Why I’m never going to my high school reunion

My high school reunion is fast approaching. There is no way in hell I’m going. 

The reasons are obvious: the cringing awkwardness, the burning mortification of being reacquainted with people you could barely stand to look at decades ago, the screaming wish to not be there, the horror, the horror.  

I’ve skipped all of my high school reunions and have no plans to attend future ones. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed a coterie of close friends in high school, not to mention several satellite buddies and many gal pals. I was popular with all kinds, even though I generally abhorred the conceited, pathetically delusional jocks and cheerleaders. 

I had the time of my life with those friends, especially my best friend, Ian. The two of us even went to the same college, where he met his future wife, gleaned new interests (like money), then our paths began to diverge. 

We were doomed to lose touch. By late college and beyond he’d become something of a boor, intellectually incurious, cerebrally inert. His cultural immaturity, which manifested itself as an irrational hostility towards the arts, books, fine food and world travel, made him a hopeless philistine, a materialist contented with easy mediocrity and smug conventionalism. (I can only imagine how he’d deem my very different life.) Except for wine, women and song, so to speak, we had zip in common.

It’s a shame. We’ve exchanged occasional emails over the years, but nothing’s clicked. We are different people, only vaguely relatable, and that happens. Still, if there’s one person I’d go to a high school reunion with, it’d be him. 

But that won’t happen. From what I’ve gathered, I think he’s also boycotted the reunions, those sad, saggy assemblies of forced jollity and shattered dreams. Now, I know oodles of people genuinely enjoy these things, going so far as to head organizing committees and track down fellow alumni and all that crap.

What a dismal business. High school was mostly rotten, with the exception of my friends and our extramural activities (huh-hum), the rock bands I played in, and my junior year English teacher, who taught me about 80 percent of what I know about art, life and literature. Recently I wrote this about those days:

“My California high school was a miasma of mediocrity: Clorox-white, suburban, middle-class, filled with dullards and animated by cliquey teen clichés — jocks, stoners, nerds, punks, cheerleaders — ‘The Breakfast Club’ writ eye-rollingly real. This callow pimple-verse was of course dominated by the chest-thumping jocks, those entitled, vainglorious meatheads, who actually believed they were special and that anyone but them gave one goddam about a Friday night football game.”

I was an angry teen, see, which is scarcely uncommon. And it sounds like I hold a grudge, which I kind of do. Yet I’m not blaming anyone for my misery. People are who they are, and who they are as teenagers isn’t necessarily who they become.

But all I know are the characters I knew in high school. And yet maybe that bullying jerk is a benevolent, cherub-cheeked pastor now. And maybe that overbearing chirpy cheerleader is an amazing New York sculptor. Could be. 

I’m not chancing it.

High school highs, and lows

High school was hell, but Eve Babitz makes me envious of those four ego-scarring years with her descriptions of life on campus at prestigious performing arts school Hollywood High, which is famed as much for its glitzy alumni as for its cameos in films like, uh, Jon Favreau’s “Made.” (Anyone?)

Babitz mentions her days/daze at Hollywood High School in “I Used to Be Charming,” a plump collection of essays and magazine articles by the cool, acerbic chronicler of LA’s kaleidoscopic contours which I happen to be reading. It’s the early 1960s and she “used to watch them, those guys in their maroon and white sweaters at Hollywood High, their handsome faces and their invincibility and the way they smiled and said Hi.”

Right, that sounds like many a teenage girl mooning over the jock block. But Hollywood High is different, a sort of Harvard of the arts, a Juilliard transplanted to the sunny, mountain-fringed SoCal coast. It’s where the likes of Judy Garland, Cher, Laurence Fishburne, Carol Burnett, Selena, Bruce Lee, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lana Turner, John Huston and a wad of other luminaries graduated from. 

For mere mortals, it makes you think: Well, crap.

My California high school was a miasma of mediocrity: Clorox-white, suburban, middle-class, filled with dullards and philistines and animated by cliquey teen clichés — jocks, stoners, nerds, punks, cheerleaders, et al. “The Breakfast Club” writ eye-rollingly real. 

This callow pimple-verse was of course dominated by the chest-thumping jocks, those entitled, vainglorious meatheads, who actually believed they were special and that anyone but them gave one goddam about a Friday night football game. In four years, I attended one pep rally. I’ve never been so mortified in my life.

I can’t imagine the boho Babitz — artist, writer, rock- and art-scene groupie — stooping to the synthetic glee of a pep rally. But who knows. She was a wild one, slurping up life’s rich cocktail, no matter how corny or queasy. Her eyes were wide open, and rimmed with an agreeable cynicism that gave her writing a feral pop.

51qpHkS8hyLThe trope goes that high school is misery for anyone who’s even partially cognizant. It’s political, hierarchical, mean, rife with crappy beer, unshackled lust and timorous gropes. It leaves burn marks.

Not so for Babitz. Beautiful and busty — “When I was fifteen years old, I bought and filled my first 36DD bra,” she writes — and talented to boot, Babitz cultivated hot style with her precocious female cronies, described as “preternatural high schoolers,” which groomed her for a young adulthood of exotic artsy adventures, including a famous dalliance with Jim Morrison. 

One observer writes:

“It’s very likely Eve Babitz’s high school experience bore little resemblance to her readers’, then or now. A graduate of Hollywood High, the LA-based writer and artist moved in a circle of young women who enjoyed the company of older men. They smoked with abandon, casually popped pills, made out with the boyfriends of famous actresses, and occasionally made it to class. Many of Babitz’s peers were achingly beautiful; more than a few became famous because of it.”

I had more fun in high school than I let on — a dash of Babitz’s decadence and a lot of standard teen tomfoolery, as well as the predictable sturm und drang (angst for the memories) and a streak of bleeding heartache. 

Despite my tight quartet of high school friends being creative, thoughtful and music-obsessed, we were no Algonquin Round Table, nothing as chic, daring and ambitious as Babitz’s band of pretty bright things. 

We felt we were treading water in a sea of douchebaggery, believing, as deluded teens will, that we had an edge on most of our classmates, that someday our low-key cool would be appreciated. We were most assuredly wrong. 

So, these many years later, I pine for richer high school days, ones more artistically rarefied and socially sophisticated; grittier, glammier, sexier and slambangier. Pathetic? So be it. If I’m viewing it all through a gauze of romanticism, turning the rearview mirror into a funhouse mirror, I blame Babitz, that bard of badassness, queen of cool and cynosure of sex appeal.

If only.