If only the Stupid weren’t me…

By Gae Polisner

I’m really a good girl and always have been. My teenaged days of naughty behavior and experimentation were limited in scope, and mostly saved till I left my parents’ home and ventured off to college in Boston.

But there was that one time. . .

Let me just start out by saying, I hate smoking. Hate with a capital H-A-T-E, hate!!! Like that, all separated by hyphens and/or followed by too many exclamation marks.

Smoking is stupid and horrible and will kill you, not to mention make your breath stink. Ew.

So, I’d like to tell you that I never held a cigarette in my hands. Ever.

Never, ever, ever in my life.

In fact, I’m ashamed of this story and it’s all Herbach’s fault that I’m telling you.

So, here’s what happened.

It is 1980.


and, yes, that is me, circa 1980 on my Uncle’s Porche.

My friend Susan and I are at the movies, my parents having dropped us off on their way out to some plans of their own for the evening, and Susan’s parents being on pick up duty.

My parents are in a rush to get where they’re going, so we’re early, and hanging around until it’s finally time to get our popcorn and take our seats.

The lights go out and the movie starts. Oh yes, I remember completely: The Blues Brothers.

IWSgae2Classic Aykroyd and Belushi.

Susan lights up and (I’m sorry. Now, oh man, how I am so sorry!) passes it to me.

Then she lights up her own.

And, yes, call it gross AND crazy, these were the days of that you could still smoke in the theater!

I take a nice long drag, and another. It feels cool and hip and rebellious. We are two teen sophisticates out on the town, in the private, dark suave of the movies.

Another drag. We are independent.

And, another. We are grown-ups.

And, another.

IWSgae3We. Are. Cool.

There’s a tap on my shoulder.

A friend? A guy I’ve been crushing on?

I turn around.

My mother is standing there, glaring.

Now mind you – and yes, this may be an aside and a total attempt to pass the buck and take the onus off of me – but it’s my mother’s fault I am smoking. When I was little, she smoked and we and my father, a physician, had to work hard and tirelessly to get her to quit. Of course, this was back in the Mad Men days, before they knew the horrors, when it was still de rigueur. Still my sister and I threw endless, academy-award caliber temper tantrums, risked my mother’s constant wrath as we flushed fistfuls of her smokes down the toilet. Eventually, she capitulated. Sure, she’d still sneak one now and again, but we knew in our house it was wrong and bad, and worse that my father would kill me if he knew.

So, back to that cool, hip moment in the theatre, my mother standing there, glaring at me.

I looked up at her, fear in my eyes.

I looked at the cigarette in my hand.

I looked back at her, then back at the cigarette in my hand.

And here is what I said.

“It’s not mine. I’m holding it for Susan.”

Now, I must preface this by telling you that I was an honors student, a Regents scholar, and, I swear, not dumb. And yet, those were the words I came up with: “It’s not mine. I’m holding it for Susan.”


My mother’s eyes went from my hand, to Susan’s hand which, yes, still held its own cigarette.

“She smokes two at once?” my mother asked.

Sheer genius, I tell you. Sheer genius.

Suffice it to say, I refused to backpedal or come clean. I stood my ground. I never went back on that STUPID story. Not to this day.

In fact, I’m still standing by it now.

If you’re reading, Mom, it wasn’t mine. I swear.

It was Susan’s.

And, Susan was clearly with Stupid that day.


Gae Polisner is the author of The Pull of Gravity (fsg, now out in paperback from Square Fish!) and The Summer of Letting Go, spring 2014, Algonquin Young Readers. When she’s not writing, she’s a practicing attorney/divorce mediator, and when she’s not doing that or watching her two awesome boys do their stuff, she can be found in water — the pool off-season, or the open waters of the Long Island Sound spring through fall. Last summer she swam her first five-mile swim and is still waiting for her wetsuit to turn her into a superhero.