Posts Tagged ‘teenager’

A co-worker complimented me on my paperclip holder this morning.

It’s an ashtray.

My grandmother (father’s side) LOVED to smoke. She loved it like some people love their pets. It was her hobby.

When we were children, my brother and I would argue over who got to flick the Bic to light her Chesterfields, secondhand smoke be damned.

After her diagnosis of lung cancer/heart disease, she halfheartedly tried to quit. I remember looking outside one Thanksgiving and noticing smoke drifting up from the open driver-side door of her K-car. She may have sort of tried to take her doctor’s advice to quit, but she wasn’t taking any orders off of anybody.

After she died, I found secret stashes of Chesterfields all over her house, in handbags, dresser drawers and cabinets. They seemed like dirty secrets, and finding them made me wish that everybody had just shut up and let the woman smoke after her condition was diagnosed as terminal. Instead, she seems to have spent her last couple of years sneaking cigarettes only when she could get all the caretakers out of the house.

This is only one of the entirely awesome collection of ashtrays that I inherited from her. Most are very evocative of the ’60s and ’70s, and there’s not a plain one among them. Like her, they’re colorful and weird, and they don’t really go with anything.

She died in the fall when I was a college freshman. Every year about this time I realize that I’m becoming more like her as I get older (sans the smoking and multiple divorces), and we could have some great conversations if she was still around. We could have spent the last 20 years taking those crazy guided bus tours that she liked, smoking our way around the continent.

She would have been a blast on a cruise ship.

Instead, I’ve got the grooviest ashtrays you’ve ever seen. They may never see another cigarette, but they’re great reminders of a majestically weird lady that I wish had been around longer.

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I took my new Chuck Taylor All Stars out for a test drive last night. Good news: They still make my feet look 1.5 times bigger than they really are, and they totally remind me of seventh grade, when I was on the junior high basketball team.

I was tall and I could shoot, but I just wasn’t that good at basketball. The fast pace of the game frustrated me – I’m a planner. Plus, it was hard to be a cool outcast when you’re with the incast.

Turns out you can also wear your Chucks while you’re hanging out with the drama club and smoking under the bleachers, where nobody notices that your feet seem a lot bigger than they should be.

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I’ve been invited to an ’80s party. While I’m looking forward to the music and pop culture references, I find myself dreading the costume.

I now know how people who grew up in the ’60s felt in the ’80s. You live through a decade’s fashion atrocities, then you have to put up with the whippersnappers making fun of them or, perish the thought, reviving them.

I saw girls in legwarmers last year, and they were nowhere near an ’80s party. Legwarmers are as hideous now as they were before.

Folks who came of age in the ’60s have seen bellbottoms make a rebound or two. Tube tops, last seen in the ’70s and ’80s, have experienced an unfortunate resurgence the past few years. Ladies, please. Mind your squishy parts.

Do I miss anything about ’80s fashion? I still love Swatches. Although they’re not as widely available as they were when I was a teenager, they’re still colorful, fun and quirky. I tend to gravitate toward Swatch stores when I’m vacationing, and thus have several watches that are inappropriate for many office settings and social affairs. One features a monkey. I may be picky, but I also might be kind of immature.

I miss wearing dozens of rubber or silver bracelets at once. I’m kind of sorry sometimes that I don’t have much occasion to wear two earrings in one ear.

In short, I guess miss the jewelry of the ’80s. You can have the leggings, parachute pants and slouchy boots.

Maybe I’ll go as a Ghostbuster. All the better to keep those damn kids off my lawn.

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A chapter in Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People describes the use of childhood nerdiness as an inner defense against a disordered home life. Nugent cites Dungeons and Dragons, a quite orderly role-playing game, as one of the tools used by a childhood friend to cope with the chaos of a dysfunctional family living in a cluttered home.

A chaotic home life wasn’t a prerequisite to D&D play among my small group of friends in the late 1980s, but an acute sense of “otherness” certainly seemed to be. Yeah, yeah, all teenagers get the feeling that they don’t “belong” at some point, but some of us really didn’t blend into our surroundings. Whereas our classmates were content with pegging their jeans and listening to love songs by Chicago, a few of us were striving for hair colors that didn’t exist in nature and digging around for older stuff from the Violent Femmes and the Sex Pistols.

That’s not to say we didn’t have our Bon Jovi moments, but we didn’t get stuck there. We went all out to discover exotic-to-us bands like Marillion, and a couple of us were even accused of being Satanists after choreographing a talent-show dance routine to a particularly dark Depeche Mode song. (Note to accusers: I bet you’re still cretins.)

Our home lives weren’t what you would call chaos, though some might be termed “loosely structured.”

We belonged in our D&D group, our fates determined by our imaginations and dice rolls. To our parents, it was a safe, acceptable weekend gathering (there was just a bit of intergroup dating, most of which ended amicably). It’s probably the No. 1 reason that I have more male friends than female friends to this day – I had so much fun with the boys (there were usually only two girls in the group) that the girl stuff held no appeal.

Not belonging stinks. But when you ultimately find your people, it’s a better feeling than pretending.

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During my holiday time-wasting, I came across the 25 Things About Me meme in dozens of blogs.

I couldn’t come up with 25 fascinating things about myself at once even after a proper dose of coffee. Besides, any list with more than, say, eight items is really pushing the limits of my patience.

Thus, I give you 2 Diametrically Opposed Things About Me:

  • I was a majorette for a year in junior high. Baton, sequins, the works.
  • I still own a set of D&D dice.

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While browsing the List of the Day archives, I spotted the September 17 entry, Your Worst Job, and began analyzing my own early career path.

Having avoided the service industry for most of my working years, I don’t have too much whining to do about my jobs of yore. My fellow cube rats will agree that the white-collar environment can be a special circle of hell, but I’ve always had some guilt about excess sniveling when my job involves an air-conditioned environment, free coffee and access to clean restrooms. I feel like an overeducated tool – an overeducated tool who isn’t above griping about her job, but at least I’m a little uncomfortable about it.

That said, I have had some notable jobs that “informed my character.” The significant ones:

•Babysitter of three little boys, ages 2, 3 and 4: I made megabucks from this gig. Nobody else in my suburb was willing to take on these guys, so their mom had to up the hourly rate significantly.

At their house, I learned the art of loose parenting. They could have Popsicles once a day, outside, while wearing only their diapers. Afterwards, they got rinsed off with the garden hose before toweling down and coming inside for fresh diapers. Mom’s orders. Who was I to argue?

They also ate quiche for lunch once a week. None of the toddlers I currently associate with would even consider eating quiche.

•Cashier at Jitney Jungle: This was a joyfully monotonous job. My duties included scanning groceries, checking IDs, counting cash (this was in the Olden Days, when people used cash) and stocking cigarette and candy displays.

It was a people-watcher’s delight. The poor, the rich, the drunk, the recently paroled, the great unwashed … a sea of humanity made its way through my lane day after day. Most customers were friendly, though some were crotchety. It was always a delight to bend the rules for the friendly customers and enforce them to the letter for the crotchety.

My favorite customer was a man who always told me that he was going to pay me with “Hawaiian money.” I was the only cashier who ever got his joke; more than one freaked out and ran to the management booth for help.

I enjoyed analyzing the combinations of products that people bought, stringing together my own narratives for their lives with plot details involving the contents of their shopping carts. Cigarettes, beer and diapers were a popular combo that really needed no explanation. My favorite grouping was a bottle of bleach, a hairbrush and an order of potato logs from the deli.

I only caught one shoplifter. It was an elderly lady who added up her purchases on the back of an envelope and paid me with wrinkled bills and coins that she carefully mined from the bottom of her old, ragged purse. She never bought a brand-name item if there was a generic version available, and there was never a hint of luxury in her basket.

One day, I saw her in an empty lane slipping three or four Snickers bars into her bag. My duty, of course, was to Get The Manager, but instead I played lookout for her, making sure that no one else saw and that she got out of the store with little fanfare for her walk home.

I imagined that this was a special circumstance. Maybe she had a grandchild visiting, or a friend coming over to watch a rerun of a favorite movie on her old TV set that, no doubt, sported a pair of foil-covered rabbit ears.

Maybe she stole things all the time and I just didn’t know it. Maybe she was getting senile. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t about to have a poor old lady arrested for a little chocolate.

•Marketing Coordinator, unnamed small business: I extended two weeks worth of work into six months of employment with this company. The boss knew it and didn’t care. What counted was that such a small business had a Marketing Coordinator on staff, even if there was nothing to coordinate.

Luckily, I was by myself in the office most of the time and had ready access to the Internet and free coffee. Not so luckily, when the boss was there, he grooved to barbershop quartet music and Rush Limbaugh. He also whistled. Inside. A lot. To this day, I can’t help but glare at anyone who dares whistle in my presence.

My replacement tracked me down several weeks after I left and called me to see what the job duties were supposed to be. I still remember his exact words when I told him the truth: “Seriously? Christ.”

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