Cigs, Texts and Heartbreak at the Mercury

Madison, WI – It’s amazing what you can learn about people in the course of smoking a single cigarette. Like this guy, Shawn, for example, who sprang from the Mercury Lounge steps upon seeing us light-up. “I’ll give you a dollar for one,” he pleaded. He needed one badly, he explained.

My friend gave him a smoke. She declined his dollar so he told us a story instead. “Thank you,” he said, emphatically. “I’m hurting so bad right now.”

I thought he was tripping or nauseous or something. His eyes were watery and he grimaced as he retook his seat on the steps. “My girl…” he explained, lighting his smoke, “she fucking stood me up.”

He started to say more, but his phone beeped. Incoming text. “See,” he said, shaking his phone at us before rattling off a thumb-typed response. “She broke my heart today.”

Between phone texts, cigarette puffs and beer swigs, Shawn explained that he and his girlfriend, a few weeks back, had met a girl at a party. They all got really drunk and the three of them spent the night together. The next morning, during brunch, they agreed to hook-up again soon.

Turns out the girlfriend and the girl had hooked-up several times since then, without Shawn. She confessed this earlier in the day, claiming she was confused and needed time to sort things out. She was supposed to meet Shawn at the Mercury, but moments before we arrived, had sent him a text canceling their date. In a subsequent text, she admitted to being at another bar with the other girl.

The day of heart-wrenching admissions was then capped by the heart-crushing declaration that the relationship was over. Shawn had been replaced.

We watched the pain surge across his face, which he tempered with a huge swig of beer. He flicked his cigarette, and then promptly asked for another. His phone beeped. And beeped. And beeped. “I can’t deal with her right now,” he said, lighting the smoke with shaky hands. But the temptation was too much. He read the texts, but didn’t share with us what they said. His head sank into his lap. “We’re together for a year and she tells me in text message that it’s over?” he said, shaking his head. “Who does that?”

Done smoking ourselves, it was time to venture inside. Shawn looked up, thanked us for listening and we wished him the best. Before parting ways I asked if I could photograph his heartbreak. He paused, taken aback by the unusual question. “Yeah, fuck it,” he said. “What do I care?”