Where was I while 30 years were passing?

MICHAEL OLESKER

March 11, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

A letter arrives from a distance of 30 years, carrying Twilight Zone implications: Attendance is requested for an encore of the springtime of our lives.

"Can't be true, can it?" I ask Lee Raskin, who's helping put it together.

"It's true," he says. "After 30 years."

Thirty? Impossible. Where was I while 30 years were slipping into the past tense? Out getting a pizza? Watching my hair grow old? Checking the horizon for signs of Mayflower Moving Vans bringing the Colts back home?

After 30 years, a tribal gathering is finally taking place: the first-ever reunion of the 1963 class of City College, a concept which brings both delight and despair. Despair, because it's 30 years. When I was in high school, I assumed all persons 30 years past graduation were either dead or living in God's waiting room, Miami Beach.

Delight, because of all of the reasons everybody holds onto high school memories: We had friends back there who seem, without our permission, to have slipped out of our lives. It was the last time most of us felt part of a tribe, and we miss it.

Also, when we awoke each morning back then, we didn't have to get our body out of bed in installments. And we miss that, too, and long for a reminder.

"You hear about this reunion?" I ask Jake Oliver.

"Are you kidding?" he says. "I'm writing a column about it."

Oliver, a classmate all through school, is now publisher of the Afro-American, which is another impossibility. How did a kid my age get to be a publisher? Or, like Lee Raskin, get to be a vice president for the Rothchild Company, where they advise people what to do with their money?

Or, like Dutch Ruppersberger, get to be a Baltimore County councilman?

"I know, I know," says Ruppersberger, who also graduated with us. "It's frightening how fast the years go, isn't it?"

Thirty years: Where was I while this was happening? Still trying to conjugate Mrs. Robbins' irregular French verbs? Still trying to forge a pass to get out of Mr. Novak's swim class? Still wondering why my date's complexion had to break out on prom night?

With variations, it's pretty much the universal American experience, isn't it? One comforting moment, everybody's lined up in alphabetical order every day, and you know your place in your little world. And, an instant later, they've handed you your adulthood papers and shown you the door.

And you spend the next 30 years wondering: Whatever happened to everybody after they dismissed class for the last time?

The wonderment is not only individual, but collective: In retrospect, we seem to have been a high point of a great American experiment that has since lost its way, a brief heartbeat in time in which a lot of city schools were racially integrated.

The great white flight to suburbia hadn't quite kicked into gear, and the great resegregation of public schools was still a few years off. We were doing something no other generation had been asked to do: get along with people who didn't look just like us.

And the reunion, three decades later, brings back a chance to feel an America that still had a vision of the thing we used to call the melting pot.

Thirty years, huh? John Kennedy was in the White House, and Vietnam was still off the coast of our consciousness. John Unitas was in at quarterback, and Robert Irsay was merely moving air conditioners. Jerry Bark was pitching curve balls for City College's baseball team and now, I see by yesterday's paper, his son is pitching them for the Atlanta Braves.

Time gets away. Two days ago, I had lunch with Lee Raskin and Jake Oliver on Charles Street. We don't see each other every week, and certainly not often enough, and yet it never seems to get in our way.

We lapsed into a comfort zone that only comes to people who knew each other in their youth, in that defenseless time before everybody learned how to hide. That's what high school reunions are all about: We see each other as publishers and vice presidents, or as policemen or cooks or security guards, and we get to remember them when we didn't have titles yet, only yearnings.

The reunion's May 1, at City College. For information, call Jerry Goldman at 965-5947, or Calvin Anderson at 366-4161.

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