|LIFE AS A LOSER #38: "NO RECESS."|
|By Will Leitch|
It is with considerable alarm and genuine awe that I announce that my high school, the small brick building with prom held in the gym, the lone high school in my rural hometown of Mattoon, Illinois, the place where you still get detention for chewing gum, has a Web site.
I stumbled across it a while ago, while doing some in-depth research for a piece I wrote about - OK, so fine, I was looking up old girlfriends, donít give me any crap about it. This is a school that, when I was there, had a computer lab with no Internet access that shared a room with the home-economics class. This is a school that still had a picture of Ronald Reagan on the wall. This is a school with eight teachers who taught both my father and me. This is a school that does not change, isnít supposed to change.
But, hark, it has. You can witness it right there, at the easily remembered address of http://126.96.36.199. You can email the principal, check out information about class reunions, and even find out what the cafeteria serves on Wednesdays (chicken salad on whole-wheat bread, carrot sticks, peaches, white iced cake; all for the low, low price of $1.55. Seriously). Itís even possible that the site might end up revolutionizing the Web; we here at Ironminds are always trying to come up with ways to make text more appealing, but we never thought of this.
Itís disconcerting; my innocent little high school, the place you needed a hall pass just to go to the freaking bathroom, is being spread out there across the world, linking up with other high schools and providing me more proof that I actually came from somewhere. I wasnít just gestated at the Corner Bistro, with two-dollar McSorleyís Darks and Miles Davis on the jukebox.
Graduation is next week, and on June 4, it will have been exactly seven years since I left those green-and-puke-yellow halls (puke yellow is actually one of the crayons in the 64 Crayola collection; look it up). You might think this last line is a tortured and obvious way to segue into a laborious glance at Will seven years post-innocence, and, well, youíre dead-on, as usual. I apologize in advance.
Iíll live on this earth, I estimate, for about another 15 years (accounting for the cigarettes, Dewarís, Dexatrim and complete lack of physical activity), but Iíll never have a better year than my senior year of high school. Many of my current friends hated high school, despised the cliques and the structure and the emphasis on popularity. Theyíre all correct, of course; high school is exactly about all those things and not much more.
But Iíll admit, Iím often suspicious of people who talk about high school as if it was some horrible chore theyíve spent the last decade trying to overcome. It makes them bitter, grasping at demons that were never there in the first place. I mean, if you canít at least have a little fun in high school, when you have absolutely nothing to worry about, then youíre not likely to be much fun when youíre 25 either.
Iíll say it: I had the perfect setup in high school. I was 17 years old. I had my own car, a wussy blue Ford Escort with a muffler that kept falling off. I started a student newspaper with my friend Tim that featured nothing but us writing about our lives (yeah, Iíve grown). I had a beautiful girlfriend named Myra who was five years older than me, with the sexual experience (if not, sadly, the patience) that came along with it. I worked as an usher at a movie theater, watching free movies while being pummeled with Milk Duds by 14-year-old boys trying to sneak into Basic Instinct.
I miss it, almost daily. My friend Joan, who I met in college, told me she found it ďcuteĒ that I still talked to so many friends from high school, but itís no accident. Tim, Andy, Denny, Kim, James ... still among my closest friends on the planet. If it werenít for the fact that Myraís cop husband would probably have me beaten if I walked within a 10-mile radius of their home, Iíd still talk to her, too. Those are the people who remember the 15-year-old who spit when he talked and had a dandruff problem. You donít forget those people, no matter how you might try.
In many ways, Iím still stuck there. My favorite artists are the ones who were popular during that time: Nirvana, R.E.M., U2, Vanilla Ice, Mr. Big, Slaughter. My favorite films are all ones I saw during that period. I even have all my yearbooks filed neatly in my room, easily accessible after a night of alleged revelry. I want to visit my old teachers, I want to wear ridiculous gym class uniforms, I want to have pizzas and Pepsi on a Friday night, I want to stay out too late and have my parents waiting up for me. I want to see Amy Garrett in fifth-period English, and I want to flirt with her while silently cursing that college jerk sheís dating.
But high schools are different now. Even though I didnít drink or do drugs in high school, I did have a T-shirt from a Black Crowes concert with a blackbird smoking a joint with a marijuana leaf on his hat. In 1993, I could wear that around the school, and no one said a word. Today, Iíd probably be suspended for a week and have an article in the paper about my addiction. Back then, I could write myself a hall pass and leave school at noon. Today, there is a full-time police officer patrolling the school. He carries a gun.
I canít let it go. And here I am, the guy using up valuable Ironminds space about how much he misses high school and his small town, the guy who spent about two hours fishing around the Mattoon High School Web site, even, yes, emailing the principal. And he wonít even write me back.
Just three years until the 10-year reunion. Iím on the clock. Maybe Amy Garrett will be there. Iím sure things havenít changed a bit.