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Midland, Texas, United States
I write. I make stuff.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Band Geeks Represent!

OK, actually we were called Band Queers, back In The Day, but, geez, that's so not-PC, unless all of y'all are actually gay, in which case it would be beyond fine to call yourselves Band Queers. But in that case we would have had much more fabulous uniforms, and those shakos? Oh, honeys, please.

Anyway. So you'll never believe what we did this weekend--because *I* don't believe it. We went to A Band Reunion. Yes, indeed. Not only a reunion (the very word makes me shudder), but a Band Reunion, where, over dinner, we watched films of marching competitions from 1972. Yes, we did. I'm not making this up. We paid to do this! Of our own volition, we chose this to do on a Saturday night, out of all the other choices (you know: Netflix vs. Roku).

This was a reunion of band members from "The Ike Nail Years," the period in the early 1970s when Dr. Ike Nail was the band director at Robert E. Lee High School (yeah, the band carried the rebel flag and played "Dixie" at halftime, o, my). He's now in Oregon, and he came back to Midland for the weekend, along with Robert Mayes, his assistant during those years. Although this is something I haven't thought about before, Mr. Nail was surely one of the big influences of my young life. I spent a lot of time in band, and he was a definite force with which to be reckoned, known for his temper and expectations of excellence, some might say "complete perfection," were that not a redundancy. This was the period of my life where I did things like solo and ensemble contest, for which I prepared by playing my entry 100 times by memory. Perfectly. If I missed a note, I started from the beginning. I did this on my own, having internalized a set of expectations from my parents, yes, but also from Mr. Nail. Now that I think of this and how it's shaped my life and my expectations of perfection, perhaps I should have leapt upon him and screamed, "Why did you do this to me?!" It would explain so much, from my obsession with semi-colons and commas to my inability to relax about, well, about pretty much anything.

Wow. It explains a lot, actually.
I cannot find a single photo from band.
This was posted on FB--me in front of the band directors. 

Apparently, the planning for this event had been going on for about a year, but I found out about it last Tuesday when one of the organizers, who lives down the street, knocked on my door early in the morning and told me I should come. My first inclination, as you might imagine, was to say, "You're going to have a what?" [Note: I think I actually did say this and then kind of snorted but remembered my manners and turned it into a cough] and then to go, "Um, I think I'm scheduled to have root canal surgery that night." But the more I thought about it, the more fun I thought it would be, never mind that the invitation was about as much a last-minute-afterthought as you can get, and you know what you learn in high school: if you get invited *anywhere* at the last minute, you absolutely positively have to claim you have a really important previous engagement, even if all you have to do that night is hang out in your bedroom and pick at your toenail polish.

I have no idea why I decided we should go. I suppose I could blame it on the heat (104 today, 107 tomorrow). Perhaps that addled my brain. As you may remember, I have been with The EGE to his high school reunions, all but one of them, which we missed because we were out of town. He knew everyone and their families and has taught and/or coached some of their kids, and he always has a great time. We've been to only one of my reunions, the 10th, and it was pretty much the opposite of a great time. Not hideous, and not disastrous, but just like high school, where not only was I not one of the cool kids, but I was so into my own world that I didn't even know who the cool kids were. Heck, maybe I didn't even know there *were* cool kids. In my world, maybe we were all geeky weirdos, orbiting around our own idiosyncratic suns.

I pretty much hated high school. Because, you know, what high school really is is this huge social thing, this microcosm of the world, this community that exists and is as real as any other community, only this one is fueled by angst and hormones and sheer abject terror of either peeing on yourself in gym or showing up nekkid for homeroom. I'm not good at social situations or community. I am good at two kinds of human interaction: I am good at watching people and asking them questions and then listening to their answers, and I am good at standing up in front of people and talking to them about almost anything that interests me. What I am not good at is everything else, especially give-and-take things like, you know, actual conversations. People say, "But, Ricë, you interview people for a living! Just do what you do and let people talk about themselves! People love that!"

So, so wrong. People like to talk about themselves, sure. But they do not like to be interviewed, peppered with questions and then follow-up questions. Yeah, some people do--and I do GREAT with them: I ask a question and then just listen. But most people want some back-and-forth, where you ask a question and then they ask a question in return, and then they make witty reference to something from tv or a movie, and you respond in a charming manner, and there is much hilarity and warm bonding all around. Since the last movie I went to was 9/11, just after it came out, and since I don't watch tv and have no functioning memory and know the names of no celebrities except Paris Hilton and don't even really know if she's still alive or anything, well. My chances of bonding through witty repartee are slim and none, as my dad would have said.  And at a reunion, where people are sharing these things called "memories"? Forgetaboutit.

No matter how you feel you've evolved, with the Life Experiences and wrinkles to prove it, when your brain hears the word "reunion," it slips back into some earlier, more primal way of seeing the world. Like if you go to a family reunion, never mind that you're now CEO of your own company with 200 employees and an off-shore account, your aunts are going to remind you of how you snacked out of the cat's litter box when you spent the summer at your grandmother's. And you can bet all your cousins are still going to call you "Stinky" no matter what your current net worth.

So for some reason that escapes me, I thought it would be fun to watch my brain deal with the idea of a high school reunion, and so I said, "Yes! We'll come! What fun!" My Lizard Brain said, "Huh? You're kidding, right?"

And actually, it was fun, amazingly enough. We had good conversations with people I hadn't seen in almost 40 years. The EGE visited with my very first boyfriend, the first boy I ever kissed and, in truth, the only one of the boys I ever dated whom I wouldn't be embarrassed to introduce to my husband. Because, honeys, let's face it: when you look back at some of the dating choices you made in adolescence, it's cringe-inducing. I can't even bear to think of it, when a random memory does appear. What in the world was I THINKING?

Oh, wait. I wasn't. You don't, at that age. "Thinking" never enters into it.  Most of these boys were horrid in almost every possible way, and I wouldn't want my husband to know I once had such a total lack of good taste.

But Alan was a sweet and kind boy, and he's a nice guy now, and my husband likes him. And that's cool: your first boyfriend and your last boyfriend, just hanging out and chilling.

But the whole watching-the-brain thing in the days leading up to the dinner? Whoa. It starts off going, "Omigod! What am I going to wear? Who's going to be there? What are THEY going to wear?" I don't get this. I mean, I do get the thing about clothes--I love clothes. I adore my clothes. And one of the first questions I asked was if the dinner was going to be dressy. (Alas, non.) But I don't get the thing about wondering what everyone else will wear. It's like there's the lizard brain that's still totally in the middle of high school, with pimples and puffiness, awkwardness and just general cluelessness. (I ended up, once again, wearing the most conservative thing I own, as I always do for these things: a cotton sheath dress my mother made for me about a dozen years ago. I figure my freak flag is flying high enough without wearing the clothes I love, the stuff I wear when we travel or go to art retreats. Let's just say we were pretty much as singular as usual. No other orange hair. No other visible tattoos. Nobody else who wasn't white. There was one black guy in band the same year as I was, and I sent him a note about the reunion, and he pretty much said, "Umm, I don't go to reunions." And, really, why would he?)

So I spend these days watching My Lizard Brain, seeing it try to remember stuff and failing, not even being able to pull up the names of any of the people who were in band with me and not having anything to latch onto and so just kind of gnawing on its own tail. Imagine what it was doing later, when it found out that there had been private parties all over town, where various groups had gotten together over the weekend for barbecue and beer and stuff, parties we (Lizard Brain and I) hadn't even heard about, much less been invited to. You find out your BFFHSs have met up and gone out carousing without you, that everyone else has kept in touch and knows the names of each other's grandchildren, that there have been other reunions you hadn't ever even heard about. The Current Me is like, "Huh. That's interesting. I wonder if they all still have a lot in common." The Lizard Brain Me is like, "Omigod, they're having parties and not inviting me! Nobody likes me! I'm such a dork! Where's my blush?" [Putting on make-up is kind of like the self-conscious grooming a cat does right after she attempts a leap from the couch to the top of the tv and misses. She licks the tip of her tail; girls put on blush. I think I had some blush in high school, although I can't really remember.] And that, of course, is the main thing: I can't remember much of anything, and I wanted to see if this reunion would spark memories of any kind. Would something joggle into place so that faces made sense? Would I suddenly have A Memory Epiphany, where years and years of bits and pieces would click into place, and there would appear an entire map of my life BEGE? (Before The EGE: I know no one I knew before I met him, and now that my parents are gone, the past floats without a tether.)

Well, it turns out I did have some memories. Everyone had name tags, so that helped some. And people would come up and greet you and introduce themselves in a very helpful way--I think at our age, one has learned it's best to do that in all situations, since most of us are maybe having just the tiniest issues with that whole memory thing. And I would look at their faces and listen to their voices (and try to be very skillful at sneaking a look at the name tag, hoping for clarity), and it was like someone I used to know was in there, behind their skin. Pretty cool, actually. And of course The EGE knew a lot of them--he knew their siblings or kids or parents. At one time, back before Midland's last several booms, The EGE knew pretty much everyone in town.

The thing about reunions, I realize from having been to several of them now, is that there are features common to them all. The mediocre food, the not-so-swank venue, the cheap bar (because let me just suggest that if you're planning a reunion of any kind, alcohol is going to be your best friend. Never mind your BFF who sat up with you all night the time you got dumped the day before Prom. Never mind her. When you're planning a reunion, your only BFF is the booze. They don't call it the great social lubricant for naught.) There's going to be the Popular Kids' Table, and there's going to be the dorky table over in the corner. There're going to be the people who were the class leaders and are shaking hands and schmoozing as if they're still running for office. There are going to be people who have been drinking non-stop since the moment they signed up to come and now, months later, have pretty much forgotten their own names. There will be the women who, in an effort to prove they haven't lost it, have gone shopping at Teens (backwards R) Us and bought clothes so inappropriate you'd think someone might have at least made an effort to suggest an alternate outfit. One with, you know, actual fabric involved. (There's one woman who went to school with The EGE who is so amazing that I always follow her surreptitiously, trying to take in all the details: the 5" heels, the mini-dress, the 14 pounds of jewelry, the 2" nails, the amazing swath of waist-length bright blonde hair (remember: this is a woman who will soon turn 60.)) They were all there, and I would give money to be able to turn myself invisible and be able to flutter behind people, eavesdropping and taking notes and marveling at who they are and what they do. You kind of overhear something and think, "Whoa! Did she just say what I think she said to him?" But you weren't quite close enough, and you didn't quite hear, and so you never know if she just propositioned her English teacher's husband or if she was just asking what he thought of the weather.

Would I go again? I don't know. It was fun to talk to people, but if we went again, I would remember to wear my glasses. Although, now that I think about it, that might have been what helped me to recognize people: I couldn't see the way they look now; I heard their voices and saw blurred features and noticed expressions that were vaguely, vaguely familiar and put those pieces together. With my glasses, they would have been in focus and just looked like middle-aged strangers.

The conversations were good. The food? I didn't eat--I took a plate and went through the line and found nothing that I would even consider eating: beef, chicken, pork, potato salad (chunks of egg), beans (which you can't ever trust because so many people cook them with some form of pork involved), and pickles. It was freezing cold, and the venue was hideously ugly--like being in a big cinderblock storage building or a pole barn or something. But then, meeting rooms almost always are. When have you had a meeting in a room that you loved? Never, right?

An ideal reunion would have music from The Day, it would have a place to dance (for those of us who are not big fans of going somewhere just to sit). It would have walls filled with photos from The Day, labeled with names so you could find each other. It would have printed sheets with contact info--if you wanted yours made public, you could send it in to be put on the list. For something like this, there could have been a mannikin wearing an actual band uniform--so much of our little high school lives were spent in those ugly, clumsy, broilingly hot wool uniforms emblazoned with, yes, the rebel flag--we should have been able to have one to look at and go, "Nyah, nyah, nyah: I survived you, you tyrant!"

I think one of the coolest things was the very brief conversation I had with Mr. Nail/Dr. Nail/Ike in the serving line, when we greeted each other and he said, seemingly apropos of nothing, "I always thought you'd end up as a writer." Delighted, I said, "And I did!" And we both grinned happily.


Jeannie said...

You are a brave woman. I always thought so and you have confirmed it. My 40th reunion is in August, the same weekend as my annual family reunion - ironic! I feel a case of "I didn't fit in at 18 and still don't know" coming on. I went to my 10th reunion. It was interesting, but it was like the last day of school all over again. I think staying home and catching up with your podcasts would be a more enjoyable alternative. You have described my experiences with high school and the aftermath to a T.

Ricë said...

Well, the very best news is that, unlike actual school, they can't force you to attend!

see you there! said...

I attended one reunion, my 25th, and I was hijacked and taken there. Yes indeed! I just happened to be visiting Mom in my old hometown at that time. My cousin was in the same grade and school with me. Mom and my cousin decided it would be fun to surprise me - even though when the subject came up early in the year I said I wasn't interested. My cousin and her husband picked me up obstensibly to go out to dinner. Dinner ended up being the REUNION. I was so pissed I barely recall the evening. Best I can remember it was boring - but I found high school boring so not much had changed.

I just made myself mad all over again thinking about it.


Ricë said...

I'm sorry, Darla! And I'm sorry I laughed reading your comment. I would have been beyond pissed, too. Kind of like an intervention but for no good reason, right?

Wendy said...

What a wonderful post - it's started my morning with laughter and I don't care that I'm now running late! I 'saw' the whole thing and I think it would make a great movie or a series of short stories. Can't you just imagine the lives people have had until they got to the event? What has been going through their heads?

Ricë said...

Thanks, Wendy--wouldn't that be great: a documentary interviewing people the week before a big reunion. Say, their 30th or 40th. Get them to talk about their lives, why they're going to the event, what they hope it's like, etc.

Ruth said...

And here I thought that we were the only high school band with uniforms with the rebel flag. They made us change them when I was a junior and then we were the Patriots instead of the Rebels. I hadn't thought about those uniforms in years. But of course I don't do reunions so there were no reminders. Great post.


i went to catholic high school in my junior year and was in the band.
i double dated to the prom with my friend cynthia. our escorts and also bank members are now the archbishop of san francisco and the other fellow is a cardinal and the highest ranking american official in the vatican. doubt that they would be at any reunion but if they were i suspect we would not have much in common. mary

Zom said...

It is such a relief to read your version of things. I think we could be from the same planet, or at least the same galaxy.