This is not an endorsement for smoking . . .it just has a lot of smoking in it.
In high school, my friends and I used to hang out in downtown Orlando on weekend nights because there just wasn’t much to do around here at that time. Many a mini-mall, movie theater, and Super Target had not been built yet, leaving the youth of my time with lots of free time on our hands.
Anyway, we were too young to do much of anything downtown other than people watch and perhaps feel cool because we had some cigarettes in our pockets. We managed to stay out of trouble—in fact, what we ended up doing a lot was just hanging out and talking.
We talked about our crappy assignments, about our crappy teachers, about books we liked, about music that mattered, and of course, about the ridiculousness of adults and the world we saw around us. Sometimes, we would run into homeless people, which would lead to us talking about the injustice and inequality in the world and how screwed up it was. Then we’d find another random spot where we could hang out and talk some more and make fun of twenty-something year olds who acted like drunk idiots as they went in and out of bars. After we got bored of this, we’d go to a coffee shop and talk and smoke and drink coffee. I didn’t particularly like coffee at the time, but we considered ourselves deep and our deepness somehow seemed deeper if we smoked and consumed coffee. I know, right?
This reminds me of the time my best friend and I ditched our morning class and went to Denny’s. We talked and smoked and drank so much coffee while watching everyone who came in and out of the place that later when we got to Algebra (we were responsible ditchers, afterall, and attended our core classes), we broke out in a cold-sweat and got the nicotine shakes. I spent the class nauseous and pale and with a fear that at any moment, I might puke all over my graphing calculator—you know after ten minutes of dry-heaving in the bathroom.
But most mornings, we didn’t ditch. Instead, we’d meet up at a crappy gas station before school to grab a coffee meet up with some other friends, and you guessed it, talk and smoke before class.
Damn, we had a lot of time on our hands (and oh my God, apparently a serious addiction to nicotine), but what I remember most about that time was how I felt separated from the rest of the world. Encased in our youth and rebellion and deepness , I felt we were not a part of the world or the adults or problems in it. Instead, I was just an observer, sitting back and taking note of it all. It was a beautiful, naïve kind of egocentric time. And it was pre-Facebook social media days when all you had was time, when you had to be in the presence of your friends, instead of just exchange posts or texts and there was time to ramble on senselessly until you figured out exactly what it was you really meant or thought, when you had long conversations about nothing and everything. When you could sit around and just hang out and kind of observe the world and laugh at it or judge it in the way you can only do when you’re a teenager.
Anyway, I was just remembering all this. And while coffee and cigarettes didn’t make me deep (this is a huge myth, guys), all that free time and all those conversations and all that hanging out definitely made an impression on me. I’m pretty sure it’s how I learned to kind of step back and take note of what’s going on around me and observe in the way that has served me well as a writer. It’s how I learned to notice strangers and their quirks, or gestures, or dialogue that I later apply to characters. It’s how I learned to think about life and notice the world and write stories about what happens here.
So, aside from developing a nasty smoking habit that I didn’t kick until ten years later, all that free time—not such a bad thing. In fact, a pretty good thing.
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