“Could I try one of those, instead?” said a friend, who blogs at the website of a weekly magazine. We had stepped outside of Zucco: Le French Diner on Orchard Street, and he’d pocketed his Camels at the sight of our tin. We gave him one.
“It hits well,” he said.
“Is that one of those cigarettes?” Greco, the restaurant’s owner, asked us. He had come outside, too.
We asked him what he meant by “those.”
“These,” he said. He was holding up a brightly colored flier. We said yes, gave him one, and Greco smiled.
We indulged in that pack without remorse and wound up back at Eldridge and Broome the next day. Another 20 fresh-packed smokes marked by the fingerprints pressed on them with each packing. Another 20 dimpled, imperfect man-made cigarettes we could call our own and love. Another 20 sons and daughters.
We left $4.50 poorer than we were before.
It was a night to go out, and we took our full batch to the Boom Boom Room, for the premiere of Another Happy Day, the new film starring Demi Moore and Ellen Barkin. It was a loud time, full of spilled cocktails and salty little canapes, and occasionally Olivia Wilde danced without regard to Kanye West songs. After a few drinks we crept upstairs, to the smoking balcony, where we unfurled out peacoat and snapped open the tin.
“What is that you happen to be smoking?” said a bright-eyed thin girl. Her accent was British and she had a Twiggy-gone-Seberg hairdo. We told her, she asked for one, and let the plume of smoke dissipate before the November expanse of Manhattan skyscraper ice palaces arranged in front of us.
She’s a 23-year-old actress who most recently played Kate Middleton, convincingly, in the movie adaptation of the royal courtship.
She wasn’t sure what we meant when we said “Island Smokes.”
“It’s, um, from this place,” we said. “On the Lower East Side, where you make your own cigarretes, and, um there’s this… It’s five bucks a pack.”
“You can’t be serious,” she said.
“Well, I’m afraid I am.”
“Take me there.”
We agreed to meet the next day, though the actress had one stipulation.
“No phones,” she said.
“We’re not going to exchange numbers.”
“How will I know you’re coming?”
“I’ll meet you there at six.”
“Will you actually be there?”
“I want you to take me to this cigarette shop.”
The next day, in a white coat and rose-colored beret, the actress was standing on the corner of Eldridge and Broome smoking a Parliament—her last brand-name cigarette, she was convinced.
“You actually made it.”
We were walking up the stairs to Island Smokes.
“Of course,” she said.
She looked at her watch. It was 5:53.
“I didn’t want to be late,” she said.
After hearing of the city’s lawsuit, The Observer made a requisite trip back to that Chinatown corner. It had been a two-week break marked by that holiday trip home—our excuse was we had lost our tin over a late night in Washington, D.C.. It was a tin we’d probably never again hold. Not expecting the place to be open for much longer, we opted not to buy a new one.
“I can’t really talk about that,” Kenny said, regarding the lawsuit. “But, well, I’m not worried.”
We asked about the new location on Avenue A, the East Village outpost that was to be their first franchise.
“Oh, I don’t know what’s happening with that,” Kenny said.
And what happened to the big machine over there, the one that could make a carton of smokes in under a half hour?
“Not sure what happened with that, they took it away,” he said.
By then 15 smokes had been inserted, filled, packed and sealed. A woman asked us if we wanted a plastic bag to put them in. We looked at her, fished into our pocket, and found an empty pack of Marlboro Reds. We could stuff them into this, we told her. No one would know the difference.
Then, after packing our last cigarette, we walked outside, lit one and walked away.