Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Lottery


Today I’m writing a cover letter to Amgen -- at least, that’s what I’ve promised myself. Not that myself cares whether I keep that promise or not. Myself is easy that way. Myself is no one’s fool. With millions of writers out of work these days, landing a PR job is like finding a grain of sand on the world’s longest beach.

Or perhaps more aptly, you know those baking hot summer days when you slosh a little sugary drink on the patio and ants by the million appear out of nowhere to dogpile on the drop?

But I’ll do the cover letter, just as soon as I divest myself of a little distraction cooked up on the way to the (coffee house) office.

I was thinking about all the highly successful people who graduated from my relatively small high school.

During my junior high and high school years, my family lived in Naperville, Illinois. This was the 70's, and all the families in one of its many suburbs had a father who worked for GM, or Exxon, or Boeing, transferred here and soon to be transferred there.

The lot of us took mobility as a way of life. We didn’t think it strange the way we commandeered some farming community that had been around for hundreds of years, and turned it into our own. Not even when, throughout our childhood, this process was repeated over and over.

Before we’d descend on a town, some far-sighted individual would have bought up acres and acres of farmland and turned it into hundreds of likeminded two-story houses where likeminded people of likeminded ages with likeminded jobs would flock. They, whoever they were, built us our own schools, malls, airports, tennis courts. Mothers and kids had instant friends. Which was good for the dads, because they were always at work.

Naperville had great schools, doctors, athletic programs. Sure it was kind of generic and boring, but some of us solved that through recreational pursuits – scholastic programs, junior olympics, drugs, sex. I ditched school so often, I could no longer let my mother sign anything because the school only had my signature on file. Most of us got good grades, and those who didn’t could ace an SAT or ACT (apparently residual words from chemistry lectures clinging to our undamaged brain cells).

The amazing thing about Naperville is the number of successful people who emerged from its high school in the 70’s and 80’s. Bob Zoellick, president of the World Bank, Paula Zahn, the Odenkirks, some computer billionaire whose name escapes me, just for starters.

I think I babysat for the Odenkirks when maybe two years separated the sitter from the sittee. I also think the father may have shot himself. There were lots of suicides in our town during the 70’s, an inordinate amount for a place that size, but I wouldn’t rush to judgement.

But back to the success stories. The first one to make good was Melanie. Melanie and I vied for some of the same roles in high school plays. I left high school at 16 or 17, and made my way to the University of Illinois. Melanie headed to New York. She tried her hand at modeling and was an instant success. I think she made the cover of Seventeen within a month of her arrival, to be followed by Vogue and Glamour, and whatever else was around those days.

A year or two later, I had dropped out of college to savor an exuberant lifestyle I would never again duplicate. And Melanie, Melanie was on all the magazine covers. But not as a model. A former boyfriend had murdered her current boyfriend, cut him into little pieces (at least, that's what I recall reading in Time or Newsweek) and carried him out of the apartment in a suitcase.

Melanie was a sweet girl, and I felt bad for her, especially when Time or Newsweek trotted out stories about a prostitution ring.

What happened to her? No idea. I lost touch with everyone in Naperville, just as I lost touch with everyone in towns prior and since. For blue sky kids, accustomed to moving from suburb to suburb, we shed old friends and grew new friends. All changed with the seasons.

I'd like to say I've learned a lot of things since then. But, nah. Of the few things I know, luck may turn on a dollar, may turn on a dime. But turn it will.

31 comments:

  1. I wonder if perhaps you and Margaret were riding a similar thought train this week: Fortuna and The Luck Lottery...!

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  2. Interesting stuff. Ravenswood, WV, also has more than its share of luminaries. Bob Coughlin, Ken Floyd, Sandy Hickman. What? You haven't heard of any of these?

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  3. Again, another piece of brilliant writing. You should submit it to Salon. It is really smart. And I am so with you, my sister. Luck. Luck. Luck. And the part about losing touch...I moved so much when I was young, and those people are all gone from my life. You just got everything right.

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  4. Also, can I tell you that I love the title? It's so Shirley Jackson.

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  5. Luck. The topic of the day. Poor Melanie.

    Karin, didn't I ever tell you I grew up in DeKalb? Just a few years before you were in Naperville, or I'd have seen you at a basketball game.

    Nah, you didn't go to basketball games.

    Our most famous alums are Richard Jenkins and Cindy Crawford.

    And me, of course. I starred in Shirley Jackson's play when I was about 13, which was totally inappropriate.

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  6. We had nobody famous graduate from our high school, except Dalton Trumbo of the Hollywood Ten. Whether we'd find out about it or not depended on the proclivities of the teacher.

    I never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I understand the local high school was over a hellmouth. Hey, isn't EVERY high school?

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  7. I came here to read the comments and there's a lot that I could say but I simply can't get past the fact that the captcha word is arsnat. I'll swing by later...

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  8. I like close-to-the-bone yarns ...

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  9. new year's moon
    my luck-or my sorrow
    i see it all too well

    bandit

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  10. You're right, Linda. Susan, Ken Floyd of the West Virginia Floyds? Who hasn't heard of him? Margaret, I didn't know we shared the moving part! Petrea, I've been to DeKalb -- that was farm country that stayed that way, right? PJ, stop by any time, you're always a welcome sight. Julie, I thought this sounded a bit like you. And Bandit, thank you for that.

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  11. I left DeKalb in 1973 and my family moved away in the mid-80s. Since then, due to greed and crappy city planning, the charm is gone. DeKalb still has its pretty frontier-town main street, but much of the rest is chain stores. For miles. And like the rest of America, farmers there can't make it so they sell their land. More chain stores.

    However, if you get far enough out of town, it's still flat, green and gorgeous.

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  12. Have you ever thought about contacting Melanie? I have a vague memory of that story. I'm known for long friendships but it's because I hunt them down when they stray from my orbit. Ask them. Vicki and I formed our deep bound through our shared experience of the Hillside Strangler(s)

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  13. shhh
    Don't let the others know...I liked your comment best


    iders

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  14. Where's your book proposal? This sounds like it has all the terrific ingredients for a blockbuster non fiction "The secrets of Naperville, remembered" I'd love to hear more about the not-to-be repeated lifestyle, too--

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  15. K, they are all on Facebook, even Melanie.

    Vanda - posting from a phone

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  16. Vanda, I love the unintentional urgency of your comment. But to you and PA, she's not someone I want to find. Keep it in the vault. There are others, though, that I have looked for. Karen Lawson, most particularly. She was a great, great friend. Still, maybe not. I've never gone back to one of our old childhood houses -- I don't know, ten, twelve of them.

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  17. (I think the coast is clear, no arses tonight, well, none that I can see.)
    This is such an interesting view, Karin. I had similar experiences growing up in the military, moving countless times. For me, visiting childhood homes, even going back to my college alma mater, many of them places that I loved, these have never been significant experiences for me. I've never found my interior life in those places and that has always been the most important life I've lived.
    And if success is possibly having a life that others envy, then what do you call it when all of that success suddenly becomes toxic? I hardly know you Karin, but I'm sure many people would give a lot to have your perspective.

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  18. PJ, I don't know how you ended up here but I like your perspective, too.

    The places that build you don't retain what they had while they were building you, because they're just places, and mystique is not a thing. I don't think I said that very well.

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  19. How does the saying go... You can never go back home?

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  20. I suppose it would have been better to start on topic, I posted something else earlier, but I don't think it took. My only relation to this story are a few things: Small town High School, left at 17. By choice I moved away from that small town as soon as possible. Never looked back till a few years ago. High School Reunion, the first one I ever attended. What was I thinking? I'll never do that again... who were those people?

    Probably the most famous individual to graduate from my High School a few year ahead of me was Chris Hillman; The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers... and me of course.

    Mid-Town G

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  21. BTW, you're just a virtual individual to me, but I like your writing, your wit, your thought process, your sarcasm and the pointed way you address things.
    Are you working on a novel?

    Mid-Town G

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  22. All my best friends moved away, like you did. Hmph! I never left the house except for school. I envied you and caught a bit of the wanderlust.

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  23. What did I do right to have such smart, smart people visit my blog and read that hulking piece of text? Thank you, you added much, and left me a lot of think about.

    PJ, thanks for sobering up.

    Mid town, I don't feel like a virtual individual. But no, no novel up my sleeve (but your kind thoughts were most appreciated). I have a hard time getting past 800 words, so I prefer essays. Petrea, on the other hand...

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  24. But it's what PJ was saying, and it's why Mid-Town G asks if you're working on a novel, and it's what I've told you before - it's that unique perspective you have, and your way of saying things. Nobody else has it.

    You don't have to write a novel, but you do have to write, and to publish, something. Whatever you choose - a column, articles, a book of some sort. You will, too, you're building a following and what you did to deserve it I believe I've already mentioned.

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  25. I admire your fortitude. I changed schools once, in the fifth grade, and I was an emotional mess. It was so tramatic for me. I made friends but it is not something I'll ever forget.

    When I taught school I would have these kids that had been all over town from school to school. I really could never imagine HOW they did it. I hope to heaven it wasn't as hard for them as it was for me.
    V

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  26. That is fluid. The next time we bump into each other on the circuit we'll chat. You have read my tomes. Your's was a shot from the dark (sorry bout' dat). 'Twas good reading. I agree with some of the others on column left. It's got the makings of something really good.

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  27. It's Caturday, Karin, Soberday is tomorrow.

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  28. Nobody famous from my high school either. Went to my 20 year reunion and I realized I wouldn't have known any of them if I passed them on the street. Moving a lot must be difficult (sorry if that's an understatement, I didn't move much at all) but friends that did move a lot are some of the most interesting people I know.

    Add me to the list of people who think you should be published.

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  29. Me too. Publish!!!

    Wasn't Naperville also the home of Wheaton College and an outpost of Bell Labs? I had a friend move there in the late 70's from NJ, Allison Something-or-other...and another friend, Jeff Cardwell. I think their dads both worked for Bell Labs.

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  30. there was a little college in Naperville, I'll have to look up the name. And Bell Labs, oh, very likely.

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