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Monday, October 24, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Politics ...

My high school class just had its 40th anniversary reunion. I didn’t go; I didn’t want to shell out $80 or whatever to spend an evening with a group of strangers. Well, they’re not totally strangers, although I did not stay in touch with anyone from my high school class. I can’t say that I remember talking with anyone from my class in the past 35 years, even though I only live 7 or 8 miles from the old town, and I still go there quite frequently (since my brother still lives there).

There are people from my class that I would have enjoyed speaking with. But for the most part, high school was not the place where I had my best times with others. Senior year wasn’t so bad, but the first three years were pretty rough; bullying back then was still considered a form of performance art. And I participated in a lot of command performances. After I got the “save the date” letter from the reunion committee last year, I honestly thought about going. But the memories were more bitter than sweet. So I took a pass on it.

And hey, why do I need to spend $80 to find out what happened to whom when there’s Facebook? I’m still holding out from joining “The Social Network” (just like I’m holding out from using supermarket loyalty cards; it’s my tiny little bit of James Dean and Jack Kerouac coming through). But the reunion “Facey” site is open to all, so I’ve been lurking quite merrily over the past few months, surreptitiously catching up with quite a few of my former classmates.

Not a heck of a lot of surprises there. Our classes’ biggest claim to fame was a tragic figure who died young, i.e. basketball burn-out Les Cason (see also my 2009 blog about him). But there is one surprise “come from behind” figure, someone I never would have guessed to become a ‘mover and shaker’. His name is Bruce Coppa, and he was recently appointed by newly elected (2010) Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie as his Chief of Staff.

Wow, little Bruce really made it in the Democratic political world! He has also been a successful businessman; you can watch him on YouTube giving other small business owners inspiration and advice (but you have to wait a few minutes until he gets to speak). I must say, that’s not the Bruce Coppa I remember! With his gray hair and serious face, he now knows how to talk his way into a leadership role, looking confident, spewing all kinds of interesting facts, showing that he’s on top of the world situation.

By contrast, the Bruce I knew (in passing) was “an individualist”, as the 1971 ERHS yearbook says. He didn’t even care enough to show up for his yearbook photo; there is a blank oval over his entry on page 41, and I can’t find any photographic trace of him anywhere else in the book. Like myself, he wasn’t very involved; swim team for 3 years, that’s it (versus my one year on the track team and one year with math league). I remember Bruce Coppa for one thing: in senior year, he told someone that I remind him of James Stewart, and so “Stewie” became my nickname until graduation.

(I’m not sure if I like that one better or worse than the nickname the detectives at work recently gave me: “the hammer”; but then again, the guy who thought that one up, Joe S., also has a claim to fame: he grew up in North Newark with Frankie Valli, yes the real Frankie Valli . . .)

So it’s a bit of a surprise to see Mr. Coppa today in Hawaii as a successful businessman and political operator. But it’s a nice surprise, actually. I wish Bruce a hearty “aloha” (and I wouldn’t have seen him at the reunion even had I gone, as the new appointment kept him on the island). He certainly has his work cut out for him, given that Governor Abercrombie wound up the least-popular governor in a recent state-by-state survey (maybe it was his proposed soda tax? people still love their soda).

Hey, perhaps I should remind Bruce once again of Jimmy Stewart, specifically regarding his role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Stewart / Smith was also very unpopular as a fictional politician, but was vindicated in the end! Maybe Bruce can pull off another “Stewie” for the old Gov.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:39 pm      

  1. Jim, I certainly understand your hesitancy about attending a school reunion. About 13 years ago my 8th grade graduation class decided to have a 50 year reunion. I too did not attend. I was somewhat “pestered” about attending it with calls from former classmates urging me to attend. In the end I decided against it as I realized, after having talked with my cousin who also was in the same class as I was, that likely all “they” wanted to do was be able to gossip about me–and her.

    In the end the real reason I think I didn’t attend was that I simply did not remember anyone at all from 8th grade, altho somehow they seemed to remember me. But from what one person said to me, I gathered the reason for their remembering me was not because they considered me one of the “stars” of the class.

    To show how far out of it I am, it has never occurred to me to think in terms of Facebook–but once again, if I don’t remember those in my 8th grade class, why bother with Facebook?

    Then too, over the years twice I’ve had the unpleasant experience of actually getting in touch with someone from my young days (I’ll put it that way). Neither of these experiences turned out well. In the end it seems it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.

    As to nicknames one acquires: I can’t say “The Hammer” is too bad. Seems to indicate that you take no nonsense from anyone and get down to business; I really don’t think that sobriquet is too bad–somewhat of a compliment.

    I had acquired a nickname at a school I taught at for 10 years–back in the 1950s and 1960s. But first one must understand the background: In preparation for my first year of teaching a mentor advised me not to smile at all, be nice, but don’t smile or laugh at anything the students do. I followed the advice to the letter. I think I DID lay down a reputation of being fair but of not standing for some of the kinds of things high school students can think of. As a result, I earned the name “Field Marshall”. I didn’t care; somehow remembering it still makes me smile. And there you have it. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — October 25, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

  2. Jim, One more comment that I’ve been thinking about for a while now–unrelated to the above. Regarding just what constitutes “success”, in this case by former classmates: Our society seems to have as it’s “success” measurement how much money someone makes/has, how much celebrity, how much notoriety–always it seems there’s a “how much” about success as measured in our society. (Well, maybe in other societies of the world too; but reunions of school mates deal with our society here in America; so I’ll limit the “success” comments to us here in America.)

    I’ve never been able to really accept such measurments of success. I can think of a couple of different ways to measure success–but maybe it all end up being one thing. I once read (I forget where, once again) that in some societies of the past success was measured in terms of how much a person could give away to the community. Interesting, I think. How different I society would be if, for instance, the 1% that the “Occupy” movement is protesting against would have as a measurement of its success how much it could give away to the other 99%. Just once example.

    Then there is the much more elusive measurement of success that is very quiet, unknown by others for the most part. I had a good friend (she died a few years ago) who over her lifetime was married but had not children. Seemingly, her life was almost “nothing” when it came to “success”. She could claim no real educational achievements (for what they may be worth), she did not work outside the home and thus be able to say she had a “career”, nor did she have any other “outside” types of achievements.

    HOWEVER! Over her lifetime she basically raised her sister’s children when her sister died very young and the children were very young themselves (at her death those children mourned her as a mother), she took in her own mother when she could no longer live alone–her parents’ marriage wasn’t really the best. Cared carefully and lovinly for her mother for years. When her father got sick and became bedridden, she took him into her house and nursed him for some 10 years or so. She also managed somehow to keep peace between her mother and father as both lived in the same house with her and her husband for some time. Lastly, when a beloved uncle got to the point when he could no longer take care of himself, she took him in and cared for him with no thought of anything except that she loved him and he needed care. In some people’s eyes she was not successful; in my eyes I count her as most successful. The generosity of heart she had was amazing.

    Another person I know, generously gave of his savings to support care for his mother thus enabling another member of the family to care for an older, dying person in the family. Both individuals contributed in a most generous way for several years to the care of that individual. How many people in our society would do that? Perhaps more than we think; but then again, maybe not as many as we thing. Such individuals are not measured as “successful” in our society. That’s precisely where I think our society lacks a complete and truly good measure of success.

    There are many such individuals who selflessly work very hard for others who may be “only” family–in the sense that one may say well, that’s “expected” of the individual. I say, no it’s not, as there are many, many in the world who cannot claim that kind of success–putting the care of another person before oneself.

    I think often of a woman I could not help but hear talking to another in a woman’s restroom many, many years ago. She said: My husband and I decided that our “thing” in our marriage was going to be “things”–how much we could “get” that’s the best. I have often wondered if the 2 of them are still together; and if they are, are they happy?

    Classmates tend to look at one another and measure “success” by how successful, how celebrated, how well known one might be. I find myself unable to measure success in that way. Isn’t it the “unknown” aspects of life that do some good for others and oneself the real measure of success? I say it is.

    No matter how much money it seems one has, somehow it’s never enough to truly make one happy. Yet, others who I consider measure their success by how much they can “give away”–as in the above examples–those people tend to be more satisfied in their lives, more happy, I’d say. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — October 26, 2011 @ 10:24 am

  3. Jim
    Sorry you did not make it. Many would have been thrilled to see you and catch up. Really hope you can come to the next one. Will try to find you on Facebook and contact you there.

    Comment by Hank Hahn — October 27, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

  4. Hank Hahn, wow, I think we were chemistry lab partners in senior year. He was a really good guy IIRC, and it sounds like he still is. Thanks Hank! If you go to the next reunion, I’ll think better about showing up. As per Genesis 18:32, if ten good men are found, the Lord shall not destroy the city. After Hank, nine to go!

    Comment by Jim G — November 4, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

  5. “Success, success, success, what does it matter?” Mick Jagger, lyrics from “Shattered”.

    Good points, Mary, as always.

    Comment by Jim G — November 4, 2011 @ 11:23 pm

  6. Hey Jim I will hold you to that. And seeing as you have posted it to the WWW I guess it will never disappear – or at least that is what my feeble mind has been told. And thank you for the very kind words my friend. I think that would now leave just 8 to go.
    Take care

    Comment by Hank Hahn — November 10, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

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