I peaked in the fourth grade, at least as far as group photos are concerned. If you think about it, our lives are measured in group photos, so it turns out to be a good measure of progress, even success. In the school photo below from 1965, you can see me in the white shirt and gray tie holding the class sign with my friend, Richard Intartaglia, who wore a red tie that day. Either the photographer or Mrs. Miller, our teacher, had the good aesthetic sense to put us together.
I like the photo. It has color and balance. I can also identify a number of my classmates. For instance, I was in love with Becky Jensen, the blonde girl sitting directly above me, and had a fight with Deo Dolson, who sits next to her in the brown jacket. It was not over Becky, though. I was also in love with Ann Miller at the end of Becky’s row in the white dress and patent leather shoes. I suppose I had a thing for blondes in the fourth grade. I can’t be sure, but I believe Becky broke my heart. It has been downhill ever since. Life, as you know, can be harsh. I have been relegated to the back row ever since that spectacular rise so many years ago.
In the photo below from 1972, which was my sophomore year of high school, you can see me in the back row, right side, with my hand raised. I remember thinking that I needed to do something to stand out or I would be lost in the wash of history. So I raised my hand. I had pulled a similar stunt skipping across the stage to receive an award at about that time. The audience laughed, which may have been the impetus years later for that comedic wit of Gotham Comedy Club fame, Bobby Bronco. I’ll have to ask him about it someday.
If you look at the kid sinking at the desk in the middle of the photo and go to the left, that’s Beth Flanzbaum. I was in love with her and can recall her getting her pen stuck in her braces back in the seventh grade. We sat together in English class. Notice that she was not a blonde. I also remember the two of us sitting on a rock at Clove Lake Park on Staten Island and gazing into each others’ eyes for hours until a parent had to come and pick us up. I have a little more certainty about her breaking my heart, but that’s what happens when you are sent to the back row. You have to live with the consequences.
Two weeks ago I attended my fortieth college reunion at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania. Of the many photos that were taken, one was a group shot (below). And, you guessed it, not only was I in the back row, but even less of my face is visible than in the high school photo. If you look at the arrangement of flowers on the mantelpiece and go straight down to that little white blur, that’s me. Mine is the top of a pyramid of heads. What I find incredible is that I am not tall. At 5’9″, you’d think I would be somewhere in the middle. But it was not to be. As Seneca says, verberat nos et lacerat fortuna (fortune batters and torments us). I have been battered and tormented.
My college girlfriend, Louise Davidson, is not in the photo. I am certain that I broke her heart, which is both an admission of guilt and an observation that there seems to be a strange correlation between one’s place in a group photo and the likelihood that one’s heart will be broken. Generally speaking, the farther back you are, the less you stand out and are exposed to Cupid’s arrows. It’s the zebra effect (see Teaching Zebras).
Of course, Louise not being in the photo puts a wrinkle in things. According to the theory, she should not be affected at all, but that just means the relationship between place and pain is not a linear one but more complicated. I need to do more research. Maybe I’ll apply for a federal grant to conduct a study. Maybe the next time Louise sees me she’ll slap my face on behalf of Becky, Ann, and Beth as well as herself. There is a bright side, however. With all that attention, I’m sure to make it into the front row again.