Thursday, February 26, 2009
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.