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Jack Bettridge

The Sounds of Silence

Posted: May 6, 2008 9:13am ET
Sunday night was my first great chance of the spring to blow smoke on my new deck. Perfect weather. A day of yard work behind me. It’s a school night so the kids retired early. No sound but that of the cardinal that’s nested in a mountain laurel.

Then it started. Some kid with a motorbike whined by at full throttle. (I could get some tacks or some razor ribbon.) I stopped myself, didn’t light up, waited until the noise went away. Reached for my cigar, and a plane flew overhead. My congressman’s supposed to be doing something about that. (Have to fire off an angry letter.) But the plane left my air corridor, so I sat back and started again in relative silence.

I began my ritual, contemplating the head of the cigar for a moment. The deliberation continued as I started to decapitate it with my fingernail. I was about halfway around when the sliding glass door opened. It was a friend of my wife, who, over for a visit, had spotted me through the window. (Have to get curtains.) Overcome by curiosity, she’d decided she needed to know exactly what I was up to.

“Why do you do it that way? Don’t you have a cutter? Isn’t that unsanitary?”

I don’t like scatter-shot questions, but I plow ahead in order: “I like to. I left my cutter upstairs. I clean under my nails.”

She just stood there, and I couldn’t wait any longer, so I lit up and leaned back in my chair. She didn’t move, and I thought, “Maybe I should make conversation.” But what? Maybe I could launch into a lecture about the niceties of cigar cutting or discourse on the leaf blend in the Churchill I was smoking—if I only knew what it was. Too bad Savona wasn’t there.

Instead, I waited her out, all the while puffing away in silence. Just when it started to get uncomfortable, she said, “I don’t know how you can stand that smell.”

I shrugged, but didn’t answer. What do you say to something like that?

We awaited each other out for a grueling 20 seconds or so, and she said, “Well, I’m going in.”


She turned and went in.

The awkward silence mercifully over, I went back to my smoke with new appreciation for the sounds of 727s and motor bikes.

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