Two minutes into break time I found myself running out of the school. Without pausing to even say I’d be back, I slipped my coat on and ducked out of the place. I cut back behind the 7-11 and then squeezed through the gap between two apartment buildings. I looked around to see if anyone was following me. They weren’t. Still, I wasn’t far enough. I put my head down and snuck behind another building, quickly checking again to see if anyone was watching. The coast seemed to be clear, and, knowing I was alone, I did what I set out to do.
I smoked a cigarette.
As a teacher, you’re not supposed to let students see you smoking. Doing so would make you a bad role model, and we all know that if that happened, kids might start smoking before they turn 18. I’ve heard smokers talk about how anti-smoking laws make them feel like lepers; there is no greater leper than the smoking teacher. Not only is the smoking teacher frowned upon heavily, the smoking teacher also must create a whole routine to hide the habit. When a teacher has a smoke break, he/she all of a sudden has to become Shady McShadster. I’ve seen teachers crouched down in their cars smoking, blasting themselves with Fabreze to kill the smell, gargling mouthwash in the parking lot, and carrying around a disgusting plastic bottle filled with hundreds of cigarette butts to avoid leaving any evidence behind. Meanwhile, the students just do it in the bathroom stall and that seems to work out pretty well.
The reason I bring this up is to touch upon the major theme of this post: behavior that is technically okay, but is still shameful none-the-less. I’m speaking about the shame that comes with doing something that others would frown upon just because it isn’t cool or appropriate, as opposed to something that is just plain ethically wrong. Kissing in public is another good example of this. There’s nothing wrong with it – making out in the corner of Dave and Buster’s isn’t against the law – but afterwards, it’s hard not to feel a bit awkward. Why? Because our society has a clear and distinct rule that it quietly preaches: Do not act like a teenager, even if you are, in fact, a teenager.
Which is why I am burdened with guilt when it comes to my favorite TV show – the new 90210. I love it. Damn the world, I’m declaring my love right now. I love 90210! Like all great loves, my adoration for 90210 wasn’t planned. I started watching it because it was the only English language program on Korean television, and because I recognized one of the actors from The Wire. At first, I was skeptical. I tried to keep a cool, ironic distance. I wasn’t tuning in every Monday and Tuesday night because I liked it; I was only watching it so I could laugh at it. Or so I told myself…
Come on, I’m the guy who watches Bela Tarr films and likes obscure ‘60s music and scoffs at authors like James Patterson
and Nicolas Sparks. Me? Like 90210? Surely you jest! The truth be told, though, it grew on me. Big time. I love Naomi. I’m worried about Dixon’s drug problem. Annie’s foray into prostitution has me shattered. I’m also upset about Silver not understanding that Navid is doing undercover work for the FBI, and that she has now turned to dating her professor. Just as I keep my smoking habit hidden at school, I try to keep my 90210 gushing to myself. I don’t want word to spread.
“On Game of Thrones,” Hipster Trish once told me, “when someone messes up, he gets beheaded.”
“Oh yeah?” I retorted. “On 90210, when someone messes up, he gets emotionally damaged…and that leaves scars.”
It was embarrassing. There’s a whole plethora of acceptable things for an adult male to like – sports, Judd Apatow movies, even video games. 90210 isn’t exactly on that list. Maybe, though, there’s something circular about pretension, and I’ve just come to the point where the circle is made whole. When I was 12 or 13 I just watched stuff and liked it; it wasn’t until I started getting older that other things factored in. By the time I was in college, I was far too cool to watch an Adam Sandler movie or listen to Matchbox 20 (let’s be honest though, those things really do suck). That was the popular stuff. The teenager stuff. I sat in my room alone, drinking beer and listening to The Smiths and feeling oh so hip.
But now that I’m older, I don’t care anymore. 90210 is awesome. Maybe pretension is something we grow into and eventually grow out of, sort of like physical attractiveness. In other words, 90210 isn’t something to be ashamed of.
Liking it is a sign of maturity.