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all those years ago

I get this alumni newsletter from my high school in the mail every so often. It goes straight in the garbage. I have no great allegiance, no strong ties to my high school and I really don't care to read what the rest of the Class of 1980 is up to.

Lie. That's a damn lie. Sure, the newsletter always goes in the garbage, but about five minutes after it hits the trash can, I'm fishing it out, separating it from the coffee grinds and banana peels.

I don't read the whole thing. I skip right past the page where they ask me for money and head to the Alumni Update section. Run my finger down the list, stopping at 1980.

I didn't really like these people all those years ago, so I don't know why I care now. I don't care, I tell myself. I'm just curious.

Flashback [insert wavy lines here, fade to grainy black and white film]: Senior year, early spring, 1980. Our English teacher is feeling morose. He gazes outside the window, looks upon the main road that winds past the school and points to the cars with their headlights on. It is daytime; a bright sunny day.

Do you know why everyone is driving with their headlights on today?

I know. But I want to see if others know. A few people shrug their shoulders.

Look. Go to the window and look.

We all line up at windowsills and watch as the cars race by, bright lights blaring.

No one?

I raise my hand slightly, though my back is turned to the teacher. I'm still looking out the window. I hate speaking up in class. I hate speaking up at all. But I'm horrified that my classmates seem to know so little beyond their own world of friends, sports and hanging out.

Hostages, I say. Iran. And I leave it at that.

The teacher nods solemnly and explains that someone - maybe the Governor, maybe some newspaper editor - decided that everyone would drive with their headlights on today to show solidarity and support for the hostages.

One kid shrugs. It's not like they can see it. What's the point?

I want to explain the point but find that I can't, or my mind just won't. Sometimes explanations are futile, depending on who you are doing the explaining to.

The teacher is agitated today. He obviously doesn't want to get back to the Literature of Western Civilization. He makes us sit down. Take out paper. Get pens ready. It's essay time. The class groans.

Where do you see yourself 15 years from now?

Huh? Most of the students look at him questionably. We're 17, some of us 18. No one has thought that far into the future. When you're a high school senior on the verge of freedom from the restraints of a private school, you only think in terms of June, July, August. Your 30's is like some faraway, mystical land. [insert more wavy lines here, end flashback]

I still wonder what other people wrote on their essays. I'm sure most of them were filled with hopes and dreams like: Married, 2.5 kids, white picket fence. I'm willing to bet that none of the essays said: Dead. Abject failure. In rehab.

And as sure as some of my classmates are married with 2.5 kids and the proverbial fence, some of them are dead, failures, in rehab or a combination of all three.

Yet as I scan down the list of the Class of '80, and catch up on what my old buddies are up to, I see nothing but happiness, success and riches beyond imagination. Almost everyone is a CEO or President or Vice-President in charge of something. Knowing what I know about Mark Smith, I'm wondering if CEO of Smith's Pharmacy translates to Drug Dealer. And there's Kate Jones, Vice-President of Human Relations at an internet dating service. Yea, hooker.

They are all lawyers and CPAs and doting stay-at-home moms to their seven children, all named after biblical figures.

And there are a few who aren't any of those things. Some of them are soldiers. I recognize the name of one of those soldiers as that boy in my English class in 1980:

It's not like they can see it. What's the point?

After we finished our essays that day, we did not return to our regularly scheduled examination of literature. Instead, we got a lecture. The teacher stood at the front of the class for for the rest of the period and talked to us about freedom and democracy and the future of our world. He talked about what our lives might be like 15, 20 years from now if those who hate our nation had their way. There may not be any picket fences or freedom to choose your career. There may not be any world, for that matter. [This is back when we were afraid that any moment, some crazed world leader would push a red button on his desk and blow the entire world to smithereens]

So I wonder, as I look at my alumni newsletter and see that this person has spent many years in the Army, if our high school English teacher's swell of patriotism at the sight of all those headlights during the day and the subsequent lecture we got in defending democracy had any impact on the career choice of this one classmate of mine.

I'd like to think so.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference all those years ago:

» The Class of 1980 from Idlewild-South
A Small Victory: all those years ago makes me wish I'd gotten high after literature.... [Read More]

» Yesterday's News from Blog o'RAM
Much like Michele, I have been considering events of the past. An old school newspaper surfaced and it was interesting to make some comparisons. [Read More]

» Looking out the window from joannejacobs.com
What happened to the class of 1980? Reading her high school alumni newsletter, Michele spots a classmate who became a soldier, and wonders if she knows the day he decided that would be his career. It started in English class.... [Read More]

Joanne Jacobs is full of linky goodness. She talks about Georgia's HOPE scholarships, where everyone with a B-average in high school gets a free trip to college, but 40% lose the scholarship after a year, because they can't maintain the... [Read More]

» Friday Night Bitching from The Bitch Girls
It's a damn good thing I love my job. It's amazing how easy it is to stay after 5 PM and hardly realize it. This weekend I had to borrow a co-worker's van to drive because I'm headed out to [Read More]


Mr. Lachance, my algebra teacher, always said if he got through to just one of us, that his job was well done. Great writing this morning.

What a thoughtful entry. It has inspired a lot of reflective thinking on my part. Thanks.

I wonder why I don't get an alumni newsletter.

I kind of wonder what all my big-idea liberal friends are doing. (I used to be one before I grew up and realized being liberal doesn't work.)

One of them wanted to be the first female Jewish president of the United States. I bet she took one look at the Hill sometime in college, realized she didn't want to trade sexual favors for political power, and went off to be a professor or something.


You had hostages in Iran. I had Iraq invading Kuwait. These things happen.

And there's Kate Jones, Vice-President of Human Relations at an internet dating service. Yea, hooker."

Wouldn't that be pimp?

Ya know, pimpin' ain't easy.....

BTW, nice little ditty.

Thoughtful and beautifully written. Thanks.

This was a good entry. I've seen had similar thoughts about the people from my graduating class. The problem is the sample is distorted. First Amendment be damned, alumni newsletters should only be distributed after everyone in the class has been contacted, and all the facts verified by a reputable third party, who has gotten the other side of the story.

Example: "Mark Smith, CEO of Smith's Pharmaceuticals, is called, 'Mr. Mulligan' at the local country club for his shameless cheating in golf. His trophy wife, Babs, is called alternately "Ice Queen" or "Furnace," an apparent reference to how cold it gets when she enters a room. His employees call them 'Mr. and Mrs. Stinkpants.'"

Or: "Marginally employed Jack Michaels seems like an utter failure, but the neighbors report screams of pleasure nearly five times a day coming from his trailer. 'That bed starts clanging at eight in the morning and they don't break until noon. And his wife is always smiling ... I mean always,' said neighbor N.V. Moore. 'If you're having great sex, fine, but you've got to be more considerate of the neighbors.'"

But no, according to the alumni newsletters, everyone is successful. Trust me, a friend of mine is a shrink. Those 2.5 kids aren't necessarily behaving. Those marriages aren't necessarily happy. I'm doing the best I can.

I'm such a loser ...

I sure am hoping that teacher gets a shot at reading this. Bet you a dollar he'd read it and instantly remember that very day, not to mention both you and your soldier classmate.

Want to thrill a teacher? Show him/her something like this that he/she did.

Thanks, Michele.

Wish I had a teacher like that.

In 1980, I was in college. We had exactly one (1) demonstration in my years there, and it was over the Iranian hostages. Maybe it was that very day.

And I thought exactly what your classmate thought. It's not like they can see it. What's the point?

The "they" here would be the Iranians. Our rally was to let the Iranians know what shits we thought they were.

I thought the demonstrators were stupid. They just wanted something to demonstrate over, just like their older siblings/younger uncles. "We're gonna change the world, man!"

Over in Iran, students postured and screamed in impotent rage. I didn't see any reason why we had to do the same thing.

Now, if we had taken hostages, it might've been different. We probably had more Iranians on our campus than there were hostages in the embassy. But that would have been Wrong, of course.

"It's not like they can see us. What's the point?"

Poor boy, he probably learned later on in life that symbolic gestures are far from impotent. They speak volumns in many cases. Chiefly, though they function as the glue that builds group solidarity and resolve.

damn. i was 10 in '80. The memories of that time are filtered through roller skates, chinese jacks, baseball and The Vapors.

Amazing entry.

Seems the young man still thinks it doesn't count if "they" don't see it.
So he's put himself in a position to make sure "they" see it, and hear it, and feel it.
And decide "they" don't want any more of it.

Makes me feel old. I was 20 and going to sea in the Navy. Where did the time go?

Wow. Thanks for reminding me of that day. I too graduated HS in 1980. My parents and I discussed the symbolic meaning of the lights on our drive to schoool.

But as far as "picting the future", embarrassingly, I am sure I was thinking no further than foosball and space invaders!!

1980, Iran Hostage Crises.
I was in the Army serving in Germany.
1991, Iraq invades Kuwait.
Again, in the Army serving in Germany.
2002-2003, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Still in the Army, still serving.
My decision to become a soldier was made in 1967,
after my Dad came back from Viet Nam...I did not
want some other 9 year old to worry about his Dad
coming back...I wanted to make a difference. After 24 years in Active and Reserve, I hope I have.

Great writing Michelle! You put me back there in that classroom on that day beautifully. Do you have other postings?