bosses, Mentors. Repetition. They watched television commentators in steady thick of mayhem slaughter. Prime action for the folks back home. Gory talk. The Old Executive/Warriors explicit, baleful, tedious.

Discussion shifted to cigars. Executives in the Smoking Room of CEO Cigars. Representatives of several companies gathering informal. Enemies after all.  Smoking.  Sharing tales. And business anecdotes — a different kind of war.

Cigar ritual. Initiation. Not afraid to stink. Hah-hah-hah to up-turned noses of trim, health-worship wives.

“Straight talk.”

Not afraid among men. But what if…the office…reveal what’s hidden. . . known among women. . . at the office?

“Won’t get laid worrying like that,” said one Senior Executive.

“Women like strong men with big cigars. We’ve got nothing to hide here. Not in this room, at any rate.”

Laughter..  Pause.  Ceremony.  Executive Light-Up.  Long wood matchsticks.

“Suck that fire, suck it.”

Faulty flame?  Bad light, uneven burn?  Catastrophic waste of a Cigar. Bad show, Miss-ter.  Really bad.

“Cigar, gift of the Indian,” one waxed poetic. “Cylinder of mellowness and virtue.”

Cigarette not a cigar like a shot of rye not a snifter of fine cognac. Life ripened goes to smoke. Lifts spirits. Anguish up in smoke of stink leaf. Curing process: green origins ripen under sun.

Natural processes. Living systems. Green embalmed brown. Like raisins. Curing thought. Tumors like mushroom caps. Exploded lungs of the unfortunate.

Bombs felled Enemy cities. Up in smoke. Commentators explained the play-by-play significance of each scheduled bombardment. Attack, attack, explode: shock, fear, desire-light of vision.  Nation.  Nation.  Greatest show on earth.

I studied bright burning buildings, imagined lives inside. Entered thoughts and situations, borrowed time. Ten million minds became one mind, my cigar their locus. Ten-million thoughts became no thought — steady puff-exhale —- and peace.

Maduro of the Cosmic One-Mind. But on the screen and in the Cigar Room: smoke, fire, ashes. Smoke everywhere, everywhere smoke and talk.

Fire eye of my cigar wept a cylinder of ash.

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