My perfect world begins in Seattle's old Lincoln High School gym. My dad and son are standing next to me as the gods sigh and they grant me my wish. The breath of youth rushes over us. An elixir of cologne, deodorant, and sweat swirls around our bodies and into our lungs. My dad's paunch shrinks and is replaced by a six-pack stomach; his silvery hair warms to a lustrous golden brown. The gray in my sideburns vanishes and I too watch my softened flesh re-harden into chiseled muscles. Testosterone juices surge through my son's lanky 14 year-old frame and inflate his limbs and chest to those of an 18 year-old.
The three of us weave and glide down the gym floor in perfect rhythm with each other and the ball. The beat of our rubber soles travels through the floor boards, up the walls, to the bleachers and balcony, to the trusses, to the shingles on the rooftops, which shudder in the winter air. We are down six points, but feel it--the electricity in our fingertips and toes. Hoarse spectators spill over the track balcony above. The joints of the miniature gym stretch and moan. We are inching up on our opponents with only a minute left.
Over the years--at the dinner table, from the car driver's seat, by my bedside--my dad's voice invoked the magic of the old Lincoln gym, a little box bursting at the seams on game nights, no room for spectators except on the indoor track balcony and the couple of feet between the out-of-bounds lines and the walls. Of course, my imagination embellished this building with color and band music until it radiated with a mythical light.
The gods have yet to grant me that perfect game in that perfect gym with my dad and son. But this fall, our footsteps of youth will cross in another way. While Roosevelt High undergoes renovation in the next two years, my son will walk the same halls of his grandpa before him, wrestle with essays and trig in the same classrooms, even dribble down that tiny but mythical basketball court. And I too will walk through Lincoln's gate to conference with teachers, watch concerts, plays, and of course, basketball games.
A half of century separates my dad's exit from and my son's entry into Lincoln's halls. Swish. Gone in a ball's brush through the net. The temptation is too great--comparing these two Lincoln eras. Some might say it's like viewing "Leave it to Beaver" and "Sex in the City" back to back.
The menu of Lincoln's neighborhood is definitely foreign to the '53 graduate. Take a stroll down 45th and the scents of curry, chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and basil drift out of restaurant windows. The sausage rolls, burgers, fish & chips, donuts, and ice cream of 1953 are nearly extinct.
Student fashion has evolved into a painful affair. Pressed slacks, saddle shoes, and long wool skirts of 1953 seem a nuisance. But even the masochistic customs of corsets or Chinese foot-binding pale in comparison to the growing popularity of pierced tongues, lips, belly-buttons, noses, and tattooed body parts of today's student.
Social interaction has changed too. What ever happened to just talking? In-person communication is out. Small talk travels distances through a multitude of mediums--cables, airwaves, monitors, and fingers clicking madly away on keyboards. No need to linger in hallways, doorsteps, or the Beanery. Don't need to stop and chat with Sally. Shoot her an email or catch up with her on Instant Messenger while you're typing your history paper. Jeans pockets bulge with electronic gadgets. Not only are students responsible for homework, books, and activities. They have to remember to charge their instruments, check their phone and text messages, download the most popular songs onto their IPods. In time, digital cameras will become common, integral components of the growing list of gadgets and students will have the added obligation of capturing future split seconds in time, further distracting them from a simple conversation and focusing on the moment. The class of 1953 may find such multitasking brutal; to today's students, it's second nature.
A look at school papers of the two eras bring to light the striking changes in attitudes, fashions, and stretching of societal norms. The most controversial article in the Lincoln Totem during the 1949-53 issues is a debate over which spring sport deserves more merit, Track or Baseball. Girlees Takee Trippee describes the tradition of "gals going with basketball players" meeting at Lun Tings in the U-District at the end of the season. Other stories announce mother-daughter tea times, separate boys and girls assemblies for incoming freshmen, and fashions such as white bucks and saddle shoes. Titles that headline a recent Roosevelt High School paper include Teenage Violence, Illegal Downloading, and Conservative Voice Goes Unheard at RHS.
For all the changes between the class of 1953 and now, some constants remain: students still talk about the New York Yankees during the world series; you can still buy a hamburger on North 45th (you just have to walk further); Swanson's Shoe repair and Apex Cleaners serve the Wallingford public; and the old Lincoln gym, despite the building of a new one decades ago, has not given up its ghost. As for that perfect game in that perfect gym--that's a constant too, as real in my imagination as the wind of youth and the feel of leather between my fingertips.
[Webmaster note: Royce Cameron is the son of our classmate, Alan Cameron. This article appeared in the September 1, 2004 issue of the North Seattle Herald-Outlook.]