The Sunday Paper

(by uciboy2001@yahoo.com, 01 January 2003)


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THE SUNDAY PAPER

by uciboy

Judy Saito loved Sunday mornings.  All week this 35 year old MBA student at
the University of Hawaii spent endless hours reading dense economic texts.  In
addition to her own school work, this single-mother also had responsibilities
to meet in caring for her 12 year old daughter Janice.  Sunday was the one day
that she kept for herself; the one day out of the week that she could relax at
the kitchen table in this cramped two-bedroom university apartment doing what
she enjoyed most:  reading the newspaper.  

Before she took her place in the chair, she scanned the table for all of the
necessary tools to make this weekend ritual a success, as if she were a pilot
checking over her instruments before take off:
- Editions of the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Honolulu Star?
  "Check."
- Red pen and a pair of scissors to cut out articles, coupons, or anything
  else of interest?  "Check."  
- Reading glasses?  "Check."
- Cup of Hawaiian roasted coffee with full pot brewing nearby?  "Check."
- Pack of Virginia Slims 120s menthols?  

She picked up the pack and gently pulled out a long white cigarette.  "Double
check," she said with a smile.

Judy sat down and placed the cigarette in her mouth while reaching for her
reading glasses.  With the flick of her lighter to brighten the tip of her
Virginia Slim, the festivities could now begin.  She pulled on the wonderful
white instrument of pleasure with a cheek hollowed puff freehanded as she
spread the Honolulu Star before her.  She brought her fingers to her lips to
remove the cigarette and inhaled the ball of smoke with a snap before
releasing a cascade of smoke down through her nostrils.  She scanned the
headlines about the most recent capture of an Arab terrorist, about the
President's new tax plan, about the suffering Hawaiian economy.  No question
about it, Judy was a newsjunkie.  This was going to be a great Sunday morning.

When 12 year old Janice walked into the room, she saw what was a familiar
sight every Sunday:  her mother fully engrossed into the newspaper.  Janice
hated Sundays because there were so few good cartoons to watch; and living in
grad student housing on the university meant that she didn't have a lot of
friends that she could hang around with outside of school.  And so - with
nothing to watch on TV and nothing really to do, Janice sat with her mom at
the kitchen table this morning.

"Hey honey," Judy said as she continued to read the article on the Fed's
latest interest rate cut.  After taking a puff on her 120, she flicked some
ash into the ashtray and propped her elbow on the table, holding the cigarette
up high over her dark black hair.  

Janice recognized how beautiful her mother was with her sharp facial features
that made her standout from so many other Japanese females.  Indeed, many
people thought she was Chinese and called her a perfect look-alike of Lucy
Liu.  She was a kind and gentle person with a sharp wit and a jovial sense of
humor that endeared her to many.  She always had grad student friends over for
coffee (or beer, if there wasn't an early morning class the next day) and they
would stay up talking and smoking for hours until the apartment was filled
with a thick fog, only to be blown out by the sea breeze when someone would
finally open a window.

Ironically, Judy had never given much thought about the impression her smoking
might be having on her daughter.  As the child of immigrants from Japan
herself, she grew up in Hawaii in a household of smokers:  both parents, her
older brother and sister, all of her aunts and uncles and most of her cousins
were at least pack a day smokers.  Even her grandparents, whenever they would
visit from Tokyo, would be puffing non-stop on their Mild Sevens.  When she
asked her sister for a Virginia Slim at a family party when she was 15, no one
said a word.  Indeed, she always felt that they had expected her to start
eventually.  With that kind of conditioning in her upbringing, it's not
surprising that for Judy, a home without smoke was - well, it simply wasn't a
home.

Thus Judy was careless about leaving cigarettes around the house or walking
out of the room momentarily with a lit cigarette resting in the ashtray.  It's
not that she was subtly trying to give her daughter the opportunity to smoke.
With Janice at such a young age, Judy didn't think it was even an issue - or
that she would even want to smoke yet.

To some degree, Judy was right about Janice who hadn't any strong desire to
start.  Yet despite the constant barrage of anti-smoking propaganda her
generation was being submitted to, Janice also wasn't convinced that smoking
was all that bad.  When her Mom and her friends got together and laughed and
smoked, it didn't look like these people were suffering from the kinds of ill
effects she kept hearing that smoking causes.  They all looked happy and -
well, to the mind of a 12 year old, pretty cool.  So let's just say that for
the moment Janice was willing to keep an open mind.

"Whatcha doin'?" the young girl asked.

"You know what I'm doing, honey," Judy replied with her eyes still scanning
the page before her as she reached across the paper and stubbed her cigarette
out in the ashtray.  Then she lifted her head to face her daughter, "I'm
reading the newspaper." Janice never could understand the attraction of this
activity.  It's not that she disliked reading.  In fact, she was an excellent
reader, and far beyond her grade level.  But she preferred romances and
fantasy novels to the kind of news that her mother so eagerly absorbed every
Sunday.  Today she would try to understand why this activity was so enjoyable
to her Mom.

"Mom, why do you like doing this so much?" Janice asked quizzically.  "Can't
you just watch the news on TV?"

Judy smiled as she reached for her pack and pulled out another Virginia Slim
to light.  "It's not just the reading of the news," she explained as she sat
back in thought, holding her cigarette just off the side of her cheek.  "It's
also the experience of it all.  Sitting here with the things that I enjoy
most," she said with a wave over the accouterments on the table, "and taking
my time as I choose to read this story or that story is a wonderful way to
relax."  Judy brought the freshly lit cigarette to her lips and drew softly on
it.  Opening her mouth a crack and breathing in the smokey contents, she blew
a stream of smoke in the airspace between her and her daughter and said
finally, "It's fun reading the newspaper!  It's something I really look
forward to."

"Hmmm," Janice replied thoughtfully as she sifted through a few sections of
the New York Times.  "Do you think I would enjoy reading the paper?"

"Oh, honey, I'm sure you would."

Judy set the cigarette down in the ashtray as she stood up to refill her cup
of coffee.  Just then the phone rang.

"Hello?  Oh hi, Lena....Yes, I've got the assignment done.  Right now?  Well,
I'm reading the paper and....okay, okay...don't cry.  I'll be there in just a
few minutes."  Flustered, Judy turned to her daughter and said, "Honey, Lena
is freaking out about this assignment due tomorrow.  I gotta go help her.
I'll be just a few doors down if you need me."

"Okay, Mom.  See ya later."

In a rush, Judy picked up her purse and walked out the door.  Janice looked at
the smoldering cigarette in the ashtray.  "Well," she thought to herself, "Mom
might be right back.  I'll just leave it."

Janice placed the front page of the New York Times before her.  She scanned a
few headlines:  more stuff on terrorism, something on schools in New England.
"This doesn't seem like a whole lot of fun," she murmured.  Then she
remembered her Mom said it was "the experience" that she enjoyed.  Janice
looked over at the fresh cup of coffee sitting on the sink counter that her
Mom poured before the phone rang.  "Maybe I'm not getting the full
experience," she thought to herself as she reached for the coffee and smelled
the Hawaiian roasted flavor.  She took a sip.  A bit bitter, she thought, but
not unpleasant.  She set the cup on the table and tried reading the paper
again.

She turned the page and scanned a headline about the new political leadership
in Washington.  "Hmph," she sighed without interest as she turned the page.
She took another sip of coffee, liking the taste much more this time than the
first sip.  But she still wasn't finding this activity very enjoyable.  "What
am I missing?" she said looking around the table.  

She saw the Virginia Slim continuing to smolder in the ashtray, nearly half
gone.  "I wonder if this will help," she said nonchalantly as she picked up
the cigarette, hardly even aware that such an action by children her age would
be a momentous event in their lives.  For Janice, smoking was just an activity
that some people did and others didn't.  Of course, she knew that kids weren't
supposed to smoke, but that's what the teachers at school said.  Her mother
had never said such a thing to her.  In fact, her mother had never said
anything bad about smoking.  It was obvious she loved it!  Janice looked at
the cigarette in her hand, the smoke curling upwards from its tip.  "It's not
like I'm deciding to be a smoker," she rationalized to herself.  "I just want
to understand why Mom enjoys this experience of reading the Sunday paper so
much."  

Janice had watched her mother smoke a million times, but she wasn't exactly
sure what smoking entailed.  Should she breathe in the smoke?  Would it make
her cough?  Better to take it slow and just try a puff for the moment.  She
brought the Virginia Slim up to her lips and began to suck on it as if it were
a straw.  Half-expecting something like a liquid to enter her mouth, she was
surprised at how subtle the feeling was as a vapor like substance began to
fill her mouth.  If the tip were not turning orange, she wouldn't even be sure
that she was doing it correctly.  Wondering if she had sucked in any smoke at
all, she opened her mouth wide and was amazed at how a wall of smoke began to
float out from her lips and move slowly downwards onto the newspaper before
dissipating upwards.  "Wow," she said with pleasure.  She took another puff,
holding it in her mouth for just a few seconds as her tongue began to tingle,
and then opened her mouth again to let the smoke float out.  She smiled.  "I
think I'm beginning to understand why Mom likes this," she said to herself.

She once again turned her attention to the paper, finding an article on the
new Harry Potter film.  "Oh, I love Harry Potter," she said as she dove into
the text.  She brought the nearly finished cigarette up to her lips for
another puff and pushed the smoke down onto the page in front of her.
Mimicking her Mom, she continued to read as she reached across the page and
stubbed the cigarette in the ashtray.

Finishing up the article, she continued to turn the pages while sipping on her
coffee as she looked for something else to read.  But her mind was on
something else:  the cigarette she had just smoked.  Suddenly reading the
newspaper didn't seem as enjoyable as it was just a few moments before.  She
looked over at the pack of Virginia Slims that her Mom had left lying on the
table.  "I probably shouldn't," she said to herself, "but Mom DID say that I
should enjoy the experience of reading the newspaper."  A voice in the back of
her mind told her that her Mom almost certainly wasn't implying that she
should smoke, too, but she decided to ignore the voice as she picked up the
pack.

She reached in and pulled out a 120.  Oddly, it was the first time she had
ever held an unlit cigarette before.  Twelve year olds may or may not have a
conception of what is elegant and sophisticated, but they most certainly know
what's cool - and this long cigarette between her fingers, she suddenly
realized, was the height of cool.  She brought the flame from the lighter
close to the tip, remembering that her Mom always sucked hard to make the tip
glow.  Smoke poured into her mouth and she once again let it float out from
between her lips.  She turned the pages until she had reached the last page.

Putting the cigarette into her mouth, she took a puff freehanded while
reaching for one of the other papers on the table.  She had seen her Mom do
that move many times before, and she could only imagine how good she must have
looked doing it now.  She spread the Honolulu Star out before her and reached
for the cigarette with her fingers.  Again, smoke poured out from her mouth,
but before it had all escaped, she took a short breath, inhaling the tail end
of the cloud forming before her.  She felt a wonderful tingling in her lungs
that she had not felt before from just puffing.  

This was something to be further explored, she decided, and brought the 120 up
to her lips for a gentle puff.  Opening her lips a crack as she had watched
her mom do a few moments before, she took a breath, inhaling the contents
floating in her mouth.  For a moment she felt a gagging reflex swell up before
the smoke made it down deep into her lungs.  She closed her eyes, feeling a
bit dizzy, but then opened them to watch herself exhale her first real puff.
"That was so good," she said to herself.  "I had no idea smoking was like
this."  She did it again, forcing the smoke deep into her lungs and feeling a
sense of lightness throughout her body.  She cocked her head upwards and
gently exhaled a cascading river of smoke above the table.

As she turned her attention to the Star's Health and Society section, she
found a feature article on teen smoking.  "What a coincidence," she thought to
herself.  She became engrossed in the article, learning that over 63% of teens
in Hawaii had smoked at least once.  "Cool," this new smoker whispered with
interest.  According to the article, 37% of teens believe that young people
who smoke have more friends.  She thought for a moment about this and realized
that the smokers on campus always seemed to have more fun than the
non-smokers.  Even 13% of teens who never smoked think that smoking is cool.
"Well, duh..." she said outloud as she brought the cigarette up to her lips
for another puff.  But this puff, like all of the others that would follow,
would be inhaled.

*************************************

When Judy came back to the apartment two hours later, she could hardly believe
what she saw:  her daughter still sitting at the table reading the newspaper
but with a freshly lit 120 cigarette between her fingers and an ashtray next
to her that showed Janice had smoked about 4 cigarettes.  "Janice," she said
with surprise, "what are you doing?"

Janice turned to her and replied with much excitement, "Mom, you were right.
Reading the newspaper is sooooo much fun!"


END


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