Peer Pressure

"So," I say to David, who has already been home, and is picking me up at the station. "We get any good mail today?" Not really," he replies. "A gas bill. Some other stuff." He doesn't mention it. He changes the subject. Poor fellow. He's trying to delay the inevitable. The spring issue of my college alumni magazine is waiting for me on the table in our entranceway. It's going to be a long, sad night. Seven years ago, when I was a college senior, I never would have believed that the alumni magazine would one day propel me into spasms of woe. I loved my college. A small liberal-arts school, it had a demanding curriculum and an ambitious student body. But, maybe because of its Californian locale, it attracted students who dressed and acted so laid-back that they rarely seemed intimidating. Only indirectly would I discover their hidden talents. Strolling past the room of a bio ma jor, I'd hear him playing a virtuoso solo on an electronic keyboard. Much later, I'd learn that he composed the piece. Leaving this college was like parting with a lover. On the night before graduation, I sat on the floor of a dorm lounge, held hands with two weeping friends, and bawled my eyes out. Jenny (sobbing): "Waahhh!" Eric (wailing): "Waahhh!" Me (gulping and sniffling): "No matter what happens in the future . . . no matter how good life gets, it won't be . . . college." Jenny and Eric: "Oh, waahhh! Waahhh!!!" A pitiful scene. But the truth is, I still love my college, almost irrationally. Come to think of it, I love magazines, too. It's only when the two coincide that I feel like dialing 911. The way I experience it, the alumni magazine is a torture device from cover to cover. And for so many reasons that it's hard to know where to start. No, it isn't. Page 41. The "Classnotes" section, containing news sent in by former students. "Okay, okay, so it's not what I thought I'd be doing 10 years out of college," writes a 1984 graduate we'll call Superwoman, "but it turns out raising triplets (see BIRTHS) and working on a dissertation is actually delightful." Triplets? Dissertation? Holy Moses. And that's just the beginning. Page 42, same section. A 1987 graduate. I noticed someone trying to get my attention. It was RUBY SARA COACHMAN PHILLIPS. She recently completed her doctorate in clinical psychology and is interning at Georgetown Hospital. I was in N.Y.C. briefly at the end of Aug. Taking time out of their busy schedules to join me for brunch were TRACY ALLEN, a high-powered editor at a national magazine, and SHERRIE-LYNN RUSSELL-BROWN '89, high-powered attorney working for an East Coast firm. "Me? I'm just a resident at a D.C. hospital." That's a direct quote. Finally, page 43. My classmates. "PAUL and SUZANNE THOMAS MACDONALD are enjoying their third year of marriage. Paul is in his final year at UC Davis medical school, working hard at various hospitals. Suzanne has finished her Master of Divinity and is now taking intensive courses on breast feeding (see BIRTHS)!" Me: "Waahhh! Oh, waahhh!" Okay. I don't really cry. I stew. I mope. The people in this magazine are hopelessly happy and accomplished. And they're so fertile. They're always having babies. They're always becoming high-powered doctors and lawyers. And they're always, always getting married. When they get married, they marry other graduates of my college. Then, they mail the magazine a photo of the two of them together, in wedding attire, surrounded by yet more alumni friends. The photo runs in the "Classnotes" section. According to the caption, all the friends have hyphenated last names. This means that they've all married a graduate of my college, and, because it's the equitable thing to do, they've all, male and female, chosen to hyphenate. It's so annoying. Occasionally, an alumna or alumnus marries a person who graduated from a different school. When this happens, the magazine prints the name of the spouse, but not in the boldface type it uses for the names of its own grads. This makes it clear that the person has married outside the faith, so to speak. Now and then, someone wed to such a booby prize tries to make the union look legit by noting that the spouse did graduate from some other institution (Harvard '86). Nice try. In the context of this magazine, Harvard and the other Ivy League universities are Port-o-Potties. "Can't you wait until after dinner to read that thing?" asks David. I'm standing in the entranceway skimming "Classnotes," my coat still on. "No!" I bark. I mope. I stew. Since leaving college, I have moved seven times. This posed no obstacle to my receipt of the alumni magazine. I have come to believe it's stalking me. It locates my home, lets itself in, makes itself comfortable, and waits. It knows that seconds after spotting it, I will beg it for news I don't really want to hear. "Remember that curly-headed guy?" it asks. "The one you always saw eating dry Froot Loops in the dining hall? The mouth breather? Well, he's a high-powered district attorney and philanthropist now, and he's authored a book on pediatric cancer, with a foreword written by his buddy/business partner Quentin Tarantino." When the latest issue arrived last week, on a day when I was feeling abysmally unsuccessful, I searched the "Classnotes" section eagerly, desperate to find ill tidings, a hint of discouragement, something - anything - realistic. "First, the bad news," wrote a 1971 graduate. "In May, I was run over by a truck while riding my bicycle. Six broken ribs and a collapsed lung put me in the hospital for five days, where they inserted a chest tube." Now, that's more like it, I thought. "The good news was that we finally got a boat on the cover of the July issue of Wooden Boat magazine. It's the equivalent for a boat builder of a rock band getting on the cover of Rolling Stone. They wrote a long article about us, and we now are backlogged for over a year. Since it's an international magazine, we're getting inquires from B razil, Norway, Greece, and Australia, besides the US." Obviously, my alumni magazine needs a new editor. Someone who would have trimmed this entry right off after the words "chest tube." Maybe that's the problem with alumni magazines: lenient editing. An informal survey of my friends reveals that most feel as I do. We all know that people write to alumni magazines only when something astoundingly perfect has happened. But that knowledge doesn't help. Deceptive or not, it's a bummer to be told how much further someone your age has gone with the same college education. And yet, if our alumni magazine didn't show up (scientifically impossible scenario), we'd probably call to see where it was. As one of my friends points out, the "Classnotes" section isn't the only depressant in an alumni magazine. The rest of the publication often gleefully presents evidence that the ivy-and-brick campus you knew and loved is gradually being "renovated" into what looks like an arrangement of Taco Bells. Change - that seems to be the major theme of alumni magazines. This is irksome to those of us who want to hear that no pebble has been displaced since our graduation. Change stinks. As if to emphasize the importance of change, my alumni magazine arrived this month with a new name. No warning preceded this. No request for name suggestions - though I have some. How about The Road Not Taken magazine? Or something unsentimental yet catchy, like You Still Owe Us Money? Or, my favorite, You: Loser. You: Loser magazine. I like that. I think that works really well. "You: Loser arrived today," David could say. And I would look at him, smile, and thank him for his honesty.

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