High School Musical, Part XX

This morning I wake up with a Steely Dan song in my head, so I know it’s going to be a good day. Perhaps I feel a little cynical, but overall, a good day. The last verse from “My Old School” reflects my attitude—and this post—nicely:

California tumbles into the sea
That’ll be the day I go
Back to Annandale
Tried to warn you
About Chino and Daddy G
But I can’t seem to get to you
Through the U.S. Mail

My hometown is something like Annandale: conservative, quaint, secretive—and though I travel to and from my hometown often to see family who fascinatingly chose to stay there for the long term, I have vowed never to purchase property in the place where I was raised. My mom is just gonna have to deal with that.

California seems unshakable today, though, so I’m safe. Multiple snow-covered mountain peaks dominate the view from the kitchen window. I sip coffee with cream, humming and sorting through the current mail faire of Super Tuesday junk, H&R tax-filing deals, and there, like a harbinger of the past, is an official invite to my 20th high school reunion.

I knew this invite–and the reunion– was coming. I still remain close with a few of my craziest and most wonderful girlfriends from highschool, so I am not surprised by the invite’s arrival, but I have honestly been dreading it. For me, highschool is then and this is now, and with apologies to S.E. Hinton, I am able to put this fact into clear relief. I’m not an overly sentimental or nostalgic individual. I do not reminisce on “old times,” on events that have happened in the past which classify, either embarassingly or transformatively, as “rites of passage.” And high school, obviously, was a time replete with various opportunities for such rites. Right? Do you remember?

I will, however, go to my 20th high school reunion. Somehow I have promised the crazy and wonderful girls that I will attend. But what conflicts me about this event is twofold:

a) All of the people who I have even the teensiest desire to reunite with at said event actually weren’t from my graduating class. I recall my best pals (besides the crazy and wonderful girls) as graduates in the year ahead of and behind me. These folks will not be at this particular high school reunion.
b) Looking at the invite, this event looks like a fantastially product-oriented marketing machine: a badge with my picture on it to wear? A souvenir book with everyone’s address for an extra $35? A photo of us twenty years later– $15 for a 5×7?

Plus, I have a horrible memory. Perhaps this is my greatest concern about going to a twentieth reunion. Even when I’m hanging with the crazy and wonderful girls, I can’t remember the specifics of many events which they all recall with colorful accuracy. Still, they love me; they tell me I was there. But what will happen at the 20th when people approach me and I am unable to remember their names or anything about them? I will have to look closely at their badges, not unlike a dog sniffing another when re-acquainting herself, and even then, I may remember nothing specific beyond a name, or a few distinct features, or the shadows of our interactions. Did we have a class together? Did I throw up on your shoes at a keg party?

Such uncomfortable contact has already happened to me on myspace:

Hi Lisa,
This is Dan _________. We went to high school together! It’s been such a long time. Anyway, I just wanted to say ‘hi.’ It’s so cool that I found you on myspace!

I don’t remember Dan. Or anyone named Dan. I do not reply to Dan because I am embarrassed to tell him that I do not remember him. I am sorry, Dan. I have since changed my profile to “private” to avoid any future encounters with Dan—and to avoid the truth: I have forgotten high school and the people associated with it.

Thankfully, there is an exception: the way I do remember high school is through music—or sort of as a musical. As in: when I hear the opening chops of Van Halen’s “Panama,” I’m on the crest of a hill. We’ve driven up on a dirt road; I’m surrounded by cars and people. It’s late Spring and I’m wearing shorts, laughing. The sun drops into afternoon.


We’re flying down Colton Avenue in a white convertible lowered VW, racing back from off-campus lunch singing “Kiss Off” by the Violent Femme’s to our Allendale-ish town.

Okay, so I’ll adjust my cynicism toward the optimistic on this Steely-Dan-sparkling-weather day. Music just might make the 20th a decent experience. Music can help me feel better about then again. These are the songs I hope the DJ remembers to play:

Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam, “I Wonder If I Take You Home”
Nu Shooz, “I Can’t Wait”
Debbie Deb, “When I Hear Music”
Dead or Alive, “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”
Boogie Boys, “Fly Girl”
New Order, “Bizarre Love Triangle”
10cc, “I’m Not In Love” (I admit that this song is more evocative of 5th grade couples backwards-skate, not high school—but the song!!)
The entire Cure Head on the Door album

And on my imaginary 20th Rockin’ Reunion Ipod mix:
The Eagles
The Police
Led Zepplin
and (forgive me) “Shot Thru the Heart” by Bon Jovi

These songs and bands make me remember hair and cars and shoes and nighttime and homework, so maybe it’s not that I have a horrible memory, it’s just the way I remember. Or it’s about what I want to remember, how I construct my history.

Besides, here I am, humming “My Old School” now. When Dan, or some other unintentionally forgotten face approaches me at the 20th reunion and says “Remember when..?” I might reply, “Hear this song? Let’s dance!” or “I want to know about you now. Let’s talk about now.”

Maybe you didn’t think I could be so cruel, but I’m never going back. Now is so much better.

22 responses to “High School Musical, Part XX”

  1. Beth W says:

    Lovely essay Lisa. Very visual, evocative.
    Now is all we have.

  2. bryan says:

    I’m going through the same thing this year, you know, being as we’re the same age and all. I’m determined to go — I have a lot of people I’d like to see; some of them it’s really been 20 years since I’ve seen them — but I still have to fight down some of the emotional barriers. I had a lot of friends then, don’t get me wrong, but I never felt like I belonged there and I had a lot of people who just plain didn’t like me — probably because of my self-defensive smart-ass behavior that probably came off as snobbery sometimes.

    I’m also afraid that I won’t remember names. I’ve already seen some emails fly around among groups of “friends” and there are a lot of people I just don’t remember. And sometimes they compose emails in very large blue fonts with lots of smiley faces and that kind of scares me.

    Then there’s a problem I will face but you won’t, Lisa — my reunion will be dry.

  3. bryan says:

    I was also worrying about music until you posted the list that included Bon Jovi and I realized I could probably handle whatever they played and take it with a bit of ironic nostalgia.

  4. cynthia says:

    Great essay Lisa, well stated, my 20 year reunion was a couple of years ago, and must have had twenty people come up to me and go hey cindy! and I was like who the fuck are these people never did remember. Then I ran in to my uncle a couple of weeks ago and he just had his fourtieth high schoool reunion, and he was citing in vivid color all the people who ere there and what they did. I was omg, after fourty years you remember all that. He was like doesn’t everybody. he obviously did not have the same experiences as me. Highschool was then and tis is now. I agree with you on never going back again.

  5. PB says:

    “I will have to look closely at their badges, not unlike a dog sniffing another when re-acquainting herself, and even then, I may remember nothing specific beyond a name, or a few distinct features, or the shadows of our interactions.”

    I love this line – It is the story of my everyday work life visiting about a million people at a million stores all who know me and I, well, . . . see above.

    I think: if I can’t remember after a month, how will I manage years and years?
    consequently I never go – that and they hold the damn thing in Waterloo, IA!

    Fun post – sensual memory is the best kind anyway – did I say sensual? I meant sensory, I think.

  6. LT says:

    bw: ack! no alchohol?! I’m sure that’s the only way I’ll survive the reunion. we could trade 1988-ish song ideas all day, probably. I hated “sussudio,” for example, but it definitely is one of my high school musical- memory numbers.
    the other bw: has her own amazing reflections on life in her lulalouise blog. and she makes stuff. check it.
    cynthia: thanks for you comment– i especially the “i’m like” and “he’s all” visualizations. so honest.
    pb: i’m okay with “sensual” as a descriptor…what reallly worries me is that my inability to remember people and events is the early onset of some kind of alzheimers (which doesn’t run in my family, but i’m still paranoid!)…can you rationalize your own issues with remembering “about a million people”?

  7. LT says:

    please, cynthia, add “love” between “especially” and “the” above.

  8. PB says:

    “can you rationalize your own issues with remembering “about a million people”?”

    Here is the weird thing – faces mean nothing to me, names even less – but give me one clue to their “story” and like the songs do for you – I will remember verbatum some involved, complicated narrative that they related at some point. I won’t remember who they are but will remember that they have an Aunt Hildy who bought them that blue shirt that the collie from the animal shelter chewed up on Thanksgiving.

    So my rationalization? I don’t really pay attention to anyone until they offer material for my insatiable story curiousity. Forget faces and names, I want a plot. Up until that point I am in my own head, no brain grooves being made whatsoever. So when I lose the ability to collect narratives – like Vanessa at the end of Atonement – that will really be the end.

  9. LT says:

    PB, did you read Atonement? Brilliant. I haven’t seen the film, but I’ve heard it’s well done.

    Like you, I dig on plot. I think that’s why music helps me remember– it’s not really the sounds of the songs, but the lyrics. The more evocative the story in the song the better (like “Tom Sawyer”)…but then I love a good beat too.

  10. Tim Wager says:

    Oh man, I’ve avoided my high school reunions. I’ve got the best excuse: they’re over 3000 miles away in a tiny town that’s hard to get to. Somehow I wish I could be a fly on the wall, though, and check out what everybody looks like now.

    Just like for LT, it’s the music that really brings me back. Whenever I hear “Rock Lobster” or “Thru Being Cool,” I think of bombing around in my friend Eric’s Chevy Nova, racing to the bakery and back before ski practice, or going up to Chicken Farm Hill to stand around a bonfire and drink beer. Oh man, I’m starting to sound like Potsie or Ralph Malph, 25 years on.

    23 ski-doo!


  11. they’re over 3000 miles away in a tiny town that’s hard to get to.

    Certainly describes my experience. I’m going anyway.

  12. Jen says:

    Wow, LT – I could’ve written this post, except it would’ve been about my 20th College reunion (ack!). I did go back to my old school last year, and, in fact it was the very place Steely Dan sing about (Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson). What a trip! That place really affected me in many ways, but the thing that I noticed the most was that everything was such a big deal back then, and revisiting My Old School made me realise that it’s not such a big deal after all.
    I too have a terrible memory for all but a few specific events – so I really related to your experience of remembering only the “shadows of our interactions”. Nicely put!

  13. Jeremy says:

    What a delightful post. Such a fun read, but the idea of high school reunions makes me a little wistful for experiences I never had… I went to three different high schools, and I only attended the one that graduated me (not too far from yours, actually) for 2 years. I can hardly remember any of those folks, much less want to see them again… But I do remember listening to a lot of Dinosaur Jr. and Firehose.

  14. Beth W says:

    #6 LT: thanks sistah!

    I saw the movie Atonement and liked it a lot. I hear it’s fairly similar to the book.

  15. Yeesh. My chiming in here is relevant mostly because I’m getting the same emails Bryan is getting, and I’m reluctant to go for a lot of the same reasons.

    I remember most of them, but like Lisa, I was closer to friends in other classes, with a few exceptions. I already keep in touch (to a degree) with those exceptions (one of them being here at the GW), so I don’t need the reunion just to catch up. It would be nice to see the half-dozen or so I was close to – but I’m getting to see some of THEM during my book tours anyway.

    I actually LIVE in the same community I graduated from – but I only returned after many years away. And coming back as an accomplished adult gave me a different viewpoint. But it was a difficult enough environment to come through then without reliving it again now, even for a day.

  16. cynthia says:

    Thanks LT, It was quite an experience, and Bryan way to go on dry. Godd luck with that. I guess I never did have a lot of friends in the high school days, so I was just so suprised when peope came up and said hi.

  17. Bryan way to go on dry.

    um — it’s not exactly my choice. it will be a dry party in a next-to-dry town. suddenly i realize why the cliche of spiked punch at the prom exists.

  18. Dave says:

    Dude: hip flask.

  19. Natasha says:

    Bryan, I have lots of flasks. I have one that looks like a cell phone, no one will ever know. I can share. Please, bring a flask, do not go to a dry reunioun dry, bad things can happen.

  20. I have a commemorative flask from the Salt Lake Olympics that may be more appropriate …

  21. Natasha says:

    OK whatever works

  22. Cyndi says:

    “And these children that you spit on
    As they try to change their worlds
    Are immune to your consultations
    They’re quite aware of what they’re going through”

    My love – you do not need to remember all the faces and all the stories. That is what your crazy and wonderful girlfriends are for. The details, the memories, the photographs . . . and most importantly the music . . . are what we share. That is the beauty of our not-so-sober times together – to fill in the gaps of the past as we write the story of our lives. Now is much better, but I am so glad that I shared the past with our crazy and wonderful girlfriends.