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.

Not a team player

In a story in The New York Times Magazine titled “Sports Meant So Much to Me. Why Wouldn’t My Son Play?,” an exasperated father whose 5-year-old shows scant interest in ice hockey finally blurts, “Boys play sports! That’s what boys do!”

Really? Let’s hope not. If I had a boy I’d want him to play an instrument, not sports. I’d want him to draw, read books and watch great movies, maybe start a band or attend art school. A nightmare for me would be going to youth sports matches, sitting among baying, overwrought parents who take competition absurdly seriously, as if it actually matters. (Maybe it does. What do I know.) 

I understand my minority status on this issue, and I own it. Even when I played youth soccer for six years I felt this way. I was never a great player because I never had the passion for the game, the whole gung-ho enterprise. I am not a competitive person and I don’t get the competitive mindset. I don’t flex my muscles and growl much. Go team. 

Bluntly, I dislike sports, sports culture and, generally speaking, sports fans. There’s the sluggish, unbroken tedium of baseball and football; the slavering disciples, those chest-thumping, bellowing boors; the fanatical tribes with their ugly jingoism and clannish groupthink; and the players’ off-putting egomania and braggadocio that make me cringe. Plus, it’s all so barbarically LOUD. Put down the air horn, Jethro.

The madness of the mob

When I say sports I mean team sports, save for soccer, which I enjoy in small, low-scoring doses. Team sports are my cultural blind spot. I don’t follow them. I don’t know players, leagues or stats. I’m sure March Madness is a wild new cocktail. Body paint is laughable. There’s scarcely a sports strand in my DNA (which stands for Don’t Need Athletics). I’ve tried to get with it, but my brain promptly glazes over. I couldn’t be more bored or turned off. This isn’t anti-sports snobbery; it’s willful ignorance.

What I do go for are individual sports, which is why I prefer the Olympics, replete with solo athletes striving for personal bests. The gymnasts, snowboarders, sprinters, skaters and divers — they excel, they triumph, and do so without group hugs or embarrassing dog piles. It seems there’s a spiritual aspect to these fiercely focussed athletes — it’s them against the world, their minds and bodies zen-like weaponry — and I respect that.

Next to drumming, BMX and snow skiing were my passions as a tween and teen (politely ignore my hapless flirtation with skateboarding). The reckless freedom of flight propelled the joy of these sports. Taking a gnarly jump off a dirt mound on a tricked-out bike or tearing down a mogul-studded mountainside on spindly skis released me from gravity’s fetters — a singular high achieved without teamwork.

The freedom of flight

Team sports simply don’t align with the prickly contours of my personality. For the same reason I shun clubs and organized religion — the social Velcro, zealotry, conformity — I turn away from most sports. People want so desperately to belong. A classic introvert, I don’t siphon energy from others. I go to movies alone and travel the world solo. Reading and writing couldn’t be more solitary. I run with no pack. (And I never run.)

I’m the kid who dreaded gym class, if only because you had to mingle with damp, grunting meatheads who prized bulk over brains. Or so I viewed it then. And, to be clear, I’m not some obese, bespectacled, non-athletic cliché, although I really hate sweating. And jogging. And inflated balls. 

The virtues of team sports don’t escape me. I’m sure they’re salutary. Perhaps only in the Marine Corps are character-building lessons of discipline, perseverance and cooperation more thoroughly drilled into its members. In that, sports is a fine influence on our youth (unless BMX and Black Sabbath are your thing).

I’ll pass. Give me a good book or movie, my drums or a ticket to Spain and I’m thrilled. I’d rather walk the dog than endure the hysterical hyperbole of the Super Bowl. For all its aggressive theatrics, hockey is a powerful soporific. Basketball — pass the remote.

“Boys play sports! That’s what boys do!” exclaims the dad in the magazine article, who, to be fair, quickly recognizes the lameness of his outburst. Google the subject and you get musings like, “Is it OK for guys to not like sports?” The sheer naïveté of that question has me despairing. It’s hopelessly outmoded, fit for 1921, not 2021.

While women’s sports have been making lengthy strides, male athletics seem mired in Neanderthal notions of manhood. Which will lead some to call me a wuss, pansy, pick your pejorative. It’s exactly that kind of attitude — snarling machismo, musclebound showboaters — that makes me abhor sports culture, to write it off as sordid, violent and monstrous. And with that gesture, like a deliberate kick in the shins, I’m pretty sure I’ve been ejected from the game. For good. So good.

Germane words from Orwell on the biggest, most obscene day in sports

A non-sports fan of the most unreconstructed order, I found this bit in an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times so very fitting on whatever today is, some big sports thingamajig I hear people give a disproportionate bleep about (bold-faced italics mine):

(George) Orwell noted that sports faded in prominence after the fall of Rome, only to surge again in the 19th century, in England and the United States, where games became “a heavily financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions.”

For Orwell, the rise of sports was bound up with the rise of nationalism, both of them examples of “the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.”

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Really?