Reprinted From The Fruita Times, Feb. 26, 2009
Just about anyone who spends any time at all on the internet has inevitably been contacted by Classmates.com, an insidious site whose alleged goal is to “reunite” you with all those people you could never stand in high school. It’s a clever ploy that irresistibly appeals to one’s sense of morbid curiosity. Anyone can go to the site for free and look up names from their high school days, and even leave a personal profile as I dutifully did. I was never particularly close to most of my fellow high school graduates except for the two or three friends that I still have to this day. Nevertheless, I was fascinated at seeing the names of people I shared part of my past with. I figured I would just leave it at that.
The hook to all of this, of course, is that someone from that checkered past eventually leaves a message for you at the site. And in order to read said message, one has to procure a membership for a small fee. Lo and behold, I was soon contacted by a few people that I had some interest in hearing from so I went with the low-ball, temporary 90-day membership at a whopping $15. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
For awhile I was caught up in the novelty of hearing from fellow classmates whom I barely knew, generally saying “hi, how are you? How have you been these past 40 years?” Usually, I’d get a similar terse response and after one or two short emails where we’d convince each other that we were both, in fact, alright and alive, the correspondence would cease. Until I got a message from David H.
David H. was a guy I probably said five words to in the entire four years we went through high school together. A big, affable guy with a ready smile, red hair and freckles, he was the sort of person who, like myself, blended seamlessly into the student body. But his message for me was a big surprise. First, he reminded me that he’d sat a few desks behind me in English class, and that he really admired my friends and I for all the crazy stuff we did at the time. “You guys were heroes to some of us” was what he said.
The “heroes” that he referred to I would more charitably call “dorks”. We hung out together because no one else would have us. We were the bottom-feeders of the Class of ’65 who made snide remarks in the back of the room, published a home-made magazine that made fun of the school, and went to weird midnight movies at the local cinema. Mostly we did all of this as a matter of survival in an upper-middle class school that had little patience for our brand of humor. But for David H. and his friends we were role models.
This admission came as a complete shock to me, so I pursued it further with Dave. And soon enough we were writing long emails to each other, ruminating over our perceptions of high school and growing up in general in suburban, white-bread America. I could see that I was dealing with someone who was articulate, funny, and perceptive. And I began to feel badly that we somehow had not connected way back when. From being excluded ourselves as dorks, our little clique had itself excluded others. It was a revelation to me.
As fate would have it, I was planning a trip back to California last summer and knowing I would be in the general vicinity, I suggested that Dave and I meet somewhere for a cup of coffee and a chat about the good old days. So we arranged to meet at a small café in Auburn, a quaint old gold-rush era town in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento. It was a smoky morning in July and wildfires were sweeping through the neighboring valleys but I arrived early at the café and waited apprehensively for the big meeting.
Within ten minutes I heard the roar of a Harley as Dave H. pulled into town, pony-tailed red hair tied back with a scarf, auburn beard, and leather vest. He strode right up to me and gave me a big hug, then we sat down to reminisce. It was an oddly satisfying experience, meeting this nearly-total stranger who had just happened to have shared the hallowed halls and hollows of high school with me for four years back in a time when America was on the brink of a social and cultural revolution. I felt like we had known each other for years.
Time seemed to fly by as we engaged in a long, stream-of-consciousness dialogue that covered our school days, our careers, our families, our escapades in the 60s, just to name a few topics. After nearly three hours, we finally said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. But as I headed back on to the Interstate and into the scurrying, sea of humanity in the San Francisco bay area I reflected mightily on what had just occurred. I had connected, or perhaps re-connected, with another human being who had shared many of the same triumphs and tragedies that I had during my life. We had shared a real commonality of purpose, experience, thought. Both of us had risked meeting some one new and sharing quite a bit of ourselves in order to forge a new friendship out of remnants of a shared past.
To this day, Dave H. and I still communicate with each other and we look forward to meeting again with our respective families in tow. And all of this was an unexpected outcome of being harassed by an internet site until my curiosity got the best of me. Curiosity may sometimes “kill the cat” but it can often lead to the most unexpected and gratifying ends.