Monday, September 29, 2008

Homecoming - A Reflection & A Rant

This past weekend was my high school's homecoming. As a member of the class of 1998, that meant it was also time for my 10 Year Class Reunion.

The festivities began Friday night with the homecoming football game. As Travis and I walked the several blocks from my car to the high school, and then to the football field, I was struck by how differently homecoming is viewed by students and alumni. For students, despite the fact that it's called homeCOMING (which obviously refers to those other than themselves), it's really all about them. It's all about which class will win the various competitions, what they will wear on each of the themed dress days, who will be their date to the dance and what they'll wear, and whether their football team will bring home the victory. I remember being a student wrapped up in all of the excitement and activity of homecoming. Interestingly enough, however, 10 years later I can't remember a single homecoming theme from my four years there, I don't regret not attending a single homecoming dance, and I couldn't tell you whether our football team won or lost. (I vaguely remember what I wore for the various theme days, and a review of the yearbook from my senior year revealed a nice shot of me looking like a dork on Hawaiian Day.) As impossibly young looking high schoolers shuffled by us, I commented to Travis with a slight sigh of resignation, "We're old to them. I'm one of those 'old alumni,' that aged curiosity who comes once a year to invade the students' turf with reminiscing and nostalgic tales of how it used to be." (Okay, I didn't say it quite so eloquently at the time, but that's what I meant.) While I am nothing but thankful to be where I am, and to only have had to enjoy/endure the high school experience once, many years ago, it was sobering to realize I am now one of "those old people."

This year's homecoming theme was "The Golden Ticket," a la Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I learned this when I came to work the week before to find the downtown store windows painted with moderately creepy teenage artist renditions of Willy Wonka, Oompa Loompas, and pieces of candy in all colors of the rainbow (the window painting tradition is part of the inter-class competition held during homecoming). I found the choice of theme a bit strange, and the myriad images of oompa loompas troublesome, as they got the oompa loompa song stuck in my head every time I walked by. At the football game Friday night I chatted with a fellow alum who now teaches science at the school. She said that the students came up with the theme and rallied for it, much to the puzzlement of the faculty sponsors. Unable to come up with a good reason to dissuade the student council committee from their choice, the theme stuck. In hindsight, my friend suspects it was just a ploy to incorporate obscene quantities of candy into the celebration. She also lamented that to her students, Johnny Depp is Willy Wonka, and there is no other. When she asked if they'd ever seen the version with Gene Wilder, they said, "Who?" Sigh.

Attending the game had really very little to do with actually watching the game (we gave it our undivided attention for maybe 10 minutes tops right before we left in the middle of the 3rd quarter) and more with conversing with the various classmates who were to be found clustered at the south end of the field. Though I wasn't feeling particularly chatty that night, I was glad to catch up with a few people with whom I'd had varying degrees of friendship back in the day. One classmate in particular shared with me a testimony of God's goodness to her and her husband as they dealt with fertility issues over the past couple years. Standing there listening to her tell the miracle story, watching as she smoothed her shirt over her 4-month "bump," aglow with pregnancy and an awareness of God's goodness and grace, was probably the highlight of the whole weekend for me.

The class reunion on Saturday night, however, was one point of disgruntlement after another. The fact that it was being held in a bar in Chicago should have tipped me off. But, anticipation and curiosity propelled me to the door.

It was at the door that disappointment began to set it. When we reached the girl at the check-in table, we learned that the invitation I'd received that had clearly stated the option of paying $15 for food only, or $40 for food and alchohol, was incorrect. I explained to her it was with this understanding that we'd decided to attend, and that more than likely scores of people after me would be approaching her with the same expectation (which was indeed the case), but she informed me that while this was indeed unfortunate for us, it was not her problem, and that would be $40 please. Everyone had to pay $40 to get in, regardless of whether he/she wanted to drink or not. The only exceptions they’d allow were for verifiable medical conditions…so basically, unless you were visibly pregnant (score one for my friend from above!), had a medic alert bracelet identifying you as a diabetic, or a doctor’s note (and who brings a doctors note to a high school reunion?!?), no dice - $40 bucks a head. Point of disgruntlement number one. (I suppose the fact that we'd had to pay $10 to park in a shady lot to begin with would be point of disgruntlement 0.5.)

And, they only take cash, which meant that we had visit an ATM before we could even get in, because who carries $80 in cash to their high school reunion when only planning to pay 30?!?! Point of disgruntlement number two.

Then, the only food provided was plain cheese quesadillas, messy hot wings, and some completely unappetizing chips and salsa. Not even worth the $15 I’d planned to pay for food alone. Point of disgruntlement number three.

Since I was forced to pay for alcohol, I had 2 amaretto sours, which definitely tasted like well drinks, and a sketchy tasting diet Coke--certainly not worth the extra $25. Point of disgruntlement number 4.

While the invitation led one to believe the reunion was to be held in a private party room (which at least redeemed the bar venue in my head), as it turned out there was really nothing private about our space. The area designated for us was to the left of the main entrance, and separated from the hallway that led to the rest of the establishment by only a partial wall and a few ropes. So, our reunion was on display for everyone entering the bar, and the same really loud, bass-heavy music that was being pumped everywhere else made it hard to think straight and frustrated all attempts at any conversation in a voice below a yell. Points of disgruntlement numbers 5 & 6.

I could go on and name several further points of disgruntlement, but I am starting to feel the nasty weight of complaining. On the plus side, I will say that I enjoyed catching up with a few friends who attended, I was able to do some satisfying people watching and had my curiosity assuaged, I opened up a time capsule I'd completely forgotten about making to find that I had a little wisdom back then, as well as some strange ideas about what I'd want to pull out of a time capsule in 10 years, and the occasion prompted me to tell Travis many stories from my high school days that probably wouldn't have otherwise come up.

Since I'm confident I've made the few assertions I set out to make, and wish to spare you the paragraphs required to make several more, I will stop here. However, in case you would like to review them in full, here they are in handy bullet form:
  • The older you get, the younger high schoolers appear.
  • A high school reunion in a bar is a bad idea. Period.
  • If you are going to invite people to a party, make sure you get the details correct.
  • An event where conversation is pretty much the sole activity should ideally be held in a venue where you can actually hear the people with whom you are attempting to converse.
  • Though 10 years is a long time and smooths over some things, curiously it is not long enough to erase feelings toward certain people or to eradicate the social groups to which we gravitated back then.
  • Facebook takes a lot of the mystery out of a high school reunion.
  • If your high school reunion is a big disappointment, stopping for ice cream on the way home helps. (Thanks, Travis.)


TirzahJean said...

Ahh...thanks for this post! I'm glad you had Travis with you and you had some positives from the weekend. It was good to see you so happy : )

Sheryl said...

Thanks for posting! It was worth the wait. (And thanks for the heads' up the other day.)

I went to my 20 year college reunion a few years ago, it was weird to feel the old---very old---insecurities rear their ugly heads with certain people.