During a holiday get-together, my cousin Joe proudly pulled out a picture of his granddaughter from his wallet. It was T’fanny’s high school graduation photo. T’fanny and her parents live out of state; I haven’t see the child since she was 10 or 11. In the photo, T’fanny is lying on her side, her head resting on one arm, which is languidly stretched out above her. It looks as if she were auditioning for Ann-Margret’s part in a remake of “Kitten with a Whip.” Her lips are pursed, her eyes are dreamy, her index finger is curled in the “come here, big boy” motion.
T’fanny is wearing a spaghetti strap top and she is showing more cleavage than a 300-pound plumber working in tight crawl space. She is wearing more make-up than Ronald McDonald and Michael Jackson put together.
I wondered what her classmates’ photos must look like? What if T’fanny’s the shy, tame one? What do the out-of-control girls in her class look like? What did the jocks wear? Jocks? Do they sell her yearbook under the counter? Does it come in brown paper wrapper? Does it have a centerfold? If they find me with one, will I be charged with possessing child pornography? What messages could her friends possibly write under a picture like that? “Hope you land that part in the beer commercial!” or “Someday your dream will come true and you’ll be a tramp in a biker bar!”
“What classes is she taking?” I asked Joe. “Pole Dancing 101? How to Run an Escort Service? Holding Cell Etiquette? Don’t you find this inappropriate and offensive?”
“Times have changed since we were kids,” Joe explained, as if I were some pathetic, out-of-touch old man who still squirts children with a garden hose when they walk past his house.
“Life is tougher now, kids are under a lot of pressure.”
“Who is pressuring them? Their pimps? What has pressure got to do with dressing like a hooker? And so what if I still squirt a few children with a garden hose. It builds character.”
“Things have changed since you had your high school daguerreotype. You don’t have to stand still anymore without blinking for two minutes. They don’t use glass plates anymore. Kids know how to work the camera today.”
Joe’s right, our senior photographs were embarrassing. I’ve seen better passport photos. It’s hard to believe we actually had to pay someone to make us look that bad. Instead of asking who was the best photographer in town, our school principal asked who was the cheapest. The only way the photographer could have made us look more dated was if he had made us wear raccoon coats and wave school pennants.
The good news is that we were not alone. Every school across the country seems to have hired the same photographer. There is an ad on the Internet using yearbook photos to get people to look up lost classmates. Every time I see it, I swear they are using pictures out of my very own yearbook. The haircuts, the clothes, the glasses all look the same. And yet the pictures come from another school, halfway across the country.
And someday T’fanny will be as embarrassed by her yearbook photograph as I am of mine. One day, one of T’fanny’s children will find her yearbook in the bottom of a closet and say, “Stepmom, is that really you? You mean you had to wear clothes to school back then? I’m so glad we go to All Nude High. We’re not distracted by who’s wearing what the way you guys were. We don’t have any of that bickering about who has better clothes than who. It’s just a much friendlier, relaxed way to learn. And we don’t pay them to have our graduation pictures taken. They pay us.”
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at email@example.com
Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.