Wednesday, August 6, 2008

West Egg Revisited

Last weekend I drove down to North Carolina with Virgodog, where I was his guest/Sig Oth/arm candy at his 20th high school reunion.   After arriving in Little Chicago, North Carolina*, we hung out with a good friend of Virgodog's from high school and his wife.  They were both delightful.  This was a huge relief, as I hadn't at all known what to expect.  Aside from the Virgodog support aspect, I was attending in the spirit of anthropological zeal.  I didn't grow up in a place anything like Little Chicago.  I grew up in a place called West Egg.

Tacky North Shore suburb, over-indulged, over-privileged, gold-plated pressure cooker that it is, I hated it.  I left as soon as I could.  I did my best to carve out a life for myself that wasn't too informed by what I perceived as the narrow values of the place in which I grew up.  And then the two fold way back machine of my own high school reunion and joining facebook happened.  

It's nice to have perspective, or so I've heard, and I don't know if I do.  At my reunion, I felt exactly as I did when I was in high school and I didn't terribly enjoy the acid flashback aspects of the event much.  I looked around the room, and thought "who are these people?" and was sorry I'd come.  Most everyone was nice, some extremely so.  But everyone seemed a little shell-shocked, or maybe I'm just projecting.  Thank god for the open bar.  The people I liked in high school, I still liked.  The psychopaths were still psychopaths, and it was mildly comforting to find that my opinions of these people weren't completely colored by the hormonal hysteria of adolescence, but were, in fact, accurate.  Everyone looked good, everyone was successful in their own way, which, I think speaks more to the self selecting nature of reunions than anything else.  At the end, I would have regretted not going.

And then I joined facebook, which engendered another, slow motion high school reunion.  A particularly interesting aspect to this is that I link my blog entries to my facebook account, eschewing all anonymity.  I have reconnected with lots of people.  In a nice controlled way, I've messaged and chatted and said hello to lots of people I grew up with.  Which has been fun, really. 

I have no animosity for anyone I grew up with.  We were raised in strange circumstances, in a place where none of our parents were from.  (I remember the day when me and four friends all discovered that our fathers had attended the same high school.  We thought it was a remarkable coincidence, we didn't realize we were the product of a cultural clich√©.)  Our school system was a sophisticated mechanism devised to achieve exactly one end:  to get its students admitted into an array of elite colleges and universities.  Inevitably, one of the byproducts of such an education are the acquisition of the tools required to analyze and dismantle the machinery in which we were caught.  If, like me, any of us chose a different path, we knew we could.  Like Gatsby before us, we saw that green light.

*all names have been changed to protect the easily embarrassed, i.e. Caviglia


anneisaaks said...


There's much I want to say here. West Egg is a potent topic for me, especially these days with so many past faces drifting in from facebook.

Did you ever feel that people in your life post West Egg punished you for your background? More than once I have met, befriended, even married someone who grew up without the ability to pick up Paris 2000 jeans and industrial-sized Neutrogena Rainbaths at the drop of a house charge. Or pursued something called "GE" which I learned meant General Education for the non college bound. Years ago I told someone (who grew up without running water, and he wasn't Appalachian) that "it was hard growing up in Great Neck" and he has yet to let me live down my comment.

I hated it there, I took it for granted, and now, when I return and it seems so alien, I miss what it was.

I walk down Middle Neck Road, full of ghost storefronts, the long-gone La Koo Koo and Stricoff's and Silver Circus and Romantic Antics and the record store next to Nina (pre Ray Leventhal), which I think was called Gary's Music Warehouse, and I feel so odd and misplaced.

Then again, in 1978 and 1981 and 1984, I felt equally strange and lost.

That Fitzgerald wrote the novel there redeemed the town completely for me. I even named one of my twin daughters Jordan after Jordan Baker, corrupt lady golfer and friend of Daisy Buchanan. No way was I naming a kid of mine "Daisy." Or "Myrtle?" I don't think so.

I'm going to think more on this and remember some good things too. Four and Twenty Pies? That was a good thing.

Anne (West Egg Escapee, North '84, Current Californian)

Carolyn Raship said...

I swear to God that alienation is our birthright. The Mattinecock indians were probably alienated. It's in the water.

I think that was one of the things that made the West Egg reunion so deeply strange, opposed to the Little Chicago one. The most obvious difference was the fewer Chanel handbags, more Electric Slide divide. At the West Egg event, there was almost this "OMG we're at a reunion" ironic remove that was certainly absent at the Little Chicago one.

I think it was a hard place to grow up, albeit charmed in many ways. It was so unbelievably competitive. I remember it starting to feel like a shark pool in, I think, 4th grade. The bar was set so high for what was expected of us. I know I was a total failure at most of it. I wasn't an academic warrior, I never had the right clothes, the right house, any of it.

I've had a few charges of being a princess, but I stayed in NY and there was nearly always somebody around more princessy than me, even in the downtown art & theater worlds I've been swimming in since. My parents were always, um, frugal (, so I didn't have a lot of the things some of my friends did. I blend well. Although it never occurred to me that not everyone could could go to, say, camp. I had completely forgotten about the charge system at the Middle Neck Pharmacy.

Looking back our whole childhood was completely ridiculous. The spectacle of our school football team losing nearly every game to the point that it was barely a sport, more like some kind of performance art. How unbelievably nasty some of the people were. Free sailing lessons at Steppingstone. Our prom at the Waldorf. Pot being sold out of the ice cream truck.

Fitzgerald nailed the ersatz feeling of the whole place. Nailed it. Too bad Oscar Wilde never visited, he would have loved it.

Carolyn Raship said...

I feel like I need to clarify. Much like when Paulina Porizkova was slammed 20 years ago when she said "modeling sucks" and then she had to go on the tonight show and say "modeling still sucks, but working in MacDonald's sucks more."

So. Growing up in West Egg sucked. But growing up in most places sucked more. We really can only complain to each other. Anything else would be frowned upon.

Nora said...

Oh my dear girl, just catching up here....but must get back to work... xoxox

Nora said...

p.s. I'm amazed that you actually went, but I guess its easier when its only a short train ride away.
p.p.s. did I tell you Evil Snoopy totally stood me up in LA? Jackass. Haven't heard a peep since. But have composed a thoughtful reply if & when he ever tries again.

Carolyn Raship said...

I can't believe you decided to meet up with evil Snoopy! So sorry I missed you last weekend. West Egg was the worst but at least you and I managed to make our own fun.