Students spark smokin’ hot Thursdays

On a stroll past Paresky lawn, it’s common to see students nonchalantly tossing a Frisbee or playing a pickup game of soccer. Breaking up this familiar scene, a plume of smoke drifts up from throngs of people dotting the grassy area. But fear not – the smoke isn’t from a fire; it’s actually from a hookah.

On Paresky’s green lawn on a sunny Thursday, between the clusters of students lunching on deck chairs and those playing casual games of soccer or other ordinary activities, a small group of students sit around a glittering, exotic-looking apparatus: a hookah pipe. The three main organizers, Robby Finley ’11, Stevie Luther ’11 and Will O’Connor ’11, familiarly known as Lil’ Will, are sure to be found there each Thursday for their weekly tradition. At around noon, these group members carry the hookah pipe, coals, foil and matches to Paresky lawn from their entry, Willy B, snagging some food before lighting up the flavored tobacco. Tasty cinnamon, mint, strawberry and orange go into the top chamber to create a sweet scent, enticing regulars to come for an hour-long hookah extravaganza.

Colin Platt ’11 makes an effort to pop in for a little while every Thursday. “It’s very convenient,” Platt said, “[It’s] a good way to spend a sunny afternoon and meet new and interesting people.”

Finley and Luther are the proud owners of the hookah, which was purchased for about $100 from a hookah Web site. The three-foot-tall, blue and red pipe arrived in October with a package deal containing foil, coals and four different flavors of tobacco. “Finding piece after piece in that box was like a treasure hunt,” Luther said. “I was excited to open it.”

Since its arrival, the product has not failed to deliver on its promise for a good time. “The hookah was a great investment,” Finley said. “We put it to use right away with a bunch of people and broke it in.”

Finley and Luther were first captivated by the New Jersey-based company, Smoking-Hookah, while the pair was combing the Internet one rainy day. The suitemates decided to purchase the pipe after realizing their shared love for smoking hookahs. To the two students, smoking their own hookah was a great way to casually hang out with friends. Finley and Luther affectionately named the pipe “Ice Dragon” earlier in the year, but after a few incidents of dropping or toppling the hookah, “Quasimodo” became its new moniker.

Hookah Lunch Thursdays officially began on April 10, after the group of students shared a private hookah lunch in the Frosh Quad. Due to the College’s ban on smoking inside, the students were forced to vacate their dorm rooms and smoke their hookah outdoors. The group welcomes all students – smokers and non-smokers – because the event is ultimately a social occasion. A typical Thursday includes the regular crowd, Grab-N-Go sandwiches, rampant “that’s what she said” jokes and one or two interested participants stopping in for the first time.

“At the first lunch, there were four of us,” Finley said. “And then, you know, one thing led to another, and things got out of hand.”

The numbers evolved to include a core group of about five or six, including Thaddeus Gibson ’11. “It’s really great to be able to relax on Thursdays,” Gibson said. “[The hookah] is a goddamned cultural phenomenon.”
Upon discovering the existence of this Thursday meal option, Monel Chang ’11 was delighted by the quirky ingenuity of the idea. “I come almost every time. Creating an alternative atmosphere on the Paresky Lawn is conducive to the liberal arts experience in a well-rounded community,” Chang said. “Besides, being outside with a hookah is nice.”

Hookah smoking isn’t a familiar pastime for everyone on campus, admits Luther, and consequently, the group has received its share of both misunderstandings and admiration.

“A group of middle schoolers were passing by, and they thought we were awesome. They said, ‘You guys are so cool,’” O’Connor said. “Tours seem to love us, but it’s always awkward around them – A teacher came by, and she wanted to know if we were smoking hash. She didn’t believe us the first time.”

Crude forms of hookah pipes originated in India over 1000 years ago, and the pipes were often used for smoking hashish or opium. Modern hookah smoking was popularized in Turkey, utilizing ornate pipes and the shisha tobacco that is common today. The hookah pipe draws up smoke through a bubbling chamber of water, and the smoker inhales through a long hose with an attached mouthpiece. “For people unfamiliar with hookah smoking, it looks so wrong, but it can be so right,” Christopher Holland ’11 said.

There is no mailing list for Hookah Lunch Thursdays, but the interested or forgetful can watch for the Facebook event posted each week by O’Connor, the group’s Webmaster. The event is listed under a different category each time, and the content consists of whatever whimsical ideas that enter into O’Connor’s head. It’s not uncommon to find “hookah” spelled incorrectly during searches for the event.

Future plans for Hookah Lunch Thursdays include heavy, campus-wide advertising campaigns and a firmly established Facebook group. The group will have some classically eclectic features such as pictures of international hookah-smokers from the Internet and open officer positions for regulars, with wall posts limited to “that’s what she said” jokes. Finley, Luther and O’Connor have dedicated themselves to keeping Hookah Lunch Thursdays on the student body’s calendar despite bad weather, conflicting meetings, classes or even heavy workloads.

How long will they continue to host hookah lunches? “Forever,” said O’Connor. “It’s going to do wonders for our movement on campus.”

Tomorrow might bring the first challenge for the group. “Well, it looks like this Thursday might be rainy,” Luther said. “Although we haven’t encountered inclement weather yet, we’re sure we can adapt to anything thrown our way.”