Monday, July 25, 2011

Welcome back, plotter.

So, I had my 20th high school reunion this weekend, and it was ... weird. And not just because I had some major stomach malfunction from the unbearable heat/humidity and a viral bug that had been going around at work. It was surreal how quickly whatever kind of identity you've built for yourself as an "adult" goes right out window and you feel just like that scrawny, four-eyed fifteen-year-old geek again.

Don't get me wrong; it was great seeing a lot of the people I'd been in school with since kindergarten. We didn't have a ten-year reunion, so for a lot of us, we hadn't seen each other since graduation.

Mrs. Schmenkman, front row, center
The first night was a casual cocktail hour sort of thing that only maybe a dozen or so people attended. It was really very lovely. I saw my best friend from my high school days, Mrs. Schmenkman (not her real name, but what we called each other), a person I hadn't seen in nearly 15 years. We were inseparable from about ninth grade on. Mrs. Schmenkman was (and still is) a beautiful, petite blonde with freckles and big hazel eyes and she could make me laugh so hard I'd lose all control and dignity. We spent our high school years trying desperately to get rides to parties out in the woods where we'd sip lukewarm, foamy beer out of plastic cups and inevitably have to pee out in the woods somewhere, hoping beyond hope that one of the either of us would have a tissue or something in her pocket. We were sidekicks who gloried in our immaturity and with her by my side, I felt justified in my oddity. We grew apart in later years; she had a baby right after graduation and I went off to college where I found a world that not only tolerated but appreciated and valued my unusualness.

So it was wonderful to catch up with Mrs. Schmenkman Friday night and relive all our adventures.

I was nauseated most of Saturday- from hangover, from heat, from the aforementioned stomach bug, I'm not sure. It was unpleasant, to say the least, and the nausea did not go away when we walked into the Saturday night reunion festivities. How strange to see people you'd known from age five and feel awkward making small talk about where they live, what they do for a living, their families! Even more awkward to see an ex you hadn't seen in about fifteen years whom you did not think would be attending.

My stomach settled after awhile and I found another friend to hang out with, we'll call her Raimen here, after her fabulous blog. Raimen was another geek friend who had felt isolated in high school (she was also pals with the fantastic Mrs. Schmenkman). We wrote a soap opera together in early high school called As the Nose Runs. She too was apprehensive about revisiting the past. Fortunately (for us, not her, really) Mrs. Schmenkman had to work during the reunion at the bar next door. Raimen and I decided we'd sneak out and say hi to her. Mrs. Schmenkman's bar had a kick-ass Irish rock band (think Flogging Molly with a touch of Dropkick Murphys- awesome cover of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, BTW). Needless to say, our visit wasn't our last. I was so grateful Raimen was there- someone else who didn't necessarily think high school was the best years of our lives and felt silly pretending it had been.

Apparently all kinds of bonding took place while we were gone, including the class picture, which we laughed about missing, but now seems like one of those little kind of ice-breaking activities that brings everyone together. From that point on in the night, I felt eerily like I did in high school: on the outside looking in.

Me, bottom row, right. Shades.
Let me clarify: I wasn't shunned or bullied. I certainly didn't have it as hard as some kids and I think I was relatively well-liked. There was a tendency by classmates to regard me as younger than them, but I was tiny with a round face and looked about 12 years old during my senior year; it was fairly justified. I did spend most of my time with kids either older or younger than me. The older group was more ambitious- they would have little contests to push each other to get better grades. I remember being asked by a classmate of mine after a test, "What did you get?" "98," I replied. "What did you do- try?" she sneered. Uh yeah. That's the point, right? The younger group just had different interests than the people in my class. I remember coming into a shared study hall one day and seeing several of the girls in grades below me that I knew from my dance classes and the school musicals looking just as bleary-eyed as I was. One of them came up to me and said, "Did your mom let you stay up to watch all of Gone With the Wind on TCM last night, too?" No one in my particular class had any idea of what that movie was when they were 16, let alone would've begged their parents to let them stay up until 2am on a school night to watch an Oscar-winning epic about the Civil War.

My class seemed to have a fairly set list of prescribed "likes" that I just didn't agree with: Motley Crue's Dr. Feelgood was the album everyone had and was played at every party. I was desperate for new music- I'd had a subscription to Rolling Stone since I was in ninth grade and I used to buy albums no one had ever heard of based on the reviews. I loved what little punk music I could get my hands on. (See this post.) I used to hide my Social Distortion tape in a Dr. Feelgood case so I wouldn't get ragged on. (This was precipitated by my boyfriend looking over the cover art on the Social Distortion album I was listening to during the midday break at a swim tournament and asking me "What the hell is this junk?") Everyone loved Julia Roberts and Pretty Woman. To this day, I cannot stand that movie, and I find Julia Roberts fairly off-putting. I was a fan of Audrey & Kate Hepburn, Grace Kelly, The African Queen, West Side Story, Louis Armstrong in High Society. I remember hiding Alice's Adventures in Wonderland behind a copy of 17 magazine in the school library. I just always felt like I didn't belong. Everyone just "got" something I didn't; they seemed to be sure of themselves in a way that I wasn't.

1st grade. Bottom row, left. Red tights. Saddle shoes.
And here it was again. They were dancing and laughing and carrying on like they'd known each other their whole lives. WHICH THEY HAD. WHICH I HAD. But I still felt so apart from them.

It probably helped that most of them had been at the family picnic with their kids earlier in the day that I didn't attend. I imagine that the common experience of being parents bonds you with people somewhat easily. Being one of the few (maybe only at this gathering? I didn't ask) people without offspring does set you apart from the group like nothing else can. I felt disjointed and discombobulated the whole next day, until I had our usual Sunday night dinner with my usual gang. I began to settle down, feel like I was in my own skin again, and yes, feel right with the choices I'd made in my life, even if they were very different from the choices my classmates had somehow all made together.

My first year of college I came across a quote on a Celestial Seasonings teabox. (Do you know they don't print quotes on their boxes of tea anymore? It's a travesty, if you ask me.)

It said: Persons of genius are .. more individual than any other people- less capable, consequently, of fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into any of the small number of molds which society provides in order to save its members the trouble of forming their own character. - John Stuart Mill.

Now, I am certainly not claiming myself to be a "person of genius" but the part about hurtful compression really struck a nerve with me. Both my parents, my mom in particular, had always (albeit gently) tried to convince me to put some effort into FITTING IN. In other words, stop writing stories about vegetables with superpowers and be more like the popular girls. I did try. Or, well, at least, I tried to hide my oddness behind the bland veneer of what everybody did or liked. I thank whatever gods may be for college- and for my having chosen a school with vigorous music, media, and theatre programs, therefore being plentiful in artistic, creative nutjobs. College was such a revelation- being driven was respected and appreciated; having an off-color, absurdist sense of humor was a plus. I didn't have to pretend to be like anyone else anymore. Standing out was much better than fitting in.

So reunion's over, and I can go back to my life. If we have a 25-year one, well, yeah, I'll probably go. I wanna try again, remember who I am this time, be proud of it even if my life is vastly different from everyone else's. And hopefully next time I won't have an upset stomach.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Free Wee-Wee Pad with Each Purchase

So a few nights ago, someone mentioned The Poconos and we realized we all know the jingle for "beautiful Mount Airy Lodge" no matter where in New York state we grew up. Beyond religion, race, creed or hot dog preference, the most common unifying element in a NY state childhood in the 70s/80s were the 'local' commercials broadcast from the New York city channels that we were able to receive.

WOR & WPIX were apparently such powerhouses that they broadcast all throughout the state, exposing us backwoods upstate kids to such wonders as Petland Discount Stores, Crazy Eddie, Beautiful Mount Airy Lodge, and Young People's Day Camp. More so than favorite tv shows, movies or music, these commercials were our shared language, something that ingrained itself into our collective unconscious in such a way that 30+ years later, we're all still able to repeat them word for word.

My college roommate, dear friend & dyed-in- the-wool Brooklynite Robin was stunned to discover that I knew the same local tv commercials she knew by heart, even though we had grown up on different ends of the state. In fact, she was so impressed with my familiarity with Petland Discounts that she sent me a commemorative wee-wee pad from the actual store. (I was clueless for years as to what a wee-wee pad was. They never explained or demonstrated in the commercial, and our dog growing up would never have done something so wussy as take a leak on what was apparently a stretched-out flattened diaper.) I couldn't find one from the 70s, but here's one from the 80s that'll give you the basic flavor.

"Beautiful" Mount Airy Lodge in the Poconos was all I knew of adult glamour for far too long. So this is what adults did without their kids! They rode horses, ice skated (in professional ice-dancing costumes, nonetheless), drank cocktails after skiing, stalked tennis players from the sniper seats in some kind of indoor arena while innocently holding rackets, soaked in bathtubs filled with bubbles and framed by red velvet curtains, WAIT- was that a stripper pole in the "beautiful rooms"??? See for yourself:

What's funny is that all of my friends (and myself) insist that there was a shot of the infamous 'champagne glass hot tub' in the commercials. Turns out THAT fine piece of architecture was at Caesars Poconos Resorts:
Ewwwwwwwwww. For starters, how the hell do you get up there? And back down? Do you have to get a bellboy to bring a ladder by? How embarrassing! What a cocktail of microbes that thing must be.

And how about Carvel and Cookie Puss?? When I was little, there were still Carvel stores around. I always got a Carvel ice cream cake for my birthday, even though it was December 23rd. My mom still gets laughs out of the year I insisted on the "Home for the Holidays" cake for my birthday. They had scintillating commercials:
Just look at that thing! How frickin' scary is Valentine's Day Cookiepuss??? He looks like some kind of zombie Groucho Marx cake.

And last but not least, Young People's Day Camp. This place used to scare the crap out of me for some reason. I got it in my head that my parents would send me there if I was bad. (I think my mom might've jokingly suggested that. I was a serious kid- there was no joking with me.) Anyone else would look at all those happy, feathered-hair 70s city kids having fun playing games and think this was great, but it was the epitome of hell for me. There was just something ominous about the way the announcer said "LONG swims in the pool" that made it sound like you'd be forced to stay in the water and swim laps until you'd done your penance.