Return of the Marlboro man


Now that we’ve burned through summer I’m still hoping to improve the year somehow. It’s been too quiet. Like the old song says, kicks just keep getting harder to find.

It’s too late in the game to gamble on unproven fads, so I want some kicks that are time-tested.

Hey, here’s an old-school idea: smoking. Maybe that will spice things up a bit.

Have you ever seen the Marlboro ads from back in the day? They featured a rugged-looking cowboy looking, well, uh, rugged. You can tell by the set of his jaw and the steel in his gaze that he’s up to important things and that he has Mastered the Situation, whatever that situation may be.

Can you imagine him being nagged to unload the dishwasher? No.

Can you see him sitting through a PowerPoint presentation? Never.

Those petty humiliations are for inferior men. The Marlboro man lives on a higher plane. He’s always in his element because he’s always in Marlboro Country.

Let’s be practical here: A gallon of gas will barely get you from Coral Ocean Point to Marpi. A pack of smokes, on the other hand, can take you all the way to Marlboro Country.

Are you ready for a cigarette break? I am…

And so I find myself as a mysterious stranger riding on horseback. I’m touching the brim of my hat in salutation whenever I see a lady and I’m saying, in a gravelly, smoker’s baritone, “Howdy, ma’am.”

After loping to the center of town, I dismount and tie my horse to a hitch in front of the tavern.

Then I light up a cigarette and stare into the distance and look rugged.

This peaceful moment doesn’t last long, though. The swinging doors of the tavern fly open as a pack of loud rowdies spills out of the joint.

One of them is a drunken dude with a black hat and yellow teeth. He bumps into me with his shoulder, then curses under his breath and wheels around to face me.

His pack of pals, obviously the local toughs, all turn their attention to me. Their hands are resting on their holstered six-shooters.

A quiet tension fills the air. The few pedestrians in the area quickly scatter.

But I maintain my steely composure, staring off into the distance as I savor the smooth tobacco flavor of my Marlboro.

After sizing me up for a moment, the toughs are subdued by my gravitas. Most people are, of course. Nervous smiles appear on the toughs’ faces. So I decide to break the ice and I hand around my trusty pack of smokes, making fast pals of everyone.

We all light up. Then we all stand around looking rugged.

A dancing girl from the tavern comes out to see what the commotion was all about. She has cinnamon-red hair and a smile that holds the ace of hearts. I drop my steely gaze for a moment and toss her a quick glance. She blushes and doubles down on her ace.

“Hello, drifter,” she says. “I don’t reckon I’ve seen you before.”

“You reckon right, ma’am,” I say.

“So what’s it take to get to know you better?”

I take a deep draw on my cigarette and allow myself a wry smile.

“Never try to rope the wind,” I say.

She puts her hand on my arm, then pulls up so close to me I can smell her perfume as she whispers, “Ain’t no wind ever outrun my lasso, cowboy.”

Well, one thing leads to another, so she and I go back inside. As we get better acquainted I tell myself: “This sure beats PowerPoint.”

But here’s some data anyway: One in five American adults smoke cigarettes. The Midwest has the highest percentage of smokers at 25 percent.

Globally, a 2007 Gallup survey found that Cuba has the highest percentage of smokers at 40 percent. Next came Kuwait, Chile, Russia, Belarus, and Bangladesh, all tied at 37 percent.

The nations with the smallest percentage of smokers were Nigeria (6 percent), El Salvador (8 percent), Ghana (8 percent), Afghanistan (9 percent), and Ethiopia (9 percent).

By the way, I’m not sure that Gallup’s survey was limited to cigarettes. Their question was simply, “Did you smoke yesterday, or not?”

Anyway, according to a Business Wire posting on the Web, the world consumes 5 trillion cigarettes a year. The top three markets are China, Russia, and the U.S.

As for me, as tempting as it is, I’ll skip the smoking thing for now.

I think I’ll take up drinking tea instead. That’s another old-school diversion. The idea came to me when I was unloading the dishwasher. I found an old bone China teacup that’s painted with little yellow birds and blue flowers. It has a matching saucer.

So I’m enjoying teatime right now, relishing my memories of Marlboro Country.

As for the redhead, well, ma’am, I’m sorry I couldn’t stick around after our time together. You should never fall for a drifter. I tried to warn you. The trail behind me is littered with broken hearts.

And as for everyone else, let me tell you: It’s really hard to look rugged when you’re sipping chamomile.

A reader requested that I re-run a favorite column from a few years ago, “The Cigarette Break.” After getting some new polish it was run today as “Return of the Marlboro Man.” So here’s mud in your eye, pardner.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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