Wednesday, November 1, 2023

55th High School Reunion Essay

From Red Devils to Gray Devils (or, 73 is the new 61)

By Jim Szantor

It has been a long and winding road that brings the Class of '61 to Reunion Weekend.   A time when we can take our noses out of our devices and communicate the best possible way--face to face.  We've come so far and seen so much, but on this occasion it's all about something that we can never get enough of--living in the moment with people who matter to us.  Some of us may say more to each other this weekend than we did when we were in the same building on a daily basis.  Reunions can be strange that way.

We've gone our separate ways in many ways, but there are bonds that can never be separated, and Mary D. Bradford was a big part of that.  Some of the connections we treasure started before that, some came after.  But we're so fortunate to have them.  There's no app for that.

Our birth dates and graduation dates were bookended by two presidents known mainly by their initials (FDR and JFK), with some of us then sent off to an unpopular war by LBJ.  (OMG!)  Somehow we survived anti-war and race riots, three high-profile assassinations and thought we were living in turbulent times then.  Little did we know.

We've reached the time of our lives when, as is often said, it seems as if we're having breakfast every 20 minutes and a doctor's appointment every 20 days.   And if our waistlines have expanded, so have our vocabularies.  Unfortunately, many of our new  words end in "itis," "oscopy" or "ectomy" (with a few "ograms" thrown in for good measure.)  Some of us are lucky enough to have original factory equipment, but others seem to be doing just fine with replacement parts.  Our mileage may vary accordingly.

Our lives since high school have had similar arcs (higher education, marriage and careers, exhilarating highs and devastating lows, medical battles won and lost), but no two narratives are alike, with their surprising and fortuitous twists, unexpected and unfortunate turns.  We'll talk about them, tell stories--funny and otherwise--we may have told before.  But underneath it all is something strangely and poignantly wistful that is easier to experience than to explain.  A tear or two may flow, but laughter will carry the day.  To borrow a title from my favorite song of those cherished Bradford years, "It's All in the Game."

We'll reminisce about the sweet used-to-be, a time when you could get on a plane without getting undressed, when mosquitoes were occasional nuisances instead of winged assassins, and a Christmas gift might be one of those wildly irresponsible vintage toys of our youth--the chemistry set--the better to conduct home experiments with the ammonium nitrate now prized by rogue terrorists.

Our first cars are quaint relics now (it's cringe-inducing to contemplate how crude and dangerous they really were), but how treasured they were then!  Apples were something we ate; Steve Jobs was just 6 years old on our Graduation Day and hadn't decided to change the world just yet.  Amazon was a river in South America, a tweet was a sound produced by a bird, and Google was the name of a comic-strip character whose first name, if you don't remember it, can be learned if you use his last name to find it, using a device probably within arm's reach.

Culturally, a maverick from Mississippi named Elvis Presley was viewed as outrageous by some as the fabled Generation Gap reared its head, writ large.  No one envisioned such outre performers as Alice Cooper, Madonna and Sid Vicious and others of inexplicable popularity.  Thus, rap and hip-hop aren't likely to be heard at the Chateau on our special night; Snoop Dogg won't be making the playlist.  We'll hear many oldies and savor the memories they conjure up as the sound track of our youth plays on.

We'll survey the years and laugh about the clothes we wore, the "what were we thinking?" misadventures and the gasoline we burned going around in circles downtown.   We took ourselves perhaps too seriously at times but at least took no "selfies."  (And what about that sheepskin we worked so hard to get?  All we got was a piece of paper!   I, for one, still feel cheated and have thus given my graduation an Incomplete.  But that's just me.)

Our graduates include at least two doctors that I know of, perhaps a lawyer or three, but most likely no Indian chiefs.  Scanning the yearbook, some wonderful names pop out--a Jane Eyre and a Thomas Wolfe, whom I dearly hope can come home again.   The Annex may be gone but still stands tall in our memories.  It rained on our scheduled Graduation Day, a happenstance that turned out to be more of a innocuous oddity than an ill omen.

We'll share some of our epic Kodak moments, those occasions when someone was bound to say, "Great Grandma is probably looking down on us with a big proud smile."  (To explore the thought of other moments when Great Grandma was looking down on us is a thought too unsettling to pursue further in this essay, if you get my drift.  Who raises and lowers the celestial curtain?)

Those of us who have moved away can use this occasion to revisit old haunts (the ones that still exist) and scan the crowd for familiar faces (thank God for name tags) and lament the absence of those we fear we may never see again, trying to remember that, as a poet once said, people die but love doesn't have to.  The list of Missing Classmates numbers about 280 and leads one to wonder where those people are, and, if still living, why they have stayed in the shadows.  If by choice, we have to respect that; if for darker reasons, that's most unfortunate.  We may know the circumstances for a few, but for the others--whether they were good friends, casual acquaintances or names we hardly recognize--like a lot of life's mysteries, we may never know.  We can only hope that life has dealt them the best possible hand.

It has been said that the 25th is the best reunion--some liken it to life's mid-term exam--and say they only get sadder after that.  But most marathoners--those lucky enough to remain in the race--feel more exhilaration in the home stretch than they did at the halfway mark.  Granted, we know the trip is not going to last forever, but it's satisfying to toast the milestones we've achieved and humbly acknowledge our good fortune.  And who knows--the way research is advancing on the scourges of cancer and Alzheimer's, in five years 78 may be the new 61.  Let's drink to that!


                                                                By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life

I was a teenage hostage negotiator.

Overheard: “About 99% of the time, the right time is right now.”

Marianne and I just discovered a great new vegetarian restaurant.  Very pricy, though.  Cost us an arm and a legume!

“I went to a record store that said they specialized in hard-to-find records.” Nothing was alphabetized!”—Mitch Hedberg

Has anyone ever seen Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow in the same room?  Courtney Cox and Demi Moore? Amal Clooney and Anne Hathaway? (Thanks to People magazine online, your go-to source for Flavor of the Month celebrities.)

I don't care what anyone says:  We never had weather like this when Mr. Wizard was alive.

People who think what just happened in the Middle East won’t affect them probably had never heard of Pearl Harbor until Pearl Harbor.

The six phases of an actor's career: Teen idol, leading man, supporting roles, character parts, infomercials, obscurity.

We all get them—many of them—and no one reads them. So as a public service, here once again is jimjustsaying's Privacy Notices Made Simple—and they could be put on a postcard, saving tons of paper (not to mention trees):

 "We can do anything we want, and you can't do anything about it, unless your battery of attorneys is bigger and more politically connected than ours.  Thank you and get lost." The Management

There will never be a Whoopie Goldberg Lookalike Contest.

What I wouldn't give for a button on the remote control (or a Menu setting) that would make those irritating and relentless "crawls" disappear from the bottom of the TV screen.  (Ditto for those intrusive pop-up promo logos, or whatever they are.)

Quarterback names have taken a curious turn in recent years: Donovan, Peyton, Eli, Tarvaris, Troy, Drew, Brett, Aaron. . . .

And, drawing from a recent online listing of current starting QB's: Desmond, Bryce, Tyson, Deshaun, Jared, Trevor, Tua, Tyrod and Jalen. I'm thinking when Joe Montana retired, they must have retired his first name! (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

First move I'd make if I were NFL commissioner:  Any touchdown would be automatically nullified if the player scoring it didn't hand the ball to the referee (instead of "spiking" it and dancing around like a deranged buffoon with itching powder in his pants).  Better yet:  Add 6 points to the other team's total!  Grow up, guys! High school is over.

“Ask anyone you admire: Their lucky breaks happened on a detour from their main goal. So, embrace detours. Life is not a straight line for anyone.”—The Technium

jimjustsaying's "Word That Doesn't Exist But Should" of the Week: "Camera-maritan":  The stranger you draft into taking a picture of your group so that everyone in your group will be in it.—“More Sniglets,” Rich Hall and Friends.

Seems like every time I go to the grocery store, I see a variety of apple I've never seen before and no one I know has ever heard of.   Believe it or not, there is variety called Jazz. Tastes pretty good. (No Rhythm ‘n’ Blues apples as yet, apparently.  Haven’t noticed any Soul or Hip-Hop apples, either. Would probably sell well in certain neighborhoods.) 

I'm so old, I used to eat at NHOP--you know, the National House of Pancakes!

"The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards."--Novelist Arthur Koestler

Memo to the increasing number of females (and a few males) with pink, blue, green or purple hair:   Bring something to read when you go to the unemployment office.

Can't remember the last time I saw something we all used to see fairly often: A hitchiker.  Seen one lately?  

Toothbrush manufacturers amuse me no end.  They're always coming up with new angles (almost literally), new selling points.  The latest one I bought proclaimed "90% Deeper Reach/removes plaque between teeth."  

Why now, at this late date?  What part of "deeper" wasn't possible or advisable 100 years ago?  What led to the "breakthrough"? Have teeth changed that much--if at all--over time? Is it that hard to make THE perfect brush, once and for all?  Help me out here.

Same thing applies to razors, especially men’s.  What exactly has changed about facial hair that necessitates a “new, revolutionary shaving system”?  Answer: The need to increase sales.  Period.  So please stop insulting us with the technical mumbo jumbo.

Speaking of “discoveries”:

"There are three stages of scientific discovery:  First, people deny that it is true; then, they deny that it is important; finally, they credit [or blame?] the wrong person."--Alexander von Humboldt, 19th Century naturalist 

How come you never see anyone with a pencil behind his ear anymore?

Faded Phrase of the Week: "Let's get down to brass tacks." 

jimjustsaying's Media Word of the Week (a word you see only in print and never hear an actual person use in real life):  Plethora.  As in, "2023 has seen a plethora of mass shootings."

DRUDGING AROUND: Woman batters daughter with frozen chicken, cops say . . . SHOCK:  Hospital propped dead woman up in bed to fool family . . .  Genius monkey hijacks computer, types on keyboard and flicks through files in office . . .  Report: Terrorists will hack driverless cars and use them for horrific attacks . . . Teacher: Student loan debt drove me to porn career . . . New residential cruise ship would let travelers live at sea . . . Pilot who tried to shut off plane engines mid-flight took psychedelic mushrooms . . . Woman mauled by pet Rottweiler after feeding it THC gummy . . . Automakers come clean: EVs not working. (Thanks as always to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators.)

“Fog and smog rolled over Los Angeles, closing airports and slowing snails to a traffic pace.”—Los Angeles News, via “Still More Press Boners,” by Earle Tempel.

Cultural priorities run amok:  Seeing TV sports anchors not only interviewing but hanging on every word of high school (or even younger) athletes.  It has come to this!  I don’t think the New York Times even COVERS prep sports, which is as it should be.  Name a paper or TV station that reviews high school plays or band concerts?  The kids will be playing their instruments long after they’ve put football or track behind them.

You could probably assemble a halfway decent news team if you could cherry-pick among all personnel at Chicago TV stations, taking an anchor from one station, a co-anchor from another, the sports guy from a third and the weather guy from another (picking similarly from the reportorial ranks).  Right now, they too often all fall under the rubric of Chucklehead Newsfaces with one or two good people at each station!  And there’s too many time-wasting teasers about “what’s coming up,” time that would allow for an additional bona fide story or two. And why this penchant for “reporting” in front of darkened, empty buildings after 10 p.m.?

Then there’s the lame banter between the “anchors” and the weather person/sports guy?  Another time-waster that’s banal beyond belief.  There are no Lenos or Lettermans in TV news.

Redundancy patrol:  "Component parts," "bouquet of flowers," "eradicate completely."

He said it: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”—H.L. Mencken

Just bought a bag of the 2-inch Snicker’s “Fun Size” bars.  I had to. I couldn’t handle the full-size bars—you know, the dreaded "Twelve Labors of Hercules" size!

I mean, aren’t all Snicker’s fun?  Apparently not.  (And did you know that there are about 16 varieties of the popular confection, including an espresso version?  And that they were sold under the name Marathon in the UK until 1990? Who else would tell you these things?)

jimjustsaying’s Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: “Abu.” As in, John “Abu” Kodl, Kenosha News, Sept. 12, 2023. R.I.P., Abu.

Flour and water, salt, amylopectin, mineral or vegetable oil, fragrance, aluminum sulfate, borax, peg 1500 monostearate and coloring.  Put them all together and you have . . . Play-Doh! (There are Fun Facts and then there are . . . fillers!)

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”--Albert Einstein

Today's Latin lesson:  Nusquam video vidi visum hic, populus, iustus eo. ("Nothing to see here, folks, just move along.")

Thanks to Noah Zark, this month’s Popcorn intern.