Should auld acquaintance (and crushes) be forgot
June 15, 2006
A high school reunion is like a cast party. The show is over, but you just want to stand around, drink in hand, and talk about it.
It beats high school itself, which is more like a caste party. At my Santa Barbara High School 20th this past weekend at the Montecito Country Club, the cliques and posturing were gone. Middle age, or wherever we are, turns out not to be so bad.
Before the reunion, I made two promises to myself. First, I’d keep to two drinks and second, I would steer clear of the women I had crushes on back in the day.
The drink maximum proved easy, while the crush rule I fortunately dashed quickly as silliness. I had gone to school with some of the women for 13 years, starting at Montecito Union. At some point or other, I had a crush on almost every one of them.
Had I stuck to my promise, I wouldn’t have talked to the people — at least the female subset — that in one sense were my main cast members.
Even if we see them only every 20 years, or never again, early childhood friends and our shared history are imprinted on us almost in a biological way. Odd, mundane tidbits about elementary school kept popping up in my conversations as if they were lodged in people’s brains.
One woman remembered that we both wore “Great Wall of China” T-shirts on the same day and that when the weather cooled, I favored a green commando sweater with patches on the shoulders and elbows. In elementary school, even the smallest details of life are fascinating in a way that very quickly dulls.
My daughter is now in kindergarten at Montecito Union and at day’s end she sometimes talks about what she learned, but just as often she describes what people wore and who said what. And there is one boy’s name that has come up repeatedly throughout the year.
(Listen to your dad: When you’re talking to him 33 years from now, stick to two drinks.)
Life becomes a little less fresh as we get older, but I am not nostalgic about losing that sense of childhood wonderment.
The day after the reunion I thought of Howard Marks, Britain’s most famous drug smuggler, whom I’d interviewed last year for a book I was working on. After graduating from Oxford University in the 1960s, Marks tried to be a schoolteacher for a little while, but he couldn’t tolerate a humdrum, regular adult life.
To spice things up, he began driving heaps of marijuana across European borders.
As Marks told me, he became a smuggler for two reasons: “An exciting profession and a lot of product loyalty.”
All the excitement eventually led to seven years at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.
At the reunion, the alumni who live in town — even those who were pretty excitement-friendly in their youths — became animated when talking about how great it is to live in a place where they have roots, where they run into people they’ve known for a long time.
From excitement to belonging is not a bad trajectory. I’m already looking forward to the next cast party.