Thursday, July 04, 2013

Notes on the Class of '88

or cerchi se io

I went to my 25th high school reunion last weekend. Here are my impressions:

The self-consciously "smart" people--I would loosely define this group as the people who cared and thought very much about which good college they were going to go to, or in a few rebellious cases, which good college they were assiduously not going to go to--were largely absent. I would probably not have been considered to belong to this group of people, and certainly would not be now, but I would have liked to have seen more of them make an appearance. Those who had been most notable in their school days for partying constituted the dominant group in attendance. Most of these seem to still live in the area. I don't have a great rapport with most of the party people either. I was exceptionally immature in high school. Most of my real male friends were a year behind me; I suspect that even now it would be considered bad form for me to crash that reunion however. I did not have any real girl friends in school, but if any exist who would remember me with any degree of friendly feeling, they would have been two years behind me at least. This is not unusual, I don't think, and as such it shouldn't really matter that the girls exactly your own age never liked you that much; but somehow it always does.

The class of '88 missed being part of the Tattoo Generation, if not by much. I did not see a single person who was sporting any visible ink, which is unusual in any social setting nowadays, and there were certainly those present who if they were ten, or even five years younger, you would scarcely be able to see much of their actual flesh by this point. If I remember accurately the trend of widespread tattooing really got rolling sometime around '96 or '97, which indicates to me that if you are able to make it to twenty-five without succumbing to this ridiculous temptation, you are not going to be easily seduced by it thereafter, even if you are an incurable knucklehead. Perhaps future generations will even consider us early 70s birth cohorts to be possessed of a certain old school elegance, as we will apparently be the last group of people for a long time to enter old age on the whole tattoo-free.

People born in the early '70s are also the last group to get through a lot of their formative experiences--school, college, early dating, early jobs, living abroad or otherwise away from home--before the technology explosion which has so altered people's relationships to information. Although being exclusively with people around your own age is common during one's school years and I suppose again in the nursing home, when you are 43 it is unusual to be somewhere where everyone else is exactly the same age as you. So while of course people had their i-phones with them and a few people pulled them out from time to time--mostly to read messages from their children--they were not ubiquitous, nor did they interfere with conversation, that I noticed. I even found another guy, indeed someone who had been a pretty good friend of mine, who hated phones and refused to carry one, which has not happened to me in a long time.

As I have very little to say for myself I appear to not be very social at these kinds of events and periodically have to go and sit down or step out on the balcony alone for a few minutes. Some people get the impression I am not having a good time; if asked I will usually say that if I really didn't have a good time at these reunions, I wouldn't come to them, though that is not exactly true. Other people I sense are annoyed or even, if not 'uncomfortable' (a loaded and increasingly unsatisfactory word nowadays), discomfited by my being there without any identifiable role or place in the proceedings. I do feel more and more after each of these reunions that maybe I shouldn't go anymore, no one really knows me, I don't look forward to having to try to explain who I am and what I have done with my life, and every brief exchange is a bit of an ordeal. On the other hand, I still want to keep up some connection with the old town and the school--I have not, to my mind, so far transcended them that the connection has ceased to be meaningful--and I also think that, if I am 43 and am uncomfortable telling other people what I am or do, maybe I need to go through more such ordeals, that perhaps sometime something might happen that motivates to do something about this problem.

The most unpleasant conversation I had was with a woman to whom I had never spoken before. I think she was one of those discomfited by my general appearance of purposelessness and took it upon herself to question me about it. It went badly. There is a certain level of condescension with regard to social status, personality, intellect, general adult substantiality, etc, that I have grown accustomed to and can usually either maneuver around or at least dig in and hold fast at a certain point in a short conversation, but I was wholly unsuccessful in pressing any case for myself as a man possessed of even a modicum of human worth. Everything I tried to say to her questions about my life, she would not accept, but would want to know more precisely what I meant, and would proceed to call it what it really was. And of course all of her answers to my questions in return were unassailable, in part because I chose not to assail them, but really I could see no way to do so that would be seen as acceptable. I am sure she was a fairly miserable person, but it was quite established that I was nobody to suggest such a thing. It would have looked like an aggression on my part against a person to whom I must be crushed by a massive sense of inferiority. So I was in a bind. Because I said I worked in a hospital she kept threatening--under a veneer of politeness, of course--to introduce me to her husband, who was an attorney who specialized in hospitals so that we could talk together about the changes, the doom, as it were, that were coming to the industry--this really was vicious--but fortuitously we were interrupted at this point by the arrival of one of her old friends and I was able to slip away.

At that point, even though I had told myself beforehand that I was going to endure, as a kind of penance, whatever judgements, spoken or unspoken, were cast upon me, I did think for a few minutes that perhaps I really did have no business there, that my presence was offensive to people, and that I ought to go back to my hotel and call it a night. However, I decided to go back in the direction of the bar, which is so often curative in itself in such circumstances, and a couple of hail fellow well met types with whom I had drunk on a few occasions in the past assailed me, and I was brought back into the fold of conviviality once more.

You tend to talk to the most successful people at these kinds of things earlier in the evening, for a variety of reasons, one being that most successful people are by nature gregarious, and also because the obvious conversation opener at a class reunion is one's career, and people who have good ones are naturally more eager to have that conversation than those who don't. One such person had made a lot of money off four patents he had filed and was now involved in redeveloping old warehouses. He told us that "entrepreneurship is the number one way to achieve financial security; and number two is so far behind it doesn't even matter". I thought it was a good quote.

Later on I talked to a guy who was the manager of a strip club. I was a little taken aback, but it was a public school, so why shouldn't there be a strip club manager in the class? It isn't a glamorous life. Twelve hour workdays. The base pay is criminally low though I guess they make up for it with a cut of the tips ('I have strippers paying me. Am I a genius or what?') I had always thought of strip clubs from the purely business standpoint as quaint, fly-by-night deals, probably connected with the mob in waterfront cities, but for the most part, locally owned. The one this guy worked at was owned by a corporation based somewhere in the midwest. The person over him was a less than scintillatingly talented relative of the CEO's who, it was surmised, had been sent to Maine as a means of getting rid of him. I have heard this theory expressed before by people in this godforsaken part of the country, with regard to an incompetent but well-connected boss who has been shipped in from Dallas and has no understanding of our peculiar market and its conditions (i.e., raising prices in September). I wonder if there isn't something to it.

I had planned to leave as early as possible the next day because my two older sons were going away to camp, but I had left my car in a garage that, I had neglected to note, was locked up until noon on Sunday. So having a few hours to kick around Sunday morning and having skipped the breakfast at the hotel, I decided to have brunch at one of the numerous hipsterish eateries that have sprung up in town since my era. Having had a chance to survey a bunch of them on the mile walk from my hotel to the garage, I went back to the one which had had the most attractive liberals arts type girls sitting outside; though the original girls had gone by the time I got back, their replacements were no less pretty or liberal artsy. I don't where these girls/women came from, or why they decided to come to Portland. It is a well-situated town with lots of beautiful old buildings, but it had been that way for 200 hundred years without being known to attract good-looking and reasonably refined young women in any sizable numbers. Certainly it was not the case when I lived there. Anyway, despite all the lovelies sitting in the outdoor cafe area, it was 85 degrees and I was hung over, so I opted for an inside seat. At first I couldn't see anything but a bunch of low tables surrounded by sofas and I had a slight moment of panic; but they had a few tables set off in the corner for the odd traditionalist, and I gladly accepted one of those. I had a good view of the room, with its red and green crushed velvetlike sofas, its ceiling fans, its plant boxes and artwork and the front opened up to the street, its collection of eclectic dishes and glassware. I rarely have the opportunity to go to such places, and it seemed to me both gorgeous and decadent and even mildly sinister. It was full of the kinds of people I should have been friends with, as well as reminiscent of the blithe summer of 1914 or even the British Raj. I couldn't help thinking that surely in a few years something is going to happen that is going to sweep all of this away (What will happen to all of the pretty liberal arts girls?). Because I was hungover I was craving an ice cold Coke, but you can't get one of those at a place like this, so I had a mimosa and about four glasses of water. Thankfully they had a old-fashioned eggs, hash browns and english muffin plate on the menu. As the place reminded me of the Raj so much, I had to order my eggs poached, because that's how the British in India always have their eggs in the old novels, or at least that was my memory. The meal was a little heavy, given the heat of the day and my overall condition, but I think it was pretty good.

Here is the place, the Local 188 on Congress Street, across the street from the Longfellow statue.

No comments: