The nicotine is everywhere, and I am assailed on all sides. Hip Catalan separatists in jean cutoffs smoking their rollies, their tobacco laughter echoing up the cracked façades of this narrow Barcelona street and into my open window. The old lady in the apartment across the street from mine hanging up sopping clothes on the strung wires, a cigarette dangling from her lips, her morning routine occasionally interrupted when her body seizes and her rheumy coughs ring out. The construction workers grunting in my building’s hallway, the smoke from their cigarettes creeping under my door and rising in tantalizing curls.
I am biting my fingernails, one eye on the blood forming in my thumb’s crease, the other on the timer on my smartphone. I compulsively bounce my leg as three pieces of nicotine gum congeal into a tumored mass inside my mouth. I focus on my breathing. I recite a mantra. I stare at the laptop’s blank page and try to write.
The timer rings a jolly tune unbefitting of the occasion. Deliverance. I am Pavlov’s dog reaching for the all-too-easy-to-misplace obelisk charging on its all-too-easy-to-misplace USB charger. I raise the Juul to my lips and take in its sweet mango nectar and exhale. Relief comes in lightheaded waves. I congratulate myself for following my protocol of one Juul break per hour — a rarity nowadays, because I work from home and have nothing but my own sense of discipline to hold myself accountable.
But these are desperate times, and conservative measures are necessary. I am one pod away from running out of Juul in Barcelona — a city where everyone, it seems, smokes, and where selling Juul is outlawed because its high nicotine content (59 mg/ml, or 5 percent strength) exceeds limits set by the European Union (20 mg/ml, or 1.7 percent strength).
I am one pod away from running out of Juul in Barcelona — a city where everyone, it seems, smokes, and where selling Juul is outlawed.
When I run out, as I expect I will today or the next day, I will follow with surprising consistency a path I’ve come to know all too well since moving here from San Francisco earlier this year: I will go through withdrawals that make me question whether life was ever good. I will search in pockets and under furniture for forgotten pods. I will chew more nicotine gum. I will suck from an inferior gurgling e-cigarette, the juice staining my clothes and making my room smell of sickly sweet bubblegum, while chewing more nicotine gum. I will add concentrated nicotine formulas to my inferior e-cigarette to approximate the nicotine dosage of a Juul, concocting ghastly brews that will burn my throat and make me ill, while chewing more nicotine gum. But the cause will be futile: Soon enough, I will be back on cigarettes.
I will feel shame as I hide my habit from my wife. I will dream up schemes to evade customs in a bid to ship myself more Juul pods from the United States. I will assess which friends I feel less ashamed to ask to undertake these schemes. Failing that, I will pay premium to order Juuls online, ship them to the warehouse of a shipping service in some remote corner of the United States, and have the shipping service ship them to me — provided they don’t realize I am violating their terms of service, provided Spanish customs doesn’t catch me.
I will wander through the Ramblas, Barcelona’s quintessential tourist trap, stalking American tourists sucking on Juuls, and curse myself for lacking the surreptitious movements of the city’s infamous pickpockets. I will scour Facebook for acquaintances planning to stop by Spain on their European vacations. I will reach out to these acquaintances, telling them I’d love to see them when they’re in town; is there any chance they could do me just a little favor before they head out here? And I will meet up with them, suffering through inane conversations, wondering how long it’s appropriate to wait before asking them, “So, hey, did you, eh, happen to pick up some of those pods before you left?” And when they nod, reach into their backpacks, and pull out the prized bounty, they will become my best friend.