What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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National Lampoon’s 1964 High School Yearbook
by P.J. O’Rourke and Doug Kenney

Field-Tested by Mike Sacks

in Arapahoe, North Carolina

From the ages of twelve to fourteen, I attended a camp on the coast of North Carolina. Left to my own devices, I suppose I would have skipped camp entirely, choosing instead to bicycle around my own neighborhood each and every afternoon, unbothered by ‘rules’ and ‘regulations’ and 17-year-old counselors with nicknames like ‘Buzzy’ and ‘Speed.’ Regardless, I found myself at camp with more than enough time to avoid standard activities. I was good at this, and when not lying prone on the dock, rubbing the undersides of recently-caught Atlantic crabs in order to put them gently to sleep, I would read books.

One book in particular stands out from the rest: National Lampoon’s 1964 High School Yearbook, written and edited by a genius named Doug Kenney. Might it be strange to feel nostalgic for a book about the absurdity of nostalgia? Or to have read a satire of high school before actually entering high school? If so, call me strange. Just don’t call me ‘Buzzy.’

Each detail of the faux yearbook is perfect, from the names of the students, to the descriptions of the various clubs, to the photo captions beneath the group photos. There’s an undercurrent of sadness to it all. One can almost envision a “Where Are They Now,” in which a majority of the students fail to live up to their promising, or not-so-promising, beginnings. Failed hopes and dreams, and all that.

A few years after I first read Yearbook, its main creator, Doug Kenney, tragically and mysteriously died while vacationing in Hawaii. Two decades on, the book has been re-released and you can find it on Amazon. I can think of no better way to spend a summer afternoon than by reading and feeling nostalgic for a high school that never existed, but very well could have. Probably the best kind.

Mike Sacks has written for the Believer, Esquire, GQ, the New Yorker, Radar, Salon, Time, and Vanity Fair. His work can be found at his website.

Buy National Lampoon’s 1964 High School Yearbook

Read the next Field Test by Tobias Seamon