Looking for train wrecks among the Class of ’88

by Brian Clarey

The friend requests have been tumbling in for weeks on my Facebook page, reaching critical mass this weekend with a final crush of long, lost faces. I’m also getting Snapfish alerts and text messages, and my image is likely being tagged somewhere even at this moment. The precipitating event was my high school reunion, from which, as of this Monday afternoon writing, I am still recovering. The event took place Saturday night up on Long Island, where more than 150 members of the Garden City High School Class of 1988 gathered to see how old everybody had gotten. There’s more to it than that, of course. My high school was kind of an insular institution — we didn’t often socialize with students from other high schools, and because we lived in a place and time where neighborhoods had more consistency, we all knew each other fairly well. I knew all the names of the 350 students in my graduating class. At least I did when I was a high school student. The night of the reunion, huddled around the kitchen table at Espo’s house, paging through our yearbook, there were dozens of people I had completely forgotten about over the years. Our small pre-reunion crew included guys I have known since kindergarten, some of whom I hadn’t laid eyes on in at least 10 years. We were in the same classes, took the same field trips, played on the same soccer teams and ate lunch at each other’s houses — back when we took a schoolbus home for lunch every day. And back. Schools don’t do that anymore, in part because of budgetary and logistic restraints, but mainly because nobody’s home in the middle of the day to take care of the kids. At any rate…. There we were, me and Roller and Carter and Espo and Hoolie and Joseph and Morano and Dr. Lawyer, flipping through the pages and playing a game called Dark Horse — without getting into too may details, it involved a bit of handicapping as to who had best weathered the last 20 years, with special attention paid to the women of the class. Because we’re pigs. It turned out to be an exercise in futility — virtually every member of the Class of 1988 who attended the reception at the Bar Association looked fantastic, and many of them looked exactly the same as they did the year Appetite for Destruction came out. It was something all right. Just about half of our class made it out to schmooze while music from our teenage years played, to sample liberally from the open bar and to virtually ignore the buffet spread that sat in the corner like a wallflower. A large screen flashed snapshots from the days when we were young: cat’s-eye sunglasses, acid-wash jeans, big hair and all. Homecoming. The Spring Fling. Spirit Day. The hundreds of house parties and gatherings where we cemented our bonds and drank ourselves silly on Meister Brau and Rheingold and the short-lived phenomenon that was the wine cooler. It all seemed so harmless back then, but the bottle has affected more than a few of my classmates, their families, their lives. But this space today is for happier feelings, so let me tell you who I saw: the kid who lived across the street who became my partner in crime for much of the ’70s and ’80s; the guy I got busted with in the high school parking lot doing… something we shouldn’t have been doing; the dude I went through school with from kindergarten all the way through college; the owner of the very first pair of breasts I ever fondled. I saw all the guys I still keep in touch with but whom I don’t get to see enough. And dozens and dozens of others that shared my youth, one that was not so much wasted as one that was… taken lightly. For a lot of my current friends, high school was something of a nightmare. But even though I have taken some potshots at my hometown and high school before, I had a lot of fun in those days, due largely to the people in that room Saturday night. We drank and circulated, told our stories and caught up on recent news. We laughed at our teenaged selves even as we felt, for just a few hours, like we were still in high school. And we marked a milestone as a group: Twenty years gone, and we’re still at it. And as for the game called Dark Horse, I’m afraid the jury’s still out. There are a lot of photos to comb through, some Facebook footage to be vetted and some memories plumbed before we can assign a winner.

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