Just Another Effin' Observer

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Location: Huntsville, Texas, United States

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Potholes on Memory Lane

Since I've been too damn lazy to post any original content on this blog lately, I decided that I'd just recycle some old stuff that the publishing world (wisely) wanted to have nothing to do with. So herewith follows an essay I wrote about a year ago, when I was feeling a bizarre combination of nostalgia and cynicism....

Every so often -- say, every couple of weeks or so -- I have to log into my America Online account to clear out my mailbox. I only use that account when I'm on the road (which hasn't been much lately), so the spam has a tendency to pile up. Case in point: today's total of 182 messages, not a single one of them from anyone I knew, let alone had any desire to hear from. There was one, however, that caught my attention....

Classmates.com is a Web site that provides a venue for hooking up with one's high school classmates (hence the name). For reasons that remain unclear to me, I registered with the site a couple of years ago. (I did notice that the date on which I registered was two days before my 45th birthday, so perhaps my reasons were not so unclear, after all.) Since that day, on at least a weekly basis, I have received an e-mail message from the site, advising me of how many new former classmates they have added to their rolls, and, if I upgrade to their Gold (read: paying) membership, I could be reconnecting with all of them.

Most of these e-missives get deleted unread, along with about 99.9999975% of everything else that appears in my AOL mailbox, and for pretty much the same reasons: my house is still under construction, so I really don't care what mortgage re-fi rates are; I have no need for cheap Viagra (although not for the reasons most men would want you to think -- if you don't have a car, or even a driver's license, then you really don't need an Exxon credit card in your wallet, now do you?); and I left absolutely nothing behind when I graduated from my high school nearly thirty years ago. Most of those people despised me back then, and the feeling was more than mutual; the one who didn't (although to this day I'm not absolutely certain of this) is married to my brother, so we still keep in touch. So I really had no interest at all in how many of my high school cohort Classmates.com had unearthed in the past week, beyond a mild curiosity as to how many of them the term 'unearthed' could be applied literally -- i.e., how many were no longer alive. For some reason, however, I felt the urge to open this particular message, and follow the link to the Classmates.com Web site.

What followed was a trip down Memory Lane, recalling people I had not seen, nor, with exceedingly rare exceptions, even thought about, in almost three decades. There was Tina, who for three years shared German class with me; and yes, I had a bit of a crush on her. I recalled that, early in my freshman year, she passed an "I think you're cute" note to me during class. It was meant as a huge joke, the sentiments expressed in it regarded by virtually the entire student body as so patently ludicrous that the irony was unmistakable (she was breathtakingly beautiful, and I was, well, not), and I recognized it as such. I just didn't appreciate the humor. One name I did not find was Clarence, the class bully who tormented me for almost four years, until I finally decided that I had had enough, and tried to kill him on the school bus one afternoon. When the Assistant Principal took me to task over the incident, I freely admitted my intentions. He was not ready for that; back then, attempted murder was not a disciplinary issue that a school administrator had to deal with very often. Tina and I eventually established a cordial, almost friendly, relationship (although my crush-y sentiments were never reciprocated). As for Clarence -- well, suffice it to say that, to this day, I wouldn't pee down his throat if his lungs were on fire. Other names jogged other memories, few of them particularly pleasant.

Why this sudden urge to recall people and events from a past that, in today's self-esteem-sodden educational environment, would have demanded intensive therapy for the next fifteen years? I'm inclined to suspect that masochism was a factor, but even so, it has been (as I believe I have already mentioned) almost thirty years since any of these people occupied even the most peripheral place in my life; it's over, long past, dead and buried, with a stake through its heart. (Or so at least, I cannot help but hope, is Clarence.) Move-on-dot-org, and all that.

But I recalled another e-mail message from a few months ago, from one of those very classmates, which proposed, and solicited interest in, a thirty-year class reunion. There had been a ten-year and a twenty-year reunion, both of which I chose not to attend, for reasons to which I have already alluded: I frankly did not care (and still don't) whether I ever saw any of those yutzes again. But something -- some inchoate racial-memory kind of thing, I suspect -- is urging me to attend this one. Is it possible that I did, in fact, leave something behind all those years ago, and am only now beginning to realize it?

I don't think so.

I think I want to go to this reunion for the same reason most people attend these functions: to get a sick, demented thrill out of seeing the overweight, balding tub of lard that the school jock has turned into, and to witness first-hand what the ravages of time, parenthood and the unrelenting maw of middle-class survival (to say nothing of the relentless pull of gravity) have wreaked upon the perky breasts, the waspish waistlines, and the artfully-frosted hair of the cheerleading squad. Kind of like when The Real World meets Waiting For God.

Some people, of course, go to their high school reunions to show off, to flaunt their success and wealth, and to lord it over the plebeian hoi polloi who believe that dinner at Red Lobster and a movie constitutes a night on the town. These people are of no consequence. The desire to grab them by their silk collars and bitch-slap them until their ears bleed is understandable, but unnecessary. The IRS knows who they are, and cosmic justice, in its own inimitable, deliciously gruesome way, will be served. Trust me.

But the overwhelming majority of people who attend high school reunions do so for one reason and one reason only: to experience that frisson of almost karmic serenity that comes from the discovery that your mundane, middle-class, spectacularly nondescript existence is the norm; that, all things considered (certainly with respect to the rest of those pitiful, hopeless misallocations of protoplasm that you went to school with), your life did not turn out too terribly bad. In fact, compared to a lot of them, you've actually done pretty damn well.

You think your job is a disappointment, a grind? Consider where the guy voted Most Likely To Succeed ended up: doing eight years for securities fraud, I'd wager. (And I think I can state categorically that your sex life is more satisfying than his; you, at least, get to choose your partners.) Remember the Prom Queen, the girl whose erogenous zones extended about eight feet from her actual body? Well, her butt has that distinction now. And the guy voted Most Popular? His three ex-wives' lawyers and the Child Support Enforcement people would certainly agree; they want him bad.

Am I being overly cynical? Probably, but so what? The only people who haven't become card-carrying cynics thirty years after high school are the ones who never put down the bong they picked up on that spring-break trip to a Tijuana tchotchke shop during their freshman year of college. Sooner or later, you have to grow up, and a degree of cynicism comes with the package. You eventually realize that all that talk about World Peace that the valedictorian blathered on about during his Commencement speech (until you were ready to open a vein) was just so much beauty-pageant bullshit; that being elected Class President is as much of a political career as anyone in his right mind should aspire to; and that the high school experience in general had no more grounding in reality than your typical Star Trek convention.

Let me be brutally honest about this. The only thing I took with me out of high school was the only thing that was worth taking: an education, from the days -- now, sadly, long gone -- when high school actually provided an education that carried some measure of credibility. There is nothing more that I want or need from those years, from that place, or from the people who acted as the supporting cast of my own personal Wonder Years. I don't want or need their fellowship, particularly from those who had no interest in offering it back when it might have meant something to me, and I certainly don't need their approval.

So will I be attending the proposed thirty-year reunion of my high school graduating class? At the moment, the jury's still out on that, but one fact will weigh heavily in my decision: I look damn good in a tux. (And rolling up to the event in a Jag isn't likely to hurt my image, either.)

I'd kind of like Tina to see that. And perhaps to ponder, for a moment or two, at least one road not taken.


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