By Brandon Ogborn
The owner of the vape shop I frequented was out of town, which meant the dense store minders were helpless when it came to procuring my preferred juice flavor. I like mint, spearmint, or menthol. Something that tastes remotely like the actual cigarettes I smoked for half my adult life. “Turkish Desert” is akin to a Camel but it lacks the that kick in the lungs that comes with a mint flavoring, to me the closest thing to puffing the dried leaves of yesteryear.
One would assume the oncoming sea of ex-smokers would opt for menthol in any litany of their vape devices, yet every shop seems to be wall-to-wall flavors you would find advertised to children watching Saturday morning cartoons or at the dining hall of a nursing home buffet. Lucky Charms, Strawberry Fried Cream Cakes, Churros and Ice Cream, and for the adventurous spirit, Alien Piss.
Mind you, I view vaping as the laser disc of cigarettes: it’s a clumsy idea but better until they come up with something better. For all the trouble vaping is –buying stock piles of juice, charging multiple batteries and hauling electronic gear everywhere, I more than once have considered going back to cigarettes.
But the stink on my breath and the proven deadly effects by way of multiple carcasses in my own family makes me willing to put in the extra effort to stick to the flask-sized contraption that promises to keep me out of harms way, and makes waiters give me the side eye when I plop it on a table during Happy Hour.
At this point in the Vape Craze, there’s no body count. In 20 years, when there’s a holocaust of Asian College Students, we can start pointing fingers. I ask when the owner is coming back to replenish the stock of my flavor. The shop keep, who resembles the sort of wayward 19-year-old who might find a home as a carnival barker replied, “He’s been in Peru for three weeks. He hasn’t returned our calls or texts.”
“You think he might be in trouble?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he says, gesturing to a nearby cooler full of milky green bottles with a yack on the label. “It could be about his hot sauce business. He’s dealing with some shady guys.”
Late for a dinner party that I’m reluctant to attend because I have an active afternoon nap life, I resolve to search out other shops on my way to collect the obligatory guest bottle of wine. I find another storefront on the North side of Long Beach where a woman takes my request with the care of an eager pharmacy technician. “I’ll be right back,” she says, before revealing a flight of stairs behind a counter door and dashing away. A Cambodian man in a giant ball cap and oversized cargo shorts works at a nearby bar table covered in vape parts not unlike remote control car engines.
“Take a seat, it’ll be a while.”
I sink deep into a slashed leather sofa where I peruse monthly catalogs dedicated to vaping. Articles like, “It’s time for vapers to take a stand!” and “Vaping the friendly skies,” suggest all the urgency of an oncoming civil rights movement.
Why not, “Vape Lives Matter”?
With time at my disposal, I went outside to grab my phone from the car. As I opened the passenger door, the bottle of wine rolled off the seat and crashed onto the driveway. After considering the shattered Cabernet the closest thing I’ve known to losing a child, I walked into a dollar store that rested in the strip mall. I told the clerk that I broke a bottle of wine and asked if he might have a bag for the shards of glass. He lazily rose from a picnic chair in front of a small TV and peeled off a reel of black plastic.
“Bags are ten cents,” he said flatly.
“I don’t think you understand what I’m saying,” I clarified. “I’m cleaning up glass from your lot, for you.”
“But you broke it, right?”
He had a point. Still, I stood my ground, threatening to leave the whole affair behind us like a scorned Lauren Bacall. “You can forget the whole thing!”
When I reached the door, he relented, holding up the bag like a retreat flag. “Just don’t let it happen again.”
Back in Vapeland, the doctor finally finished the potion that promised to keep me off cigarettes for the immediate future, or another three days. “I think you’ll really dig this,” he said, shaking a glass dropper bottle with fury. I took a puff and caught a hint of mint, along with an avalanche of something that tasted like burning cotton candy.
He nodded in reverence. “Pretty awesome, right?”
After the dinner party, I headed out through the garage, where the lingering guests indulged in Bourbon, a game of pool, and the shared whimsy of rolled cigarettes. I glanced at the scene with the horror a recovered sex addict must regard passing by a window with an orgy happening inside. I couldn’t go back, I wasn’t that sort of animal anymore.
I steeled myself and shuffled onward toward the mouth of driveway where I waited for an Uber and laughter echoed like ghosts. I pulled out my vape for a long drag.
The battery was dead.