Although I’m not actually in this photograph, there’s something about it I just love. It’s a bunch of kids I attended Mahopac High School with waiting outside a house before our junior prom.

High school was/is a very funny time for me. I wasn’t especially popular (Three words: Chieftain sports editor), my pants were always too short (“Hey Pearl, where’s the flood?”), I never (literally, never) kissed a girl and most of my free time seemed to be spent alongside my closest pal, a kid named Jon Powell. I was a gawky, awkward geek who possessed little self-confidence and who, quite often, just wanted to disappear.

And yet here I am, 18 years later, obsessed with my high school days. Facebook has fed this addiction, whereas I spend waaaaay too much time tracking down the ToniAnn Bleeckers and John Booths of my yesteryear. I’ve given this much thought, and I believe the overwhelming factor is a pure longing for innocence. I miss not having a mortgage; not worrying about car payments; not having a book deadline. Would I go back? Absolutely not. But there’s something wonderful about the schoolboy crushes (though eternally unfulfilled) and track meets vs. Brewster. I miss selling cookies in the Jefferson Valley Mall, wondering whether Jen Perotta will be working in Service Merchandise that night. I miss watching Ray Mahoskey bowl over Carmel’s defensive line and caring—truly caring—whether we win. I miss the Volunteer Fire Dept. Fair; Scott Choy’s from-the-chest jumper in MSA basketball; Billy Phillips and Louie Hanner slinging yang in science class. Back in the hallways of MHS, I wasn’t “Jeff” or “Pearlman,” but simply, “Pearl.” I dug that—made me sound athletic, even without the, ahem, athleticism. I miss cross country practices, when Jeff Cascone would put us all to shame. I miss the big hair and cheesy music (our prom song was by the legendary band, “Ranger”) and endless stream of ITALIAN PRIDE T-shirts

Or maybe I just miss being young.

High school is hell. I recall that vividly—worried to death whether the low-cut Ponys I bought for the first day back were cool or pathetic. It’s a constant battle with insecurity, and usually the insecurity wins. Kids are mean, unsentimental, patronizing, hurtful. But, at the same time, the possibilities seem myriad and endless. I still recall everyone finding out where they would be going to college—Albany, Lehigh, Delaware, Westchester Community, Duke. Wherever. It was this big contest for future bragging rights, as if a strong SAT score and glistening acceptance letter guaranteed success.

So now, here we are, mid-30s, turning the corner toward wrinkles, fat, baldness, divorce, illness. Many of us have had very difficult lives. Others have glided along. There’s no rhyme or reason; no easy-to-figure patterns. We just exist—damned to look back and wonder, “Is this how I was meant to turn out?”

3 thoughts on “youth”

  1. Jeff, I proudly call you my friend, despite the fact we do not see each other, but some of my fondest, most vivid childhood memories involve you. From Cub Scouts and the Gargano’s to Weblows with my dad and boy scouts. from elementary school and “Playdog Magazine”, I deeply saddens me on a regular basis that my later high school years are not filled with similar memories. I just know that I spent so much time hiding out from the danny See’s and Butchie smiths to avoid getting rocks thrown at me and jumped in the hall by a mob of 20 because they thought I opened a door that hit them. Jeff , I I guess Im just a sentimental fool, probably comes with being a parent, and I guess in part thats why I bought every book you’ve written and proudly display them on the shelf next to my Harry Potters, saying , “I know that guy”.

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