My Amazing High School 50th Graduation Anniversary Reunion

I did not want to go to it. For various and most of the usual nonsensical reasons, high school was not a happy time for me. But my good friend Warren, who has a much stronger ego than mine (he is an eminent psychiatrist), convinced me to go to it with him.

We graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School (ALHS) in Brooklyn in 1952. (That was before Brooklyn was BROOKLYN.) In its day it was a first-rate New York City High School. It has a long list of distinguished and accomplished graduates. But in keeping with the times, it was also known as Stinkin-Lincoln.

Suffice it to say back then I compensated for who I thought I wasn’t, by assuming the persona of a cynical wise-ass. I was far from an athletic star or an academic whiz. I was certainly not a member of the Order of the Arista.[Editor’s Note: Arista originated in the early years of the 20th century as a variant name for National Honor Society chapters in New York City public high schools.]

As incongruous as it may seem to those who knew me then, and know me now, while I was in high school there was a strong religious streak in me. I was one of those who devoutly and actively practiced School Prayer. I prayed every day. I prayed that my teachers would not:

  • Call on me.
  • Collect homework.
  • Give a pop quiz.

Rarely were my prayers answered.

The best that Mr. Lester Speiser (my superb junior-year English teacher) could say about me at the end of the term was: “He is literate… Somewhat… More or less… Some times more… Some times less.” He gave me a C+. In retrospect, surely the “+” was a very generous gesture on his part. Like many of my teachers then, Mr. Speiser (now many years later a very dear friend) deserved far better than the likes of me.

In preparation for the reunion, those who were organizing it sent each of us a request. We were asked to write and submit a short paragraph about what had happened to us over the intervening years. We were told that it would be printed in the Reunion Program, between our photos lifted from the 1952 Lincoln Senior Class Yearbook and a current one that we were asked to return with our bios.

The programs were waiting for us at our dinner tables. Most of my former classmates competed in relating their many extraordinary triumphs:

  • President of this.
  • Chairman of that.
  • Brilliant Marriages (some of them multiple, but all of them brilliant).
  • Parents of incredibly successful children. Every one of them a surgeon, judge, investment banker, or venture capitalist.
  • Of course, all of the grandchildren had been certified as Gifted and Talented. Much sought after with offers of generous scholarships by the likes of Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.
  • Now they were retired to their manses in Florida, Southern California, or Arizona. Their low golf scores were but one more source of my envy.

Other than mine, there was not a dysfunctional family in the lot.

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My submission, far shorter and quite different than most of the others, was:

“In my golden youth, when I graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School, I wondered of the possibilities of omniscience and omnipotence. Now in my dotage, I worry of the probabilities of impotence and incontinence.”
It did not endear me to the rest of the assembled gaggle of geezers and geezerettes. Still a cynical wise-ass.

As we circulated through the cocktail hour my feelings of inadequacy began to return. And to increase in intensity with each passing minute. I was never much good at Cocktail Conversation (CC). I failed the course in CC in college. I could never remember the protocols required for sophistication:

  • Which finger was I supposed to stir a drink with?
  • What direction was I supposed to stir it in?
  • What wine was appropriate with which course?

More recently I failed the course in Starbuckese at Berlitz. In a senior panic moment a couple of months ago, after waiting in a long line of Starbuck aficionados, I stepped up to the counter and ordered a Latkah Grande.

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I noticed that many of us were reverting to who were at in June of 1952. It was as if 50 years had not passed. None of the jocks dribbled basketballs, but they were all at the same tables. Talking jock talk. The smart girls were reminiscing about their Latin classes. I was seated at a table with the other nebbishes. I was President of the Nebbish Club. It was the club for those who couldn’t get into any other club.

The evolving scene did little to help my fragile ego. I began anticipate at least five extra sessions with Dr. Ludwig Fenstermacher.

His specialty is rejection. Considering my life-long sad experience with Rejection By Beautiful Women since age 3, and the fact that I make my living selling life insurance, I keep Dr. Fensty very busy.

And then it began. In front of my astonished wife Hanna. A number of the ever pretty, desirable, and still unobtainable girls came up to me, gave me a big hug and a kiss, and said, “Alan, you were so great in high school. You were so smart. You were so funny.”

Stunned into disbelief, my reply was: “Where were you, when I needed you so desperately? When just a kind look, a little smile, perhaps even one word from you, could have changed my whole life?” Response: “You know how it was then.”

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But that was only the beginning. Before very long the one and only Paula Perlstein approached. She too gave me a hug and a kiss. In all truth I must admit that it was far from a full frontal hug. Nor was it much of a kiss. More of a brush of her lips on my wrinkled cheek. But still, it was a virtual hug and kiss from Paula Perlstein. Witnessed by every member of the 1952 graduating class of Abraham Lincoln High School.

Now you may ask, Why was a mini smooch from Paula Perlstein such an important milestone event, 50 years after graduation? Because Paula was a cheerleader. And I had never been kissed by a cheerleader. I had to wait 50 years. To be kissed by a 68-year-old cheerleader. But it was worth the wait. Paula was still perky. At my advanced age and state of physical decay, it couldn’t get much better than that.

The evening ended on a high note. As the conversation began to ebb, the cheerleaders whipped out their old white, bulky, woolen sweaters, with ALHS Megaphones sewn on the front, pulled them on, and marched up onto the stage. Accompanied by the band, they led us in a standing, rousing rendition of our old school fight song.

Here’s to Lincoln, Stinkin Lincoln,*
Raise her banners high.
Shout her praises to the breezes,
Lift them to the sky.
Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah.

Here’s to Lincoln, Stinkin Lincoln*
Bring to her glory and renown.
Let’s make Lincoln High
The best in New York Town.
Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah.

* I have taken liberties with the authorized version of the song. The correct second phrase in the first line of the first stanza is, “Cheers to Lincoln.” The correct second phrase in the first line of the second stanza is, “Bring to Lincoln.”

—AP