Sunday, April 18, 2010

Identity crisis

An old friend with whom I've corresponded electronically a few times over the last year or so sent out a note the other day announcing that it's time to start thinking about organizing a 40th anniversary high school reunion. She then proceeded to list all the members of the class who could be found on Facebook. I recognized a lot of the names but even so I thought to myself, the past is another country, I don't know if I can go back there. I'd be like a tourist with an out-of-date guidebook, looking for places that no longer exist, trying to partake of local customs that the populace has long since abandoned. The authentic self inhabiting the authentic past -- ha, that's a crock. Maybe I'm the person I was, and maybe my long-ago classmates are the people they were, but I doubt it. We've all done a lot of living between then and now, I figure it's got to have had some effect on us. Shoot, I'm not even sure if my fingerprints are the same as they used to be.

What will we do when we meet each other after all these years? Stand around with cocktails and canapes in an airless catering hall out in Nassau County and reminisce? Corroborate hazy memories of classroom pranks, rushed sex in neighborhood playgrounds, zoned-out parties in wood-paneled suburban basements? Will we find in each other what we found back then as raw adolescents -- a useful mirror for reflecting our newly made up selves? Or are we now too much made and unmade by experience to worry about cosmetics? You reach a certain age, you don't want to look in the mirror, frightened you'll see some effin stranger there with a set expression on his face and no way to go back and undo it. You keep a whole vanity filled with lotions and creams, tonics and powders, but not one of them will do the trick. That sketchy face is yours. It goes back generations, you better keep it.

Sure, I can be found on Facebook but that's not me, that's just a projected self I use for protection, to hold the curious at bay. I figure if I'm gonna remain a mystery to myself, I might as well play along with the world at large and pretend to be the person I am. As the stupid expression goes, "Works for me." That's what I'm building on Facebook, a
wall -- random observations, postings, links, exclamations, musings, whatever you want to call them, you know, a wall. So-and-so had a grandchild, so-and-so went to Australia, Miss Gee had a health scare, Mr. Tee fell off a horse. Somebody made a fortune, somebody suffered a reversal in fortune. Someone saw the sun rise, another one saw it set. There's an ash cloud over Europe and the Yankees swept Texas. It's an effin wall, I tell you. The fact that it's my effin wall is something, I guess. Doesn't do you any good if you want to meet somebody face to face, to shove your humid snout under their arm and suss out the animal spirits that reside there. That irrepressible humanity we try to hide with soap and deodorant. There isn't a single face on Facebook and it ain't a book. My friend R. says the kids know what it is -- a way of staying connected. Bullshit. Facebook is a kind of condom for those who don't want to risk real social intercourse. It's protection.

Hey, maybe that's what we do at this reunion thing, standing in the shadows of forty years' worth of living. We celebrate our ongoing struggle to be ourselves. I'll bet we recognize each other, no matter who we are these days. Some of us will have good stories, others won't. Who cares? We'll listen to them all. There'll be music -- you always need music at this kind of affair. It'll be the music that bound us together. B. J. Thomas. Chicago. Simon & Garfunkel. Three Dog Night. The Jackson Five. Jesus Christ Superstar. Dionne Warwick. Ray Stevens singing, "Everything is Beautiful" and if somebody wants to dance, we'll ask the DJ to play a little Sly Stone. We'll drink margaritas and beer. Someone will make a speech. It'll be soppy stuff, so unlike Facebook with its effin text boxes. People will sweat and laugh and cry, wearing their emotions on their sleeves. It'll be like the old days. We'll light up a couple of joints and reach for handles to doors that aren't there. We'll be our old selves again.

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