By: Whitney Matheson
July 11, 2023

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of reconsidered passions, reassessed hates, and reversed feelings everywhere in-between. Series edited by Adam McGovern.



She was a teenage girl in a tight yellow halter top, and I was a middle schooler in sizable spectacles.

I watched from the doorway as she tucked her wet hair in a towel — she was always washing her hair — and applied eyeshadow in the bathroom mirror.

“I HAVE BIG BOOBS!” she yelled over the music. She had caught me looking. “DO YOU LIKE THE SMITHS? THEY’RE MY FAVORITE!”

She had been playing the same ten songs all day. Her mother kept telling her to turn it down, but she just made it louder.

I hated the music, but I nodded and smiled anyway. She grinned back.


Older girls taught me to be cool and awful. Whenever I encountered them, I studied them for survival tips.

Nicole, the shampooed Smiths fan, lived around the block. Our mothers were friends, and sometimes my mom would dump me at their house or pay Nicole to babysit my brother and I — or, as Nicole interpreted it, to come over and call her boyfriend.

Once I was at Nicole’s house, and she got into a screaming, crying fight with her mother. I’d never heard anything like it — I’d been mad at my mom before, but this was like a soap opera — and I hid downstairs to listen. Suddenly, the front door slammed, and Nicole’s car sped out of the driveway. She came home a few days later.


When I got to high school, I started loving The Smiths, too. And how could I not? Their songs bubbled with longing and secrets and villainous sarcasm, and if that’s not the textbook definition of teenage girlhood, I don’t know what is. “Girlfriend in a Coma,” “Shoplifters of the World Unite” — the titles alone were inside jokes, cheeky and smart and completely non-threatening.

I also started hating my mother, though it was more of an internal, passive fuming than Nicole had with hers. I stashed a duffel bag of spare clothes in my closet, in case I ever got the guts to run.


Years ago I found myself singing karaoke with a well-known musician. She could belt out anything from John Prine to Prince and make it sound like your favorite covers album.

I was intimidated, but she insisted I pick a song. “I’ll sing it with you,” she said encouragingly.

I chose “Ask” by The Smiths, which opens with what I’ve long declared to be my personal mantra: “Shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to.”

I performed confidently, if off-key, from memory. She never joined in, but I was okay with taking it solo.


When my daughter was three, I took her to one of the best aquariums in the country. I thought she would be thrilled to see so many creatures she loved up close. And she was — until she spotted another little girl near the alligator exhibit.

The girl was a couple years older, steadier on her feet, too big for a stroller. My daughter was transfixed. She followed her. Waved at her. Didn’t give two shits about the penguins. Every time I pulled her more than spitting distance from this girl, she screamed and held out her hands, as if I were tearing her away from her one true love.

I was embarrassed, but I understood. Even now, I’m drawn to women with more knowledge, experience and freedom than I have. And if there’s a little glint in their eye on top of it all? Well, the penguins come a distant second.


After Nicole graduated and moved out, her mother gave me a stack of her old teen magazines. I studied them from cover to cover, absorbing everything: fashion tips, dating advice, interviews with famous people about fashion and dating. They weren’t the same as having an actual teenager around to observe and admire.

Today, sometimes I’ll hear The Smiths and wonder whatever happened to Nicole.

My daughter can’t stand their music — and I kinda dread the day when she’s old enough to change her mind.


CURVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Tom Nealon on PIZZA PURISM | Holly Interlandi on BOY BANDS | Heather Quinlan on THE ’86 METS | Whitney Matheson on THE SMITHS | Bishakh Som on SUMMER | Jeff Lewonczyk on WHOLE BELLY CLAMS | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER | Nikhil Singh on LOVE ISLAND UK | Adrienne Crew on CILANTRO | Adam McGovern on MISSING PERSONS | Art Wallace on UFOs | Fran Pado on LIVERWURST | Lynn Peril on ELTON JOHN’S GREATEST HITS | Marlon Stern Lopez on ADOLESCENT REBELLION | Juan Gonzalez on STAN & JACK or JACK & STAN | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on BALTIMORE | Josh Glenn on FOOTLOOSE | Annie Nocenti on SIDEVIEW MIRROR | Mandy Keifetz on BREATHLESS | Brian Berger on HARRY CREWS | Ronald Wimberly on GAMING AND DATING | Michele Carlo on HERITAGE FOODS | Gabriela Pedranti on MADONNA | Ingrid Schorr on MAXFIELD PARRISH AND SUE LEWIN | Mariane Cara on ORANGE.