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For a temp, the advantages of smoking are threefold.  You look cool, you smell simply fantastic, and it provides you with an excellent means of socializing with the strangers you work with. This last presumes, however, that you happen to be one of those odd people who actually enjoys the company of other human beings.

I certainly don't, and as such, I often find myself walking around corners or hiding behind pillars or climbing trees or ducking into open sewer ducts to enjoy a solitary smoke.  At my current job, however, I appear to be the only smoker.  In the entire company.  This seems a bit unusual, as the building contains about two-hundred employees, but each and every day I'm out in front of the building, alone, puffing away.  Each and every day, that is, until I am told not to smoke in front of the building anymore.  If I must smoke, I am told sternly, I should do it around the side of the building by the company cafeteria, where there is one of those free-standing, cylindrical, pebble-covered ashtrays.  I must, frankly, so I do.

And hey!  There's even a little bench nearby.  So I can sit in solitude, read, and gradually kill myself in the pleasant sunshine without interruption, with the exception of the occasional employee coming or going through the side door.  Seems like a good deal to me.

As the week passes, I slowly come to realize the downside of being the only smoker at a particular company, namely that all of the cigarette butts in the ashtray are yours by default.  This is only a problem if you happen to be slacking and taking eleven breaks per day, which I happen to be doing.  Suddenly, I become very self-conscious about the whole thing.  What if my supervisor walks by the ashtray in the afternoon, and sees nine butts in there?  She'll know I'm abusing my allotted breaktime.  Hmm, this is no good.  I decide I'd better take fewer breaks and cut back on the whole smoking thing.

Ha ha!  No.  I actually decide I just need to get rid of the butts somewhere other than the ashtray.  This itself may turn out to be a challenge.  I can't pitch them into the parking lot because, being the only smoker, it will again be obvious who is responsible.  I suppose I could bury them somewhere, but with my luck, the gardener will decide to plant a new shrub right where I chose to hide my filters, and he'll unearth the whole mess before I'm done with this assignment.

Luckily, a solution presents itself.  The standing ashtray is not just an ashtray after all!  I have cleverly spotted a round hole in one side.  It must double as a trash can.  I decide that if my butt-count gets too high during the day, I'll dispose of the evidence in the trash.  Perfect.  My intensely paranoid delusions (that everyone is watching my every move as if they had nothing better to do with their time) have been soothed.  Problem solved.

Incidentally, the reason I'm able to take so many breaks is that the entire building consists of marketing people, and marketing people are always in meetings with each other, drawing on oversized pads of paper and pretending they actually have useful lives.  About the only thing I do is schedule these meetings for them, which only takes a few minutes in the morning, and create PowerPoint presentations for them, which only takes a few minutes in the evening.  A few phone calls, a couple pie charts, and the rest of the day I'm just a tourist in flavor country.

Hell, I even start having my lunches out there, on the bench, which I've come to think of as my bench.  Next to my ashtray.  In my sunshine.  Sure, employees come and go through the door, maybe say a word or two to me, but no one ever stops or sits down.

Today, I head out the side door, eat my lunch, and enjoy a smoke, noting that there are already four filters present from my morning's dalliances.  So, I grind my cigarette out in the ashtray, pitch the butt into the little trash-hole, and sit down to read for the remainder of my lunch break.  It's a simply beautiful day.  The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, there's a nice cool breeze blowing, the smell of smoke in the air... ahhhh.  Splendid.  Although.  I'm not.  Actually.  Smoking.  Right now.

I look up from my book and note, with no small amount of horror, that smoke is POURING FROM THE TRASH HOLE IN THE ASHTRAY. Oh no!  No!  Oh no no NO!  Fire.  FIRE!  FIRE THERE!  THERE FIRE!  ME DID!  ME MAKE FIRE!!

Genetic memory, and I mean total genetic recall, kicks in.  I am suddenly rocketed back along my genetic bloodlines, back through generations of my predecessors, back through time and history, to come upon a very hairy ancestor of mine.  He squats down in the earth with a hunk of wood between his feet and another in his hands, and rubs them together (the pieces of wood, not his hands and feet) for perhaps hours, until he, too, realizes: ME MAKE FIRE!!  And although we both feel an electric charge, a cold wash of adrenalin, and goose-bumps raising on our flesh, for him it means he is about to settle happily down and enjoy, for the first time in his life, a cooked hunk of wooly mammoth meat, while for me it means I may have begun a deadly fire that will char-broil a couple hundred marketing people.  Man, I could probably get a fine for doing that.

As well as my distant genetic past, my immediate genetic future springs to life before my eyes.  The building evacuating.  The fire trucks arriving.  Dozens of big burly men pouring out of the trucks like clowns.  Hoses, ladders, news helicopters, eyewitness accounts... and me.  Me, on the news, stammering apologies above a graphic reading: "Temp; Careless Smoker."

Luckily, I have an excellent instinctive response to crisis, so I run away just as fast as my little legs will carry me.  ME RUN AWAY!  But wait!  I can't run away!  Shit, I'm the only smoker in the damn building, it'll be obvious who started that fire.  And I haven't gotten my timecard signed yet.  Plus, y'know, people could die and stuff.  I have to put it out.  And I shall!  ME MAKE FIRE STOP!!

I dash inside the building and into the company cafeteria.  There are two employees sitting at a table with their backs to the window.  Behind them, I can see the column of smoke rising.  Cripes.  They look up at me and I nod casually, although I am so filled with adrenalin that my head bobs up and down so quickly it probably looks like I'm viciously head-butting an invisible attacker.  I walk past them to what I hope will be my salvation:  the water cooler.  The only cups, I notice, are those little conical paper ones that hold about a teaspoon of water.  Although I'd prefer to drag the entire water jug outside, it might appear a little odd to the folks sitting there, so I settle for filling up two of the pointy paper cups and walk back to the door.  I want to run but force myself to walk, though I shuffle my feet so quickly I practically start another fire on the carpet.  Once outside, I dump the pitiful amount of water into the trash, then crumple up the paper cones and toss them in, then stand there for a moment, wondering why I've just thrown paper cups into a trash fire.  This is just a guess, but it's probably because I'm a complete idiot.  ME IDIOT!

I speed-walk back inside for more water, and find that, yes, there is only one little paper cone left.  I fill it to the brim, slide across the cafeteria floor like Gumby, giving another reassuring power-nod to the folks sitting by the window, dash outside, and daintily spritz the fire again.  Making sure to hold onto the tiny dunce cap this time, it's back inside at forty miles per hour for another three droplets of water.  I repeat this about six or seven times, and then stop, because on the last trip one of the guys in the lunchroom asks "What, you putting out a fire or something?"

"HA HA HA HA," I say loudly.  Not actually laughing, but saying "HA HA HA HA."  I can only hope the Doppler effect made it sound a little more convincing.  At any rate, the fire seems to be safely smoldering.

Of course, a wet, smoldering fire, as you might guess, produces a hell of a lot more smoke than a cleanly burning one.  But, what can I do?  I sit down on the bench (the muscles and tendons in my body so rigid that it takes a few seconds for me to even bend properly to accomplish this) and await my fate.  The smoke is literally pouring out, thick and gray, and the wind is whisking it in a swirling column up into the sky.  You can probably see it for a mile.  The stink is awful; there must have been a cat or a possum or a wooly mammoth in there.  Someone is bound to notice.  Someone will see.  Someone will come out the door or return from lunch, and I'll be caught, lectured, ridiculed, shunned, docked, fired, arrested, or forced to create a PowerPoint presentation on fire safety.  That final thought almost causes me to flee on foot again, but I doubt I could even straighten my legs at this point.  I just sit there, whimpering softly, and wait.

But no one comes.  No one enters or leaves.  The smoke, after what seems like several plodding centuries, dissipates.

I stay out there for at least an hour past my lunch time, just staring at the ashtray, until I am completely certain the fire is out.  The rest of the day I am a nervous, sheepish wreck.  I'm an idiot.  I just want to go home and have a drink and put the whole thing behind me.


And, y'know, a cigarette.