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FIRST PERSON

After High School Reunion, Reality Catches Up Fast Enough

November 25, 1994|SCOTT HARRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gail U., who broke my heart in the eighth grade, looked good as a blonde. Brigid C., a homecoming princess, remained a belle of the ball. And Holly M., who flirted without mercy way back when, was still a source of frustration. Tom Z., a fellow Cub Scout and a classmate from K through 12, was the picture of the fit, clean-cut firefighter. Lanny P., with whom I once dissected a fetal pig, had a receding hairline but enough confidence to scam on Brigid. And a guy named Mike, who sometimes showed up for class stoned, wasn't.

It was worth the $67.50. It was nice to see everybody. And for this member of Santa Ana High School's Class of 1974, it was especially sweet to see Sherri again.

We were 16 in the summer before our senior year. We'd get together in her family's TV room for each new episode of "Kung Fu." Friendship blossomed into love. Ah, yes, Grass-hoppah. For the next five years, it was your basic roller-coaster of young romance--passion, joy, jealousy, heartache.

Nearly 13 years had passed since our last encounter. We hugged and she introduced me to her husband, Mike--a different Mike. They live in Westlake Village. My Sherri was a girl who insisted she'd never have kids. Mike's "Sharon" is the mother of two boys. She's a full-time housewife who drives a minivan and volunteers at the school.

Mike's in software. And Mike, as he puts it with a smile, is "an angry white male."

*

The reunion, we all knew, was for memories and catching up, so this conversation didn't take place until the morning after. We agreed to meet at Felix, a Cuban restaurant on the Orange circle, three grown-ups coming out of a time warp.

When the conversation veered toward the election results, Mike grinned and Sherri grimaced.

"Here we go," she sighed.

Yes, Mike is angry. He's articulate, confident and angry about What's Happening to America. He didn't vote for Proposition 187 and Wilson and Huffington because he's a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. Hardly. He wanted me to know that he voted for Mondale against Reagan and even displayed a Dukakis sign in '88, back when he and Sherri still lived in Orange County.

Mike favored Proposition 187 for all the usual reasons and more. For him, this measure wasn't just an approach to illegal immigration. This measure, for Mike, was about the common presence of the Spanish language and ballots printed in anything other than English. To him, it was a way to say "Enough already!" to the trashing of Christopher Columbus and proposed changes in U.S. history textbooks and other crimes committed in the name of "political correctness." It was a vote against group identities and a vote in favor of the value of individualism and personal responsibility.

The more Mike talked, the more it became obvious that Proposition 187 was like a runaway 18-wheeler carrying a cargo of volatile grievances, all touching on the competing ideals of America. Many angry white males, no doubt, saw Proposition 187 as a vote against affirmative action and the ACLU.

Some of what Mike said reminded me of a George Will column about the threat of "multiculturalism." There have been, as Will noted, many excesses and absurdities, and there is much that is worthy of criticism. But has America ever been monocultural, like, say, Japan? Is that a worthy ideal? It seemed a fitting topic at a Cuban restaurant tucked in a downtown that still resembles Smalltown, U.S.A.

What unites us, Mike argued, is our American heritage. Our heritage, I suggested, has been one of constant social change. Mike, like many Americans throughout the ages, sees immigration as a threat to American culture. American culture, I suggested, has always expanded and evolved.

Mike objects to the efforts to revise U.S. history textbooks, suggesting that bows to "political correctness" and "multiculturalism" corrode American values. It seems to me that a revision of history books could do more to honoring America's most noble struggles.

We talked about two American heroes. As kids, we learned all about Paul Revere and "the 18th of April in '75"--largely because Longfellow was a hell of a publicist. But why was it that Mike and I didn't hear about the abolitionist Harriet Tubman until our college years or later? Tubman's story is the more profound--yet she never got as much ink.

A knee-jerk angry white male might say Tubman is getting attention these days because a black woman is "politically correct." Mike is more thoughtful than that. Maybe I'm wrong, but he seemed willing to consider the notion that maybe kids might benefit by learning a little something about Tubman and less about Revere.

*

We were spoiling Sherri's breakfast. She seemed relieved when Mike offered me a personal revelation. Mike smiled and said that really he doesn't know his own ethnic heritage, because he was adopted. His dark features suggest many possibilities. Sherri laughed recalling how somebody said her husband looked "Mayan."

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