Don’t Try this at Home

When you’re the oldest child of immigrant parents, you plow the path as if you were a John Deere.  They think it’s 1930 Poland or Romania.  In reality it’s 1960 Phoenix, Arizona USA.  They say “no” a lot!  Because life costs too much, they have four children to raise, and few financial resources.  You have found babysitting pays.  So does a savings account at the bank, which in addition pays interest. 

Mostly they say “no” because they have been thrust into a life they never intended living.  Modern psychology hasn’t arrived in the form of EST trainings, Ram Dass, Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, and weekly therapy sessions.  Grateful is how you feel if you have enough money to fix the brakes on the car and buy a chicken for Shabbat dinner.  All your clothes are made on an old Singer; you want a cashmere sweater and matching pencil skirt from Goldwater’s on Central Avenue.  They watch Ed Sullivan, you watch Dick Clark.  You crave fitting in they don’t get it.  School isn’t for fitting in school is for learning. 

In the 60s, nothing was more American than smoking.  Thanks to the movies of the 40s and 50s, everybody who was anybody smoked.  I wanted to be everybody.  I wanted to be cool.  If you were cool, you were leaning against the wall in the halls of Central High wearing a pale green cashmere pencil skirt (very tight) and the same color sweater (even tighter).  Babysitting earnings did not pay for cashmere.  Besides, I couldn’t inhale and I never looked or acted weak in public.  People made fun of you if you weren’t cool or tough. 

In my dreams, I’m leaning against the wall with my right leg bent at the knee, the bottom of my green jellybeans against the same wall.  James Dean is handing me a drag off his cigarette that has recently touched his lips, just before he reaches down and touches mine.  All the really popular girls are walking by whispering, “How did she land him?  What happened to Julie Harris?”  In my dreams.   Wide a wake, I remember there’s a tiny problem.  James Dean died five years earlier and I can’t inhale without gagging, coughing, and seeming a complete inept moron.  Who’s going to kiss that?  No problem – my mind has a mind of it’s own.  Not sure if I made it up or borrowed it, but it accurately describes my brain. james dean

Quick trip to the bank and the grocery store (walking, I’m only 14).  Kents, I heard of those.  Oh no, where to hide them so Mom’s angel doesn’t find out and tattle on me.  Marjorie Morningstar, my latest read by Herman Wouk.  So you know, I don’t read;  I devour books.  When I find a book I love, I find every book that author has written and devour those as well.  Number of pages doesn’t matter.  Put the pack of cigarettes between the back cover and the last page.  Flat cigarettes, no problem, they’ll light up.  But where?  Where can I commit this felony without getting caught and sent to Florence Prison? 

I know, the Steinberg’s house Saturday night.  Great!  Saturday night arrives and the children have an 8 pm bedtime.  It’s 9 pm, I read them a story, now they’re fast asleep down the hall of the long hallway ranch home with their door closed.  

For those of you who don’t know, summer in Phoenix is stifling.  Crank up the cooler and open the sliding glass door all the way so the air gets pushed out instead of recycled.  Find large bowl type glass ashtray that’s washable.  

Directions for committing felony: 

Sit down on the couch; get matches, set ashtray down, light up cigarette one.   Cough, spit, gurgle, then try to breathe, light up cigarette two. Proceed to the end of the pack taking two hours to do so. 


Oh my God!  Who’s bright idea was this?  That stupid angel, must have been his.  I’m dying, never mind I’m green.  Too bad I don’t have the cashmere outfit, I’d match.  Flush everything down the toilet after chopping up the package, wash the ashtray, the sink, all the while I’m holding my rib cage, figuring this is my last day on earth so I better make sure the kitchen and family room are spotless.  Ashes anywhere, nope.  The Steinbergs arrive home, hand me money, and say in astonishment, “Sara, you don’t look so good, do you want a ride home?” 

Well duh…she responds, “I’m fine, I’ll walk.  (It’s still 100 degrees outside.) I think maybe I have a cold.  My throat hurts.”   *Note to teenagers ~ if you are going to lie, make it obvious then it sounds like the truth.  

Two blocks home, fall into bed; sleep like a dead person, never waking up in the morning, Mom will come in and find my cold body.  What is that light, it can’t be morning yet.  Drag myself up and into the kitchen for juice. 

Mom takes one look smell, “What is wrong with you?  You look terrible.” 

“My throat hurts, I think I have a cold,” says lying Sara. 

“In July?  You’ve been smoking!” she responds incredulously. 

“Me smoke, never!” says the eldest daughter.


*I have a theory, which I have learned the hard way.  Whenever I tell a lie, God makes it come true.

All rights reserved.  ©2009 by Sara Fryd


7 thoughts on “Don’t Try this at Home

  1. This.

    Fantastic writing, wonderful story, EXCELLENT job all the way around of making this Polaroid snapshot of your teen years come alive. I feel like I was there. BRILLIANT.


  2. The parents always find out the truth. That is a natural part of life. Even if you consider them old-fashioned, they can keenly sense differences in their children and when they have done something wrong. I think mothers have a better way of knowing than fathers, but if the father finds out, that can result in a sore posterior or other harsh disciplining.


  3. Hi Sara … love your stories …. they are magical … brings back lots of memories .
    I started smoking at 13 … felt like a big shot when my uncles would mooch them off me … sat behind Jerie Lerner for 12 years in school.. we were an item in HS before I started smoking …. “you stink from smoke … here is some sen sen and some beamans gum to chew on”

    Keep uo the good work


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