Monday, April 26, 2010

in sudden solidarity with suzanne sommers...

For all of my bitching about my dreadful high school experience, when Genesis, my glossy high school alumni magazine called for an interview, I couldn't get over there fast enough.
The piece in Genesis is about SI grads who now blog, obviously. And it will feature the writers of We Haight Cookbooks, Annie Wilson of Poetic & Chic, Elaine Santore and me.
So, maybe I've mentioned, high school was a 4-year slice of hell for me. San Francisco's 150-year old St. Ignatius College Preparatory felt like Dead Poets Society meets Heathers. My mother went to high school with Suzanne Sommers and in her autobiography, Suzanne made it seem like everyone at Mercy Burlingame was dropped off at the front doors by limo drivers. My mother took umbrage with this, and I'm sure those I with whom attended SI will disagree with my description of our alma mater. But Dead Poets Society meets Heathers is what if fucking felt like to me. So that's the description you're getting.
Each quarterly issue of Genesis features not only articles about how terrific SI is, how much money everyone gives back and how amazing certain alums are, but the hotly devoured, "Keeping in Touch" section, where folks offer breathless updates about how fantastic their lives have turned out.
There's lot of, "Hannah Jones graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard, turned down several job offers from Google, the Clinton Foundation and the United Nations and is spending the next year digging ditches in Guatemala, living in the very same small village in which she founded an orphanage her freshman year at SI for extra credit. She's excited to be back to work on her historical account of Harriet Tubman after donating her right eye to a blind baby she found abandoned on the side of the road, rescued, personally nursed to health and named after her favorite AP Latin American Studies teacher at SI."
Seriously. Every single one of them is like that.
Well, either that or, "Jerry Brown, Class of '55 is running for Governor of California. Again."
A lot of SI alums speak of their experience at the prep with glowing, sepia-toned words of reverence. And good for them and their block club cardigans. But I spent four years hiding by the dumpster behind the cafeteria with KG, killing time until I could get the hell out of there. I'd never really felt very welcome, to tell you the truth. And I haven't been back since I graduated in 1996...until today.
I was nervous driving over there. It only took 14 years, but I'd gone from sitting next to the dumpster to agreeing to a photoshoot in front of the chapel. I figured if I played this interview just right, all of those gorgeous, popular people who ignored me in high school would smack their foreheads and mutter aloud, "Shit! I should've invited Beth Spotswood to a party."
But they probably already thought that a few issues ago, when another member of our Class of '96 AND I QUOTE "saved the internet." Dan Kaminsky was just as nerdy as me in high school, if not more so, and he fucking saved the internet. Me and my stupid blog are small potatoes, potatoes on the internet Dan had to save for everyone. Everyone of Earth.
I waited in the lobby of McGucken Hall, which is, among other things, the priest residence, and stood next to a big picture of His Holiness. Gilded frames on the wall held past Genesis covers, and in the corner stood a scaled model of the entire campus.
Editor of Geneisis, Mr. Totah came out and met me. I never knew him as a student, and as we sat and chatted in his office, I wished I had. He was lovely, friendly, irreverent and normal. I've vilified my high school experience for so many years, I'd forgotten that St. Ignatius has some wonderful people.
We chatted for nearly an hour, with Mr. Totah asking me questions like, "What does Mayor Newsom think of your writing?" and "What's going to happen to journalism?"
How the hell should I know?
"Well, I covered this event called the Cougar Convention..."
This is not the kind of thing Dan Kaminsky had in mind when he was busy saving the internet. This is not the kind of thing that should really be appearing in the glossy, highly important high school alumni magazine Genesis. And this is certainly not the kind of thing that would make anyone that got a Land Rover for their 17th birthday wish they'd been friendlier to me over a decade ago.
I have no idea what I said. Honestly, when I heard the word "rehab" come out of my mouth, I considered jumping out of that 2nd floor window just to stop myself from talking. Mr. Totah took it all in stride, typing out notes as I spoke, treating me like a relatively interesting person and asking to take my photo outside by the chapel.
I have no idea what that article is going to say, nor do I have any idea when it will come out. But obviously, I'll keep you posted. After the big photo shoot, Mr. Totah invited me to join him and his next interviewees, the kids from We Haight Cookbooks. Contributors Ariel and Liam graduated sometime last week (2002/3) and we sat with their third contributor, Karina in the faculty dining room. It looked a little like that scene in A Beautiful Mind when everyone gave Russell Crowe their pens. That was the vibe at least, and I was shocked to learn that I was oblivious to a white table-cloth dining experience going on during high school. Their were intense religious pantings on the walls and teachers I vaguely recognized. Apparently Monday is taco day.
Suddenly, Mr. Totah called over Fr. Sauer, who was president of St. Ignatius when I attended and revered as powerful and influential in ways I may never fully understand. I'm sure every high school has the administrator that's kind of a big deal. At SI, that's Fr. Sauer. People who call Fr. Sauer by his first name, "Tony" remind me of the F-list actors that refer to Robert DeNiro as "Bobby."
I've never really spoken to Fr. Sauer before and as I was formally introduced, he went on and on about what a distinguished alumni my father is. While I adore my father, it was all I could do not to say, "Amazingly enough, I've been asked here due to my own accomplishments."
But then I remembered my accomplishments involve a Cougar Convention and making fun of the Mayor's ex-girlfriends and decided to keep my mouth shut.
As we finished up lunch, Mr. Totah walked me down the main hallway to the front door. We passed a huge, framed photograph on the wall. The picture was of the school's library packed with students all studying, staring at computers or reading Les Miserables in the original French.
"Oh look!" I said. "These kids are all my class. There's John Gavin!"
"This is your class?" asked Mr. Totah. "How fun!"
"And there," I pointed to a kid sitting at a computer, "is Dan Kaminsky."
"That's Dan Kaminsky!?!" Mr. Totah turned and looked at me. "You know, he saved the internet."
Yes. I heard. I read all about it. In Genesis...


Br. Draper said...

Congratulations on your Genesis interview! Mr. Totah is, indeed, a really nice guy and was a damn good teacher.

And I think I may have spent some time by that dumpster myself.

Lisa said...

The most brilliant, wonderful, scathing account of The Prep I have read. You put into words what I never could about that time, so thank you. And god help my mother if she ever puts me in the Keeping in Touch section.

(And a comment from Brother Draper? Wow. You HAVE arrived!)

KG said...

I kept racking my mind, trying to think of some sort of happy memory, that I could text you yesterday. All I could come up with was, go hide out behind the cafeteria... yea not so much.

Thank goodness it all turned out pleasant! I still hope you snuck a cigarette out front though!

Anonymous said...

Couldn't stop chuckling when I got to the bottom of the "certain alums" list... congrats!!!

HappyRachael said...

I felt this same way at St. Rose when I went there for a year. We managed to make it though, didn't we? Congrats Beth, you are awesome!

Anonymous said...


I refuse to let my kids ever go to that school.

Anonymous said...

So amazing. You're a big deal.

Seana said...

So the Cougar Convention and Gavin's girlfriends? Those are the filler between your truely artistic blogs that come from your gift for writing. The ones about you and Mel, or your dad, or rehab or your grandfather and your love of cops? Those are your true accomplishments. The rest just gets us from one gem to the next.

Nom de plume said...

@Lisa -- Umm, that really wasn't Br. Draper (as my current comment name might indicate)

@Anonymous 10:48 AM -- Well played. Based on your articulate comment and your Tea Party-esque close-mindedness, I think SI is certainly getting the better part of that decision.

Lisa said...

@Nom de Plume Ha! Thanks for the clarification but I got that. They really do need to invent a sarcasm font. I'm pretty sure he'd be terrified by a blog. Or send someone to detention for using inappropriate language in it.

Dan Kaminsky said...

Well, either that or, "Jerry Brown, Class of '55 is running for Governor of California. Again."

OK, that's pretty epic. As is your Dead Poets Society v. Heathers analogy.

I'm more than slightly amused that, whatever happened back then, Genesis is heralding what we're up to now. Sometimes, things work out OK.

Hope all is well, cheers to a fellow Nerd Of '96 :)