Totally Inappropriate Salted Humour Day: Smoking Smoked Smoke

Minimal dust operation with disposable bag.



Living On Cantor Boulevard (28 of 52) In Ottawa…


Back in the fall of 1993 my brother had just moved in with some ‘friends of friends’. I was desperate to get out of where I was living — my girlfriend wouldn’t come over due to roaches… she actually woke up one night with a bunch of them in her hair — so he got me in there. In the new place there were four of us in a three bedroom bungalow, plus girlfriends, so I slept on a couch in the mostly-finished basement.

At that point in Canada there was a lot of cigarette smuggling. Taxes on smokes made it a lucrative business for the Natives whose Reserve actually straddles the American-Canadian border. So, the scheme was — and some of the Big smoke companies were in on it — export cigarettes into the US, buy them in bulk at the always cheap American price, then smuggle them back across the St. Lawrence River through the Native Reserves and sell then at a higher price to Canadian smoke addicts like myself, who then enjoy discounted smokes.

Thanks to my roommates, S. and F., we always had massive boxes of smokes in our garage because they supplied students at the main College in Ottawa, and one of the Universities with cheap smokes. And hash. Which you can also smoke. We also had a Sega and the NHL Game where you could still make players bleed on the ice. So life was pretty sweet. The only problem was heat.

Heat takes money. And I had none except whatever the government was handing out. My brother was in College, so he was broke. And the street corner / local dealers never, ever have any money, so we scraped enough coins together to pay for half a tank of oil to heat the house. Thing about half a tank is it’s not a full tank. So again, two months later, we had no heat. And Canadian winters last a lot longer than Rocktober to December.


We did, however, have an ornamental fireplace. Just a little thing, not very deep, and the chimney flue would shut randomly. Thing about fires is they need fuel, and fuel we were learning, costs no matter what form. So, after a few solid pre-Al Gore winter nights, we started walking around the neighbourhood stealing wood. Thankfully several homes were still heating with wood… which actually sucked huge when I got off the bus and had to walk the three blocks home through the smoke. There was one night I can still remember clearly when I really thought I was going to suffocate to death walking home.

But I didn’t, and I actually felt pretty good when I was loading up the cigarette van with wood from the homes around us. It worked out pretty good for about a month. Then people started locking their wood up… which sounds hard to do, the wood was generally piled seven-feet high in an open garage or next to the home. And it’s not like you can just shift four cords when you notice some missing. But what they did, and they must have talked to each other, is tightly cover their piles of wood with a tarp then lock the tarp to itself or the garage.

So, again, we were without fuel. I’m not sure whose idea it was, someone had to come up with it, but we started stealing picnic tables instead. There were a couple in our neighbourhood, but after we grabbed the ones we could see, we started taking them from parks. Not many, there’s a surprising amount of wood in a picnic table, so… maybe five. But, as bad as the smoke is from Wood cut straight from the tree, a picnic table has been treated chemically and there’s that brown paint.

You also have to cut the table wood, and there are no perforations. You need a saw. Which we didn’t have, so we would store the table in the backyard and when we needed a piece we’d go out and kick the shit out of a board then toss a chunk on the fire.

Except we were lazy and mostly stoned on hash and burning chemicals, so we started putting longer chunks into the fireplace, except the fireplace was small and nearly useless. So we’d put a three-foot long chunk of wood into the fire, which meant having a piece of that piece hanging out into the living room while it burned. I came home early one morning from my girlfriends and there were five people sleeping in the living room with a the remains of a glowing piece of picnic table smoldering on the living room floor, and the entire house just fucked with smoke.

Then there were the nights the flue would close while there was a fire. I’d wake up choking on smoke in the basement. Things actually got more fucked up with that place. So I found a very nice house a few miles away with normal people who enjoyed the occasional smoke or chunk of hash, but could afford what they had and probably wouldn’t steal what they wanted. I managed to get my brother a place there as well. Which was good for him because he had just broken up with his girlfriend and she had legitimate cause to kill him.


S. got arrested that summer and fined $50,000 for cigarette smugging. F. took his earnings and opened a fairly successful tattoo parlour in downtown Ottawa.



About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression when I was nineteen, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. It's now 2022, and I have an 8-year old son, and a 12-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at
This entry was posted in Classic, crazy people with no pants, Depression, Entertainment, Health, Humor, Humour, Inappropriate Humour Day, Lithium, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Memories, Ottawa, Poverty, UmBiPMaD Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Totally Inappropriate Salted Humour Day: Smoking Smoked Smoke

  1. nursemyra says:

    they’re the sexiest power tools I’ve ever seen

  2. nursemyra says:

    ooops. I wrote that after watching the video and before reading the post

    great piece of writing. I was coughing with you every step of the way

  3. Gabriel... says:

    The whole thing feels German. I think it’s the cutoffs… for some reason when I think of Germans wearing cutoffs those are the ones they’re wearing. I’m a big fan of the two speed battery drill and orbital sander… the Heavy Duty Breaker’s selling point of being able to fit in a van seems a little disturbing though.

    Thanks… S. was actually the first person to be caught under the anti-smuggling legislation. Nice guy, but I laughed when I found out.

  4. Bryan says:

    This whole cigarette smuggling thing so much makes me think of my mother in law… She doesn’t smoke, but every time she visits us she does a charity run for her family and friends back in Maryland and goes back home with somewhere in the vicinity of 20 cartons or so of smokes.

    I would get such a kick out of her getting pulled over for a traffic violation and then having the cop finding all those smokes in the back of her car. I know she wouldn’t get much for that small amount, but the thought of her getting into trouble for something (because she is so self-righteous and never does anything wrong) would just make my day. 🙂 I know bad Bryan… 😀

  5. Pingback: This Saturday My Parents Are Coming Over For Dinner For The First Time Since I Moved Out Twenty Years Ago « …salted lithium.

  6. Pingback: The Third Post Marking The End Of My Second Year « …salted lithium.

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