Friday, April 13, 2012

Another Tale of a Twelfth-Grade Nothing

Yesterday I spoke about those embarrassing moments from teenage life. Here’s another, even stranger incident from my oft–ill-fated senior year:

Growing up in the metaphorical shadow of the Twin Towers had its advantages. Case in point: each year, two nights before graduation, our high school would rent out an entire ferry from the Circle Line, a sightseeing company that cruises around Manhattan Island, several times a day. The Senior Cruise was—perhaps is—a dinner/dance, once last treat for the graduates before they don their caps and gowns on Friday.

Another nice thing about our school was exam week: exams began the Wednesday before graduation week and continued through the following Wednesday (the same day as the cruise), with Thursday (the day before graduation) reserved for make-up exams. The tests ran from 8:00–10:00 and 10:30–12:30 each day, but were scheduled such that very, very few people ever had more than one per day. Students from all four grades came in for any slots in which they had an exam, and were dismissed when it was done. Thus, we were all left with the great majority of each of these days off.

This brings us to Wednesday afternoon, after the last exams of our high school career were behind us. I was at my best friend, Keith’s, house, where we were discussing that evening’s cruise. In a stunning display of ignorance, Keith and I decided to make a mix tape that we could bring along, just in case the professional DJ wasn’t doing a good enough job. (Really.) We didn’t have any blank tapes, though, so we just recorded over an old one—which would have been fine, except we didn’t have enough time to fill the entire tape and—more importantly—somehow forgot that the previous contents would still be there.

Well, big surprise: that night, the DJ was doing a really good job. Nevertheless, Keith and I decided to request a song for the class: Bon Jovi’s Never Say Goodbye. (Never mind that the DJ almost certainly had that disc, and just as certainly would have played that high-school–graduation anthem.) Keith approached the DJ, cassette in hand, and asked him to play the last song. The DJ took the tape, rewound to the beginning of the last track, and, listening to it with headphones attached to a separate player, asked Keith who it was. “Bon Jovi,” came the response, complete with the eye rolling such a question deserved. The DJ shrugged and put it in the queue; a couple of songs later, we heard the strains of… well, not Bon Jovi. It was, in fact, a demo tape I had made of a song I wrote for my then-girlfriend (now wife), Anna. There was nothing to be done; the song, which no one besides her was ever supposed to hear, was being broadcast for the entire senior class. And, amazingly enough, people were dancing.

I walked around the room in a daze. No one was laughing; no one was holding their ears; in fact, they were all acting like my ridiculously unprofessional track was something they’d heard on the radio, just last week. (I blame the distortion of dance-volume speakers.) As I came to the back of the room, I passed a girl I’d had a crush on for years (which is a bunch of embarrassing stories, in itself). As she sat there on a bench, with some friends, I heard her say, “I really like this song, but I’ve never heard it before! Who is this?”

Sheepishly, I responded to her query: “Actually, it’s me.” I’ll never forget the look of awe on her face.

As I continued my lap around the room, I was walking on air. The girl I’d once pined for now saw me in a new light. The rest of the class thought my demo was a professional song, and would never know the trick I’d inadvertently pulled on them. And then, as the final chords faded, I heard Keith’s voice. He had grabbed the microphone from the DJ and announced, “For those of you who were wondering who that was, it’s Jeff Drake!”

And suddenly, all eyes were on me.

I don’t remember what happened after that; I do know the rest of the night was rather uneventful, except for the part where I was the sole witness to our salutatorian walking smack into the wrong half of a half-open sliding glass door. “You saw nothing,” she warned me. I just smiled and nodded.

I guess other people have those moments, too.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tales of a Twelfth-Grade Nothing

I just turned 37, this week, which may or may not have evoked some of the reflections I’ve been having. It’s more likely that it involves my upcoming 20th high school reunion, which I won’t be attending due to scheduling conflicts, just like my 10th. (I actually am interested in going, but ironically enough, we’ll be in my home town for my wife’s high school reunion, then in her home town for my 20th. Nice, huh?)

Anyway, the title of this post should serve to set the stage for what I’m about to write. I was very much a nerd, throughout my school years—still am, to some extent, though that matters much less to a 37-year-old. By high school, I tried to tell myself that I didn’t care what other people thought of me, and occasionally went to great lengths to prove it. But somewhere in the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind, unbeknownst even to me (but probably quite obvious to everyone else), I did care. Even as a senior, when I had finally gained a little cred, I still longed to be included—which led to some interesting events.

I remember our year-end jazz band concert. I played piano and keyboards, but was the only member of the rhythm section (also consisting of a guitarist, bassist, and drummer) who wasn’t also a member of our school’s most popular garage band. I don’t know if they were asked, or if they volunteered, to perform some prelude music before our set, but the point is that they did. And I, as the sole member of the rhythm section who wasn’t a member of their band, decided to join them on stage. I sat behind the piano where no one could see what I was doing—no one but my bandmates, of course—and moved my hands around the keyboard, pretending to play with them. I guess I figured that since the piano is a fairly soft instrument, the audience wouldn’t wonder why they couldn’t hear me over the electric guitar, bass, and drums. I wanted to be cool; instead, some 20 years later, I’m still absolutely amazed by how incredibly lame I was.

Strangely enough, another memory of sorts goes back to that same set of concerts. The next day, we did an abbreviated set for a school assembly. My electric keyboard didn’t have a pedal, but I somehow convinced my MIDI consultant to lend me his. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand how it worked—that it was basically a glorified Boolean toggle switch—and managed to hook it up to my keyboard, backwards. Instead of just disconnecting it and playing as I had always played, I kept it plugged in and tried to pedal backwards. Needless to say, it didn’t go well; I wound up completely messing up a solo, in front of the entire student body.

I remember the day of the AP chemistry exam. It was held at my parents’ church, for some reason, and the rule was that after the exam, students were supposed to return to the school immediately. The unwritten rule, however, was that everyone would go get some lunch and maybe come back for the end of the school day. Of course, I wanted to do this, but despite having gotten an old car for my 17th birthday (a fairly standard practice, in my town), I didn’t yet have a driver’s license, just a permit. (Long story, that.) But Instead of going back, I found a guy who had a license, but no car, and got him to be my licensed-driver chaperone. I barely knew the guy and we actually didn’t get along very well, but it was mutually beneficial, so we went for it. We went to some random restaurant outside of town and then spent an hour or two at the mall. I have no recollection of what, exactly, we did, but how weird was it to be doing this with a tenuous acquaintance? Only my closest inner circle ever knew about that day.

The list could go on and on, but having been part of the “out” crowd throughout high school, I’d be interested to know how common this is. Do most people replay these kinds of stupid, lame decisions, even decades later? Just curious.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hungry for Less

Before I begin, I’ll be the first to admit that I was expecting a lot, going into this. With all the hype surrounding the then-upcoming The Hunger Gamesmovie and several members of my extended family gushing about how great the books are, I figured it would be amazing. Unfortunately, it just… wasn’t.

The Hunger Games is split into three parts: The Tributes, The Games, andThe Victor. (Note: while there are also three novels in the series, I am speaking only of the first novel, which is itself divided into the aforementioned parts.) What’s interesting is that while many books increase in intensity from start to finish, this one is more like a bell curve. Part I (comprising chapters 1-9) begins a bit slowly, as it necessarily lays the groundwork for the story ahead. This, of course, is to be expected, and by the end of Part I, I had come to know and love the main protagonist. As Part II (chapters 10-18) begins, I was finally fully engaged in the story, and I loved every minute of it, constantly clamoring for more.

But then I got to Part III.

I’m not sure what was going through Suzanne Collins’ mind as she wrote the third and concluding part of this novel, but it is, in a word, boring. It is so bad that there were several times I was about to close the book for good, just not waste my time on seeing how it ended. Still, I persevered, confident that since so many people think it’s so great, there had to be something worthwhile at the end, something that would make this tremendous monotony worth it. The problem is: there isn’t.

After slogging through almost 100 pages of boredom, I finally arrived at the climax of the novel, only to be presented with a ridiculous, contrived, final battle that wasn’t even exciting while it happened. And then, once it was finally over and I got to enjoy the results, there were still another 30 pages of slogging boredom before I finally read “END OF BOOK ONE”—as if I’d actually subject myself to two more novels of this.

I realize, of course, that I’m not in the “young adult” target audience, but I enjoy several other novels of that genre. “Young adult” doesn’t necessarily mean “catering to tweenage pop culture,” but the climax was definitely just that.

I’d also like to point out one of my three stars is because The Hunger Games is completely and utterly devoid of adult language and sexual situations, a feature I wish were found in more of modern literature. Even one of my favorite books of all time, Ender’s Game (the movie for which comes out in March 2013), doesn’t have that feature.

So, all in all, a book that sadly failed to impress, but one I might read again, someday. I’d still love to know what other people find so compelling, and maybe I’ll find it on the second time through.