I was recently in Oceanside for a week to get some sun, visit the Turbula staff (a dissolute group of characters and ruffians to rival any taxi garage) and to attend my high school reunion. That's right I graduated from high school, college too for that matter. I don't want to give away my age (though I am still young-looking and handsome) but it was somewhere between my twentieth and fiftieth class reunion.
My twentieth reunion was a big bash; seems like all 500 of my classmates showed up. Small wonder, though, as statistics showed that about ninety percent still lived in San Diego County, if not Oceanside itself. I remember the girls were looking good. There is something special about a 38-year-old woman that younger girls just don't have and won't until they're that age. Besides experience and maturity they have a beauty that only years can provide. They are still round in all the right places, but they have wrinkles on their faces that expose that maturity and twinkles in the eyes that speak of experience.
As a bachelor, I remember feeling like a kid in a candy store. I just didn't know where to start. However, I made a mistake when I violated one of my advisors on matters of the heart (and other organs) and fellow friend and classmate (and Turbula contributor) Dan McClenaghan. Dan had always taught me to "single one out of the herd," and concentrate on that goal. He also advised to choose one that couldn't or wouldn't "run too fast." Aim for one a little "heavier, not as cute, a divorcee perhaps," he would encourage. I wished I had listened to that advice. Instead I ran helter-skelter through the crowd like a border collie pup set loose on his first flock of geese, turning here, then there when I spotted a fluffier tail or a meatier breast. Needless to say, I didn't get any tail or breast that night and made a fool of myself in the process.
|The author when he was still a promising young man
(We stole that line above, but can't remember from whom it was lifted eds.)
At this latest reunion the turnout was only about a hundred. Four-fifths of the class, many of them still living local, decided to pass. I was largely disappointed in that because over the years I have come to love those people, and regret not knowing some of them more or treating them better when I was young. It's not that I was a bad person or, using the expression of the day, "stuck up," I was just immature. I wish I knew then just some of what I know now. I wish my hormones were under control and I was secure in the boy I was and certain of the man I would become.
Upon graduating Oceanside High School, I attended MiraCosta Community College and continued the kind of life that I led in high school the only difference being that I now washed my own clothes. It was still a Brotherhood of the Boys kind of life with the guys coming over to my shack for beer and laughter at night and going to class with hangovers in the day. I didn't date much in that period. I grew up with those girls and most of them knew me far too well. I considered that a handicap. A man needs to be mysterious but the local girls knew every scar, every mood, every nuance of my being and it scared me. They were the hometown girls and I thought that the grass would be greener after I left the county and went out into the world.
I did go out into the world. I attended college in San Francisco in the explosive seventies, drove cab and raised some hell. I briefly lived in Ireland, traveled around Western Europe and when the Wall fell, traveled to Russia and The Ukraine. I've had Swedish girlfriends, Danish, Irish, English, Israeli and Russian. I've dated Italians, Assyrians and New Zealanders. I've known French, Mexican, Chinese and Indian women, but you know what? None of them were as good as the girls from my youth, the girls of Oceanside and Carlsbad.
When I attended this latest reunion I tried to talk to them all, the guys too. I tried to tell them what they meant to me then and what they represented to me now. They weren't just faces that I passed in the hall and said hello (or failed to say hello) to. They were my past. They weren't just memories from my life, but part of my very being, no matter how small.
Like all schools, I suppose, we were a diverse group. We were black and white, Hispanic and Samoan. There were gays and lesbians (though we weren't sure what that was, and maybe they weren't either). There were the jocks and surfers, potheads and drinkers. There were the geeks and socia's the boy scouts and the troublemakers. There were cliques and clubs of every kind. I was in one or more of them. I wish now I had been in them all.
I saw them there; our former class president, Russ Holmes, who was for a short while my doctor, with his two new young children. Mark Adams, John Winslow, Jim St. John, Jan Jankowsky, Joy Cruz, Judy Jackson. I talked at length with my old dear friend and former neighbor Chris Moore. The neighborhood gang hung out in his garage he called "The Pub" because it was decorated as an English bar. The rumor is that he is employed by a confidential government agency but his business card says "defense contractor." No matter. I don't care what these people do for a living or how they pay their bills. I love them for being themselves and wish I had known them better.
McClenaghan was there, too. Slightly stooped and with a noticeable limp from a terrible traffic collision years ago, he went about the room extending his hand and quietly presenting himself; "Hello, you don't remember me, I'm Dan McClenaghan." Don't remember you! Who are you kidding? Many of them had known him since kindergarten. Dan thought he grew up as a fly on the wall. In reality everyone knew when Dan was present in a room or a crowd.
I made it a point, as I did at the twentieth reunion, to spend time with the black guys: Jerry Culp, Eddie Parks, T.J. Johnson. We weren't hyphenated-Americans then. They knew I was white and they were black. I knew that somewhere in their geneology was a person from Africa and they knew my old man was Irish. We knew that kids with Spanish surnames had roots in Spain or Latin America and the Samoans with their broad shoulders and hearty laughs needed no special introduction. We didn't need to learn diversity like the kids now. We lived it. I am sad that I ran track and cross country with these men, played softball in PE, made bookends in wood shop, sat next to them in class and even showered with them (no dirty comments please!) but never had them over to my house or me to theirs. I can't think of anything more regrettable.
I talked with Janine Dunigan for the first time since we were sophomores. For reasons unknown to either of us, her father forbid me to see her. It broke my young heart, but I obeyed and didn't say another word to her for the next two years of school or indeed since. I was surprised to discover that she didn't know that I was scared off from her that way. She must've thought me a real jerk. My first true love, Mary Jo Wandschneider, didn't make it; neither did my second, Maureen McCarthy. There were other girls that I "loved": Barbara Murphy, Mary Robertson, Patty Buchach, I can't remember them all. Naturally, they are probably all married a long time now and I'm still looking for that special exotic someone, different and better than the girls from home. There is no such animal and I took too long to discover that. I suppose I should be happy that I knew them then.
I missed most of these reunions. I was either too busy, too poor or too embarrassed to attend. I felt that not having made a "success" of my life was somehow shameful, that they expected more from me. True, some of them did and I noticed that this time they were the ones missing. They know who they are. They're the ones who think they have better jobs or careers, went to better schools, have more money and toys, achieved more of what society thinks is success. I guess they don't remember when we were all equal; went to the same beach, played ball on the same diamond, danced to the same music. I pity them. They may be older, but they haven't matured. Perhaps some are still like I was, too embarrassed. I hope they read this and attend the next reunion. I miss them and love them.
I guess my greatest thrill from this last class get-together was in kissing Georgia Nelson on the lips, a forty-year dream come true. Of course I had to sneak up on her to do it and run fast afterwards, but then that has always been my style and I think they all love me for it.
I now understand that it is the people who know you best, know your warts but also your charms, that make the greatest friends and lovers. If I had known that then I would have latched on to one of these neighborhood gals, I would have maintained my childhood friendships and connections but wild geese were meant to fly. I have flown. My feathers are worn and tattered now, but like those wild birds I too turn back to the nest where I was a fledgling and remember ...
Published October 2005