In my current job, one of my responsibilities includes reprieving my role as a reporter once again, well, kinda sorta. And today my assignment took me back to school; a Houston area high school in which I interviewed a young musician with impeccable skills. In fact, his ability to play his instrument of choice as well as does has landed him in concert at Carnegie Hall; an extreme honor for any person of any age.
As I walked through the halls of this large, urban edifice o’ education, headed toward the auditorium, I was flooded with memories. Namely bad ones. I hated high school. Loathed it. For me, it was a four-year prison sentence replete with a warden, guards, bad food, handmade shivs in the form of homespun insults and a certain kind of cruelty that can only be fueled by rapidly fluctuating teenage hormones.
Don’t worry, there wasn’t any. But I do seem to remember that back in a P.E. class during my Junior year, there was a large, looming woman who had a gaze transfixed where it shouldn’t be, along with a steady drool. I believe her name was Ralph.
Anyway, fast forward to present day.
As I walked down seemingly endless hallways, I witnessed a dream come true for any colorful metaphor in need of a writer. I saw kids from every walk of life; kids with every kind of discernible angst. Troubled kids like the Emo ones who can cry and write gut wrenching poetry at the drop of a hat. These are the kids who actually know the lyrics and can sing the aria, “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci, but would never admit it.
I saw the cute, popular girls with perfect skin, teeth and clothes. I saw their exact opposites with bad hair and skin, who cowered behind big shirts and even bigger self-image issues.
It was typical, really. Somethings hadn’t changed. There were the jocks, the stoners, the brainiacs and the cheerleaders and their style–all idiosyncratic to their high school social strata —which never waivers from generation to generation. The same applies to band kids. You can spot them from a million miles away–just as you could 35 years ago. Something about them gives them away: their smallish, underdeveloped bodies or perhaps it’s the shiny glean of light refracting off their braces. Or maybe it’s the crackling breaks in their voices when glands and Nature play tug of war with a pair of testicles that just don’t know whether to descend or not.
Kids in shorts roamed the halls. I saw acne so bad it could emboss an envelope. Guys with hair down to the middle of their backs. Backpacks everywhere. And very little makeup…more on the Emo kids than on the eyes and cheekbones of the popular girls or cheerleaders.
Wow, it’s all so different these days.
I was in high school a million years ago in a sleepy little town in South Central Texas. Below is a photo of a portion of the high school I attended. It’s Karnes City High School and its image is something I lifted from the header of the KCISD website.
The ferocious three pawed critter that was obviously eating Cheetos before it walked across the header is a Badger. In Karnes City, our mascot is the Badger and we sport the school colors, orange and black.
That’s a shot of the west side of the Dave Moore Auditorium. It’s changed some since I used to pretend to be anywhere else while singing and dancing on its glossy, hardwood stage. I think it’s air-conditioned now. In fact, the whole school is.
In 1977, it wasn’t.
And that’s not all that’s changed. When I was in school, the girls weren’t allowed to wear pants until 1970…and even then, they had to be dress slacks. We all kind of forced the blue jeans issue and by ’71, it was an all denim world.
The boys had a dress code in terms of their hair length. It couldn’t be below the tops of their ears or the top of the back of their shirt collars. Hey man, we didn’t want hippies at school!!! But we had hippies. The daring ones just put their longish locks behind their ears–most got away with it, too. Our skirts and dresses could be no more than four and half inches ABOVE the middle of our knees. Today, anything goes.
In 1977, it didn’t.
As I walked and walked and walked through that very large, urban school, I thought about all that’s ahead of these kids. Oooooooof. And that’s when I realized that I would NEVER want to be that young again. Late college age–my mid to late 20’s??? Oh hell yeah, but my teen years? No thanks. I spent four exhausting years in high school as a chameleon–changing hourly it seems, just to be all things to everyone. I was at any given moment that glistening band student with the metallic mouth…a jock…an actress…a cheerleader…an Emo and a stoner who fought with self-image and anyone else who dared to question an identity of which I never really certain.
Then again, maybe that’s what High School really is all about: one big, complex hat sale in which you get to try on a different chapeau everyday until you find one that fits, that works…that you don’t have to remove unless you want to and yes, it somehow goes with every emotional ensemble you own.
…if only it could have actually been that easy…
I read this once. I have no idea who coined it: “Some parts of your life you can do without, but high school isn’t one of them.”
Well, I beg to differ. I should have started college after 8th grade. Somehow I think that by doing that, that would have automatically rendered me four years younger, but four years smarter than the 52 years my driver’s license currently implies.
But that wouldn’t have worked, cuz Doogie Howser, I wasn’t.
Let’s face it–even if you loved high school and LOVED your hometown, the reality is you can never really go home again. Sure, you can visit that place you once called home and then mercifully, you can leave it. That option is one of the pay offs for being an adult; what you get for having survived childhood. But I think in the long run, it’s not really about where you’re from. It’s not even about where you’re headed. Nature possesses a million and one monkey wrenches which She’s ready to toss into the mix to short-circuit those plans. Your imperfect past is proof of that. What matters is who you are right now…and where you’re spending that time being you.
And as I age and grow closer to that point where I can look back on my life and see what youth occluded for me over the decades, I know that the 18 years spent in Karnes City –even the four I spent in high school–helped create who I am today. This is true, for better or worse.
All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: that I am nobody but myself. ~ Ralph Ellison, “Invisible Man”
And once you’re FINALLY okay with that; when you’re comfortable in your skin, which is now Version 2.0, you hit menopause and middle age. For women, we spend ages 47 through maybe 53 or 64 in that sweat lodge we call our bodies. Men spend their middle-aged metamorphosis wearing Scorpio medallions while driving new Corvettes and Harleys and wishing to all that’s holy to recapture a glimpse of their youth and praying that Pfizer will one day go nostalgic and make Viagra in the shape of select Flintstone characters. Our male counterpart can easily lose their hair which now is akin to milk weed petals in a stiff breeze while women start growing hair in the damnedest places.
And all of a sudden, we gain weight; copious amounts of it–seemingly without eating a bite and then, we find our body tolerances change. Wanna know the cruelest reality of all? Ice cream now gives us diarrhea.
There IS strength in numbers. You see, I’m not alone in this venture called aging and I take great comfort in this. In fact, a friend of mine who’s two years older called a few minutes ago. He was taking a shower and while soaping up a fat wrinkle around his stomach, he found 18 cents.