I did some calculations

What I didn’t do: attend my 35th class reunion for my high school, a private college-preparatory school in Ladue, Missouri, a white suburb of St. Louis this past weekend.
What I did not wear: Tiffany Elsa Peretti rose gold Diamonds by the Yard® Drop Earrings; wedding and engagement rings; Rolex watch; Tiffany Link clasp bracelet in 18k rose gold; black Maison Mayle Guipure Lace Wrap Dress from Barney’s NY; black Cosmos Opposition side-buckled heels from Fluevog; Wolford Individual 10 soft control top hose; black Natori Feathers plunge bra; Hanky Panky organic cotton boy shorts, eye-makeup, insincere smile.  

What I did beforehand: I was born in Missouri, a place my parents told me was the midwest, pointedly and often. As an adult, I have discovered that lots of people think Missouri is part of the American South. If you remember your U.S. history, you’ll know that Missouri was admitted to the union as a slave state in 1820; Maine was to be a free state, and this agreement was known as the Missouri Compromise.  Does this make Missouri a southern state? What about that Missouri accent (the one my parents said was so undetectable that middle-Americans were preferred as national television news anchors)? When I went off to college in 1981, I found out that people on the east coast thought I had an accent, and though I did not set out to never live in St. Louis again, I decided over the next ten years, building the argument for myself, one prejudice at a time, acquired on the left coast and east. 

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Who stayed home with me: my husband and youngest son and four houseguests, including some lesbians, which is something I normally wouldn’t tell you, but, for the purposes of this post, it might be relevant.

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How I much would I have spent on tickets: dog sitter, at $50 per day; round trip airfare on Delta, out of LaGuardia, $405; town car to LaGuardia $123 each way; hotel, two nights Ritz Carlton, in Clayton (because if I’m going, I’m staying someplace really nice) $659 per night; car rental, Cadillac XTS or similar  $282.00; ticket to party $25. Total? $2351.

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Why I stayed home: the last time I went, I got creeped out by a couple of guys from my class. You either understand this, or you don’t (maybe you would like to explain it to me). This time, I got two nicely printed paper invitations in the mail (one included a printed class mailing list with emails and phone numbers), a few prodding emails, and I was tagged along with a bunch of classmates in a Facebook post. I could not bring myself to respond to any of it until a classmate sent a simply worded, direct inquiry. My reply? “I will not be able to make it. Thanks.”

Yes, actually, this is what we wore to graduation
What I did instead: I added up what I would have spent on the reunion. I decided that the money would be better spent on donations to some non-profits doing work I believe in. 
The list below is in alphabetical order, with links.


Things that were sad: per federal law, I was unable to contribute to efforts to raise the minimum wage, the PACs for UNITE HERE (the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union), or the United Auto Workers. You have to be a member to do that. 

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Things that were funny: I enjoyed virtually shopping for this much more than I enjoy shopping in real life.

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Things that were not funny: there are probably people I went to high school with who will disagree with my politics and have something to say about the organizations I have donated to. If any of them choose to comment about it here or on my Facebook wall, I will increase my donations in increments of 50%, to a maximum of 200% of my original donation. There may be a special bonus for the use of “brainwashed Libtard.”

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What it is: I have a few close friends from high school who I do a mediocre job of keeping in contact with. But they know how to reach me. It’s easier than ever: email, DM on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and in the comments section of this blog. Outside of the close friends that I do miss, and would love to see as soon as possible, almost everyone else from high school falls into that category of people I’d hang out with if they reached out to me in a not-creepy way. We could go out to dinner in New York City, and/or maybe take in a show. I’m always up for that. Especially if it’s just like you and me for 90 minutes. Like, you know, a small production, off-Broadway, and not like a two hour and fifteen minute parade of one minute big production number conversations with 90 different people. 

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Who should see it: my mother grew up in Clayton, a suburb of St. Louis, went to Clayton High School, and lived there her whole life. She stayed close to a core group of friends, organized and attended reunions, and enjoyed it. If that’s your thing, be like her. Knock yourself out. There are folks who prefer the big, lively spectacle of a Broadway show, too. I’m just finding out that I’m not one of them.

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What I saw on the way home: I woke up Sunday morning to find that it is suddenly fall in Bedhead Hills. The sky is gray. There are yellow leaves strewn on the green grass. We made breakfast sandwiches with local bacon and local eggs and sourdough english muffins I made from scratch. We got around to watching football and drinking beer. I cooked too many things for dinner, and we watched the “presidential” debate. I’m not interested in arguing with anyone about it. I was plenty creeped-out, though.

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Three Trolls

I’m gonna start by talking about what I mean by “troll.” Sure, the word has its origins in Scandinavian folklore, and I can recommend a book. Real, old school trolls that turn into stone in daylight are much better than today’s trolls. You wanna tell me what you think trolling means, go make your own blog post, or comment. Whatever. I think I might have an inner troll, and she’s hectoring me already.
The term “troll” comes from the fairly recent past, but those early days of the Internet, that feel like now, but it really wasn’t, because then the Internet was, you know, just for porn, sparsely populated by the denizens of the specific-interest message-board; from those boards it sprang, this term. It means “A deliberately provocative message board user.”
Specifically, for me, more simply, it is a person who tries to make other people mad.
Though my older brother and I are close now, I am pretty certain that he was my first troll. I do remember we played well together, but I also remember that as soon as he started elementary school (and I didn’t), I was rejected for bigger, smarter, faster-running school friends. Friends who could catch and throw. Friends who were cool. I was also rejected for being a cry-baby. In my family, teasing was constant. It was an expression of love, perhaps, but here is my evidence: I gave my brother a concussion when I hit him over the head with my shiny new baton, driven to the deed by rage from teasing. And then. Having been punished and won the damned thing back from my parents, I did it again.
My second troll was the M-boy, who lived near my grandparents, in our neighborhood. On a good day, I was terrified to walk to school alone, and the M-boy made it so I was even more terrified to walk home. How long did I endure the bullying? I can’t say. I don’t remember anything that he said, but I do remember a bird’s nest being found and thrown at me. In the infinite wisdom of the late 60s/ early 70s, the solution to this bully was to keep him after school an extra 15 minutes every day so the rest of the kids could get a head start running home. I guess I wasn’t his only target.
When the M- boy died in an accident at his home, just a few years later, I took delivery on the twin feelings of relief that this bully would never bother me gain, and of guilt for not being sad about someone who was really, actually now dead.
I have resisted writing about my third troll, because, just as I struggle with my latest troll, who occasionally plagues me on Twitter, I worry that writing about it will give the troll exactly what she was looking for.
My third troll (so named for the purposes of this essay) and I were friends in high school. We had the same first name and a similar last name. We’d started in 9th grade we were in the same crop of new kids brought in at 9th grade. We hung out. Talked on the phone. Passed notes in French class. I spent the night at her house a couple of times. We rode her parent’s tandem bike in her neighborhood and got chased by a giant, angry poodle. I watched her cat Daisy steal a whole piece of fried chicken off the dinner table and was impressed. I’d never seen a cat steal a whole piece of fried chicken off the dinner table before.
At my highschool, there were many privileges afforded to seniors: a special lounge, a special parking lot, senior prefecture, electing a Mary and a Joseph to pose in the tableau at the highlight of the school Christmas Pageant. On Halloween, seniors got to wear costumes and no one else in the school had this right.
 

Glee Club, Halloween, 1980. Only seniors could wear costumes 

I don’t remember what I wore, though I may have spent four years planning it. What I do remember was that my same-named friend came as me on Halloween.
It wasn’t a complicated costume. She wore socks that matched her turtleneck, and a tiny side ponytail in the front of her hair, with matching ribbons. You could say I was a walking target, dressing like that every day.
I used part of my precious free period to use a pay phone and call my mother. She was even home. I was upset. I was always upset about something, but I didn’t usually call my mom. She told me, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
I hung up, resolved to be cool about the fact that I felt mocked. In retrospect, I would describe the feeling as being trolled.
To the face of my same-name friend, I laughed. Maybe my eyes didn’t laugh, but I did.
Years later I dreamed I was having a swimming party at the house I grew up in. Everyone I had ever known was there: my cousins, my friends from college, my favorite TV actors. My same-name friend showed up with a machine gun and sprayed the place with bullets, shooting everyone.  It seemed real.

Too Many Words About Annual Giving

I do believe in supporting educational institutions, both public and private, and I have a record of doing so. I attended six colleges and universities in getting my degrees, and have contributed to all but one. My children’s schools have always been well supported by us, also.
The house I grew up in
In the summer of 2004, perhaps a month and a half after my mother died, my mobile phone rang while I was driving west on 520. I answered, about halfway across the bridge, using the speaker phone. There was rowdy cheering in the background, and a voice identified the caller as someone I went to high school with. His message was simple: he was calling on behalf of our high school. It was their annual fundraising call-a-thon. He rattled off the names of some other classmates I could hear carousing in the background. “You guys have money,” he said. “You should donate.” This was followed with a roar of laughter in the background.
I do not remember saying much in reply. I may have even hung up on him. I would prefer to think that I used the catch-all I like to use in such occasions: “I am not in a position to help you right now.”
My mother’s death was widely publicized in the local papers, as she was a high ranking administrator at a prestigious university there. My high school published their condolences in the quarterly newsletter, just as they had for my father a few years before. I can certainly imagine that for the purposes of fundraising, using classmates to make the calls is a good way to get participation; it’s someone you know, if not an actual friend. The problem with this system is that if you invite a group of obnoxious drunken bullies (who were obnoxious drunken bullies in high school and seemingly never stopped being obnoxious drunken bullies since) to make the calls, they will behave in the obnoxious, bullying, drunken ways that they have always behaved. The call was an error whether or not I had just lost a parent.
I was not in the worst possible state of mind for such a call. I was still very hardened to bad news. My mother was never old, not even a little old. She was only 20 when she had my older brother and 22 when she had me. She battled brain cancer her last year and a half, so she was sick, but she was never old. My dad had died after a year and a half of bad news about his cancer, and then my mother had died after a year and a half of bad news about her cancer. I had arrived at the point where both my parents were gone, cut down in their prime, and I was still barely feeling like a real adult myself. I had arrived at the point where the unthinkable had happened, where I was among the oldest trees in my woods: my brothers and me. A phone call from obnoxious, bullying drunken idiots from my (seemingly) distant past was like squirrels playing chase up and down my trunk, for I was the unimaginably old elm. What are squirrels to a 300 year old tree?
Back when this elm was a sapling, she went to an exclusive, private non-religious, college-prep high school in suburban St. Louis.  I received what I considered a quality education; I sailed through my freshman year at an elite college with mostly As and a few Bs, feeling completely prepared for rigorous writing assignments. 
The high school partying scene was alcohol-fueled, though kids from the classes above mine were still smoking pot and a few of my peers regularly dropped acid. It was not a come-to-school-shitfaced thing, more of a get-plastered-on-the-weekend thing. Bad choices were made on a frequent basis. If my children partied today like we did in high school, I would be very, very alarmed and would probably not let them out of my sight.
In St. Louis in the late 1970s, our parents played tennis and golf, rooted for the Cardinals, went to church on Sunday (but were disdainful of actually religious people), and went to parties and had parties where they got drunk. My parents were different, in the end, because they liked to go camping, my mother was a fine artist, and my father ran marathons; we did not belong to a country club like my classmates’ families did. We were different, but we were also the same.
About a year after my mother died, in the summer of 2005, I went back to St. Louis to go through her things. This was a painful process, and I made a few mistakes which leave me with some regrets. It was a thing done as quickly as my brothers and step-father and I could manage, and it was a big task. I have not been back since.
I almost went back this past August. The previous August, I saw pictures on Facebook of a gathering of my girlfriends one weekend. Their kids were all there, and so were many of my old friends (and none of the obnoxious drunken bullies). I had just moved to New York, and pretty lonely, and St. Louis is an easy flight from here. I was sorry to have missed it. I promised to go the next year. When this August rolled around, I was invited, but I was in the midst of the move from North Dreadful to New York City, and really could not manage it.
I went to our tenth high school reunion and our twentieth, but I do not think I will go again. I did enjoy seeing some of my old friends, but there were just enough obnoxious conversations, just enough bullying questions that I did not feel like answering, and just enough drunken gossiping for me to say, “No, thanks.”
Lately, I have had to make many (if not almost all) of the folks I went to high school with invisible to me on Facebook. One of my classmates likes to post videos of business leaders who sell cheap goods (mostly made in China) in their big-box retail stores, but claim that we need the presidential candidate they endorse to create good jobs for college graduates. Another accused me of being “brainwashed.”  
Missouri is the home of some famous obnoxious, bullying public figures, including Phyllis Schlafly (who certainly deserves her very own blog post at a later date) and Todd Akin. Akin is one of the many members of the GOP who have used the extra attention of this election season to share with the world their interesting and unusual but appallingly unscientific and degrading thoughts about acts of violence towards women and human reproduction. I was wondering what kind of terrible high school was responsible for Akin’s obviously poor science education. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he went to my elite, college-prep high school.
I try to be a person who is hard to embarrass, but Todd Akin makes me embarrassed to be from the state of Missouri.  When someone who publicly and willfully flouts facts to serve what he claims to be his religious calling turns out to be an alum of the school I have been more or less proud to say I graduated from, I am chagrined. My first thought was one of, “Well, now I can continue not to contribute to annual giving.”
After some more reflection, though, it has become obvious to me that a donation is in order. If we allow the manipulative idiots and the drunken, obnoxious bullies to completely control the conversation, everyone loses.  I am thinking about contacting the school library, to ensure that they have the books I have found particularly influential to my current mindset. I am compiling a list, but, for now, two such titles that come to mind are Alice Sebold’s rape memoir, “Lucky,” and Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” I plan to buy the school copies of any books they do not have.
I believe in education: that when we expose good ideas to people, the world becomes a better place.
Readers, I strongly encourage you to add your suggested books in the comments, below.