Oh my gosh, it’s you! I haven’t seen you since, what, graduation day? You haven’t changed a bit. So what have you been up to? Are you still local? You have been married for 20 years? No way! How many kids – four? Oh my! You still see any of the old gang? I know, I know. Time really flies. Well hey, it is really great to see you again I’m sure I will see you up at the bar and we can catch up some more! Oh hey look, there’s So-And-So, and of course they are walking around with Her-and-Him. I always loved those guys!
So my 30th high school reunion is tonight in Redondo Beach. Torrance High School Class of 1985. The Tartars. The campus itself is a national historical landmark, with its original building still standing 98 years later. It is the high school that Louis Zamperini attended. My parents met at THS, and both of my older sisters as well as my younger brother all attended and graduated from good ole Torrance High School.
I won’t be attending my reunion tonight.
My sister Denise loves her reunions and is super-involved in organizing and orchestrating the events. My parents loved THS so much that they were actively involved in Alumni meetings, events and reunions. My Dad – Donald, Sr. – was the very first President of the Torrance High Alumni Association. Dad so loved his school that he also served as the Publicity Chairman of the Torrance Boosters Club, and was proudly quoted in local newspapers throughout the late 1950s and well into the 1970s reminding people of the club’s purpose: “We, the fathers, alumni, and friends of Tartar students are boosters of their talents and sportsmanship.”
That is some serious passion and dedication to Torrance High.
I’m still not going to the reunion tonight.
I can use the old standby excuse that I have used for the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th reunions, assuming that those events were planned and executed. That excuse and rationale has always been, “I already stay in contact with friends and acquaintances from high school that I truly care about, so I really don’t need to go to a reunion.” And that for the most part is really true. My closest friend from high school – actually since grade school – is Mike Kasterko, and we were in each other’s weddings, we still work together and live 5 minutes away from each other. I am in constant contact with my buddy Beau Palica, and have enough interaction with Gary Hill, Brian Geller, Steve Kinsey, Steve Berg and others from Torrance High to maintain those strong bonds of friendship that were mostly fueled through our time together at Torrance High School. So no need to attend the reunion, right?
Well, there’s really more to it.
Someone recently posted a link on Facebook that included some footage from “All American High,” a documentary that was filmed on our campus in 1984. And while the stars of the show were the graduating class from the year prior to my senior year at THS, the scenes from the clip included enough footage of many classmates and activities that quickly stirred my memories to the top. You add that to the many photos that have been recently posted to the reunion page on Facebook, and well, let me just tell you that all those old feelings are really close to the surface again.
And not good feelings, mind you.
My high school experience was not an awful one, in fact, if anything, it really wasn’t anything more than just the typical four years of high school. I was a very average student, a fairly decent soccer and basketball player, and while I wasn’t among the more popular students, I still had good friends and was certainly not an anonymous figure on campus.
I just wasn’t very noteworthy.
It’s fitting that another film from that time, “The Breakfast Club,” came out in 1985.
Our baccalaureate service just before graduation even included the theme song from the movie, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds. If you need a refresher on the film’s plot, it’s five students serving detention together. Each of the students portrayed in the movie fulfill the stereotype of the common high school experience: The Brain, The Athlete, The Popular Kid, The Basket Case and The Pothead/Criminal. As I have watched the clip from “All American High” and viewed the photo montages presented on social media recently, I could quickly place each person from my Torrance High experience into the “Breakfast Club” categories, while my nondescript persona was more than likely a sixth character from the movie that ended up on the cutting room floor.
All this to say that most of what I feel these days about high school and the memories of my time on campus is that most of my fellow classmates were the Molly Ringwald character and I was essentially on the outside looking in. Invisible. That doesn’t mean that there was anything wrong with my classmates at all. No, they were all for the most part nice people and I don’t begrudge their popularity, cliques or photo-domination of our yearbook any more than I do a famous athlete making their millions. But there was a certain meanness on the Torrance High campus in my four years there, and a decent amount of it was heaped upon the peasants by the popular crowd of footballers and cheerleader-types. And I think this is pretty much the normal high school experience for everyone, but I don’t think the Molly Ringwald-types realize that they are doing what they are doing.
Do they? Regardless, knowing that all of these feelings have crept to the surface recently, why exactly would I want to subject myself to all of this again by way of a high school reunion? Why would I want to walk into a room as a 48-year-old man who suddenly morphs back to the 18-year-old version of myself, unsure of anything, gangly, awkward, pimple-faced and eager to maintain some semblance of anonymity, but forever on guard for those moments when the Ringwalds call me out and demand to know the reason for my existence?
Why indeed. No thank you.
You much of a “30 Rock” fan? If you are, you likely recall the “Reunion” episode where Liz Lemon really doesn’t want to attend her high school reunion, but her boss Jack Donaghy convinces her to go because now she is successful and she can throw it back in the faces of all her former tormentors. We see montage clips of a younger Liz being bullied and made fun of. It is fairly horrific to see what the brace-faced Liz Lemon had to deal with back in the day, so you find yourself rooting for the grown-up Liz when she returns to taunt her former classmates with her success.
The problem is that Liz’s memories were all distorted and in actuality she was the bully, she was the awful one. She was like a Ringwald on steroids.
I think viewing any clips of “All American High” and “The Breakfast Club” should be absorbed in light of the Liz Lemon experience, that the memories of 30 years ago are never quite so bad (or as sweet) as we might make them out to be. This is true especially for the guy writing these words today. For if I really took the time to slowly, and realistically process the memories of my experiences at Torrance High I would see that the time was well-spent, that I have friendships today that have stood the test of time, and that nobody on that campus ever truly set out to ruin the life or high school experience of Donnie Fulton.
There is a lyric from the Simple Minds tune that goes: Will you recognize me – Call my name or walk on by? I’m reminded of that today because of this subject matter but also because I’m still a Torrance local and from time to time I stumble upon an old classmate that I haven’t seen in ages. Many of these people are what my warped recollection of them from long ago would be classified as a Ringwald, but the funny thing is that I am always recognized by them, and they are always happy to see me and forever wanting to quickly catch up on life. So there you have it: There is a little Liz Lemon troubled logic and faulty memory in me, and I need to cut my old classmates some slack.
There are plenty of good memories of my time at Torrance High, and lots of good friends and simple acquaintances that exist to this day, and I need to learn to treasure the time, the experiences and especially the people.
Doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to the reunion tonight, but who knows? Perhaps the 40-year?