Saturday, December 11, 2004

Nostalgic for high school, for some godawful reason

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In 1994, I graduated from B.M.C. Durfee High School -- which is to say, I got out of there while the getting was good. Back in those happy-go-lucky years, heroin and pegged jeans were out; crack and flannel were in. The place was accredited -- gang fights actually meant something in those days.

And me? I was a moody little twerp. My complexion could be politely described as volcanic. I had no girlfriend and had the athletic polish of, let's say, a three-legged rhinoceros with an inner-ear infection.

I'm still a moody, graceless twerp, but I've since covered most of my face with a beard and I have a wife.

Some kids spent most of their high school years complaining about Durfee, and then spent the last year regretting having to leave it. I was glad to go. Durfee was a crummy building with too many dark corners and fleas infesting the carpets. It's true -- a hygiene-obsessed French teacher, now sadly deceased, told my class about the little guys. They'd leave tiny red welts on her arms and ankles, she said.

The French term for "flea," by the way, is "la puce."

I look back at my Durfee years, and all I see is mind-numbing routine punctuated by episodes of embarrassment. I refuse to get sentimental about it.

So why am I disappointed that I didn't have a 10-year reunion this year?

It's true. We're pretty much done with 2004, and I had no reunion.

None at all.

Not even a little one.

It's sad.

I'm not heartbroken -- just disappointed.

I wasn't all psyched to attend it or anything, but it would have been an interesting thing to do, if only to see what other people made of themselves. Who got fat. Who got skinny. Who lived a nightmare. Who got rich.

Since leaving, my life has been a blast. I want to make sure other people turned out OK, also.

I probably didn't miss much, not having a reunion. It would have been a night of awkward conversation and awkward food. In my imagination, I see cocktail weenies wrapped in dough and watery booze at a cash bar. Not an open bar -- cash. I see jokey comments about my beard ("No, it's not drawn on.") and my living arrangements ("Yes, I still live in Fall River, now kindly drop dead.").

Worse, for the sake of brevity I'd have to distill 10 wonderful, complicated years into a few phrases like this, and be thoroughly depressed at how it sounds: "After school, I went to college. Four years later, I got married. No kids yet, mercifully. Also, I went to college a second time -- first time didn't take, ha ha. Somewhere in all that, I found me a job. Then, I got this letter inviting me to the reunion, so here I am."

To tell you the truth, I suspected for a while that there'd be no 10-year reunion. My wife had the same feeling -- being cynics, we had this hunch that it would turn out badly.

An illustrative incident at Durfee shows what I mean. During my time, every year there had a mural painted in its memory on one of the walls. A little while after I graduated, something happened to the 1994 one -- some jerk defaced it with racial
slurs, I think. This was fixed by covering the mural in thick black paint.

I remember seeing it once, a year or so later. There were all these colorful murals, and one large, featureless black square in the middle of them. It sure as hell seemed like there was a lesson to be learned there.

Anyway, as 2004 wore on and there was no 1994 reunion notice in the paper, I brought the matter to my wife's attention.

"You'd think one of those 'joiner people' would put something together," I told her. "There were all kinds of goody-goody society types in our class who lived for this stuff."

My wife said, "Would you want to organize it?"

"Not a chance in hell, thanks. I just want to go incognito, so I can see how other people are doing without having to explain my own boring life story over and over," I said. "Organizing it is a headache for somebody else."

She shrugged and grinned. "There you go," she said.

In case you're wondering, senior class presidents are often in charge of doing the reunion organizing. My senior class president was football star Marc Megna. Last I heard, Marc was playing football in Montreal and getting work as a model, and I heard he's good at both. Incidentally, a photograph of him, shirtless and flexing, once made the rounds of this newsroom. It soon became wrinkled and drool-stained as the women got hold of it and used it to fan themselves.

I don't blame Marc Megna for not organizing a reunion. Not even a little. If I had that guy's abs, I'd be busy doing something positive with them, too. Instead, I have an ab. One big, round ab.

At one point in my research, I found a phone number online for the Durfee Alumni Association, thinking I would find the person in charge and ask if somebody was going to get on the ball about my reunion. I was connected to a very strange, cryptic answering machine. I left my name and number, and never got a message in return. Thanks!

But several months ago, about the time I resigned myself to never having a 10-year reunion, to missing out on this rite of adulthood, an odd thing happened.

Without meaning to, I started to hear information about people I knew from Durfee. Mainly by coincidence, many people I knew then found me. Sometimes I found them. I even started to see a few people around the city, but I didn't get to speak to them -- nevertheless, I got a glimpse of how they're doing.

It started to satisfy my curiosity, without having to wear a tie and suck in my ab.

I don't want to be presumptuous and use their names here, but I do want to pass along what little I have, in case you're disappointed about not having a real reunion, too. Grab a cocktail weenie.

One woman I knew now works for the town of Tiverton. Another woman I knew e-mailed me out of the blue and told me she's now working for the New Bedford school system. I read once in this newspaper that a guy I was in marching band with became a firefighter. I saw a former basketball player walking down the street in a suit and tie, leaving a bank. Another woman, I spotted in a CVS with a baby. A guy I was very good friends with entered the priesthood. I looked up other people online and found artists and politicians and criminals and employees of corporate America.

I wonder if any of them remember about the fleas -- les puces terribles. It's just as well if they don't.

If you're curious: I went to college. Four years later, I got married. Then I went back to college. Somewhere in there, I found this job. Then I started to get curious about the past, so here I am.

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