Monday, August 18, 2014

Was Hair Style the Predictor? Reflections on a High School Reunion

     Combing the statistical data supplied by hairstyles, letter jackets, alcohol, witticisms and clubs, we thought we could do it.  Predict the patterns of success, resiliency of romances and the sweetness that would be due the good ones and the bitterness the bad.  Walking the slick linoleum hallways past the rattling locker doors, we absorbed any detail of worth.  The passing glances begging for some confirmation, the cut of clothes, color of socks, papers crammed in books, chewed pencil erasers and those hairstyles.  We knew so little.  We knew so much.

     Back in high school the sincerity with which we held our convictions masked the fear that edged the possibilities of statistical error.  Pass or fail.  Our teachers made it look easy. They spotted those who “did not live up to their potential” or deserved straight A’s.  They graded on a bell curve, a lesson that there were five ways to being an adult.  (Only five.) Did B’s mean we would be B’s all our life?  What if we had some D’s or F’s or overslept and missed an interview, a wedding or a blessing?  What if we missed life altogether, insanity, car crashes or simply “did not live up to our potential”?  We were wary of statistical inaccuracies, methodologies gone awry.  But what could we do, but predict with the variables at hand weighting each with adolescent confidence.

     Now at sixty-five at a reunion we check our old predictions and then remember that Reno High School didn’t offer a class in statistics.  We were winging it in the halls, learning it in on the fly.  Those black and white yearbook photos with slicked and coiffured hairdos were the final exam.  We knew so much.  

     No one remembered to bring a copy of the yearbook to the reunion, the final exam of hairstyle = success.  We had to start over. Parsing data from new variables that were weighted this time with the wisdom that we lacked as high schoolers.  "What was your name again?"  "Oh, yeah."  But now you are looking me in the eye.  You didn’t do that in high school.  We can hold a gaze and ask questions that we might not have dared back then.  The questions solicit a multitude of correlations, lurking variables which we had neglected previously, too many stats to keep in the head.  Your hair is grey now even under those dyes.  Does your hairstyle say you had a good life, lovely kids, illness, grief, satisfying work or happiness?  Or did hairstyle become statistically insignificant some years back?  We knew so little.  We thought we knew so much.  

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