Thursday, November 30, 2006

True Reunion Confessions

Went to my 20th high school reunion last Friday night. Wife of Hatcher’s brother and his wife were visiting from Wisconsin, so I went stag. All the better for achieving the primary purpose of attending high school reunions – as people get older and more distant from their high school years, they are more willing to confess certain things to you that they felt those many years ago, or that they feel now in comparison to then. The confessions of formerly held convictions is easy, because when you’ve more than doubled your age, and in some cases you have your own kids approaching high school and you realize how idiotic teenagers are, you can talk about your 17 year old version of yourself like he’s a totally different person, and he is. The “now in comparison to then” confessions are slightly harder to coax, but not impossible – when you haven’t seen 98 percent of the people at the reunion for 15 to 20 years, they know there is little risk of seeing you again tomorrow, so there is very little prospect of long-term embarrassment.

I don’t go to make these confessions. I go, kick back a few cocktails, and patiently wait to receive them. Any confession that involves you personally, no matter the sentiment expressed, is a great ego stroke because it confirms your centrality or significance outside of your own ego.

So I seek out confessions of 2 varieties. The first is the “vindication” confession, and it goes something like this: “Wow! I was so superficial and shallow in high school to seek good looks and a great personality in a boyfriend. By looking at you now I see this was a colossal mistake.” The vindication confession is clearly a “now in comparison to then” confession, and it really has nothing to do with you as a high schooler; instead it’s a recognition of your obvious superior status today relative to your peers. Always good to get a vindication confession.

The second variety of confession is the “regret” confession, which expresses regret over failure to act on certain feelings held long ago. It goes something like this: “It would have killed my social life and drawn great laughter from my friends to have dated you in high school, but I found myself oddly drawn to your scrawny body, despite the acne. I just didn’t have the courage to approach you.”

It will come as no surprise that no such confessions came the Hatcher’s way, but that is not to say no confessions came my way. At my fifth reunion, I got one of the following variety: “I was always repelled by your air of smug intellectual superiority.” This was two months after starting graduate school, which was approximately 1 month and 30 days after having my air of smug intellectual superiority replaced by an air of deprecating intellectual inferiority, so I took it in good humor.

Lucky for you I got a picture of the only former classmate to make any sort of confession to me at year 20. It was from the guy in the middle of the picture – the handsome one with the Motorhead t-shirt, and the stylish hair.
The confession: “I used to think you were such an idiot in high school.” How many of you have ever had a 40 year old guy wearing a mohawk saying that they thought you were the idiot? Didn’t think so. Not exactly in-line with the type of confession I had hoped to hear at the reunion, but if I had gotten the vindication or regret confession from this guy, I would have thrown up my Chartreuse on the spot.

Being pollyanish in nature, I clung to the past tense “used to think” as a positive indication that his opinion has since changed, and it had. Apparently we were in English together senior year, and we often debated in class. He tells me that looking back, he now realizes that I was a smart cat, and that I got the better of him in most debates, but there was one time where he clearly was right and I was wrong and idiotic.

We were discussing Kafka’s Metamorphisis, a story in which the main character, Gregor Sampsa, goes to bed one night and wakes the next morning as a giant cockroach. The day prior to this discussion, as I recall, the teacher had taken me aside and took me to task for not participating in class discussions, and to tell me she won’t let it go on. I couldn't risk a bad grade going on my permenant record, so as everybody is plumbing the depths of symbolism in Kafka, I am planning to make the teacher regret forcing me to participate while nominally making an effort. Of course, no one in the story knows quite how to deal with the guy who turned into a roach, and his family has to kick him out of the house to replace his income by renting his room. The story is about alienation, and how tenuous our connections to even our closest family members really are. Cheery stuff. Anyway, the teacher poses the question: who changed the least in the story?

Now for a clever student the obvious answer is to look at who changed the most on the surface (i.e. the guy who woke up as a roach) and choose him, because this is precisely the kind of crap an existentialist author like Kafka would inflict on his readers to show how clever he is. And so the Mohawk guy says precisely that – the guy was a “roach” when he went to bed, and he woke up that way. Others expressed sympathy for his situation, and contempt for the family that threw him out on his antenna. When the teacher called on the Hatcher for my opinion, I was buying none of this existentialist crap, and expressed the cold view that obviously a man who turns into a bug has changed significantly, and that if I were his father I would have called the exterminator rather than agonizing over what to do. Of course I was being an idiot, but by design. The lesson: even when I was an idiot high school, I was smarter than everybody. It’s enough to give a guy his air of smug intellectual superiority back.


Blogger Professor Vic said...

I had one of my least shining intellectual moments during a discussion of Kafka’s Metamorphisis.

I was a German major in college, which wasn't a great choice of majors considering my relative lack of fluency in the language. So, in 20th century German literature we read Kafka in its original German. The first line is roughly, "One day Gregor Samsa woke up and he was a cockroach."

So I read that line, translate it into English, look at it one more time, and think, "Now that just can't be right. I must have mistranslated." So, I get out the dictionary, and , of course, it's not mistranslated, so I'm thinking it must be some damn German idiom. I mean, an American can say they are feeling blue without actually changing color. Maybe in German "I am a coackroach" means "I would like jelly doughnut" or something Kennedyesque like that.

So the story just gets stranger and stranger. I get more lost. Finally, in class the next day, the professor asks, before we go on, are there any questions? I raise my hand and ask, in halting German, "When Samsa woke up as was a cockroach, what does that mean?"

"Aha, straight to the heart of story. What does that mean?" replies the professor.

"No really, what does it mean?" replies pre-professor Vic.


"Um... perhaps I'm not asking the right question..."

That was my last German class, just two courses short of completing the German major and receiving the complimentary black turtleneck.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Bayou Barrister said...

I don't know if all the readers noticed this, but after seeing that picture of you with "motorhead", coupled with your description of him, this post comes right from the pages of Bizarro World from Superfriends and the League of Justice.

He is your antithesis; the anti-Hatch both in intellect and grooming. I mean look at that picture--he's got a mohawk and a goatee, and you appear to be working on both a full beard and a reverse mohawk. You didn't mention his political affiliation but by the looks of him he's got to be a liberal democrat or at least a social progressive.

I'll bet he even has a blogspot called, "Ideas Killed" and hates Chartreuse.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no wonder you were a virgin

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At my 20 year class reunion, what truly shocked me was how hot all the women were. I regret to say, the offer of free hits off my Chartreuse flask behind the gym just didn't seem to impress the ladies like it did when I was seventeen.

4:28 AM  
Anonymous Classmate said...

A few points. First, the vindication confession could also mean that "you were a total geek loser 20 years ago but have since turned into a good looking but smug intellectually superior bug-hater!" Or it could be a reflection of the confessor--i.e. "I was hot back then and had standards, but now I am middle aged and would settle for a romp with the only geezer in here who gained LESS than 40 pounds." Either way, you win!

A few good looking rascals in that picture! You failed to mention that we only took the photo with Gregor is because one of our drunken friends dared us THAT is intellectual superiority!

I request a photo of you with a female at the next reunion--let's capture a confession!

8:43 AM  

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