High school friends

Grad74When I began planning this trip, the first thing I did was to map out where we had friends all across the country.  Reconnecting with old friends, often after decades of separation, has been one of the high points for me (although perhaps farther down on Greta’s list, below eating new foods and seeing cute animals).  What’s been most amazing is how these visits haven’t just been exercises in nostalgia;  these friends have grown up and changed, and I’ve found I like the new versions of them just as much as I did the older, familiar ones.  We’ve had great conversations, usually into the late hours, and I have learned a lot about their lives, the choices they’ve made, and how they’ve made sense of life as they’ve had careers, raised children, dealt with life’s inevitable crises, etc.

We visited friends across the country, but then in the northeast there was such a density that it’s been hard to see all of them (and even harder to blog about it, as we spend all our time talking).  Around Boston there were friends from every phase of my life – high school, college, grad school, New York, Eugene.  Perhaps the most surprising visits were with friends from high school whom I hadn’t seen in 41 years.  After so long you wonder whether you’re going to have anything in common anymore, whether you’ll even recognize each other; but that wasn’t the case at all.

DSCF6027Cos Rappoccio and I spent a lot of time together in high school.  We shared many classes, and he was notable as the quiet one who always did well.  (He pulled out our yearbook, where my note to him then emphasized how he made us look bad in German class, getting good grades while the rest of us were goofing around.)  We weren’t in the same cliques – I was from White Plains, and he hung with his buddies from Port Chester – but one of the best things about our high school was that there was a lot of mixing among all the different groups.  Jocks, preppies, stoners, smart kids, greasers – at some level we all knew each other and got along well, with most of us belonging to a few different groups.  Cos and I did reminisce about those old days, catching each other up on those mutual friends with whom we’d lost contact.

After high school Cos went to Clarkson and then grad school at Johns Hopkins, with degrees in electrical engineering.  He married Mary, a computer scientist, and they settled outside Annapolis, where they raised two children – their son Dave (who lives in Portland), and their daughter Rachel, with whom Greta bonded instantly, when she realized that her dogs were named Merry and Pippin. (Greta has been picking up new friends on this trip – a lot of interesting nerdy girls, who range in age from 8 to 30, and it’s been cool for her to meet other girls with whom she’s felt an instant affinity.)

Cos went to work for Northrop Grummon, and as he puts it, he’s had the same office phone number for 37 years.  He’s been involved in projects I can’t really understand, mainly making really small cool things like sensors, but it was interesting how our discussion on our careers showed many parallels in processes, organizational challenges, and how to carve out an interesting niche within a large organization.

Cos has been a bicycling fanatic for years, making me jealous with his Facebook posts showing long rides through beautiful countrysides.  He’s recently had health issues which have slowed him down physically, but not in any other ways.  We had a great talk into the night, picking it up again in the morning, and he was the same sane, thoughtful guy I remembered.  At this point I should put in a plug for Facebook – Cos and I would never have reconnected without social media over the past decade, and it was great to have the opportunity to reconnect with a friend from so far back.  We decided to not wait another 41 years to get together again.

DSCF6713Ted Sudol was another of the Corpus Christi / Port Chester crowd in our high school.  We too shared a lot of classes, but also had extracurricular interests which put us in contact, perhaps even competition.  I was editor of the newspaper, and Ted was a mainstay of the yearbook, and traditionally these groups carried on a low-level war of pranks and other idiocies throughout the years.  The percentage of conversation among teenage boys that is sheer bantering is astounding, and Ted and I did our share of that.  But Ted was also interested in serious issues, and I remember the depth he brought to such conversations, both in class and out.  We spent many an evening drinking beer (the drinking age was lower then) and solving the world’s problems.

Ted went off to Georgetown and then law school at Temple, and we haven’t seen each other since.  He married his lovely wife Jill, and they somehow decided that her having twins was a sane thing to do while she was in medical school.  They had two more kids after that, and Ted remarked that his children’s accomplishments – an anesthesiologist (like her mom), a creative writing professor, a math-econ-data whiz, and a sports-marketing intern – disprove the concept of regression to the mean, as they all seem to be more accomplished than him.  Not that he has been much of a slouch – having had a career mainly in fundraising and development, working for non-profits and universities (James Madison), and now as managing director of a firm which provides development expertise and consulting services for non-profits.

Ted and his family have lived in a number of places, but for the last couple of decades in Harrisonburg, in the Shenandoah Valley.  Their kids are all out of the house, and their sixth grandchild is on the way.  (This is almost inconceivable to someone who is travelling the country with a 14-year-old, and I wonder how they managed to get this all out of the way so quickly.)  True to form, Ted and I talked almost non-stop while we were there;  the conversation didn’t even slow down for his cooking exertions (which included creme brûlée french toast, perhaps the most voluptuous  breakfast we’ve ever had).  It was a quick but intense visit, and we’re trying to convince them to visit us, since they don’t have the kids holding them back.

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Bob Ripp showed up during our third year in high school, his family having just moved from Long Island.  Despite the hard time we gave him about being from The ‘gIsland, Bob fit in immediately; he became one of our crowd as if he’d been there from the beginning.  Bob was always at the center of all teenage adventures, always up for a night out and for never turning in.

In the past few weeks, when I was sitting around reminiscing with the other classmates in this post, it was striking how they all said more or less the same thing about Bob – that he was the most genuinely engaging, friendly, outgoing and happy person they knew in high school.  He had a good word for everyone, and I think a lot of people left high school thinking that they were one of Bob’s best friends.  We’ve all known a lot of people who give that impression, but with Bob it’s never been superficial – he really is that positive, he really is a good guy, and you know he really is your friend, for life.

Bob had a large and entertaining family, and it became clear that this warmth and gregariousness flowed out from the whole group.  His mother and grandfather with their southern charm, his older siblings, his impish little sisters – they were all engaging and fun, and they immediately made you one of the family.  Bob’s little brother Michael was a couple of years younger than us, and also became a good friend.  Michael joined us for beers one night in Boston, and it was great to see him after all these years, a serious (somewhat), grown-up family man.  DSCF4380

Bob went off to Holy Cross for college, where he was a member of the rugby team and lived in the notorious rugby house across from the campus entrance.  Rumors reached us of their legendary exploits, and when we visited, the rumors were always proved true.  As in high school, Bob acquired a large set of great friends, and by extension, any time we saw Bob we were accepted into this boisterous crowd and dragged along on their adventures.  After college, Bob and most of his crew moved into Boston, getting jobs in finance and real estate, and the life continued as best it could, despite the inevitable attrition to marriage and families.

Bob has worked for a number of financial firms, having been at Morgan Stanley et al for quite a while now, ensconced in a tower downtown with a nice view of the harbor.  Bob and Beth got married, they settled on the North Shore in a very old town called Boxford, and they raised two girls, Annie and Katherine.  We didn’t get to meet them, as they are now off at college and boarding school, but there were so many pictures of them around the house that I’m pretty convinced that they exist.  We had met Beth once previously, at Linda’s and my wedding (which doesn’t really count as meeting someone since you’re a little preoccupied), where Beth kept getting mistaken for one of Linda’s sisters.  It was great to spend more time with her on this trip, and I enjoyed seeing Beth snap into “mom” mode when she met Greta, something Greta liked too, after being cooped up with just a dad.

Bob and I spent a bunch of time racking around – an amazing tour of the byways of Ipswich, Topsfield, and other beautiful towns, meals and drinks in a variety of locations, and most notably, Bob turning on the charm and talking our way into the Crane mansion when it was closed to the public.  In Oregon, I’m generally regarded as a pretty gregarious, funny and outgoing person (right?), but when I’m with Bob, by comparison I feel introverted and lugubrious.  After all these years, he still exudes warmth and engagement to everyone he’s with, from old friends to random people on the street.  Bob clearly loves the world, and it seems that the world loves him.

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Some of these high school friends have been long-lost, but Bill McGowan and I have stayed  close throughout the past four decades.  Bill was one of the hard core of Croton boys in high school, and a few of us down-county types attached to that core.  After college at Middlebury, Bill pursued varied jobs such as scallop and conch fishing out of Nantucket, turning that experience into his first published article in the New York Times Magazine.  Bill and I moved back to New York at the same time, and we lived together in a tenement on 82nd and Amsterdam while I was in grad school.  Besides being a good friend in that challenging time, Bill was responsible for my having any social life at all, as he actually knew people who weren’t architecture students, and he would drag me along to get me out of the architecture rut for brief periods.  (Bill also claims responsibility for introducing me to all my girlfriends in the early 80s, which is mostly correct.)  After grad school I moved a whole block away, and Bill and I continued to hang out for the rest of the 80s.  Those were the days, when New York neighborhoods hadn’t all been homogenized yet, and we watched the wave of gentrification roll up Columbus Avenue.

I remember Bill having one office job in the past four decades, which he quickly abandoned to pursue the life of a freelance writer and journalist.  He has had a remarkable career in that time, publishing many articles in a wide range of journals, and also publishing three books:  Only Man Is Vile, a first-hand account of the Sri Lankan civil war;  Coloring the News, which documented how political bias distorts much supposed hard news reporting;  and Gray Lady Down, on the decline and fall of the NY Times.  He also has a blog at http://coloringthenews.blogspot.com, where he is not afraid to advance controversial ideas.

As I contemplated Bill’s career, it occurred to me that he’s managed to find the sweet spot of pissing off everyone on the right and everyone on the left.  Liberals find his questioning of accepted pieties and his association with such institutions as the Wall Street Journal to be anathema, while right-wingers are agitated by his unwillingness to toe the line drawn by the plutocrats who fund their think-tanks and magazines.  (Bill may be the only moderately conservative journalist in the country who isn’t living a lifestyle funded by the Kochs.)  Reading through his articles and blog posts, I find that he is willing to attack those of every political persuasion, based upon some pretty clear principles, and is seldom distracted by the current fads and conventional wisdom.  Orwell would have liked him.

When I’d visit New York in recent years, Bill and I would always have an evening where I could pretend I was a bachelor, and we’d go barhopping downtown to all the places where hipsters and supermodels hang out.  This has become a little more problematic on recent trips with Greta in tow, but being with Bill still always conveys a sense of being in the middle of the action in the big city, which our little Oregonian finds very exciting.  On this trip we met by the Bjarke Ingels building and wandered through Hell’s Kitchen to a fine neighborhood Italian place and had the kind of pizza you don’t get in Eugene.  I’ve spent a lot of evenings eating and drinking with this man, and it doesn’t get old.

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4 thoughts on “High school friends

  1. Beth wilbur

    I love following your trip and not surprisingly found the Boston notes about places I know so well particularly arresting. I had to comment on this one, speaking as one of the girlfriends Bill connected you to! Never been sorry. Happy December! Xx beth

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  2. Cos Rappoccio

    Thanks Peter !! I really enjoyed catching up with you. And your ‘High School Friends’ blog is proof of something I’ve always suspected – that the Class of ’74 was a special group of young men who were all going to achieve great success as adults.

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  3. Pingback: Roberto Cipriano | Peregrine nation

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