This summer, I attended my ten-year reunion with a strange self-conscious mixture of bravado and trepidation. Funny that it took a goofy slapstick NBC sitcom to drop the high school baggage I didn’t even realize I carried.
by Scott Daniel // December 7, 2010
As I ambled through the skywalk at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in my hometown of Sparks, Nevada, my mind wandered to television. My brain does this frequently, considering how often I have turned to the boob tube for comfort in my recessed state. This time, I reflected on two of my closest fictional friends, friends I made in a haphazardly constructed Spanish study group that meets every Thursday evening: Annie Edison and Troy Barnes…
Annie and Troy are students at Greendale Community College on my new favorite primetime sitcom, Community on NBC. Troy is, in his own words, “a quarterback and a prom king.” Troy (Donald Glover) is dense. Troy is dumb. Troy is also intensely nostalgic. Troy has arrived on campus at Greendale banking on riding his past glories into the future. In the pilot episode, he takes a heap of abuse for wearing his Riverside High letterman jacket throughout the first week of his post-secondary life.
Annie (Alison Brie) is an unpopular obsessive-compulsive former honors student who dropped out of high school after a brief addiction to prescription stimulants, earning her the nickname “Little Annie Adderall”. Annie is neurotic. Annie is insecure. Annie is also a classic late bloomer. When her hair is not pulled back like a “spinster librarian”, she is alarmingly attractive – but she doesn’t know it. Annie has arrived on campus at Greendale hoping to outrun her dispiriting past, to leave her high school haunts behind her and establish a new identity for herself at the most ridiculous community college in America.
Walking through the doors at my ten-year high school reunion last month, locking eyes with people I literally haven’t seen in a decade, it slowly dawned on me. We are all Annie. We are all Troy.
The high school reunion is a truly peculiar American experience; then again, high school is really a peculiarly American institution. We may be the only culture on Earth that so worships youth and vitality at the expense of age and wisdom that we harbor the dormant belief that the years between 14 and 18 represent the pinnacle. The apex. If you were Troy, you spend the rest of your life trying to relive it. If Annie, to outrun it.
Like most people, I suspect, my high school experience fell somewhere in between. I have fond memories of my life between 1996 and 2000. I had plenty of friends, no real enemies, and while I was certainly no quarterback, I did stake a Glee-like presence under the proscenium arch of the Reed High Little Theater. And I was a junior prom king runner-up (my date and fellow royalty candidate to this day refers to us as the “Prom Losers”); likable enough to receive the Benevolent Geek Party nomination, but sans the widespread popular appeal necessary to win the general election.
Still, somewhere within an unconquered insecure zone in my brain, part of me had been preparing for my ten-year reunion since I walked across the stage at Lawlor Events Center in June 2000. Since the invention of the American general public high school in the early 20th century, there has arisen a bizarre social hierarchy in which the quarterbacks and prom kings are virtual royalty. Other shapes, sizes, and personality types need not apply. Though I’ve always been perfectly comfortable in my own skin as a geeky, slightly quirky intellectual with an outlandish sense of humor and personal appeal, the shadows of unspoken expectations still loomed. Regardless of what we accomplish in our lives, however many degrees we may obtain, trophy spouses we marry, Audis we drive or diseases we cure, we subconsciously bow down to the archetypal royalty permanently crowned by the 12th grade.
Jeff Winger, defrocked attorney and chief protagonist, explained it best:
You think astronauts go to the moon because they hate oxygen? No. They’re trying to impress their high school’s prom king.
Having crossed the reunion threshold, let me tell you something, Sandy Frink. Drop the baggage. Nobody cares.
Which was exactly the attitude I adopted as I mingled with people I literally hadn’t seen since the poker table at Safe ‘n Sober Grad Night. By Saturday, July 24, 2010, I had thankfully stopped concerning myself with how fit or wealthy or accomplished I would be when I followed John Mayer in busting down the double doors. I decided to let my inner Troy and Annie out of their cages, and just be Scott.
And I had a blast.
I had a blast because I finally realized that I had been subconsciously (and narcissistically) viewing my friends, themselves real people with real issues and real insecurities, as cosmic audience members in the Shakespearean theater of my life. We all have our own lives to attend to, and I discovered that some people remained the same, some people backslide, while the majority of my friends had made significant strides in the intervening decade between the diploma and the dance floor. And by turning my attention to who they were and what was going on in their lives, I know that they paid more attention to what was going on in mine.
So we downed some overpriced Heineken, grazed the buffet for wings, baklava, and empanadas, reminisced about forgotten fun, introduced significant others, and opened our emotional yearbooks for one another to sign. And we took a sobering shot of Jack Daniel’s for a fallen friend named Kenny, who was taken from us in 1998 before we ever closed our lockers in yellow hall for the last time.
By the time I finally crawled through the back door of my dad’s house in the early morning hours, I realized something significant. I can’t for the life of me remember who the prom king actually was.
Photo credit: Greendale Community (via ImageShack).