Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em 

The Ex-Executive Assistant, a story published on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a limited number of installments
"The Ex-Executive Assistant" is a comedic story about a young man who loses both his job and his girlfriend on the same day.

Recap: Lyle is talking to Chad, a fellow journalism major with a blossoming career (unlike Lyle, who has no career at all). Chad tells Lyle that the key to getting ahead is delegating work to others and taking all the credit. “Success, brother, is within everyone’s grasp,” Chad says. “You just have to climb over everybody else to reach it.”

Lyle returned from the ice chest with a Heineken for Chad and a Sprite for himself.

“Thanks,” Chad said, accepting the beer. “By the way, I could sure use that smoke you owe me. I forgot to buy a pack before coming.”

Lyle sipped his Sprite. “What’s that?”

“You owe me a cigarette. Did you think I’d forget?”

“What are you talking about?”

“You don’t remember? Finals week, back in college? We were standing in front of the J-school, shooting the breeze before our ethics exam. You were nervous, and you asked to bum a smoke.”

Lyle raised his shoulders. “High school and college are sort of a blur. My therapist says I block out traumatic events.”

“I don’t buy that. You’re a journalist. You’re supposed to have an eye for detail and an excellent memory.”

“That’s only if you’re a practicing journalist. I let go of those skills when I failed at life.”

“Well, I remember everything — especially when I’m owed. And you, my friend, owe me a cigarette.”

“You must be confusing me with the guy I was ten years ago.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is, I haven’t smoked in years. I quit right after college.”

“You quit?”

“Of course I quit. I had to.”

“You had to? How could you? I was smoking two packs a day when I moved to New York. Entering the real world was the most stressful time of my life.”

“It was mine, too: I moved back in with my parents. They said either I quit or move out and get a job.”

Chad frowned. “You didn’t already have a job lined up?”

“I had just graduated and gotten my journalism degree. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.”

Chad crossed his arms. “You ever think about starting back up?”

“Journalism school? Hell, no. It didn’t do much good the first time, did it?”

“No, I mean smoking.”

“Smoking?”

“Yeah. You’re not working, and you’re on your own.” Chad narrowed his eyes. “I mean, you did eventually leave your parents’ house … right?”

“Oh, yeah.” Lyle nodded. “Yeah, I moved out years ago.”

“So you’re living alone?”

“No — with my cousin.”

“You’re living with your cousin?”

“He took me in when I lost my executive-assistant job.”

“So you were living with your parents, and now with your cousin? Do you just swing from the limbs of the family tree?”

“Dude, don’t judge me — there was a gap in-between when I was relatively stable. I even had a two-year relationship.”

“What was the relation?”

“She was an unrelated female friend.”

“A girlfriend?”

“A girlfriend — yeah. Even though she wore the pants and made more money, I still considered her a friend.”

“And your relationship with her ended?”

“Dude,” Lyle said, “I’m wondering if I should call an attorney before answering any more questions.”

“I used to work for the Times, remember? It’s a journalist’s job to ask questions.”

“Yeah, but the rapid-fire succession is a little unnerving. Is this what you do when you date women?”

“I do a lot of research before I go on a first date. By the time I meet them in person, I know what I’m getting into.”

“Then maybe I should try that. The only thing I get into on a first date is an overpriced meal and an awkward conversation.”

“Seriously,” Chad said, “would you ever start smoking again? I mean, now that you’re grown up and away from your parents?”

“Technically, I think you have to have a job to qualify as a grownup. A job or a girlfriend. And right now, I’m 0 for 2.”

“I’m just curious, because I’m not sure I could give up smoking. It’s the one thing that helps when I’m jittery and can’t concentrate.”

“Yeah, and not only that — it’s good for nicotine cravings, too.”

“I mean it,” Chad said. “I can’t picture a life without cigarettes.”

“If I can survive a life without a job and a girlfriend, then you can survive a life without cigarettes.”

“You don’t seem like you’re surviving. You seem miserable.”

“That’s the very definition of ‘surviving’ — you’re miserable, but you’re alive.”

“Who wants to be alive if they’re miserable? If I’m going to die anyway, then I might as well smoke.”

“Now there’s a campaign: ‘Puff ‘Em Up Cigarettes — with a rustic, down-home flavor … because after all, you’re going to die anyway.’”

“Cute.”

“Seriously, it’s too bad they banned tobacco ads on TV. You could be the next Marlboro Man.”

Chad glared. “You still owe me, pal.”

Lyle frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“You bummed a cigarette off me, and I want it back.”

“That was ten years ago. Besides, I don’t smoke anymore. I told you that.”

“Quitting smoking doesn’t absolve you of your debts.”

“If I owe someone a cigarette and later quit smoking, then that’s the tobacco world’s equivalent of chapter 7 bankruptcy.”

“No. No.” Chad shook his head. “Accepting a cigarette on a loan constitutes a tacit agreement to reimburse the lender when the loan is called due, whether it’s in ten days or ten years.”

“If I ‘bum’ a cigarette, there’s no expectation of repayment. That’s why they call it ‘bumming’ a smoke — you’re taking it for keeps. How many hoboes do you ask for loose change, just because you once gave them money?”

“Why would I give you a cigarette if I didn’t expect it back someday?”

“So you’re telling me you give out cigarettes as a form of insurance, so you can call in a favor whenever you happen to run out?”

Chad grinned. “You got it, man.”

“Oh. And here I was thinking you were just being nice.”

“I was being nice. But I was also expecting you to pay it forward one day.”

“You mean ‘pay it back.’ Paying it forward doesn’t involve the original giver. Only a truly selfless person pays it forward, and we’ve just established that you’re a self-absorbed prick.”

“Whatever, bro. If you want the truth, then yes — I gave you a cigarette with the full expectation that you’d pay me back when the need arose.”

“Then that’s the risk you assumed. You should have factored in my likelihood for default. Maybe next time, you’ll do a better job underwriting.”

“Dude, you’re being a jerk. All I want is my cigarette.”

“I can’t give you one if I don’t smoke. If I could pull cigarettes out of my ass, then I would have had a harder time quitting.”

“Then forget the cigarette. Give me a dollar.”

“I’m not giving you a dollar.”

“Give me a dollar, and I’ll consider the debt repaid.”

“A cigarette is not worth a dollar.”

“Hell yes it is. You seen the cost of a pack of cigarettes lately?”

“Cigarettes were $3.25 a pack the last time I smoked,” Lyle said.

“Yeah, well, they’re more than double that now. The cigarettes I smoke are a dollar each.”

“They weren’t back then.”

“What do you mean?” Chad frowned.

“I mean when you gave me that smoke ten years ago, cigarettes were a heck of a lot cheaper.”

“So what?”

“So I’m not paying you in today’s prices. A bummed cigarette doesn’t adjust for inflation. If I gave you anything, it’d be twenty-five cents.”

“That’s robbery.”

“No, that’s a fixed-interest rate. When there’s inflation, it’s the lender that suffers.”

“You can’t give me a quarter for a dollar cigarette. That’s only a fraction of the price.”

“Yeah — a quarter. One-fourth.”

“Seriously, that’s bull. I want the full dollar.”

“That’s not what the cigarette was worth when you gave it to me.”

“I don’t care what it was worth when I gave it to you. It appreciated in value, and I want its current-day price.”

“All I’ll give you is twenty-five cents. Consider it a cigarette short sale.”

“You know what — forget it.” Chad threw up his hands, spilling his beer. “Up yours, pal. You’re the same jerk you were in college. Only now, you’re even more pathetic.”

“I think I’ve maintained,” Lyle said. “I’m not any more pathetic now than I was back then.”

“No, trust me — you are,” Chad said. “Your patheticness is the one thing that did keep pace with inflation.”

Author: Allen

I’m a humorist and fiction writer, as well as the author of two books. One is a collection of humor, and one is a collection of short stories. Both books are available on Amazon. I always wanted to write a comic strip, but I can’t draw. Not even a stick-person. So that’s why “The Lawn-Cutting Crew” is a comic strip without drawings. I hope you enjoy!

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