“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”
— Kurt Vonnegut
I went to a fun gathering last weekend, put on for Jonathan Zittrain, the founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard. The occasion was Zittrain’s new book The Future of the Internet… And How To Stop It. I’ve known Zittrain’s work for a while, but never met him, so jumped when I got an invite (thank you, Kara Swisher) to the come to a party for the book. The party itself was put on by Arianna Huffington and Melanie Ellison, who I guess you need to refer to as “Larry Ellison’s wife.” That meant the party was at one of Larry Ellison’s homes, on Billionaire’s Row in San Francisco, where pretty much all of the neighbors are billionaires, and the view is magnificent.
Meeting Zittrain for the first time was cool. He seems like a nice guy and I look forward to reading the book (of which I picked up a copy). The Ellisons’ house was incredible (well, what I could see of it — there were security guards guarding every door), and there were plenty of rich, famous and beautiful people in attendance. Beyond both of the Ellisons, Zittrain and Huffington, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was in attendance as was former governor (and former presidential candidate) Jerry Brown. I also got to talk with Craig of Craigslist fame for a while, which is always nice. He explained to me why he doesn’t want to sell Craigslist (not that I asked). Kara has a nice writeup and short video that includes me failing to come up with something interesting to say:
They also handed everyone a cookie with the book cover from Zittrain’s book on the cookie. I had no idea you could do such things, but apparently you can (I ate half the cookie after dinner — not bad). It’s too bad my wife is out of town, considering that Larry Ellison is her boss’s boss’s boss’s boss… I’m sure she would have enjoyed seeing the house.
However, I’m actually not writing this post about all of that — but about high school and nostalgia. When I got to the event, I actually ran into Zittrain right after I walked in, standing in the entry hallway, before the big living room where most of the people were. He was talking to Dan Farber, who I know and who introduced me. We asked Jonathan how it ended up that the Ellisons were throwing the party for him, and he told us that he actually went to high school with Melanie, and they were friends back then. So, now that the book came out, she agreed to hold the book party.
Arianna told a slightly different story, saying she was having dinner with the Ellisons, and brought along an early version of the book, saying she thought it was something the Ellisons should read, and Melanie surprised her by telling her that she had gone to high school with Zittrain. In introducing Zittrain, Melanie mentioned how she had known him since 1984, and she knew right away that he was “cool” to which Jonathan replied that it was certainly “a very well kept secret” that he was ever cool.
It got me thinking, because I’ve been going through a bit of high school nostalgia myself lately. It’s been 15 years since graduation, which seems like a long time — especially since it still doesn’t really feel all that long ago. But, suddenly I’ve found myself in touch with a few folks from high school that I lost touch with long ago, partly due to Facebook and partly due to randomness.
“Everybody in high school feels like the geek. If you are ten years out of high school and you say ‘damn, those were the best years of my life,” then I don’t want anything to do with you. You scare me.”
— Stephen King on “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” May 4, 2008
I lost touch with almost everyone I knew in high school. This was just as the internet was catching on, so only the super geeks had email addresses prior to going off to school, there was no instant messaging or social networks, so it wasn’t as easy to stay in touch. Sometimes I wonder if that’s still the case today. With email, social networking and instant messaging, it seems like it’s much more difficult to “lose” touch with people. But, without those, I lost touch with most folks within about a year.
Even the kids who I thought I was close friends with pretty much disappeared once I got to college. Perhaps this wasn’t that surprising. I don’t think I was ever really that close with people from my high school anyway. I don’t remember my high school being particularly cliqueish, though, in retrospect that may have just been me being oblivious. I knew lots of different people, and while I did have a group of regular friends, I also was pretty friendly with a pretty diverse selection of kids. So, based on that, I don’t think I really ever spent too much time with any one set of friends — and I always had this thought in the back of my head (which I’m thinking may be quite common among high schoolers) that maybe my friends didn’t actually like me very much. So I always made sure that I was friends with a bunch of different groups, just in case one group woke up and realized that they didn’t like me, I could just spend my time with a different group.
Every so often I would do Google searches online to see if I could dig up info on what happened to this or that friend from high school. Most of them weren’t findable, which was weird for me since I’m… rather findable on Google these days. It’s because of that findability that I occasionally get emails from folks.
Just a few months ago, I got an email from Rusty. This goes back beyond high school. Rusty went to elementary school with me, and I remember that he was the first kid that the bus picked up (the furthest from school) and I was the third stop, so he always got the best seat on the bus. I also remember him teaming up with Pedro to beat me up when I broke Pedro’s gold chain in a fight on the junior high bus (that was fun). Rusty still lives in Huntington and is a DJ (he DJ’d our high school “ska & rave” — yes, we had a “ska & rave” in high school). He’s married with a kid. And here’s the best part: he totally didn’t remember that I went to high school with him (apparently, the speech I gave at graduation wasn’t that memorable). He only remembers me from elementary school (I didn’t ask him about the fight in junior high). He sent me the photo of our second grade class, and I actually remember the names of most of the kids, including Joe Anchundia, who was working in the World Trade Center and died on September 11.
“Hey Michael, it’s me, Job….”
That was the message I got when Ryan added me as a “friend” on Facebook earlier this year. Ryan was a cool kid, but for some reason, I don’t remember being all that friendly with him. I remember that he was friends with most of my friends… and I remember thinking that he was really nice… but I just can’t remember hanging out with him that much. I also absolutely did not initially get the reference to Job, until he reminded me that he played the role of “Job” in a play I had written in high school called “A Day in the Life of God.” I actually co-wrote it with Brendan Gray (who sorta appears later in this story).
Huntington High School held a competition between the grades each year called “Playfest” where each grade put on a play. Some classes license a real play, some have a student write a play. Brendan and I teamed up freshman year to write a play, but we handed it in a day late, and so they licensed some play instead. I think Brendan was the funniest guy I knew in high school. Don’t ask me why I remember this, but I remember meeting him the first day of junior high school as we were both walking to shop class, and he just saw me in the hallway and started talking to me like we were old friends (we had actually met a year earlier on a field trip between elementary schools, but I don’t think that’s why he spoke to me). I used to like hanging out with Brendan because he was so funny that by the time I walked away, my brain was racing faster and even I was funnier (not for very long, though).
Anyway, for sophomore year, the two of us teamed up again and wrote the play “A Day in the Life of God” and handed it in on time. Our class advisors loved it and brought us on to direct, though Brendan rarely showed up, leaving the directing to me. There was a bit of controversy over the subject matter. The (not very original) “joke” of the play was that it was God as if he were a corporation CEO with Satan trying to run a hostile takeover of heaven. The jokes came pretty easily with that (though, our class advisors wanted us to add more characters so we didn’t have to cut anyone who wanted a part, so I went scouring through the bible to find bit players… like Job). The best actress in the school was a girl named Jillian, and we gave her the role of Satan… until her mom read the play, freaked out, called us blasphemers and demanded that Jillian quit the play. She moved to a new school soon afterwards.
That was fun.
We also got into some trouble for a line that I didn’t write. Ari played the role of Abraham, and at one point God (played by Dan Brenner — who recently connected with me via LinkedIn) got mad at Abraham, and Ari ad libbed a line to explain why he was having trouble paying attention: “But… but… but… I can’t find my foreskin.” It got the biggest laugh of the night and a stern warning from the principal that if we used that line on night 2 we would be disqualified from winning the “best play” award. Figuring the laughs were more rewarding than some dumb award, Ari and I agreed that he would still do the line.
I did Playfest (sans Brendan, unfortunately) the next two years as well, and in looking through my high school yearbook (which I just pulled out after having written all of the above), I’m realizing that a lot of folks connected me with those plays, as some of the signatures I got all refer to various plays. I guess that’s not the worst thing to be remembered for — though I’m not sure it’s going to get any multi-billionaires to throw a party for me any time soon.
Anyway, this post is getting long enough, so I’m going to stop it here and post it as “Part I,” soon (hopefully) to be followed by Part II — which includes recently meeting up with some long lost high school friends, and random other bits of nostalgia and thoughts on high school.