BY DEFINITION, high school kids are idiots. If you’ve but one lonely, honest bone in all of your body, you’ll admit that there was no other time in life when the disparity was greater between what you thought you knew and what you actually did know. Add to that the abject insecurity of untamable adolescence, the body and soul itching to lay claim to their place in the world but possessing none of the know-how to do so, and the result is an idiot. A high school kid is a misfit intent on masking that zit-ridden impotence behind a two-beer buzz and the right kind of car, clothes, and music—played as loudly as your parents and the cops will allow. One of the most beautiful things about growing up is that with sufficient distance, you can see clearly the central mystery of those awful, awkward years: In the attempt to forge your own identity, you did everything you could to fit in.
The generalizations become specifics when you talk about individual schools. I graduated from Westlake High School in 1985, and for us, the beer was big-mouthed bottles of Mickey’s malt liquor, the cars were Trans Ams, the clothes were Polo, and the music was Van Halen. At least that was the dream. Room was left for negotiation. You could drive a pickup with a tall enough lift kit, in which case you could also get away with playing Hank Williams Jr. And the variety of beer was in fact secondary to the ability to buy it at all, either by use of a fake driver’s license or, in my own case, a bushy set of age-camouflaging sideburns. (The legal drinking age back then was, after all, only nineteen.) But at Westlake, even if your parents wouldn’t spring for Ralph Lauren, you could still work your way into the in crowd by adopting the right attitude. That meant believing, with every ounce of your being, that all of life was a struggle pitting us against them. We were the Proud, the Persecuted, the Mighty Westlake Chaparrals.
We were in fact off by ourselves in the hills west of Austin, a suburb isolated by more than just geography. There were also the little twin matters of income and race. Westlake High was rightly regarded as a white-flight school, and of our 1,500 students, barely a handful could be described as being “of color.” Though the Westlake community existed long before public-school integration, the area mushroomed after busing hit Austin in 1980. And because of its natural beauty—high rolling hills thick with cedar and hackberry, bordered on the north by the Colorado River and on the southwest by the Barton Creek Greenbelt—most of the families who could afford to move in were headed by doctors and lawyers and well-heeled businessmen. That