Minnesota Part II: The Reunion

High School was not a fun time for me. Not because I didn’t like school, I love to learn and I love to be social. But the constant threat of ridicule kept me from having much fun while I slogged my way through Elk River Senior High. Being gay in high school in semi-suburban Minnesota in 1987 made me a bit of a target for some of my less enlightened classmates.

So why, you may ask, did I go to my 20-year high school reunion this past Saturday? Well, I have never seen myself as a victim—not even back in high school—so those experiences have not haunted me in the intervening years. What residual anger I may have felt has been blunted by time and distance. Plus curiosity and the chance to see friends that I don’t get to see often made it too tempting to pass up.

Not surprisingly it turned out to be a mixed bag. Spending time with my old friends was the best part. We had a lot of fun and laughed a lot. Plus hanging out with a bunch of people my age made me less obsessive about time’s inevitable march to my 40th birthday. It was also fun seeing people who I hadn’t spoken to (or even thought about) in 20 years. It wasn’t like Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (also Class of 1987). There were no big surprises and no big show downs. Most of my former classmates were friendly and happy.

I was amazed by a few people who just couldn’t let go of the past. Even after 20 years they still couldn’t quite bring themselves to be friendly to anyone who wasn’t part of their clique. For the most part I managed to deal with their attitude by pandering to their over inflated sense of self-importance. I took a perverse pleasure in praising them just to see them struggle to be nice to me.

Equally amazing was how much the guys had let themselves go and how overweight most of the men have become. I wanted to take the microphone away from the emcee and give a lecture on heart health since many of them looked like they weren’t going to be alive for the next reunion. A few of the women had put on some pounds, but nothing like the men and they looked like they were at least taking care of themselves. It seems like the men of my class want to prove the statistics about obesity in America.

Perhaps the nadir of the evening was when Mr. Blehyl, one of our former teachers, was introduced as the special guest and invited to say a few words. Not only was he a homophobic bully of a teacher back in 1987, but in his remarks at the reunion he recognized many of the students with minds as small as his own. Just like high school, he favored those students who just happen to be the homophobic bullies who had made my daily life in school hell. I guess some things will never change.

Overall I had a good time. I am definitely going to keep in better touch with my friends, but I am not sure that I have much interest in checking out the next reunion. Then again curiosity might get the better of me. Ask me in ten years.

Coming soon Minnesota Part III: Minneapolis in a Day. The image above is Moonlight by Edvard Munch (1895)…more on that in the next installment.

Minnesota Part I: Dog Days of Summer

This weekend I headed back to Minnesota for my 20-year high school union. It was a whirlwind weekend with lots to do and little time to do it. After a stormy, delayed flight into MSP from DCA I made it to my Uncle’s and Aunt’s house in the MacalesterGroveland Neighborhood of St. Paul. The weather was cooler than DC but still more humid than I expected. Unlike DC, not everyone in Minnesota has AC. Which was fine by me. I have never quite gotten used to sleeping in air conditioning (a requirement in steamy DC) and I actually enjoyed having two fans to cool me and lull me to sleep instead.

After a great night’s sleep I actually managed to go for a run before breakfast. I figured if I was going to cheat on the South Beach with pancakes and syrup, I might as well burn some calories. I also knew that I was picking up 2 dozen donuts at Don’s Bakery in Elk River. Don’s donuts are the donuts of my childhood and I wasn’t going to let this rare opportunity to get some pass me by. I took the two large boxes back to my rental car, turned on the AC and ate two of them–a jelly Bismark and a Lady Finger–in about 30 seconds flat. About half an hour later I found myself at my childhood Dairy Queen ordering burgers and a chocolate-dipped cone.

Not even the diet-busting goodness of my midday binge could delude me into thinking that Elk River was worth the visit. Despite lots of new construction activity in town, the place has a dusty, abandoned look. No doubt the 10,000 people that have moved to town since I graduated in 1987 spend most of their time patronizing the strip malls outside of town. Families conviced they need a patch of suburban sprawl, will never know what it is like to grow up within blocks of schools, a library, shops, churches, parks, ice skating, the Dairy Queen, and even the spot where the Elk River flows into the Mississippi. Growing up I lived in a community that smart developers and New Urbanists desperately try to recreate. Despite recent developments, short-sighted market forces and bad decisions by the City have greatly diminished the financial and emotional investments that decades of residents put into make Elk River a real place rather than a sprawling mass of parking lots along the highway.

Without much to keep me in Elk River, I got in the car and headed “up north” to my brother’s place near the northwestern shore of Lake Mille Lacs. By the time I got there, the humidity was gone and the weather was like every childhood memory I have of summer in Minnesota. It was great to see him and his family and catch up with them. Having recently left the Elk River area, they were happy to see the balance of the 2 dozen donuts from Don’s. In additon to having several more of the donuts, the real treat for me was playing with their three dogs. (Abby is the sweetie I coerced into sitting still for the picture above.)

Coming Soon: Minnesota Part II: The Reunion