Miles To Go Before I Quit

The fabulous prizes have finally begun pouring in. A few weeks ago the first of my Marlboro Mile rewards arrived in the mail - a wind-resistant lighter, matte black with a bright red Marlboro logo prominently stamped on the side. Then, a week later, a Vivitar viewing scope, suitable for watching the opera or for tracking elusive game in remote jungles (complete with a snappy Marlboro logo on its carrying case). And finally, a reversible fleece pullover with - you guessed it - a Marlboro patch proudly displayed on the left breast. My Marlboro merchandise tells the world, "Yes, I'm an addict and I'm proud." And now I can finally receive recompense for my nasty little habit.The first step of my journey-of-many-miles began last September. I had recently begun smoking again, after several years of hiatus, and was back with a vengeance. While sitting in a bar with several friends, one of them, Steven, noticed that I was smoking Marlboro Lights and asked if he could have the miles on the side of my rapidly emptying pack. ("Miles" being a U.P.C. code with a little stamp that reads "5 miles.") "You actually collect these?" I asked. "Besides, you smoke another brand. What do you want with them?""Look at this," he said, displaying the watch on his wrist. "I collect the miles for my dad. So far he's gotten eight of these watches, three portable CD players, and a bunch of other stuff." (After doing a little research, I found out later that the "other stuff" was a 35mm camera, a Weber grill, binoculars, a Swiss Army knife, two duffel bags and a suede jacket. And, oh yeah, a lighter. About $2,000 worth of loot.) Apparently, Dad's been in the miles game for years, enlisting every member of the family in his quest. Even his grandson has become a major supplier, collecting miles from discarded Marlboro packs in the schoolyard. Steven told us that he now stops to pick up empty packs at parties, in bars, and even in the street."You should start collecting," he said."Hmmmm. Maybe so," I replied, rejecting a vision of myself stooping down to pick up a sodden cigarette pack from the gutter.But hell, there's no harm in trying to get a little something back for all the money I fork over to Philip Morris Inc. I knew that I had no intention of quitting for some time, so why not begin hoarding?The only thing left to decide was which brand of cigarette to stick with. I rejected Virginia Slims out of hand... too girly. Camel has some fine merchandise, but I knew that I had neither the patience nor the pulmonary fortitude to inhale 1,950 packs of cigarettes for the Camcorder. (At a pack per day, that comes to over five years - much longer than I intend to draw out this particular bout of self-abuse.) Besides, Joe Camel creeps me out. But there was something about the Marlboro catalog that caught my eye. Outdoorsy gear modeled by hunky boys who have obviously never wheezed a day in their lives. I fantasized about getting the fly-fishing rod. Just me and the mighty river -- until the big one gets away because I'm trying to light up a butt, not having had the foresight to order the windproof lighter. I kept my eye out for a company that offered iron lungs and coupon booklets for radiation therapy, but seeing as the cigarette manufacturers still insist that smoking has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH HEART AND LUNG DISEASE, I knew that I was fairly unlikely to find one. So Marlboro Country, here I come.The decision to stay with one brand, coupled with the certainty that I wouldn't be kicking for quite a few months, gave me the guts to do what most smokers avoid like... well, like cancer. I began to buy cartons. Any smoker knows that the decision to buy a carton is akin to a marriage proposal -- it's a big commitment. Most of us would rather risk having to go out in a thirty below wind chill factor at 2 a.m. to buy a pack than admit to our addictions by buying an entire carton.Once I got in the habit of remembering to rip the miles off the sides of my empties, I suddenly found myself surrounded by little slips of cardboard. In the car, in my backpack, on my coffeetable. Before I knew it, I was collecting other people's miles, even finding myself reaching down into the aforementioned gutter, all the while cursing friend Steven under my breath. I found new questions of etiquette to ponder. Is it acceptable to rip the miles off of someone's not-quite-empty pack? (Decidedly not.) When I find an empty pack on the bar next to me, should I look around for its owner before taking the miles? (Yeah, right.)My friend Jean asked what I was doing one evening when she saw me shaking unguarded packs on the bar. When I told her, she was impressed. (Jean and I are the proud inventors of the concept of the "smoking gym." Stairmasters and biking machines with attached ashtrays, and oxygen bottles liberally spaced about the room.) She recently revealed that she and a friend were discussing my quest and were quite proud of me for my forethought. "Here we are, simply throwing away our empties, and there's Annette, thinking about her future... saving... 'investing,' if you will." The hell with Individual Retirement Accounts, kids. Here's where the real security is!I consolidated all of my cardboard slips, sorted them into bundles of 20 and realized after seven months I had enough to actually order some goodies. I flipped through my catalog and realized that I really didn't care about fly fishing. I didn't need the portable gas grill, was a little grossed out at the thought of the Marlboro cookbook ( "Here, try some blackened lungfish -- or how about a menthol julep?"), and the bastards had discontinued the portable CD player. So I ended up ordering the above-mentioned stuff. Hey... my daddy always said, "For free, take. For buy, ask questions." I sent in a grand total of 1,385 miles. (I'll do the math for you -- that's 277 packs or 5,540 cigarettes. If you go by the old saw that each cigarette cuts five minutes off of your life span, my merchandise has cost me 27,700 minutes, or slightly more than 19 days. Hey, cheap at twice the price.)I plan on quitting again at the end of the summer. I already have a box of nicotine patches on standby. But in the meantime, I'm getting more and more curious about that cookbook.

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