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You can never get over wanting to be cool.
Even if you can never be a James Dean, you still want to be the coolest of your fellow nerds. It's instinctual and nearly impossible to grow out of. You never get over wanting to be cool.
It's the 1950s and everyone smokes. It's fashionable; it's stylish and, cancer shmancer, who knows how harmful it is yet? It's vogue, trendy, classic and, of course, it's absolutely cool.
Richard has never been considered cool. First, there's his nickname, Dick, that even after adolescents get over his nickname's nickname for some thing else, seems to lack that certain, cool air. No guy named Dick Dean would have ever made it big. There's also the matter of Dick's interests. He likes science and math and facts and numbers and history. These are subjects not considered universally cool, but Dick cannot help but be intrigued and obsessed by them. And it seems to go without saying that Dick doesn't smoke. He just never found it appealing. But it's the 1950s and so Dick's tobacco abstinence is the final thing that pulls the entire uncool package together.
But Dick is perfectly happy with all of this. He loves his systematic and factual life and his job as an engineer. And Dick would never give up what he loves just to be considered cool.
But still ... you never get over wanting to be cool, even if just a little.
This desire comes to Dick tonight while with his wife and neighbors on the porch of their new house. He is suddenly aware of just how new everything is. These new neighbors have yet to learn about him. They know nothing about him, and especially that he has never been cool.
Drinks have been served and lighters produced, which seems dangerous with the flammable tendencies of alcohol, but they come out anyway because it is That Time. Soon a cigarette is hanging from the lips of everyone on the porch, including Dick's wife. Genevieve, with her own scientific interests and obscure habits like repainting the entire exterior of the house on a whim, is also not of the standard class of cool (no wife of Dick's could be). But for some reason, she has been blessed with classic cool. (Note the cigarette she's lighting.) Unfortunately, though, for Dick, this cool has never been transferred by association.
Dick is realizing that he can't be the Mysterious New Neighbor forever. Soon, they'll know him for the uncool geek that he really is and things will be just like they always were. Again. And again. Always. Forever.
But maybe he can change that pattern tonight.
Dick is noticing one equation clearer than many of the calculations he does every day at work: 1950s relaxing after dinner culture + cigarette = cool. And unlike the mathematical laws, Dick is starting to see that the rules of this equation can change. Just because dick ¬ cool doesn't mean that tonight can't mean dick + cigarette = (finally!) cool.
But he is going to have to act fast. Dick gropes his pockets and feigns surprise and slight concern. He follows up these large, mimed gestures with some words: "Hey, Genevieve, looks like I don't have any cigarettes on me right now. Could I nab one of yours?"
Perhaps Genevieve was blessed with classic cool due to her ability to catch on instantly. There is barely even the twitch of a raised eyebrow as she hands him a cigarette. Genevieve had guessed this would happen eventually; after all, smoking is as natural as breathing in the '50s. She nonchalantly shrugs off her surprise but can't help watching to see what will happen when Dick takes his first puff.
Dick steals a light from one of the new neighbors ("Oh, I guess I left my lighter in my other shirt. Wow, I really am a mess tonight!") and perches casually on the porch railing, trying to look as ordinary as possible. He's done this every day of his life, he started smoking behind the drugstore with the other kids, he can't go to bed without a cigarette. Dick attempts to mimic the eloquent smoking posture he sees exhibited every morning by Genevieve: a bored, laid-back look in the eyes, a slightly hunched back, one hand informally supporting his body on the railing, the other with the cigarette limp and relaxed between his fingers.
It looks like they're buying it! Conversation continues as it had before Dick's theatrical interlude. Dick is finding it hard to believe that this is working. They actually think he is cool! He's never had that word associated with him before! Dick is getting quite a rush. Maybe tomorrow he'll buy a fast car! Or a leather jacket. Or maybe ... well, wait.
Dick can't just sit there just holding a cigarette all night. That looks even more uncool than the absence of one. He's going to have to actually smoke it. Well, how hard can that be? Dick is inhaling as he wonders if he could be a prodigy at blowing smoke rings.
But Dick never gets to find out.
Even Dick's body is incapable of being cool, because the smoke shocks his system, and Dick blacks out. It's pretty uncool to faint from a cigarette, but remember where Dick is sitting? Or rather, was sitting?
The sudden dead weight of his body propels Dick backwards off the railing and into the elderberry bush two storeys below. And as Dick comes to, feeling thoroughly shredded (for elderberry bushes are the type that really scratch the s--t out of you), he realizes cool isn't an attitude you can develop. You either have it or you don't. And Dick certainly doesn't have it.
Cool is still an instinctual thing. It's human nature, how can you change that? Most people never get over wanting to be cool. But then, most people have not fallen two storeys into an elderberry bush. 1