30 December 2008

Class of 1979

Unusual suspects: Karen Strecker and Judy Horak, seated,
with Kevin Pask and Bill Madison, standing.
Richardson High School Senior Prom, 1979

“Fill this out about your SENIOR year of high school! The longer ago it was, the more fun the answers will be!! REPOST with name of high school and graduating year in the subject box. Send this to all your friends, but don't forget to send it back to me.”

A friend has forwarded to me this little questionnaire, of the kind that gets circulated endlessly in e-mails, always with the exhortation to pass it along to as many other people as possible. Ornery sort that I am, I usually let such things drop.

Today I’m trying a different tactic. Instead of ignoring the questionnaire, or alternatively clogging everyone’s e-mail with my responses, I’ll post my answers here. Yet as I answer, I’m struck by the lusterless flatness of these questions, their resolute failure to illuminate much of anything: this ain’t the Proust Questionnaire, alas. So keep scrolling. After I’ve finished with the original set, I’ll raise — and answer — a few questions of my own.

1. Did you date someone from your school?
“Date” isn’t the word to describe what happened. Enough said.

2. Did you marry someone from your high school?
Not yet.

3. Did you car pool to school?
No, I walked the three blocks to campus — with the result that I was hit by a car as I crossed Coit Road, my sophomore year. The William V. Madison Memorial Stoplight was erected shortly thereafter.

4. What kind of car did you have?
A yellow Dodge Colt station wagon, known widely as “The Banana.”

5. What kind of car do you have now?

6. It’s Friday night...where were you?
Eating Mexican food, then going to the movies with Kevin Pask and Karen Strecker.

7. It’s Friday night...where are you? (now)
I’ve been asking myself the same question.

8. What kind of job did you have in high school?
I was an office assistant at my father’s engineering firm.

9. What kind of job do you do now?
I’m a freelance writer.

10. Were you a party animal?
Au contraire.

11. Were you considered a flirt?
By whom? I suspect most people considered me a rather hopeless case who’d never find love, much less lose his virginity; and my attempts at flirtation typically elicited the sorts of responses that a stray dog gets when he begins to hump your leg.

12. Were you in band, orchestra, or choir?
High school marked the end of my musical career. Though I performed in a musical play, Something’s Afoot, my one solo line was dubbed by another actor, David Arment, who hadn’t made his entrance yet; I retreated to straight drama. My activities were numerous, however. I was a member of the editorial staff of the high-school newspaper; I held office in the Italian Club (first in the history of the state of Texas) and participated in French and German Clubs; and in an advisory capacity to Jim Millerman, our senior-class president, I nearly got the poor guy expelled.

13. Were you a nerd?
Affirmative, Captain. Sensors detect signs of opera records in the subject’s bedroom. Setting phasers to say, “Ni!”

14. Did you get suspended or expelled?
No, but see above.

15. Can you sing the fight song?
Did we have one? I wouldn’t know. I never attended a single sporting event, and I sneaked out of pep rallies whenever possible.

16. Who was/were your favorite teacher(s)?
A long list — that includes many of the names listed on the right-hand side of every page of this blog. Though there were a couple of disastrous nincompoops on the faculty (are you reading this, Jim Mymern?), I managed to avoid most of them. I’m quite lucky to have studied with such a terrific group of people.

17. Where did you sit during lunch?
I honestly don’t remember. Did I begin my unhealthy practice of eating at my desk during this period? (That would have been a desk somewhere in the journalism classroom.) In any case, I was most likely to be found wherever other kids from the newspaper staff might be.

18. What was your school's full name?
J.J. Pearce Senior High School

19. When did you graduate?

20. What was your school mascot?
A mustang, copied blatantly from Southern Methodist University.

21. If you could go back and do it again, would you?
Would I have to make the same mistakes?

22. Did you have fun at Prom?
Yes, beginning with a memorable pre-dance picnic dinner in a local cemetery. Because we went as a foursome, and because the girls attended a rival high school, we were able to attend two proms in one night. That proved sufficient, and I’ve never been to another.

23. Do you still talk to the person you went to Prom with?
Not often enough, in the case of Judy, but I know how to reach each of them when I need to — and I often do.

24. Are you planning on going to your next reunion?
I might go, but the word “planning” connotes a greater concentration of thought than any that I can claim on this subject.

25. Do you still talk to people from school?
Yes, including the recent and very happy rediscovery of the lovely Jean Dirks, after she stumbled across this blog. I’m also in touch with a few teachers: Carlene Klein Ginsburg and Anna Morini, and over the years I’ve been in and out of touch with Zona Ray and Melinda Smith.

Don’t we know each other so much better, now that we’ve shared? Let’s try a somewhat different approach.

What books read for class meant the most to you?
The Great Gatsby, by default, and Molière’s Le Malade imaginaire (which I not only read but enacted in both my French and drama classes). Outside the classroom, the first volumes of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time formed all my expectations for young manhood, despite the fact that I was a middle-class suburbanite in Dallas and not an Eton and Oxford man on the go in London between the wars. I read Powell as a result of Kevin Pask’s shoving the books at me, in what I now recognize to have been a mostly futile effort on his part to foster in me an intellect worthy of his companionship.

What pop song do you remember most vividly, and why?
This is a cheater, because I didn’t begin listening to pop music until I was in high school — again, at Kevin Pask’s urging. I’d like to cite something significant, like the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” or amusing, like the Ramones’ “Teenage Lobotomy” (one of the late Keith Kaski’s enduring gifts to me), but I fear that the honest answer is Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” Less pop song than one-act opera, it dramatizes the thrills and risks of what I desperately yearned to spend my Friday nights doing.

It’s interesting to note that the pop songs I heard in high school are among the last for which I have no visual associations: MTV hadn’t started yet, so the mental images I retain of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra,” and Walter Egan’s immortal “Magnet and Steel” — all of which played endlessly on the radio in those days — are entirely my own.

Be honest: would you have made it into an Ivy League college if not for the influence of Kevin Pask?
Of course not.

What was your greatest success? Greatest disappointment?
I regret to inform the various North Dallas businessmen’s lunch groups who bestowed fancy plaques on me that winning prizes for essays on “What It Means to Be an American” no longer seems worthwhile to me, though I’m sure the admissions officers at Brown were duly impressed, and it didn’t hurt to know already how to strike the patriotic nerve when I wrote for Dan Rather. My greatest triumph was, in all likelihood, interviewing Beverly Sills for the school paper, simultaneously meeting my idol and launching my journalistic career. The greatest disappointment may have been not winning one of those fancy plaques for a performance of Jean Anouilh’s adaptation of Antigone, in which I played Creon. We poured our very guts into that show, but the judge gave the trophy to some competent repetition of frippery by Neil Simon instead. This prepared me only a little for the failure of Rags, seven years later.

The more personal successes and disappointments I shall save for another time. Maybe.

What was your mood in those days?
At the time, I thought I was melancholic to the extreme, and bragged about it, for it seemed a sort of intellectual achievement; but in retrospect, I was a resolute optimist. All the world seemed possible then.

What or whom do you miss most?
My potential.

Snapshots! Cite a few moments when you glimpsed a larger world.
a) Along with Margaret Guttes, I raked leaves in Mrs. Morini’s yard one autumn afternoon. Though I’d always been a teacher’s pet, this was an exceptional experience, inviting me into a teacher’s home and entrusting me with responsibility. Mrs. Morini rewarded us with home-made chicken soup, with pasta and grated parmegiano cheese in it. I think she must have paid us, too, but it’s the soup I remember.

b) Kevin and I went to New Orleans at Spring Break, without a chaperone. Wine! Women! Song! Et cetera! We attempted (and failed) to find Walker Percy; on the way back from Covington, the Banana broke down in the middle of the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge. And the waiter at Antoine’s corrected my French: what I wanted, he insisted, was “petty poise,” not petits pois. In like fashion and at the same restaurant, Kevin, fed up with my constant pointers on etiquette, loudly reminded me to “Be sure to slosh it around in your glass a lot” when it came time to taste the wine.

c) One day I visited the staggeringly beautiful Laura Semrad at the cheese shop where she worked. I sampled every variety on display, primarily as an excuse to linger in her radiance, before buying one rather pathetic little Gouda. “Come back soon,” Laura’s boss said, less kindly than you might assume, because she added, “Next time you’re hungry.” At the time, I knew nothing about cheese. Now I know too much.

That should do, for now. I expect it’s a sign that I’m turning into an old crank: get me started on memories of my bygone youth, and I don’t know when to stop. Sort of like Proust, don’t you think?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning me in your blog! In answer to your question about where you ate lunch, I think I may have a clue that is now family lore. I ate lunch with a group of several brainy friends of which I think you and the infamous Laurence Zakson were members. On one horrible day, everyone was discussing their recently received their SAT scores. I was the only one at the table that did not receive some type of special award for their awesomely high scores. That night I came home to my mom and complained how embarassed I was to not have the same levels as my lunch companions. She promptly blew me off with the comment to "start hanging out with dumber friends." I remember being incredibly angry at her for being so insensitive. This story has now been told repeatedly to my own sons!


Roberts said...

Hmm. I didn't merit a mention, oddly enough :). Ah well. My recollections of the whole period are hazy (probably a deliberate sabotage by my subconscious). I had forgotten lunches with you, Kevin Pask, and Lawrence Zakson. I had also forgotten that you were also in Something's Afoot, even though that show is on my mind recently, since I've come full circle and am now playing a butler onstage.

I wouldn't have been in the SAT discussion Jean remembers since I took the SATs a year before you guys, having skipped my junior year.

I'm definitely going to have to take the time to mull through your blog -- I had also forgotten how delightful your writing could be, even back then.