The summer when I was twelve years old, I spent my time smoking mosquito coils, painting the neighbor’s car with roasted marshmallows, wearing the same wet bathing suit every day for eight to ten hours at a stretch until my butt broke out in a rash, and experimenting with garish makeup techniques that I hoped would make me look much older than I was to the boys hanging out at the swimming pool.
Wait. Back up. Smoking mosquito coils? This is not a normal activity for an adolescent, either then or now.
Advice to my twelve year old self: Explain yourself immediately.
My friend Barbie and I weren’t actually smoking the mosquito coils for some exotic new high. After all, we were twelve. We were practically adults. Nobody could tell us what to do. We did it for pure vicious shock value. Individually, we both came up with some pretty strange ideas. We were bad enough apart. Together, we were intolerable.
After a series of highly unpleasant skirmishes, I had determined that the neighbors that had moved in next door were my sworn enemies. Revenge is serious business when you’re twelve, plus it was late in the summer and we were getting pretty bored. I looked outside and saw Mother Neighbor and Father Neighbor lurking around in their driveway and decided to take action. I’d found that it was very easy to drive these neighbors into a state of near hysteria, so Barbie and I started rummaging around my house to see if we could find something to get them agitated. We came up with the brilliant idea that we could make them think we were smoking cigarettes right out in the back yard in broad daylight. To execute this maneuver, we decided we were going to pretend to smoke one of the mosquito coils that my parents used on the front porch to keep the bugs away in the evening. We ingeniously wrapped sections of the mosquito coil in school notebook paper and grabbed some matches. Then we proceeded to the back yard, where we nonchalantly draped ourselves over the waist high retaining wall that separated the two properties and fired up our smokes. At this point, the neighbors were about twenty feet away, trying to wash the hardened marshmallows off their car.
For anyone who has never personally smoked a mosquito coil, it’s good to know that once lit, they emit huge clouds of noxious grey smoke that keep insects away for hours. Barbie and I took a couple of tentative puffs, and in no time at all we were coughing and choking, but at least we didn’t have to worry too much about mosquito bites.
What scared the bugs away had the opposite effect on the neighbors. They immediately stopped washing the car and scurried to the side of their garage that faced the retaining wall. Applying the time-honored sniper technique of hiding in plain sight, they bobbed their heads around the garage wall, whispering loudly about the nasty juvenile smokers next door. In no time at all, they were jumping up and down, pointing wildly at us and threatening to call the police. Barbie and I played it cool though, carrying on what we assumed was a normal adult conversation between coughs and sniffles. Then we strategically dropped down onto our hands and knees and peered over the top of the wall.
Suddenly, I felt a big hand on my shoulder. It was my father. He looked from the two of us to the clouds of foul smoke drifting in the air. We pointed toward the neighbor’s garage, giggling hysterically. My father said, “Do you mind telling me just exactly what you think you’re doing?”
I stood up and turned to whisper in my father’s ear. After all, it was his back yard. “See,” I said. “These are really only mosquito coils, but they think we’re smoking cigarettes.” I started laughing hysterically until the smoke from the mosquito coil drifted up my nose. It took quite a bit longer for the coughing to subside this time. “They were washing their car. And then they stopped to watch us! See? They’re standing right over there, peeking around the garage and jumping up and down. They’re so stupid”
My father gave me a strange look. I turned around. The neighbors were gone. So was the car. My father started to pull me into the house.
“Wait,” I said. “You’ve got to believe me. They really were there.” My dad kept going, guiding me onto the back porch and pushing me through the door. “You can’t tell me what to do. I’m twelve, you know.” I hope none of the neighbors saw my dad make me go inside the house. My reputation would be ruined.
Advice to my twelve year old self: You are going to eventually grow up and have children of your own. In the event that your children are unfortunate enough to be just like you, please keep the following information about mosquito coils close at hand:
KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. CAUTION: Harmful if absorbed through skin. Avoid contact with skin, eyes or clothing. Harmful if inhaled. Avoid breathing vapor or dust. Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating, drinking, chewing gum, using tobacco, or using the toilet. Remove and wash contaminated clothing before reuse.