I hate the smell of cigarettes. The idea of inhaling a carcinogen a hundred or more times a day is utterly illogical to me. Hell, like many of you, my own parents used to smoke inside the house when I was a child before quitting for good. Their excuse for being terrible influences and all around horrible people is always the same.
"We didn't know any better back then!" said my mother in her annoyingly sweet voice.
"Nobody knew it was bad for you yet," my father would chime-in.
My response was usually accompanied with an incredulous expression and unnaturally wide eyes. "It's goddamn smoke, guys!" I'd say in the same tone I would use if I were speaking to toddlers. "We've always known smoke is bad for you. That's why when your house is on fire, they don't tell you to stand tall and enjoy the aroma with deep breaths."
I swear, sometimes, it's difficult to tell from the outside looking in, who the parents are in this situation. Then again, I'm known to everyone who's acquainted with me as the responsible one. Ever since I was a child, I could be found on the outskirts of whatever group I was hanging out with at the time, warning them about the dangers of everything from climbing fences to throwing snowballs.
(There could've been ice in them, goddammit!)
Needless to say, I don't get invited out much and when I do, it's from my one and only friend to speak of.
Jeffrey, or as I have perhaps not so affectionately nicknamed him, "Mooch."
You see, Mooch is the kind of guy who's always a minute late and a dollar short. A dollar he has absolutely no shame or reservation to ask you or anyone else for. You know, just until -enter day that will never come here.-
I'll never forget the embarassment I felt when we were standing in line at the movies, when Mooch loudly proclaimed that he had forgotten his wallet. Or just how much a young 23 year old like myself can long for the sweet merciful release of death, as he petitioned the other moviegoers for donations.
These are the situations that Mooch puts me in. All of this flashed in the back of my mind as I sat across from his long, grey-haired, chain-smoking grandfather. The man smelled as though he hadn't bathed since the Nixon administration, and decided that the dirty, torn and stained peace-symboled, cut-sleeve t-shirt he picked up at Woodstocks' "Summer of Love" as a teenager would be the only shirt he would ever require for the next 49 years.
The filth and t-shirt weren't the only residual effects the 60's have had on this man. It's not that I didn't think the acid he dropped back during the sexual revolution didn't have the desired effect of taking him to different interdimensional plains. On the contrary, I don't think he ever quite came back because I could hardly understand a word that he said. He just smiled and nodded, revealing his awful brown teeth (what's left of them anyway). I don't know, I couldn't stare at them too long without getting queasy. He lit cigarette after cigarette as I went through the checklist Mooch texted me earlier.
Let me give you some context, I was there because Mooch - to put it bluntly, is a screw-up. For the eight months that I've known the guy, he's been fired from a staggering 11 jobs. His parents, fed up with giving their 28 year old son money in exchange for nothing but disappointment, have tasked him with the responsibility of caring for his grandfather a few times a week. Making sure the house was clean, taking inventory of food, and confirming that he's taking his medication correctly.
Now, you might be wondering why I was there instead of him. Allow me to take this opportunity to reiterate that his nickname is Mooch, and that he is a major league, hall-of-fame screw-up and I hate my life.
He was going out of town for a few days and lest his parents cut him off from his allowance, he needed to find a responsible replacement for his position as a geriatric caregiver.
Did I mention that I have a reputation for responsibility?
So, there I begrudgingly sat in front of the 1960's throwback to the dirty hippy and his vicious and incessantly yappy Shih Tzu.
The damned beast sentenced me to death from the ankles down the moment the old man let me in the front door.
"Little mutt don't like nobody, man!" chuckled Mooch's grandfather in the kind of voice that only a person with a three pack a day habit since childhood can possess. "He done try to bite me every time he sees me too." He laughs in that irritatingly wet way as if he desperately needed to clear his throat.
"It's fine," I said trying to dislodge the hem of my jeans from the little bastards jaws.
"C'mon now, man, shoo!" the old man said almost unintelligibly as he bent over to pick up the hell hound when with incredible speed, it released me and snapped back at him.
The old man howled with a bronchitis-like laughter as he withdrew his hand. The Shih Tzu scurried away and parked himself in front of a closed door next to the open kitchen, in what I could only assume was an office or storage closet. Looking at us, his mind willing us dead with its cold, little black eyes. I made a mental note to avoid the hell out of that dog.
The old man made a noise that this time my brain couldn't decipher.
"Excuse me?" I said, pointing to my right ear.
"Cawfee?" he repeated, while striking a matchstick and bringing it to his lips where a fresh cigarette dangled.
"No thank you," I said, rejecting his offer. "I can't stay long, I just need to go over this checklist that Jeffrey left me while he's away," I continued while pulling out my phone. "Then I'll get going."
The old man took a ridiculously long haul of his cigarette and sat down at the kitchen table smiling and nodding while exhaling. The smoke passed over his face through his oily grey hair. His eyes were barely visible as they fixed on me.
It took me well under 15 minutes to get everything I need completed. In that time-frame, the old man lit and put out five of his cigarettes. I knew because I counted each and every match strike. The house was so thick with smoke it made my eyes sting. The appearance of the house in contrast to the hippy was remarkably organized though. Everything labeled and clean, the smell of pine-sol fighting a losing battle with the tobacco.
I made my way to the white fridge where a notepad stuck magnetically to the freezer door. I jot down my name, phone number, and address for the old man and told him if he needed anything while Mooch was away, to not hesitate to call me.
He lit his sixth cigarette with his seemingly limitless supply of matchsticks, and got up from his seat which awakened hell's most valued canine with a brand new fit of barking. He made his way to me, and with every step he took which brought him closer, I realized for the first time just how large this old hippy actually is.
His face engulfed in smoke again with every puff of his cigarette, maximizing his intimidation.
I froze with my back against the fridge as the old man reached his hand out past my head to the notepad removing it from the smooth metallic surface. He clapped me on the shoulder and smiled as he towered over me reeking of sweat and smoke and said, "I like you, boy."
"I like you too, sir," I squeaked, pitifully.
Side-stepping the man, I picked up my coat from the hook beside the exit. A picture of Mooch smiling like a jackass in his high school graduation photo hung above it. I turned the knob on the front door and closed it behind me.
I hesitantly looked back while I made my way to my mother's Mazda to see the old man in the window watching me whilst holding the piece of paper next to his head grinning and pointing to it and giving me the thumbs-up.
I genuinely laughed and gave him the gesture back with a smile from ear-to-ear. He's a little cooky sure, but all in all he's a pretty cool old guy.
I was already on the highway on my way back home when I decided to call Mooch and let him know that everything went well.
"What's up, man?" he answered.
"Nothing, Mooch, I was just calling to say I went to your grandfather's place and did everything on your checklist."
"God, I fucking hate when you call me that." I can almost feel him rolling his eyes.
"When the shoe fits, Mooch." I chuckled.
"Seriously, man, I appreciate it. I owe you one," he said.
"You owe me a new pair of jeans is what you owe me!" I corrected him. "Your grandfather's demon dog sunk its little teeth right through my pants."
He cackled out laughing, "Snuggles bit you? What the hell did you do to him?" He snorted.
"I didn't do anything but exist! The thing is psychotic," I shot back. The howls of laughter from him through the wire continued, I damn near hung up on him. "Oh and you could've warned me about all the fucking smoke."
"What smoke?" Mooch said still chuckling.
"Don't play stupid, man, you know how I feel about cigarettes."
"The fuck are you talking about?" Mooch said with no trace of sarcasm in his voice.
"Your grandfather, you idiot! You know the old giant guy with the long hair and the fucked up teeth?" I said trying to bring back some of his laughter. Pausing to give him the opportunity to explain that if I had known beforehand about the lung cancer I would surely get from just stepping into the place I would have not agreed to go.
"C'mon, Mooch, fuck off it's alright, no stress."
"My grandfather doesn't smoke," he said quietly. "What fucking house did you go to?"
For a moment, I thought I must have screwed up the address, but thinking back I remembered Mooch's stupid smiling graduation picture and relay that information back to him.
"Call the fucking cops!" Mooch shrieked, making my blood run cold. "That's not my grandfather!"
Fast forward six hours and I was sitting in the police station, ears ringing as if a grenade had just detonated next to my skull. The cops were explaining something to me I couldn't quite make out in my sudden trance.
They found Mooch's grandfather dead behind the closed door that Snuggles had faithfully guarded, tied to a chair with a plastic bag fastened securely with tape around his bald head. The hippy, nowhere in sight.
I don't really remember being given the ok to leave the police station let alone the drive back to my home. I opened my front door and headed straight for my bedroom. If I had been more alert, I may have noticed it was unlocked. If I wasn't so dazed, I might have seen my parents tied back-to-back in the living room with their own respective bags fastened to their heads. If I hadn't been so stunned, I would have smelled the cigarette smoke before hearing the strike of a matchstick.