I know people who will drive 100 miles to catch a smoke and I know people who will drive 100 miles the other way to avoid even a whiff. I belong to the first group but desperately try to fit in with the second; the direct opposite play I made in high school. You see, back then, the Muscogee County School Board in Georgia insisted I smoke and even hired a schoolyard guard to ensure I conformed to their smokers-only policy. Problem was, I didn’t want to smoke and I didn’t think it was “cool” but, being a “good girl,” I promptly took up the habit.
It was the early 1970s, an era of patched blue jeans, halter tops, hippie headbands, oversized army jackets, and approved student smoking areas in high schools. I spent my high school years in several schools since my father was in the army and we moved a lot. They all had smoking areas for students, usually close by the parking lot with several trash barrels sprinkled about, partly for warming fires on cold days, partly as a depository for the butts.
Students were allowed to adjourn to the smoking area before and after school and during the lunch break. Parental consent wasn't required and there wasn’t an age limit; some of the student smokers were as young as 14. Ironically, teachers, coaches and hired “schoolyard guards” trolled these places supervising our smoking while keeping an eye peeled for drug use.
It was common for students to skip lunch altogether in order to congregate with buddies. Some brought bagged lunches and swapped goodies or shared with the hungry-but-bagless. This was particularly the case at the old Spencer High School in Columbus that snuggled up to the slaughter house. If the cafeteria food didn’t turn your stomach, the incessant fumes of death-next-door certainly would.
But it was neighboring Kendrick High School, also in Columbus, that drove the school smoking policy home and forever embedded the addiction in my being. The policy was that you either sat quietly in the lunch room (before school or during lunch) or you could go to the smoking area and visit freely with your peers. The catch: You couldn’t go to the smoking area unless you were a smoker and they checked to see that you had a cigarette in your hand the whole time you stood out there. If you put the cigarette out, you had to go back to the lunchroom and sit alone. The concept of chain-smoking caught on quicker than any wildfire.
I have smoked since. Yes, I know it’s bad for me. Yes, I know I need to quit. And I’ve tried to quit more times than I can count. I’ll most certainly try again. And again. And again. Maybe one day I’ll make it.
I’ve heard it said in several circles that Obama is trying to quit too but that he’s still sneaking a smoke now and then. I know how he feels. I try to sneak and smoke too because I’m tired of the harsh judgmental stares and the hurtful comments. I am not more because I smoke, but I’m not less either. So that’s how it is that me and Obama are “smokin’ in the boys’ room,” separately of course, like we’re naughty kids again.
Except, at least in my case, I wasn’t a naughty kid, I was a good kid that conformed to what I was taught in school.
Is anyone looking to see what is being taught in school today? Look past curriculums and beyond policies and pat platitudes. Go find the smoke and follow it to the fire that’s branding a lifelong habit, behavior or belief on the souls of kids. You may just be horrified to find the scars that are forming there.