Mrs. Wong's Finishing School, Part 1

(by, 05 October 2002)

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by uciboy


Imagine if you will, reader, a scene as magical as this one:  three beautiful
and sophisticated Asian American women in their late 30s each smoking a long
120 cigarette as they sit at a kitchen table one afternoon chatting.  Smoke
hangs heavy in the air as each take puff after puff, periodically tapping
their cigarette on one of two full ashtrays that sit on the table.  Each have
their own unique style of smoking - a cheek hollow, a light puff, a nosehale.
They hold their cigarettes with confidence, perpendicular to their face, or
an arm straight out as it rests on the table.  They bring the smoldering
instrument slowly up to their lips and breath in its joyous contents.  They
are comfortable here, enjoying a pleasure that few truly understand these
days.  The thick smoke moves slowly across the room like a glacier as it is
reflected in the late-afternoon sunlight pouring through the windows.

Elizabeth, Georgia, and May have been lifelong friends.  All three grew up in
Beverly Hills as the daughters of prosperous fourth generation Chinese
American families.  They were treated like princesses - their parents
acceding to every whim and selfish desire the three girls had - and they
liked it.  They knew that they were part of an elite in American society.
They attended the best private schools in Brentwood and the most expensive
finishing school in Bel Air where they learned how a lady of taste and
sophistication should behave.  When the three debutantes had come of age,
their families rented a ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel where they held a
by-invitation-only "coming out" party for the girls where they all found
their future husbands.  They drove the best cars, wore the most expensive
clothes, had plenty of servants to pamper their wishes, and made every effort
to flaunt their wealth and status.

They were convinced that they were invincible.  Not even smoking could harm
them.  Indeed, they realized early on as teenagers how smoking enhanced their
beauty and sophistication and they each chose their particular brands with
pride.  Proud to call themselves smokers upon reaching high school, each day
after class they would come together at one's house to study, to gossip, and
most important, to smoke.  There were no disapproving looks from the girls'
parents - each of whom also smoked.  In fact, they were convinced that their
mothers - who also were good friends and socialized regularly - were proud
that their daughters had decided to embrace the level of refinement and
femininity that was of their social status.

And embrace it they did.  As early as grade school, Elizabeth, Georgia, and
May had made a pact together that they would each find a rich husband in
Beverly Hills to take care of them so that - like their mothers - they would
be able to play and relax like the wives of the Chinese landlords of old.
Hoping that their own children would be close friends, the three had
daughters within a few months apart of one another - and decided that one was
enough.  Afterall, they weren't about to let prolonged motherhood interfere
with their lifestyle.

And so on this warm summer day, these three housewives were gathered together
over lemonade and cigarettes as they did every Wednesday, enjoying one
another's company, sharing jokes and stories, and gossiping about friends and

"Did you see what Alice Gong was wearing the other night at the Founder's
Dinner," Georgia sneered as she stubbed out her Capri and quickly reached for
another in her silver cigarette case.  "I swear I wouldn't be buried in a
gown like that."  She held the cigarette between her lips and brought the
flame up to the tip which turned a bright orange.  "It was positively
hideous," she said, holding a puff inside her lungs before blowing a gust out
of the side of her mouth.  "What on earth was she thinking?"

Elizabeth made a loud hiss as she blew a stream of smoke across the table.
"What do you expect from new money," she said derisively.

"That woman wouldn't know taste if it fell on her head like a sack of
potatoes," May added with a tap of her Virginia Slim against the rim of the

"Well, I'm certain that that was what that gown was made of," Georgia said
with a wicked smile before bringing the freshly lit cigarette back up to her
lips for a gentle puff.

As they shared a good laugh over their perceived superiority, the kitchen
door swung open and in walked three teenage girls.  "Hi Mom, hi Aunties" each
one said to the women at the table.  

At age 17, Caroline, Jenny, and Lilly couldn't be more different from their
mothers.  By and large, they cared little about art or literature.  A fine
wine for them was sneaking a wine cooler at a party.  They loved sports and
other outdoor activities.  For them, etiquette and protocol were words that
one studied for the SAT rather than to live by.  And each had received top
scores on the college entrance exams as they looked forward to furthering
their education.  While their mother's bought them the most expensive
fashions on Rodeo Drive, the girls were much more comfortable in T-shirts and
Levis.  They wore their hair however it felt comfortable at the time:
wrapped in a bun or loose and unkempt.  Oh - and they absolutely detested

As Lilly was their hostess, she walked over to the refrigerator to offer her
friends a soft-drink.  All three were sweating profusely and their mothers
looked at them with disapproving eyes as they scanned the soiled clothes the
girls wore.  

"What on earth have you three urchins been doing," Elizabeth asked with

Caroline took a swig of the Diet Coke in her hand and said to her mother
after swallowing, "We were down at the Boys and Girls Club volunteering.
After helping the kids clean up the gym, we decided to play some basketball
with them."

"They are so cute," Jenny added.  "Now I'm certain that I want to study
counseling next year at UCLA."  Georgia slowly shook her head disapprovingly
as she listened to her daughter's words, as if to pantomime, "where did I go

"Honey," Elizabeth said to Caroline, "stand up straight.  Don't slouch like
you're a beggar.  You come from a good family.  Show people you're proud."

"Mom," Caroline said with aggravation, "will you stop it with all this 'good
family' stuff?  It's not like we're royalty, or anything."

"You girls are filthy and should go clean up," May said to them sternly.

"Really, we're dirty,"  Lilly asked as she moved her nose down to her armpit
for a sniff.  "I don't know how you can even tell with all the smoke hanging
in the air in here."  The three girls smiled as their mothers shifted
uncomfortably in their chairs.  

"Enjoy your cancer sticks," Caroline added in a parting shot as she and her
friends walked out of the kitchen giggling.

The room was quiet until the silence was broken by the flick of May's lighter
as she lit a fresh Virginia Slim.  "I swear," she said shaking her head as
she looked down at the table, "sometimes I wonder whether Lilly is really my

"I know how you feel," Georgia said sympathetically as she placed her hand on
May's, her cigarette jutting out between her fingers. "I had such high hopes
for Jenny.  All of their lives we've been planning their coming out party:  a
private reception at the California Club, a dinner and ball at the Biltmore -
something even more extravagant than what we had.  But when I mentioned this
to her a few weeks ago, she recoiled in disgust at the thought.  'I want to
go to college,' she protested.  'I'll think about marriage later.'"

"Caroline wouldn't even consider going to a debutante ball," Elizabeth added,
"despite my pleading."

"I can top that," May said.  "Last weekend Lilly brought over a young man to
watch videos...and his father works as a gym coach.  A gym coach!!  I was so
humiliated...not just for myself but for my Lilly.  Why would she demean
herself by even speaking to such a boy?"

"It's a total lack of respect for their social position," Elizabeth said in
disgust before taking a cheek-hollowed puff and crushing her Max in the
ashtray. "I just don't understand girls today.  It's like they've totally
lost all sense of class."

"It's sports," Georgia offered.  "All that soccer playing and basketball.
It's absolutely ruining their young physique.  You'd think a woman having
muscles was attractive, for God's sake."

"Mmmmmmm," May hummed in agreement.  "But I really think that popular music
is to blame.  I mean, just look at how these young female pop stars dress
today.  You're praised for looking like a slut.  Don't these people know what
a hairbrush is?  I mean...hello...?"

Elizabeth reached into her pack of Maxes and said as she placed the cigarette
between her fingers, "Girls, you're both wrong.  It's this," she said holding
up the cigarette before them, "or I should say, the lack of it."  Elizabeth
put the long white cigarette between her lips and quickly lit it, French
inhaling a small ball of smoke before continuing.  "Girls today have been
brainwashed with all of this goddam anti-smoking propaganda."  She lifted her
head and blew out a thin stream, the bulk of the smoke remaining in her
lungs.  "They have no idea how important smoking is to a woman's femininity."

Georgia and May both nodded their heads in agreement as they slowly made the
tips of their cigarettes glow.

"But that's about to change for my Caroline."  Smoke slowly cascaded down
through Elizabeth's nostrils as she waited for the reaction of her two

"What do you have planned," Georgia asked her suspiciously.

"A friend gave me the name of a very 'unique' finishing school in San Marino
run by a woman named Mrs. Geraldine Wong who offers an individualized
intensive two-week course on refinement, etiquette, and protocol.  She
absolutely guarantees that her pupils embrace 'all' aspects of their
femininity.  Do you get my drift?"  Elizabeth took an extended draw on her
Max and let the smoke slowly rise out from between her lips before sucking it
quickly back into her mouth.

"Sounds intriguing," Georgia replied as she gently touched the wire rim
glasses resting on her nose.  "But how does it work?"

"Mrs. Wong told me that she employs a number of intellectual and mental
exercises to build self-esteem and encourage the pupil to embrace her
femininity.  She doesn't try to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.  She'll
only take young girls who have grown up in elite surroundings.  Her theory is
that these girls have lost their way - and just need to be pointed in the
right direction."

"And they'll be smokers by the end of the session?" Georgia asked anxiously.

"Mrs. Wong guarantees it," Elizabeth responded.  "Smoking is a central
component of the lesson plans in the adoption of a level of sophistication."

"Oh, I wanted so much for Jenny to take up smoking.  And when I approached
her about it when she was a freshman, I thought for a moment I had her - but
then she pulled back."

Elizabeth had an expression of sympathy on her face.  "You'll remember that I
actually got Caroline to try a cigarette.  But after one Max, she refused to
try anymore.  I'm hoping this finishing school can finish the lessons I tried
to give her."

"I don't know," May said with some concern as she rolled the tip of her
Virginia Slim gently in the ashtray, "sounds like brainwashing to me."

Elizabeth exhaled a stream of smoke up towards the light and replied, "I
prefer to call it 'attitude readjustment.'  I'm desperate, ladies.  And what
have I got to lose?  It's only $30,000.  I'd pay twice that if I knew with
certainty that I could plan for Caroline's coming-out party.  This is my last
chance.  So - she's leaving this evening."

"This evening," May said with surprise.  "That's rather sudden.  What does
your husband think about this?"

"Now May," Elizabeth said coyly, "you know that Bob will do whatever I ask,"
and she made the tip off her Max turn a bright orange as she double pumped a
puff.  Of course, May and Georgia understood Elizabeth's meaning.  All it
took was the puff of a cigarette and their husbands were like silly-puddy in
their hands.

"I want Mrs. Wong's phone number," Georgia said quickly as she stubbed out
her Capri and reached into her purse for a pen.  

Elizabeth pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and read aloud the number
for her, then noticed that May wasn't writing anything down.  "May, don't you
want Lilly to embrace our values?"

"Of course I do, Elizabeth."  May hesitated for a moment.  "But I'm just not
sure about this Mrs. Wong.  It all sounds rather suspicious to me."

"Well, you think about it.  But Georgia and I will need to know pretty soon
whether you want to include Lilly in the girls' coming out ball."


"Our Moms are so much alike it's scary," Lilly said as she led Caroline and
Jenny upstairs to her bedroom.

"God, I know!" Jenny replied with aggravation.  "They are so materialistic.
It's like their desires are the only ones that matter.  I don't want to have
anything to do with their so called 'values.'"

Lilly agreed.  "My Mom is so selfish, you know?  All she cares about is money
and class.  It just makes me wanna barf."

"I know how you feel," Caroline added as the three sat down on the bed.  "It
drives me crazy when I go shopping with my Mom.  She's only interested at
looking at the most expensive item in a store."  The three girls nodded their
head in agreement.  "And yet..." Caroline added thoughtfully, "sometimes I
get these thoughts about how easy life could be if...," she paused to take a
drink from her Diet Coke, "...if I just accepted the way things were, you

The three girls grew silent for a moment as they considered what Caroline had

"You know," Lilly offered, "we've all had those thoughts, I think.  Our
mothers have tried to shape us a certain way.  Hell, my mother even tried to
convince me to take up smoking when I was a freshman in high school."

"That's so weird," Jenny said in astonishment.  "So did mine!"

Jenny and Lilly both looked at Caroline.  "Mine, too," she said with a guilty
look.  "I have to admit that I did consider it.  I used to think my Mom
looked sooo cool smoking a long cigarette.  But after learning in school how
bad smoking is for you, I just didn't want to start."

Jenny and Lilly turned their eyes down towards the bed.  They had had the
same thoughts when their mothers approached them about smoking.

"I guess it's only natural that we would be tempted to live the kind of life
they live," Lilly said thoughtfully.

"Well," Jenny added, "tempted or not, I don't want to live that kind of life.
I want to go to college and find a job where I can help people.  And I don't
want to smoke!"

"Ditto," Caroline said.

"Hey," Lilly said as she opened a drawer and reached for some photos, "I have
those pictures from the field trip we took the kids on last week."

"You know," Jenny began after viewing the first few, "when I see all those
poor kids at the Boys and Girls Club, I just want to cry.  I just wish that
there was some way we could help them."

"Maybe we can," Lilly said with a gleam in her eye.  "Why don't we put on a
fundraiser for them.  Hell, with all the rich people we know we should be
able to raise a couple of thousand dollars at least for the Club."

"That's a great idea," Jenny replied.  "Maybe we can have a dance!  We can
get our school band to play."

"Caroline, you played in the band.  Do you think you can get anyone together
over the summer?"

"I can try, but unfortunately it will have to wait until I get back in two

"Get back?" Lilly asked.  "Get back from where?"

"I'm going to this finishing school in San Marino.  The only way I could get
my Mom to stop bugging me about not wanting a debutante ball was agreeing to
go to this school.  She's actually paying $30,000!  I told her it was a waste
of money - but she's very stubborn."

"Wow - $30,000," Jenny said with amazement.  "Just think what we could do
with that for the Boys and Girls Club."

"I know.  Anyway, as soon as I get back, I'll help you guys plan the

"Caroline," Elizabeth hollered from downstairs, "it's time to go."

Caroline gave Jenny and Lilly a hug.  "I'll see you guys in two weeks."


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