My daughter Leah appeared in a local production of “High School Musical 2” last night. She played Peaches, one of Sharpay’s devoted minions. Sharpay Evans is the rich popular girl in the story, hell bent on stealing school jock Troy Bolton (the character that made Zac Efron famous) away from his true love, smart girl Gabriella Montez. It was a spirited, fun production and Leah was great, as always, but I’ve been pretty snobby about the whole thing. For weeks I loudly bemoaned the fact that the theatre company Leah is involved with bypassed the canon of classic musical theatre this time for a “fake musical” based on a made-for-TV Disney movie and its subsequent franchise juggernaut. Again, Leah and her fellow actors did a wonderful job with the material—I enjoyed the two shows I saw but… “My Fair Lady” it ain’t!
Like many Disney movies, everything is a bit exaggerated in the “High School Musical” world, with all conflicts speedily resolved by the closing curtain. This resolution is accomplished by having the antagonists undergo miraculous personality changes towards the end of the play. Suddenly, and seemingly out of the blue, Sharpay is sorry for all of her sly machinations and decides that Troy and Gabriella really do belong together after all. Okay. Still, the hierarchy of the various high school cliques in this story rang true for me, especially following the weekend I just had with some long-lost high school friends.
On the left in the above photo is an image from the 1976 Von Steuben High School yearbook. In the center you can see my old classmates Jo, Donna, and Helena. On the right is a photo of the three of them at my house this weekend. It was the first time we were all together since Graduation Day, June 2, 1976—nearly 33 years ago (gulp!). We all went our separate ways after high school. Helena lives in Los Angeles so we remained in touch. Jo and I went to college together but I was a film major and she was in the sciences and we rarely saw each other except for a skiing class we took together senior year (we went to school in flat Evanston, Illinois, so we rode a bus to Wisconsin every week and learned how to ski on hills that would make real skiers scream with laughter). I only recently learned that Jo has lived in northern California for years. I saw Donna at our first two high school reunions but that’s it. She went to school in Boston, stayed there many years, and now lives in Cornwall, England with her second husband. Donna found me several years ago through this blog and, after discussing how much we loathed our high school reunions, we helped to plan the 30th reunion a few years ago which was a resounding success.
There’s been a lot of chatter lately about old school friends coming out of the woodwork via Facebook and I’ve certainly participated in that nostalgic dip. Some of my friends think I’m insane to resume contact with people from my distant past. “Why would you be interested in these people now,” they ask, “when you spent so much time avoiding them back when we were in school together?” Maybe that’s why? As I explained in a post a few weeks ago, I was so out of it during school that communicating with these folks helps to fill in the gaps a little bit and allows for some healing of my scabbed-over adolescent numbness.
Such communication occasionally also allows for relationships that were stifled then by my own insecurities to emerge in adulthood. I can see my encounters with a few of my new Facebook “friends” developing into real friendships. I was surprised at what a great time I had with my in-person guests this weekend. We had marathon catching-up sessions on both Saturday and Sunday that went on so long they involved multiple meals. We had our common past as a foundation but the real joy was finding that now, freed from the shackles and restraints of adolescent angst and misery, we all had a much greater ability to communicate honestly with each other and really understand who we are as people. Who knew that we all had such challenges in our childhoods? I guess our teenaged narcissism didn’t allow for such empathy or compassion back in the day. I learned a lot more about how I came across back then and what protective devices I used (and still use) to shield myself from vulnerability or exposure. So interesting.
Jo and Donna were the editors of our senior class yearbook back in 1976 and they reminisced about the many fun meetings they had with the rest of the yearbook committee at various students’ homes that year. At the time it never even crossed my mind to consider working on the yearbook even though I know it’s the kind of thing I would have enjoyed. Again, I found myself regretting how I closed myself off from all social interactions even the ones for which I was especially well suited. For the rest of the weekend the yearbook committee became the metaphor for all of my lost opportunities in high school as well as for my frequently misinterpreted standoffishness and cynicism. At one point in the afternoon Jo and Donna were upstairs in our guest room chatting. I knocked on the door and stuck my head in. “I know I’m not very active at school,” I stammered, “but I would really enjoy working on the yearbook. Would it be possible for me to join your committee? I think I could help out in a lot of ways.” “Absolutely!” they replied, “we’d love to have you!” I was kidding, of course, I haven’t suffered an actual psychotic break that has taken me back to the year of our nation’s bicentennial! But I also felt that forgotten high school boy inside of me experiencing the pleasure of finally belonging to one of the groups he longed to be part of but was too afraid to join. Does that sound pathetic?
I’m thinking of adding a color section to the yearbook. I'll have Jo and Donna research the rates. I’d like to talk about the recent energy crisis and do a short feature on the upcoming presidential election—I hear this Jimmy Carter guy is someone to watch.