Friday, October 9, 2009

High School Reunion I: Weehawken '59, New Joisey, and New Yawk

This past weekend, Side's life essentially came "full circle."

The Poppycocks traveled to the place of my birth, Secaucus, New Jersey, to attend my 50th High School reunion. This was the very first reunion of any sort I have attended, and it was a wonderful time.

The High School itself, Weehawken High School, is located about two blocks from the Hudson River, on the bluffs of Weehawken where the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton took place. From that lovely spot all of the Manhattan skyline and more unfolds before your eyes with the same awesome scale as a visit to the Grand Canyon.

The opening highlight of the reunion weekend was a tour of the school guided by the principal of the last 30 years. It was a wonder to behold. When I attended the school, it had grades 10-12, with about 700 students. Now it has about half that many, with grades 7-12. The school is in spectacular condition, and is run as if it were a private school; no social promotions, no drug issues, and so much more.

What makes this all the more startling is that the school was built as a WPA project about the same time the "Old Brunswick High School," now returned to dust, was built. The sense of loss and disbelief that descended upon us over the latter as we toured was profound, and truth be told, maddening.

But that is a subject for an upcoming post.

We were in the area long enough to take a full day tour of New Yawk City, and to enjoy the cuisine in New Joisey as well. All I can say is that this area of the country has an awesome cultural and ethnic flare about it. In particular, do they know how to do Italian!

On the tour, we lunched on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. In Joisey, we had a basic pizza with friends that was the best I can remember ever, notwithstanding Scarlet's gourmet offerings. The plain sauce and the cheese were basic yet transcendent. And it was from a local "joint" that reflects the common skills in such pursuits.

We had dinner in Secaucus at two wonderful Italian restaurants, and one was the hotel establishment. Atmosphere you can't find elsewhere, an indescribable character to the patrons and their enjoyment of the evening, and a wonderful innate skill with the basics and beyond. Simply a feeling that you can't recreate without the locals involved.

Even the dinner for the reunion was catered by the hotel's Italian restaurant. An incredible antipasto buffet kept this reporter from moving on; one forgets how enjoyable and addicting the best quality meats, cheeses, and other items can be. A chef was preparing custom pasta dishes at a saute station....I never got that far. Other dishes too difficult to describe. And a selection of Italian deserts that eventually caused us to give up in surrender. The tastes were simply too rich and hard to handle in any quantity.

All I can say is that there is a remarkable cultural essence to the area that is impossible to duplicate and export elsewhere. We have no desire to move back to that area, but damn, it would sure be nice to enjoy that unique character whenever we wanted!

Enough already, and if you wanted to know more, fuggedaboutit. Oh yeah...I almost forgot about the "full circle" part. By that I mean from Secaucus, to Rutgers College, to California, to Maine, and back to Secaucus. A full circle, where "full" has several meanings.

Let me close with this. I am convinced that 20th, 25th, 30th, and 40th reunions could be very enjoyable. But it is when you attend a 50th that you see things in a truly reflective sense as you look back on what was, what wasn't, what could have been, what never could have been, and all the other ruminations on a long life hopefully well lived. As I reunited with the most treasured of old friends, all the joys of those innocent days of unfolding adulthood and the mysteries of what might lie ahead resurfaced. It was a time of unembarrassed joy and warmth.

I mourn the fact that in recent decades the high school and college years have become a period of great anxiety for most, mainly because the culture and other pressures are dictating the rate at which youngsters are forced to "grow up." By contrast, for those of us celebrating the 50th, we did so at our own pace and as our situations allowed.

The most common statement I heard all weekend was "I have no regrets." May you feel the same, and if your 50th is still ahead of you and you don't feel like attending, I hope you will change your mind.

You may think you're already "grown up." I think you'll find such a reunion a belated opportunity to grow up even more if you'll only take the chance.

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