CHAPEL HILL, NC–Taking a long drag on the faint disgust of students and professors hurrying past him, flagpole smoker Darin Candler started his Wednesday morning, as always, by feeding his addiction to public disapproval.
“Under the flag is the only place on campus they let you smoke,” said the junior English major, shivering on the bright November morning beneath his reeking leather jacket and Sleigh Bells t-shirt. “If I’m gonna get my fix of alienation, I guess it’s gotta be here.”
As Candler filled his lungs with smoke, he looked up toward a passing undergraduate in a Patagonia pullover and ponytail. She cast her eyes toward him–long enough to take in his sallow skin and cigarette–then turned her gaze off to something in the distance, ignoring the eye contact that Candler searched for until she passed around the corner of Saunders Hall, out of sight. Candler exhaled slowly.
“That’s the stuff,” he said. “Only way to start the morning.”
“They act like no one in Chapel Hill smokes,” he mumbled, putting the cigarette back to his mouth.
There were, however, a few others huddled around the flagpole with Candler–a collection of lonely freshmen, anxious Carrboro residents, Latin American grad students, and lost, craggy-faced old men.
Collectively, they looked darkly across the quad, whose brick paths bustled with reproof. They muttered about asshole shift managers and classes they were behind on.
“We come back here,” Chandler said of the soot-stained island of censure and low esteem. “It’s our community.”
A young man with a nose ring and a cough, who Candler recognized from a comparative literature lecture, approached the flagpole. Searching his bag and coming up with a crushed box of American Spirits, he asked Candler if he had a lighter.
They inhaled the disapproval together.