Smoke ‘Em While You Got ‘Em

Smoke Break, March, 2010, originally uploaded by Maggie Osterberg.

From January of 1998, comes this mostly true tale of my time as a, ahem, “Retail Tobacconist.” Enjoy. Mind the smoke. I hear it gets in your eyes.

Whither Puffs?

(or am I the last of the Cigarette Girls?)

On January 1st, California made it illegal to smoke in bars, taverns, clubs and card rooms.

This is all good and well. Except for me. Am I a smoker?


I’m a cigarette girl.

I work with/for “Peachy’s Puffs” as an independent reseller, making tips and whatever profit I can glean from my sales of candy, cigars, light toys and of course, cigarettes.

How’s it going?

It’s going well, considering that my first night ever was New Year’s Eve.

I got to Peachy’s Puffs, picked out a costume (a royal blue, mini skirted “bellhop” outfit with a pillbox hat), checked the contents of my tray, put on my makeup, got dressed and headed out into the night.

I first went to “Martuni’s”, a piano bar. I march into the bar, swinging my flashlight (and my tush) and grinning from ear to ear. I select my first victim, uh, customer and ask, “Sweets? Smokes? Something to suck?”

I sell out of peanuts and light up glitter balls (which I was selling as “light up nipples”) and sell a cigar or two….

Move down Gurerro to “Blondies”, chat with some folks waiting to get into the club, explained that no, I not interested in marrying the guy with the fireman’s raincoat and the champagne- filled goatskin. Work my way into the crowed club, flirt with the silver-haired bandleader, sell him a $20.00 cigar, cut it, put it in his mouth and light it for him….get a $5.00 tip!

Move out of the club, chat with a few folks outside, rebuff an offer to “find an alley gorgeous” and cross the street to another bar. Make some sales of smokes and cigars…..

Next stop, a biker bar; “Zeitgeist”. Kind of slow, sell a blow-pop to a cowboy who likes that I opened the sucker and swirl it around in his mouth for him…..I’m mad with power at this point.

Put my heavy (45lbs) tray down on the bar and mooch a glass of water from the bartender…..guy next to me asks if he can buy me a drink… and then my driver shows up!

I move to Coconut Grove, a deco-inspired restaurant/nightclub. I feel like I’m Mia Farrow in “Radio Days”, a cigarette girl right out the the 1940’s…..make a few sales….

On to “Club 181”, where I ring in the new year fending off a Barry White wannabe- “Heeeey Bay-bee, I wanna dance wif you,” he rumbled. I suggest that I need to be selling the stuff on my tray, not dancing. “I’ll buy your whole tray bay-bee…if you dance wif me…..” I quote him a price of $1000.00 for the entire contents of my tray and the aforementioned dance. He declines and goes to try his rumble of love on another woman.

Cafe Du Nord is next! The best place of the night, it’s very retro, very decadent and very smoky. I love it! I explain to a group of people that buying smokes from me is actually a form of civil disobedience and we lead the room of a chant of “Free-Dom! Free-Dom!”

I use one of those light toys to smack the hand of a VERY drunken Herve Villachez (“Tattoo” from ‘Fantasy Island’) lookalike, who is trying to explore the depths of my skirt. I sell some SweetTarts to a pair of lesbians who have surfaced long enough to see me and my tray….they return to their necking, tarts unopened.
My driver arrives.

I finish out the evening/morning at Club 181. Sales are slower, tho’ a really nice lesbian couple buys out my supply of lighted roses and “Star Wars” Pez dispensers. I move out to the side walk, selling LOTS of smokes to folks coming out of the club and walking by on Eddy street.

I get picked up by the driver, go back to the office, settle up with Haji (the manager) and count my profit and tips! It’s 4:15am, my feet and legs are done for, my neck is sore and I’m beat!

All in all, lots of fun, decent money and no hangover!

Saturday, I work; raining hard, smoking banned….it’s, well, different. I wear one of those “Suzy Wong” chinese dresses, blue embroidered satin w/ a mandarin collar and waaaay form fitting. Pretty..and cool!

Tough night; walk through a downpour, have beer spilled on my tray, get called a “painted bitch” at the Savoy Tivoli by a bridge & tunnel wench from the East Bay, and to top it off, am nearly trampled by the crowd running out of the Palladium after a couple of gangbangers pull a knife on a security guard and the guard pepper sprays the dance floor………oh, and all I make is $39.00, $44.00 if you count the $5.00 Alyssa gave me for driving her home after we got off work.

It seemed like everyone was just a little crankier than usual. Some folks even asked me if I’d go to jail for selling cigarettes. I explained that it was still legal to sell cigarettes, you just had to go outside to smoke them. Sales plummeted faster than smiles.

It wasn’t all bad; I was called “The Classiest Peachy Puff I’ve ever seen” by a couple of women standing outside of Enrico’s on Broadway. A guy at a salsa club pays me three dollars to deliver my intro line: “Sweets? Smokes? Something to suck?” Ryan, the bartender at Rex cafe, gives me a free Irish coffee.

Oh, and one guy asked me if my eyeliner beauty mark was “a real mole or what?” I said that if I told him, I’d have to kill him……he actually looked scared. Though that didn’t stop him from following me down the block and engaging in a monologue where he debated if I reminded him more of Madonna or Rosanna Arquette. I question his eyesight. Must have been the beer goggles.

What a night….see you this weekend.

Your Peachy Puff on the street,


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