Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Memory, all alone in the High School...

J'ai la Malaise, mes chers! I feel too utterly crappy today. I think I may have some bizarre low-grade flu... as usual, I'm not sick enough to stay in bed and recover, but only enough to make everyday life a trial and burden to me. I've been feeling fatigued for the last few days, and then there have been mild bouts of indigestion and headaches and nausea... now I have slight dizziness, serious nausea, late-night diarrhea, and my sinuses are playing holy hell with me... all this on top of and intensifying the fatigue, not to mention my August depression. Yuck.

But enough about my troubles...

My old friend Fred is coming out for a visit next week, and I'm very excited about it! Fred was my best friend just after high school (though we knew each other in high school, we didn't really become close until he came back from his AFS Junior year in Germany, by which time I was in a different school), and we were constant companions until he moved to Monterey for college... I guess that was about ten years ago. Then immediately after college, he moved first to France and then to DC, and now lives in Virginia. We've kept in touch, of course, and I visited him in Manassas when I went to the East Coast with Shiloh two summers ago. But he hasn't been out here in ages and ages, and I'm looking forward to seeing him again.

One of the things that often comes up when I talk to Fred is our mutual past, and the people and circumstances therein. Or, rather, what comes up more specifically is my own complete and utter inablility to recall much less dwell upon the past. I simply don't remember high school all that much, and I don't very clearly remember those few years afterward before I started back to college. They were important years, packed with incident and emotion and drama, but I don't remember them vividly anymore. For some reason, I've lost the ability to recall past events with any real clarity.

For example, one time Fred and I were talking about the old days at Oakland High and he mentioned a class that we had together... I was taken aback, having no memory of ever being in a class with him, yet he avers that he was in Mrs. Casey's Advanced English class with me Junior year. I remember Mrs. Casey's class, I remember where I sat, and I remember Andy Johnson who sat next to me (and who I thought was awfully cute) and Melvira Marthos and Alison Packer and a couple of other people who were in the class, but I have absolutely no recollection of Fred having been there. It was most strange. And actually, now that I think of it, wasn't Fred in Germany Junior year? Or maybe that was Senior year? I don't recall now... though now I think about it, I remember Mrs. Casey transferred to Skyline High, because some younger friends of mine who went there took her class (funny how one year's difference in age is so much more noticeable in high-school).

So I often hear people reminiscing about high school, and I wonder: what's there to reminsice about? I do distinctly remember not enjoying high school. High school was a place I went, merely because I had to, but I did not socialize there very much, and I certainly didn't take it at all seriously. I remember being one of forty-five European-descent people in a school of 3,300 students... in our yearbook there was a breakdown of the ethnic 'diversity' of the student body: 48% African-American, 48% Asian and Pacific-Islander, 2% Hispanic, 1% White and 1% Middle-Eastern (note that only "White" remained as a color, rather than a geographic ethnicity, something which I've always found offensive)... and I remember how outrageously other I felt being there.

I can scarcely recall any of my classes... I remember the ancient frump Ms. Mlinaric whose American History class I always cut because it was first thing in the morning and she was so intensely dull; I remember Madame Mahabir for French, just because her name was so un-French and she looked so typically Dutch, like a Rembrandt scullery-maid; I remember Mr. Garske in "Social Studies," a skinny middle-aged fashion disaster who I enjoyed challenging when he misread a basic fact in mythology or history that I happened to know; there was a Mr. Smith who looked like a greased orangutan and who taught a section of biology that I flunked because I refused to touch a dead earthworm for purposes of dissection, although I gleefully tore into the frog and the cow's eye (there was something about that worm that made my stomach quiver); I remember Mr. van Laningham because he made me read out Romeo in the tomb scene on my first day in his class, and because he taught the same subject to my father twenty-odd years previously and I was amazed that such a fossil could survive so long; and of course I remember Mrs. Casey because she dressed terribly well and wore heels, and because she had such an acerbic way of dealing with my snotty precociousness (when I turned in a book-report on Ethan Frome that lambasted Wharton's novel on the grounds that it was so ineffably dreary that I couldn't stay awake long enough to actually read it, she returned my paper with a C, writing in the margin "an excellent book review, but I distinctly asked for a report, not a critique").

I remember the gym teachers with whom I worked in the gym office (in lieu of actually participating in physical education)... I don't remember their names, but they were stupid and strangely endearing, particularly one who looked exactly like Barney Rubble and who always asked if his toupee was on straight before he went out to his class. I must have had several other teachers, in a year and a half at Oakland High, but I can't for the life of me remember any of them... oh, Mr. Bornstein just popped into my head, he taught pre-Algebra (which I of course flunked) and I only remember him because there were these two especially unattractive Ukrainian refugee girls (this was long before Glasnost) in the class with whom he would speak Russian... and Mr. Therence who was not actually one of my teachers, he taught drama and was an unsubtly lecherous pederast who insisted on shaking hands with all the white boys (all seven of us), and his handshakes were limp and lingering and somehow nasty.

And of course, there were many students who I knew, sort of, but I don't really recall many of them. I remember Ricky Reyes, who was unspeakably beautiful and who wore skin-tight parachute pants (which were jeans made of very thin shiny nylon, not to be confused with the vast parachute-like pantaloons later popularized by MC Hammer). I saw him last summer, he's dating a girl I used to know well and whose sister I knew a little later... he's still kind of cute, but no longer devastating. I remember Tom Lipping who had white-blond hair and an overbite, who was the first attractive young male I'd ever seen naked in person (he was on the football team, and I was in the gym office afternoons and so got to watch the showers occasionally...and he was rather well-hung, too, but a total asshole as one might expect from a second-string quarterback). I remember David Silverstein, who also worked in the gym office because of some medical excuse, who always made a big deal of his Jewishness and his name (it's pronounced Silver-styne, like Franken-styne, not Silver-steeeeen...I didn't have the heart to tell him, à la Gene Wilder, that Franken-styne is an anglicization of the German name, which would have been pronounced Frahnken-shteen) and who was a terrible snob about classical music ("You can't like Strauss and Mozart at the same time," he pontificated), and who intended to go to an Ivy League university, stating vehemently that he wouldn't be caught dead attending UC Berkeley... and really the only reason I remember him so clearly is because I saw him on the campus of UC Berkeley a couple of years later and laughed my ass off.

Of course I remember Caroline and Fred and Mary Jane being there. They were my only friends on campus, as most of my friends from Junior High had gone to either Skyline or Bishop O'Dowd. And there were a number of friendly acquaintances, friends-of-friends like Carl and Vera and Tyrone, and classmates or lab partners like Andy and Corby and Melvira, and then people I simply knew to wave at, none of whom I really can remember now. And then I transferred schools in the middle of Junior year, moving to an arts-oriented magnet school that was considerably more to my taste, socially, though the academic program sucked hardcore (if, indeed, the now-defunct Renaissance Arts School could be said to have had an academic program). My memory of my social and family life in those years is rather clearer than my memory of school, but not by much. It was all so terribly long ago.

Well, I see that I remember more than I thought I would before I started down this little Memory Lane. And I suppose that's the key to memory... you have to think about the past more often to be able to recall it. And for the last couple of years, I've spent very little time thinking about the past... I'm too busy thinking about the present. Maybe someday I'll learn how to think about both. Or, just for a change, I might even think about the future! Could this be the new me? Something with an ambition? Dommage!

So anyway... here's a little something that reminds me of what the High School Shower should have looked like, in my opinion... at least on the days I was on locker duty:

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