My high school reunion happens this weekend, apparently. I couldn’t care less. I enjoyed high school to the extent that someone enjoys chemo – the side effects suck but they go away after awhile.
I’ll be honest. I’m slightly envious of people who enjoyed high school. From what I understand, you’re supposed to. Reunions allow you to connect with the people you grew up with and shared experiences with. I envy people those who, like one of my classmates driven by the need to see their high school friends, plans on spending a not insignificant amount of time and money to fly to the other side of country to attend. I have neither the time, money nor inclination.
I spent high school on the outside. Around ninth grade, I realized the futility of blending in. I didn’t like most of these people. Most of them looked at me with the expression of a dog being shown a card trick. Mutual indifference mostly ruled the day and sometimes spilled over to active disdain. I was too smart to hang with the stoners and too stoned to hang with the brains. Apparently, I was too odd for the drama-ramas. I didn’t give a fuck about the jocks. I found a small island of friends who got me through to graduation and I’m still in touch with many of them.
I’m struggling right now to keep some kind of balance as I write this. Part of me feels like cataloging every single slight visited upon me like finding out that the girl I asked to the Junior prom got dissuaded by her friend after she accepted. Or the pie that got pushed in my face at the school talent show. This conflicts with the knowledge that I’m an adult and that the chemo happened in the past. I made a conscious decision not to follow the herd. What did I expect? It’s a fine line to tread but this works as a decent balance.
In 1979, the B-52s release their first album. Working at what passed for the school radio station (which consisted of speaker wire running from the Distributive Education classroom to the cafeteria) brought me in contact with one of the definitive albums of my generation. It blew me away. “Thank you jesus for something that’s not country rock,” I crowed. Putting stylus to vinyl, I began to evangelize. It’s not that I expected any conversions nor was I unaware of the probable outcome. As the DJ on duty, though, I exercised my right to play what I wanted and somewhat reveled in the backlash. My already low favorability numbers declined rapidly. Flash forward two years and I’m at the club where my now drinking-age classmates congregated. Like a moth to the flame, I felt compelled to check it out. Much to my surprise, I saw them all enthusiastically dancing to…Rock Lobster.
At the time, I seethed. Were these same people who screamed at me for playing it two years ago professing their undying love for the B-52s? Were they fucking kidding? Did I actually have to take shit for playing their favorite song first because I wasn’t one of the cool kids? Today, I know the answer is still yes but for different reasons. I understand the role of the outsider in a way I didn’t back then. The outsider gets it before everyone else does. That’s both a source of frustration and a source of pride. The outsider clears the path for everyone else. There’s no (intellectual) reason to feel annoyance or anger towards the people behind you. Outsiders rarely care about leading. They’re in it for their own curiosity. The people behind you don’t take the road less travelled by unless it’s previously paved. As outsiders we tramp down the overgrowth because there looks like something cool on the other side and this gets the path started. Once they see it, they may or may not follow it. Expecting them to thank you flies in the face of reason. In theory, it’s not done for the accolades but for out of our own drive to find something new.
Given this, why would I bother wanting to hang out with the incurious? To hear about their high paying stressful jobs, children and divorces? To admire their tanning salon skin and plastic surgeries? To watch them fight the natural aging process? The only compelling reason to go is to congratulate those who came out of the closet. It couldn’t have been easy to be gay in that place.
Because of Facebook, I’ve gotten to know some of my classmates better. Many of them friended me and just as quickly unfriended me which made me laugh. Others, though, made me (slightly) regret my “angry young man” persona because I like them immensely and wish we’d joined up in high school. In retrospect, I know that I stereotyped a lot of potential friends out of the mix. That’s kind of what your teens are all about.
There’s a case to be made that by writing off the reunion I’m still closing myself off. That’s probably true. But, as I said on the reunion Facebook page, I can sit in a corner and feel awkward just as easily at home.