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Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Good, Good Life

So, no offense to the three regular readers of Spicy Food Guy and his gallant posts about delicious eating, but today is turned over to some guy named "Joe", who wants to write about his 30th high school reunion.  Something about another commencement speech.  Whatever.

Welcome and good evening, Class of 1981.  

It was 30 years ago that I last addressed you as a group.  Back then, I was one of three students elected by the faculty to give a commencement address.  Your friends and family were here.  Do you remember that I spoke or what I said?  

That's OK, neither do I.  Something full of arrogance and piss and vinegar.  Pretentious, as I recall. Wishful.  But I don't remember the details (any of it, actually), and neither do you.  I remember the party afterwards, but that one is in the vault.  A conversation for another time.

So, through the magic of the internet, we are all gathered again.  Not the cavernous arena we gathered in the last time, but a place like it.

Look beside you, right and left.  First thing we notice is some empty seats.  We didn't all make it, here in the land of the living.  Some of us have gone on to the Great Mystery.  We miss them, those that have passed on.  We wish them restful peace.  A moment of silence.

So my remarks will begin.  A word about our generation.

For those in the audience from the Media, I use the word generation loosely.  I am addressing the class of 1981, born in '62 or '63, but I am also giving or taking a few years.  The classes that graduated 6 or 8 years behind us?  They count.  Hard to know the specifics of who I call my generation, who doesn't, where the boundaries lay.  You media are a pedantic bunch; I will not be held to your labels or standards.  That's one of the good things about us, but we will get to that.

Here is what I know.  The Census people, the ones who count stuff, established the back end of  the Baby Boomer generation just a year or two before we were born.  The Baby Boomer  generation boasted Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, both Clintons.  Not us.

A generation behind us came the internet.  Mark Zuckerberg, born in 1984, invented Facebook. We watched the start of Netflix and eBay.  But it wasn't us.

If you weren't paying attention, you'd think we haven't done much.  You might call us boring.  If the generations from the past 70 years had a party, my generation would be cut off at the door by a velvet rope.  "Sorry", the bouncer would say in that furiously unapologetic way that bouncers do, "your name isn't on the list.  You can't come in"

I think there is some stuff you should know, and you need to listen to me now.

Operation Desert Storm, 1991 or so, the first war we had fought as a nation in two decades?  We fought in that.

9/11?  Hit when we, my generation, were about to upgrade our houses and careers and take our turn at the American Dream.  We put that stuff off.  Those kids who were shot at in Iraq and Afghanistan the next ten years?  Those were our kids.

Do you know the three worst recessions in the past 30 years?  One in the early 80's, one in the early 90's, when we were entering the workforce.  The third?  The really awful recession, the great recession?  That happened in 2007, at the height of my generation's earnings years.  We were laid off, or, at best, watched our 401Ks fall to half value.  Let's face it:  when Social Security has to own up and say some poor future US Generation is going to have to take a smack in the face and take out less than they paid in, who do you think it's going to be?  I will tell you who it will be: me and my classmates.  

Let me speak tonight to the members of the media who think we might be complaining.  Have you heard this from us before?  Has the Class of 1981 gone and picketed Congress?  No.  We have not.  Want to know why?

Because we are not a complaining generation.  

We work hard.  We love dogs.  We love our spouses and kids and our homes.  We love Diners and Sports Bars and Cold Beer.  We would drive a far piece for really good Ice Cream.  We eat hot dogs with mustard during ball games.  We sing the baseball anthem during the 7th inning stretch and sing the National Anthem at the beginning of football games.  We cheer the band and wave flags.  We watch fireworks.  We ride roller coasters and scream like babies at the spooky parts of scary movies.  We celebrate our life's events at picnic tables at State Parks.  We hug our Moms and our daughters on their birthdays.  We take our sons fishing and bowling.

And let me tell the media another thing.  You praise another generation, the kids in their teens and twenties.  You call them generous and tolerant.  You go on and on about how they give hours to the community, how they don't discriminate about religion or ethnicity.  You marvel about how they accept homosexuality, how big their hearts are.

The Class of 1981 has a quiet message for you.  Those kids?  Those are our kids.  You think we are some passive do nothing generation?  Who has raised better kids in the past 100 years of our nation's history?  Not to be an ass, here at my 2nd commencement speech, but I really do think it is time for the media to shut the hell up.  

I will get off my soapbox now.

30 years ago when I gave you the big speech I didn't know all the stuff I just said.  I underestimated our collective character.  I simply did not know the size of your hearts.

So more specifically, now I talk to you, Milford Class of 1981.

We start with accountability.  The Popular Pretty Girls of the Class of 1981 made the reunion all possible.  The Class Officers are charged with delivering our reunions.  They elected not to do so.  I am certain our Class Officers have very big and important jobs in 2011.  They have not delivered a reunion to date.  Not in 1991, not in 2001, not 2011.  On this I will comment no further.

So the Popular Pretty Girls stepped up.  They have always stepped up.  Remember those big signs on the walls of the high school they worked on for hours to cheer our team on to some victory for some random sport and we thought it was because they were snotty and superficial?

Turns out they had school spirit. Real school spirit.  And big hearts and genuine souls.  

And I missed it.           

Thirty years from when we graduated, the Popular Pretty Girls made sure we had a homecoming.  And for us Nerdy Guys, who were deathly afraid of the the Popular Pretty Girls and their ilk?

Turns out the Pretty Popular Girls are nice.  Big time nice.  And have real class spirit.  And good husbands who are funny.  And 30 years ago I made a lot of false assumptions that these girls were stuck up and pretentious.  I was wrong then.  I will not be wrong again.

At one point in the evening, one of the Pretty Popular Girls pointed out that if some of us Nerdy Guys had just asked, maybe some dates would have happened back there in '80 or so.  I appreciate the gesture, but 30 years clouds judgment.  So to you, Pretty Popular Girl who hinted so, I think at prom time you had better options than a 6'2'' 128lb walking stick of bones and skin.  Wayyyyyy better options.  But thanks for making me think I had it in me at the time.  And thanks even more for organizing the evening. And thanks most of all for making me realize what a lovely person you are.  I wish I could have said thank you in June of 1981.

And then there were the Non-Popular Girls of my class.  The Non-Popular Girls were a little plain or a little overweight or a little whatever.  And now their souls shine like stars.  They volunteer at Hospice or Special Olympics and kings should bow at their feet.  Real kings.  

Sometimes we hung out 30 years ago when it was convenient for me and sometimes I ignored you. I didn't deserve your friendship back then and I probably do not deserve it now.  To repeat a phrase I recently used, your hearts are so big you could never be anything but beautiful.  If I had a brain in my head in 1981 I would have asked you to Prom.  Shame on me for not doing so.

Also at our reunion were the Scary Guys.  Jocks and fighters who kicked ass and tied guys like me in knots and hung us from the ropes in the gym.  Thanks for being normal and funny and not locking us in the bathroom at the reunion.  Your hearts are genuine and you are stand up guys and you have rescued a female classmate or two from bad situations.  I will always envy you.

Lastly, to the Nerdy Guys.  We know who we are, even if it took us 30 years to dance with a cheerleader. 

We have done well.

Some of us tried to be be brave.  We jumped out of C130's and called ourselves Paratroopers.  Or we worked as DJ's or media producers and made ourselves specialists at what we do.  One of us fought Aaron Pryor, Welterweight Champion of the World, for 3 rounds before getting knocked out.  

So this is the get tough generation.  We spit blood and stagger up and say who the hell are you?  

But a tough generation is not a mean generation.  You could tell from the reunion.  We are an affectionate bunch.  We are inclined to turn our faces to the sun.  

A reunion with the class of 1981 is sort of like going to an autumn fest.  The cold air is setting in, but for a moment we turn our heads to a fading sun and soak in the warmth.  We linger there, we  turn our faces to the west, we breathe in the last of the sunshine.

In our hands is a cup of hot cider is a little shot of something something.  We sip it.  We grin a bit.

I love my class.  I love our affection, our hand shakes, our hugs, and our defiance.  This is my class.  These are my people.  I didn't always know how important that was to me.  I won't miss it again.

Thanks to all of you.


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