John Wilding with his wife. “You think everybody’s going to turn out to be a regular guy, regular house, regular job, regular wife and kids.”
By all accounts, it was Dan Siskowic who conceived the idea of creating a place in cyberspace for the Mission Bay High School Class of 1975. Dan did this in January 2000. He and a few friends had organized 10- and 20-year reunions for the class, and the last time around they had located less than half of the 476 members. With another celebration looming, Dan thought the Internet might help them find more of their former schoolmates.
Phil Huffman (right) combined the elements of Class Clown and Superstud.
So Dan, a mechanical engineer and a sophisticated computer user, found a family-reunion website that would work as a tool for spreading the word about the reunion. By the beginning of February, he’d set up a Mission Bay High School Class of 1975 site within MyFamily.com, and in the “News” section he posted a plea for help with finding people.
Cynde Lee (right): "My favorite memory is going to the hump [a grassy mound next to the Hilton on Mission Bay] before dances and drinking Cold Duck,"
Over the course of the next few weeks, some of the first items to trickle in were polished multiparagraph essays that read like job applications. Cindy C. weighed in from Vancouver to say she had married a Canadian and was raising two daughters, as well as studying to be a gemologist (after a ten-year career as executive director of the British Columbia Men’s Field Hockey Association). Stephen Van R. detailed his status: happily married, with a five-year-old son, and working as a researcher at the University of Washington Center for aids Research near Seattle.
Reesa Huntridge: “You’re young. You feel like you’re immortal.”
But less formal, more personal items also appeared. Debbie sent a recent, somewhat startling photo of herself surfing at South Mission Beach (startling because the slim-hipped, buxom, distant, silhouetted figure on the board suggested a woman in her early 20s, rather than her early 40s). Pacific Beach resident Dave Schultz, an avid photographer since his high school days, posted a comic image of two classmates dissecting a rat back in 1973. Dan Siskowic uploaded an article that had just appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune about his son, Cameron, an outstanding football and basketball player at Clairemont High School, who, the article revealed, had recovered after having a soft-tissue sarcoma removed from his back. The article mentioned that Dan, too, had been fighting a cancer, melanoma, for two years and had recently finished a round of chemotherapy on February 18.
Wilding commented that he knew at least three guys who were homeless. “Some live in trailers in El Cajon."
I saw no hint of illness when I met Dan. I had contacted him by e-mail and confided to him my interest in finding and following up on people who had gone to high school together 25 years ago, to learn something about the various paths they had taken. As a starting point, I’d checked around to see which local schools were having a 25-year reunion, and someone in the office at Mission Bay High had given me Dan’s e-mail address.
Phil Huffman:"We had about 125 kids over at our house, with a champagne fountain.”
“You have come to the right place,” he shot back in reply to my message. A committee of four was planning the event, he told me. He urged me to visit the class’s website and invited me to join an upcoming planning session at the Blue Collar Grill.
This modest neighborhood hangout occupies a little shopping center that overlooks Morena Boulevard a few blocks south of Costco. I found Dan and Phil Huffman at the bar. The two men were born one day apart.
Daniel Siskowic: "I have the added pressure of being married to a ‘childhood sweetheart’ (who still gets jealous).”
They met in the fourth grade at Kate Sessions Elementary School, where they formed a friendship that endured through the three years at Pacific Beach Middle School (seventh through ninth grades) and three years of high school.
In his senior year, Dan had been the co-captain of the football team, and at 43 he was still a superb athlete. “Anything he wants to do, he does it really well,” one friend told me. “If you were to challenge him to…archery. Or hurling! He’d kick your ass in about six weeks if you gave him a chance at it.” High school photos of Dan show him with thick, curly, light blond hair and the angelic features of a young boy. Today the hair has darkened to a rich copper, and the years have added a virile maturity to his features. His peers once judged him to have the Best Sense of Humor, and it seemed to me the quiet humor was still there.
Milton Hines: “I was the only black guy all the way through grade school and junior high.”
Huffman appeared to be a more exuberant character. In high school he was “deathly skinny” and rather nerdy looking. “I was six foot four — same height I am today — but I weighed only 155 pounds.” Filled out now, he looks fit and powerful. “I’ve had a lot of fun in life, basically,” he told me. “I’ve been lucky. And I had a lot of fun in high school!”
Craig Mamer (who today works as an insurance agent) helped Huffman (who became a mortgage broker) plan the 10- and 20-year gatherings.
Huffman worked on the staff of the Taroga, the school annual, and in his senior year he directed the yearbook’s sports section. “I was always hanging around with the jocks anyway,” he recalls. “They were all my buddies.” But he didn’t play any sports himself; he wasn’t a natural athlete, he says, plus “I used to work all the time.” His father was Ray Huffman, one of the city’s most powerful apartment builders in the 1970s. Phil says he started working for his dad’s construction company the summer he was 12, and he continued to do so each year through college. “And the day I turned 16, man, I was working after school. School would get out at two, and my brother and I would go work for two or three hours…. All my buddies like Danny would go down to Law Street [beach] and meet all the girls. But I was working.”
This had its advantages, Huffman says. “We made good money! I was rich, when I was a kid!” And he squeezed an active social life into his free time. “Back then, it was party-animal city. And I was an instigator of many of those parties. I remember all of us getting busted a couple of times in the 10th and 11th grades by cops and stuff like that for having beers and things. Not busted busted. Not thrown in jail, but caught drinking.” His status as head of the reunion committee could be traced to one of his most legendary bashes, he told me. The senior prom was scheduled to run from eight to midnight, “And my parents said, ‘You know what? Let’s have a party so we know where all the kids are.’ So we had about 125 kids over at our house, with a champagne fountain.” The celebrations lasted until six in the morning. When it later came time to elect an alumni president at the class’s senior breakfast, “They said, ‘Let’s have Huffman! He throws awesome parties,’ ” Phil recalls.
Elizabeth Carson married Dan Siskowic.
A few minutes later, Craig Mamer joined us. Mamer (who today works as an insurance agent) helped Huffman (who became a mortgage broker) plan the 10- and 20-year gatherings, along with Dan’s wife, Liz Siskowic. (Liz was one of the two class members judged back in 1975 to have had the Most School Spirit and Dedication.) For the 10th reunion, the classmates staged a fancy party at the Hyatt Islandia. For the 20th, they moved to the San Diego Hilton. “They cut us a great deal because they had just remodeled, and we were one of the first groups in. We had their outdoor pavilion, and there were beautiful trees,” Huffman recalled. “It actually was awesome — way better than the 10th.”
After that event, Huffman, Mamer, and the Siskowics made it known they wanted someone else to plan the next reunion. But no one stepped forward, so early last year Huffman had called the Hilton to see about booking space there again. When he learned that the hotel wanted a minimum of $8000, he and Siskowic had decided to proceed with a scaled-down affair.
“We found a sucker to volunteer his house,” Dan said.
“We’re going to party in the back yard,” Huffman added. “That way we can cut the costs down, almost in half. We’re hoping we’ll get some more locals that way.”
“We’ve budgeted $25 [per person] for food,” Dan said.
“And we’re going to buy our alcohol from Price Club and have a 200-CD player — ” Phil continued.
“Minimal decorations! No DJ. No band,” Mamer interjected.
“We had a band for the tenth,” Phil explained. “Then we went to a DJ five years ago. But no one ever dances! That’s one thing we found out.” People are hungry to talk; all you need is background music.
After a while, John Wilding showed up, looking sleepy. The fourth member of the planning group and the “sucker” who would be opening his home to his ex-classmates, Wilding was voted the best-looking guy in his class, and his strong jawline, crinkly eyes, and dimpled smile would probably win a lot of votes today. “What are you guys talking about?” he queried the group.
Around the Weed Patch
“We were on hair for a second,” Phil retorted. “Impotence is just up.” The men guffawed. After a while, the talk turned to the major challenge before the organizers: trying to contact as many class members as possible. Dan announced that 116 out of the 476 students had been located. “But they’re the easy ones.”
David Schultz lives today in the same house in Crown Point that his parents occupied when he was born and in which he grew up.
“I can remember what happened with the 10th and the 20th, and I think the same thing’s happening here,” Huffman said. “There’s, like, this core group of people who were active and cared, and those people want to stay in contact. I want to say it was the upper half of the class, the people who were involved. Maybe they were some of the top sports guys or some of the people on the yearbook staff. The social people.” But many of the kids who were outside those charmed circles had broken all their ties with the past.
Liz and Dan, Grad Night, 1975
“There is a contingent,” Dan agreed, “that definitely hated high school. I don’t know if it’s 30 percent.”
“I think it was more than that!” Phil asserted. “They managed to graduate, but that was about it.”
Geography also influenced how hard it was to find people, according to Dan. “It’s easy with the local people. They kind of keep in touch, at least with somebody. But the people who moved away — it’s surprising. You talk to them and they haven’t talked to anybody in ten years. They have new lives, and when you ask them if they can get in touch with anyone else, very few of them can. We’re talking people in Australia. People in Hawaii. People in Washington.”
"Huffman has all but commandeered this alumni website and turned it into his own personal ‘philsapimp’ chat room.”
Huffman added in amazement that very few of their classmates went to college. “I don’t even think it was 25 percent of the kids.”
“That’s about what I would guess,” Dan agreed.
Wilding shook his head. “You think everybody’s going to turn out to be a regular guy, regular house, regular job, regular wife and kids.” Some of the members of the Class of ’75 had done that or gone beyond it. The girl voted Most Likely to Succeed was now a prestigious medical researcher. The boy who won that honor had risen to become a commander in the Navy and appeared headed for higher ranks. But at the same time, Wilding commented that he knew at least three guys who were homeless. “Some live in trailers in El Cajon. I’m talking blue-collar guys. There are a couple with P.O. boxes and rural routes. And he [Dan] comes back yelling, ‘We need e-mail addresses!’ ”
This meeting took place a year ago, almost to the day. I told the men I wanted to interview various members of the class, as well as to follow the progress of the on-line reunion efforts. But other projects distracted me until the beginning of June. When I returned to the website, I found it transformed.
Beyond the first few contributors, almost no one had turned in lengthy personal descriptions. People instead had been posting a plethora of photos to the site. At the beginning of the summer, I counted more than 150 — images of football games and athletic meets; photos from Senior Week and Grad Day and Sixth-Grade Camp and even elementary school. Some folks had contributed current shots of themselves or their loved ones, but these constituted a minority. Some of the pictures evoked the memory of classmates who had died (one in a car crash; another from multiple sclerosis; another a suicide). Someone had scanned the entire program from Godspell, the musical presented the month before graduation. “As far as I’m concerned, that production of Godspell remains, to this day, one of the best plays I’ve ever seen,” Dan Siskowic had appended. “I even went back to see the matinee. I can admit now, these many years later, that as a self professed tough guy who hadn’t cried since getting kicked in a sensitive place during a tenth grade summer passing league game, I was all but blubbering at the end of the play…hoping they wouldn’t turn on the lights too fast.”
Visitors to the site had quickly caught on to the idea of commenting not only on the photos but also on each other’s comments, and I found lengthy exchanges tacked under some images. Under a picture of a boy in a garish brown-and-orange plaid jacket and a white tie, taken at Pacific Beach Junior High’s ninth-grade graduation, the following appears, for example:
- Dan Siskowic: this is a great picture. looks like brandon is about 6’4” in ninth grade. i wish i had kept the tie i wore to that ceremony. it was a psychadelic multi-colored 4” wide number that i wore with a print shirt…something like what one would wear to a ‘clash’ party. i’m pretty sure it was the first non-clip tie i ever wore.
- by the way, does anyone remember that someone had glued a quarter on the steps on the left side of the stage and many people stopped and tried to pick it up as they went up for their certificate?
- Several comments follow in which the conversation turns to identifying other individuals visible in the photo, and Ed S. demurs that his eyes are growing old. Reesa H. then retorts, hey ed, with all your getting old talk, are we going to see a wrinkled up, grey haired old man wearing specks at the reunion? It’s not bad eyesight just hard to see pictures. At least that’s what I tell myself.
- Ed responds that gray hair is not likely, as my dad didn’t turn grey/white until he was in his late 60’s. Specks are possible I now have trouble focusing on small print. Yes the pictures are hard to see.
- Brandon, the main subject of the picture, then contributes, Boy, I wish I still had that jacket and tie…not that the jacket would fit or anything. Heidi, thanks for digging this one up!
I found that dozens of classmates had also discovered the website’s “News” section, where more thematic conversations were unfolding. Cynde L., an enthusiastic participant since early March, had challenged her classmates to reveal the objects of their school-age crushes, and in some of the 40 responses, you can almost see the writer blushing. “I find that I am still hesitant to mention a few names,” Dan Siskowic admitted, adding, “Of course, I have the added pressure of being married to a ‘childhood sweetheart’ (who still gets jealous).” (With characteristic openness, Dan then provided a thorough list of his love interests from 2nd through 11th grades.)
When Dan posted a list of the top 25 singles from the ’70s (see sidebar), a lively interchange had ensued.
“It’s downright embarrassing to be associated with that list,” Dan had griped. “I think the era of 69–72/73 was the best. If we play music at the reunion from ‘our time’ it should be from then. 1975 represented the midpoint of a long slide downhill, culminating with disco in 76/77.”
“Dan, I couldn’t agree with you more!” Mike L. chimed in. “I really don’t want to hear any of this top ten list at our bash if we can help it. Maybe you and I can come up with some old discs to spin and a play list for the reunion.”
The subsequent recommendations triggered more comments, but I won’t try to reproduce them here. In his recent book, Me Talk Pretty One Day, essayist David Sedaris includes a diatribe against computers in which he dismisses the much-touted virtues of e-mail, sneering that it “isn’t real mail, but a variation of the pointless notes people used to pass in class.” Plenty of the comments on the Class of 1975’s website — brief, exclamatory, and of little interest to anyone outside the writer and recipient — do suggest that medium. They abound in the conversational threads about music, favorite TV shows, teen idols, even streaking (at least two memorable incidents of which took place during the group’s senior year).
But other topics seemed to take their writers deeper, to resurrect memories that offer glimpses — even to an outsider — of the world they shared as teenagers a quarter-century ago. Consider the following (somewhat edited) selections:
- Cynde L. [responding to a comment from Dan about Mr. McGucken’s “unbelievabably boring” physics class]: Mr Mcgucken was the one with the scaley arms and hit his ruler on the desks. I had him for BOTH PYSICS AND GEOMETRY! He used to yell at me for not understanding geometry. I don’t remember who it was, but in physics, this guy used to sit in the front row and ALWAYS fell asleep. Mr. McGucken let me tie his shoelaces together so when he hit his ruler on the desk and he tried to get up he fell down. I know it sounds mean, but this guy was always sleeping….
- Philonise W.: Worst teacher, Mr Horton-french. he was more interested in what they did in Paris and Marsielle(sp?) on Saturday and eating escargot than really teachng us the language. And what about his toupe? never in the same place twice and always a 5 o’clock shadow. He gave me the creeps.
- PBJr HIgh- Favorite was Mr Dickson world history- very funny man, always had a joke and tried to make it interesting. Mr. Johnson’s class on the other hand was a riot. He’d bring in the paper and read us to sleep. Then he’s put on a film and fall asleep in the back of the class himseld while various students would spend the time clinmbing out of the windows, smoking under the curtains and blowing the smoke out the windows or sleeping themselves. I considered that class a rest hour and a joke.The worst teachers of that time spent at PB I can’t rememeber thier names and as such won’t try!
- John C.: The best teacher in my book is Ms. Porter, English. She was fun, creative and current with the times. A special mention goes to Mr. Marshall (Spanish/Watergate) [He] had us watch the Watergate impeachment hearings during Spanish class. His influence may be why I live in left-leaning Santa Cruz and continue to enjoy bodysurfing here (though my Spanish could be mas mejor).
- Cynde L.: Mine is going to the hump [a grassy mound next to the Hilton on Mission Bay] before dances and drinking cold duck, and going to my parents boat with Cindy N., April P., and Marci M, drinking T-bird wine (hey it was cheap) and doing things that I will never let my stepkids ever do on our boat!
- Laura Q.: .I just gotta say that being sent to the vice principal’s office after being busted for smoking w/ kathy has to be one of the best…when we were waiting to see [the disciplinarian], we got this idea that if we just got on our hands and knees and crawled out.. just maybe they would forget the whole thing..right.. as we preceeded w/ extreme caution we heard.”.Miss Q., Miss S. just here do you think your going?”…ah shucks.. it was a good try and we got 3 days off for our effort!
- Ed S.: After football games there was a group of people that usually went to Ferrel’s Ice Cream Parlor [on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach], that was fun in itself. One time after a game at San Diegito High a group of us in Doug B.’s car (I think) drove from the game to Pt. Loma Ferrel’s in like 15 minutes. It is one of those things where you think now ‘how in the heck did I live through High School.’
- Connie R.: How about the times we…used to go to the SD International Airport to “People Watch” — Part of the ritual was to create a kind of mental Home Movie for each other by guesstimating what kind of lives and conversations all these strangers were experiencing…. It was a Comedy of course…and how about the time that [four other girls and she] ended up in Suzi’s Mom’s Country Squire(?)station Wagon at the Pacifica Drive-in watching the “GROOVE TUBE”? Having absolutly NO IDEA what the movie was going to be about — closest I’ve ever come to wetting my pants since pre-school (hard to see the movie at times through the ‘Haze’ being produced in the car, though)…
- Suzi M.: Oh My Gosh, Connie, I remember those trips to the airport! As I recall, you were the one making up the conversations and all I could do was laugh uncontrollably. And as for the Groove Tube-I have never forgotten how many times we saw that movie under the same conditions (#!%@!? really the only way to see a movie like that! then pigged out a ChinaLand coz’ we’d have the munchies something awful!)
- Heidi L.: Does anyone remember the “special brownies” someone used to bake and distribute to all of us cheering fans at the football games? They were so potent, we used to fall off the risers.
- Suzi M.: Okay, here’s my contribution to “Best High School Memory”, at least one of them that I’m able to remember. [A group of kids and she] all went up to the top of the Capri a condominium complex, overlooking the beach near Crystal Pier, and [threw] a surfboard from the top and almost hit a security cop. I know it sounds sick, but it was such a rush back then. I remember being scared out of my mind and then laughing our heads off that we didn’t get caught. Another favorite was grunion running…. Whenevery the grunion ran, I always broke curfew. How can I yell at my kids today, when I was so bad back then.
- Stephen Van R.: My wildest ride in high school was in the passenger seat of David W.’s Jaguar barreling down Soledad Mountain Road. Without informing me of his decision he chose to use the slope of the road to achieve a very high speed in a relatively short period of time.
- Honorable mention has to go to Ed S., when we drove back to his house in his Vega after seeing the movie The Gumball Rally. It wasn’t the great speed of the Vega, but the speed he maintained through the turns and the amazing lines he held.
- Ed S.: That ride home was fun. From the Roxy to my house on Los Altos. I had left my lights on and Steve and I decided to watch the main feature (Gumball Rally) twice so we were there for about 5 or 6 hours. My battery was dead, we got it jumped once but I stalled it and needed a second jump. I had to maintain engine rpm to keep from stalling so the best way was to go fast. It was about 2 am so there were no cars. I raced down the alley behind Mr. Frosty to Ingrham, up Ingram to Beryl turned right (by Phil S.’s house). Turned left on Jewel right on Manmonth (by Liz’s house). Made the U-turn up the hill (By Michele S.’s house) followed the road to the right then right on Loring (by Eric H.’s house) and Left into my driveway where Los Altos starts and stalled as I pulled into my parking place. Mind you I never slowed down made right turns from the left lanes and some how we lived. What a blast. Amazingly no cops either.
One day in the middle of June, I met with Dan and Liz Siskowic in the offices of Sevier-Siskowic Engineering, the consulting engineering firm that Dan bought in 1995. We spent several minutes chatting about the website and the unpredictable ways in which it had developed. “It’s taken on a life of its own,” Dan marveled. “It’s our virtual reunion,” Liz said.
She was smiling, the same wide, generous smile I recognized from several high school photos on the website. Although she’s heavier today, Liz’s big, beautiful eyes still light up her face the way I imagine they caught Dan’s attention the summer before 11th grade. The two had met years before, in 3rd grade, but Dan admits he’s lost the recollection of that event. “I wish I could go back and remember what I thought of her then,” he told me, a little wistful. Liz, on the other hand, recalls playing kickball in elementary school one day and having the ball go dead. “And Dan just quick put his foot out and rolled the ball up his leg and caught it in his arm. And I went, ‘Whoa!’ I am not athletic at all, so I was quite impressed with that.”
The two think they started talking to each other in junior high. “You kind of run into each other as you’re walking home, that kind of thing. And then in high school we had lockers near each other.” They dated and fell in love in their junior year, but at the end of it Liz flew off to Casablanca in Morocco to participate in a summer exchange program. “That was challenging,” Dan says. “Actually it was good in a way, because we got into writing letters to each other…. You say things in letters that you don’t normally.” The experience stood them in good stead after high school, they attest, when they departed for separate colleges — Dan to study mechanical engineering at UC Davis, and Liz to undertake art and psychology studies at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. She later transferred to a college in Missouri. Of those years, Liz says their commitment to each other “kind of cut out the problems of dating.” They each had college friends, and they joined in innumerable group activities. But Liz says she and Dan made a pact to call each other if anything demanded “that we pay attention to each other more and fight for our positions.” Still in love when they finished their studies, they married in August 1980.
For a while, they dreamed about going to the Philippines on a Peace Corps–type mission with the Institute of Cultural Affairs, but when that fell through, Dan got a job with the firm he later bought. Four and six years later, their two sons were born. The younger boy is now an eighth grader at Marston Middle School while the older one is a Clairemont High School junior.
Looking back on their own high school years, Liz and Dan both suspect that their class was extraordinary. Liz, for example, contrasts her experience with that of her sister, two years older. “She was in the Class of 1973, and it was a total dud! Very small events. Lot of dances got canceled.” She says in the Class of 1974, school spirit and an appreciation for high school traditions like the yearbook began to reappear. Dan thinks something that fueled the change was the reversal of the school’s athletic fortunes. Mission Bay had always been a surf school, he says, and horrible at traditional team sports. “We got killed in everything. Especially football. The year before my sophomore year, the school went 0 and 9. My sophomore year, they were 0 and 9. When you’re 0 and 9 every year, nobody goes to the games. You’re a laughingstock.
“Then all of a sudden in my junior and senior years, we went to the cif playoffs for, I think, the first time in the school’s history.” Dan credits several outstanding football coaches who were new to Mission Bay. The school also had just acquired a phenomenal band teacher, and when this man made the move to Mission Bay from Morse High School, a half dozen or so African-American students transferred along with him. Besides participating in the band, several of them also joined the football squad, adding their talent to that of Dan and his buddies. With a winning team, “We actually had a legitimate school pride,” Dan says. “A lot of the school spirit has to do with the success of the sports team.”
I commented to Dan that when I looked at the senior-class yearbook photos he had posted on the website, I’d been struck by the absence of nonwhite faces. (No busing existed in 1975. Last year, in contrast, only 32 percent of the Mission Bay High School students were white.) Also startling is the length of the boys’ hair. Less than three dozen have cuts that would be considered standard today. About 75 appear distinctly shaggy, and close to 100 sport locks that fall somewhere between the top of their shoulders and the middle of their backs. Hair wasn’t a battleground, the Siskowics say, and neither, for the most part, was clothing. Whereas members of her sister’s class had been required to kneel down (to assess the lengths of their skirts), “My class never had to do that,” Liz recalls.
The Siskowics offered other thoughtful analyses of differences and similarities between high school kids today and 25 years ago. Kids today are “a lot more aware of the world. They have so much more information,” they believe. They cite their own reactions when one of the cheerleaders in their class developed bone cancer. “It wasn’t the kind of thing that we would even broach the subject of talking to her about,” Liz says. In contrast, when their son got cancer, classmates overwhelmed him with support; some took off school to accompany him to testing and treatment sessions.
“Another thing about our kids is that we’ve known where they were almost every second of their lives,” Dan asserted. “It’s not like when we were kids. We were in canyons miles from home.” He had another thought and voiced it with a hint of hesitation.
“I may be naive, but I don’t think drugs are as prevalent as they were when we were in high school.”
“I think we’re naive,” Liz said. “Our sons are really athletic and really into their health…”
“But the zero tolerance has helped,” her husband said.
Liz agreed. “You don’t walk into the schools and find kids smoking pot in the bathrooms. That doesn’t happen. But it did when we were in junior high. Oh my gosh! Just billowing out! So there’s a whole different tolerance level.”
When I talked to Dave Schultz a few weeks later, he chuckled at the way people were “all kind of tap dancing around the issue of drug use” on the website. “When I was in high school, I never smoked pot. I never drank,” he told me. “College is another story, of course. But not in high school.” However, a number of his fellow Mission Bay High School class members did indulge in mind-altering substances, Schultz recalled. “And now they’re kind of seeing it through a cloudy haze. Nudge nudge, wink wink kind of thing. People don’t want to talk about that. It’s not really PC anymore.”
Back in high school, Schultz had an elfin look that has faded but not altogether disappeared over time. Trim and quick moving, he has a dapper mustache and a mischievous sense of humor. He lives today in the same house in Crown Point that his parents occupied when he was born and in which he grew up. He started his school career at Crown Point Elementary, but in fifth grade he was sent to (the now-defunct) Martha Farnum Elementary School in order to participate in the gifted program there. This move “stigmatized my whole school career,” he says.
The only difference he could see between the gifted classes and his old ones was the absence of his friends. Still, the brainy designation followed him all the way to high school, and it almost ruined his life, he says. “I got the ‘gifted’ counselor, Mr. Daley,” a man who had no patience for Schultz’s desire to take pictures. Photography was “a skill, which was more of a dirty word. ‘Oh my God! Work with your hands? What’s wrong with you?’ ” The counselor told the boy that “maybe, just maybe, if we have room during your senior year, you can take one photography class.” In the interim, he would have to enroll in advanced academic classes.
Fate intervened. “I came to school one day, and he was dead. He had just keeled over,” Schultz recalls. “And the replacement counselor said, ‘Sure, take what you want!’ If that hadn’t happened — I can’t imagine. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today, having my own business and being as happy as I know how to be. I’d be some miserable, mid-level bureaucrat.”
After high school, Schultz says he went to San Diego State University “on the five-year plan.” Without a clue as to a career path, he majored in industrial studies, “preparing myself to become a printing-technology or a photography teacher.” Once out of college, however, he realized he wasn’t cut out for the classroom. “So Mission Bay [High School] came through for me one more time.” In an occupational training class there, he learned about the latest typesetting equipment (“Type was also a real passion of mine”). He worked for a series of printers and then landed a position in the graphics department of Home Federal Savings. “It was kind of my dream,” Schultz recalls. “Working for a big, legitimate company. They had a lot of money to spend on equipment. I had to wear a tie to work. Wow!”
At Home Federal, he met his wife and married her in 1985. He also discovered he didn’t like the corporate world. So in 1987, armed with one of the brand-new Macintosh computers and a primitive (by today’s standards) laser printer, he launched his own graphic arts business. It supports him today. He works out of the home he inherited and remodeled after his parents’ deaths. Self-employment suits him, he indicated. “I’m not good in groups. Never was in the Boy Scouts. Never belonged to a church. That’s why I was a photographer at school.” With a camera in hand, he moved through many spheres — but always on the outside, as an observer and documentarian, rather than a participant.
While he enjoyed this, Schultz’s overall memories of high school life sound grim. “I am a person who really loathes bureaucracy,” he told me. “And school was just the biggest bureaucracy. People were there because of tenure, not merit. I look back on it now and have this real disdain for the whole process. I had a couple of teachers who were great, who pointed me in the right direction. But the rest of them — you can have ’em.”
At the same time, “I was tortured by my hormones, like a lot of guys are,” he continued. “Seventeen-year-old girls can never know what it’s like to be a 17-year-old guy. That’s the best thing about going past 40. My hormones say, ‘You’re still a guy. But you can think about things besides sex now.’ ” He had acne too, and as a result, “I felt pretty ugly. I was greasy and zitty and horny and it was like, ‘Oh, God! I want to get past this.’ ”
He says when the ten-year reunion came around, he shunned it. He figured, “People would still be in their little groups. And the jocks would still be the jocks. And the cute chicks would still be doing the cute-chick thing, and people would all still be in their old roles. I said, ‘I don’t want any part of that! I’m glad to be ten years away from that!’ ”
At the 20-year mark, however, Schultz relented. “It was like we were all grownups now. Most people had kids. And it was really important to show up and prove that you were, in fact, a grownup and you’d gotten past that whole high school thing. Everybody was looking as good as they could look.” He felt eager to learn what the most outstanding students had done with their lives. “A few of them had become the doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs that you thought they would become.” But he found it interesting to see that some of the higher achievers “had the same vulnerability as everybody else. Some were divorced. One guy had developed adult-onset diabetes. Just normal stuff that happens to normal people but that’s not supposed to happen to the beautiful people. And it did. Time is so great,” Schultz said, “because it levels everything.”
He says he also enjoyed the chance to catch up on the lives of people he hadn’t seen in 20 years. “Some people came from thousands of miles away. One guy came from Tokyo.” In fact, Schultz suggested, I might want to contact Chad Patton. I called him in Japan on a warm night in July, asking how he had wound up making his home there.
He laughed. Mission Bay High had had an active foreign-exchange-student program during his years there, and Patton said from it he’d gotten the idea of spending his senior year abroad. He’d been studying German since junior high, and he assumed he would be sent to one of the German-speaking countries. But after being accepted, with his departure only a few weeks away, he was informed that his home for the upcoming year would be Japan.
“Then I thought I would be going to Tokyo,” he said. But upon arrival he learned that his destination instead would be Niigata, a bustling city on the Japan Sea, far to the north of Tokyo. “The fastest train there took, like, six hours. It’s very, very cold.” Undismayed, Patton arrived, only to be told he would have to stay in a dormitory at the mission school he would be attending. At this he balked. “It was like a prison dormitory. I said, ‘No way.’ ”
He wound up being placed with a family, and he says he can’t remember anything else bothering him much. “I arrived right around my 17th birthday,” he said. “I guess at that time, you’re pretty flexible. It’s funny. Now I can’t remember ever not speaking Japanese. I don’t remember having trouble.”
He says it took about three months for him to be able to talk to people. He was “kind of” studying Japanese at school, “but more, I was just hanging out with people.” He thinks the fact that he went into the year not knowing anything about the Japanese culture worked to his advantage. “Everything was really new and interesting.” When he finally returned to San Diego in mid-September of 1975, he felt he’d had a great experience — but one that had ended. Since it was too late to apply to a university, he signed up for classes at Mesa Community College. He says one day he visited one of his old Mission Bay High School English teachers, and she mentioned another former student who had graduated from Oxford University and then gone on to teach literature at Sophia University in Tokyo. She urged Patton to consider studying there. “I hadn’t really planned to go to a university in Japan,” he says. “But that sounded interesting.” He no longer remembers anything about the enrollment process, except that it wasn’t difficult. “Anyway I got in.”
At Sophia, he earned a degree in comparative culture, then returned to Niigata to teach at his old high school. A year and a half later, he came back to San Diego and began to think about pursuing a State Department career. He was in the midst of applying for a diplomatic post when he got a call from Japan. An acquaintance had given some short stories written by Patton to another friend who was a creative director at an ad agency. The agency was looking for a copywriter, an occupation that to Patton sounded more interesting than the government work. So he returned to Tokyo and took the job. Later he became chief copywriter at another agency, and about 12 years ago he was hired back as the creative director at the first company.
Last summer, he was still there. Panasonic is their major client, Patton told me. “We do pretty much mainly international advertising, meaning things that cross borders. For example, anything that would run in, say, an all-Europe edition of Time or Newsweek or one of the in-flight magazines. And then we’ll also develop the name and the logo and the slogan for a new product. That’ll be sent out all over the world.”
Never married, Patton told me that he lives in Tokyo about eight miles from his office. The automobile commute takes about 90 minutes, he said, but “at least if you’re in the car you can listen to the radio and drink your coffee.” He loved Tokyo and had been very happy living there. Still, he confided, he had decided to start looking for a new position somewhere on the West Coast of the United States. He thought the change would be professionally challenging, “plus, as I get older, the California lifestyle really seems appealing. I’m into gardening recently, and the idea of being able to come home while it’s light outside and have some room to garden sounds great.”
His cross-cultural moves appeared to have been effortless, I marveled, and Patton agreed. “I may be missing brain cells or something, but for some reason, nothing fazed me.” Attending Mission Bay High School also was a positive experience, he attests. It “wasn’t really your school-spirit, rah-rah kind of high school. It was more of a laid-back, beach, surfer’s kind of school.” He remembers lots of parties. “A lot of times when the weather was good, we would just skip the last half of the day’s classes and go to the beach.”
The ocean looms large in the memories of many Class of 1975 members. Many students surfed, and surfing defined the existence of some, like Debbie. The only memory of high school she could dredge up for me was of sitting out in the quad. “We all hung out in groups, like they do now,” she said. “There were the cheerleaders and the real popular people…basically the jocks of the school. There were the nerds. And there were the surfers. That was us.” Although Debbie only rode Boogie boards back in those days, “Basically I was a surfer girl,” she said. “Loved to hang out on the beach, long blond hair, puka shells.”
Debbie still has the long blond hair, and just last year she finally learned to stand up on a board. But of all that happened to her between high school and now, “God, you could write a book!” she exclaimed. “To think that I went from the situation I was in to where I’m at now — it’s like such a success story!”
She has a girlish voice, and it quavered a bit when she commented, “My childhood was really kind of harsh.” In her early years, life had been “really, really terrible,” she says, and although things had improved a bit by the time she reached high school, her troubles at home were sufficient to drive her into the arms of a guy who lived across the street. Debbie says after she finished the 11th grade, she dropped out of school and moved to Oregon with him. “Now I just look back and go, ‘What were you thinking?’
“What a culture shock for me! You’re talking about a surfer girl going up to Oregon and living with his cousins, who were hippies and growing pot in the back yard.” Almost immediately, Debbie got pregnant, and her relationship with the baby’s father soured. “He was a very, very jealous, violent man. Very. And what’s interesting is that’s what my childhood was all about — seeing that. I had sworn I would never [get involved with such a man], but I went right into it. Because that’s all I knew.”
When she was 21, she returned to San Diego. She was scrambling to find some way to support herself and her little girl, when her high school chum, Reesa Huntridge, urged Debbie to consider becoming a manicurist. Reesa’s father owned five beauty salons, and Debbie could see herself working in that world. “But I thought, ‘If I’m going to go to school, I’m going to go for the whole thing.’ ” So she got a loan and attended beauty college. When she got out, she went to work at Reesa’s father’s La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club salon. One of her earliest experiences there was of cosmetic disaster.
Debbie says she had agreed to apply color highlights (a process known as a “foil”) to a long-time client’s hair. Although Debbie had never done this before, “I thought, ‘Well, how hard can a foil be?’ ” she recalls. “So I wove every hair on her head from here on up. I didn’t take any sections out!” she says in a tone of horror. When the job was done, the woman sported a perfect yellow circle. “It was a nightmare! I swore foils off; said I would never do one again.”
Debbie says only years later did she allow a colleague at another spa to instruct her in the proper color-application technique. She found she liked the task, and over time she got faster and faster at it. Eventually, she started teaching classes in foil. “So I went from the nightmare to the point where that now is my specialty,” she says. “Highlight, lowlight, dimensional coloring.” At Primo’s, the day spa in Grossmont Center where she now works, “They call me the Foil Queen,” Debbie said. “I know what I’m doing, and people come in and ask me questions. It’s such a great feeling — after 21 years. And I’ve got some very well known people. I do [radio personality] Cynthia Heath’s hair. And [air traffic reporter] Diana Vincent. She’s 45 and just had twins! That was awesome. I have [another traffic reporter] Cindy Woods. I have people who travel to me from L.A. and San Francisco.”
She had become so busy, Debbie told me, that she hadn’t had a vacation in eight years. “I mean, literally. I’ve worked every week. But I love my work.” And four years ago, her romantic life had also taken a storybook turn.
Debbie’s first daughter had grown up, but she’d had a second daughter by another abusive man whom she had married and divorced. Raising this girl, working in the salon, and staying fit had become her life. “I was working out all the time at 24 Hour Fitness. I had, like, 16 percent body fat.” She says a handsome bodybuilder named Jack had caught her eye, but she imagined him to be in his 30s, childless and vain. “I’ll never forget. On October 28, 1996, he came up to me and started talking. He’d found out I was a hair stylist, and he was very adamant about getting my phone number.” She couldn’t understand the urgency; they each worked out at the gym several evenings a week. “Well, he called me the next day and told me he was standing at the beach, surfing.” It turned out that he was a welder and had just switched to working the night shift. Had he not obtained her number, she would never have seen him again, Debbie says. Much more startling was her discovery that he was a year older than she. “He had four children! He’s a grandpa! I’m a grandmother. It’s such a wild story, because I have met my soul mate in this man! We have everything in common. Everything.”
Debbie says they discovered that their paths had crossed in high school when she was 16 and he was 17. “He went to Helix and I went to Mission Bay.” But he had surfed at the foot of Chalcedony Street in Pacific Beach, and Debbie had worked there in the hamburger stand behind the San Diego Surf Shop. When they discovered this connection, Jack claimed to remember Debbie. “And I’m, like, ‘Yeah, right. Sure you do,’ ” she says. But he insisted he’d never forgotten the part down the middle of her long blond hair, her puka shell necklaces, the killer peanut-butter shakes she concocted. “And when he said that, I went, ‘Oh, my God! You do remember me.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, I used to strut my chest, and you didn’t even notice.’ ”
Debbie and I talked out on the patio of her rented house in La Mesa just two weeks after she and Jack had married. They had written their own vows, she told me, and had incorporated the lines, “I’m your surfer boy, and you’ll always be my surfer girl.” The wedding took place outdoors, at the cliffside overlook known as the Wedding Bowl, just south of the Children’s Pool in La Jolla. An arch rented from Abbey Rents sheltered the bride and groom, and one of Debbie’s clients, a minister whose hair she had done for many years, performed the ceremony. “All day long, you know what they kept calling me? Malibu Barbie!” Debbie said, delighted. Her wedding photos make it easy to see why. Her hair is an elaborate blond creation (transformed by her coworkers at the day spa), and her classical white gown makes her look big-breasted and pinch-waisted. (She still works out twice a day, she told me.)
Debbie’s husband had posted a couple of the wedding shots to the reunion website, and Debbie said she was looking forward to attending the upcoming Class of 1975 parties. But she herself hadn’t had much contact with the on-line reunion. Unlike Reesa, her old chum, Debbie wasn’t much of a computer user.
Reesa, on the other hand, might have visited the site more than anyone, she told me the day I met with her. “’Cause I was on it when Dan first started it. There were a few of us who got on and stayed constant.”
A vivacious, down-to-earth brunet, Reesa loved high school. “We were so lucky then!” she said. “There wasn’t the gang activity. You had your surfers.” You had your hard-rockers and jocks and “your rah-rah, pep-rally group of people — which Dan was in. I was sort of in-between. I liked everybody. It was nice because I didn’t clique off with one specific group. I was friends with a lot of different people in different types of groups.” As a result, for Reesa, “High school was a warm and fuzzy feeling. High school was good.”
At the same time, she says she missed out on a lot. Her parents had decided early that Reesa’s future lay in their salons, an expectation that she today seems to view with mixed emotions. On the one hand, “It gave me focus,” she declares. “When you’re that age, you really don’t know what you want to be when you grow up. My parents were very, very successful. They did the elite La Jolla clientele, and they could take me to Europe for my training. I went to all the Redken academies. So I could afford to do all the extra stuff that made me really good.”
Her parents also made her attend summer school every year, and by the time she was a senior, she had so many credits she only had to attend early-morning classes for half a year. During the second half, she went to a local beauty college instead of the high school. “My dad wanted me to get right into it.” Today she says she’s sorry he did that “because I missed Senior Week. And I think I would have been closer to a lot of people, had I been around school more.” Also, in the beauty college in Pacific Beach, she met “some not-so-desirables…. One was an ex-convict. One was an ex-prostitute. Heavy drug users. And I was starting to hang out [at 17] with them.” Her mother finally noted this and declared that her daughter would be going to Whitworth in Spokane, “a nice Christian college.” Reesa says, “She drove me up there and it worked. Got me out of that environment!”
Reesa enrolled as a business major but only stayed for one year. “And then my father said, ‘You know what? You’re getting A’s in psychology. You’re getting A’s in all your other classes. And you got a D in business administration. I think I can teach you better than they can.’ ” She returned home and went to work. She also married another Mission Bay High School alum, a member of the class before hers. They were getting divorced just about the time Reesa’s ten-year reunion rolled around. “I remember it being dark,” she says. “People cliqued together. And I remember that the women looked really good! After ten years, all of the women had had the boob jobs and they looked wonderful! But the guys were starting to lose their hair. I remember thinking, ‘God, they’re too young to be losing their hair.’ ”
By the 20-year mark, she had married again and had a three-year-old and an infant. At that reunion, “I had a blast,” she told me. But both the previous events couldn’t compare to what was unfolding on-line, she indicated.
On the website, she had made friendships that never would have materialized otherwise, she said. One that tickled her in particular was with a woman who now lives in Orange County, Cynde Lee. During their high school years, Reesa says she and the other woman “were sort of arch-rivals.” They both dated the same guy, “a real jerk” who “forgot to tell her that he was dating me at the same time. He lied to me about her, and he lied to her about me.” This was the fellow Reesa later married and divorced. “So when [early this year] I saw her name on the website, I e-mailed her and said, ‘I bet you thought you’d never hear from me!’ ” Cynde e-mailed Reesa back, and the two women bonded. Reesa says, “All the truth came out, and it was really fun! The stories that she told me about him! We’ve been to breakfast together. We talk on the phone constantly. It’s hysterical to think that at one time, we hated each other because of a guy!”
Reesa and I were talking in the residence on Alta Vista Drive where she grew up: “The House That Pincurls Built,” according to a wooden sign suspended from little chains near the front door. Although she now lives in Bay Park with her husband and two young children, she was spending a lot of time with her mother at her childhood home because her father had died the previous week. “I posted something about my father on the website, and my God!” she gasped. “The support!” Some condolences had come from former close friends in high school, but other heartwarming words had been sent to her by people she had only come to know through the electronic reunion forum. All of it had helped, she indicated. “You can’t get into somebody’s life in a four-hour reunion,” Reesa pointed out. She thought the months of on-line contact, in contrast, were allowing the former class members to go beyond “the superficial crap.”
As the reunion events approached, the interactions on the website continued to take some interesting turns. Phil Huffman, an infrequent contributor in the spring, developed a prancing ubiquitous on-line persona that combined the elements of Class Clown and Superstud. By late July, he had acquired a virtual harem with whom he was flirting daily and outrageously, prompting Dan Siskowic (just returned from a family vacation in Tahiti) to grouse in one comment, “Geez, I go away for a couple of days and Huffman has all but commandeered this alumni website and turned it into his own personal ‘philsapimp’ chat room.”
“Leave my girls along,” Huffman fired back. “We’re having a blast. You’re just jealous. Girls, don’t talk to Danny Boy - he’s mean.”
More comedy played out in a conversational thread about “Most Embarrassing High School Moments,” where Dan Siskowic not only offered his top three gaffes, but also one of his brother’s and “[A]nother embarrassing moment that I was involved in.”
- it was in mr king’s biology class. mr king was lecturing and rick p. and i were talking to each other, not paying any attention at the time. mr king asked some question like “what is the average lifespan of a flat worm (those worms we spliced an extra head onto)? … rick” (mr king loved to catch people off-guard who were sleeping or not paying attention). under my breath i whispered the answer to rick, as if i had been paying attention, so without hesitating, rick busted out with “crawdad”…the stunned look on mr kings face was priceless (not to mention just a little laughter from the class).”
Other topics demanded more serious reflection. One woman asked if her former classmates considered their years in high school to be the best days of their lives. This drew many perky responses (“The here and now is best!” “The best times in your life are yet to come”) but darker notes also sounded.
- Susi M: I love hearing all you say that currently, you’re happy, secure, and clear about what you really want. I am able to say that, too, thank goodness, with two great kids, 9 and 10…. But I also must admit that the last several years have been difficult, as my husband was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and his professional life has taken a 10-year tail spin. So, it’s been up to me to support the family, and I would say that for some reason God chose now to present these difficult times to me. My 20’s were great, lived in Wyoming, Mexico City, New Hampshire, college, worked for the airlines, lots of travel, met my husband. Early 30’s-kids, and all the fun and joy that goes along with that. But now I’m experiencing a true test of my commitment and integrity, and I think that being 42 helps, because I’ve had wonderful things in my life, I’ve had friends who have lost children, I’ve seen a lot of marraiges break up, and I have a lot to be thankful for with the things we do have. In spite of his diagnosis we remain a close-knit family, and I haven’t been faced with some of the challenges you describe, for example, Jim, in my kids never having enough nintendo, etc, because they know that it’s just not a possibility. I’m thankful that this life lesson for us all has given them the opportunity to learn about what really is important, that they are lucky to have a parent at home with them, and have seen others far worse off. For me, so far I’ve met the challenge, earned myself a higher degree and found a decent job in a decent environment, and that has brought me a lot of self-satisfaction. I do look forward to my 50’s and 60’s as a time with less stress and worry….
On the topic of teenagers, respondents also bared their struggles. Someone I’ll call Patty, who reported that she had returned to college and still had one more year to go before becoming a dental hygienist, confessed to the group that her 21-year-old son “almost sent me to the grave when he was a teenager.”
- He did not take advantage of my infinite wisdom, and therefor had to learn his own lessons the hard way! I worried for him and about him so intensly that I was often beside myself. Lets see if I can give you just a brief peak into his teen years. Rolled a friends brand new Mustang covertible (5 kids in the car, no seat belts!) They all walked away, except for Ashley (my son) He went to jail. When the Police came to the scene of the accident they found that he had an outstanding warrant for an underserved community service that he was sentenced with due to previously being busted for Pot (at school). By the by In NV pot is a felony. He got a ticket for jay walking and once for riding a bike without a helmet, I wasn’t kidding when I said this kid learned EVERY lesson the hard way! He got suspended form school many times for fighting and he barely graduated. I’m happy to say that he has pulled out of it and now is an upstanding adult living in San Diego and working for my brother, learning the hardwood floor business. My fourteen year old is a 4.0 and goes to church regularly, Is totally against drinking and drugs and has made a pledge of Celibacy until marriage. He is a great kid. He is in a straight edge punk band. For those of you unhip parents, that means no drugs or alcohol. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what your parenting is, kids have their own ideas and personalities( minds of their own ) All you can do is teach them the best you know how and pray, pray, pray.
- Suzy M.: Wow [Patty], thanks for sharing all that!! You could not be more right when you say pray, pray, pray!!! There isn’t a morning or a night or a day or a moment that I’m not praying for the safety of my two. I really believe that God gave us children to bring us back close to Him. Our teens, as we did as teens, break away by divine design and that literally tears our hearts out. As they are breaking away they do the most irrational stuff, as we did. And they honestly think they are okay. I remember looking my dad straight in the face and thinking you are truely the stupidist person I know. Today, he is one of the strongest, smartest and greatest people I know. Who new!!!! Wow, who new we would all have so much in common 25 unbelievable years later. Whoever set up this website, I applaud you!! Thanks!!!!
I wasn’t able to attend the main reunion party on Saturday, July 29, at John Wilding’s house or the post-reunion picnic at Tecolote Park the following day. Weeks before my first meeting with the reunion committee, I had made family travel plans for those dates that I couldn’t change. I did manage to spend an hour or two at the pre-reunion mixer held at the Blue Collar Grill. Over the din of excited chatter, I had a lively conversation with the only African-American in the crowd, Milton Hines. “I was the only black guy all the way through grade school and junior high,” he told me. He’d grown up in the neighborhood. When a small group of other black students were bused in toward the end of his high school years, “I took major-league crap. Because they said, ‘You here with all these white people. And you sound like these white people.’ ” Here Hines evoked an African-American accent that contrasted markedly with his standard American-English cadences. “And I’m going, ‘You know what? Go away.’ And they would say, ‘Well, how do you get along with all these white people?’ And I’m, like, ‘Nobody cares! We’re all here to get high, get laid. Surf.’ ”
Hines added that he actually didn’t surf. “There was nothing in the water I wanted. Everything I wanted was up on the boardwalk,” he said. Besides chasing girls, he also loved riding his dirt bike. He took few academic classes, by his recollection. “I took drama, public speaking. I ran on the track team. I didn’t really have a whole lot of a school day.” Upon graduation, he says he thought he was in love, so he got married (to the first of three wives) and joined the Navy. There he became an optical repairman and worked on fixing submarine periscopes and navigational equipment. But over the years, he also dabbled in Armed Forces radio and television work, his true calling. After being discharged in 1990 (“because they said I had something wrong with my feet”), he walked into the offices of radio station XTRA (Sports 690) and applied to work there as an unpaid intern. Hines says he toiled like a demon for five or six months, then landed a full-time job. Today he’s responsible for creating promotional spots that tout the station’s various programs. “It’s an awesome job! Things have worked out for me,” Hines said. “I like what I do. I like who I work for.” Still a Pacific Beach resident, he added, “I like where I live.”
I regretted having to leave early that night and miss out on the other reunion events. But I knew that fragments of the gatherings would be preserved on the website. Upon my return, I found dozens of photos of the grinning, giddy partygoers, along with countless effusive written comments, and even a brief video clip of two class members performing a blues riff on a piano and harmonica in the Wildings’ living room. A week later, Dan Siskowic posted a numerical summary of the festivities. Among the highlights: the reunion committee had succeeded at finding 276 of the 476 class members, 138 of whom still live in San Diego County. At the Saturday night party, 124 alumni and friends had shown up.
Dan did not use the reunion website to announce the dreadful turn of events he was grappling with in the week after the parties. He broke that news to the melanoma support group he had joined after discovering his skin cancer in 1997. On August 3, he sent a message to the support-group’s website explaining that the day after returning with Liz and their sons from Tahiti (just five days before the reunion), he had “received the call I never thought would happen.” Recent scans had revealed a four-centimeter-long tumor in his liver, along with several smaller lesions.
He and Liz and the boys had taken a few days off “just to be sad about it.” Then Dan had decided to keep the news a secret throughout the weekend of festivities, lest it cast a pall over the merriment. It wasn’t until August 14 that word of Dan’s grim predicament finally reached the reunion site’s “News” section. “Thank you all for your continuing friendship, prayers, and support,” he e-mailed the reunion site from Houston, directing friends who wanted to follow what was happening to him to yet another website he had created for that purpose.
Over the next few days the drama played out. Dan described his meeting with the oncologist. “What a character. He used to be a paratrooper in the Israeli army. Now he just tries to kill tumors. He’s been here for thirty years now. The plan is to start the chemo treatment [an infusion directly into Dan’s liver] as soon as we can get a new baseline scan…. He is very optimistic about my chances….”
At 4:00 p.m. on August 16, Dan posted a quick message: “[B]eing admitted into hospital NOW…tomorrow is angiogram to insert catheter into hepatic artery…later that night is chemo…next day is barfing and ct scan…” The cancer center, MD Anderson, “was recently designated the best cancer center in the US (world?) and it is easy to see why. The patient care facilities and services are unbelievable….
“As an aside, one of my nurses looks exactly like Sandra Bullock [here Dan had created hot link to a photo of the actress captioned “Nurse ‘Melissa’ ”]…I’m not kidding. I think she is undercover, doing research for her next movie, you know, getting into the role. She says she a extra-graduate student nurse…suuuuuuure. She kind of follows the other nurse around and does technical stuff like taking your temperature. Of course it’s merely a coincidence that Sandra lives in nearby Austin …. hmmmmmmm. Tomorrow, I will try to trick her by calling out ‘Sandra’ and see what happens.”
More messages followed, as Dan received the chemotherapy, struggled to rally from it, and returned home to San Diego. During these days, the reunion pages erupted with wishes and prayers for Dan’s complete recovery. But throughout late August and most of September, other topics also continued to engage the former classmates. Someone kicked off a discussion of Phil Huffman’s exploits on the golf course, a topic that provoked much hilarity and close to 80 comments over the ensuing weeks. The website visitors also chatted about the Survivor TV series, curfews, pets, cute comments made by their children, even Viagra. (“Ladies and gents, even if your life between the sheets is going very well, and things were going just ducky at this address, this stuff will make it even better!” one male alumnus enthused. “Fellas, you could ‘cut diamonds!’ ”)
In the months since then, I’ve continued to expect that the website would wind down. But it hasn’t. Two weeks ago, I counted 60 members of the class who had checked in within the previous two weeks. They’ve continued to monitor Dan’s on-going cancer fight, they’re also still talking about politics and bantering about trivia and comforting each other.
“There’s some magic about being in high school together,” is the way Reesa Huntridge explains the group’s coherence. “You’re young. You feel like you’re immortal.” All the members of Mission Bay High School’s Class of 1975 now know they’re not going to live forever, and Reesa says, “We’re able to hold each other up during the difficult times.”