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The Secret Cigarette Lighter

By L.J.



In the late 90’s I bought a ragged old 1987 Toyota pickup truck to drive around base and get me in to town. This was when I was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave desert.

At one time this base was considered a remote location, and the military gave personnel living there a small stipend for sticking them out in the middle of nowhere.

Somewhere along the way, the powers that be in the Defense Department decided to move the checkpoint gate five miles closer to town in order to deny the stipend. They were able to say the base had easy access to civilization, even though the junior enlisted dormitories and other base housing did not move five miles closer to town.

I enjoyed the desert even without the stipend.

We had a motocross track on base and trails that went right up to the restricted area fences where the super-secret shit happens. The motorcycle was fun, but I needed a pickup truck to haul my dirt bike to the many off base tracks and trails.

I found a beat up blue Toyota at the base lemon lot. ‘Lemon lot’ isn’t an official name, but every base has one. It’s where a new Airman can go to find a cheap vehicle that will afford him some much-needed freedom—a little breathing space between himself and the Air Force customs and courtesies and Air Force core values…integrity; service before self; and excellence in all we do.

This truck ran great. The best part about it was that when I was cleaning it out for my first weekend trip, I noticed there was a hole in the middle of the cigarette lighter.

I pulled the lighter out and it wasn’t a typical car cigarette lighter. There was no heating element, just a round solid piece of aluminum with another hole which I later learned was where the fire goes. I stared at the thing for about a half hour before I finally figured out how to unscrew it.

Once unscrewed, the smell reminded me of the dank wafts that permeated from the woods near my high school.

I couldn’t believe I’d discovered a one-hitter pipe hidden in plain sight.

I was so excited that I took a couple hits of the leftover weed, reefer, MaryJane, or whatever it is the kids call it these days.

I spent the next hour looking at myself in the mirror and trying on all of my weird Air Force uniforms.

After an hour of staring, I then decided I needed to brush my teeth. My teeth have never before nor since been as clean as they were after I mercilessly scrubbed them with the toothbrush I was issued in basic training.

I slept well that night. In the morning I told Suarez, my roommate, about the secret cigarette lighter.

By that time I had smoked all of what was left in the bowl. We decided to scrape the screen to smoke the resin.

With a day off and time to kill, we smoked what we could and headed to the enlisted club for a night of dancing and girl watching.

Suarez and I slept well that night, five miles further away from reality.


L.J. is a U.S. Air Force Veteran and stand-up comedian. He comes from a tribal community in Minnesota and now lives in Seattle with his two kids.
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The Red Badge Project

The Red Badge Project was created in 2012 to help military veterans heal and thrive. Using the creative process of storytelling, Wounded Warriors work with writers, editors, and teacher to rebuild their individual sense of purpose and unique individuality. For more information, see www.theredbadgeproject.com.

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