My BFF Michelle* and I are hanging out at my house one weekend, trying to find something fun to do. Because we’re sophomores in high school, we’re trying to be a little bit bad-ass, but at the same time still play the Mostly Goody Two Shoes roles we’re so accustomed to. It gets a little boring making good grades, cramming into the photo booth at the movie theater by my house, and taping ourselves with my parents’ video camera while we sing along with INXS songs (“Don’t ask me/What you know is true/Don’t have to tell you/I love your precious heart/”). We want to do something really, really bad. Something way cool. Something we ordinarily wouldn’t do because we’re too good..
On this particular afternoon, we peer into my fridge. There’s the box of pink Franzia wine my mother has grown to love lately. It and milk are the two constants in our Frigidaire. This beloved box made its first appearance after my dad came out of the closet; because really, how else are you going to cope with your husband’s sudden revelation that he’s gay after 20 years of marriage? But the wine isn’t very appealing (I happen to love pink, but just not in a wine). Besides, we can drive through the Daiquiri Stop any old time (remember: this is New Orleans, people). We’re 15 year-olds, not wine connoisseurs.
On the kitchen table I spy a pack of my mom’s Benson & Hedges cigarettes. There are a few already missing from the pack and we decide Mom won’t miss another two. We each take one and scuttle up the stairs, two at a time, stealthy as mice.
We go to my room and lock the door behind us. We’re whispering and giggling. We’ve never smoked a cigarette before and we’re so excited about it. Frankly it’s a little hypocritical of me because I’ve been leaving my mom nasty little notes bitching about all of her smoking and non-mom-like behavior, like sleeping over at her boyfriend’s house. But the rebel in me still yearns to know what all the fuss is about.
We prep my room, thinking the whole time how brilliant we are. We open my window, which has a screen on it. We turn on my ceiling fan. We crouch together near the window and light up. We’re trying to breathe and puff and not cough too much. It doesn’t taste very good. It stinks. Our eyes are watering and we’re turning red from choking on the smoke. It’s getting really cloudy in my room. WTF? The damn screen is in the way, preventing us from really hanging our lit cigarettes out the window. The ceiling fan seems to be making things worse; it’s sucking the smoke back up into my room rather than expelling it. After several coughing fits and picking out bits of tobacco from our teeth, we stub out our cigarettes. And we realize with a sudden panic that my room reeks.
We’re looking at each other wildly, trying to decide what to do. We don’t have a clue. So we decide to call our mutual friend Joe*, who is in our class at school. Joe likes to smoke cigars and pretend to be cool. Clearly he must know how to remove the odor from his room. He can help us!
Michelle dials 834-9350. We know it by heart.
He answers on the third ring.
“Joe,” Michelle whispers into the phone.
“What do you want?” he asks with a sigh.
I huddle next to Michelle and our ears share the phone as she explains to him what we’ve been up to.
“You have to help us,” she pleads.
“Okay,” Joe says dryly. “Here’s what you do. Wet a big towel and swing it around the room a bunch. Then put some vinegar in each corner of the room. That should do it.”
“Thank you SO MUCH,” we shriek together into the phone before hanging up quickly to prepare.
I tiptoe downstairs to get the vinegar. Meanwhile, Michelle wets my bath towels in my shower and wrings them out. Then the two of us swing them around wildly, like we’re magician’s assistants for some sort of freak show. Each corner of my room has a Dixie cup of vinegar in it. As a result my room smells worse than before, if that’s even possible.
Fortunately my mom noticed neither the smell in my room nor her missing cigarettes; and if she did, she didn’t say anything about it. My guess is since she was a smoker herself, she couldn’t really detect the scent elsewhere.
As for Joe, he confessed many years later that he didn’t have a clue how to help us that day, but he knew how desperate and gullible we were.
*all names have been changed to protect the innocent (or guilty, as the case may be).