Bustin' a Lung
Thin clouds stretched across the sky high above the Bahia Mar marina on a recent Wednesday evening. The brackish waters of the Intracoastal Waterway lapped against the docked yachts. The only disturbance was miles to the west, where a dark, gray cloud was shooting thin bolts of lightning to Earth. The death sticks were far away from me.
Or were they? My friend's exhale wafted across the wooden table. Good thing we were dining outdoors at the Bahia Cabana restaurant (3001 Harbor Dr., Fort Lauderdale), 'cause then the smoke just dispersed into the air. Having purchased two packs for an evening out with the three-man team behind a new 70-page booklet called Smoker's Guide to Restaurants, I lit one myself to follow my meal of barbecue. The men had yet to show.
They'd offered to have smoke flowing from every pore. I pledged to make it happen. The cigarette helped pass the time.
The red glow receded, and wouldn't you know it, like, poof: Moshe Levene appeared, all ruddy, round-cheeked smiles, accompanied by his lanky, identical-twin partners, Josh and Ben Zylberberg. They sat down at the table, and Josh (or was it Ben?) said, "You've got some of that rib on your face."
Nice to meet you too.
The twins were not so diplomatic as Moshe, an Israeli-born Florida resident with a scratchy voice and energetic demeanor who ran for the Broward County Commission in 2000. Now, he says, he has exchanged the "dirty game" of politics for nights of finding the best places to puff while chowing.
But politics still looms. Moshe says this venture is a reaction to the July 2003 statewide smoking ban, which prohibits lighting up at bars and restaurants that earn more than 10 percent of their revenue from food. "On June 11 , I was at a restaurant, and I said to my friend, 'Can you believe in less than 20 days, you won't be able to smoke unless it's outside places?' I said, 'I'm going to learn every restaurant and bar I can go to where I can smoke without getting up from the table.' It took about a year to actually compile this list and to get some partners who were into the idea."
"I want to know," Ben affirms his enthusiasm for finding smoker-friendly environments. "You gotta know."
Moshe continues: "That law upset me. I always believed in the individual's right to run a business the way he sees fit. It didn't piss me off 'cause I was a smoker."
Two margaritas down the hatch, I nod.
Moshe begins unloading the Smoker's Guide on other diners. It offers bar names, addresses, and smoker-friendly information like the number of outdoor tables, etc.
"Is this profitable?" I ask him.
"Not by the fact that we sold more than it cost to make it," he replied. "But we got so much advertising for the next issue," which will come out next month.
I pull out two smokes, line 'em up in my mouth, and ignite.
"Two cigarettes at the same time. Do you know how rare that is?" Moshe says. "It's like a Gemini."
Like, holy wow, I yell, "I am a Gemini."
"Me too," he says.
And we're best friends all of a sudden. When Josh, the twin who's sitting next to me, lights his cigarette, Moshe says, "Go ahead and tell her."
Josh says, "I've only been smoking for three months. Since I've been doing this."
"Well good for you, Josh," I tell him. "That's excellent."
And we all smile snakey smoker grins and laugh as the sun sets.
Bahia Cabana isn't listed in the guide, but five cocktails and an Irish Car Bomb later, we're sitting pretty at Dicey Riley's (217 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale), which is listed in the guide because of its live music and tasty crab cakes.
Spurred on by the alcohol, it seems, Moshe brings the smoking ban up again. "One day, I believe tobacco will be outlawed in this country and marijuana will be decriminalized."
I didn't follow.
"It's a cycle," one of the twins explains. "It's like Prohibition."
Might as well smoke 'em like a madwoman before the cycle comes full circle, I thought. So that's what I did with the gentlemen at Dicey's and then again that Saturday night when I took another full pack to Himmarshee Side Bar (210 SW Second Ave., Fort Lauderdale). Despite the thick crowd, the high-ceilinged bar felt open, and the music was decent. The DJ threw down some Run-D.M.C. and Luke's "Scarred," which pleased. The women there were cut from finer stone than in other places, and the men had realized the value of the solid-color, long-sleeved button down.
Like Bahia Cabana, Side Bar wasn't listed in the guide, but I knew it to be a solid place to light up. And I had pledged to have smoke bellowing from my pores -- which hadn't occurred with the boy authors. So I sauntered through the crowd, walked up to a friendly-faced man with close-cropped blond hair, and asked him if he had a light. After I popped two smokes into my mouth, he lit them up, nudged his two friends, and they laughed at me.
"Got enough there?" he asked.
"Long day," I said wearily. "Do you smoke?"
"Yeah," he replied, "one at a time, though."
I walked upstairs to the outdoor balcony, smoked my double barrels, and feigned interest in the crowd on the sidewalk below.
"Excuse me," a voice called over my shoulder.
I turned around, and there stood a very cute, light-eyed 20-something in a T-shirt. Tommy.
"Do you always smoke two cigarettes at once?" he asked.
"No, just when I really need the nicotine."
"Oh," he said.
I asked him if he'd ever smoked more than one cigarette at a time.
"Yes," he said. "I mean I only smoke half a pack a day now, but I used to smoke two packs a day. Once, when I was on a cruise, I smoked three Marlboro Reds in each hand."
"So, six total?"
"Yeah," he said.
"Wow," I said.
He said, "That's nothing. I knew this one girl who had her mouth wired shut, and she was so addicted to nicotine that she smoked cigarettes through her nose."
"Oh, give it up," I replied.
"Yeah, it's like French inhaling. You should try it." His friends looked at me, and I rolled my eyes.
My cigarettes were downstairs in my purse, thank God. But then it dawned on me. I could be hard-core.
"Do you have a smoke?" I asked Tommy.
Aw shit, he pulled out a Marlboro Red. I put it in my left nostril and tried to light it. "I look like I'm doing some kind of serious drug up here."
"Don't worry about it," Tommy's friends assured me.
I flicked the wheel on the lighter. But when I put it to the cigarette, nothing.
Tommy reached around and pinched my right nostril closed.
The ciggy lit right up, and smoke rushed my brain.
"It hurts," I complained.
"You don't like pain?" Tommy smiled.
Another of his beer-toting friends popped over and acted like a mother pushing Brussels sprouts. He said, "I want you to smoke that whole thing."
Not sure what his damage was, but one of the boys asked for a drag. He plugged his nostril, smoked, then passed the mucous-slick death stick back to me. That was a good excuse to call it quits. But ever the trooper...
By the third sniff, it wasn't so bad, but soon I began to feel unladylike. With a few exceptions, though, I'd been true to my word: Smoke from every above-the-belt pore.
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