Smoking With Nick Sansone

by Paul Arrand Rodgers Read the Story September 22, 2014

I remember when whip-its were all the rage. I never did them, and I don’t think I know anybody who did them, but once on the way home from school there was a yard covered in discarded canisters—my mom didn’t let me or my sister out of the house for a few days. Do you have any experience with them? Do you find it strange that they’re illegal when, say, those little pills advertising longer, better sex through an increased heart rate are right next to the register?

In college, I worked the graveyard shift in a strip mall. Next door to my shop was an adult store that sold whip-its, so on more than a few occasions I swept up those spent canisters from the parking lot, shooed off folks trying to use them in their cars. The empties have a very musical quality going across the asphalt. Can’t say I’ve had much experience with them beyond that. I generally prefer a stiff drink. What’s strange to me about whip-its, though, is that they aren’t illegal per se. Nitrous has approved non-recreational applications—dental, culinary, automotive—and is readily available. It’s only unlawful to huff them or sell them for that purpose. So, they only become illegal if you refuse (or forget) to engage in the mutual performance required to buy them. You’ll pretend to purchase this product from me for some reason other than to get high, and I’ll pretend I’m selling it to you for some reason other than to get high. But no one goes to an adult store at three in the morning and buys several boxes of whipped cream chargers for any other reason than to get high, and everyone involved knows it. It’s fascinating how often these situations happen: where people just agree to pretend about something they know isn’t true. The dad in the story does basically the same thing with his kids.

Have you ever, like your character does here, slipped up and done something disastrous as a result of forgetting some small, essential part of a routine? What happened?

I’m sure it’s happened, but nothing that I’d rank as disastrous, which is probably why I can’t recall anything specific. If I forgot to buckle in a car seat and sent a family member through a windshield—or if I neglected to extinguish a candle and burned down a house—I’d likely remember the event. Or I’d efficiently repress it. Who knows? With me, it’s usually the opposite, though: rigid adherence to routine even in the face of changed circumstances. For example, where you forget you’re not wearing glasses and poke yourself in the eye trying to adjust them.

I don’t have children; I don’t even have a significant other. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to have somebody rely on me, let alone a pair of sons. But I can, I think, identify with the sudden realization one has when something goes very, very wrong. The moment the officer returns to the store with his partner and a pair of handcuffs feels so real and horrifying, but also surreal, like waking up after being knocked out in a car accident. Where does something like that come from?

The main component, I think, is a presumption of safety. If you’re shoplifting, you’ll still feel that sickening bolt of panic when a security guard claps their hand on your shoulder or the glare of a police flashlight hits you in the face, but you already know you’re up to no good and on edge so even though you’re surprised to get caught, you’re not entirely blindsided. Something more analogous would be being arrested when you haven’t done anything wrong. That’d be nightmarish and surreal. A non-law-and-order, less drastic example might be singing when you think you’re alone only to find out your family’s been listening to you for the last five minutes (that’s happened to me, and I can’t sing—it was very awkward). Or, last example, when you pull into the parking lot of an adult store and see someone who knows you. I’ve been on the delivery end of that encounter a few times, seeing former high school teachers or old acquaintances stopping by to buy a magazine or whatever. They’d just freeze, go pale, consider whether to run or say hello or pretend not to recognize me. But their faces were all portraits of horror. That’s the moment, I think—collision with a reality that exists outside the safety of your head.

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever purchased from a party store? Are they called party stores, where you’re from? 7-11? Convenience store? Corner store? Wherever one goes for sugar and pornography. How many stars would you rate your purchase on

There’s nothing in an adult store (that’s what I’ve always called them) that I’d categorize as embarrassing. Goofy or freaky or not my cup of tea, sure, but not embarrassing. People shouldn’t be ashamed by what they like. And, in the interest of keeping this interview something my girlfriend or mom can share with family and friends—not to mention avoiding some weird-ass banner ads—think I’m going to leave it at that.

Finally, if it wasn’t for whipped cream and whipped cream chargers, what would consenting adult gourmands slather each other with in the bedroom? Got any recipes?

Chocolate body dust. Edible candles. Flavored massage oils. Only limit is your imagination, I suppose. Folks into splosh (go ahead, look it up, Urban Dictionary if you don’t want the images), they get pretty inventive: raspberry jam, creamed corn, baked beans. So much for avoiding strange ads.

About the Author:

Nick Sansone holds an MFA from Emerson College. His stories have appeared in, or are forthcoming from, the Minnesota Review, Gargoyle, the Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Revere, Massachusetts.