There are fireflies in the main bar of Landmark Lanes at 6:45 p.m. on a Thursday. Outside the Underground City, throngs dine at outdoor makeshift patios at every Farwell and North Ave. bar and eatery with a pulse. It takes great effort on this sunny, perfect day to head to a dark megabar for a $2 happy hour Schlitz and a cigarette.
The fireflies have taken the bodies of two men and one woman, all nursing cigarettes with bright-red tips and hanging on each other. None of them look like they’ve bathed or slept in awhile. They are manic. The woman dances to “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” while one man rasps out an uncontrollable laugh at a told joke. “Beat It” comes on the jukebox next.
He ambles over to the music machine with a trail of smoke behind him, staring at the thing as though he were looking for a volume dial.
“I miss Michael,” he sighs with an earnestness that’s both heartbreaking and hilarious.
On the black ceiling of the Landmark cave, there are two giant smoke-eating machines whirring away. Like the cigarette machine in the corner, they are about to become archaic pieces of decor in a place that time and hazy alcoholic memories try to forget.
This is one of those places where it feels appropriate to smoke and drink, compared to the upscale bar/restaurants to which the original law was likely aimed. When I’ve sat on the other side of a partition at Applebee’s as cheap cigarette smoke floats and dives at my food, I can understand where it came from.
When I’ve sat on high the Landmark barstool, listening to the low thunder of the preppy college kids on the bowling lanes or the higher crack of returning billiard balls on a new pool game while watching muted baseball (a strange thing to watch in a dark basement, like a window to Narnia), I feel quite at home polluting my lungs.
The bartender is a large guy in his mid-30s, with tattoos that look at least 20 years old. He is also watching pantomime baseball, with a cigarette abutted in his heavy fingers. I ask him how he’s going to handle the ban.
“I don’t know,” he says and smiles. “I’ll just have to do it.”
Will it be a huge adjustment for customers and how will it be enforced?
“Probably. We’ll just have to tell them to stop.”
Oscar Wilde couldn’t have said it better.
I will not miss the random ash on the pinball machines in the arcade. I will not miss the ugly, giant, plastic ashtrays placed every seven inches. I will not miss the stink on my clothes that has nowhere to go.
But I will miss the freedom to do something where smoking is commonplace, and I will miss the sensation of a slug of Schlitz and a drag of American Spirit — both bad ideas, but wonderful in their nasty pleasure.