Diary of a Vaper

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.


Brandon writes for theatre, film and radio. His investigative podcast Telephone Stories: The Trials of Michael Jackson is currently airing on Luminary.

Click here to read Bubba’s Field Notes pages from back in 2015.

Letters from a Father to His Son

Jerome Hicks

Your Dad

Dear Reader,

I am happy to share with you this selection of letters I had previously written for my son. I did not think they were something I would share. The thought was until recently accompanied by a self-critical voice telling me that it would be too intimate. I doubt that now. These letters, which have been a little edited for privacy, were written largely in the absence of my son and as such they are more the role-play of a young man desperately trying to give sound advice, trying to flex his fatherly muscles over an impossible stretch of space. The details are unimportant. Let Chicago be ‘there’ and Peachtree be ‘here’ and just like that these entries may serve you as any dad might whose heart has not quite earned its softness. So, trust that I once sat at an old Olympia typewriter only a year or two ago, with the best intentions spore-like escaping my coffeed breathe and my eyes playing gate-keeper to escapee tears. And if they can, let these spores expand into the mycelial threads of your imaginations and enjoy a fool’s attempt at sound advice.

Sincerely,

A Dad

P.S. As to the theme of nostalgia, these entries are full of it. For my part there is an act of retrieval—of reclaiming—and for yours the knowledge that spaces and feeling are as contiguous as the invisible boundaries of our memories. We will be whole someday I like to believe. But for now, we are parts in motion colliding at the whim of fate and fancy.

May 2, 2017

My Dearest M,

It has been raining in Chicago and the streets are swollen with the pooling waters. Everything that stands tall like buildings and street-lamps and trees are washed, while everything that is near the ground sloshes around and exposes its messiness. The rain cleans a little and reveals a mess, leaving us to clean the rest. It is like a blessing this way, on one hand freely given, on the other a responsibility to be blessed—to carry a name and hope itself inside your heart. I have especially liked the rain since you were born. I check the weather in Peachtree sometimes, so that I can wonder at how the sky is reflected in your eyes that day. I imagine you looking into the rain as it starts to touch your cheek and I also begin to feel it, hundreds of miles away from you. Longing closes distance when the familiar is shared.

Feel the rain and trust it carries my blessing to you, not changed but maybe a little wet.

Your Dad

P.S. Never believe that the world is too big. It is impossibly connected in ways you cannot see. Roads and planes travel space and it takes a while, but phones and pictures travel time and it takes an instant. In this way I may be far from you, but my love is very near, always. Feel the rain, M, feel the rain.

July 25, 2017

My Dear Boy,

I have just finished making the last arrangements for my visit to you in August. I was struck as I sat on my dining room table with a feeling like falling, but from inside myself. I was sitting quite still and balanced, but the current inside me dropped from whatever lip had been holding it up. The result was an intense feeling of missing you and I could feel your little hands grasp at my hair and my face the way you do when you ride my shoulders. And so I needed to write to you this way and tell you about it. Forgive this gushing from your dad, but when you are old enough to read these letters, I hope you will be the kind of boy whose heart is awakened to the tremulous pulses of emotions and love. Cultures all over will tell men how to feel and how to stop it. The truth is that feeling is not good or bad; it’s just feeling. What you make of those feelings is what makes you alive. You can make elaborate worlds inside the imagination of your mind that guide you, or you can perform actions for others to get them to see you or respond to you, or for yourself when you are quite alone. These are all actual, none more so than others. The world may tell you differently about that too.

Remember always that I love you,

Your Dad

August 30, 2017

My Son,

After my last visit with you I went to Montana, which is where I grew up. I wanted to see the big sky and smell the cleanness of the air and climb a mountain or two. I am happy to tell you that it is all just the way I imagined it was when I was young, just as wild and beautiful. I remember now why it felt so biblical to me as a kid, because it’s more than beautiful; it’s scary too and vast. When the sun sets it looks like god riding the clouds over the arched horizon, her glory spilling out in all directions as rays of light. We will climb a mountain together one day if you like, and I will show you the wild grandeur of the west. We will look out at a sunset across the valley from the home where I learned to pray and to love and watch the sun who is as old as time carry god into a new day. It occurs to me to tell you this: A lot of things are going to seem very important. Be firm with yourself to remember what you know is really important and simply what others tell you is important. Your mother and I will remind you more often than you’ll like, so deep down you’ll feel it and can make your decision based on that instinct. This is your moral instinct. An instinct is a feeling like catching yourself falling. You cannot help but feel it and will not remember telling yourself to feel it. The crazy thing about Truth is that it is loud even when you think you cannot hear it. The sun shines almost everywhere but only in the day.

The Truth shines in all places at all times. It is outside of us and it is inside, disguised as that: your moral instinct. You, for your part, will remind me of the truth and I will do my best to remind you.

Your Dad, J

November 1, 2017

My Dearest M,

It was such a joy to be with you shortly after your birthday last month. I am always impressed to hear you speak and how clearly you are able to communicate your thoughts. It is an important thing to be able to share what you see with others, especially those you trust. Did you know that for thousands of years no philosopher or ruler or teacher has been able to answer the question: What is Real? And that seems sort of silly doesn’t it? It somehow misses the point. When we are together, you tell me about real things all the time—if there’s a duck in the water, a big truck zooming down the street, or when the little dirt mound is actually a dangerous ant pile! And they are real, because we both see them and could do any number of things with those experiences. I can’t tell you for sure what is Real completely, but with a little curiosity, a tender touch, and a snowballing Faith that what is Real is out there—that maybe god touched the surface of the waters of everything and nothing was the same or IS at all except bundled fiery together in that explosive touch—then you can travel into the stars, M. Your imagination and your love are as real as Real gets. They are like god’s desire to renew. Longing is an emotion you will feel when you get a little older. We can talk more about this then. Imagine you are lying on warm grass. The sun is beaming down on you and it is morning, so it feels not too hot. There’s a little wind and so you close your eyes. You hear your name and the voice is warm like the grass.

The world knows the names of all her sons and daughters.

I miss you,

Your Dad.

February 4, 2018

Dear M,

I don’t have much to report to you M. I woke up this morning to a Winter Wonderland in Chicago. I hoped the humid Georgia air had traveled up the country and ran into some cold Arctic breezes that had floated down into the States past the Canadian border. When these two fronts met, over my home, over all of Chicago, I hope they embraced like old friends and cried for laughing. Their tears froze in the cold air and fell as snow, softly onto the roads and bare trees guarding them. I felt the quick movement of a few flakes melting on my cheek. I looked up and smiled. I thought of you. May the years pass like sagas in a single journey always connected.

May your dreams and imaginings give life to the magic that is you.

Your Dad

P.S. I am sorry if any of this is uninteresting to you, or wordy, or lame. My hope is that when you read these letters (you will likely be in Middle School or even High School) that you will find them helpful in reminding you what I have found to be important in life. I have not found the answer. I don’t think any adult ever told me that when I was young. But I still know many things and have seen many things, as you will too. Grace feels like truth becoming itself. You have heard about grace in church and from your mom. I have found that grace is a feeling, like knowing, and we don’t deserve it; we cannot control it. It is the sublime touch between this world and the next: Paradise, where truth is always truth.

February 28, 2018

Dearest M,

I want to tell you a story I read. It is called “Everyone Knows what a Dragon Looks Like”: In a small town, lived a boy whose job it was to sweep the gateway to the city and keep it clean. He lived in a small hut by the gate and was paid in a bowl of rice and a cup of wine a day for his work. He was very poor. One day a messenger came to the village to warn them of an invading army that was marching toward them. The people of the town were afraid and after realizing that they had no army to protect them, not enough money to pay off their enemies with gifts, or enough time to run away, they prayed for salvation. The next day, a fat bald man came to the gate where the boy was sweeping and asked to see the ruler of the town because he was a powerful dragon and the answer to their prayers. The boy took him to the king but none in the court believed the fat man. The rich advisors said a dragon would look like a someone who is more wealthy than any of them could imagine. The wise counselors believed the dragon would be very wise and powerful perhaps able to perform miracles with his mind. The king declared that the dragon must look like the mightiest ruler who leads armies that would save them. But what they all agreed on was that the dragon would not look like a bald fat man. The man said that if they did not recognize him as a dragon and refused to treat him kindly for coming to save their village, that he would leave and not fulfill his task. The young boy took the man to his own little hut by the gate and gave him all the rice and wine he had, which was not very much. The fat man said, “Your village does not see who I am so they do not deserve to be saved, but for your kindness I will save this town.” With that he left through the gate and transformed into a creature that filled the sky with golden light and laughter. He met the marching enemy army and his presence over the town convinced them to turn back. The town was safe and a dragon was revealed.

I love you always my son,

Your Dad

April 27, 2018

My Dear Son,

There are a lot of adventures I have been thinking about that we can do later. I thought it would be fun to tell you about one of them: There is a mountain in Montana that stands tall and purple-pined near where your grandparents live. When I was just 12 years old, I climbed it to the top and thought it was very beautiful. I felt close to heaven and to god and all the world seemed to stand still from that point. I would love to take you there one day. I took your mother once, but we camped and cooked breakfast and never made it very far. It was our company we cherished that time and not the view from the mountain top. There is a lake near the top where we can camp, make a fire for warmth and food and hot chocolate. In the morning we will tidy camp and begin the climb to the peak. There will be snow at the peak even in the summertime when will likely make the climb. At the top we will build a stone cairn, which means a pointy mound of stones. It is a ritual for hikers to build these to commemorate their trip or treat the experience as a prayer for god to bless the adventure like a pilgrimage. The way down is easy. The packs are light and the incline of the mountain will speed our steps, exemplifying the difficulty of the search and the reward of finding.

I love you always,

Your Dad.

November 5, 2018

My Dear M,

Autumn has fallen over the city of Chicago like a holey wool blanket. Its patchwork covers like a jigsaw puzzle the trees and the rooftops and the roads with different textures. Frayed threads of fallen leaves fill up the gutters and the energy of all the people has changed a little. You know how in the summer everyone moves around so fast and everything feels a little brighter and louder? Well it has slowed down now. Everyone has to wear coats and colors are deeper like the color of things that have been rained on. It rains a lot too. I hope you have been enjoying your autumn down there in Georgia. I know it is much warmer for you there than it is here. I hope you are happy and learning many new things. I can’t wait to hear about them. I will see you soon and we shall add to our adventures. The grass is always there for us to run, the rocks to build and play upon, the water to touch and listen, and all the sky stretched out before us reminding us that we are free.

In solidarity,

Your Dad.

Jerome is a writer and Chinese food slinger residing in Chicago.

Is Mass Nostalgia Dying Out?

By Jena Nixon

The year was 1995. Serena and I were jumping on her bed, as children do, while White Zombie’s “More Human than Human” blasted from the radio on her top of the line three-disc CD changer. We’re the ones who called in to the station to request it, and two hours later they finally let us have it. 

Then we decided we should make up a wicked awesome dance together. (Things were always “wicked awesome” in New England.) 

To this day, we’re convinced we made up what would soon be known internationally as the Macarena. Like some real Truman Show shit-- clearly we were being watched by the producers of our false reality, who wanted to test our trust in that reality-- by releasing an eerily similar dance on mainstream tv a couple months later. MTV to be precise. Back when it still had music videos.  

We were in fifth grade and we made up the Macarena. BELIEVE ME, I would never lie to you about something so paramount.

We have so many weird memories like this. Tied into music, TV shows, what have you. And when I recount stories from this time period, other elder-millennials can relate. Even if they can’t actually relate, there’s this mass nostalgia shared between us based on the pop culture of that era and our then-limited sources of exposure to it. 

Fast forward to 1996. CDs were fully replacing cassettes, which made listening to a song on repeat drastically easier. That song was “Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette. Serena and I had it on loop while browsing AOL, the most thrilling adventure of our lives to date. The “You’ve got mail!” voice still triggers an endorphin blast inside of me.

It wasn’t long before we were listening to grown men masturbate in adult chat rooms. 

We were twelve, claiming to be 18. We told them we didn’t have a microphone so that we could just listen and laugh hysterically on the other end, yelling “EWWWW!” a lot. It’s still one of my fondest childhood memories. There’s a strange innocence to it - if you try not to focus on the fact that we were turning men into unwitting pedophiles. I can’t hear Jagged Little Pill without smiling back on it. 

Fast forward to 1998. The DJ at the 8th grade dance was playing K-Ci & Jo-Jo’s “All My Life” while Serena and I publicly cried in the corner, because our crushes rejected us for slow dances, after we spent all week hyping each other up to have the courage to ask. To make matters worse, we now had a devastating memory attached to our honest to god FAVORITE slow jam, which seemed to play on the radio ad nauseam only after the fact. 

But whatever, at least we still had Dawson’s Creek to live vicariously through when our own adolescent narratives were less than ideal. I used to race home from whatever I was doing so that I didn’t miss a moment of it. If it wasn’t possible, I’d beg my mother to tape it for me on VHS. The one time she failed to-- I cried. Like hysterically because I missed Dawson and Joey’s first fucking kiss, which was worse than if I’d missed my own.

I told my mother I hated her that night.

In my defense, maybe you’re forgetting the gravity of the situation. Imagine if you missed Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding episode...but literally had NO way of finding it and watching it until maybe a rerun came on or you bought the DVD (or VHS?) when it released months later. Terrible, right? Now how do you feel about me telling my mom I hated her? Pretty valid, huh?

Everyone watched Dawson’s. And Buffy. If you missed an episode, you also missed out on the discussions that would follow at school the next day. It was eighth grade and we all shared these simple commonalities. (Okay except for this one girl, who I distinctly remember saying “I have more important things to do than waste time watching crap tv.” I simultaneously felt inferior to her while also knowing full well that there was no way her life was close to as interesting as that of the Creek residents.) 

If you weren’t watching MTV or the WB, you were still watching Nickelodeon which made you an immature loser (but we all secretly still watched it). And if your folks had money teamed with a pleasant disregard of censorship—you had HBO. 

Serena’s parents were those parents. Eighth grade was the year we became fully spellbound by the explicit sexual adventures of Carrie Bradshaw.

There were no “streaming” services back then. There was no Netflix. No Spotify. Options were very limited. The radio and cable tv were all we had. Therefore we were all listening to and watching the same shit. It bonded us together in a way that current and future generations of youth may never quite understand. 

Take the year 2000. Y2K didn’t crash our computers like everyone irrationally feared, but it’s not like they were that valuable anyway. If you wanted to listen to a particular song, for example, you had to REALLY want that goddamn song. Enough to go behind your parents’ backs and secretly tie up the landline to use dial-up internet for an overnight download on Napster or Limewire or whatever. And in the morning you’d excitedly check your ugly ass desktop computer only to find that the download FAILED, and so you’d have to tie up the phone line again for several nights of additional failed attempts. Because that’s how long it took to download a friggin song. 7+ hours.

Back then you had to earn a song by proving you wanted it badly enough. 

Which is why I gave up and bought the entire Sisqo album on CD, even though all I wanted was the Thong Song, obviously. 

***

Fast forward to today. It’s almost 2020. Streaming has long been a thing. Entertainment options are seemingly endless. It’s all too easy. Are we living in the matrix? Probably. If so I’ll take the blue pill. Times are nice. 

Niche pop culture is on the constant rise, so maybe that means mass nostalgia is dying. 

We aren’t all on the same page anymore. There are still certain things that bring the majority together--Lizzo? Game of Thrones?

I’ve used that example twice now. It’s because these days something with that large of a viewer base is rare. I mean there are so many shows competing for our attention, and we become divided. Due to our ease of access to art and entertainment, we can now be very choosy about what our eyes and ears consume. To a degree in which even people with wildly similar taste might not be consuming the same things. 

If you have the same taste in music, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re listening to any of the same bands. The menu is large and the font is small. 

It’s nothing to complain about. In fact we should be grateful. The more we grow accustomed to it, the more we take it for granted. I mean wow, we can fine tune our consumption of art to our specific taste with a click of a button or a tap on a screen. How fucking amazing is that?? Who needs mass nostalgia when you can tailor your very own? The youth of today will eventually grow old and look back on memories attached to what each of them specifically curated for themselves individually. 

On the flip side though…

It can be so hard to find common ground in these modern times. We’re all spread so thin. It can be daunting. 

Especially when all you want is to watch the latest season of Schitt’s Creek with someone else who also watches it and who’s also all caught up. 

And all you want is for all your friends to also know all the lyrics to the new Lana Del Rey album so you can sing it together in the car. 

I guess you could say it’s the only thing I miss about Hootie and the Blowfish. 




Jena Nixon is a DJ, writer and dog-owner residing in a tree-house in Chicago. Follow her on instagram @jenanixon for dog updates and horrifying dating stories.

Click here to read about how Jena uses Selsum Blue for her skincare routine on her Field Notes project from 2016.