March 1998
s m u g
compulsion
by Josh Allen

*

Mr. Alfred Woelbing
Carma Laboratories, Inc.
5801 West Airways Ave.
Franklin, WI 53132

Dear. Mr. Woelbing,

This is the sixth draft of this letter. My hands shake with the writing of it. The words float and spar but never quite hit the jugular, as it were, never quite say what I want them to say. It's like writing a letter to God, you know, a vengeful, Old Testament-style god, a god swollen to obscene magnitude with His own wretched evil and putrid brilliance.

Hereís the thing: Carmex has eaten away at the very fabric of my soul.

i love it i love it i love it

I was at camp when I was like eleven or twelve, and my lips got seriously chapped. Bad chapped. They were brown, crispy, cracked, bloody. Monstrous. Unholy. I got no play at spin the bottle. The word is unliplike. And when you're suffering from such a high degree of chappedness, all other aspects of life just fade into the background. Nothing becomes more important than soothing that sub-philtrum ache. So one fellow camper offered me (and I believe, perhaps wrongly, that this offer was out of the goodness of his heart and not a malicious "freebie") a fingerswipe of his Carmex. Iíll never forget the distinctive clatter of the steel lid unwinding from the milky white glass jar, and the ethereally pale yellow color of the balm within.

And the smell.

The smell that is entirely unlike any other odor on this planet, that has accompanied, nay, influenced every sensory experience I have had since that fateful day. What is that scent, Mr. Woelbing? All it says in the ingredients is fragrance ... the first nonbolded item in the list, as if to further downplay its significance. You know what that says to me? It says: You donít want to know. You're better off not worrying your pretty little head about that smell. Just sit back and breathe it in and donít ask any questions.

So that's what I've done. Every day I unscrew the lid and apply another coat (my method of removing a lip's worth from the jar is the standard, gentle, lover's caress with an index finger (this enhances the effect of the resin slowly receding, like the tide, almost imperceptibly disappearing, an achingly slow striptease that, before you know it, leaves you with the sad dregs of an empty container); my mother, on the other hand [n.p.i.] uses her pinkie nail as a kind of crude shovel to remove more sizable chunks, leaving vulgar, hideous divets behind), every day I inhale the fumes and let these mysterious pheromones insert themselves into my already-worn and deteriorated neural receptors.

What keeps me coming back, Mr. Woelbing? What keeps you coming back, day after day, year after year, to the Carma Labs, to the horrifically enticing substance that you created back in 1936 for your cold sores? You are ninety-two years old and yet you still work 50 hours a week. Is it your dedication to your millions of customers, sirrah, and to your quintessentially American product? Or do you have no choice? Is it a foregone conclusion, as it is for me, that you will bend to Carmexís whim, no matter how humiliating or devious?

I say quintessentially American because of this: Carmex is a product that promotes itself. It creates its own need. The more you use, the more you want. Has there ever been a televised commercial, print ad, radio jingle, or billboard for Carmex in its 60-year history? No. Because why bother with advertising? Once you pick up a jar (and yes, I, too, am disappointed by the new plastic version of the jar, which makes it seem feeble and effete when compared to the significant heft of the original glass, an item that could, in emergencies, be used as a cudgel or counterweight [and oh god letís not even mention the flaccid, laughable plastic tube]), youíre a slave for life. Your body craves it, and you discover heretofore unseen reservoirs of rage whenever you can't get it:

Person A: Whereís the Carmex?
Person B: I dunno.
Person A: [pause] What did you say?
Person B: Huh? I said...
Person A: My lips are dying here, you could, you know, like at least help me look for it.
Person B: Why donít you just settle down and...
Person A: No, you settle down, you hideous pig-person!
Person B: Maybe it's behind the nightstand.
Person A: I've always loathed you! Your ass is too big! (furious weeping, etc.)

Welcome to my world. So hereís what I want to know, Mr. Woelbing. Youíve already got me, Iím snared (and what is it? Is it the scent? Is it the alum or salicylic acid that does more damage than good to my lips? Do you really, as the urban legend goes, implant tiny shards of fiberglass within the smooth, creamy balm?). So please just tell me itís OK. That itís OK to want more, itís OK to keep a dozen jars stashed in various convenient locations (and if one of those locations happens to be That One Drawer with the condoms and special restraints, then thatís OK, too, right?) to be there for me whenever I need it, or rather whenever it needs me, itís OK to dab a little bit under each nostril now and then, maybe take a (tiny!) taste once in awhile, perhaps use a dab to smooth down the errant eyebrow or to add that sexy gleam to an incisor? Tell me, Big Al, tell me itís all OK, that itís all about the pursuit of happiness, about satisfying primal urges and becoming a more complete modern American.

Tell me that I need Carmex because Carmex is Good.

love,
Josh

*

write to josh@smug.com

in the junk drawer:

featurecar
net
worth
chair
bumping
uglies
gun
smoking
jacket
barcode
ear
candy
pie
feed
hollywood
lock
target
audience
scissors
three
dollar
bill
dice
compulsionvise
posedowncheese
the
biswick
files
toothbrush
mystery
date
wheelbarrow
and such
and such
hat
blabfan
kissing
booth
martini









     
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