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Monday, April 16, 2007

Miss Independence


When I was eighteen I started out at the local community college; I was paying for my own education and I needed to work part-time as a bank teller to finance my degree. Like most college freshmen, I was sort of undecided: in my heart I knew I was born a teacher, but having had a string of furry pets during my teenage years made me flirt with the idea of veterinary medicine. Bravely, I enrolled in some science courses until I realized I had a tendency to faint at the sight of blood and that my hatred of math--present since birth--only intensified and deepened.

Never one to dawdle at decision-making, I quickly changed my major to secondary education, reasoning that I could become an English teacher and blend the best of both worlds: I could still work with animals, but there would be a lot less blood. (rimshot)

I was caught in such an odd, in-between world. I was in college, but I was living at home. I was working and earning my own money, but I was living at home and had a curfew. It was the strangest thing. I had always been self-motivated and independent, but it felt like I should be somehow different now. What was the answer?

Cigarettes.

That was the Big Blow I Struck For Independence. I started smoking.

Laughably, though, I couldn't really do it much. I couldn't smoke in the car, because technically, it wasn't mine, it was my parents'. And I couldn't really do it much in very public places because my mom and dad knew everybody. Mom was a teller for the same bank I worked for. Dad was a security guard at the steel mill in town and knew every person, every cop, every family, and everybody who went to our church. It was ridiculous. So, when did I smoke?

In class.

Back then, in the late seventies, we could smoke in class unless somebody objected. And no one did. So, for my eight o'clock Eighteenth Century British Lit. class--oh my god, what a yawner!--I'd stop in the cafe, get a huge coffee, grab my pack of Salem Light Longs or Kent Somethings (I forget, but they were in a silver and green pack, I think), and head to the back of the room. That class nearly killed me for a variety of reasons. Can you imagine drinking like 24 ounces of coffee and smoking probably 4-6 cigarettes while meandering through the likes of Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift--and let's not forget Dryden. Dryden. I mean, I was supposed to read Tristram Shandy for that class. (I never did, you know. I just thumbed through it, came across those odd blank, black, and swirly pages and did an essay on those. BS'ed my way through it and Dr. O. thought I was a genius. I did, at least, have the grace to feel guilty about that.)

But I digress.

Back to My Rebellious Smoking. I smoked like a smudgepot during all my classes and felt very professorial and beatnik and English-studentish. I even gestured with my cigarette and used my empty styrofoam coffeecup for an ashtray. How pretentious I probably--no, surely--looked. But I wasn't the only one. There were lots of us, but I bet I was the only one doing it for a sense of dangerous independence. The only one who had to do it there because if she didn't, her mother or father would find out and probably ground her or lecture her and make her feel like a disappointment. Sigh.

But it didn't last. In November I met a boy, and that made me quit cold turkey. Because there was one thing I really detested about me smoking and it was this: I hated the way I looked when I was smoking. I thought it made me look hard and cheap and tawdry and trashy. I hated the way my mouth looked when I would draw in, and no matter how hard I tried, I never looked cool or sexy or even smart when I let the smoke out. So, when I met this boy, I just stopped. And that was it. Because I knew if I didn't, sooner or later, he'd see me smoking and it would be awful.

The funny thing is, that was almost thirty years ago, and every once in a while, I still get a yen for a cigarette. I completely understand people who try to quit, over and over again. I get it. But it looks ugly. And you know me. That's enough.

20 comments:

  1. Ah, the things we did to pretend we were adults. ;) Glad you nipped the habit in the "butt". :)

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  2. Oh, I do wish I would stop smoking!!! I hate the way lingering smoke smells in my house, on my clothes, in my hair, on my breath. But I do enjoy that nasty habit, I really do. And when I do try and quit, I get so mean and irritated that I can't stand myself let alone anyone else. And how on earth do you have that morning cup of joe or evening glass of wine without a cigarette? That is just down right scary to me! I've never thought about the way I actually look while smoking...I'm going to have to check that out. Maybe then I'll quit. Anyway...enough about me. I'm glad you were able to kick the habit. And what is all of this really about? Did you find one of your boys smoking?

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  3. Ahh, the things one can get away with having divorced parents with joint custody. I guess it's also a different world now than it was back then. I did get away with a whole hell of a lot.

    That said, I was a pretty good kid for my parents. I never did anything terrible or got into serious trouble. Only one misdemeanor!

    Right now my cousin is living with my mom, and he's having more serious issues (drunk driving on a suspended license...which was suspended because he got a DUI). On the upside, every time I speak to her, she thanks me for being such a good kid :)

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  4. Great story and I like the picture too! I never smoked. Well, once I tried with a friend in 6th or 7th grade, but I hated it. My mom smoked when I was young and I remember waking up to the smell of cigarette smoking feeling like I was going to suffocate. I knew I would never smoke because of her smoking. My mom eventually quit too.

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  5. Nance! I had that exact same year! Did you also endure the embarrassment of your 'rents checking out the occasional date? [wither] I wanted to go into biology but I was told that, as a certified math-tard, I would never make it. So I did art and English. Spent my money on books and art supplies and no one saved me from reckless spending because, heck, those just weren't rebellious vices. Having a maxed out first credit card was! I couldn't smoke, because I'm asthmatic.

    Kudos! You're lucky you made the right choice and quit early. And Tristram Shandy? One of my favorite books evah.

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  6. Oh my goodness Nance!!! Yet ANOTHER thing(s) you and I have in common!!!! We BOTH worked as a teller during Freshman year of college! Uh, and yes, yes, I have thought on a couple of occasions that I was "grown" and tried to smoke...but I was unsuccessful!

    You see I could never get the hang of the inhaling part, and it almost choked the hell out of me each time!!! I decided it wasn't for me, aside from the fact that I was ashamed and embarrassed for anyone to see me with the cigarette (just so uncouth and unladylike), so it was like, "Earth to Tera...why the hell are you doing it?!"

    My mother, and just about everyone in my family (with the exception of 2 or 3 adults in her generation) smoke!! So I (as Anali) made a promise that I would not have that nasty habit myself...my kids tell me all the time that they are very glad that I don't because they "don't want me to die of cancer." Gotta love those kids :)

    Nina~Get out of the mirror watching yourself smoke ;)

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  7. Great post. Whatever happened to the boy for whom you quit cold turkey?

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  8. Tristram Shandy... oh, what memories. I think I pulled a similar trick with that book. I know I did with Thackeray; there are just so many times you can swallow 'and now dear reader' (i.e., if your writing is up to scratch, do you have to spell it out?) Dickens was far more palatable, thank you.

    Smoking: I'm sure I looked terrible smoking, but I hung out with other people who smoked, and never watched myself in the mirror. My reason for starting: I took my first puff after my first serious boyfriend dumped me. Not a smart move.

    TIE FEEDBACK, 16 APR 07: Love, love, love that burgundy color. Why the heck did it have to be one of those days when you can't get a close-up? (I have tried the enlargement idea, but it really does get very pixelated, makes me feel like I am hallucinating, and also... I lose the finer subtleties which you so warmly describe. In fact, I could really survive on the Dept. Tie Report alone, but I always sneak over there to look on days when I am not home in time to catch the live version on our paleolithic 17" non-high-definition T.V. screen.

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  9. girl and dog--yeah, me, too. i cannot stand being around cigarette or cigar smoke.

    nina--no deeper meaning here, and no, it wasn't written in reaction to anything. just something i happened to remember and be thinking about. both my boys detest smoking.

    ih--i was a very good kid for the most part. even my mom will say so!

    anali--both my husband's parents were heavy smokers. he never even tried it. both my parents? nonsmokers!

    sputnik--my dad hated all my dates and even tossed one down the front steps.

    tera--i did a lot of "puffing" and not inhaling at first. but stay with just not smoking. i still think it looks horrible for women to smoke.

    fringes--oh, him? i married him!

    ortizzle--from now on, i write the tie report just for YOU. and i don't have hi-def. that would just kill me. but you should see me move from seat to seat to get all possible angles of the tie. seriously: for fashion, i go to great lengths.

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  10. I've never wanted to smoke, and it's probably because my grandparents smoked and I hated everything about it when I moved in with them. However, they quit COLD TURKEY. At their age! I'm so proud of them.

    I think my "rebellion" happened back in the day when I went through my "black" phase in 8th and 9th grade (I think it had worn off by 10th grade...). I wanted to dye my hair blue at one point, but since my mom was totally okay with that, I didn't.

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  11. When I graduated from college I had to come home and live there from December until late, late spring. I was a permanent substitute teacher before getting hired full time to teach middle school English. Those were some of the longest months of my life. I was working and I had a degree, but I was living in my childhood bedroom and answering to my parents. I hated it. My rebellion? I drank a lot.

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  12. Wordgirl - I spent last summer at home with my family (after graduating from college), and I will never be back with them for more than a two week period again.

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  13. Okay, I'm here. And we may just have been separated at birth. I'm a former English teacher who wanted to be a vet growing up. I tried to smoke in college too, but it never took. My Southern lit professor chain smoked while lecturing when I was an undergrad. By the time I got back for grad school, the rules had changed, and the buildings were smokefree. It was a difficult transition for the man. And somehow, he lost something--a kind of ironic emphasis that could only be imparted by a cool blowing out of smoke when any of us said something stupid.

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  14. jenomena--every summer, i think about getting a blue streak in my hair! mr. dept. is the naysayer on that one.

    wordgirl--sigh. yes, how well i remember that phase,too. being engaged, 22, living at home until the wedding. i had a "courtesy curfew."

    edgy mama--welcome to the dept.! i hope to see/hear from you often. and feel free to browse the archives and check out my daily tie report in the sidebar for fun. southern lit? sounds like heaven--flannery o'connor, katherine ann porter, eudora welty...but if you had to suffer through faulkner, forget it. he always irked me because i'd kill myself reading him, then get done and say, "wow! that was incredible" totally forgetting the hell i had just gone through. kind of like labor, i guess.

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  15. I started in high school and quit about 20 times until I finally quit once and for all a few years ago.

    For you it was looks - for me it was smell. I couldn't stand the stench anymore. But like you, every now and then I want one. And if I give in and bum one off someone, I have to scrub myself down when I get home.

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  16. V-Grrrl6:23 AM

    I left home for college when I was 18 and never lived there again. However, I clearly remained my mother's baby. When I was home visiting my parents in my mid-20s, I arranged to get together with some hometown friends. My mom, without thinking, called out a curfew to me as I stepped out the door. I turned around and said, "Mom! I have a mortgage of my very own. I can't have a curfew too."

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  17. Apr. 18th Tie: I would agree with your description except that... blue-and-gold just reeks of "Boy Scout." Not that there's anything wrong with that if you ARE a Boy Scout, but Brian should know better. He needs to retire that tie, give it away, whatever. (NOTE: If the stripes had been grey or silver, this would have changed my mind entirely.)

    In any case... he needs to re-think the whole stripe thing. Thin stripes are O.K., but fat stripes... you gotta be more careful. I dunno. You're the fashion guru, Nance. I just sez it like I sees it. :-)

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  18. Apr. 19th Tie: Yeah, purple again. But you're right, that boyish charm can forgive a multitude of sins, including The Purple Tie Parade. And anyway, it was a lovely shade of lavender (I hesitate to say lilac, it sounds too feminine.)

    I enjoyed your "wife-picking-out-the-tie" fantasy. ;-)

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  19. brookelina--the smell was an issue, too, but there was so much extraneous smoking back then, that it wasn't as big a deal.

    v-grrrl--couldn't you have arranged a trade? :-)

    Ortizzle--that blue-gold striped tie really just bores the hell out of me. it's so pedestrian. i am so close to writing to him at NBC and pointing him to my Tie Report.

    and as far as the fantasy Report: i hate to admit just how into it I got. there is definitely something about b.w. that i like. there's a bit of the devilment hiding under all that gravitas. i can just feel it.

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  20. Nance, you read my mind! I have been so tempted to email NBC and tell them that Brian Williams' ties are being carefully critiqued on a daily basis. But it is not for me to decide, and besides, they would probably dismiss me as some kind of delusional stalker. (To say nothing of the fact that this might curtail your charming little fantasy posts, heh, heh...

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