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.

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