Sunday, March 04, 2007

Old New Friends and New Old Friends

[Some of these thoughts might have come out in previous posts. I don't remember. Sorry if they did, but they're on my mind again, and you're a captive audience so deal with i- what's that? You're not a captive audience? Wait! Please don't go! I'm begging! See? On my knees! Please... stay... just, for a few paragraphs? Please? Wait! No! Don't slam the! ... door. Crap.]

It's been an active week in the reminiscing department. See, they've got this new thing, it's called the "internet". Apparently people can use it to send electronic messages, or "e-mail", or they can post these things called web logs, or "blogs" for short. And a whole bunch of people have pages on this deally called "MySpace". It's all well beyond me.

But through this fantabulous new invention I've set up my very own "MySpace" page. I'm not really a huge fan of MySpace (or Facebook, or Friendster or any of those gizmos), so I've kept it minimalistic. I'm not really the type to post messages on people's walls (comment on blog posts, sure; post on walls, no. Strange, huh?). And I'm not all about finding a song or spiffy background for my page, or building up enormous friend lists. I'm not knocking it for those who do enjoy it, it's just not my thing. I have set up a page though, and I do use it from time to time.

I realize I'm a little behind the curve here, but what I've discovered in just a short time is that these things are marvelous for finding people. This week, I was both finder and findee (foundee?).

First off, I was found by a gal I knew back in high school. I never knew her well, though we had a lot of classes in common. Actually, thinking about that a little more, I realize she was probably in about a quarter of all of my high school classes (which would be equal to a third of my classes that weren't band). All the same, we pretty much ran in different crowds.

She sent me a message out of the blue the other day, and it was really just a wonderful surprise. I got a chance to send her a message back, and she responded again, and one of these days I'll get around to returning the favor. I checked out her page, and it's wonderful to see how well her life has turned out.

This recent connection has reinforced for me a thought that I've been nursing for a few years now: that it's really a shame I didn't get to know more people, especially in high school. Calvin Trillin once said, (or rather, he probably wrote), "Everybody is who he was in high school." I'm not sure how true that is, but if it is, then I missed out on knowing some good people back then. It's an exciting thing to think that at this point in our lives - almost 8 years after getting our diplomas - we have grown just enough that we can start - or restart - friendships which didn't really get the chance to develop in that environment.

It is as if the seeds were planted back then, and they've only now begun to germinate. I'm not so naive as to think each of these seedlings will grow into a BFF, but I am hopeful that at least some will turn out as rewarding friendships. I've already seen it happen; Laura and I are becoming good friends with Stephanie Randall, a person who I knew in high school, but would never have counted as more than an acquaintance. By some chance she lives in our neighborhood now, and we've had the chance to find out how cool she really is. And how much I missed out on back in high school.

And even for those that don't really turn into a lasting friendship, at least it's nice to reminisce. Strange how that can be it's own reward. And nothing jogs those memories like contact from people you used to know. Except, I suppose, watching old home movies, or possibly reading your own biography.

I also played the role of the finder via MySpace. I was just sort of clicking through the profiles of people I recognized, and whenever I found a new one I followed that link. Eventually, through those links, I located the profiles of two of my old friends - Nick and Cullen. Both of these were guys who graduated a year before me, and both of them were indescribably good guys. Throughout high school I looked up to both of them. In fact, during our spirit week one year we even had a "dress like your hero" day, and I chose one of them to emulate.

Beyond being two of my idols, they were also good friends. I was always closer to Nick, and we hung out all the time. I sent him a quick message, and he responded with a wonderful, detailed update. I still have to respond to him again too.

I have a ton of stories from our misadventures together. From the kick-that-started-a-car, to the restroom blackout, to our short-lived entry into the free air market. Nick's e-mail really jogged a bunch of those memories, including the free air business, which I'd almost forgotten about.

I might not be remembering this quite right, but here's how it's coming back to me:

Just down the road from our high school was a Super America, your typical gas station, complete with a place to gauge the pressure in your tires and fill them up for free. Despite the fact that there were other gas stations on the same corner as the SA, none of them had an air hose you could use to fill up your tires.

For some reason or other, we decided we were opposed to Super America's monopoly on air. Maybe we were concerned that they'd inflate (get it?) the price. Maybe our distaste for monopoly stemmed from our proletarian roots. Maybe we were just dumb kids who got it into our heads that we could compete with a regional chain of gas stations.

Whatever the case, we decided that we too would enter the free air market. We made a large sign - much larger than Super America's - and positioned ourselves on a corner just down the road from the gas station. The sign proclaimed in big black letters, "Free Air", and we had placed arrows all around, pointing in nearly every direction, so that our customers knew that all the air was free, and that they could help themselves to as much as they could possibly handle.

Business was booming. We had a prime location with plenty of traffic, a nearly limitless supply of wares, and we'd been able to keep our fixed costs low. But then, realizing the threat we posed, Super America declared war. They'd worked too long and too hard to let some upstart punks threaten the good thing they had going. Also, marching band practice started in like 5 minutes, and we didn't want to be late.

Yes, a piece of me died that day. The day I realized the little guy can never compete with the big chain supplier.

If not for Nick reminding me of that day, I don't know how long I would have gone until I thought of it again. Maybe never.

There's a line in Mary Schmich's essay "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young" (you probably know it as Baz Luhrman's song Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)) that says "the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young."

It's true.

I think one of the biggest reasons for that is because those people help you re-live those glory days. Getting together with old friends and reminiscing isn't just a way to remember what you did when you were younger; it's a way to re-live, and in a very important way it's a way of creating a new glorious day. Memory in a group is so much more than memory.

Another reason it's so important to keep in touch with those from your past is because these are people who have accepted you for such a long time. And here I find myself getting a little nervous about reconnecting with old friends. Because I was never completely sure how good a friend I was with most people.

You see, in high school (and a little bit of this remains, but as I've grown it has shrunk) I was always more concerned with the content of what I said and did than with who I was. Of course, the two are related, but they're also different things. You can be right and a jerk. You can be the most pleasant person and dead wrong. And you can try your best to be right and nice. But that can be tough, and my first priority was being right. I often couldn't see around what I was saying to the way I was saying it or the effect it was having. If someone didn't like what was being said I thought the problem was with them, and didn't always realize that I could be so acerbic.

The good news is, I've grown. I'm still growing. And I know that pretty much everyone else has changed too, in their own ways. Maybe that means we're not still the same people we were in high school (In your face Calvin Trillin!). That complicates things though. After all, if we've all changed, and we used to get along great, then would we still now?

So it's a bit of a catch-22. If we're still the same people and I managed to offend and/or annoy, then would I still do so? And if we've changed and were close, wouldn't we no longer be so?

Ultimately, those are probably some silly questions. Because the truth is probably somewhere in the middle between those extremes. We've all grown. But at the same time, we are still ourselves. A big part of that is who we were back then. Maybe we've mellowed out since high school. Maybe we've become bolder. Maybe we needed to become less self-involved, maybe more so. Whatever our particular growth, we're probably better people than we were back then.
And I think that bodes well. For both reconnecting with old friends, and developing new friendships with people you never got a chance to really know.

Back with my high school friends
Meeting where the train tracks end


emnovak said...

I had a thought at the beginning, but by the time I got to the end of your post, it was lost. Oh wait, it's all coming back to me now. MySpace is stupid.

Katie said...

wow! say hello to stephanie randall from me! we were in skiing together and we had so much fun hanging out! that's so cool that she lives so close to you. i actually saw her totally out of the blue in december 2005 - somehow we both ended up on the same flight from chicago to minneapolis going home for christmas. unfortunately we weren't seated close enough to chat, so only got a quick greeting in....
strange how things work out.
~katie (sjodin) rietz

Cullen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cullen said...

I believe you are the first to describe me as "indescribably good." I don't know whether to thank you or grimmace at the new standard you've set for me.

At the same time, I would have to say that I don't believe myself to be the same person that I was in high school -- I beleive myself to be a good deal better (even more trouble for me). I realize that while I was typically genial and leader-y, I didn't live the kind of redemptive existence that now so fills me with conviction. Instead, I was exclusive, constantly making sure of my place in the social pecking order, and for that I am deeply sorry.

I was talking with Jenni (who was exponentially better than me in high school), and we both wished that we could return to high school as the people we have now become. But that isn't the way it works, is it? We have another generation to shape -- through the youth with whom we work, and now, through the next generation of Tanners.

Sorry for commenting at such length.

Nice blogs.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Oh take the compliment. ;-)

We all certainly had our faults in high school (and still do), but I seem to find that it's a lot harder to remember the faults than it is what you appreciated about the people.

Oh, and for the record, you were an amazing leader. When I became drum major I was excited because it gave me an opportunity to follow in your shoes (also Jake's shoes).

I'm glad to see those leadership skills still in play, and for a much more important cause. Good stuff.