Class of 85

The time has come for my 30th high school reunion down in Miami Beach.  I won’t be attending, at least not at this cycle; but talk to me again in ten years; who knows?  It’s not that I’m not curious; I am.  A little.  I am more ambivalent than anything.  That feeling matches quite neatly the one I wore around me like a coat through all 3 years of high school at Miami Beach Senior High.

Coming in to high school, I had my own stuff going on; but as you will see here a little later on (and as we all do in life as we start counting decades) we all do.  Nothing special there.  A west coast transplant, fresh off an unwilling uprooting, I refused to be planted in the nutrient-poor sand/soil of South Beach.  I decided pretty fast that these weren’t my people; they just weren’t cool like Californians.  What the kids at Beach High didn’t know was that I really wasn’t considered very cool back in LA.  In high school you just ad hoc your own bio as you go along.

Anyway, if I were to attend the reunion, there wouldn’t be much time for reflection; just tapas and boozing and “Hey I got old!”  At least that’s what I’ve seen in the movies; I haven’t been to any reunions.  The “Reunionmeister” on Facebook tried to corral me along, I mean, impersonally anyway.  I’ve never met her.  A friend of mine added me to the page that she created.  And like an emoji abusing telemarketer who knows the listeners literally can’t hang up, she harangued 85ers for restaurant deposit money on a daily (sometimes multiple times daily) basis.  It seemed more like a commission drive then a reunion.  That almost tempted me to buy in, you know, just to see what she’d be like in person.  But all of that petty annoyance fell away as I noticed my old classmates were starting to add pictures and memorabilia to the Facebook page.

Attendees, and even some non-attendees, were becoming invested, nostalgic.  Their posts and pics slowed the telethon down and allowed for some……. surmisement.  It became enjoyable to partake.  It was becoming a kind of social media reunion.

I generally liked my time at Beach High, though I was disdainful of the rah rah spirit of the pep rallies and the pseudo business atmosphere of many of the social clubs.  Fashions there came and went with the latest Madonna or Prince video.  It all seemed kind of silly to me then.  But when I stood on that stage in the Jackie Gleason Theater and accepted my diploma I was very proud of all that I accomplished; but also proud of that big assembled group, the Class of 1985.  We were better somehow than the Class of 84, and the Class of 86 could never hope to measure up.  The number 85 would also have a special ring, I felt, as I stepped off that stage.  That day I didn’t wonder so much how they’d turn out (I’m sure neither did they-we were 17 after all) but more what the hell was I going to do now?  I had no idea then that I should have wondered about others, we all should have.

I would have never guessed that some (OK most, really) of those kids had the same wondering trepidation and fear.  I do realize this is a sentiment that has been mined before in many books and movies, including 1985’s own “The Breakfast Club.”  “Hey everyone’s as scared as you!”  I got the idea, sure, but I didn’t think I ever really believed it, I don’t think anyone ever does.  If we did we’d probably be kinder to one another, but if we did that we wouldn’t be high schoolers anymore would we?

Right after high school ended I saw (yes, 1985’s own) “Back to the Future” at the Omni Mall.  I never wondered what life might be like in 2015, it seemed as sci-fi to me as hover boards and the absurdity of the Cubs winning the World Series.  I aimed myself shakily at the future, attending Community College while I made up my mind. I stayed on in Miami for 2 years, then headed up to New York and parts unknown.  By then I’d already fallen out of touch with every single person from high school.  I vaguely remember having thoughts as late as 1989 like this:  “I’ll bet there aren’t many 85ers having the fun art filled life of urban adventure that I am!”  Google and Facebook sure as hell proved me wrong 25 years later, they broke my remembered hubris.

Over the years, especially back before any social media, I often wondered what happened to kids I was kind-of friends with back at 2231 Prairie Avenue. In the last decade it became easier to find people; if you really dug hard enough (nothing creepy mind you) you could get back in touch with almost anybody.  That’s how I’ve found old classmates going back to the 3rd Grade. But I’ve learned something interesting this week, and I’ll tell you it was kind of jarring.

If your Google person search comes up with nothing they just might be dead.

The pictures added to the Facebook page made me pause and wonder, and in doing, dig up long buried little sense memories, fragments of experience that in the end made me nostalgic for a place I never thought I could be.  The kids who grew up to be eminently Googleable like Georges or Mark or even Jeff furnished me with little bold lined bios, like Comic Book Artist or Prominent Miami Attorney.  “Hey look, he’s on his second marriage,” or, “Wow she lives really close to me in Atlanta. I never pictured her living there.”  I didn’t picture myself living here either.  A big difference between 1985 and 2015 is that we 85ers all had to have come to accept and even embrace the fact that we move onto things in life that we never once “pictured.”

The ability to look up people after all these years of silence is, to me, like throwing an armful of disparate objects in the air with your eyes closed and only looking after the last object has settled.  It’s a snapshot of this week of this month of 2015.  Sometimes you’re surprised where someone ended up, but sometimes you know you just knew it all along.

Social media furnishes me with my perfect comfort level of being in touch and, as ironic as this sounds, if I’d had my nose jammed close to the screen of an iPhone back in 1985 I would have known the kids I was right next to better than I really did.  I believe social media apps are a tonic for old school loners like me.  So now I just look up the ones I’m really curious about; sometimes they’re on Facebook or LinkedIn.

It’s the ones I can’t find that have stuck with me.

The other day someone posted a list of 9 kids who didn’t make it to the reunion, they died somewhere along the way.  A couple were suicides that happened after high school but before the 80’s were even over.  I wonder what those nine; Sean and Jennifer; John, Mitchell, Staci, Chaim and Shauna; Corrie and Diane would have made of 9/11, Kanye West; and in Corrie’s and Jennifer’s cases, something so long ago like the fall of the Soviet Union.  Did those 9 have any inkling on that blessedly air conditioned stage at 1901 Convention Center Drive that some of them wouldn’t even make it to the 21st century?  Were one or two even actively planning it?

I’ve wondered about Corrie van der Merwe off and on over the years.  I knew him the best out of that group.  I remember walking with him after school up Washington Avenue and dropping him off at his home at the Octagon Apartments (shaped like an octagon) while I continued on in the bright sunshine toward 10th Street.  That walk (thanks to the efforts of Miami Preservation groups) looks exactly the same today as it did 30 years ago.  Pass the Octagon; pass the Synagogue, pass Lincoln Road.  But Corrie is nowhere to be found, not only now for he was even long gone through most of my “I wonder how Corrie is” musings over the years.

I don’t remember anything Corrie and I spoke about, but I hope I was kind to him.  I wish I could have helped him in some way.  Maybe the efforts of several of us 85ers could have allowed him to witness the Miracle on the Hudson on CNN a few years ago, or to try shawarma.  Maybe the efforts of all of us wouldn’t have made a difference at all.

I feel like social media has given me my virtual reunion, so I’m OK with not actually going.  After all, my closest friends from 1985, Barry and Jeff, won’t even be attending.  But I am relieved to know they are alive and happy.  I imagine in the future as the deceased list gets longer I might make my way to a reunion, but by then none of us will really remember each other much at all. I know I won’t. I view it that way because I kind of fell out of touch back then and I assume that, like me, everyone just went their separate ways.  But you know how it goes with assumptions like that. One thing I’m sure of, that I do know now that I didn’t know then on the graduating stage, is that we all worried about the future.  That means that in high school I was in closer company than I ever imagined.

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