Thursday, April 09, 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land

So, I got an earful from my brother Bill when he was in town helping me find a new apartment recently about having never seen "Dazed and Confused." (My pal Jesse concurred and loaned me the DVD yesterday, which I promise to have watched by week's end.) As Bill -- who attended high school in the late 1970s -- was telling me about the merits of "Dazed," he also mentioned that "30 Rock" -- which many of you know has failed to do anything for me -- had a "great episode" in which Tina Fey's character attended her 20-year high school reunion. Jump ahead to the flight home from Phoenix last Saturday. After showing the HILARIOUS office weight loss challenge episode of "The Office," on came "30 Rock." Before I could unplug my earphones and return to my book, I realized it was the high school reunion episode Bill had raved about. And you know hat? I enjoyed it. (OK, I'm ready for the TOLD YOU SO comments, bring 'em on.) Kenneth the Intern still kind of bugged me. And I'm still slowly getting the hang of Tracy Morgan (never a favorite of mine on "SNL," either).

OK, I'll admit it. 30 Rock-ed

But the main plot of Liz Lemon returning to the scene of her teenage torment, only to realize that it was she, in fact, who was the tormentor, was rather ingenious. (Something along the same lines happened to me when I first went back to the gay bars in Phoenix after moving away to Los Angeles, so I think I saw a bit of myself in Liz besides the eyeglasses.) And even Alec Baldwin started to live up the hype I'd heard soooooo much about, but never saw. So, while I'm not entirely convinced yet, I have re-added "30 Rock" to my DVR season pass. I'm even giving "Parks and Recreation" a shot, despite the fact I still think Amy Poehler is best served in small doses and, at this point, I think the faux documentary style sitcom is a major cop out ("The Office," "Reno 911" and "The Comeback" have done it better than it will ever be done again. Enough!) Now let's just hope the next "30 Rock" I see doesn't turn out to be "not as good as it usually is," the common refrain I'd hear from die-hard fans every other time I tried to give the show a shot.

Who knew that there were non-gay Band Fags?

Speaking of reunions, as it would happen I also ended up watching most of the series finale of "High School Reunion" last night. I hadn't seen any of the other episodes, but someone at work mentioned liking it. And when I found out it was set at Chandler High School, which is not far from where I went to high school in Mesa (although I'd never heard of it), it was enough for me to check it out for a bit while I ate dinner and read mail. I have to admit, my first reaction was that these people are pathetic and need to move on with their lives. Everyone was crying and still bent out of shape over old friendships and broken hearts and unrequited love from 20-plus years ago. But by the time it was over, I realized that it probably wasn't so much that they were losers, but that their "normal" high school experience was just something so far removed from my own time at Dobson High that I really have no way of relating to what any of them were going through. (What's a date?) As my brother (whose brainiac ways also didn't fuel a "normal" experience either) and Michael (who could kind of pass) were discussing popular kids and burnouts and jocks, it reminded me how little of the so-called high school "experience" I, well, experienced.

As I've mentioned, my class had more than 800 students (plus 800 juniors and 800 sophomores running around), most of whom I never even had any contact with. And my life -- which mainly consisted of playing tennis, being sarcastic, going to Thompson Twins and Psychedelic Furs concerts, and collecting every import Bananarama, Kim Wilde and Marilyn 12-inch single I could get my hands on -- had virtually no connection to my school. (No clubs, no sports, no extra curricular actives to speak of.) When I read my friend Frank's book "Band Fags," I was kind of stunned by his seeming connection to high school life. Sure, he felt like an outsider by not always being in the popular crowd (damn marching band!), but I don't recall even knowing who the popular crowd was. Was there a prom at my school? Were their Mock Elections? Did we have a football team? Were there dances?

1985: With Yuki during senior year

It's been so long that I can't really recall my exact feelings at the time. But I remember not really relating to what was going on (boys and girls were dating and I knew I wasn't part of that world), and I'm thinking I consciously pulled away from it all more than my being shunned. One might call rejecting others before they could reject you a defense mechanism. But even now, it seemed more like an act of honesty. I didn't have anything in common with the straight guys (and wasn't willing to pretend to be one to endear myself to them), so I just stayed out of their way as much as I could. (Oh, and I was also beaten up for being a "punker" once or twice, which certainly was a reminder to keep my distance from people who didn't "get" me.) I was far from lonely, though. I found my own little group of misfits and we did our own thing, which usually had nothing to do with the mainstream high school system. Because most of the kids at school weren't people I could relate to, I do have a strong recollection of not being that interested in what was going on at school. Teachers were often my "friends," and I can remember often fantasizing about moving to New York.

1995: With Yuki and Deanna at the 10-year reunion

In 1995, I flew home to Phoenix for my 10-year reunion. Unlike every other person I've ever known, I wasn't the least bit nervous. Two girls I was Best Friends Forever with in high school -- yet hadn't seen since a year or two after graduation (forever was a lot shorter back then) -- had asked me if I was going so I said sure. We got to the event at some resort in Scottsdale (where the air conditioning had broken down -- in JULY!!) and had a nice enough time. (To be honest, I had made the mistake of talking on the phone to one of them for hours in the weeks leading up to the reunion so by the time we finally got together had sort of run through most of the catching up stuff and I caught a bad cold while traveling.) But with the exception of a couple people I had known from junior high, whom I'd met right when my family moved to Phoenix from Detroit, I didn't know a single person at the reunion. So there wasn't any anxiety ("Oh, will my ex be there?) or animosity it. It was more like being in a room with strangers.\

With Yuki, only not walking like Madness

When the 20-year came around a couple of my Michigan friends were going to Detroit for their high school reunion. I ended up skipping mine in Arizona and tagging along with them instead. Most of them actually blowing off their actual reunion, so we just had our own "old friends" reunion back at the hotel. This isn't to say that being at a reunion with hundreds of old high school friends wouldn't be fun. That's just not how high school worked for me. Like many "fringe" people, I've always had to cultivate my own niche in the world. And just like Liz Lemon, I have no regrets.


Anonymous said...

Ken: Thank you for putting into words the way I feel about my own high school experiences. Like you, I just didn't "get" high school. I knew I was gay, but I just kept a low profile, feeling that if I could get through four years of high school, then my life would improve. It turnd out to be a good plan because it worked! All these people with left-over anxieties from high school, carting around the debris of busted relationships...I simply can't relate. And I always felt a little upset about that. But time brings perspective and, like you, I have no real regrets.

Steve said...

On the topic of 30 Rock, I will give you this....all episodes are not created equal. Some of them are kinda disappointing. That said, most of them are amazing. I have to reccomend that you catch "Sandwich Day" from season two. It's probably my favorite so far, I laughed so hard I peed a little. Try and find it somewhere, I don't know how it won't make you laugh.

"What am I? Twelve and at my boyfriends frat party??" :)

You might also enjoy the episode where they come up with their own version of "Midnight Train to Georgia". Good stuff. Over all though, give it a chance, I don't get why anybody can't love this show.

Marc Lallanilla said...

Totally agree with Mark and Kenneth: when people talk about high school friends and romances, they might as well be talking about Eskimo life. I suppose lots of gays are basically MIA from junior high and high school, biding our time until we can run away to college. Or Broadway. Or become teen hustlers. (My only regret is - how much cash could I have made as a teen hustler back in 70s Florida? It staggers the mind.)

rf2056 said...

"Laying low" was exactly it. High school really was much more a non-event than elementary school. My life ran a completely separate but I guess parallel course. Having friends serious about art & painting outside of school gave me that escape.