Sunday, November 17, 2013

Old High School ID Cards and This Thing We Call Life

As a nostalgia buff who has saved countless bits and pieces from my youth, I still have my two high school ID cards. And just like The Twilight Zone's Talking Tina, they speak to me—not only about the past, but the present, and life in general for that matter.

My first high school ID card picture was taken in September 1976, when, sartorially speaking, we were still in the colorful, frequently garish 1970s. This goes a long way in explaining why I’m wearing a pinkish shirt in the photo. For the first several weeks of school in my alma mater, the boys were excused from wearing the required jacket and a tie. After all, it was still officially summertime for two-thirds of the month of September. In the colder climes thereafter, I wore a blue polyester sports jacket with that same shirt, a multi-hued tie from my father’s extensive 1960s and 1970s collection, and gray plaid pants. In a year or so, though, that kaleidoscope of colors completely vanished as the late-1970s became, in essence, the 1980s.

We had our original high school ID for two years. At some point during that time, my card cracked in half and I taped it together. Another serious crack is visible, too. When I first examined it after many years in storage, I wondered how it had cracked in the first place. It was made of heavy plastic, like a credit card, and I don’t recall having much need for it.

As I pore over my increasingly antiquated, peeling, and badly cracked ID card with the tape on it now seriously yellowed, I realize it is actually a metaphor for life. For I, too, am, metaphorically speaking at least, peeled, cracked, and yellowed. And this metamorphosis is not something that was on my mind, or even on my distant radar, when I was fourteen, wearing pink shirts, and awash in youthful exuberance. In a couple of years time, our high school ID cards took a serious hit and became cheesy, laminated photos with no pizzazz at all—a precursor of all too many things to come. The cheap laminate, however, didn't break in half like its predecessor, the ID credit card. It was physically impossible.

Times have really changed—in a big way. I actually opened my first bank account with an expired school ID card. Imagine that! Nowadays—no matter our age—we are presumed to be up to no good and possibly even a terrorist. I remember, too, in grammar school being taught how to distinguish between the words “principle” and “principal.” We were told that a living and breathing “principal” was our “pal,” which I never quite felt to be the case. Still, I absorbed the lesson. The "pal" on my 1976 high school ID card was—decades later—part of a Catholic Church lawsuit settlement for you know what. When he was our principal, I don’t remember him being much of a pal to anyone. He was a hot-tempered and disagreeable. He only received cheers when he declared a rare school holiday not on our original schedule—for stellar fundraising on our parts or some such thing.

It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s been thirty-seven years since that first high school ID picture was taken. It seems like yesterday in one respect, but a long, long time ago in another. It’s a bygone era for sure. And who is that kid in pink? My life then amounted to fourteen years in total. Thirty-seven years have passed since then. I don’t likely have another thirty-seven years coming to me. And I can’t say for certain that I’d want another thirty-seven years. There really is a lot staring back out at me from my two high school ID cards. You have been warned. If you have your old high school ID cards somewhere: Be prepared at what they've got to say.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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