The scent of copper

My fingers smell of copper. And I like that.

I recently took time to sort through a little jewelry box I have, in which I keep my cuff links, my collar stays, and my extensive collection of 4-H lapel pins. Mixed in are a few other assorted wearable trinkets, and buried beneath the whole mess was my Zippo.

I had quite forgotten about it. This has been just as well; having an excuse to own a Zippo was pretty much sufficient reason for me to take up smoking a decade ago, and so, conversely, since I have no desire to go back to that particular practice, such an artifact serves little purpose aside from nostalgic temptation. So it has floated along amongst the unused detritus, an object of style that no longer fit my style of living.

I’m not sure why I never noticed before that this particular Zippo was made of copper. I knew it was metallic, a metal that was so easily tarnished that a dull brown patina was its natural state. Occasionally I would attempt an ardent rubbing, which would buff it to a short-lived gleam. I had never really used it regularly; by the time I bought it my smoking days were pretty much over, and the working part didn’t fit snugly enough in the outer case, so it wasn’t that great to actually use.

But it was still a Zippo, the third I had owned. My first, a simple stainless steel model, I picked out at the tobacconist, along with my first box of Nat Shermans, sometime in the early fall of 1999. It worked well, and was stylishly simple, a piece of classy flash that fit perfectly in my Cary Grant-mafioso apprenticeship. But in the spring of 2000 it slipped out of my suit jacket pocket and was gone.

Since I was then at the (very low) peak of my (extremely limited) career as a smoker, it was with some urgency that I replaced this vital implement. The shop was out of the model I had purchased before, so I went with the least expensive one in the display case. It was painted matte black, with a compass rose on the front. It seemed vaguely appropriate, given my vocational wanderings at the time. And, though not quite as high-class, it was in fine working order. Yet I unwisely lent it out during a confusing evening involving leather pants, a Lords of Acid concert, and far too many cosmopolitans. Despite a prolonged effort to retrieve it in the weeks that followed, I eventually had to write that Zippo off as well.

I splurged on a fancy one the third time around, despite the several warning signs that its function might not match its form. I muddled along for a bit, stopped smoking, and the dull metal lighter floated along in various drawers and shoeboxes for most of the last decade. Until this past week, that is. When I came across it amongst my poultry awards and ancestral baubles, I had to sit down with it and enjoy the feel of it in my hand again. Flicking it open and closed — one of the most amazing and beautiful sounds in the world. I turned the dull, toffee-colored thing over and around in my hand.

It felt good there. And for the first time, I felt able to enjoy the pleasure of the Zippo as an object, without any concomitant urge to light anything with it. I started to carry it with me as I walked to and fro, worrying it between fingers and thumb, taking solace in the feel of it. By the end of the first day the dull patina was gone, and the surface shone brightly. But it was not the color that I recognized first, it was the smell on my fingers. I struggled to place it for a bit, and then it hit me. They smelled like— pennies. They smelled of copper, the copper that my Zippo was made of. It is a keen, vital smell; vital in every sense. There is an animating urgency in that scent, and a feeling of the electrifying energy it is so well suited to carry. It is also a smell that settles on the tongue, where it is the familiar taste of blood. It has become a focus point for me as I never thought a smell could be.

Who needs to smoke? Not me. I’ve got a Zippo, and I’m doing just fine.

3 thoughts on “The scent of copper

  1. Only you, my friend, could mention “poultry awards” and “ancestral baubles” in the same blog entry… Well done, you!

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