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2365 words
SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

My Amazing High School 50th Graduation Anniversary Reunion

by Alan Press

I did not want to go to it. For various and most of the usual nonsensical reasons, high school was not a happy time for me. But my good friend Warren, who has a much stronger ego than mine (he is an eminent psychiatrist), convinced me to go to it with him.

We graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School (ALHS) in Brooklyn in 1952. (That was before Brooklyn was BROOKLYN.) In its day it was a first-rate New York City High School. It has a long list of distinguished and accomplished graduates. But in keeping with the times, it was also known as Stinkin-Lincoln.

Suffice it to say back then I compensated for who I thought I wasn’t, by assuming the persona of a cynical wise-ass. I was far from an athletic star or an academic whiz. I was certainly not a member of the Order of the Arista.[Editor’s Note: Arista originated in the early years of the 20th century as a variant name for National Honor Society chapters in New York City public high schools.]

As incongruous as it may seem to those who knew me then, and know me now, while I was in high school there was a strong religious streak in me. I was one of those who devoutly and actively practiced School Prayer. I prayed every day. I prayed that my teachers would not:

  • Call on me.
  • Collect homework.
  • Give a pop quiz.

Rarely were my prayers answered.

The best that Mr. Lester Speiser (my superb junior-year English teacher) could say about me at the end of the term was: “He is literate... Somewhat... More or less... Some times more... Some times less.” He gave me a C+. In retrospect, surely the “+” was a very generous gesture on his part. Like many of my teachers then, Mr. Speiser (now many years later a very dear friend) deserved far better than the likes of me.

In preparation for the reunion, those who were organizing it sent each of us a request. We were asked to write and submit a short paragraph about what had happened to us over the intervening years. We were told that it would be printed in the Reunion Program, between our photos lifted from the 1952 Lincoln Senior Class Yearbook and a current one that we were asked to return with our bios.

The programs were waiting for us at our dinner tables. Most of my former classmates competed in relating their many extraordinary triumphs:

  • President of this.
  • Chairman of that.
  • Brilliant Marriages (some of them multiple, but all of them brilliant).
  • Parents of incredibly successful children. Every one of them a surgeon, judge, investment banker, or venture capitalist.
  • Of course, all of the grandchildren had been certified as Gifted and Talented. Much sought after with offers of generous scholarships by the likes of Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.
  • Now they were retired to their manses in Florida, Southern California, or Arizona. Their low golf scores were but one more source of my envy.

Other than mine, there was not a dysfunctional family in the lot.

[See Sidebar #1: Dysfamanon and Guilt.]

My submission, far shorter and quite different than most of the others, was:

“In my golden youth, when I graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School, I wondered of the possibilities of omniscience and omnipotence. Now in my dotage, I worry of the probabilities of impotence and incontinence.”

It did not endear me to the rest of the assembled gaggle of geezers and geezerettes. Still a cynical wise-ass.

As we circulated through the cocktail hour my feelings of inadequacy began to return. And to increase in intensity with each passing minute. I was never much good at Cocktail Conversation (CC). I failed the course in CC in college. I could never remember the protocols required for sophistication:

  • Which finger was I supposed to stir a drink with?
  • What direction was I supposed to stir it in?
  • What wine was appropriate with which course?

More recently I failed the course in Starbuckese at Berlitz. In a senior panic moment a couple of months ago, after waiting in a long line of Starbuck aficionados, I stepped up to the counter and ordered a Latkah Grande.

[See Sidebar #2: Further Manifestations of Inadequacy.]

I noticed that many of us were reverting to who were at in June of 1952. It was as if 50 years had not passed. None of the jocks dribbled basketballs, but they were all at the same tables. Talking jock talk. The smart girls were reminiscing about their Latin classes. I was seated at a table with the other nebbishes. I was President of the Nebbish Club. It was the club for those who couldn’t get into any other club.

The evolving scene did little to help my fragile ego. I began anticipate at least five extra sessions with Dr. Ludwig Fenstermacher.

His specialty is rejection. Considering my life-long sad experience with Rejection By Beautiful Women since age 3, and the fact that I make my living selling life insurance, I keep Dr. Fensty very busy.

And then it began. In front of my astonished wife Hanna. A number of the ever pretty, desirable, and still unobtainable girls came up to me, gave me a big hug and a kiss, and said, “Alan, you were so great in high school. You were so smart. You were so funny.”

Stunned into disbelief, my reply was: “Where were you, when I needed you so desperately? When just a kind look, a little smile, perhaps even one word from you, could have changed my whole life?” Response: “You know how it was then.”

[See Sidebar #3: Sex.]

But that was only the beginning. Before very long the one and only Paula Perlstein approached. She too gave me a hug and a kiss. In all truth I must admit that it was far from a full frontal hug. Nor was it much of a kiss. More of a brush of her lips on my wrinkled cheek. But still, it was a virtual hug and kiss from Paula Perlstein. Witnessed by every member of the 1952 graduating class of Abraham Lincoln High School.

Now you may ask, Why was a mini smooch from Paula Perlstein such an important milestone event, 50 years after graduation? Because Paula was a cheerleader. And I had never been kissed by a cheerleader. I had to wait 50 years. To be kissed by a 68-year-old cheerleader. But it was worth the wait. Paula was still perky. At my advanced age and state of physical decay, it couldn’t get much better than that.

The evening ended on a high note. As the conversation began to ebb, the cheerleaders whipped out their old white, bulky, woolen sweaters, with ALHS Megaphones sewn on the front, pulled them on, and marched up onto the stage. Accompanied by the band, they led us in a standing, rousing rendition of our old school fight song.

Here’s to Lincoln, Stinkin Lincoln,*
Raise her banners high.
Shout her praises to the breezes,
Lift them to the sky.
Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah.

Here’s to Lincoln, Stinkin Lincoln*
Bring to her glory and renown.
Let’s make Lincoln High
The best in New York Town.
Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah.

* I have taken liberties with the authorized version of the song. The correct second phrase in the first line of the first stanza is, “Cheers to Lincoln.” The correct second phrase in the first line of the second stanza is, “Bring to Lincoln.”


Sidebar #1: Dysfamanon and Guilt

Whenever our children experienced an irresistible impulse to inflict pain on my wife and me, they would fix us with the evil eye and declare, “I grew up in a ‘Dysfunctional Home.’” As the male descendant of generations of Jewish mothers, each more proficient than the previous one in the fine art of instilling paralyzing feelings of profound guilt in their young, that one always got to me.

As many of our readers are aware, psychiatrists in New York specialize. Here in the Big Apple the treatment of guilt is a recognized psychiatric sub-specialty. Herbert Klopholtz, MD has been working with me episodically on resolving my deeply seated anxieties attributable to guilt.

With the support of Dr. K. I finally developed the insight and courage to respond to my children. I asked, “Which of your friends grew up in a ‘Functional Home?’” They could not name one. The fact that they could not name one was certainly not an inhibitor of frequent future similar accusations.

Family Dysfunctionality is in. Big time. It will soon eclipse espionage, business and political corruption, chiclit, and child kidnapping zombies and vampires, as the most frequent subject of pop-culture books, TV shows, and movies. It is our fastest growing entertainment genre.

In response to this rapidly growing societal need, in our little town of Demarest NJ, we have organized a chapter of Dysfamanon. Now you might ask, “What is Dysfamanon?” Similar to Al-Anon, it stands for Dysfunctional Families Anonymous.

We have weekly meetings. And a twelve-step recovery program. When a new family moves into town and comes to their first meeting, I smile, put out my hand in greeting, and say, “Welcome. I’m Alan. I have a dysfunctional family.”

Not surprisingly, every family in Demarest but one has applied for membership in Dysfamanon. That one family is the Robertsons. Mom, Dad, Bud, Sis, and Spot Robertson. It appears that they may be the only functional family in our little town.

Considering that dysfunctionality appears to be our norm, and the Robertsons are the sole family in town that can be defined as functional, I have proposed that we consider reversing the definitions. Perhaps the rest of us should declare ourselves to be “Dysfunctionally Functional.” And the Robertsons to be “Functionally Dysfunctional.”

Highly placed, usually reliable sources have hinted that there is a possibility that Jacquelanne Suzanne may be collaborating with Panavision Panoramic Productions on developing a script for a blockbuster movie about Dysfamanon. As of now, the working title for it is, “December In Demarest When There Is Nothing For Dysfunctional Housewives To Do But You Know What.”

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Sidebar #2: Further Manifestations of Inadequacy

As our readers by now may have deduced, I have at best a tenuous self-image. And the recent advances in communications technology have certainly compounded the problem.

Surveying the streets of New York as I walk them, my estimate of the passing scene indicates that, at a minimum, fully 25% of those I observe are talking on their iPhones. Yak, Yak, Yak. Sometimes couples walking holding hands, are each holding their phones to their ears with their free hands. Yak, Yak Yak. And another 15% are of them are texting. Yakking and texting. Texting and Yakking. All around me.

I do have a mobile telephone. It’s one of the old-fashioned clamshell jobs. The kind you have to flip open the cover of in order to use it. If it rings about once a week, it’s a lot. As of late it’s been a robo call from my good friend Joe. He wants to personally deliver a device that he informs me I had “virtually” ordered, that I can wear on a chain around my neck. I can use it to summon emergency medical assistance should I need it. As the organization he represents is totally committed to keeping me ambulatory and taking nourishment as a public service, Joe has assured me that there is no charge for the device. However, there is a monthly fee for the service. Sorry, Joe.

What I have as yet to comprehend, is why my fellow New Yorkers have so many people who want to call them, or take their calls? And almost no one other than Joe wants to talk to me?

The active intervention of Dr. Albert Hockmesser (sub-specialty, Generalized Feelings of Inadequacy) has thus far failed to ease my pain. I invite those of our readers who may have suffered similar symptoms to offer any curative measures that they may have found to be helpful in dealing with this debilitating disorder.

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Sidebar #3: Sex

My misadventures with women did not end with high school. I went to college in New York. During that time I discovered that there was another Alan Press growing up in the Bronx (BX) while I was growing up in Brooklyn (BK). He was the Real Alan Press. I was the Other Alan Press.

At an early age, AP BX made it into the Guinness Book of Records. He deflowered more virgins on the Upper West Side of Manhattan than anyone else in previously recorded history. To this day his feats have not been matched.

Every so often if I was invited to a party, and a girl were to ask me my name I would answer, Alan Press. More often than not there was a widening of the eyes, a flutter of eyelashes, and an uncontrolled deep breath.

“You’re Alan Press?” she would ask.

My response, “Yes. But you are obviously thinking of the Real Alan Press. The one from the Bronx. Try not to be too disappointed. I am the Other Alan Press. The one from Brooklyn.”

The sad saga continued. The Kinsey Report was published. The first scientific study of male sexuality in America. Its research indicated that members of college fraternities were having sex an average of 4–6 times a week. SEX!!! 4–6 Times a Week!!!

My fraternity brothers and I were stunned. We knew that if the average member of college fraternities was having sex 4–6 times a week, somewhere out there, there were guys getting it 10–12 times a week. To make up for us.

I knew that there was a guy getting my share, and I wanted to meet him. Say, “ Congratulations. You’re the guy who got my share. How was it?” Even then I knew I was meant to be a Life Insurance Company General Agent. All I wanted was a 10% override on his action.

And who was it? Who got my share? You guessed it. Alan Press. The Real Alan Press. The Alan Press from the Bronx.

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SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Alan Press

has spent his career in the life insurance business. His articles addressing Market Conduct Issues, and the need to protect consumers from unscrupulous sales practices, have appeared in numerous leading financial services industry publications.

One of Alan’s hobbies is adventure travel. He has visited 68 +/- countries. He is particularly proud that, in 2013, one of his travel articles, “What’s A Smart (?) Jewish Boy From Brooklyn Doing In A Place Like North Korea?” was published by Web Del Sol, as part of World Voices, An International Chapbook Series of Prose and Poetry; and that his “50th High School Reunion“ essay is in the 9th issue of SHJ.

Alan can be reached at: Apress18 [at] gmail [dot] com

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury