As I get older, I increasingly notice how different my high school and college years were compared to the social media era. It was somewhat noticeable when raising my own children, but they didn’t have social media to deal with until their late high school or college years. While I love keeping in touch with friends and relatives via Facebook, I am also aware of the hazards that arise when every aspect of life is subject to being recorded, and viewed by the world. And the permanence of those images can create a lot of unintended consequences. That is why I am thankful that none of of this was around in the 70’s and 80’s. But some of the memories live on, and they are funny.
I will start with high school. The most high tech thing we had in those days was a polaroid camera like the one pictured above. Regular cameras had film that had to be developed. But these new fangled cameras produced pictures instantly and printed them out one at a time. That is the closest thing we had to anything simultaneous. And you could destroy any of them you didn’t like, so not really a permanent thing.
What would smart phones have recorded in those days? Silly stuff, like driving around in cars with too many people inside, and not a seat belt in site. Funny things too. Streaking was a fad in the 70’s, and naked boys would run amok in the strangest places, hoping not to get caught. There was even a hit song called The Streak, where the singer tries to shield his wife from the streakers by saying “Don’t look Ethel!”. There were streakers at sports events on tv, concerts, and even my all girls high school. That created quite a stir, because girls would run to the windows, scream, and try and figure out who they were.
But the most infamous evening would have been the one time I had a more than a few friends over for a party at my house. It was the summer before my senior year, and my friends and I were pretty bored. We all had part time jobs, but also spent a lot of time at a neighborhood pool where one friend was a life guard. The party plan was hatched one afternoon in June, and we decided it would be more fun if we invited as many people as possible, not just our group of friends. So the date was chosen, and the word was spread by the only means we had- phone calls, and telling everyone we ran into for about two weeks. The concern was that not very many people would show up.
The big night arrived, and my fellow party planners arrived early to get ready. We had some pop in coolers, and other illegal beverages reserved for ourselves inside the house, snuck into the basement from the lower level sliding door. A few snacks outside, where the party was supposed to be taking place. Our illegal beverages consisted of one bottle of wine (Boone’s Farm, which still makes me shudder thinking of the taste), and one can of beer. I don’t remember how we got them, but it wasn’t much for a group of four. So we had some laughs, sampled our beverages, and waited for the guests to arrive.
And boy did they arrive. A trickle at first, but as it got dark out it was more of a tsunami. We knew the first wave of attendees, but as the night wore on, most were strangers. Our yard was very flat and pretty big, and it was full. The crowd was also spilling over into the neighbor’s yard, a nice Mormon family with ten kids. Their lights were on and several of the kids were watching the party unfold, but the parents never came out so I’m guessing they were gone for the evening. I never did an actual count, but am guessing we had at least 100 guests. Impressive considering it was all word of mouth. The first “casualties” of the evening were a couple of friends my mom recognized as she stood on the deck overlooking the back yard; their erratic behavior prompted a phone call to their parents to come pick them up. I walked one of them to her mom’s car, and told her that someone had spiked her can of pop with vodka. My first legal client! And it seemed to work.
But the party carried on, and people were still arriving at the time we said it would be over. I knew it was time to try and get people to leave, but wasn’t having much success. The final straw was hearing the unmistakable cadence of Harley Davidson engines. A caravan of of them, with burly guys wearing leather jackets, pulled up in front of the house. Their bikes had Iowa plates, so word had really spread. My mom had been the only one monitoring the event up to that point, but the bikers were too much. My dad went out to greet them, and told them to move along. And with that, the party was over.
The next phase was the clean up. Most of the guests had brought their own illegal beverages, so some friends and I cleaned up everything we could see. The debris filled several garbage bags. The grass didn’t fair too well either. And we didn’t get all of the empty cans and bottles. The following fall, spring and summer, they were still popping up. Kind of like an unintentional archeological dig. Not surprisingly, that was the first and last such event I hosted.
College and law school parties were on another level. In college, people started renting apartments, and 19 was the drinking age, so a more legal way to entertain ourselves. Lots of people smoked cigarettes, so the parties were usually hazy rooms with pizza on the floor and albums playing on stereos. Apartment clubhouses were occasionally rented, and there were some interesting moments. I recall one funny but reckless friend who liked to dive into apartment pools, fully clothed and wearing heavy boots. He also rode a tricycle into a pool once, in the fall when it didn’t have any water. He would also eat anything within reach, so nothing was safe.
And then we have law school, the three years of immense stress that produced many a memorable evening. Some of the best ones were on weeknights, planned around 10 pm while sitting in the library. Some friends lived in a decrepit house we called the Cockroach Palace, or Palace for short. They hosted most of these impromptu gatherings, and it was easy because everyone brought their own drinks and they didn’t keep any food around because of the roaches. Sometimes these were designated as Hat Parties. You had to wear one to get in. I had a brown velvet number, with netting in the front, that I got at a thrift store. I kept it in the car since these parties could pop up at any time.
My last year, I lived in a townhouse with three other law students, and we hosted some fun gatherings too. I have a vivid memory of someone who became a respected corporate attorney sitting on our kitchen floor, eating cookie dough with a huge spoon. Another classmate liked to write, and he would sit at a desk and type a story (yes, typewriters were all we had!) created about the attendees. Anyone could add to the story, which usually was a cross between a western and a romance novel. They were hilarious, and I wish I had saved them.
Music tended toward 60’s classics; The Supremes and Beach Boys were played a lot. Leslie Gore was also a favorite. A coffee table, used as a surf board, crumbled one night. All of our furniture was garage sale quality, but the roommate who owned it wasn’t there that evening and was not amused. Picky, picky. And there may have been some lip synching of Stop in the Name of Love, complete with choreography. I may have been Diana Ross a time or two. Actually, all the time. At our graduation, a classmate introduced me to his girlfriend, and she said “Aren’t you the one who imitates Diana Ross?” I told her she had me confused with someone else. Note- there were only about 25 women in our class of 140, so this wasn’t a very effective diversionary tactic.
Although I think social media can come back to haunt anyone in their future endeavors, attorneys have to be particularly careful. Imagine the questions U.S Senators would ask of a nominee to a federal judgeship who graduated when everything was recorded-Can you tell us why you’re sitting on the floor, and what you are eating from the bowl in this photo? Please refer to exhibit number two. You appear to be using a coffee table as a surfboard in this picture. Do you have any recollection of doing this? In exhibits 3-7, you have a beer in your hand, and are wearing a hat that looks like a dead animal. What were you doing when these photos were taken?
Our last party was held the weekend we graduated. By this time, the party planners lived in a better house, and we invited our families, at least for the first part of the evening. They also served food, so there were some adult touches to this last hurrah. But it didn’t take long for the music to get turned up a little too loud, and the party goers to lapse back into their old habits. Some of my classmates had parents who were attorneys or judges. They were the first to leave. My parents took their cue from them and made a hasty exit as well. But the rest of us stayed, and celebrated our final get together before the dreaded bar exam that would take place in a few short months.
As my generation retires and heads to the days of rest and relaxation, I wish the social media generation luck as they contend with their digital past. While there will be a lot of harmless photos of what they ate, a phenomena I really don’t understand, there will also be less flattering images floating around. And from our easy chairs, the Boomers will look back fondly, and once again give thanks for the anonymity of our young and foolish days.