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Holy Smokes
by G.E. Reed • Hudson River Valley, New York

About the author
G.E. Reed, a Minnesota native and resident of the Hudson River Valley for the last nine years, recently started the new monthly prose and narrative reading series at The Inquiring Mind bookstore in Saugerties, NY. He has published essays and poetry in a variety of publications. The only two things in life he hasn't been able to quit are writing and love.

Hamburger, Coke-Cola, cigarette, three words not heard at The Omega Institute. The Institute, one hundred-plus acres of gentle hills, groves of mature pine and oak trees, classrooms, cabin dorm rooms, sanctuaries, gardens, meditation paths, scenic views, and a lake all nestled between old rolling farmlands in upstate New York. The institute features kayaking, fasting, drumming, dancing, chanting, singing, third-eye visualization, holistic therapies, past life regression, massage, bookstore, cafe, and top-notch buffet style dining. All this and much more offered for privacy and communion, peace and quest for personal knowledge, exploration, relaxation, or a simple get-away. I was there attending a weekend workshop for writing poetry.

At Omega, no hamburger nor meat of any kind is served, I was ok with that. But the hot, lazy summer afternoon I was thirsting for an ice cold Coke, I was thwarted. OK, it didn't have to be COKE, call it what you want: Zen-cola, non-organic carbonated, caffeine laden cola beverage, or just Shasta, but a caffeinated, carbonated, cold beverage was what this guest desired. I had to go sit in the pine needles by the lake after lunch the first day trying to get myself perked for the afternoon session when an ice cold cola would have done it for me.

"Well, we do have coffee and we do have ice," was the response when I inquired to the availability of iced coffee in the cafe.

"Well, that's a start," I replied.

In the Omega Institute's guidebook of policies, information, and maps there was the smoking policy. Smoking was prohibited inside any structure, but also near any private or public buildings nor could anyone smoke in any open public spaces. You couldn't even smoke in the woods. However, the policy did state that there were designated areas for smoking, but they were the only thing not shown on the map.

So, arriving for my first workshop session early on Saturday morning I went to the guest services building to inquire to the location of the designated smoking area in my best Omega-speak, "I am very respectful of other people's feelings in regards to smoking, but I still need to. The guidebook mentions smoking areas, but I cannot find them. Can you assist me please?"

The young woman smiled, "Are you having a nicotine fit?"

"No," I smiled back, "I just want to be prepared."

"Well," she hesitated, as she walked me outside, down the steps near the town road. I thought she was going to rescind, tell me, no, that I couldn't smoke after all.

I chimed in, "I assume that at least the parking lot must be ok." It was a field of gravel behind a row of trees in a corner of the property. The woman half snorted, raising a corner of her upper lip and tilted her head chin out, as a reply. "Guess not," I thought.

While shielding her eyes from the sun with one hand the woman pointed toward a break in a row of bushes with her other. I looked across the road. "Through there down the path past the service building to the right there is a...there is a pit and a bench."

"Thank you," and off I was to the cafe for regular coffee.

Upon arriving to the designated area for weaklings with addictive habits I realized that I was at the butt-hole of Omega. It was 100 yards from the parking lot where the oil leaking, fume spewing, fossil-fuel guzzling automobiles were allowed to sit. No stones of meditation, no scenic vistas, no gardens, no water, just a round, rusted 1/4" steel tube, eighteen inches in diameter stuck into the ground and half filled with cigarette butts. There was a bench offering a view of the backside of the employee entrance, dumpsters, and overflow parking. The electromagnetic hum of a giant breaker box behind the bench was near deafening. But to the credit of the Omega Institute not one spent cigarette was on the ground. I guess those smokers who usually leave their trash felt respectful enough to properly dispose of their cigarette butts considering themselves lucky to even have the right.

Now this smoking area wasn't secluded, just isolated, in clear view of several official buildings high on the little hill. From there maybe they kept tabs on visitors to the butt-hole, see who they had to keep their eye on for trouble later. I had considered lighting up in the center of campus, a field easily as large as two football fields, which oddly I never actually saw anyone in, just to see whom the Omega Institute would send out in a golf cart to pick me up for reprogramming. And with all the names for places at Omega one would think they could have come up with one for this: Actualized Hell, Vishnu's Purgatory, or Off The Five-Fold Path. I had been alone in my visits to the butt-hole, but I did observe a woman smoking there once from a window in the cafe. I made a mental note of what she looked like in case I needed matches later.

But midday Saturday, alone, sucking down another butt on my way to death, I saw my muse. Out of the ninety degree haze came the form it took that day, a woman, but of course the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. I wasn't sure if she had driven in or appeared from the woods or rose right out of the Earth, molded out of clay and pinched off with a dash of star dust. There was a sway at the hips, rhythmic unbroken time. A sway smoothly flowing into any direction like fire or liquid H2O, steam is the chemical change.

Her feet arched up off her simple, high heeled sandals, which really stood out being the only pair of heels seen on campus among all the Birkenstock sandals, Ecco walkers, Reebok supports, sneakers, or plain bare feet. Ankles to the beginning of her bronze thighs gliding to the sunshine from the slit of her black sarong. The sarong, patterned with Earth tones containing deep fired reds and highlights of white, was wrapped not too tight, not too loose. Black camisole, thin shoulder straps, cut a little low, but not too low and not too tight, not too lose. And how does a man describe a woman's breasts? Not any breasts but the ones they most desire to see, taste, caress. As with most things, the hint of perfection is much more arousing than full-on naked truth, even if the truth of perfection were to be unmasked. The ripple across the black fabric of her camisole made by the undulation of her firm rounded fruits. The rhythmic jiggle translated through the nipples and the sides of these lovely breasts giving the suggestion of weight in these lush summer peaches. It really shook my tree. Her smooth bronze shoulders and long arms, hands, and elegant fingers and then I noticed she had a slender white object in one hand, burning, a cigarette. She was headed toward the butt-hole!

Her stride glided and alighted up the slight incline. Then she bent over right in front of me, the top slope of her breasts where the golden-bronze, honey-milk skin fades to pinkish-white and the cleavage. A glance then quick! look away lest one lingers and looks too long. She stubbed out her cigarette and straightened up effortlessly swinging back a strand of her dark hair that had slipped across her chocolate brown eyes with a gentle sway of her head. She looked straight into my eyes, the bottom of my stomach fell out and I felt light and airy all over. My blood redirecting itself. She smiled, her eyes twinkled and her cool nectarine lips said, "Hi."

I smiled back. Feeling a rush of warmth and possibly a twinkle in my eye I croaked, "hi."  She held her smile and the moment. Then she walked on. What else was there to say? "Hello, I love you, won't you tell me your name?" I just hoped my mouth wasn't hanging open nor that my knuckles were scrapping the ground. Though I looked around the rest of that day and evening I didn't see her.

The next day, walking to the dining hall for lunch after my last workshop session I saw a woman walking towards me reading a book and headed in the opposite direction, towards the butt-hole. Her dark hair up in a loose bun, wearing tortoise shell glasses and a white t-shirt under denim overalls that were rolled-up at the cuff. She was barefoot. Our eyes met and she smiled at me, I did a double-take, it was the same woman. She had that sweet twinkle in her eyes. I stopped, speechless, and turned to watch her walk away down the tree-lined, sun and shadow dappled path away and out of sight. She never looked back. I sighed, mere mortal. I had written four good poems that weekend, but she was the poetry in motion. I then turned and continued toward a meatless, but fresh, delicious, and organic lunch. My last cigarette in the car driving home, sipping a smooth cup of hot coffee, a little cream. a little sugar.

©2006 Mental Contagion • Making Space for Visual Artists & Writers