Thursday, July 31, 2003

West By Northwest: Prelude

"I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." -- Bob Dylan

My thirty-year high school reunion is coming up next month. So I was on the phone a few weeks ago with "Kate," a classmate from my alma mater. We reminisced a bit, of course. She told me about how her mother used to talk about my Dad, back in the days when he and Kate's uncle Tom were classmates in the seminary. ("It was always Alex this and Alex that...") Tough act to follow, huh?

But our conversation was mostly about the very idea of the reunion itself. We compared the ten-year with the twenty-year, by which time, to hear Kate tell it, "the walls were coming down." "Yeah, Kate, but us kids from little old Milford still sat at our own table." Ours was a small town, with students bused to a Catholic high school in a hopelessly-middle-class suburban area. They thought of us as a bunch of hicks. If you wanted to get on well with the "in crowd," you learned to disassociate yourself from your podunk pals in short order. Personally, I never made the transition, so along with "Alex," I was also known as "Milford."

Now, of course, some of the big city kids live down the street from where they grew up, sending their kids to the same high school, as has been done over the last half century now (no scientific data yet on the effects of inbreeding on SAT scores, but I digress...). Meanwhile, I've lived in places that make Watch Hill look like Price Hill. (It's a Cincinnati thing, but you get the idea.)

Still, during our conversation, both of us were excited at the prospect of seeing one another again. We talked about what music would be played. Now, the early 1970s were the post-hippie pre-disco era, not exactly prime time for dance music. I suppose I let it slip about my cutting the mean rug in recent years. She offered me a seat on the music committee. I haven't heard about the position since, but I'll see what I've got in my vast music library -- Benny Goodman, Boozoo Chavis, the Electric Slide, some Latin grooves, "everybody Wang Chung tonight." No chicken dance, no Tina Turner doing "Proud Mary," and most important, no @#$%ing macarena!!!

We also talked of Columbine, and seemed to agree on the root causes. The Washington Post did a piece a few years back, on the events leading up to the tragedy. It seems one of the star athletes was a state champion, which earned him his own parking space. He was also known to be among those who taunted a few misfits, including two who had a fascination for gothic role-playing games, and access to guns.

Of course, you can't even mention the word "gun" in an American high school today without some old biddie assuming you're packing one. But, Title Nine notwithstanding (the Federal rule that requires equal access to sports for both boys and girls, and results in co-ed gym classes, the propriety of which is completely beyond me), the big money still goes to the high-visibility programs, especially for the boys. The artificial status-quo provails, and all the high-priced visionaries in education still can't figure out why kids go down the wrong path.

Fortunately, by the middle of their fourth year, the kids get what is known as "senioritis." That's when they start looking at the world beyond the classroom doors, to a future without pep rallies and prom committees. That's also when some of them learn they've been sold a bill of goods -- by the popular culture, by their teachers, by their peers, by themselves.

That's when they being the part called "growing up."

It is said that our most enduring friends are often the ones from childhood. Small wonder that the "Milfordites" would sit at one table, and probably will again this year. They may live across town, or across the planet. But even if they only talk to one another once a year, or once a decade, they will pick up right where they left off. Then it's on to the present, and often separate, lives.

And so it will be for me this Saturday, when I return to the nest, taking my son with me to see his grandparents after a two-year absense. The following Monday both of us get on a plane and head to Seattle -- for me, a chance to reconnect with myself; for Paul, a chance to determine his destiny.

There will be more to say, from a distance.

Stay tuned...

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