Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Okay, if you’re a follower of Georgia Bulldog soccer, you may have already read the article about how we poached Chika Ibiam from the UGA women’s club team last spring and convinced her to walk on to the varsity team for the fall. By all means we knew Chika was a long-shot. She didn’t even play club soccer once she got to high school, so no one saw her. So no one recruited her. And sure, she has some fundamental weaknesses. But anyone in our team will tell you that Chika can do some crazy things with a soccer ball. She is definitely not your typical American soccer player. Well the other day during an intra-squad scrimmage Chika got onto the end of a cross, catapulted herself into midair and smacked a ridiculous bicycle kick just under the crossbar for the best goal I’ve ever seen in women’s soccer. The entire session screeched to a halt as players, coaches and trainers tried to digest what they had just seen. It was drastically more entertaining/dramatic/skillful than any goal I ever scored and had it occurred during an actual fall match, it would have been firmly planted as the Top Play on ESPN. It was LUH-jit!
Moving right along…
The latest edition of my high school’s alumni magazine, Hun Today, recently found its way into my mailbox. I spent sixth through twelfth grades at the Hun School of Princeton, a prep school that can at times be as pretentious as its name and I don’t know that anyone will ever be in a hurry to change it. Khakis, Polo shirts and a summer house in the Hamptons are just part of the Hun brand. Naturally I fit right in.
The school only had grades 7-12 until I arrived. I was part of the inaugural class of sixth-graders. There were 18 of us, six of whom stuck it out long enough to graduate Hun seven years later. I mention this only because our half-dozen was recognized at the 1986 graduation as being Hun’s first group of seven-year students, and I was as shocked as anyone to be recognized for anything whatsoever at an academic procession. And although we were merely beneficiaries of circumstance (birth year and a shift in school policy), I took a little bit of pride in being honored for endurance in a fish-out-of-water sort of way.
If you’ve ever seen Dead Poets Society, well then you have a decent idea of what Hun looked like, particularly with the oh-so ironic inclusion of Ethan Hawke (class of ’88), but thankfully we were co-ed and sans uniform. Still the guys wore coats and ties and the girls had a dress code with more pages than my mortgage agreement. The girls’ dress code was an ever-evolving document thanks in large part to my friend Shari Gallin whose keen eye for both loopholes and fashion regularly set off alarm bells with the old school’s old schoolers. It seemed every week Shari would wear some head-turning ensemble and by the following Monday a new paragraph would be added to the dress code. It was a game Shari played against the administration for four years and for four years she managed to stay one step ahead of the law.
I guess all you really need to know about Hun is that one of the sports offered there is crew. When a school has a crew team, you get a pretty good feel for its target demographic – and it’s one that screams, “Quick! Pass the Izod!” But that’s all part of the branding for a school boasting the best and the brightest. And, well… me.
Hun hangs its hat on a superior academic reputation and an impeccable record of placing its alums in top colleges. It is a landing point for the children of serious people: doctors, scientists, engineers, politicians, attorneys and investment bankers who want their offspring to have the best possible everything including a future in the Ivy League. The international student population boasted a contingent of heirs to this throne and that throne in nations scattered throughout the Arabian peninsula. There’s a lot of wealth at Hun, a fact that becomes unmistakably evident if you happen by the student parking lot. But most of all, Hun has a lot of academic pride and that is what draws the brilliant minds that comprise its student-body. Of course Hun also admitted a few kids like me so the athletic teams could be half decent. Or maybe it was some type of state-mandated charity. I really don’t know, but sure enough, there I was.
One of the guys in that inaugural sixth grade class was a testosterone volcano we called Bubba. Bubba and I were friends and I liked him a lot, but we weren’t what you’d call tight. We didn’t socialize outside of school. I never went to Bubba’s house and never met Bubba’s parents, but I always imagined his dad as being that guy constantly driving his son to be the world’s preeminent alpha male. Now I don’t know if it came from his dad or didn’t come from his dad; all I know is that by the time Bubba and I first met, he was about as close as a sixth grader could get to being a Navy SEAL. Bubba wasn’t like any kid I had ever met. For starters, he already had muscles – big ones! And he had that masochistic edge you find in uber-achievers, so he was always testing himself physically and mentally just to see how much pain he could endure. At that age I’d be lucky to do three push-ups and I would dread the entirety of each one of them. Bubba would do push-ups in the hallway for fun. He’d do them one-handed if you’d ask. Then he’d back up against a wall and do them out of a hand-stand position. One night he saw a news segment on how Herschel Walker trained. The next day Bubba was running across the field dragging a tire that was tied to a rope that was tied around his waist. While me and the other yahoos were consumed by how we could sneak a frog into Linda Steiner’s purse, Bubba wanted to be the biggest, baddest and toughest man in the world. He was a real nice guy and got along with everyone, but he wasn’t a part of the cool crowd… or any other crowd for that matter. Bubba just did his own thing, chasing his own standard of physical and mental excellence and knocking heads each day on the football field.
The last time I had any contact with Bubba was the day we graduated high school. I knew he went to college not too far from me and I had heard he joined the marines. That wouldn’t really surprise anyone who knew him. Bubba going to the marines is the definition of type-casting. But over the past couple of decades, every once in a while I’d wonder what ever happened to that guy. A few months ago I googled him and only found one brief mention. It listed him as a marine corps colonel. That was it. No picture. No resume. Just his name and rank. I don’t think colonels are all that anonymous. I don’t think you rise to that rank without getting a few newspaper mentions here and there. The fact that there was just a single forgettable listing made me wonder if someone somewhere forgot to shred a document. I figured Bubba had become a ghost – one of those truly elite soldiers doing missions so secret and so important that he couldn’t really exist, if you know what I mean. And again, there wasn’t anything surprising about that.
So anyway, whenever the alumni magazine comes out I immediately flip through the Class Notes to see what everyone is up to. And I really don’t know why because after a few minutes I’m always left feeling like an abject failure by comparison. In my eyes Hun Today may as well be called Inferiority Complex for Dummies. Been that way for 20 years. I read it, have a succession of moments of awe and envy, and then wonder what the heck happened to me. As I did to our class grade-point average in the eighties, I spent the next two and a half decades killing our median income (wish they had a curve for that one).
I often wanted to submit a class note, just to let people know how to reach me should the mood strike. But when my classmates were founding investment firms and sailing for the America’s Cup, I wasn’t too enthused to announce, “I am living in squalor in Wheeling, WV, enjoying a plate of fish sticks.”
As you might expect, apples don’t fall far from their trees. Overachievers are prone to beget overachievers and Hun was, is and will forever be rampant with them. The Class Notes section is rife with terms like CEO, CFO, Founding Partner and intergalactic overlord. While I’m coaching soccer, my former classmates are curing diseases, producing Broadway plays, touring with Def Leppard, discovering new species of monkeys and inventing technologies that will forever change humankind. And it’s not just the braniacs who excel. Even the athletes are dwarfing me. Take for example, Stevenson Garrison, who last summer made his Major League debut with the New York Yankees. Not to be outdone by a major-leaguer, Jason Read carried the U.S. flag at the opening ceremony of the Pan Am games. It was Jason’s 13thconsecutive year competing for Team USA in… you guessed it… crew. It seems like everyone who went to Hun has conquered some corner of the universe or been anointed a founding father of some amazing new technology. The master plan of their parents and their Alma Mater has been realized. Everyone can breathe a little easier.
When you achieve a certain degree of success, it’s natural to want to share it, and Hun Today provides the perfect platform for successful people to trumpet their stranglehold on the American dream. It can make you feel very ordinary by comparison. It can make you lose sight of how good you really do have it. And then you read a note from a guy named Bubba who hasn’t said “boo” in 25 years. It was just this morning when I read my alumni magazine, but Bubba’s class note is the only one I can remember:
“Gone to fight the Taliban. I’ll be back when the war is over.”
Stay low my friend. God speed.