I broke off the relationship three months ago, for what I thought was the last time. Then I saw her everywhere. She was flaunting her stuff on sidewalks and nightclubs. She was kissing everyone. I couldn”t help but be jealous. She was supposed to be mine! I had to have her back.

Paul Wong
Shannon

So I made a date. It was a weekend rendezvous really, just a quickie. It wasn”t going to mean anything. We knew that in advance. She had what I like and I knew how to get her to deliver.

So I opened her up, a cute little pack of Camel straights, unfiltered, down at Leopold Bros. I got a beer and took the first drag. Harsh. Acrid. Marvelous! Oh, come back to papa baby! I know how to treat you right! And boy did she know how to please.

I was swimming in her ocean, in that languid Sea of Nicotine just off the coast of paradise. How I missed that feeling, like a wave of dulling cotton in my brain. I imagined I was in one of those pressure chambers for autistic kids, where the walls close in all padded and secure, like a little closet of solipsism. Too sweet. I became the tobacco.

But this was not the same feeling I”d had three months before, nor was it the same woman I had left three months ago after completing a smoking cessation course to rid me of her cancerous presence. She was strong, like a long-lost cousin in the tobacco family. More potent, more primal, more pre-industrial or pre-Columbian more psychotropic, like tobacco grew before its strength was bred out for commodification. This little darling had slipped through Big Tobacco”s addictive infrastructure to reclaim my allegiance with a renewed vengeance. I chain smoked to take her all in. And that”s when things got weird.

What follows is cloudy, but I”ll try to relate this tale as a warning to those who would succumb to this seductress.

Lady Nicotine waltzed on like a banshee, doing a curtain dance from across the room. She had an illusory female presence, all Hollywood like Ingrid Bergman.

I said “show yourself,” in a voice that was all but controlled by her. “Tell me who you are.”

“I am you,” said she.

She winked and placed her arms around me. Claws deep. Those hooks I remembered. Addictive sensuality had me and I gave in, taking in the sweet smell of her worn leather drenched in stale smoke. I closed my eyes. Lady Nicotine gently bit my lips and plunged an ashtray tongue into my mouth. As our lips prayed, I met a mouth framed by a rich stubbly ruggedness. Stubble? What is this?

I opened my eyes to the beautiful demon and took him in. His broad, scruffy chin rubbed mine. His thin cheeks brushed past mine and his pungent was breath in me. “Who are you,” I scoffed. “The Marlboro Man?”

“Come here cowboy,” he heaved as he grabbed my waist and pulled it toward his own. “Are we really gonna do this thing?”

“You”re a man,” I wheezed, as my mind flooded with all the memories of an abusive relationship.

His eyes pierced me to my nicotine-addicted core. “You sound surprised queenie. You”ve been sucking my big white wand all night.”

“But didn”t you die of cancer?” I said, pulling away.

He grabbed me tighter. “No, the actor who played me on TV died. But my presence lives on,” he said, offering me another cigarette.

Suddenly I wanted him. He had me and I had no choice but to run, willy-nilly like an angel in love to the wall of the bar. And I gave him the deepest drag I”ve ever given a man. Finished and relieved, I lit another cigarette and the player vanished into the night.

It hasn”t been the same since. I taste him every time I hack up a wad of mucus. And every time I slip into a Marlboro Country consumer fantasy, I know that I was used.

Do me a favor. Don”t give in to this seducer/seductress. Every time you see a Marlboro ad, give my friend a little kiss and throw him in the trash. Let”s erase this bastard forever.

Josh Wickerham”s column runs every other Wednesday. Give him feedback at www.michigandaily.com/forum or via e-mail at jwickerh@umich.edu.

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