It's hard to describe the experience of wandering around, inside a building whose shell and staircases were familiar, but whose interior was foreign, slickly modernized. Garfield: tasteful and contemporary and as shiny clean as it is ever, ever going to be again. This is not your father's Oldsmobile. I ducked into one of the girls' bathrooms, expressly to see the spotless tile, the amazing toilets that actually flushed. I can remember girls crying, in those bathrooms, and smoking, and trying on prom dresses my friend Gwyn capably sewed herself...but actually using the facilities in the manner in which they were intended was a calculated risk. If you could, you held it.
Anyway. I bumped into my 11th-grade English teacher, Ann Schuh, who insisted that she remembered me and in fact had thought of me just the other day. "What on earth for?" I asked her helplessly. Of course it's possible that she proceeded on down the hall saying that to every single person who exclaimed at the sight of her, but in the moment I allowed myself a tiny glow. Ms. Schuh, if she ever Googles herself, perhaps will see this, and so here are two stories for her:
- On one of my essays, she once scribbled a comment claiming that she expected better than "this Holden Caulfield whining" from me. I hadn't read Catcher in the Rye at the time and so this meant little to me, though whining ensured that I caught the gist of it, gee thanks. A year or two later, when I actually read the book, I was happy to take it as a stupefying compliment: she was comparing me to Salinger!
- Every year Ms. Schuh chaperoned a group of students to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in Oregon. I did not go. But I remember that the boy I pined and longed and humiliated myself for did...AND he secured special permission and another spot in the group for his girlfriend, who didn't even attend Garfield. OH. THE. AGONY, of sitting in her class aware that the mumbly metalhead of my dreams was about to set off for a romantic weekend of theatre, instigated by (and, granted, under the watchful eye of) Ms. Schuh, who I adored and feared in equal measure. Did she have any inkling of her betrayal, the melodrama playing out in my pointy little head? Cripes, let's hope not. Already she is reading this and, no doubt, detecting traces of more whining.
I had to orient myself by looking out the windows, time and again; even the dimensions of the classrooms have changed. The south annex to the original building is now seamlessly connected, so I found myself walking through hallways that did not previously exist. The dank and forbidding gym has been replaced by an immense new complex, the walls spotless white and soaring overhead. A group of folks from my class stumbled across the new weight room and screamed in awe; it's nicer than the gyms most of us belong to.
Someone picked up a copy of the school paper, the Messenger's latest edition, and in it I found a hilarious article that I sincerely hope they post online eventually, about the myths and ghosts of the old building. One section deployed every possible double and triple entendre to talk about the little balconies up behind the old auditorium stage, where you could access the light grid and run backdrops up and down on cables. The speculation in the article was that more things were...erected, up there in the rigging, than mere stage sets. Ahem. To my surprise, these ribald tales had their doubters. So it falls to me to tell you that, yes, there was a distinct underground student lounge operation on the eastern balcony. A couple of cots, a red light bulb for atmosphere. The most exciting thing to happen to me up there, given that I was a pretty big dork (and the tightly-wound valedictorian) was that a couple other kids smuggled in a microwave stolen from the faculty room, and so we laid around in our little opium den making...popcorn. Other things may indeed have been made, in the Lounge, but nerdly I was not privy to them. Also, we would never in a million years have gotten away with writing such hilariously filthy punning in the school paper, so well-played, student journalists. A master stroke, you might say.
At any rate, y'all have to find a new spot to get busy:
The sexy sekrit popcorn-and-cot area? Now a grand, sweeping staircase down to the student commons and cafeteria. The underground student lounge IS NOW A LOUNGE, for reals. Hilarious and bizarre. (It would be the staircase on the left, if you're wondering. Oh, horny and otherwise maladjusted teens...where will you go now?)
Chicklegirl, who I met wandering the halls, called it Closure, what we were feeling, and I suppose that's accurate. It was Garfield, but it wasn't. It certainly wasn't the haunting Gothic brickpile of my anxiety dreams...and now that I think about it, I don't remember the last time I had one. It didn't smell right. It was a dazzling new building, plopped down inside the shell of the old one...and I was pleasantly surprised to find that comforting, instead of unsettling. "It isn't mine any more," I said aloud, with a kind of relief. It belongs to new kids, now: a dazzling new facility in which to daydream, and get takeout mashed potatoes from Ezell's, and get into melodramatic mayhem, and get their hearts broken and mended, and maybe just possibly sneak a little education into their brains around the edges. Good times, good riddance, good luck.