Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 39

Chapter Thirty-nine

Outside and down the street a bit, officers Thorpe and Diaz trawled the urban landscape of billboard signs, bus stop advertisements, and traffic lights, two white knights of city administration. Their charge? To protect the peoples’ right to not have smoke in the public air around them; to uphold the sanctity of the Smoke-Free Workplace Act.

They had left the department’s headquarters somewhat off balance following a surprise meeting called by higher-ups who’d noticed all the hubbub about those smokers.

Thorpe and Diaz did not deny procedures and regulations had been broken, ignored, forgotten the day of the press conference/benefit. But they’d busted up a crowd concentration problem and avoided a massive violation of the Smoke-Free Workplace Act.

“We could not let the act be mocked,” Thorpe defended.

They’d also unleashed a hellish traffic jam that was felt some 20 miles away – society being the complicated piece of machinery it is these days. And that couldn’t be good because people in-close and from afar were irate.

The officers’ conduct stunk, but the cause was just from an enforcement perspective, because The Smokers had started it all.

Thorpe and Diaz had not, to be sure, been reprimanded in any official way. They had not been scolded in any less-than-official way, either. Something strange had happened. They got a sense the brass was pleased as punch with what they’d done and that, for purposes relating purely to the institution (and in the name of vertical command structures everywhere), the bosses made a show of putting the duo through the ringer.

Mindful of how close the call had been, Diaz and Thorpe decided (without exchanging a word) to avoid such quagmires in the future and stick to the small and painstaking tasks that were their peculiar domain.

And so they were heading toward the Argentine restaurant in the secret hope of finding Yvonne outside to ogle her some. Such, as she was learning, were the unexpected perils of celebrity. People had pictures of her on the walls of their homes, on the walls of their minds. They could focus on her all day; make her into something she wasn’t.

The men drove past the restaurant quickly and noticed that there were, in fact, no Sidewalk Smokers and it could only mean one thing: there was smoking going on inside that place with the amber burn that had beckoned on so many cool nights out in the street nursing coffee in cardboard cups. They turned to each other and nodded knowingly, in the manner of so many tough-guy television portrayals from years past.

They were going in.

What they could not know was that the owner of a stylish Thai eatery – with an A for healthy standing purchased at top dollar hanging in the front door – had seen them slowly crawl by and given the Argentine restaurateur a courteous heads-up.

The Argentine received the warning with commensurate gratitude and extended an invitation to the Thai proprietor he was sure would never be accepted (and which made it all the more profitable from the small business owner’s perspective).

The Argentine hurried onto the floor and informed all clientele vulnerable to having a chunk of their ass bitten off by the gremlins of over-regulation that the smoke-out was over. All of which was regular rebellion of the old-time variety. The only thing that was missing was marijuana and teams of ragged music fans.

In any case, Yvonne, Randall and Corey didn’t blink at the news. The Argentine smiled as they rose from their seats and made their way toward the door. “Of course, jou are de Sidewalk Smokers!” and then laughed merrily now that the rats were sprung from the trap.

Out on the sidewalk, the smokers puffed long and hardy, smiling finally, at the oh-so-deserved fun part of being (in)famous. Seconds later Thorpe and Diaz came barreling around the corner from a side street where they’d hidden their car in an attempt at surprise. The SW Smokers were a little surprised, pleased even, to see the two officers who had so contributed to their well-known-ness.

The detectives, upon seeing the fashion-puffers, knew they had been stooplefeathered yet again by an ungrateful business community that couldn’t understand how they were simply doing their job making workplaces safe for workers.

The Smokers smiled at the dumbfounded duo, who managed to recuperate admirably; for it must be remembered they were working stiffs with a certain common dignity and resilience.

Thorpe smiled as suavely as his rank permitted and sauntered past them, nodding in pleasant greeting. “Evnin’,” he said in a quiet westerner kind of way.

Diaz, a little more intimidated, followed his partner’s footsteps as, together, they proceeded to put their noses to the picture window like puppies.

What they saw made blood rush to their brains. Swirling in and out of the violin player’s notes and the synthetic orchestrations of his keyboardist were ribbons of illicit smoke seeking a home at the ceiling. They looked at each other and did that shrug. They looked at the smiling Sidewalk Smokers. “Didn’t I see you in that magazine?” Thorpe groped, coarsely, verbally ripping at Yvonne. And she was deeply affected, but damned if anybody would find out: “It’s refreshing to know our public servants read the press of the day.”

It was a cut at many levels and the fireman had it coming. He looked at her long and hard. They were not done, his expression said, it was a big town that was very small, and just as they had run into each other twice in as many days, he’d be watching and (he knew) she’d be smoking.

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