Column: Saving class reunion is like saving the whales

By SCOTT SAALMAN

“I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee.”
—Carly Simon

My 30-year high school class reunion was canceled this summer because of low interest. Only 36 of 184 Class of 1983 graduates had planned to attend.

I was among the majority. I just never enjoyed class reunions. Not even for the KFC meal (a rare indulgence) or the beer (drinking with these people was fun only when I was underage). Even had I considered going this year, the invitation itself would have deterred me: Our reunion was to have a Western theme.

My God, I thought, our class president is still not over “Urban Cowboy,” which was popular in theaters when we were in high school.

I own nothing that resembles a cowboy outfit. Was I expected to rent one like a prom tux? Was there going to be a mechanical bull to ride? Why not a “Duck Dynasty” theme? More people might have RSVP’d that they would attend since they wouldn’t need a costume change or fake beard to fit the “Duck Dynasty” theme.

Do adults pushing 50 really need a theme to lure them to a reunion? Why are there class reunions anyway? Facebook, which is essentially a daily class reunion, has replaced them. Long gone is the allure of seeing how well or not so well certain classmates are holding up (please, God, I remember thinking during my first three reunions, please see to it that my high school sweetheart who dumped me now weighs 500 pounds). Nowadays, we already know nearly everything about them — their looks, their likes (we are old enough to even post our kids’ senior pictures!) — thanks to Facebook. (For the record, my high school sweetheart still weighs about 395 pounds less than I hoped. D’oh!)

When a hometown friend — not a classmate — learned of the cancellation, he sent me a Facebook message: “I heard very disturbing news. Your 30th is canceled? Life is too short to not make the effort to do something so easy and special as a high school reunion. Bald, fat, poor has nothing to do with a high school reunion.”

Bald.

Fat.

Poor.

I winced at the sight of each of these three words. What he meant, I guess, was that bald, fat and poor people are least likely to attend a reunion because of self-esteem issues. It was not lost on me that he himself was not bald, fat or poor (so of course he’s pro-reunion). I winced because I felt personally attacked. I could be the poster child for two of those three categories (and bordering on a third). That great “Animal House” line came to mind: “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” Neither is being bald, fat and poor, I can’t help but add.

In a follow-up Facebook message, my friend apologized. He didn’t mean I was bald, fat and poor. He was merely making a generalization about my high school class (apparently, he had studied our Facebook pages). If Hollywood made a movie about us, it would be called “Class of the Living Dead.”

After learning of the cancellation, I looked at my dusty yearbook: The Sagittarius, 1983. “In the Eyes of Youth,” the cover declared. On it was drawn a human eye. Where the iris should have been, there was an apple, which floated above two silvery, somewhat ambiguous shapes. The shapes were likely meant to be continents, causing me, at 18, to interpret: In the eyes of youth the world is ours for the taking. At 48, though, instead of continents, the shapes look more to me like clouds — interpretation: the cloudy vision of our youth.

Within the yearbook was a forgotten sentence that plunged into my heart like a steely harpoon: “Scott Saalman will save the whales.”

The quote was attributed to classmate Sue Rodgers.

I had forgotten I was a serious save-the-whales type guy in 1983. I truly thought, after college, I would join Greenpeace and make a difference for my mammal friends.

To date, I have not saved a single whale. They are hard to come by in southern Indiana, and one certainly wouldn’t fit in the Patoka River.

I really did encounter a whale once in 1990 when I lived along Chesapeake Bay in eastern Virginia. Two miles down a secluded balcony-free beach at the Back Bay Wildlife refuge, a baby humpback grounded itself. By the time I got there, breathless and excited, the mammal was lifeless. A bulldozer tried to pull the rubberlike carcass out of the Atlantic shallows, as if in tug of war with the tide. The smell was terrible, a mix of diesel fuel and decomposition. Marine biologists sliced pieces of meat from it in the name of science. The best I could do was take notes, as if for an obituary, in the name of earning a reporter’s paycheck.

“Scott Saalman will save the whales.”

I now sigh over this past prediction that once seemed so possible. In the eyes of youth, not only could we save the whales, we could even save the world. Thirty years later, though, we failed to even save something “so easy and special” as a class reunion. Yet, it’s so easy to understand why.

In the eyes of middle age comes clearer vision. I sure do miss the clouds.

The public is invited to a Will Read (and sing) For Food performance at Kimball International Corporate Headquarters Auditorium, 1600 Royal Street, at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 13. Admission is a monetary or canned good donation for Community Food Bank.




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