How to Roll a Perfect Cigarette
Jeffrey Osier

Practice, they say, makes perfect. Or does it?

You have to start slowly. You can't just go out and buy some tobacco and practice. Tobacco doesn't come with instructions. Even gummed papers will elude you forever.

The technique comes very slowly, more slowly than you can imagine. You have to begin by admitting that you know nothing, and you have to realize that cigarette rolling is an art form. Like painting, it's something that takes a little concentration and a lot of willpower. Each cigarette is different. Few of your peers will recognize the care and practice that have gone into rolling a perfect cigarette. Expect no compliments. Do this for yourself and yourself alone.

You must begin much earlier than you originally intended. It must start when you're very young, much too young to appreciate even rudimentary artwork, much too young to smoke. Possibly during a holiday. Your parents will have given up smoking years before, never having learned this art at all but always having relied on the pre-rolled, machine-produced variety, most likely with synthetic filters, that are to real smoking what lawn flamingoes are to real artwork. As in a modern Christian Mass, there are hints and shadows of real mysteries, but in the end it's just habit. This is not smoking. This is dying.

At the holiday feasts that usually take place at your house, your parents' guests include relatives who haven't given up the habit. What you notice is the graceful way your uncle's blue-gray cigarette smoke wafts and clouds in the living-room air above your head. You exhale slowly, face upward, watching your breath mix with his and watching them swirl together. You glimpse something intangible. You play with his lighter, amazed at the way the spark begets the flame, and the intense control you have over the length and size of this flame. By adjusting the tiny lever on the side, you can make the flame so tiny you'd swear it wasn't there at all, or large enough to dance with your breath. You practice this in front of the foyer mirror until your mother discovers you.

Or perhaps it's your aunt's Zippo that catches your fancy, with its satisfying clicking and scratching and the final whomp when she closes it. You notice the smell from the Zippo even more than the smell from the tobacco she lights with it, a smell that will always remind you of Christmas or Thanksgiving, even more than the smell of the turkey roasting in the oven or the chink of poker chips after dinner while the cranberry sauce dries on the plates and you watch the same animated specials you've watched year after year on the same television. Smoke, of course, drifts in from the other room, tainting your sleepy visions with mysterious mists. You wonder why candles are so much less provocative.

These visions and smells and sounds will mark your growing years as much as anything else. When you're a gangly teenager you get a job sweeping out the shop where your father is a manager, a sheet-metal shop filled with raucous men and racks of sheared steel. These men make giant, dirty messes at their labor, and it takes a good portion of every weekend to sweep and wipe the floors and machinery clean. You wonder why anyone even bothers to clean, so quickly and thoroughly dirty the place gets. You go in on Saturdays with the shop foreman's son, who has grown up around a different crowd than you have and listens to a different sort of music. He's a few months older than you, and the two of you drive in together and work all day Saturday in the shop. You go in early. You and he divide the huge shop in two and each sweeps a different section. Sixteen months before you get the job, your father will have moved out of the house and the yard will have gone to the dogs, along with your generally happy mood and inquisitive turn of mind. You'll be 15, a freshman in a Catholic high school an hour's bus ride from home, entirely unsure of most things. Your hands will often be dirty.

But you only work on weekends, for now. Your workmate will prove to be an interesting companion, and as a school-year's worth of Saturdays progresses you have many conversations while unloading bins of scrap metal into large containers. You start going in a little later, and once you get to work you end up sitting in the foreman's office eating candy bars for breakfast and talking about cars, which you've taken a sudden interest in, and girls. This will be much more interesting than work. You try to take as few Butterfingers and Baby Ruths from the stockpile as possible (the boss usually charges for such things, and discreetly, while his son isn't looking, you drop money into the bin). As you physical shape improves you do your work faster, and so does your companion, until you both can finish in five hours what used to take eight and you spend the remaining time lounging in the office.

At some point you discover that many of the cigarette butts you sweep up have a considerable amount of tobacco in them. Your morbid curiosity is piqued. You know that cigarettes are bad. The surgeon general's warning on the packages proves that, even if Mom didn't also say a lot. Besides, the folks you know who smoke are either sheet-metal workers, a lascivious breed, or relatives, neither of which you (consciously) wish to resemble. Still, tobacco is made even more attractive by its bad reputation. An idea forms in your mind like mothball shavings in an old suit jacket. There are matches in the welders' boxes. You don't see your companion for a good percentage of the day anyway, and so one day your curiosity gets the better of you. You find one of the cleaner specimens of used cigarette, and rather than suck on it at the same time you're lighting it you first light the ragged edges and then bring the inch-and-a-half-long butt to your mouth. It smells nothing like your uncle. Indeed, it smells nothing like tobacco; it smells like dirt and the oil-based sawdust you spread on each section of the shop before you sweep it, to keep the dust down. You curl your lips inward, touching only the filter to your dry peach fuzz, and attempt to inhale the smoldering stuff.

Nothing happens. The cigarette has gone out while you contemplated your wicked deed. You're left with a vague feeling of guilt and paranoia, and you peek around the corner to see if your wanton behavior has been discovered. You decide that this is too dangerous, and you quickly resume sweeping.

A week or two later you find half a pack of cigarettes on someone's worktable. Marlboros. Irresistible. You've just got to know. So you heist one and put it into your mouth, just to try it out. It barely weighs anything, you notice, and its round, smooth end feels good on your tongue. Natural. For fun you measure it with a small calibrating tool in the shop. You find that it's roughly eight millimeters thick. If it were wire it'd be about 10 or 12 gauge, you reckon. Naturally as can be, you attempt to light the small tube in your mouth, bravely inhaling the flame this time, and it lights, just as it's supposed to. Inhaling the smoke, you cough; no one has told you that you're supposed to inhale air as well. Your eyes water. When they clear, you see T., the foreman's son, standing across the shop from you, laughing. You laugh as well. Saying nothing, he lights a cigarette as if he'd been doing it all his life.

That summer, the two of you work side by side 40 hours a week. You've given up on experimenting with old butts left by dirty union workers, especially since those union workers are there most of the time now as you work. Only on Saturdays do you and T. work alone, still eating Butterfingers washed down with Dr Pepper for breakfast, shooting the breeze in his dad's office, cranking up the old stereo.

One Saturday at lunchtime the two of you have been discussing the relative merits of drugs at parties and Ozzy Osbourne. You drive out to a local taco shop for food, and then you go up to explore a new housing project a few miles away. While you're parked he brings out a small length of tube, the likes of which you've not seen before. He pokes some gray-green shavings into one end and lights it, breathing in. He's explained this to you before and you've heard about it from others, but you've never seen it. Curious, you ask him what it feels like. His eyes are glazed, just a little bit. He hands you the pipe, and you, very afraid but unwilling to admit this, take a small breath from it. It tastes like nothing. You wonder if you've breathed any at all, but when you exhale you see a thin stream of smoke issuing from your mouth. Then you notice the taste, somewhere between oil and lawn mulch, rather sweet and filthy. You hand the pipe back to T. and wait to feel high, but you feel nothing. Not even disappointment. Numbness, perhaps. Many things make you numb these days, however, and you reflect that maybe this is how you're affected by drugs. Aspirin never seemed to do much, either.

Disillusionment is relative. Sometimes it's just not believable. When you're 16 you decide to try again. You and your buddy C. bravely purchase a package of Marlboros. You drive fast on the freeway, both of you with lit cigarettes in hand and feeling giddy, taking occasional puffs but not inhaling (you've made that mistake before). Well, maybe a little bit. When C. isn't watching, you breathe in at the same time the smoke is lying in your mouth, and exhale immediately. You feel your throat tighten, but you don't choke. This, you reflect, is an experiment. For fun you pull off the freeway and enter a drive-through car wash, and you and C. fill the car with smoke as you pass through the sprays and brushes. At the end you open the doors and let the smoke billow out, and you both stand outside and laugh until tears form in your eyes. The car-wash attendant looks at you suspiciously.

From then on you keep a few cigarettes in your car. You don't smoke them, but they're there in case you want to. Once when you're going to pick up your girlfriend, B., your dashboard decides to fall apart and a dozen of the little white tubes fall out from the back of your glove box and onto the floor. You stop a block from her house and clean up every trace. You hide the cigarettes in the trunk only to throw them away a few days later, ashamed. At 16, you're ashamed of most things.

Nearly two years later, close to graduation, you trek up into the mountains for a weekend. You've been doing this often lately, always alone. You love the campfires, the solitude, the unending quiet. You visit observatories and canyons and meadows and write in your journal about things you find mysterious and painful and unsettling. You play guitar softly in the wilderness.

This time you've stopped and bought a small package of cheap cigars. To see what the ruckus is about. These are a brand labeled Backwoods, and in your flannel mood you decide that you have a Backwoods sentiment. You unpack one before the campfire, reading, and make an attempt at naturalness (your heart beating faster), you light it with a stick from the campfire. It tastes horrible. You settle back in your lawn chair with it anyway, sipping good stony mountain well water from your canteen and puffing on your Backwoods stogie, leaning just so for the imaginary camera you've sensed behind you since you were a pup. Another few puffs and you're ready for the real experiment. You take a small toke and inhale slightly, and suddenly your world becomes cloudy. Not at all what you expected. Coughing and looking for something to change the taste in your mouth, you chuckle at yourself and toss the lot of them into the fire. Yuck. Like sucking on a forest fire, you think, and you go back to reading, hoping the invisible cameraman ran out of film just then.

Pipe smoking has always fascinated you. It smells so wonderful, and the people who smoke pipes seem so very different from those who smoke cigarettes and from those who smoke nothing at all. Over time you realize that perhaps they don't smoke from habit, the way cigarette smokers do, and that's a good thing. They smoke for some other reason. Maybe this reason you could understand, for the habit alone just never appealed to you.

You're 18 years old, and you've arrived home for the first time. Home is a campus apartment room, a double that you share with K. You and K., in your short relationship, have shared much. He's very much like you in many ways and very dissimilar in others. You're in Santa Cruz, California, walking through the Pacific Garden Mall one day when you chance upon a tobacco store and decide that you want to start smoking a pipe. K. shudders and follows you inside, grumbling that you won't be smoking it in his room, even though a weekend previous he had filled the place with friends and marijuana oxide. Just an experiment, you tell him, a mind opener. Everything in college is supposed to be a mind opener. Having no choice, he consents.

The experiment doesn't last long, however, as you simply can't keep the damned thing lit. It eventually goes the way of dryer socks and is lost in the shuffle, a good three-dollar pipe that's just simply disappeared. No matter. Once or twice you join your next-door neighbors in a cigarette while watching old Clint Eastwood movies, but not often. The smoke buzzes around in your head for a while, making things look strange, but coffee does pretty much the same thing. And besides, you've discovered alcohol.

Eventually, you discover love as well, and tobacco and alcohol fall by the wayside. At 19 you realize many things. You realize you've never dealt with your parents' divorce. You realize you don't know the first thing about sex. And you realize that being in love is very, very trying, a struggle that promises to take many years. And so you give up the experiment for a while and breathe a different intoxicant, one called relationship.

Two years and a lifetime later, things are quite different. You have a job driving a bus on campus, and it is springtime. Your relationship is waning, after lots of hard labor, and you're driving the last shift of the year, a Friday night after finals. Only two people ride your bus between five and ten P.M., and you and the other two drivers give up the ghost and park by the library and talk. This is the first time you have talked to someone other than your fiancee in a long, long time, and it is refreshing. One of the drivers has a pack of cigarettes, Camel Filters, and the three of you smoke cigarettes and talk for two hours about various things, and you feel good. You don't share your uncomfortable thoughts about your girlfriend. It never really seems like the right time.

A summer later, you finally break up with her. You move into an 1888 Victorian (Queen Anne, actually) in Capitola with D. and L., and things feel very strange. You haven't been honestly alone or had your own space in two years. This frightens you to death. You learn many things very quickly, you take on a third job, and you learn how to cook. Your apple pies are a cementing factor in your friendship with your roommates. You buy another pipe.

Many nights you spend walking around Capitola Village, sipping coffee with Irish Cream and trying to keep your pipe lit. You buy an old corduroy jacket with patched sleeves, and you feel years older. When you turn 21 in December, a friend from home comes up and gets you very drunk in a bar in the Village, and when you stagger back to the house he passes out while you empty your gut in the bathroom and try to keep the tile from spinning.

But mostly you just wander. You have been a computer-software major for two years by now, but it doesn't seem as fulfilling or exciting as it did when you began. Things have changed, you reflect. You're not the person you were. On New Year's Eve, with all your roommates gone, you wander down to the Village and get mildly drunk on excellent wine and talk to the bartender about science fiction and wonder quietly why you never became a writer like you'd always dreamed you would. You walk back home in the freezing night, determined to make solid, practical New Years' resolutions in the morning, and shiver all night. The cold seeps into the house through cracks in the walls, and you awaken with frost on your beard.

Three months later you decide to be a musician. You're working three jobs and taking 18 units at school, but no matter; music sets your heart to pumping and your feet to tapping, and you reason that you may as well have a major in which you can enjoy the homework. You talk often with your ex-fiancee, who will have dated several men in your absence and will have chosen one to get engaged to. You feel a little left behind.

You get back in touch with an old friend from high school, H. (you call her E. sometimes, but that's a long story), who's been living an hour north in San Francisco for years but with whom you never really kept in contact. You realize that you love her, and that you have since you were 17. You dated her briefly then, but you never realized how strongly you felt about her. She's been engaged to another old friend from high school for as long as you've been at college, but they've broken up and she's moved to a tiny apartment in the Mission District with a friend from work. In addition to being a poetry student, she's a dispatcher for the San Francisco State University Police Department. You'll come to know a few of the police officers rather well during this summer, as you spend as much time in San Francisco as possible, waiting for her to decide that she loves you as much as you love her. Meanwhile, you work 80-hour weeks at two jobs and live in a dump on the Westside in Santa Cruz, your Capitola house being unavailable for the summer. You dream about her incessantly, obsessively. Of course, you puff on your pipe occasionally, and walk down to the beach with a glass of Highland single-malt whiskey, puffing and dreaming and agonizing. You realize that love is a many-splendored thing but difficult to deal with at times.

Also, you meet G. She is a roommate and sometime-friend of M., one of your truest friends. M. had to break the news to G. that he was gay while they were still a couple. After that they lived together, in the same room, for a year, neither of them dating anyone, she hating him, he hating himself. You realize that you have strange friends.

G. comes to visit you in your run-down Westside shack. She hasn't dated anyone since M., and the two of you decide to explore the possibility of your mutual attraction. This works out rather well, in a sense, as G. lives in Los Angeles, 400 miles away. You tell her about H., of course, wanting everything to be out in the open, wanting no illusions. She doesn't know that you smoke a pipe occasionally, or if she does it doesn't matter. You make beautiful love together on the floor and cook pasta afterward. This continues for much of the summer.

On September 15, a few days before school starts, you're at a James Taylor concert with H. You're old friends, after all, and she's appreciated your companionship this summer, what with the breakup and all. You sip hot chocolate and listen to "Fire and Rain," holding hands. You wonder if your heart is going to break open. She rubs your shoulders at intermission. You both laugh about a hole in your pants. You turn around to say something to her and look into her green eyes instead, speechless. Does she know what you're thinking? Will this finally be the time? You wonder, did you say that out loud? She leans toward your face, and her lips touch yours. Time stops. The world disappears, and all that exists is the young woman kissing you. James starts to sing again, but you don't notice. All you can see are her eyes, looking at you in wonder.

Her roommate has gone out of town for the weekend. You walk through the door to her tiny apartment and close it, following her into her bedroom. You've spent a summer's worth of sleepless nights here, pacing in your mind as she's slept next to you, getting up when your mind failed to find quiet, and drinking good San Francisco tap water sitting in your underwear in the kitchen, watching the city night from three floors up, waiting for the sun to rise. Those lonely mornings when you tried at poetry and failed at simple language have coalesced and built to this one moment, standing in her bedroom doorway, the cat rubbing your ankles. You kiss her neck and she moans softly. You take her in your arms. She pulls you to the bed and unbuttons your shirt. You can hear your heart echoing off the walls, you can feel a cloud deep inside you about to burst into "Fire and Rain" as you remove her shoes. You spend another sleepless night in her apartment, but you never go to the kitchen.

Two days later you're back at work, back at home, sipping your whiskey and puffing occasionally on your pipe, staring at the wall with a profound sense of doom and destiny. You realize you live 78.4 miles from her house. You realize you have to break off whatever it is you have with G. You realize this won't be easy, but then, you reason, fate rarely is. You're getting better at keeping your pipe lit, however.

It's been 22 years and you still haven't learned to roll a decent cigarette; indeed, up to now you've never rolled one. You barely realize it. Your life is quite full these days. You practically give up pipe smoking. In fact, by December you've decided to give up school for a while. Music classes have been disillusioning and strenuous, and with H. living so far away you just don't have the energy for them any more. It's time for a break. You arrange to take a leave of absence from the university. Your academic advisor has seen this coming. He's seen you switch to three different majors, work as many as four jobs at once, and he understands your need for respite. Come back when you're ready, he says, signing a slip of paper. Just make sure you come back.

You spend January finishing your jobs. Then you pack your car and move to San Francisco. H.'s roommate had been wanting to move out anyway, to get closer to campus, so you and H. decide to make his room into a living room. You move your futon in. Your things are arranged in boxes all over the apartment.

You have three stacks of books as high as the ceiling. You have no job. You have no bookshelf. You have little money. Things are very strained. H. finally draws a line, and you're on the other side. You have been blind. You realize you've been living in a dream world with her, and the two of you share some very nasty words. For a week you retreat to the roof with a cigar in the evenings, waiting for a job to appear, wondering how things really are if they're not how they seem. You know that this is the end. So much for fate, you say to yourself. You try to reason out what has happened but get nowhere. The feeling of doom is very great.

You finally get a temporary job at the Pacific Stock Exchange. You come home one day to find her moving out. You lamely offer to help, and you hug her good-bye when she leaves dry-eyed. You go up to the roof and stare at nothing. As you sit in the window over the street three floors below and watch her drive away, you realize that this is fate.

You talk to her twice in the next week, and then not again for a long time. Things seem not black, but gray, lifeless as the pavement under your feet, lifeless as the gray people you travel to work with every morning on the subway. You begin to like the subway and the way it affects your mood. You resolve to stay single for a while.

You find a roommate. You interview several whose numbers you've gotten through a rental agency on Fillmore. You finally decide on one, M., and in March he moves in. He's a bartender on Union Street. A workmate of his, S., moves in a day later, needing a place to stay for a day or two while he finds a place to live. Two weeks later he's still there, and you and M. usher him into the household officially over beer and burritos in the Mission District. It's a little sticky, with three in so small an apartment, but you're all good natured, and it promises to keep the rent down.

Both M. and S. smoke heavily. S. sticks mainly to Camel Lights, while M. vacillates between Marlboros and a creative imported smoke called Death Cigarettes. They come in a black package with a skull-and-crossbones on the front and a large warning on the side: "If you smoke, stop. If you don't smoke, don't start." You find yourself borrowing cigarettes from them and loaning them your furniture. First a sleeping bag disappears, then a beanbag chair. The three of you live the raucous life of bachelors in San Francisco.

You take to hanging out in the restaurant/bar they both work in. In fact, after working as a cab driver for a short period of time, you find a job as a bartender back at a posh Italian place on Union Square, and suddenly you have fewer money problems. You don't make a lot, not enough to cover school debts nor pay off the Visa card you inflated on a road trip the previous year and never managed to deflate, but you make enough to buy your new friends drinks and tip them heavily when they work. You give them rides home at two o'clock in the morning, and eventually you get to know everyone in the bar on Union Street. It's a happy, social place. When you walk in, they find you a drink before you sit down. You realize slowly that you like this. As the months give way to summer, you find that you like working in your bar downtown, and that you like the crowd in the bar on Union Street.

You still only smoke occasionally, but with increasing frequency. You find you enjoy it. You find you meet many new people, even if just for a moment, when they ask you for a light. You find that habits can make people brave, and while you don't want the habit you wonder if maybe you could learn the bravado.

Your first chance to practice comes when you meet D. She's a cocktail waitress at the bar and a nursing student. She has captivating eyes, a punchy attitude, and a fascinating swirl as she walks. She's neither dainty nor insincere. You get the feeling that she likes you, but you're not sure. S. would dearly love to set you up with her and tries, to no avail. Late one night, D. is complaining about a paper that is due soon (this is June), and you offer to give her a hand with it. It suddenly seems you were once a writing tutor. She offers to buy you coffee for your help, and a few mornings later the two of you spend six hours drinking one cup of coffee and talking about everything in the world except writing.

Something about D. amazes you. You don't feel obsessed with her, you don't feel lost, you just feel--attracted. You like her very much. A few nights later the two of you discuss this, and you express your mutual attraction for seven hours until sunlight begins to show behind her window shades and you're both too tired to move. You're busy exploring the intricate details of the tattoo she has on her shoulder when the alarm goes off, and you both giggle at the rising sun.

Work simply flies by. Most evenings you spend working behind the bar, making cappuccinos and martinis and running out of ice, and then after work you maybe give someone a ride home and then head out to Union Street to visit M. and S. and, of course, D. You feel happy. Life is in balance.

D. smokes Marlboros or Camel Lights, but she wants to teach you how to roll your own cigarettes, just because she thinks you'd like it. It's that kind of thinking that makes you feel giddy. You wonder where all this is going to lead, you wonder when the fun will run out and the hard work begin. It doesn't.

When D.'s not around, S. takes over your training, though you just can't seem to get it. Pipes are so much easier, you explain. S. points out that you can't smoke a pipe in a bar and tries again to teach you. S. says that pipes make you look pretentious. He says trust me, this'll make you look cool. You compromise by rolling pipe tobacco into cigarettes.

Rule number 1: When you're learning something new, make things easy on yourself. Pipe tobacco is not the same as cigarette tobacco. S. explains this in great detail. You enjoy being difficult. You practice occasionally but not energetically. You're too much at peace for this.

Well, almost at peace. You're anxious to get back to school, to graduate. Your academic advisor's words come back to you. After careful consideration, you realize you could graduate with a degree in creative writing in a single year more. You decide to get away from the city, to go back to school in September. D. just smiles. She knew you were leaving. Her happiness for you makes you hate leaving. You are quietly torn.

But leave you do. You go to Utah for a week before school starts. You arrive in Moab, Gateway to Canyonlands, and realize that you're thinking more and more about D. You've talked to H. twice over the entire summer, and you realize how quickly things can change. H. is dating a married cop now. You wonder how many mistakes you've made living in the city and how many you made by leaving.

The waitress in the pub in Moab where you scrounge dinner looks a lot like D. You watch her for hours, half expecting her to come over with D.'s "Hey, how are ya" and sit down next to you. She never does. You stay until one in the morning, and then you wander to bed and sleep restlessly.

The next day you make cappuccino on a mountaintop and try to forget things, try to blend into the Utah wilderness. It doesn't work. You drive northwest and make camp at Green River and discover that you are being eaten alive by mosquitoes. They avoid the smoke from your campfire, however, and in a sudden fit of creative logic you light an unfiltered Camel. The mosquitoes shy away. You watch a thunderstorm move in with the coming evening. You dream all night with thunder in your ears and rain palpitating your tent, and you wake refreshed.

School begins uneventfully. You move in with old roommates, D. and S., and, interestingly enough, K., your friend from freshman year. This will be a good year, you mutter to yourself. You decide to smoke a lot less, even though you never smoked much. You try calling D., but the conversations seem stale. She never once calls you back. Eventually, you quit calling.

Then you meet J., who dated K. for a while. You and J. get to talking. She's 19, a soccer player, and nothing like you. You find this attractive. She keeps half a pack of Marlboro Lights in her car, in case she gets to feeling rebellious. You begin to get a familiar feeling of doom. She reminds you very much of a fiancee you had a lifetime or two ago. Before you realize it, you get heavily involved with J. You begin to puff your pipe on the side. You still don't know how to roll a decent cigarette. The fall and winter play themselves through, and things with J. get volatile. Explosive. They finally end in February, and you realize that you feel like hell. You've got your bus-driving job back, but you're quite broke and your Visa is maxed out. Your self-image is maxed out. You haven't talked with anyone from San Francisco in months. You're wondering what life is going to be like after you graduate. You decide to move out of California then.

You've gotten to be quite close with B., another bus driver. B. is a fascinating guy. He smokes more than you ever have or will. He's sailed from Hawaii to California and spent a season in Thailand, and you begin to realize that that hardly describes him. He teaches you how to roll a decent cigarette.

This is when you finally learn. You don't realize it now, but it has taken the previous lifetime to get to this point. You have to be ready. You have to open your mind, or else that point never comes. You're out of money, about to graduate, incredibly burnt on relationships and life, but at least you can now roll a decent cigarette.

You take the paper gently in your hands, concentrating, and place a few pinches of tobacco inside, loosely, just enough to fill the paper. You realize that you always tried too hard before, and that you always used much more tobacco than you really needed to. Place your fingertips on the edges of the paper, and roll the ends of the paper together, gently now, and you can feel the mass inside beginning to take shape. Quietly fold the paper over with your thumbs, don't worry about the bits sticking out the ends, and roll the whole thing up. It's simple if you let it be. Touch the opposite side with your tongue, don't slobber, and hold it tight against the roll. If it's meant to stick, it'll stick. Remember that. If it doesn't, you can always start over. Right on, man, B. will say. Good deal.

And practice. Try doing it one-handed. And when you've graduated from college and haven't moved out of California, when you've gotten a job that doesn't pay enough and you're working too much and still bouncing checks to your landlord, when all your closest friends are a long-distance phone call away (except B., who's traveling through the South Pacific), and you just don't have the energy to get it together, remember that once in a while, given adequate concentration and practice and a little caring, you can roll a perfect cigarette. It's that simple. You were just making it difficult before.

Jeffrey Osier ( is a senior editor and technical writer for Cygnus Support in Mountain View, California, in addition to being vice president of the Zen Internet Group. He has been writing without rest for 11 years; this is his first major non-technical publication.

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 4, Number 6 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1994 Jeffrey Osier.