In honor of my upcoming Bard reunion, here’s a post about high-school reunions, which are like college reunions, except 6000 times worse! Link to the full discourse, courtesy of The Perpetual Post, is here.
My ten-year high school reunion is around the corner, and my feeling is, either I’m showing up with Hugh Jackman on one arm, pushing a stroller full of nonuplets with the other, or I’m not showing up at all.
A high school reunion is no time for subtlety. Trust me, nobody wants to hear about your new springer spaniel puppy or your job in publishing. They want to see whether you got fat or divorced or developed a nervous tic. They want to hear if you’ve saddled yourself with a whiny loser or had any kids, and if those kids are fat. They want to casually pretend not to recognize you, to show that they’re too cool to bother remembering once knowing you. Ninth grade habits die hard. Maybe things will be different in another ten years when you all feel like failures, but right now it’s still too soon. Your only defense against this kind of behavior is a good offense, and you only get one chance to make a dynamite first impression—to achieve that sweet moment of redemption that somehow erases an entire freshman year spent pretending that you had no friends on purpose. You better make it good.
But wait, put the monocle down, sparky. Don’t bother going if you’re going to look like you’re trying. You cannot walk back into the gym reeking of desperation. If you’re busy whiting out the word ‘Assistant’ on your business cards or thinking up ways to make it sound like you moved back in with your parents because they missed you, stay the hell home, and I’ll tell you why: Above all, the name of the game is to keep those bitches guessing, and sometimes, putting in a non-appearance is the flashiest way to do that. In the back of their minds, those people I spent four years love-hating are bound to have a brief moment of wondering, “Huh, and where is Molly? I was looking forward to pretending not to recognize her.”
Is she sitting at home watching The Wedding Date and eating raw Pillsbury Crescent Rolls from the can? Or out partying topless on the French Riviera with Kate Moss? Maybe I’m home polishing my Nobel Peace Prize or at a cocktail party chatting with Tom Wolfe and wearing a 24 karat gold pantsuit. No one really knows. And nobody really wins, either, but I also don’t have to nod with a frozen smile on my face as my former classmate tells me she just got back from spending the year in Machu Picchu, “just hanging out”. I don’t have to congratulate girls who used to make fun of my thrift store clothes for passing the Bar exam, or having babies, or headlining the World Organization Committee on Agricultural Transportation Banking Summit. So actually, someone does win: Me. Take that, Class of 1999!
Some of you may not know this, but I studied Japanese during my last two years in college. I didn’t do particularly well, in fact I did terribly, but I refused to give up, re-enrolling doggedly every semester until I graduated. After four semesters of studying Japanese, I can tell when someone is speaking Japanese; that’s about the extent of my enduring understanding of the language. When I graduated, there was no suggestion from my Sensei that I continue any post-grad work in the field of Japanese Studies, or move abroad to continue learning the language. In fact, I’m pretty sure he said something along the lines of ‘Schoemann-san, you’re graduating? Thank God.’ If nothing else, I suppose my persistence was commendable, although it might have been more like sad.
One of my favorite memories of the saga of Taking Japanese Even Though I was Horrible at It came after I completed the year-long introductory class. During the following registration period, in a moment of unusual cruelty, I told the Sensei that I thought I was ready to skip the Intermediate level class and move straight to Advanced Japanese. “I’m sure you can agree,” I said, “that I am far enough along after only a year of Japanese that I should be able to keep up with the Advanced class.” My Sensei was aghast. The look on his face was priceless. I can still his strangled response of “Schoemann-san, no!” It brings a smile to my face to this day.
My other favorite memory is of the time a friend of mine asked me to translate the title of a Japanese movie he had rented to watch for a film class. His copy didn’t have subtitles, and I boldly told him that, after three semesters of Japanese, I should be able to at least translate the title of a film for him. I stared at the cover.
“Well,” I said, “this is the character for…‘meat’, I think. And this one…means…vacation? I KNOW that this is the sign that means ‘of’—and this last character is the verb ‘listen’. So, your movie is called ‘Meat Vacation of Listening’. You’re welcome.”
A short google search later, and my friend found a translation of the title online. “You mean, ‘Temple of Flesh’?” he said.
“Yes. Of course that’s what I meant.”
I few days ago I received this e-mail from a prospective Bard College student. A lot of my older material on this site was written while I was a student there, so it’s pretty easy to figure out where I went to school.
I’m Seth, and I found your Blog. I’m seriously considering Bard, and it seems you like it. Could you talk to me about Bard and such? Or am I coming off as creepy, because I’ve already Facebooked two strangers about this same subject, and got a response from neither.
Maybe I need to reconsider my tactics.
Here is my response:
The following was written for a “Drunken Edition” of the newspaper I wrote for in college.
I’ve spent more time writing this column than I have my senior
thesis, and I probably shouldn’t find that funny, let alone really funny. I can definitely say that college has taught me how to prioritize, and so can the enormous pile of dirty laundry that is growing up the wall in the corner of my room. It can also tell fortunes.
College has likewise encouraged me to pursue my own interests, like eating six or seven boxes of mac and cheese a month, an activity which has certainly helped me to grow as a person. Lately I have been increasingly tempted to say and do things for no other reason than simply because I think it would be funny. Often, this definition of ‘funny’ also means ‘creepy’ and ‘disturbing to others’. This list of things includes knocking on the door of my neighbor who I have never spoken to and who glares at me when I pass him in the hall, and when he opens the door, peering behind him and saying, “I just wanted to see your room.” I have also considered responding to noisy neighbors by opening my door and screaming down the hall, “No one will ever love you”.
(The author left to freshen up her drink at this point. She returned an hour or two later.)
My God, I hate Tollbooths that have “EZ Pass”. Someday soon EZ Pass is going to take over the world. I shudder every time I drive under that huge, horribly misspelled blinking lighted sign. That sign is the visual equivalent of having someone shove a sock in your face and ask whether it smells like it’s been worn or not, and you know they can tell it has. “EZPass”, the sign says, but what it really means is, Pitiful Driver, Someday You will Bow Before Me and Name Me as Your God. The abridged version just fits better on the sign, especially since they use that slanted lightening-y font to make the letters look like they’re zooming along. With the greatest of EZ.
An EZPass sign generally signifies that the tollbooth beneath it has nobody in it and thus doesn’t recognize money as a form of currency. I ask you, what kind of tollbooth doesn’t accept
MONEY? Can a tollbooth really be a tollbooth if you can’t pass through it by giving it cold hard money? Money is accepted nearly everywhere else in the world, making EZPass’s domain seem rather limited. Waving an EZPass in a store cashier’s face won’t buy you diddley-squat. It may even buy you a night in jail, if you’re naked.
(The column ends here, as at this point its author got up to go play charades.)
I was surprised by my reaction to spending a weekend deep in the woods of Vermont. I’ll admit that I’m a city girl who finds Central Park’s foliage more intimidating than its performance artists. But while I admired the extraordinary beauty of the endless woods surrounding the small wooden cabin where we stayed, I was not accustomed to my subsequent feelings of isolation. Even in the most secluded depths of Central Park you can still buy a hot dog. It’s difficult to find an area in the woods of Bard’s campus that has not been previously discovered and marked by territorial beer cans.
These woods did not kid around. They began to get dark around 4 p.m., which meant that for the last six hours or so of my day, my body was gently insisting that it was time for me to go to sleep. It was the same feeling I used to have during an afternoon of double biology in high school, except with more miles of birch trees and darkness and fewer DNA strand models made out of gum drops. (I wish more teachers tried to generate interest in class material by presenting their students with candy analogies or candy-related subject matter. I would be much more interested in doing my philosophy readings if the main arguments of the text were spelled out with mini-marshmallows.)
I’m glad I made this trip with someone I know and trust, because there’s something about the knowledge that the nearest telephone is a winding ten-minute drive away that can really bring out the creepy side of innocuous statements like, “Good, here’s an axe! For chopping firewood.”
Being in a cabin in the woods gave me a lot of time to think about being in a cabin in the woods. It seems I achieve the same level of philosophical introspection observing a beautiful sunset that I do watching the Home Shopping Network. Living deep in the woods and surrounding myself with the natural world would, I believe, waste the time of all involved, plants and wildlife included. Rather than recording thoughtful observations about life and nature, I would record thoughtful observations about the TV shows I was missing. I would spend my time checking to see if my pants were actually wet from sitting on the muddy ground, or if they just felt cold. I’d rather leave the solemn examination of man’s relationship with nature to those whose prior experience with woodland creatures is not limited to Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons: dedicated individuals who can distinguish between an animal and a Pokemon.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t have a good time this weekend. What I wouldn’t enjoy doing for a long winter was fun for a couple of days. I discovered fire. I chopped wood, vicariously. And most importantly, I came back alive to share my story so that I might someday, somehow, profit from it.
Looking back, I shouldn’t have been so surprised that I didn’t make the basketball team my freshman year in high school. It probably wasn’t my lack of talent that mattered so much as the fact that my high school was well known for being athletically competitive and always “winning” games; the coaches apparently only wanted people on the team who were “capable” of “physically exerting themselves.” I took the failure personally, however, and underwent the sort of transformation usually reserved for comic book characters who become super-villains after their dreams of social acceptance are thwarted. Cackling gleefully from my secret hideout in an abandoned locker room deep within the school’s core and across from the cafeteria, I aspired to be the anti-athlete. I couldn’t join them, I sure as hell couldn’t beat them, but I could laugh at them from the bleachers while eating icing from the can. Twice a year the Phys Ed Department rounded up all us team-sports deadbeats and made us take fitness “tests,” which involved seeing how many crunches we could do in a minute (or in the case of me and my cronies, how many we could avoid doing…because you don’t miss 100% of the crunches you don’t do). Together my friends and I pushed each other to depths of laziness and ineptitude that I wouldn’t have dreamed possible. We ran forty-minute miles. We fainted after two push-ups. We tripped and fell and then let ourselves go limp when anyone tried to offer us assistance. I truly believed that my Phys Ed teachers were personally insulted by my utter lack of coordination and endurance. I would imagine them thumping their chests in fury or punching the wall in impotent rage as they read over the wretched results of my fitness tests.
Around the time I decided that I had fully explored all the wonderful things inertia had to offer, a friend introduced me to the sadistic field of intramural teams. I was hooked, probably because intramural sports involve only a little more teamwork and a slightly greater group dynamic than you find during your average city riot. Intramural soccer in an all-girls high-school is beautiful in its brutality. Rules are irrelevant. Assigned teams are of little importance; grudge matches are the order of the day. Whether or not you and the girl who corrected your pronunciation of the word “bourgeoisie” in history class are on the same team, you’re going to confuse her shins with the soccer ball as often and as hard as possible.
Rather than regret my days of aggressive inactivity, I prefer to consider myself an activist in the field of passive resistance at an early age. I refused to let my shortcomings push me into doing something that might have resulted in personal injury, humiliation and, at the very least, sweating. I can’t condemn someone who decides to overcome athletic incompetence through determination and hard work. It’s their choice. But I can be proud that I stood my ground and refused to take part in a struggle in which there would have been no winners.
I’ve spent many hours theorizing about procrastination. Some people always appear to have their priorities in order and their work in on time. However, a good many others are reading this column only because they’re trying to put off starting a twenty-page paper that’s due tomorrow. You know who you are. The salt-art you leave on the tabletops in Kline gives you away.
Are some people genetically more inclined to procrastinate? If procrastination were an inherited trait, it seems as though it should have been weeded out long ago as counterproductive and undesirable. I can’t help but assume that the cavemen who went ahead and diligently discovered fire had a higher rate of survival than those who said, “Eh, I’ve got all weekend.” When plagues descended on villages, the inhabitants who didn’t leave town right away because they just couldn’t get around to packing up all their stuff probably didn’t do too well in the long run.
So why is this habit still around? It could be said that some good does come out of procrastination. If students went straight to their studies without allowing themselves several hours (or days, or months, depending on the circumstances) of puttering around beforehand, picture the CD’s that would remain un-alphabetized, their liner notes un-perused. Tumbleweeds would roll through Historic Diners, which would eventually go bankrupt. Plants would go un-watered. Thank-you notes would never, ever be written. Thousands of cartons of Smack Ramen would sit uneaten. How many friendships have been saved because one or the other of you had a twenty-page final to work on but decided they simply had to pick up the phone and catch up?
Procrastination is the only thing I can think of that you are doing just by talking about it. And it’s so much fun to talk about! Discussing your procrastination habits is like gossiping about yourself. I loaf around after a meal bragging about how much reading I have or how many encyclopedic papers I have to write as though that makes me some kind of bad-ass. And maybe it does, because people often try to wrestle the crown title of “Most Amount of Work to Do Tonight” away from one another. The battles are often bloody. Sometimes I think people lie about the amount of work they have. I don’t think they should do that. It wrecks the curve for the rest of us. Then the people who really have less than twelve hours in which to write a research paper that counts as the only grade for an entire course don’t get the sympathy they have rightly earned, and that’s just not fair. Don’t believe the senior who tells you he’s still being pressured to turn in a freshman seminar paper. He just wants attention.
My biology class recently discussed the idea that a trait is considered evolutionarily successful only if it increases an organism’s chances of reproduction. Maybe that’s the sneaky way in which the procrastination assures its continuance in the human race. What is reproduction, after all, but a great way to procrastinate? Procrastinators, instead of doing something they really should be doing, are going off and populating the world with people who will eventually blow off their term papers until the last minute, too.
It’s no easy thing to record an answering machine message, especially when you start to think about it too much. When else in your life are you asked to create a verbal persona in fifteen seconds or less that reflects who you are and will be divulged indiscriminately to friends and strangers? It boggles the mind. Or, at least, the mind that is supposed to be doing reserve readings. Or the mind that is waiting for a certain someone to call and wonders if they have already but didn’t leave a message because the mind’s answering machine makes them sound too needy.
How should you sound on your message? Fun-loving? Easy? A combination of both? I think less is more. Getting too fancy is bound to get you into trouble eventually. If your message is in poor taste, you are almost guaranteed to receive a call from the person whom you would least want it played for. If you leave a message that says “This is Molly; leave a message–unless you’re Bill, who is ugly and eats cat food,” Bill is going to call you, even if you haven’t heard from him in years and he lives across the ocean now. And with your luck, he was probably calling to leave you money. Try not to be too blasé about it, either, with: “I’m out and I don’t know when I’ll be back. You can leave a message but there’s no guarantee I’ll get it. My life is dizzy and wonderful and full of excitement.” This person is trying too hard. Somewhere between that last message and one that implies that you sit with the phone in your lap waiting for people to call you, lies compromise.
All you push-button voicemail junkies out there, I don’t know how your little system works and I don’t reckon I ever will. In my room I’ve got an ancient, tacky little black box of an answering machine sitting on top of a sagging cardboard dresser and that’s the way I likes it. Sometimes, though, I find myself wishing that my happiness and sense of self-worth didn’t hinge on a little red light that blinks when times are good and messages plentiful, and stares up at me with a sullen, red glow when no one cares.
Coming home late at night and being confronted by the hateful, unblinking red light of an answering machine with no messages on it can really make you want to rob a liquor store. (Note to authorities: Not a binding statement.)
I wish my answering machine had a function that made it blink permanently with the promise of a message. When I didn’t have a message (as happens oh so occasionally), my pressing “Play” would make the answering machine say something nice to me, like: “You have no messages, you sexy, sexy piece of ass. Man, if I weren’t an answering machine….” Or even something reassuring, like “He must have lost your number. I’ll bet he’s kicking himself.” Maybe someday that technology will be available. The future is now.
I find it hard to understand when people complain about their siblings and how much they hate them. It seems ill-advised to be on bad terms with someone who is essentially a permanent roommate for the first seventeen or so years of your life—which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Sharing a room with my little sister has taught me how to compromise in difficult living situations. It has also taught me the subtle art of passive-aggression (“Where’s my new sweater?” “I don’t know. Maybe it fell in the toilet?”). These valuable skills have served me well thus far in college.
However, unlike in college, you and your siblings aren’t matched up from questionnaires, and you can’t request a room change in a cramped Manhattan apartment because your sister plays the Pixies at an ungodly volume day and night.
If you’re lucky or spoiled, you won’t have to share a room with a sibling, but even if you don’t, she’ll still be there every morning, giving you dirty looks and shooting Cap’n Crunch at you across the breakfast table. It’s best to make peace with her as early as possible. I suggest you find some common ground. Show a little interest in her hobbies, spend a little time getting to know her, and you will be amply rewarded one day in the future when she is a wealthy accountant and you are out trying to get a job with your degree in Medieval Poetry.
My only-child friends often ask me what it was like to grow up with a little sister. I always mumble something inane about how it must have been nice growing up without one. Actually, I’m surprised at the number of friends I have who are only-children. I think I’ve always been drawn to them, especially when I was little. Only-children were the bossy, demanding, dynamic kids whom I followed blindly everywhere even though they always made me take the broken swing and be the dog when we played Family. I don’t believe that children grow up the same with or without siblings. Not being able to get into the bathroom nine out of ten weekday mornings because your little sister locks herself in to blow-dry her hair for forty-five minutes even though she’s dressed and can damn well move over and let you in to brush your teeth for ten seconds, has an enormous effect on the developing psyche of a young individual.
Then there’s the fun of getting to see all the good genes your parents had to offer turn up in your sibling. She got the straight teeth, the thick hair, and the perfect eyesight. I got the asthma and the glasses at ten. I tell you, it isn’t fair.
The best part about having a sibling is knowing that someone else out there shares my background. Although we haven’t had the same experiences outside of the family, when it comes to life at home, my sister and I are on the same page. It’s validating to know that I’m not the only one who thinks my family is crazy. There’s safety in numbers.