“This program is brought to you by the National Coalition to Get Jack to Quit Smoking. Remember Jack, the science is out. It’s bad for you. Quit today.”
Jack switched the station to his late-night talk show recordings. One of the lesser known ones. A comedian, likely, though he seemed to remember him from a drama. He remembered hearing that decades ago, a famous gangster rapper starred in family movies. Anything was possible in show business.
He kicked his feet up on the ottoman and swiveled his legs about. His fingers pinched around the bottoms of loose tobacco pouches. He still had a few in reserve. This was just a scrimping measure. Numerous empty pouches in varying degrees of crinkle were piled on the table beside him. One pile for empties, another for – air quotes – empties. A line of rolling papers spread across the arm of the chair, gently quivering with each sway of Jack’s feet.
A notification scrawled across the bottom corner of Jack’s television. He pointed the remote to it, moving the cursor to accept the call.
“Oh yes,” the audibly sweating man on the other end began, almost surprised to speak to another human being. “I’m looking to chat with – uh, well, that is to say – speak with Jack?”
“That would be me.” He returned his focus to rolling his cigarettes. “Can I ask what this is regarding?”
“Excellent, allow me a moment to collect my papers here -”
“Where did you say you were calling from?”
There was a silence of feint shuffling. Wheels brushing across cheap carpet, and pages flipping in no particular fashion. The man on the other end muttered nervously.
“Jack! Have I got the offer of a lifetime for you!” the same voice assured him with renewed confidence. “I was wondering if you could participate in a survey. You will, of course, be compensated, provided your answers are in order.”
“Money for some questions?” He balanced the cig between his lip and tongue as he patted around for his lighter. “Sure, go for it, mate.”
“Beautiful! Absolutely splendid! Let us begin.”
Jack tossed the lighter across the room upon seeing the empty fluid gauge. He rose to his feet carefully in search of another.
“Question number one! Do you exercise?”
“Not in particular. I jog every few months when I get a real look at myself in the mirror.”
“Pesky mirrors, I agree. They should really outlaw them. Then again, we’d never know what we looked like. Moving forward, number two: do you drink?”
“A beer or two every now and again, sure.” He punted his fist onto the counter. Still no sign of a lighter.
“A lager man. More of a wine fellow myself.” Jack thought the voice belonged to a man who preferred wine. “Number three: are you a user of recreational drugs? I should note that we aren’t the police, nor do we judge. To each their own and to the rest: fuck off, I always say.”
“No, never. Not since high school at least. Even then, only marijuana.”
“A common answer! Abnormally average, I’d say! Numero…” a pause to recollect the Spanish word for four. “…four: what is your current relationship status? Married? Single? Ready to mingle?”
“Haven’t found the right one. Not opposed to it happening. Just haven’t looked.”
“Not quite.” Still no lighter. He could feel a pinch of dry tobacco against his lip.
“Number five: do you gamble?”
“Scratch tickets on birthdays.”
“No other gambling?”
“Not even craps tables? Dice? Slots? Roulette – Russian or otherwise?”
“Not at all.” He came across a lighter near one of the potted plants, and threw it again upon realizing it were the same one from earlier.
“Well, if you’re not a gambling man, Jack, may I ask one follow up question?”
“Sure,” Jack sighed heavily. “Go for it.”
“Why gamble your life away for a slight head rush and release of endorphins? Ah yes, the idea of a quick fix to a low moment is one we’re all keen on, but at the risk of our breath? Did you know, Jack, 80% of lung cancer deaths are directly linked to smoking?”
“Is that right?” Jack rolled his eyes, having mimicked the speech he had heard yesterday, the day before, ad infinitum.
“Look, we get it. We really do, Jack. So I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse!” The man stepped back. “Well, you’re more than welcome to refuse. You’re an adult. We just hope you don’t.”
“We’re willing to send you a brand new, fully fueled Zippo lighter. We have an unpaid intern here holding the package, ready to deliver so it’ts in your hands in the matter of hours. We just need one small commitment from you.”
Jack shot up from his chair, knocking the other rolled and half-rolled cigarettes onto the carpet. His heart raced with excitement. He could’ve easily told his gentleman to cram it far up he-knew-where and ordered a 10 pack from China. That though took weeks. This seemed the better course.
“Sure, anything. A Zippo? Now that’s quality. Tell me what I need to do.”
“Well, Jack,” the man chortled condescendingly. “We just need you to quit smoking.”