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SMOKING IS COOL//. Robert Lennon THE CIGARETTES WERE CALLED Velvets, and my job was to smoke them. I was given a purple velvet suit and a cheat sheet listing the names of bars I was permitted to smoke in and drinks I was allowed to order, and was assigned a partner, a fashion design school dropout who wore a red velvet dress and whose name was Karen. My suit coat had wide, baggy inside pockets which I kept stuffed with the cigarettes I would distribute free to the bars' other patrons. Karen was issued a clasp handbag for the same purpose. "Don't let them know you're working for us," instructed our supervisor, Nadine, a stark-faced businesswoman with efficient, unadorned hands. This was at headquarters , a narrow downtown storefront with blacked-out windows that in recent years had been home to several fly-by-night religious groups and a Reform Party campaign office. It was our first night, our pockets full of mad money. "Offer them the product as if ifs from the bottom of your heart," she said. "Like this. Cigarette?" She proffered a Velvet Long to Karen, who accepted it between her index and middle fingers. "Obliged," Karen said, and swept her hair over her shoulder with an ironic flourish. She turned to me and batted her eyelashes. "Cigarette?" "Good," said Nadine. "Except that Richard is a man. Men don't smoke Velvet Longs. Women smoke Velvet Longs. Men smoke Velvets. I thought we were clear on that." "I was just practicing," Karen said. I hadn't taken the cigarette, and she popped it into her mouth. She didn't light it. Nadine gave her a long look, then sighed. "Okay, then. Off you go. Happy hour is nigh." She moved between us to the door, opened it with her key and held it as she ushered us out with a flapping hand. We stepped into the cold and early dark. "If you're going to seduce somebody," she called after us, "do it on your own time!" All this was very new to me. For one thing, I wasn't a smoker. I'd practiced for hours in front of the mirror, preparing for my interview. The cigarettes tasted bad at first, but I tried thinking of them as a strong cup of coffee I could drink and drink without ever filling up, or a glass of whiskey that didn't make me drunk, and that helped a little. My other problem was that I was essentially a shy person; approaching The Missouri Review · 27 strangers in bars was precisely the kind of thing I was least inclined to do. That I applied for the job at all was the result of desperation. Out of college with nowhere to go, I needed money, especially if I wanted to stay in Philadelphia. And I did want to stay. Until now, I had only been an extended visitor in the city, which in all its bravura and layers of unappreciated historical detail held me in constant thrall. I wanted to be naturalized, to have the kind of urban experience that marked me as a resident, so that I would at last feel at home here and could view as mundane the very urbanness that held me so fast. I wanted, in other words, to learn to become jaded. So when I saw the ad in the paper— WANTED. Handsome Men and Beautiful Women for exciting promotional activities. Meet people, use your natural charm, get to know the city in a way you never dreamed possible. Evening/weekend. Call Nadine 222-1187. —I knew I had to apply. Never mind that I wasn't particularly handsome. I didn't think I would get the job, one way or the other. But when I called the number and spoke to Nadine, she must have heard something in my voice I didn't see in the mirror (politeness, I later realized: How many polite people would respond to such an ad?), and she granted me an interview . In the end, it seemed that I looked good enough. Karen, on the other hand, was beautiful. I guessed she didn't photograph...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 27-44
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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