Friday, April 18, 2008

Our lives are about firsts and lasts

When you're young, life is all about firsts.

There's your first step, your first word. The first time you dressed yourself, fed yourself or took care of business in the bathroom.

Then there's learning to read, learning to write, to do math or all sorts of other academic pursuits. There's the first time you successfully hit a baseball, or caught a football, or made a jump shot from the top of the key.

Then there are the big firsts. The first time you kiss someone, or touch them intimately, or make love. The first time you hear -- or say -- the words "I love you" to someone outside your family.

You get the picture. There are plenty of unpleasant firsts as well, like the first time you realize you aren't a good enough student, or a good enough athlete. The first time you don't get a job you want, or lose one you have. The first time you realize the feelings you have for someone aren't reciprocated.

The first time someone says, "But I like you as a friend." And those were the days before "friends with privileges."

When you get older, the firsts are fewer and farther between. Many of them are our own children's firsts, and seeing my kids experience all the joy and pain of their own firsts means every bit as much to me as my own.

As you get older, you start having more "lasts" in your lives than firsts. All of us had the last time we walked the halls of Woodson as students, the last time we saw each other on a regular basis. That's not completely sad. You finish high school and you move on to the next stage of your life. It's as natural as waking up in the morning.

But what about the last time you were happy with someone? What about marriages that fall apart? When my first marriage was coming to an end, I remember waking up on a morning in January 1980 thinking that this was the last time I would wake up with her, the last time we would share breakfast or just idle conversation in the morning.

It was, but I was lucky. I found something better, and I sincerely hope my last day with Nicole will be the last day of my life.

I've been thinking lately about the last time I saw my dad. It was when I was home for the 40th anniversary reunion in October. We spent some time together. He was frail but very alert. His old self mentally. I talked to him on the phone in late February or early March, and a few weeks later I found myself thinking I hadn't called for a couple of weeks.

He died before I had a chance to talk to him again, and I don't remember much about the last time we talked.

We're flying to Virginia tomorrow for his funeral service Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery, but I guarantee Tuesday won't be the last time I think of him or miss him or wish I could have one last talk.

We always remember our firsts.

We need to think about the lasts too.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Apparently some of you are ... lurking

I got a very nice e-mail the other day from another one of the golden goddesses I never had the nerve to speak to in high school.

Julie Conrad, who is now Julie True (what a great name!), wrote to me to let me know that she had seen my dad's obituary in the Washington Post Tuesday. Turns out it was a very nice article, and aside from wondering why my two married sisters kept their maiden names, there wasn't much in there that surprised me.

Julie, another of you who was very beautiful in high school (see the picture), told me she has been checking out my various blogs but hasn't gotten around to posting any comments anywhere. I believe she used the word "lurking."

Editor's note: Did all the girls in the senior class have to wear the same dress for the pictures?

Uh, yeah. They took turns. They had to burn the dress after they were through taking the pictures. Don't you have an Olsen Twins Fan Club newsletter to write?

Editor's note: Oops.

One thing I often do after one of you gets in touch with me is check you out on the Website. I looked up Julie, and I saw something that always makes me wonder. As with many of you, Julie True signed up for Classmates and then didn't answer any of the Q&A's or write anything about yourself.

I guess that's another form of lurking.

So this isn't aimed just at Julie, but at all of you. If you're visiting this site, post comments and let us know you're here. If you're on Classmates or, take advantage of the site and post interesting stuff about yourself.

But even if you don't, keep visiting.

You're always welcome here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Were we really cruel when we were kids?

Were we the cruelest generation?

It's a question I have been asking myself lately, living in one of the great melting pots of civilization. Kids out here to go school with black kids, Latino kids, Asian kids from almost every country over there. We were so homogenous -- basically 98 percent white and Anglo -- that we were left with only each other to hate.

Oh, I don't mean we all hated each other. Far from it. But with all of us basically the same, we gave each other a hard time over things like looks, athletic ability, career choices, stuff like that.

When I attended the 40-year reunion in November, I was reminded of the fact that the big controversy of our time was "collegiates and greasers." In some other towns it might have been called "preppies and rednecks," or some other variation on a theme. What it amounted to was a conflict between those who were going to work with their hands and those who were going to work with their minds.

Those of us who were "collegiates" were our parents' dreams. We were going to have white-collar jobs, own houses in the suburbs and read lots of good books. The "greasers" would live in slums, have a hard time getting clean after work and watch low-brow television shows.

We didn't realize that auto mechanics. electricians, plumbers and a host of other blue-collar trades would wind up making a much better living than a lot of office workers and teachers.

But we sure made those kids feel like shit. We sure let them believe they could never be as cool, as smart or as blessed as we were. We sure let them believe there was nothing they could ever do to make us accept them.

It wasn't just them, either. There were plenty of kids who were a little too clumsy, a little too slow or a little too ugly to be popular, and there was always at least one of us around to make fun of them.

I remember one story that was making the rounds during our senior year. A girl in one of my classes -- no names, please -- really wanted to go out with a guy who was probably out of her league. She supposedly offered him $50 to go on a date with her, and his response was that he would do it if she would wear a bag over her head.

I had a good friend who wasn't overly masculine. He had to suffer through a lot of "queer" and "homo" stuff, and he got pushed around by some of the testosterone cases in gym class.

We had a kid in the band -- once again, no names -- who was a little too fat and a little too strange. He took more abuse from people than anybody I knew.

None of these people ever come back for our reunions. I remember one of them writing in one of the reunion books that there was no way he would even spend one minute more with members of the Class of '67.

Sure, we were just kids. Most of us probably think we would never do anything like that now, and some of us kid ourselves by saying we weren't that big a part of abusing anyone even then.

I don't know if I can say that, but I know to my everlasting shame that I didn't stand up and defend them when they needed it. One of the most abused kids in our class was someone I didn't know at all until I spent senior year preparing for "It's Academic" with him.

It turned out he was a perfectly nice guy, but he won't be coming to the reunions either. He died sometime in the last 40 years.

There's been one thing I worked very hard to teach my son.

Don't be mean to anybody.

In his first year of college, his roommate came to me and paid him a real compliment. "Virgile is the nicest person I have ever met in my life."

It made me wish I'd been nicer myself.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Getting back into the writing thing

In the movie "Arthur," Dudley Moore told his valet that he was going to take a bath.

The valet, played so wonderfully by Sir John Gielgud, said drolly, "I'll alert the media."

That's a little bit how I'm feeling by passing this along, because it really isn't news unless you want it to be. I haven't been writing a lot lately, but in the last week or so, I have started posting consistently on my two other blogs, "The American Hologram" and "Captive on the Carousel."

I'm even thinking about an interesting piece for this site that I'll post over the weekend.

I hope you'll tune in.