A day in a time machine


I attended my 40 year high school reunion last night. It was interesting and strange. When I was a kid, we moved around a lot…but always within the Kent school district, which meant I attended most of the feeder elementary and junior high schools that funneled students into my high school, so I’d known some of these people since kindergarten. It’s not that I was particularly noticeable, since on top of being transient I was also the shy bookish type who didn’t speak up much, so I suspect most of them haven’t thought of me in decades. Then there was this giant gap when I left this area after graduation and didn’t come back, while many of my high school buddies stayed right here and kept in touch with each other.

I felt a bit space-alienish, wafting in from out of nowhere and encountering these strange old people, and after a moment of peering at each other’s faces (and our name tags), suddenly saying, “I remember you! We played tag at recess in 3rd grade!” Or the inevitable memorial slide show, and you learn about everybody who has died in the last 40 years, and you are ransacking your memory trying to place that person’s face, and there’s that warm glow when you remember that good day or that birthday party or that time in the bleachers when…and suddenly it sinks in that they’re dead. You just hoisted up that nice memory and now it’s never going to be anything more, and you’re not going to clink glasses with that old friend and reminisce about it, because they’re gone.

So it was all a little weird.

But mostly pleasant. I know many people have horrible memories of their school years, and all too often public schools are nightmarish mills of cliques and bullying and ugly social oppression, but I was lucky. I was the wimpy nerd, I would have been the easy target for bullying, but it didn’t really happen, and I had friends among all the little petty in-groups — the jocks, the cheerleaders, the stoners, the AV weirdos, everyone — and they were always pretty porous and accepting. Dang it, I don’t have any good horror stories to tell from those years! I went through high school without getting beat up (which, I know, is a low bar to set, but still…)

I think the thing is my high school class was generally just a decent group of people. I was lucky that way.

Now today Mary and I pile into the rental car and cruise west until we collide with OCEAN. We’ve got undisclosed locations stacked up along the coast of the Olympic Peninsula, and will be relaxing in splendid isolation.


  1. Georgia Sam says

    Not particularly relevant to anything, but my wife & I visited the Olympic Peninsula for the first time earlier this year. It is an amazing, beautiful place.

  2. Trebuchet says

    The last thing I ever want to do is attend a high school reunion. Nobody there I’d want to see. I was also the wimpy nerd but WAS bullied, consistently. It’ll be 50 years next year.

  3. chezjake says

    I first visited the Olympic Peninsula back in the summer of 1958 – an incredible place I’d love to revisit. Being an incurable map collector, I bought a topo map of the National Park, only to discover that 1/3 of the map was totally blank; huge areas on the south side of the park had never been mapped.

  4. blf says

    [H]uge areas on the south side of the park had never been mapped.

    That’s where one of the “undisclosed locations” of the secret OCEAN base poopyhead is going to attack (“crash into”) is located. Whatever it is They do at the secret OCEAN base, it’s so will concealed no-one is quite sure what OCEAN stands for, or if that really even is the acronym for either the base or what They Are Doing there. Assuming the knowledgeable kooks studying the OCEAN base are not even completely wrong, nothing will be heard of the attack / “crash”, and something resembling the poopyheads will return, but will have an inordinate fascination with unusual critters, such as zebrafish and octopodes.

  5. Al Dente says

    without getting beat up (which, I know, is a low bar to set

    It may be a low bar but I didn’t clear it. :(

  6. Larry says

    My 40th was in 2013. I skipped it. Our lives have irrevocably changed to the point where simply knowing one another 40 years ago just isn’t enough to convince me that I want to socialize. I’ve never been one that likes to reminisce. I always hear Springsteen’s song, Glory Days, in my head and think I don’t want to be like that.

    Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
    a little of the glory of, well time slips away
    and leaves you with nothing mister but
    boring stories of glory days.

  7. Bob Foster says

    The feelings you express are all too familiar. I can so relate to that sense of impermanence that increases as one ages. But, you at least had a physical, hometown location to house your 40th reunion. I attended an overseas DoD high school in Munich, Germany. Not a bad deal, all thing considered. Two of the best years of my life. But the truly great thing about going to such a school was that we were ALL outsiders. We all floated in from somewhere else. There were no cliques, no true in-groups (Okay, there were those football guys, but even they didn’t lord it over anyone because they weren’t that big and I coulda taken ’em. Maybe.) Most of the kids stayed there for 2-3 years at most and poof — like Keyser Soze — they were gone. You made friends fast and they were gone fast. Over the years reunions have been put on at stateside locations, but everyone is so spread out and it’s not easy to go to Atlanta if you live in California. The truly odd thing is that the old high school no longer exists. I took a trip to Munich a few years ago and I found that there is no longer a U. S. military presence there. The high school closed years ago. Some of the old buildings still remain, but others have been torn down. There’s a German technical school in the main building so there’s no memory lane stroll down the hallways. It’s as if a neutron bomb went off leaving the buildings but all the people were vaporized. Talk about an eerie sense of impermanence. Given enough time we will all be forgotten and nobody in centuries to come will know a thing about us. Or care.

  8. Georgia Sam says

    Looking back at my K-12 experiences, especially junior high, & at everything that has happened to me since those days, I’ve formed the opinion that alienation from one’s peer group at a young age is not necessarily a bad thing.

  9. brett says

    My class doesn’t seem to care much about the reunions. They supposedly had the ten-year reunion, but I never got notice and the few people who went said that nobody showed up.

    It’s almost like “what’s the point?” If I want to see what’s happening in the lives of people I knew back in high school, I’ll just check their Facebook page.

  10. screechymonkey says

    I had friends among all the little petty in-groups — the jocks, the cheerleaders, the stoners, the AV weirdos, everyone

    I realize it’s a decade off, but Larry’s comment @6 has me recalling another 80s reference:

    “Oh, he’s very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude. “

  11. Sastra says

    I’d gladly go to a high school reunion if I thought anyone in my circle of friends — or even anyone I remember at all — would be there. My mom still lives in the city where I grew up so I visit regularly. But there were over 5400 kids at the time I attended and even when I was a senior I probably didn’t know even 75% of the graduating class. The ‘campus’ was an interconnected unit of 4-buildings-in-1, which meant 4 cafeterias, 4 resource centers, 4 senior lounges, etc — but classes all over. Madness.

    One advantage of such a large high school though is that, like #7Bob Foster’s school in Germany, there really weren’t any cliques or out-groups. In this case it was a case of too diverse and anonymous. You could always find a few other misfits like yourself or just slip into the cracks and disappear if you wanted. The only time I did get beat up, it wasn’t personal — so it was psychologically easier to take, I think. Like I said, a diverse student body.

    As it is, the people I remember fondly from high school will in my mind remain forever young, forever fit, and forever on the verge of possibilities. As will I, in theirs. What that lacks in comradeship it may make up in comfort.

  12. kaleberg says

    I’m not a big one for reunions. I tend not to look back. Besides, my high school was never a big social place. As one blogger who attended decades later put it, “Maybe 10% of the students have the social skills necessary to grasp the concept of popularity.” We went to school to learn stuff. Maybe that’s how I was socialized. College wasn’t all that different. It was a place to learn stuff and a stage to pass through.

    Congratulations on choosing the Olympic Peninsula for your vacation. I retired there and, as usual, haven’t looked back. This has been one of our biggest tourism years in a while, despite the drought and the closure of a number of trails. (The Spruce Railroad Trail is closed and all the trails out of Whiskey Bend are inaccessible.)

    chezjack: They have finished mapping the peninsula, at least all the topography, streams and trails. The various GPS mapping services, on the other hand, have yet to catch up. At least one Nobel Prize winning physicist that we know of got suckered by his GPS saying that the Spruce Railroad Trail was a road,, and at least one mapping service still thinks the Hurricane Hill Trail is still a road up the mountain. Maybe it was in 1935, but it has been a while what with the new national park and all.

  13. Akira MacKenzie says

    I was one of the unlucky ones for whom the middle-to-high school experience was seven years of pure Hell. Being the fat, ugly, geeky kid who loved science class, Star Trek and D&D painted a huge target on my back and stuck in the scholastic and social ghetto that was “special education” didn’t help. I could handle being an outcast if the other kids would just leave me alone, but the opportunity to inflict verbal and physical abuse was apparently too good to pass up. Even at 40, I still have nightmares about being made to go back, my old adolescent tormentors ready and waiting to continue the touture that was suppose to end with graduation. Secondary education blasted an infill able hole on my psyche and ground my self esteem down to dust.

    I’d mention what I’d do to my former classmates if I was ever crazy enough to go to a reunion, but I really don’t want to get banned. Sufficed to say, I REALLY don’t care if most of those fuckers die slowly and horribly in a pool of their own bodily fluids.

  14. Reginald Selkirk says

    My favourite high school reunion movie is Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) starring John Cusack and Minnie Driver.

  15. Feathered Frog says

    Keep a lookout during your driveabout for a bearded fellow without shoes. If you see him, avoid hitting him with your rental car. PLEASE hit the Fox taping crew who will be following him around.

  16. magistramarla says

    My 40th high school reunion just happened this past weekend, but I missed it. I’m recovering from back surgery.
    I’ve stayed away from facebook for years, but I’ve gotten a bunch of e-mail notices about facebook postings from my classmates. I suppose that I should finally go back to FB and have a look at the pictures.
    Like others here, I was the mousy, geeky girl that everyone loved to pick on. I’ve happily attended a couple of reunions with my military officer hubby in uniform and our brood of kids in tow.
    Since I was considered one of those people most likely to fail in life, it’s been delicious payback to let them know that I’ve had a happy, fulfilling life – great education, fulfilling teaching career, long and happy marriage, successful kids and now a brood of grandkids, lots of travel, etc.
    Revenge is sweet. Most of the popular kids from back then are still living in that dead-end small town, with dead-end jobs and look awful. Is it bad that I’m smiling?

  17. says

    We moved around a lot as a kid, and I ended up attending 4 elementary schools (all in different districts) and 4 middle/junior high schools. I can usually score in the top 2% on standard IQ tests and none of those schools had any kind of gifted program, so in addition to always being the new kid, I quickly became the kid who was relegated to the side of the classroom, and told to read quietly on my own so everyone else learn something. I did manage to go to the same high school for four years, but by the time I started I was socially undeveloped, and being bullied and assaulted were regular occurrences. I look back, and I think that Columbine could easily have happened 15 years earlier than it did.

    I have absolutely no interest in reliving any of that trauma.

  18. chris61 says

    I am fairly certain that anyone I might be interested in seeing from my high school would be as uninterested in attending a reunion as I am.

  19. says

    Wait PZ! You’re telling the story wrong. You skipped the part where your ex-classmates, knowing that you’re now a celebrity atheist and renowned blogger, told you they’re big fans and tried all night to ingratiate themselves to you, and you finally knew what it felt like to be a popular kid. Hmph. Well, like some of the other commenters, I was one of the kids whose high school experience was no fun at all. I went to my 20th reunion a few years back. What was supposed to happen is that all the popular kids would now be losers so I could feel, finally, superior, but it wasn’t like that at all. They were still winners, to my great irritation. Had no one given them the memo? They still looked stunning and had enviable lives and had all sorts of fun with each while completely ignoring me. But I also discovered in the stilted and awkward bits of conversation we shared that they were perfectly decent human beings, or at least, certainly, human beings. That little revelation gave me the closure on high school I still needed. I think the lesson was that the humanizing must have, on some level, gone both ways. Or something like that. Yada yada yada.

  20. woggler says

    I’ll be visiting the NW coast region at the end of September. Is there anything you can recommend that I shouldn’t miss?

  21. frog says

    but it didn’t really happen, and I had friends among all the little petty in-groups — the jocks, the cheerleaders, the stoners, the AV weirdos, everyone — and they were always pretty porous and accepting. Dang it, I don’t have any good horror stories to tell from those years!

    –>This was my experience, too. I don’t deny that some high schools are systemically horrible, or that generally decent ones may have slices of bullying hell for individual students. (I witnessed a couple of things at my generally decent school that told me it wasn’t all great.)

    I wonder what the actual percentage of high schools with a systemic culture of bullying are, and how that’s avoided in the places where it doesn’t happen (or at least not so much). I remember there were some complete assholes on my school’s football team, but there were also good guys on the team who kept the others in line, and the coach kept tabs on the bullies and gave them what for if something came to his attention.

    But in general the cliqueishness wasn’t there. Yes, people had their particular groups of friends because that is how friendship works, but they were porous and overlapped quite a lot.

    And, holy crap, I have an anniversary-ending-with-zero reunion coming up. Maybe I should check out the alumni newsletter and think about attending.

  22. says

    Ewwww. I would have one coming up next year. Well, they couldn’t find me the first time, despite the fact that I wasn’t exactly untraceable, still had friends from my class, my parents still lived in the same place, and my mother still worked for the board of education. My only regret is that at least the one women i later heard had been looking for me was a rather nice human being. (Ans I would assume not part of the official invitation committee or something, because she was hardly dim.) Occasionally i feel like an ass for not vaguely still knowing a few people and saying hi. And slightly scary I’ve been back in this town for some time, but no one has noticed. Ah, the outcast invisibility factor is sometimes better that the targeted attention factor. Slightly more scary, and utterly amazing to me, is I plan on getting the fk out of this country to Europe next year. Bye bye, class of mostly jerks. Find me now.

    um. /end sudden outburst. beg pardon.

  23. jws1 says

    Hey! I attended Kent-Meridian in my junior year (95-96). My experience sounds like yours: I found it easy to move about among different groups.