No photoshop here. This is an actual snapshot of my high school classmate, circa 1980. (To protect his identity, we can call him "Ken Nelson.") On the eve of another New Year's, let's talk about that cliché of all clichés: high school parties. If you hate reading about stupidity in action, skip to the end of this post. You'll see an odd little party accessory from 1941 that I am selling. The proceeds will go towards an old debt incurred during the most epic high school party I ever had the good fortune to attend. However, if you got a thrill out of the cracked Steuben egg in Risky Business, then read on.
My very first party with alcohol happened sophomore year. The girl who hosted lived in my neighborhood. To protect her identity, I'll call her "Karen Randle".
Karen left for spring break one Friday looking as dorky as the rest of us - coke bottle glasses, braces, limp mousy hair - and came back to school ten days later transformed into Belinda Carlisle but with Farrah Fawcett hair. I sat across from her in Monsieur Sheridan's French class, and that Monday morning, I kept stealing glances, marveling at the transformation. Gone were the braces and thick glasses. Karen was all pearlescent skin, flawlessly glossed lips, high cheekbones, and most remarkable of all, swaggy confidence. She looked like she could nab a part on All My Children. Looking back, Karen was single-handedly responsible for my fixation on beauty makeovers for the next ten years. I still don't know how she pulled it off, but it certainly was more than the combined effect of a bottle of Sun-In and a fuzzy mohair sweater.
Anyway, that was a red herring, but stay with me... Karen's makeover emboldened her in other ways and she hosted a small party in her basement. Really there was nothing particularly remarkable about that night. I went. I drank. I vomited. To be precise, I vomited in my mother's powder blue princess sink while she looked on, which was enough to curb my behavior, slightly, at parties to come. But it sure didn't cure me of rolling the dice with high school parties, hoping to hit the jackpot. You never knew, after all, when you would walk into the big one.
On a boring winter day at Waukegan East High School, a classmate of mine -- let's call her "Lynn Florian" -- got ahold of a mimeograph machine and ran off a couple dozen sheets outlining a map to her sister's house in the boonies. Her sis, a recent newlywed, had left town with her new husband, and Lynn was in charge of the dog for the weekend.
This first step, the mimeographing of a map, is worth pondering. As with Karen Randle, I had misjudged Lynn's potential. I thought she was quiet, studious, smart. And yet! Who mimeographs maps to her sister's empty house? I'll tell you who. Someone who likes to have fun. Someone with faith in her fellow classmates. Someone brave enough to take a risk.
The night of Lynn's party, it was snowing and the driveway was gravel, which meant no shovel or plow delineated where to park. Cars were everywhere, a drive-in movie theater parking lot! The house was a tri-level, which meant that snow and mud got tracked up and down not one staircase, but two. The walls were painted white, which meant that the girl in a new pair of Jordache jeans left streaks of blue dye along the hallway where she and her boyfriend were engaged in heavy petting. The carpeting was shag, which meant it was impossible to shampoo out the barf and the crushed Fritos. The wobbly china hutch was filled with Un-Candles, which meant that when it tipped over, not only did Lynn's sister's fresh wedding china and crystal shatter to pieces, but the oily concoction of the Un-Candles went everywhere.
And one last travesty occurred after the party spun completely out of control. The snow turned to rain, which meant that the lawn became a moonscape of divots and tire tracks as each and every haphazardly parked car spun its wheels before eventually catching hold and jerking all of us away into the dark country night.
Lynn, bless her soul, spent the rest of the weekend trying to mitigate the damage but how can one put the genie back in the bottle? When her sister and brother-in-law returned and realized the situation, they called a family meeting with Lynn's parents and confronted her. I saw Lynn a couple months ago and she told me she still shudders at the horrible memory of that moment. Utterly humiliating. And like a rather intense beauty makeover, it changed her. She spent the next five years slowly paying back the cost of that night. The woman has fortitude.
Lynn's classmates, her fellow Class of '81 Bulldogs of Waukegan East High School, owe her a debt. It really was a helluva night. I felt like I lived through a Hollywood depiction of a high school rager. I left with no thought for the consequences. And I'd like to make amends for that, if only with a small gesture. Below is a cute (and tame!) party favor from a more civilized time for sale in my shop. If you buy this book, please know that the proceeds will go directly to Lynn Florian. Happy New Year and please party responsibly.
New in the shop! Click on the photos below for shopping information:
If you enjoy reliving your youth through this blog, won't you subscribe to my newsletter? It appears in your mailbox every Friday no matter what kind of shenanigans are going on. Submit your name below: