I spent this evening sitting out on the front stoop of my housesit. I'd decided that the good weather meant it was time to smoke the hookah.
While trying to puff smoke rings against the light breeze, I saw a teenager walk down the oppposite side of the street. He seemed to be stealing glances at me as he strolled. I wasn't certain until he doubled back. He walked up, now on my side of the street. Before he was even within conversational range he blurted out: "Whoa! Are you toking up?"
"Nah, no... no! This is just tobacco. Lemon-flavored tobacco."
"Oh! Can I get a hit?"
I gestured him over with a wave of the pipe.
The boy sat down next to me; we spent the next 20 minutes attempting conversation. Behind the screen door at our backs, the stereo was blasting out music on the local public radio program "The Swing Years and Beyond". What could this kid think of some guy twice his age cranking the Andrews Sisters and puffing on a hookah?
I explained to him what a hookah was. He was far more familiar than I with smoking--but smoking all those more noxious things that I would never touch. His experience aside, he'd never heard the word "hookah".
"Where do I get one of these hookahs? How much did this one cost? And can I even buy one of these? I'm only 17 now."
I addressed his concerns as best I could. Then at one point, he looked down at the steps where we were seated. "Man, look at all the tiny red spiders," he said.
I didn't see anything. Had this kid been smoking something else before the hookah?
"What?", I said. "I don't see any tiny red spiders."
"No, really: look. They're running around all over. And I know that they're spiders because I can see that they all have six legs."
He was right--insofar as that there was something crawling about the steps where we sat. Some kind of orangish-red mite was indeed out in large numbers. How could I not have noticed them?
"Oh, I see them now!", I said. "But I'm not sure that they're spiders. Isn't anything that has six legs an insect?"
"Yeah. Spiders are insects, right?"
I didn't contradict him, but cocked my head to the side to express doubt.
"Wait. No. Spiders aren't insects. They're arachnids, right?"
For some reason I felt mightily impressed that he could dredge the word arachnid out from somewhere in his head.
The charcoal atop the hookah fizzled out. "Do you smoke out here often? I was just coming by to shoot hoop across the street. But if you're around, I'll be by for the hookah again!"
"What's your name, then?" I tried changing topic so as to not offer encouragement that he and I would take another session out on the stoop. Additionally, sharing the truth that I was housesitting would be sufficient discouragement--though I did contemplate the humorous potential of this kid knocking on the door to find a hookah to smoke sometime after I leave and the retired couple whose home it is have returned home.
Santiago offered up a fist bump, then strolled across to the basketball courts.