I put up a video on my Facebook page last night from a band called the Connells, one of my favorite late '80's college radio darlings. The song, "74-75," plays over a series of old high school yearbook photos, the full heads of hair and bright smiles brimming with the hope of graduating seniors, and the later versions, only now bald, near-sighted, in wheelchairs and with kids, and they are not necessarily looking miserable or even totally unhappy, just, well...older. And it kills me every time I see it.
From an early age I've been acutely aware of getting older. I remember being, couldn't have been more than 13, and sobbing in the shower, overwhelmed with the prospect of age. Suppose it explains a lot. Like why so much of my day is devoted to trying to fend off the inevitable, my condition made worse by my condition, this motorcycle accident and gift that keeps on giving, my pelvis and bones a jigsaw puzzle snapped back together that needs to forever be tweaked, massaged, lubricated. But I'm not discounting the gym as vanity's pursuit, either. I abused my body for so long, I want it back, but I am only 40, which is the new...(insert age here)...or so they say.
But that isn't the tragedy of life.
"The tragedy of life is not that the beautiful die young; it's that they grow old and mean."
The Connells are a terrific little college band, and if you haven't heard of them, you should check them out. While not the most lyrically sophisticated author, songwriter and frontman Mike Connell crafts perfect little pop gems, and for my money, singer Doug McMillian has one of the best voices ever. But that isn't why I posted the video to my FB page.
It's those goddamn yearbook photos. Which look just like my yearbook photo (and, please, if you are from Berlin High, I will pay you handsomely to not A.) repost that photo, and even more handsomely to B.) not to reveal what has to be one of the most embarrassing yearbook quotes of all time). And the sequels, which are worn on faces 20, 30 years later, the same sequels I saw at my own high school reunion. Not bad. Necessarily. Most of those people seemed genuinely happy.
My high school reunion, which I never in a million years thought I'd attend, was in November of '08 at the Hawthorne Inn in Berlin. I'd begun reconnecting with old classmates on Facebook, and one friend in particular, Jim Case, convinced me to come back to Berlin and go to the reunion. I'd just finished grad school and had moved back to the Bay Area, but nothing was really doing. I spent the first six months back mostly going to the gym and hobbling around as my hip got used to the new barometric pressure. The only notable event in my life during this time was about a week before I flew back east, I asked my neighbor on a date. And now we have a kid and are getting married, so that one turned out pretty OK, I'd say.
The reunion was...fun. I mean, it was nice to see all these people after all these years, even if there was still the "cool" table, at which I wasn't sitting (but we were better than that table over there at least, eh, Ron?). And it was terrific to see Jim and fellow "Most Likely to Succeed Artist"/crush Heather Richotte (now Hinsley), and of course crushes Tracy Bartlett and Anne Hodgson, (though no Melissa Cote was certainly a disappointment).
And there was
Mike Piskorski, Todd Martin, Jeff Dubac, Jack Lotko, Cherri Wilson, Jim Dinda, and Greg, Karen, Ron, Jen, Amy, Lisa, Diane, Linda, Bob, and a whole bunch more whom I do not wish to offend if I've forgotten to include. And we smoked. And we ate at our delegated tables and we laughed about old times that may or may not have happened and that may or may not have been funny. And we went to the town bar after the reunion, trying to keep the night going a little longer, and I don't know what was going through the heads of most of these people, if they were all plagued by the same internal sadness I was. But it was inescapable, a pervasive sensation lingering with every beer and smile. We were all old. And getting older. And if we did this again, whether another 5 or 10 or 20 years, we'd only be...older. Less hair, bigger bellies, dreams more compromised.
Of course, I'm a writer. Or I like to think I am. Labels help define. I am alway trying to find the story. So it's natural I'd see the evening in terms of a narrative, with broken heroes and last-chance power drives.
Berlin is, in many ways, a quintessential blue collar town. We've got our mills and factories. Stanley Tool is just down the freeway, one town over, before the state university.
After the reunion, I went and saw a former college professor who lives in Berlin. He asked how the reunion was.
"Good," I said. "Except that I felt like I was in a Bruce Springsteen song." I smiled. "I mean, all that was missing was the mill closing down."
My old professor suddenly got somber. "Oh, you heard about that?"
"Heard about what?" I said.
"The old paper mill. They're closing it down this summer."