East Village Shopping and Cheap Smokes

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:54

    "You must have a really good eye if you like it. You know, a lot of people just don't get that skirt yet."

    The saleswoman smiled. She looked the part: straight, narrow black wool pants (I saw them hanging on a rack when I first walked in the store), flat, dark-green shoes (they looked like Jil Sanders) and a sheer long-sleeved ribbed cotton shirt, similar to the sleeveless versions folded and artfully displayed on the table in the tiny store's center.

    Offsetting her flawless outfit were two tussled braids. Her name was Chloe. (Of course it was.) She was ideal?I wanted to look just like her. I turned back to a beige acetate skirt with red racing stripes running down the seams, across the pockets and waistband ($160). Chloe was being nice?the truth was that I didn't exactly get it, either. But I liked it, and trusted her eye implicitly.

    Blue Skirt stands out on Ave. A, a strip of pavement where it seems that the only things one needs to open a boutique are a passing grade in home economics and a sewing machine. This little shop has far more glamour and vision than its neighbors do. The reason for this is that Christina Kara, the made-to-order bridal designer who owns Blue Boutique, opened this store last December for her ready-to-wear line. The new shop evinces all the professionalism and attention to detail that have made Kara's bridal creations so adored.

    In the window right now, a spring dress ($375) stands on display: it's a wrap dress, the material filmy and light; fuschia, brown and grays make up a geometric pattern. The ruffles are girlish but never too precious?the rigor of the dress' pattern provides necessary balance. Kara's designs generally have several elements carefully playing against each other, creating just the right effect.

    Another skirt, in a forest-green parachute material, with a narrow cut and hitting just below the knee, has quilted rows above the pockets in the manner of a motorcycle jacket, which adds a bit of grit to an otherwise feminine item. It's perfect, even lovely.

    Blue Skirt sells dressier items as well. A nude skirt, covered in sequins, costs $220, while a mid-calf-length magenta dress with fuchsia tiers will run you $850. If you're not sure what to wear underneath these items, you'll find saucy tanks and thongs on the premises as well.

    Ultimately, I didn't buy the skirt with the red stripes. Instead I went for the green parachute one. Maybe it's a little easier to understand, or it's a little less Chloe and more me, or it's just the fact that my hair tends to look dumb in braids. But it doesn't matter. The skirt I found is pretty and a little unusual, and it suits me.

    Nicole Weinstein

    Cheap Smokes Texas Cigarette Machine I'm not broke, and I've never been cheap, but I resent paying almost five dollars for a pack of cigarettes. I was there in New York City a few weeks ago when the price per pack went up by 55 cents, and I resented it to the extent that were I not an addict I would have refused to pay the asking price, for an article that's unnecessary when you think about it. Smoking, furthermore, is becoming a total screwjob, the Augustinian smoke-and-death-chooser becoming less a rocker manque than a snared monkey whose habit causes him to caper straight into the clutches of the hill-and-dale robbers or "legislators" (did Jefferson imagine that the primary self-conception of a congressman or assemblyman would be as a "lawmaker"??we don't need any more laws) who use cigarette smoking, which confessedly is sometimes an illness, as a means of extorting revenue.

    I've been buying Marlboro with increasing resentment, my three-pack-a-day habit costing me a hundred dollars a week. Then, one day last week, I decided I wasn't going to do it anymore, and after coming to a crisis of the soul?a breakthrough?at Lizotte's in Northampton, MA, I bought a pack of Drum, the excellent Dutch tobacco that has more than once got me through a day alive and without murdering anybody. (Also I smoked it regularly for about six months, as a leather-jacketed nomad, alert for earthquakes, at the Cafe du Nord in San Francisco.) If I'm working (which is to say writing), it's no good to roll up a nicotine spliff every 10 minutes or so?the tobacco gets all over the keyboard and one smells of it.

    So I buckled to the task as a cigarette maker. I would sit down with my coffee and roll 20 filterless cigarettes, put them in a case I have (a cheap piece of shit with an integral lighter that probably equally flummoxed my equally restive father 30 years ago when he bought it on the Ginza), and then wash my hands and smoke normally throughout the workday. It was kind of nice: a day's cigarettes for under a buck, nice clicks of Zippo, case. You have your drugs and your works; and even, if you like, an idiosyncratic public style.

    But there's a problem with rolling numbers, even in an organized way: I dislike unfiltered cigarettes. This problem seemed insuperable. When I was a kid there was a brief craze of home-cigarette-making, and a company called, I believe, Laredo, which distributed tobacco and a machine that I seem to recollect as being entirely useless: the average citizen could make one smokable filter cigarette in perhaps 12 attempts. Those days are over, though. It was with the holy astonishment of Galahad perceiving the Grail that I bought myself a contraption called the Texas Cigarette Machine, and an airy red box of 200 filter tubes, and a drum of premium Dutch tobacco. I hastened home, sat down at the coffee table.

    The Texas machine operates like this: you lift the lid, and pack a cigarette's worth of tobacco into a groove that fills the pipette that, when the machine is closed, rams tobacco into the filtered tube of paper that you have affixed to a plastic nipple. It's a four-second operation, once you get the hang of it. Pack the tobacco, tamp it down, affix a cigarette tube to the plastic nipple and then pull back the top slide of the machine as if one is cocking an automatic pistol. After a maximum of five screwups, unless you're a gibbon ape, you can make perfect cigarettes all day long. You make your 20, and, depending on the tobacco, they are as good as Sobranies or Dunhills?certainly better than the ordinary premium American cigarette. My blue-and-gold, well-sealed drum of Look Out! Halfzwaar Shag, dampish and fragrant, cost nine dollars; my Texas machine the same; the tubes about three dollars from a box of 200, and the end result is I'm smoking better cigarettes than Philip Morris makes (cigarettes that would humble a Turk, enslave a papirosi-banging Russian) for, discounting the negligible cost of the machine, 12 dollars a carton.

    The elbow grease involved is no problem. It's a nice little regular activity for a man who works at home, and unlike almost everything else I do it makes perfect sense. If you smoke cigarettes, there is no reason to have them made for you unless you have them made in Bond St. But Bond St. is currently in my living room, and I've begun to expand into thinking about pricey blends, the perfect flavor, the perfect density of tobacco in the tube. Packed right, they burn slowly, too. Cigarette-making is not a poverty craft; for the smoker, as it turns out, it may well be an art form.

    Thus: the Texas Cigarette Machine, about nine dollars at any good tobacconist; a 200-count of king-size tubes with filters, about three dollars. The tobacco you put into your cigarettes is your choice, but I recommend a Dutch shag; the cigarettes made to be put into a pigskin case and ignited with your Zippo lighter.

    William Monahan