Thursday, June 15, 2006

Portrait of the blogger as a young asshole

Editor's Note: This post isn't our usual style. Indulge me.

Most high school yearbooks are feel-good celebrations assembled by happy goodie-goodies. In the early '90s, that had been the case at my high school.

That changed my senior year.

A few nights ago I stayed up until three in the morning re-reading my senior yearbook and laughing. I was partly responsible for a lasting monument to obnoxiousness. It took potshots at all of the administrators, the teachers who crossed us, the janitor, and several students who we simply did not like.

That yearbook staff was an example of the hippie ideal of infiltrating an organization in order to subvert it. My co-editor J____* and I were backed by the funniest, most pissed off kids in school. J____ and I were pissed too, but more in a Lewis Black way than a fuck-the-man way. Not the people looking for a sentimental tribute. We were going to shoot the moon. K____ and L___ were happy to provide our backup, and abetted by an adviser who either A.) didn't give a shit or B.) was more bitter than the rest of us, we had free reign.

Essentially, we were a pack of aggressive, highly motivated teenagers with a captive audience, plenty of resources, and minimal adult supervision.

We made interesting choices. It was our policy that we would run mainly candid photos of "average" students. This did not mean that we were refusing to run pictures of good-looking, popular kids (who were, by and large, our friends) in favor of nerds -- it meant that we ran dozens of photos of people whose main interest was sitting and glaring at the camera. The book is full of this. We had no idea who those kids were, as is evidenced by many unidentified captions.

We wasted no time. On the first page, there is a collection of people in crutches, identified as "The Crutch Club." Next to them is a picture of one of our friends standing next to a well-liked teacher -- the caption reads, "Studs! Studs! Studs! Studs!" On that same page is a collection of anonymous and unrecognizable people eating tater tots -- they're labeled as "students enjoy[ing] good nutrition." Some guy who got in our camera's way is described as "a happy kid, having fun in the halls."

One theme dominating the yearbook -- photos of people sitting on benches, doing nothing. Sometimes you forget how much of high school was spent just sitting around and waiting. We accurately captured that.

In retrospect, our captions are unambiguously rude. It's startling to realize that somebody's grandchild is going to pick this up to see their young ancestor mocked. Mocked by me and J____.

Someone standing in front of a green bulletin board is labeled "the Jolly Green Giant." People are called "genetic counterparts." Basketball fans hold a sign that says "Tame Those Pussys" [sic], a photo that we ineffectively tried to censor with a water-based marker. We have a caption where someone "is ignored by her schoolmates," one saying that someone "is never up to anything," a "confused" janitor, "junior boys going hog wild," kids who "ponder what love is all about," someone who "tickles her friends with a really, really funny knock-knock joke," someone who "suffers from the ravaging effects of really, really dry skin," someone who "cheerfully displays his lovely mouth and throat," a "mere prom peasant," "a really wonderful pep assembly," "a desperately pathetic attempt to look hip," a teacher who "finds inner peace amidst the tranquility of the boiler room," pictures of head-shaving, and frequent, repeated, nonsensical and inapplicable usage of the word "tough" and the phrase "always up to something."

The Vice Principal is "always on the lookout for punks, deviants, miscreants, troublemakers, hoodlums, smartmouths, weirdos, rabble-rousers, truants, class-cutters and anarchists." The Christmas Assembly (one of my many contributions to life at that school) had gifts that "included The Jingle Cats Christmas album, which featured felines meowing to Christmas songs, and fire logs, which are pre-fabricated wood that makes for easy yuletide fires."

The phrase "stop coming home drunk" appears. A friend and I manipulated a senior poll to ensure that Tom Wolfe's LSD-drenched The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was listed as a favorite book.

And we had scandal, when one of our attention-starved staffers attempted to stuff the ballot box to win the title of Most Likely to Hit a Deer. J____ and I caught this before the fraud made it into print.

We took polls. We asked the sophomores who they most admired. Their choices were Martin Luther King, the vice principal, Nancy Kerrigan, Marcia Clarke, Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh and Shannon Doherty. Martin Luther King won in a landslide, though with only 59% of the vote.

True, I was an asshole through most of high school. If I listed the obnoxious things that I did in my junior and senior years (an in-progress Homecoming float denouncing our principal was rightfully vetoed by a teacher, even if I didn't go down without a fight) this yearbook wouldn't crack the top 10. Back home at Christmas, I still apologize for the psychological scars left 10 years ago.

But those things won't sit on somebody's bookshelf for a decade. They're fodder for bar conversations, or else archived on VHS tapes safely hidden in my parents' basement.

Maybe it's a sign of maturity that I'm moderately embarrassed that some teenagers from the rural Upper Midwest have been permanently chronicled as tater-tot loving retards and unloved layabouts.

Moderately embarrassed, but not too embarrassed to share it on this blog.

*We're hyper about our anonymity. Editing out the common first name of an old high school classmate may be a little excessive, but I'll stick to policy.


Jeff said...

Best yearbook story since Kevin Arnold coined the phrase "let's eat," to describe a whale-like classmate on the Wonder Years. Hilarious. and by the way, I know you like the Sunset album already.

CrimeNotes said...

Yes, I've been looking to see if you replied to my warming up to that album. If I were in your shoes, the reaction would be something like, "I'm right, you were wrong, so in the future just listen to what I tell you." But Dan Bejar still is better. (Also, the Crazy Horse documentary "Year of the Horse" is in rotation on Sundance. Worth seeing not only for the music, but to watch Neil get pissed and curse out his band on a frequent basis.)

I was thinking that if I had a scanner and could show excerpts of the yearbook, only then could I fully do it justice. Then again, I've probably done enough damage and left enough of a legacy that I should let it be. How interesting can it be to see fat white kids in flannel staring hopelessly at a camera? Maybe to atone I can become the Sally Struthers of obese white Midwesterners -- found "Starve the Children." Glad to know that you didn't have to be there to enjoy this post.

winston said...


i hope the title of this post will also be the title of your memoir.

CrimeNotes said...

Volume 1, maybe.

Jeff said...

I'm not going to play the who's better card since we'll get the best of both worlds when the Dan Bejar/Spencer Krug/Carey Mercer project comes out soon. I imagine it will be awesome. I've been warming up to Destroyer of late, but his songs don't hit me the same way as the Sunset ones. They're a little more detached and seem less personal, though it's not really my place to say how personal they are. That's my impression from what I pick up.

Anyway, you must scan that yearbook. It has the potential to be the blog post of the decade.

yelling-rants said...

If you can't be an asshole in high school then when can you be one? Chances are if you haven't cultivated your inner jerk by then you are never going to. You eill probably just be one of those people who get stepped on later in life by those who nurtured their "inner jerk" in high school. Photos, publication assured, high school surely it is just asking for trouble.