1 oct 1999        

- mr. pop hilarity  -

Some people say we never really get out of high school, that what was most important to us then is secretly just as important to us now.  I think there's truth in that, and it probably behooves a fella to pay attention to why that might be so.  Oh sure, there are big changes that come along in life to shift our focus; we usually pair up with someone who didn't know us in high school (whew), we have kids and are glad they'll never truly know the hormonal blobs we used to be, and money, rather than a '57 Chevy, looms large as a measure of our worth.  But deep down, we often have the same reactions to friends, authority, the opposite sex, and our parents that we did in the middle of our second decade of life when we were awkwarder and nervouser and moist.

Events from adolescence, and how we reacted to them, are frequently the models for behaviors we hang on to.  Popularity, that nebulous scale of how we are regarded, is conceptualized in youth and we very often keep the same template for determining how we rate as friends or members of our communities.  Having never been a popular fellow, this is just theory.  But it's a theory born of a phenomenon even I cannot escape.  The attraction to popular people fascinates me.  What is it people seek in their curiosity about people everyone knows?

I suspect there is an evolutionary advantage in being popular or being associated with popular people.  All you really need is a brainstem to understand that it's good to be on the winning side of a contest, whether it's with footballs or sabres or sharpened monkey bones.  It's the side that gets the feast.  Many moons ago, when winning meant breathing the next day, let alone eating, there was tremendous value in being associated with the Joe Cool of the tribe.  If he liked you, you were set.  So we set about acquiring habits and behaviors that would make us attractive to those we perceived to be The Winners.

My tool to that end was always a sense of humor.  I saw the risk in trading on my finely-chiseled features, and banked instead on the realization that laughing makes people feel good.  Again, brainstem stuff.

While making yet another effort to clean up my office this week, I've stumbled onto my old high school yearbook, exhibit A in the tragic Case Of The 70's Youth.  I leaf through it and wonder what my schoolmates ended up trading on.


my pal kevThey tell me this guy I went to school with is in some baseball movie these days.  They say he should just do movies where he wears a baseball uniform 'cause those are the only ones he's good in.  I dunno.  I thought he was a nifty swimmer in Waterworld, with those little fins and gills.  Sure, he was no Man From Atlantis, or even Manimal, but hey, rallying the citizenry for the cause of justice is never easy whether you've got gills or a postman's mailbag or pointy shoes in Sherwood Forest.  It's hard work. 

Having gone to high school with Kevin Costner, you can imagine how anxious I am to drop this piece of news in social situations, particularly since it has the same value as being able to turn one's eyelids inside-out at parties -- it'll get attention, but it's not something you'll go and put on a résumé.  It's the sort of fact that interests people who are into degrees of separation, horoscopes, or British royalty.  If you're civilized, you can talk about it over cinnamon rolls, but not steak.

For the most part, the value of this information ends right at its delivery.  "No kidding." is all the response a reasonable man can expect from disclosing he went to high school with a movie star.  You don't want to spend too much time trading in proximities.

My father, for example, has always trafficked in knowledge of which schools famous athletes went to, as if it were the coin of the realm somewhere.  It always baffled me as to why he acquired and stored this information.  We'd be watching a game and onto the field would trot some second-stringer and he'd let fly with "Yeah, he went to Mater Dei."  I'd look at him, waiting for the punch line, or the point, or the something, the reason this datum figured into the scheme of things.  But there was never any next sentence.  That was it.  I'd scratch my head and move on.  After years of this, his pronouncements won him the aura of an observed specimen, Homo Sapiens Barcaloungus, offering commentary as if from behind protective glass.

It wasn't just with televised sports.  In a roomful of people at a party, his ears would catch a key word, he'd make an association in his head to a fact he knew, usually one irrelevant to the conversation, and then he'd open his mouth to deliver evidence that he knew something.  After the tiny silence that followed, he'd always tell a joke.

As proof that the flake doesn't fall far from the scalp, I often find myself at the end of these entries without the slightest clue about why I began typing.  I'll blurt out these innocuous comments, y'all look at me through the glass on your monitor, and wonder what the heck could be going on.

"So these two nuns go into a bar..."


  today's music:

"I Wanna Be Like You" (The Monkey Song) -- Los Lobos -- JUST ANOTHER BAND FROM EAST L.A.


today's wisdom:

"They named it ovation, from the Latin ovis (a sheep)."

- Plutarch