I took a lot of crap courses during my senior year of high school. During the previous year, I did the hard-core academic stuff that would look good on my college applications (two math classes for fuck’s sake!). Knowing full well that my destiny lay in the world of filmmaking, a field in which academic achievement isn’t nearly as valued as is the ability to spin quality-sounding bullshit, I chose the appropriate courses to further my aspirations. Instead of Calculus, I took Problem Solving (a full semester of impractical brain teasers). In place of Honors Biology, I opted for Oceanography (guaranteed monthly field trips!) and Anatomy (when I actually showed up, we spent the entire time eviscerating fetal pigs and cheating on tests). But there was one class that truly stood ahead of the pack – a class that has stuck in my mind, shaped my life in innumerable ways, and has come back to haunt me. That class was Humanities with Miss Soave.
As defined by my computer’s dictionary, Humanities is the liberal arts as subjects of study, as opposed to the sciences. That’s a pretty broad definition. The class itself could have been called An Introduction to Beatnikery or Blue State Attitudes and Aesthetics 101. We studied Jazz, wrote “music-inspired” essays, analyzed Robert Mapplethorpe’s tamer photographs, watched clips from “The Breakfast Club,” and learned to Samba with our illegal Brazilian classmates. We also went on two field trips that I’m pretty sure put us on NSA watch lists for future communists and NEA contributors - one was to an exhibit of Herb Ritts’ Uber-gay portraits of naked dudes holding tires, and the other was an all-day visit to Harvard Square in all of its druggy, intellectual splendor.
Miss Soave was sexy in a nerdy/hippyish way - an attractive, female version of Mr. Van Driessen from “Beavis and Butthead.” I am guessing that she was only about 28 at the time. She made great pains to be the cool young teacher. On our first day, she let us know that we’d all have “a really rockin’ year” and that she didn’t want to hear any “dissing of anyone in this classroom.” Her grading system was awesome. I could have vomited on a piece of canvas, explained that it was a metaphor for fascist oppression, and gotten an A for it. Dayna somehow got a score of 120 on a paper she wrote contrasting the book and movie versions of John Grisham’s “A Time To Kill.” Seriously, 120 points! I didn’t know that grades like that even existed.
Near the end of the school year, Miss Soave had us write a letter to ourselves in ten years. In it, we were supposed to write our dreams and aspirations for where we would be in a decade. She assured us that she would mail them out to us at the appropriate time. I received mine in the mail a few days ago. She mailed these letters out a year early, perhaps so that her former students could take that extra year to accomplish any unrealized adolescent dreams. Here is the abridged version of my letter:
May 13, 1997
Dear Me (what are those things coming out of her nose?), (a cheeky “Spaceballs” reference)
In ten years I will hopefully be working on a movie set somewhere, filming what will become a huge worldwide box-office success. I will probably be engaged, if not married. I will NOT be married to Dayna Pell. Ms. McPherson will be watching me become successful and she will be eternally bitter. I will be a perfect physical specimen, and might have a Southern accent.
At this time, a #3 at McDonald’s costs $3.77. A gallon of gas is about $1.60. A movie ticket costs $7.25, but I get in for free.
So, how am I stacking up? I have worked on several movie sets. None of them have become huge worldwide box-office successes, as of yet. I would be as shocked as anyone if I become engaged or married in the next 12 months. For those of you who don’t know her, Dayna Pell has been my close friend and partner-in-snarkiness since the eighth grade. Many of our high school friends speculated that the two of us would eventually hook up. It will never happen. We are way more Jerry & Elaine than Harry & Sally. You can read her take on this blast-from-the-past letter by clicking here. Ms. McPherson was my evil drama club advisor who was making life miserable for all of my friends at the time. To this day, I would relish the opportunity to make her seethe with envy at my successes. I am far from a perfect physical specimen, but hey, I’ve made some progress since my college days. The Southern accent thing was a reference to the fact that I would soon be leaving my native New England for four years in North Carolina. The accent didn’t stick. For the sake of my aforementioned physique, I wish that I didn’t know how much a McDonald’s #3 cost. I weep for the gas prices of yesteryear. And I don’t get into movies for free anymore (although, I still use my NCSA Student ID to save a couple of bucks).
It is pretty obvious that I haven’t changed a whole lot since high school. Having observed human nature as a camp counselor, lifeguard and bartender, I don’t think that most people do. I was in Harvard Square a few weeks ago on a perfect sunny day. I perused foreign magazines at the world-famous newsstand, dodged Christian and Scientology missionaries, was never far from Smart People discussing Important Subjects, or Stoned People discussing Stoned Subjects. I couldn’t help but think about the day I spent there at the age of eighteen, and the class that brought me there. As goofy as that class was, I can remember it in greater detail than virtually any other class I took in four years of high school. It was a godsend during a particularly shitty year in my life. I actually got to discuss, write, and joke about things that I actually found interesting.
Goodnight, Miss Soave, wherever you are…