Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A look back at a very average day

Emily: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?--every, every minute?
Stage Manager: No. Saints and poets, maybe--they do some.
-- OUR TOWN, Thornton Wilder

If you came of age in the '50s and '60s, the odds are pretty good you saw a production of "Our Town" at least once. It was the story of Grover's Corners, N.H., a pretty nothing little town in which very little ever happened.

Of course that was exactly Wilder's point, that it's the little things in life -- the things we rarely notice at the time -- that in the end mean everything to us. When Emily dies in childbirth, she asks to go back and witness one day out of her life. She does, and she is overwhelmed by the simple beauty of it.

I don't know how many of us would want to do it all over again, but I would be willing to bet most of the people who visit this site would love to have the chance to spend one day just observing. Not graduation day, not the prom or the day we took the SATs.

Just one simple day, say maybe ... Sept. 16, 1966.

Since I'm the writer, I'll have to tell it through my eyes. I hope you enjoy it.

My clock radio goes on at 6:30. WEAM is playing the No. 1 song in the country ... "You Can't Hurry Love," by the Supremes. Other songs that are high on the charts that week are Donovan's "Sunshine Superman" and the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine."

One of the big summer hits -- "Summer in the City" by the Lovin' Spoonful -- is still hanging around, but the song that's coming up fast that's got everyone's attention is the Association doing "Cherish." It'll be No. 1 next week and on into October.

I've got the bathroom for a quick shower. My complexion is hanging in there -- there have been worse mornings -- but I'm still annoyed that my hair is short. My mother made me cut it for our senior pictures and it hasn't grown back yet.

The good news is that it's a Friday, and there's a big football game tonight. Woodson is playing at Annandale, which hasn't lost a game in more than four years. A few years from now, the Washington Post magazine will write a cover story about them called "Notre Dame in Peach Fuzz."

It's a daunting challenge, but we've got a pretty good team this year. I know -- I see every game as one of the tuba players in the marching band.

I dress quickly. A collared shirt, slacks, socks and loafers. We're not allowed to wear Levis or sneakers to school, and socks are a must.

I hustle down to the bus stop at the bottom of Atlanta Street in Mosby Woods. I'm 16, but I don't have my driver's license yet. Even if I did, there's no car for me to drive to school. Two friends from the neighborhood, Tom Kensler and Jim Nelson, are sophomores this year. We horse around a little waiting for the bus. Everybody's kind of psyched about the football game.

When we get to school, I go to the band room. That's where a lot of us hang out when we're not doing anything else, and I've got two periods of band this year. In addition to Symphonic Band fourth period, I'm the student director of the Concert Band second period. I had planned a free period in hopes of winning the election for student government president the previous March, but when that fell through, the band director, Mr. Buskirk, asked me if I wanted this job.

He was my favorite teacher after three years of band -- and three of private lessons -- but he had moved up to be an assistant principal during the summer, and Mr. Lawrence had taken over. He was very different from Buskirk, but it looked like he and I were going to get along.

First period was U.S./Virginia government with Mrs. Johnson, a class that should have been my favorite. All my ambitions at the time were centered around law and politics; it's amazing how things happen so differently from the way we plan them. It's not a bad class, but I feel like I know most of the stuff and wish we could go deeper into some of it.

Second period, Concert band. Actually, Mr. Grant is the director of the second band. He generally has me warm them up -- scales, etc. -- and then he takes over. I go into the office and see if Mr. Lawrence has any filing for me to do.

As I walk through the halls between second and third period, I see lockers of football players. They've been decorated by the Pep Club. Since it's a game day, the players are wearing their jerseys and the cheerleaders are in full uniform.

My third period Chemistry class has a cheerleader in it. Emily Pennington is a junior, but to me she's one of the cutest girls I know. She's got a boyfriend on the team, of course.

Chemistry is Mrs. Jones, a younger, divorced teacher. She's fairly pretty, and there are rumors that some of the more "mature" seniors have tried to ask her out. That's so far beyond my experience that I can't believe it. Of course in 1966 I'd never heard of Mary Kay Letourneau.

Fourth period is two hours long so that the school can serve lunch in four shifts. It's supposed to be divided into one hour of class, half an hour of lunch and half an hour of study hall, but for band kids, we have 90 minutes of practice on the field for that night's routine. I'm second chair out of four tubas, but the junior who sits in first chair, Pete Carlson, is out of my league.

He's going to make the All-State band this year, and he can play like I can only dream of. He's a really cocky kid -- he calls me "Fan," as in me being his fan -- but we get along very well.

Since it's a Friday, there's no meat for lunch. It was usually something like fish sticks, but on this particular Friday it's a slice of cheese pizza, which pretty much everybody likes.

Seniors with cars sneak off campus and go to McDonald's, but I never got the opportunity to do that. I never drove to school once in four years.

After lunch is fifth period, French II for me. It's my most tedious class, because I'm really not that involved in learning French. If I'd known I would fall in love and marry a Frenchwoman in 1992, things might have been different, but as it is, I mostly just sit and ogle our teacher. Miss Dubrow seems to enjoy wearing tight knit dresses that show off her figure, and I don't think I was the only guy who ever walked out of class with a book covering his excitement.

Sixth period is Senior English, the one class I really do enjoy. Mrs. Maguire is a wonderful teacher who really conveys a sense of wonder about English literature, which is what we're studying this year. She was the best teacher I ever had at any level, including college, and my younger sister Laura -- who had her three years later at Oakton -- felt the same way.

When the last bell rings, we head to the buses to go home. Since it's Friday, my friends and I spend about an hour and a half playing football in the street. I go home for dinner and then my dad drives me over to Woodson to get on the band bus for Annandale.

It's a great game, just as we hoped it would be. The Cavaliers really throw a scare into the invincible Atoms, and we lead 14-12 in the fourth quarter. But Annandale lives up to its reputation, driving for the winning touchdown in the closing seconds and winning 19-14.

After the game, a lot of the band kids get together for a party at someone's house. Very tame -- no booze -- except for being able to slow-dance closer than the chaperones let us at school dances.

Tom Bates, a junior who lives near me, drives me home after the party. I'm in bed by 1 a.m., looking forward to sleeping in on Saturday.


A long post, for which I apologize, but I find there are tears in my eyes as I type this. When I was 16, all I wanted was to be older. All I wanted was for days and weeks and months to pass as quickly as they could so that I could be off to college and adulthood.

It wasn't all wonderful. There were things I wanted to happen that didn't, and things that happened that I wish hadn't.

But why didn't I know? I had seen "Our Town." I understood what it meant.

I wanted to get out of Woodson so I could live my life, as I'm sure many of you did too.

But as the late John Lennon once said, life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans.

I wish I had known.


Anonymous said...

Lots of tears here as well. And lots of well written memories.
I couldn't wait to get out of High School and see what I could be.
Such a long time ago, but your blog took me right back to school--
Fairfax High School, Class of '67.
I knew many of the people in your class and have enjoyed reading about all of them. Keep it coming!! (if I remember correctly, Tony Barile's dad was one of my teachers at Sidney Lanier)
Thanks for letting me lurk !

Barbara Williams Seigler
Fairfax HS Class of 1967

Mike Rappaport said...

Feel free, Barbara. Any time.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike,

I remember your name, if not your face! I was first chair flute for 4 years. Loved your memories!!

Ruth Ryan