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Remembering high school

I haven’t done one of them meme things in a while, so I am happy to pick one from Jason. The meme is centered on my high school memories, which I am sure is a subject that will hold a lot of my readers enthralled, given the fact that my high school experience was so much different from that of an American high-schooler of yesteryear.

  1. Did you date someone from your school senior year?

    Yes. We started dating when we were juniors and continued through the senior year and a couple of years afterwards. She and I still very infrequently keep in touch.

  2. Did you marry someone from your high school?

    No. Natasha went to a different school.

  3. Did you car pool to school?

    I walked to school. Less then five minutes each way, across the courtyards and along the alleyways inside a huge apartment-building city district.

    Only the children of the ruling elite might have been chauffeured to school in my times. Majority of children did not have a car in the family and lived within easy walking distance of the school. Even those who lived in rural areas and had a long way to get to their school, would likely have to walk regardless.

  4. What kind of car did you drive?

    My family was not privileged enough to own a car.

    In addition, Soviet kids normally graduated from the high school at 17. Even those lucky bastards whose parents owned a car were not likely to have their licenses yet – or be allowed to use those cars by themselves, for that matter.

  5. What kind of car do you have now?

    BMW X3. I am a big adherent to the concept of driving in comfort. (Infiniti FX is even better, but they don’t sell Infiniti in the UK.)

  6. It’s Friday night… where were you (in high school)?

    I don’t recall Friday night holding any significance for us… You see, we had a regular school day on Saturdays. Now, Saturday night, I would probably be at the movies, with my best friend and our girlfriends.

  7. It is Friday night… where are you (now)?

    Home with the family or, occasionally, out to a celebration with friends are the only alternatives that I can think of.

  8. What kind of job did you have in high school?

    We did not need, want or have to work. I grew up when money had little meaning for Soviet intelligentsia. Public services (education, medicine) were free, housing was “earned” through seniority at one of the parents’ place of work and did not cost any money beyond any wish-list renovation, utilities and transportation cost pennies (or should I say копейки), and the only regular expenses were on food and clothing. Children often lived with their parents well into the adulthood, but the concept of requiring school-age children to pitch in to the family budget or to earn money for their own expenses did not exist.

    I can’t say that I approach this any differently as a parent, all my supposed American assimilation and different financial foundation aside.

  9. What kind of job do you do now?

    IT Management.

  10. Were you a party animal?

    I was a party regular and often a designated DJ, on account of my dislike of dancing (already publicized elsewhere on this blog). But our parties were entirely different from an American concept of a “high school party”. A sanctioned disco party was not dissimilar to a “school dance”, except that it was a more frequent occasion than I understand it to be in American high schools. (And we did not need to invite a date – everyone showed up on their own anyways.) A private party at somebody’s apartment did not involve any alcohol and was often a sit-down-around-a-table affair with some dancing thrown in, physical space permitting.

  11. Were you considered a flirt?

    I am pretty sure no.

  12. Were you in band, orchestra, or choir?

    Not really. My best friend and a few others formed a band at some point, and I occasionally pretended to act as the “band manager”. But I did not play any instrument.

  13. Were you a nerd?

    Most definitely. Although, I also managed to be a moderately successful jock at the same time, having been a reasonably skillful forward on a football field. And I don’t think I ever looked a nerd – I did not start wearing glasses until college, even though my eyesight has probably been the same since I was 13 or so.

  14. Did you get suspended or expelled?

    Nope. I was among the top – and the “good-est” – students in my class for as long as I can remember. One year in middle school, I did get “unsatisfactory” behavior marks, but by the time I entered high school, I was already a Komsomol leader and, therefore, a veritable role model.

  15. Can you sing the fight song?

    Not something that existed in the USSR school system.

  16. Who was/were your favorite teacher(s)?

    I had a couple, but one of them stands out, especially seeing that I still occasionally keep in touch with her: My history teacher, Татьяна Александровна (we never called teachers by their last names, only respectfully by name-and-patronymic). She was an interesting character, a staunch communist – the head of the school party unit, if I recall correctly, – and a strict disciplinarian, but also an incredibly fair and inquisitive person. I suppose my Komsomol career contributed greatly to my status as her “pet”, and she also directed the school student theater, in which I often played leading roles (for instance, that of Lenin in “The Brest Peace Treaty”, a once popular lionization of the first few months of the Communist rule in 1917-1918). She once came to our apartment to scold my parents for my lax attitude towards homework (hey, was it my fault that I managed to be a nearly straight-A student without having to bore myself with homework?), but otherwise, she and I got along famously. She celebrated her 75th birthday last year – that was her whom I made a video present for.

  17. Where did you sit during lunch?

    We did not have a lunch period. There was a “big break”, 20 minutes in length, usually after the third period, when a lot of kids descended onto cafeteria to get some food. Much of the available selection – baking goods and pastry – did not require seating, per se; there were soups and some awful schnitzels for those interested, but there was not enough time for a proper sit-down meal anyway. I almost never went to the cafeteria on those breaks, subsisting on apples that I brought from home.

  18. What was your school’s full name?

    Ready?

    Средняя общеобразовательная школа No. 60 имени 5-го гвардейского Донского казачьего кавалерийского Краснознаменного Будапештского корпуса.

    Beat that!!!

    I am not even going to try to translate that long dedication into English. The colloquial name would be “the 60th”.

  19. When did you graduate?

    1988.

  20. What was your school mascot?

    We did not have mascots. We had revolutionary – or some such – heroes that the schools were named after. That 5th Cavalry Brigade in that long name, in the case of my school.

  21. If you could go back and do it again, would you?

    Back to school, you mean? Not really. I’m sure I had a not-so-bad childhood and youth, but I don’t recall it with any sort of nostalgia.

  22. Did you have fun at prom?

    Yes. Of course, in our case, the main part of the prom was not the dance party, but the all-night-long city-wide graduating class reverie on the riverside. I spent that in the company of my then-girlfriend, two other girls that we were close with, and one other of my classmates. We just walked back and forth along the busy embankment for hours, while most of the rest of the class “protested” against this mandatory celebration activity by sleeping on the bus.

  23. Do you still talk to your prom date?

    Yes, although highly infrequently. Same girl mentioned in question #1.

  24. Who was your best friend?

    Boris and I became acquainted in the 6th grade, by getting into a fight on the very first day after having been put into the same class. He was considerably stronger than me, but I was way too proud and fearless for my own good, so he knocked me down several times in a span of 60 seconds or so. I did earn his respect in that minute, though, and we fast became inseparable for all of the remaining school years. He was a broad-shouldered good-looking guy with very little aptitude for studying, so we were a perfect match as the proverbial brawn and brains. We got into our share of questionable adventures, double-dated (for a while, actually, I was a semi-willing “third wheel” in his on-and-off relationship with the girl he would eventually marry), partnered in various sporting endeavors. He shamelessly cheated off me on every possible occasion, and my association with him was a distinct drag on my otherwise sterling reputation as a “good boy” (that unsatisfactory mark referenced in #14 was for a school quarter in which I definitely went overboard in emulating his behavior in the classroom).

    His life sadly spiraled downward in the Russia free-wheeling early 90’s, into drugs and crime. I lost all contact with him around 1994, and even heard that he died of a heroin overdose a few years ago, but recently mutual acquaintances mentioned that he was instead doing time in a jail somewhere. I re-established contact with his former wife in the last year, but I doubt I will ever re-establish any contact with him.

  25. What did you want to be when you grew up?

    Somewhat amusingly, at a certain point in high school, I seriously though about the career as a Komsomol/Communist Party functionary. It was not something that I would call an ambition, but rather a best returns evaluation. Of course, being a Jew, I had no chance, all my achievements as a Komsomol leader notwithstanding. From pragmatic standpoint, my best chance was in following my Dad’s footsteps into the mathematical scientific/teaching community, which is what I had been preparing for throughout high school, culminating in getting accepted to study mathematics at the local State University.

    Other than that, I wanted to be a cosmonaut, a football star or a famous actor. That worked out about just as well as my political career.

  26. Any regrets?

    There are little things that I am embarrassed about when I recall them, but overall, not so much.

  27. Biggest fashion mistake?

    Umm, we had to wear school uniforms, later substituted by the general requirement of a white shirt and dark pants (skirt for the girls). We also had very strict guidelines on what our hairstyles could be like. I don’t know if there was any room for fashion in our lives, let alone fashion mistakes.

  28. Favorite fashion trend?

    Out of school, I suppose, we mostly dressed modestly and unpretentiously. I can’t think of a fashion trend associated with my high school years, even though there must have been some fads here or there.

  29. Are you going to your next reunion?

    No. Our year did not have any reunions since we graduated, and I would not be traveling to Russia just for the purpose of one.

  30. Who did you have a secret crush on?

    I can’t say that I ever kept my affections secret.

  31. Did you go on spring break?

    No connotation of an event in the Russian equivalent of “spring break”. Our spring holidays consisted of a week in late March, and traveling somewhere during that time of the year was not a common activity for Soviet people in mid-80’s.

And that’s it. Some good memories here, even if I’m not exactly nostalgic about it. Those of you curious about my background might even find them entertaining. Thanks for listening!

Posted in Memoirs

9 Comments

  1. John the Scientist

    But there was part-time work for students in college. I’m a vet of the StroiOtriyady of MPEI.

    “We recognize one another without our znachki” (I don’t have a Russian WP at work and I’m too lazy to hunt down the song, I think it’s Vysotsky)

  2. Kisintin

    brian, there is a word missing.. Краснознаменного before the Budapest part. It means awarded the Medal of Red Flag, I think.

  3. Ilya

    I suppose it does convey the gist of it, Brian, although you do realize that it sounds like a word salad in English when translated this way 🙂 I’m glad you did all the work, nonetheless.

    John, you’re right, but I do not recall [m]any of my classmates in college working alongside studying. We did have a mandatory summer on a collective farm and later on a food-production factory in the first couple of years in college, but I would not call that part-time work.

    I cannot readily recognize the song, even though I am pretty sure that I am familiar with all of Vysotsky’s work.

  4. jason

    Ilya, I’m not sure if you were being sarcastic when you said this entry would hold your readers “enthralled,” but I definitely found it interesting. The Soviet Union was very much on my mind in the ’80s (due to the tensions of the Cold War and American pop culture’s exploitation of same), and I always wondered what life was like for my teenage counterpart on the other side of the world.

    I have to say the experience that sounds the most different is the lack of a car, and the apparent rarity of even Soviet adults owning them. Getting your driver’s license and a beaten-down old heap were much-anticipated rites of passage for everyone I knew (at least out here in the Western U.S.; maybe it was different in the less car-centric east). Cars were even more central to my personal experience because my father is a mechanic and collector, a genuine old-time motorhead hot-rod enthusiast.

  5. Ilya

    I’d go for “self-deprecating” rather than “sarcastic” here, Jason, but I was hoping you’d be at least one person genuinely interested in this (no offense to anyone else who found themselves just as interested).

    Cars were so not an integral part of our Soviet lives that I only got my license in 1993, a full year and a half after emigration. Of course, living in a big city with good public transport system helped to postpone our viewing of car ownership as a necessity.

  6. jason

    A good public transit system would make a big difference, I’m sure. Public transit was virtually non-existent in the Salt Lake area when I was growing up. There were buses, but they were inconvenient and I didn’t know anyone who actually used them once we reached driving age. Of course, the SL valley was hardly what you’d call “urban” back then, especially out on the south end where I was, so if you wanted to get anywhere, a car was vital.

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