“Think smoking’s cool?” she said.
Amy was smoking a cigarette I had stolen from my sister, trying it on for size, playing at sophisticated and elegant. She was meeting with mixed results. In fact, she looked exactly like a child playing dress-up with a lit cigarette.
“I don’t know. It seems kind of funny. It sure can’t be healthy, sucking smoke into your lungs. On the other hand, there is a certain coolness to it, perhaps because a lot of people who smoke are also cool. Maybe smoking is cool by association?” I was trying to draw her, capture the playful discomfort she was displaying, but finding it difficult.
She had kicked her black mary-janes into the corner, her white school socks were balled up beside them. I wouldn’t walk around bare-foot in the silo for fear of contracting something horrible from the ancient pine floor, but Amy was ever fearless.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s bad for you. Cool by association is quite an idea, probably the truth. Do you think if cool people stopped smoking it would become less cool?” she asked.
After a few moments of posturing with the cigarette, she flopped down into her chair and curled her legs up underneath her. The soles of her feet were black with dust, little dark footprints against the whiteness of her feet.
I thought about her question for a moment, wondering what she was pushing for. “Probably. I mean, if something so obviously foolish is cool only because cool people do it, it makes sense that if cool people stopped doing it, it’d be less cool. Right?”
She laughed and inexpertly flicked the ash into a chipped teacup that I had found outside at the base of the ladder. I tried to capture the loose strands of hair that fell around her face from the messy pile of hair on top her head.
“That certainly goes without saying.”
I found myself completely unable to draw. I put my sketchbook away and leaned over to pluck the cigarette from her hand.
She picked up my sketchbook and pencil and began to draw in an undirected, haphazard way. “Maybe that’s why smoking doesn’t make you cool. Smoking’s not cool at all, only cool by association. So one cannot become cool just by associating one’s self with smoking. You cannot become cool by association to something that is cool only by association.”
I thought about it for a second, mentally traversing the maze of twisty thoughts she had just laid out. “Okay. So what’s your point?”
There was a long silence broken only by that crystalline scratching of the pencil in her hand over the course tooth of the paper in my sketchbook. I crushed out the cigarette and kept looking at her.
“The point is, the people in your class are never going to like you just because your sister helps you dress in cool clothes and tells you the cool bands to listen to. You’ll never be cool by association to the things that are only associatively cool. Only by association to things that are actually cool.”
She leaned forward, till her nose was inches from mine. Whenever she got this close to me, I could smell her hair, the shampoo she used. This time it was mingled with the smell of cigarette smoke on her breath.
“If you want to be liked, you need to understand what makes people like people, you need to get someone who is liked in your class to like you.”
She slapped my sketchbook down on my lap. In the center of the page was a crowd of scribbled, crude people clustered together. Off in the corner of the page was a tiny scribble of a boy with a cigarette.
“Otherwise you’ll be on the outside forever.”