Classic Dishes...

But Please, Call Me Tony

This little tale popped back into my head as I was brushing my teeth this morning, and I don’t think many of The Four Of You have heard it, so I thought we’d get it down in print for the first time. It’s good for a few chucks, anyhow.

The year was 1989. The month, June. I don’t remember exactly which day it was, save to say that I’m pretty sure it was on a Thursday. Nutshell, I was graduating from high school, freezing my ass off in a cap and gown (and yes, dress clothes underneath, you perverts) because it was a windy day and we were in the middle of I Don’t Remember The Name Of The Field Because We Played Home Football Games At The Community College.

I didn’t even want to be there. My existence in high school pretty much consisted of two objectives: 1) keep as low a profile as possible, and 2) get the hell out of there as soon as my four years were up. And, of course, I have regrets. Hindsight being 20/20, if I had it to do over again, I’d have done it completely differently. Outside of class, anyhow. But I digress.

The point is, and this at least remains true to this day, I believe that graduation ceremonies in and of themselves are a big dog and pony show for the parents. This belief was strengthened even further during the rehearsal that morning when the school Gestapo (we had several employees at the school who, as far as I could tell, had no other job than to bust kids for the tiniest of infractions. Unless they were football players. Oh, did I mention said employees were also football coaches? Dammit, there I go digressing again) told us in no uncertain terms that if we failed to follow the script to the letter we would see our Social Security checks before we saw our diplomas. (Back then we were still confident that we’d see Social Security. Remember, Bush The First had only been in office for six months, and he hadn’t started a war yet.)

So I didn’t wanna be there, I actually had plans to go see the premiere of Ghostbusters 2 (again, hindsight) with the Posse that night after the Big Event, but the grandparents were coming in from out of town, and the folks were basically shoving me out there at gunpoint. (I did strike a deal with them, tho. If I walked in high school, I didn’t have to walk when I finished college. Held ’em to it, too.)

But I made the best of it. I was suave and debonair with the girl I was escorting, who I had spoken perhaps three sentences to in four years of schooling, and everytime me and John Kanalakis would pass by each other (which was often, with him being a K and me being an L), we would favor each other with the Political Handshake (the two-handed one where the non-shaking hand grasps the other guy’s extended forearm), just to keep ourselves amused. Eventually, we’re at our part of the alphabet, and we’re on line to receive our diploma folders (because, remember, they weren’t actually going to let us have the official documents until the gig was completed), a hearty handshake and a few parting words from the administration.

During all of this, I’m listening to the PA system, where the students names were being read, wondering if my name would be butchered one more time. See, my given name is Jon Christopher Lemon, but because my parents have a sick sense of humor, I’ve become accustomed to being called Chris, to the point that I actively dislike being called by my given first name. (I swore I would change it officially when I turned 18. I never have, mainly because I have no faith in the system not to have it muck up any number of potentially important public records. I simply use “Chris Lemon” as my legal name, and leave it at that, save for my driver’s licence, where they force it on me.) So after spending twelve years correcting teachers who couldn’t be bothered to either recognize or remember that I had a prefrerence, I figured, okay, I’m already here against my will, the least these SOB’s can do for me is say my damn name the way I want them to. Inspired, I took great pains that morning to track down someone with a name list and beg them to change it so my name would be read as “Chris Lemon”. I was assured the change would be made, but I had been assured of many things over those four years, so I remained skeptical.

Meanwhile, Jenelisa Lara is receiving her stuff, and soon after that, the Leha’s from Guam had their turn, and then it was my big moment.

“Chris Lemon.”

Hey, kickass, they got it right! On top of that, there were scattered cheers through the class from the gang that I had gone all the way through school with, through Monte Vista Elementary, on to Colton Middle, and then here. (I’d even gone to preschool with three or four of them.) Pretty nice gesture, considering that I’d spent most of my lunch hours for the last two years shut up in the computer lab.

So I step forward to receive my diploma folder thingy, and my Adminstrative Handshake (only the one arm, this time) and Words Of Wisdom from our principal, Mae Johnson.

Now, at Monterey High, the job of principal has little or nothing to do with the actual students. They had vice principals for that. The principal gladhands the mucky-mucks from the district office and puts on a show for the media. Why sully your hands dealing with the paying customers, ya know?

But, part of the job is also to send off the hoi palloi once a year, and so it was that I accepted Mae’s extended hand, she looks me dead in the eye, and offers me the following thought, the last bits of wisdom to be imparted into my being by the public school system:

“Anthony, it’s been a pleasure.”

And if THAT doesn’t sum up four years of high school, I don’t know what does.

3 comments to But Please, Call Me Tony

  • Clay

    Wow. That’s truly amazing.

    Wonder what made it pop into your head today, though.

  • Nick Warren


    So as a fellow MHS graduate, I’ve got ot wonder… did they actually hand out diplomas at your ceremony? When I graduated, they called the names, the principal shook hands with us, and handed up a certificate saying we could pick up our diplomas at room B-12 (or whatever) after the ceremony. I guess they just couldn’t get their shit together enough to actually match up diplomas with the roll sheet.

    By the time I got back the the room it was closed and I didn’t get my diploma. I figured they’d mail it to me someday.

    Eight years later, I still technically don’t have a high school diploma.

    I should really ask about that someday.

  • Clay: Ya know, random shit comes into my head when I’m showering. This was that day’s.

    Nick: No, they just gave us the little folders they store in, and inside was the little scrap of paper you described. As soon as the thing ended and I’d thrown my cap, I made a beeline for the small gym, where they gave us the actual document. I’m surprised they didn’t mail yours to you at some point. It’s not like it’s illegal – San Jose State mailed me my degree.

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