Dodging high school reunion from a cool, safe place

Tuesday, April 3, 2001

An old classmate of mine showed me a list put out by the high school that I was paroled from years ago.

It seemed they were trying to put together a reunion, something that I don't think they've ever quite managed.

Next to my name on the list, it said, "No information."

I kind of like that. No information. Makes me feel mysterious. Like the old time pro wrestlers, where the scariest guy was always from "Parts Unknown."

Welcome to Parts Unknown.

The fact that I'm barely an hour from the unhallowed halls I once patrolled not withstanding, I am apparently stored in a cool, safe place. Hidden away beyond the excited chattering grasp of pot-bellied, chain-smoking former high school cheerleaders and balding, polyester-wearing former class officers that would plan reunions.

I don't want to catch their infectious enthusiasm. I don't want to attend any high school reunion. Why would I want to hang around with those old people? As long as I am not exposed to my peers, I am able to live with the illusion of youth and immortality.

Why would anyone want to see that their perky one-time girlfriends suddenly have gray hairs and crows' feet? That their track teammate now weighs 350 pounds? That their Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter president is on parole for embezellment of church funds? That the sprightly young teacher who wore those wild mini skirts is now about to be a grandma?

No thanks. Some things are better left alone.

It occurs to me that I haven't been inside my high school since the day I graduated. I have no plans to change that trend now.

Personally, I would rather visit Storm Lake High, or St. Mary's, or Alta, or Newell-Fonda.

I'm not sure if education has changed that much in 20 years, or if I have.

But these local schools seem to me to be a happier place to be. They are bright, curious places. I hear people laugh there. I hear music, and see art.

Teachers seem to do all kind of innovative things, reaching out to the kids in special ways, and caring about what becomes of them.

There are even things like Diversity Day. I watch kids joining in an Asian dance, and skins of every shade passing under the limbo stick.

Afterward, I feel pretty frisky myself. Somewhere right in that 24, 25 age range. They ought to bottle the stuff.

Who wants to hang out with a bunch of old people belaboring the past when I can go to a Tornado or Panther game and suck up a little of their energy?

High school wasn't like this when I was there, or maybe I wasn't like this.

The old school still looks more like a penitentiary to me, and that's just how I felt about it.

Although I did a brisk business in forged off-campus passes, when I wasn't getting expelled for the stories I was writing in the school paper, I did my best to blend into the background of the dark hallways.

I got pretty decent grades, but it was an accident.

I don't remember too much laughter. I do remember a lot of racial tension. Cops were needed to have a basketball or football game or a dance. Violence in the halls was not uncommon.

We didn't have the Internet yet to teach us how to build bombs, and we couldn't afford semi-automatic weapons. We had to get by hitting, kicking and biting one another. It wasn't that we especially hated each other, it was just better than the boredom.

The bathrooms were so thick with cigarette and pot smoke that unless you wanted lung cancer, you learned to hold it.

I remember drugs being sold and consumed openly in school. Pills were most often carried in little Sucrets boxes. Everybody pretended not to notice. The junior class vice-president was eight-months pregnant.

Even the preferred music of the time seemed kind of angry and dark.

With one or two exceptions, I don't recall any of my high school teachers. They seemed to be a lot like me - they kept their eyes down and just seemed to be passing time until they could get out of there.

Labels were big at that time and place. You had to be a stupid jock if you played sports, a queer if you got good grades, or a doper if you happened to like art or music or literature classes. The system didn't encourage the three to mix. Being a little of all those meant not belonging.

That may be why I like to cover things at Storm Lake High and St. Mary's so much. I've seen the other side of what high school can be. I marvel at what is accomplished. Even at this late stage, I manage to learn things by osmosis almost every time I set foot in those places.

People of my generation who are critical of the schools today must have very short memories, I think.

Thank you to the staff and kids of those schools, for showing me how it can be.

I'm jealous, I admit. I wish I had gone to school in such a place. If I had, I might be a lot more enthused about reunions, alumni events and the like.

So I won't be going to any high school reunion, this year or any year. I'll be happy enough with a few slightly blurry memories of a few good friends, a few nice girls, a few great games. But I was happy to get out of there then, and I'm still happier right where I am.


Stored here in a cool, safe place. Parts Unknown.