I believe it’s accurate to say that I had a reputation for being straight-laced in high school. If I showed up at your party (rare), and you were thinking of bringing out booze or some illicit substance, you might ask your friend,
“Do you know that guy?”
“Who? Oh, that Burns twin? David?”
“Will he be cool if I bring this out?”
“David? Uhhhhh…better wait until he’s gone.”
Yeah. Maybe I wasn’t truly a “narc”, but I can understand why no one ever offered me drugs or booze or cigarettes in high school. Perhaps it wasn’t so much that they were worried I would rat them out as maybe they just didn’t want to offend me…or maybe they thought I would have been judgy–and maybe I would have been.
But once in a while, I like to push against that image. In ninth grade, I went on a band trip–an out of town contest. I don’t remember exactly which trip this was, but I know I ended up in a mall, and I know I ended up in a novelty shop–something like a Spencer’s.
Spencers is the PERFECT place for a group of adolescent boys to pick up a few souvenirs. It is full of all kinds of juvenile mischief. I remember that on this trip, I found a particularly interesting novelty: a fake cigarette. It had a glowy sort of tip that looked like it could be lit, and when you puffed on it, it immitted a smokey substance. From a relatively short distance, it was very convincing. I tried it out a little in the mall bathroom in front of the mirror. Yessss, just the right level of naughty. Maybe I showed it to a friend or two, but mainly, I kept it tucked away.
This was a time when it was common to see a kid smoking on a high school campus. Norman High even had a smokers area and sometimes the teachers stepped out between classes to take a quick drag to give them the peace of mine to make it through another period. Different world. But at West Mid-High (9th and 10th grade), you had to be a little more discreet.
I didn’t try an actual cigarette until my thirties–frankly, a dumber thing to try in your thirties than in your teens. But I didn’t really want to smoke, I just wanted to see if I could fool people into thinking I was. I had no real intended effect other than fool a few people–maybe get a laugh or two.
There were three lunch options at West: off-campus, snack bar in the gym, or cafeteria–in order from coolest to least cool. I was generally afraid to take the social risk of eating in the cafeteria, but it was the cheapest option and I was low on funds, so I was heading that direction for lunch. As I crossed the schoolyard, I pulled out my fake cigarette, took a fake puff, and continue to walk, letting it casually dangle from my right hand.
My paths crossed with a punky sort of girl who had seen me take a puff. She said, “Dude. I didn’t know you smoke.”
I don’t think I said anything, just nodded. She nodded her approval and said, “Cool,” and kept walking.
Cool. Ah. Now we were getting somewhere. Not only had my pranked worked, but it had also earned me a “cool” from a girl. I took another puff, walked into the cafeteria, and got in line. Here’s where my memory is fuzzy. Did I walk in with that fake cigarette in my hand–bold as you please–or did I conceal it? Either way, a teacher took notice and approached me.
“You smoking a cigarette?” he said.
“Uhhh…no sir,” I said, truthfully.
“I just saw you smoking a cigarette before you entered the cafeteria.”
“Oh, it’s not a cigarette. Just a prank,” I said, hoping to satisfy his curiosity and send him on his way.
But instead, he held out his hand and said, “Let me see it.”
I pulled it out of my pocket and show it to him. “See? It’s just a toy,” I said, hoping to make it seem more innocent than it was.
He turned it over in his hand, giving it a quick inspection and shook his head. “Sorry, I can’t let you keep this. I don’t care if it’s a fake cigarette or not; you shouldn’t have brought into school.”
I must have figured it was folly after that anyway. How did I expect this to end? Word gets around that that straight-laced, goody-two-shoes, narc David Burns smokes cigarettes in the cafeteria? What a badass? And then someone inevitably discovers that it was just a prank cigarette? That couldn’t end well. I might even be labeled a poser.
I was disappointed to lose it. It was a fun thing to fool around with, but I never bought another one even when I got the chance. I guess whatever cool points I had gained in that brief, shining moment eventually went up in smoke.