Fast Times at Clairemont High

A round the time of my ten-year high school reunion, two movies about reunions came out (Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion and Grosse Pointe Blank). I always thought writing about a reunion would be fun, because they attract such a variety of people. I tried to get to a reunion at my old school, Mira Mesa High, a few months ago, but it didn't work out.

When I found out about the 35-year reunion of Clairemont High School's class of 1969, I jumped on it. As I was driving to their party the week before the reunion with the event organizers, it hit me that I was born the year they graduated. And I lived in Clairemont those first three years of my life. I didn't recognize anyone from my old neighborhood, though.

When I walked in, I saw about ten people in the living room. Some were going through yearbooks, telling stories about various people. You'd sometimes hear, "What was his name? Bruce Reynolds? It was Bruce something."

A few of the women were looking at elementary-school photos. They were setting up a contest to see which high school classmates people recognized from their earlier photos.

Since they graduated in the '60s, I asked them about Vietnam. They told me that not too many of their classmates were drafted. One guy said college kept him out. Another lady said her husband was a 4-F. She said that disqualified him because he had ingrown toenails.

They also told me about a teacher who passed out leaflets on how to avoid the draft. He got fired from the school and later sued the school district. It went all the way to the California supreme court and he ended up winning.

I asked if any of them were hippies. They laughed and talked about the different types of people and cliques. It sounded like something that could be from any high school in any year. Phil, who looked like David Crosby, said, "We had a sit-in at the lunch court. It was so we could wear sandals and grow long hair. We were the first class that was able to have mustaches."

A woman said, "We couldn't wear pants. We had to have skirts, and if you knelt down, they would have to touch the floor."

I asked them if they were surprised now when they see girls not only wearing pants, but pants that show their thong underwear and tattoos. Someone responded, "Yes, but some other things have changed the other way, with everyone being politically correct. Our mascot has always been Charlie the Chieftain. But just last year they banned him. They thought it was insensitive to Native Americans."

I asked them a little about their high school's history. I was told the school was built in 1959. I was also reminded that former San Diegan Cameron Crowe wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High based on this school. Someone said, "He got permission from the school to register as a student so he could write about the experience." I thought that seemed odd, letting an adult go to school with minors. And why was it necessary? Couldn't he have just written about his previous high school experiences? When he wrote Jerry Maguire, he didn't need to join an NFL team before writing it. But I digress...

I went into the kitchen, where they had pizza and other snacks. I grabbed an orange juice, and one gal eating a slice of pizza said, "I try to watch my weight, and they bring this damn pizza. What can I do?"

As they were cutting out pictures and making posters for the event, one guy pretended to sniff the rubber cement. Just then I reached for a brownie and asked, "There isn't anything funny in these brownies, is there?"

One woman was talking about her twin sister. She said that her sister had large breasts and she didn't. A few of the women then got into a conversation about their classmates who had developed early.

I asked them about their previous reunions. One said she got a bit starstruck by a guy she had liked. They had dinner after the reunion, and she found she didn't care much for him. She wouldn't reveal who the guy was, even with pleading from all her former classmates. I even pleaded, using that journalism cliché "It will be off the record."

I was told another story about a man who won an award for having lost the most hair. A guy said, "That was at our ten-year reunion. He got so mad about that he hasn't shown up at any events since."

Phil told a funny story about a high school student who was in the Boy Scouts and how they made fun of him during an assembly. Phil added, "He ended up owning an auto body shop and making millions."

I ask if any other classmates became really successful. They all started telling me about Charles. They said that his dad taught him how to tell female turkeys from males. It was something not everyone could do. He ended up making millions of dollars doing it and won the award at a previous reunion for "most unusual occupation." One woman said, "Making money by feeling up turkeys."

I asked them what categories they'd have at this reunion. As Donna rattled off "longest hair, most eligible bachelor, never been married, most kids, most grandkids, and who's changed the most..." I interrupted. "The category for 'changed the most' probably isn't good. It could be someone who gained 300 pounds or lost their arm in an accident. And remember, that one guy got pissed about his hair loss 25 years ago." Donna said, "That's a good point. Someone might have had plastic surgery." They dropped that category.

Marlee hosted this party at her house in Pacific Beach, right as you come off the I-5. It's on a hill, with lots of windows showing the view and all the lights below. She said, "I won once for having the most kids. I have six." Someone else said that a classmate named Brian had eight kids. Another person added, "Did you see Brian on TV? He's the one in Encinitas. His wife died years ago, and recently Extreme Makeover redid his house."

I was handed a flyer about the reunion, which was at the Red Lion in Hotel Circle. I asked if people from out of town would be staying at the hotel. I was told that the event coordinator there got fired because of this event. They were assured that blocks of rooms would be saved for them. That person didn't realize there was a convention and no rooms were available. The hotel ended up helping them out with rooms at another place.

When I showed up the following week for the actual reunion, I took a look at the poster board showing the 33 classmates who had passed away. Out of a graduating class of 654, I didn't think that was too many. I glanced at my senior yearbook last week and two close friends, Kent Cottle and Jeff Cox, had both died. And their photos are right next to each other.

While I was looking at photos from old newspaper clippings, I saw a guy getting a drink. He had long black hair, and I said, "Are you Charles, the turkey guy?" He laughed and said, "How did you know?" I didn't want to tell him that, at the party, there was a debate as to whether he was Chinese or Japanese. He was the only nonwhite person I'd seen.

He had a few interesting stories and told me that later in the evening he would be playing a flute that he made himself. He makes them out of cedar, and he played a beautiful song that had bits of poetry between the sections of music he played. Someone later told me it was a Native American flute. They said, "He also teaches Zen golf." I asked what that was, and nobody at the table seemed to be able to explain it. Someone said, "You try to imagine you are the ball, going where you want the ball to land." I said, "Maybe I'll see if he can help me with miniature golf. I need help getting past that windmill."

The party had a Hawaiian theme. I asked Donna why she hadn't chosen a '60s theme, and she said, "This is cheap and easy to do." Randy, a good-looking guy who all the girls said was quiet back in high school, told me they had done the '60s theme previously. "This way we don't have to wear a suit."

There were hula dancers, one of whom was from their graduating class, and sisters from later years at Clairemont High. The band consisted entirely of former Clairemont students. Phil told me, "I thought it would be better than hiring a band or some DJ. I know a lot of these musicians, and they're really talented. We have the Eldridge brothers, who play with Rockola, plus Rob Lawrence, and Gene Rochambeau, who works at the Reader. He was in a lot of great bands, like the Noise Boys and King Biscuit. We have another guy that plays with Jose Sinatra."

Right before the band played, the MC was asking who had traveled the farthest for the event. One person had come from Quebec. He asked if any couples were high school sweethearts. Four couples raised their hands. One said they had been married 36 years, to which another asked, "How is that possible? You didn't get married in high school." I thought it was adorable to see these four couples, who looked so happy together, after 35 years of marriage and 4 additional years of high school together.

I had heard earlier that Randy had moved more often than anyone else. One woman said, "He's lived in probably 35 different houses." When the MC asked who has lived in the same house the longest, Phil raised his hand and said he had lived in the same house since 1961. Someone yelled out, "Aren't your parents sick of you yet?"

When asked who had the most kids, someone yelled, "Illegitimate or legitimate?"

There looked to be about 200 people here, and I asked Donna about tracking down people. She said, "We have to use the telephone book, word of mouth, and sometimes their parents still live in the same houses. We can track people down that way."

"Is it easier with computers now?" I asked.

"Oh, yes, that has made things a lot easier. There were still almost 300 people we couldn't find."

She then introduced me to Scott Keeling. He recently retired from the Secret Service. He's had details guarding every president from Nixon to Clinton. The stories he told were fascinating. He showed me how he can get someone out of a room without making a scene. He asked for my hand and started to shake it while twisting it in a weird direction. It was painful, and he said, "I just smile, shake the person's hand as I'm walking him out the door, and ask them to come with me." I looked at the bartender and said, "I bet he can kill me with just his pinky."

He then showed me how to frisk someone without them even noticing what you're doing. I don't think I got the technique down, though. I tried it at a bar the next day, and a woman slapped me.

Since he spoke Spanish, Arabic, and French, he was often on details with heads of state from other countries; the Secret Service doesn't just protect U.S. officials. The Secret Service also deals with counterfeit currency. He said, "I was involved in the biggest bust since we've been dealing in currency, since 1865. We caught a guy with $22.6 million."

He told me the Secret Service worked with money before they began protecting presidents in 1901, yet now they are more associated with the latter, probably because of countless movies. I asked if the Clint Eastwood film In the Line of Fire was accurate. Scott said, "Oh, yeah. I trained the woman they used as a consultant."

Scott also said, "If the President is coming to San Diego, we fly the limos in from Washington that will be used to drive him around. They are bulletproof, and even if the tire is shot out, we can get them up to 55 miles per hour."

He said a law was passed this year that allows retired law-enforcement personnel to carry concealed weapons on a plane. He said, "The pilots know you are on board. Sometimes we talk to them beforehand. They might say, if they are hijacked, let them land the plane. Well, once I was told by the flight attendant that the captain wanted to see me. I go up there, and he says that he didn't want to scare the passengers by going back to tell them, but a snake had gotten loose. He asked me if I could find it. I said, 'Dead or alive?' "

"How did you get interested in this profession?" I asked.

"When I was a kid, this guy lived across the street from me that was in the Secret Service. He had a red Jaguar XKE. He had a .357 Magnum in there and an Uzi. I thought he was James Bond. In all my time though, I've never had to shoot anyone. Sometimes, with Bush Senior, he went hunting. One of our guys was standing in the back of the truck. He got hit in the arm by a bunch of the pellets. After that, when Bush started shooting, we all ducked into the limos."

"Did you ever get a Jaguar XKE?"

"I have a Porsche Carrera."

Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.

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