Monday, March 9, 2009

Bubblegum Puff

I once saw a woman blow up a sheep's lung. It was 1980; I was in the third grade and the woman was the mother of a girl in my class named Shawnie. I watched the woman put her lips to a hole in the sheep's lung, watched her inhale deeply and then blow, blow, the bubblegum flesh of the lung expanding like a slick-sacked lopsided balloon. I remember hearing the collective eeews of the kids, and I glanced over at Shawnie and felt terribly, deeply sorry for her. I knew she would never be able to live it down, how her mother had put her bare science-lady lips to a dead sheep lung in front of the entire class. And from that day forward Shawnie was branded with the faint mark of childhood ick, like a guppy growing mold. As if somehow sensing that fateful day in the third grade, Shawnie's body quickly grew too tall, her brain too smart, her hair styled in a Dorothy Hamill haircut long past socially acceptable. The girl whose mother blew up a sheep's lung.
It was part of the Just Say No to Tobacco program of the early 80's when classroom blinds were drawn and we counted down the 3, 2, 1 of the crackly projector to watch film reels of black lung and a cowboy singing campfire songs through a trach tube. We were impressionable and they knew it. After school I would go home and write messages to my mother on tiny scraps of paper and slip them into her many packs of Marlboros: Please don't die! I don't want you to get emphysema! You stink! At first she generously asked me more about what they had taught me at school, but soon she was telling me to knock it off.
I smoked one cigarette in high school. Mad at my parents, I stole one from the kitchen counter and sat outside by our pool. All would have been right and addictive if I had just known how to hold it. But I didn't, and at 16 it's funny how even inanimate objects can mock you. The shrubs snickered, a chaise stared at me haughtily, one slightly deflated raft floated gently past me in the water and rolled its sun-bloated eyes in my general direction. I was no longer deterred by cancerous growth and arterial plaque so much as the fact that I felt like a total fucktard.

This weekend my mother stayed at my house. She let Zoey use her dark lipstick, picked California poppies with her and put them in a juice glass filled with water. (I grew up thinking it was illegal to pick poppies, that the minute my hand touched one I would hear sirens.) Later, Zoey and my mom took a bath together and my mother laughed as Zoey tried to scrub the palm tree tattoo off her butt. When we got home from taking my mom back to her house, Zoey turned to me and said, "I'll be right back, Mama. I'm going to go smoke a cigarette."
And I nearly died.
Hearing those words--that word, in my girl's tiny little voice. I thought of that cowboy with the trach tube, the Indian crying in the PSA from my childhood. Give a Hoot! Don't Pollute! I thought of Nancy Reagan and Shawnie. Is she still too tall? Too smart? Her hair a wedge of misfortune? Are her lungs still pliable and pink and young? And then for some reason I thought of the Kool Aid Pitcher bursting through wooden fences and into backyards, spilling that sticky red shit everywhere. It must have been in the same commercial break.
Oh, I know I have a few years before anyone lets Zoey bum a cigarette off them. A few years of me drilling it into her that smoking is bad, dangerous, gross, stinky. And yes, there was a small part of me that thought that maybe it was very slightly funny, my not-quite three year old announcing a nicotine break. But there is an even larger part of me that wonders just how badly the lung of a dead sheep would taste on my lips.
Photo by Sally Mann.

17 comments:

Vanessa said...

Yikes, i can see how that would be a little scary to hear for a mom. But as someone more objective, it *is* kinda funny. Is that wrong for me to say? Sorry. My grandfather died of emphysema, and my mom pretty much hammered it into my head that smoking equals a slow, oxygen-deprived death. It didn't stop me from smoking a bit at parties, but she definitely put enough shame and fear in me to keep me from enjoying it.
Try shame. It really works.

Oh Brother! said...

I hope mom reads this (well, not this, yours).

bro


P.S. I'm soooooo telling you smoked down by the pool!

Sharon, The Queen Blogger said...

I made homemade chicken apple sausages once; had to squeeze the mixture into sheep intestine. Gross, but yummy. I may have scarred my son ... he did grow up to be a smoker. Do you think there's a link? Perhaps a sausage link?

I know, I know .. I just couldn't help it.

amber {daisy chain} said...

omg, that is (tragically) funny! I wish I heard her say that, how did you not laugh?! I have made Ruby so freaked out about smoking that once we came out of Target and she walked right up to a smoking man and said "that is DISGUSTING" in her little girl voice - I nearly died of embarassment.

Charlee said...

When I saw your image, I knew it was a Sally Mann. Now, there's a weeks worth of posting right there. Her images are haunting, beautiful and disturbing every time.

JackeeG4glamorous said...

All my three children smoked crayons when they were toddlers. Only one grew up to be a smoker, (one a respiratory therapist-so that more than evens out).

I *Heart* You said...

My 3 year old niece calls her mother by her first name. When did all these kids become 17?

Judy said...

Did I NOT ask you nicely NOT to post about this?!There are no secrets when living with writers I guess. I KNEW you would. I am not proud of smoking. There is no defense, nothing good about it. And, having said that, I am NOT quitting the dastardly, killer, stinky, offensive to all habit. I have already told Zoey how nasty cigs are-how BAD it is for Grandma Glitter to smoke. I am sorry. What can I say. And, it IS funny-sorry, it's funny when Zoey asked to be excused to go out and have a smoke. Neither you nor Andy smoke (and until this blog, I never knew either of you had even tried one-shame on you!)and are, in fact, vehemently opposed to it-as it should be. And how many times when you were both young did I have to take away a tampax holder or tampax purloined so that one or the other of you could swagger around "puffing" like Bette Davis? Plenty of thimes, that's the answer.

I will continue to tell Miss Z. just how uncool smoking is and that (as I did with you both)I will personally paddle her backside if she EVER decides to pick up a cigarette.I will also try to be more discreet about my filthy habit. But I am NOT worried that Zoey will be a smoker.

As to the other FALSE accusations tossed at moi from this weekend's visit....I did NOT pick a California Poppy-it was a little piece of a flowering shrub which covered a hillside and one rain-battered, tattered daffodil!It is illegal to pick wildflowers on public/State property. And, yes it's true that Zoey tried to scrub off my butt palm tree tattoo-done in the 70's, in what soon after became a rare moment of inebriation. She was far more impressed that I could put my face in the water and make a motorboat sound than that Granda had a tattoo though.

I want exoneration. I behaved myself well this weekend, thank you very much. And, BTW, I did NOT give Zoey dark lipstick to put on. She got it from my purse and had it on her lips before I could hide it and substitute the lipgloss.
Mom/Grandma Slandered

Cones @ Creme de la Mode said...

It's not illegal to pick poppies? So many LIES I was told.

I smoked for 10 years (I can't even believe it was that long). I loved it. It was my time. Riding in a car, alone, on PCH in Malibu. It also made my skin crappy and I will spend the rest of my years looking in a mirror wondering how I could do it to myself. I don't want to know what my lungs look like.

Been an unsmoker for 1 year now. Moved to Japan! Don't own a car! It's true that if you change your physical location completely, you can kick a habit. who knew.

Vanessa said...

Dude, I just read your mom's comment. Grandma sounds pretty rad.

{michelle} said...

I love that Sally Mann print "Candy Cigarette," I studied her in college, her work is fantastic, I wish more people knew about her. Thanks for posting a fabulous photo!

Jennifer said...

Oh how I love Sally Mann. I had a number of girlfriends over recently and we argued for over an hour about the provocativeness of her work. I'm sure it would have gone on for hours longer but we wanted to go to the bar... Speaking of bars, back when you and I were just wee children you could actually smoke in a bar! Imagine that. Well, my mom took me to Teds once and we sat at the bar where there was already a patron sitting enjoying a cigarette and a drink. I was seated next to him and the smoke started to circle my head and settle in my personal space. Instead of moving I just started to cry. I think I was about 9. I have hated smoking and smoke since I watched my parents "casually smoke" or "only smoke socially" when I was very young. Your post brought me right back.
PS. Did you eat the beets that Shonies mom made us eat so that our pee changed colors? I didn't. Ick.

Creme de la Mode said...

Susannah - Left you a little gift over at our blog....

http://thecreme.wordpress.com/2009/03/10/you-read-me-you-really-really-read-me/

Lolo said...

How much do I enjoy that your family chimes in on your blog? SO much, that's how much!

Talk about putting the fun in disfunction.

Wait. You guys don't sound disfunctional, I just like saying that. You all just sound fun.

jen said...

I love your mom but you need to tell her not to smoke in front of Zoey. When my kids were her age they asked me why someone was smoking and I told them "Because they're stupid." I was hardcore. My mom understood and never let them see her smoke. Then, when my youngest was barely 4 she taught them the ultimate lesson and died from lung cancer.

Wow that was a happy comment. oh well...

arollerskatingjam said...

You keep besting yourself, this is one of your very best posts. I like the call and response effect we get, Judy's riposte is pitch perfect.

Never That Easy said...

I was the same way: hiding notes in my parents' cigarettes, hiding the cartons all together, and on one - particularly well punished occasion - flushing the offending sticks down the toilet. I also pretended that paintbrushes were cigarette holders, so there you go. I'm new to your blog (pleased to meet you!), and I love that your family posts comments and talks back. :D