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Homeboy

from the magazine

Homeboy

Cleveland Diarist Summer 2015
Photo by Don O'Brien

An old friend from high school, Mike, found me on the Internet and e-mailed me questions about real estate. Mike lives in Minneapolis. He mentioned a few high school buddies’ names and ended with: “I haven’t thought about high school in decades!” Was he bragging? I think about high school fairly often, maybe because I live five miles from my old school. I also think about elementary school and preschool—and I didn’t even go to preschool. News flash: “Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety,” John Tierney tells us, in the pages of the New York Times.

I go to class reunions, even when they’re not mine—like Cleveland Heights High’s 50th. I was playing a musical gig at a party center (I’m in a klezmer band) and went into an adjacent room for the reunion, just for the atmospherics: Go Heights Tigers! I wish teachers were invited to reunions. My 12th-grade English teacher at Charles F. Brush High, Lyndhurst, Ohio (home of the Arcs—Brush invented the arc light) used to walk his dog by my house almost daily in the 1990s. One day, I got up the nerve to say hello. He didn’t remember me. “I had so many students.”

“I’ll bet you remember Ann Wightman!” I said.

Yes, he remembered Ann, the salutatorian. Ann got all As and one B in high school. I think she purposefully got the B to let a boy be valedictorian. That’s how it worked back then (1968). Some smart girls didn’t want to stick out academically. I haven’t been back to Brush High in decades. It’s off my flowchart. If I entered Brush, I would probably feel very young or very old. I think “very old” would win. Not worth it.

When my high school friend Dennis’s daughter had her bat mitzvah, I gave her the graphic novel Maus. Dennis returned Maus, saying, “She wants a gift certificate to an art supply store.” Dennis is the only person who can get away with that. He and I were born nine days apart at the same hospital in Cleveland. We were the only Jews in our elementary school class. (No, wait, there was sometimes a third Jew: Udelf.) Dennis and I were at Kent State the night before the shootings. I was Dennis’s best man. I went to a no-hitter with him. We bought Playboy together. I was not Dennis’s best man his second time around. He went on JDate, exchanging e-mails with a Philly woman right after his divorce. He wanted to remarry right away. I said, “You’re jumping off a cliff!” Dennis has been married to the Philly woman for about six years, so I guess I was wrong.

Dennis and I occasionally meet at Jack’s Deli, Beachwood. We’re a couple of middle-aged Jews trying to remember our first-grade teacher’s name. Dennis remembers. That’s worth at least a corned beef sandwich to me.

A man named Mel just called. He might hire me for his daughter’s wedding. He asked where I went to high school. That’s the go-to question around here. He himself graduated from Cleveland Heights. I said, “It doesn’t matter what you want musically. What about your daughter? She’s calling the shots for the wedding band.”

“Did you play sports at Brush?”

“Tennis.”

“Do you know Joel Schackne?” Mel asked. (Schackne had been a champion tennis player at Cleveland Heights High.)

“I knew of him. He’s older than I. Whose idea is klezmer music for the wedding, yours or your daughter’s?”

“Schackne is in Florida. He’s still playing tennis.”

“What does your daughter think?”

“What AZA were you in?” (AZA was a B’nai B’rith club.)

“I wasn’t in AZA.”

“Who do you see?”

“A guy named Dennis,” I said. “You wouldn’t know him.”

Most of my high school gang left town decades ago. The only Jewish guys remaining are, for the most part, entrepreneurs and family-business owners. (I went into my dad’s real-estate business.) A few local guys made serious money. The intellectuals hit the road.

Do I have a post–high school life? I think so. But the question, “Where did you go to high school?” comes up a lot. What can I say? Go Arcs!

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