Paper Maché and Chicken Wire

Around the country, it’s apparently Homecoming Week. Friends of mine on Twitter and Facebook are writing about what their kids are doing, building floats, getting ready for the game or the dance, and so on. It’s got me flashing on some of the homecoming stuff I can still remember.

My freshman and sophomore years of high school, I was class president. That meant I had to be involved in parade float construction even though I had no discernible art or carpentry skills to offer. Freshman year it was easy—there were enough classmates with sufficient enthusiasm to plan and execute the job, so I didn’t have to do much, and what I did was fun. My biggest contribution was to recruit my father to pull the thing with one of his big farm tractors, which he was happy to do. I can remember riding with him, on the tractor’s fender, feeling like a parade float myself—and probably looking like one in the bright red polyester dress pants I wore on so many semi-formal occasions in the mid 1970s.

Sophomore year was different. If I’m recalling correctly, the class officers ended up doing most of the float work; a year older and therefore a bit jaded, fewer classmates showed up to do the hard and/or tedious work of paper-maché crafting and chicken-wire stuffing. I recall saying in later years that in the fall of my sophomore year I learned how to lie down and sleep anytime I had a spare 10 minutes, because there was a period of two weeks or so where I was spending nearly every waking non-school hour working on the goddamn float.

Junior year, I was no longer president of the class; I was vice-president our last two years. Our president both years was a pretty and popular girl who campaigned well but governed poorly, not suited at all for the handful of duties the class presidency entailed. One of those duties was being in charge of building of the float, a task I was happy not to have anymore—although I did make a suggestion. Our float, I said, should be a delegation of classmates and a keg, riding on a flat wagon decorated with a skirt reading “We don’t give a shit.”

Nobody else thought that was a good idea.

By senior year, I had divorced myself from the whole float-building problem and from homecoming entirely, or so I thought—until I found myself MC’ing the band’s halftime show, their biggest show of the year.

I had quit the band after my freshman year because I couldn’t get along with the director. During my senior year, I had to chauffeur my brother to school by 7AM for early rehearsal. I would then stake out a spot in the hallway near my locker, outside the band room, and kill the hour before classes began. Imagine my surprise one morning when the director came out and asked me to MC the show, which was based on Star Wars, then still rocking the theaters. I couldn’t imagine why he’d done it. I’m sure he disliked me as much as I disliked him, and while I’d acquired a reputation as a fearless public speaker, I wasn’t the only one he could have asked. But ask he did, and accept I did, and I remember standing there on the field in front of a packed house on homecoming night, microphone in hand, feeling as though performing that way was as natural as breathing.

Homecoming always seemed bigger in the abstract during the weeks leading up to it than in the reality on the night it happened. Of course, what I have learned since then is that many of the crises of high-school life are like that. Triumphs too.

There’s no musical angle to this post, except the usual one—that in the midst of all these experiences, the radio was always on. A favorite song from the early fall of freshman year is here; the extended version of a record both appropriate and inevitable, from the early fall of senior year, is here.

One thought on “Paper Maché and Chicken Wire

  1. The only homecoming dance I ever attended took place the year after I graduated. I experienced my very first slow dance that night, and I’ll always have a mushy spot for Breathe’s “Hands to Heaven” as a result. I also danced with another girl (what a cad!) to Erasure’s “Chains of Love”, and last year I began a trend of leaving the video on her Facebook wall for her birthday (which rolled around just this week).

    Call me a blasphemer, but I think Saint Etienne stole “Who Do You Think You Are” for good in ’93. Even though I’m certain you’ll disagree, I’d like your opinion:

    I never knew there was a compromise between the 7″ and LP versions of Meco’s Star Wars suite. Now I want that Casablanca box even more! BTW, if you ever stumble upon the Ewok Celebration LP. remember a brother.

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