For me, stealing lighters has moved beyond an art. When it was still an art form, I was vaguely conscious of the process. I would find a lighter in my pocket, look at it and sort of announce it to everyone in the room.
‘Hi everybody, I’ve got this lighter so if anyone owns it, it’s here.’
Secretly however, I was proud of myself. I was so utterly deft of hand. I gained something of a reputation for it. At some point I no longer noticed the thieving but other people, having recognized my established reputation, started pointing it out.
Ultimately I became the fall guy for every lighter loss at every gathering I ever attended. This is unfair really, considering that lighters fall into the same category as socks and pencils. They are things that simply disappear. I felt like I was the cosmic drawer of residual objects and all because I possessed a talent.
Apparently, on the face of it, I was good at thieving.
Eventually, what had become an art became an act of the subconscious. I was no longer aware of the coordinated ballet of my body and fingers as I pilfered lighters from one end of the country to the other.
On many, many occasions I would come home and go through my bags and pockets to find half a dozen lighters. They were almost a record of the people I had met that night, or the ones that smoked anyway, which are generally my favorite people.
Smoking, being a filthy disgusting habit, is often a liability when meeting prospective lovers. I smoke and I still have that repellant reaction to a pretty girls mouth tasting like the acid soaked cud of regurgitated cow chewed grass. It is a relief though if she smokes because by the second bottle of wine your commingling ashtray lips have reached an uneasy alliance.
The bigger problem for me really is the fact that the world on the whole has taken up arms against second hand cancer and mealie mouthed teeth. Sitting in a restaurant with a beautiful woman and a glass of sultry red wine, you realize that all you can think about is a cigarette.
Unfortunately that involves getting up, walking through a busy restaurant and standing out in the ice cold smoking a cigarette which you hate because you suck too hard and your lips are transformed into dung smelling seared Carpaccio. When you get back, your date is colder than your windswept lips.
One night I was alone, looking after my parent’s house, flying high on a gram of cocaine when I realized that I had run out of cigarettes. In my heroically drunken state, this meant I was four road blocks, one jail sentence and a horrifying accident away from the nearest cigarette shop.
For those of you who have never been in this scenario – and I imagine there are dozens – let me assure you, it is a huge barrier to contentment. It is like being afloat on a sun-griddled ocean of saltwater without a drop of clear water to drink. It is like being trapped on a floating whale carcass in the middle of a sun-griddled ocean with a flotilla of sharks circling you.
I decided, in a moment of rare strength and willpower, that I would simply go without a cigarette at the one time that I really, really wanted one. Morning found me back in my own flat and sitting on the edge of my bed. I decided that since I had made it this far, I would plainly have to give cigarettes up for good.
In that moment, I decided to remove all of the smoking paraphernalia from around my body. I looked in my pocket and found, not one, but two lighters. In the other pocket I found another one. In my shoulder bag I found a lighter and three boxes of matches; in the draw beside me one broken lighter and two boxes of matches. In the draw opposite my bed I found a gas burner and another two boxes of matches, one of which was a jumbo box.
I had enough lighting devices now to start an arson attack across the entire city. And this I suppose is the beauty of the moment; the lighter thief, washed up some far shore, surrounded by dozens of useless lighters. Maybe I could create a repository.
In the normal course of affairs however I tend to lose lighters at roughly the same rate that I steal them and in that way I feel comforted in the knowledge that I am giving it all back. It is a whole whirlwind of movement, the movement of my own body, recycling lighters, beneath the level of my consciousness.
I have moved beyond art. I am an agent of gross flame pollination.