GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
From PRX and NPR, welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Reunion" episode. My name is Glynn Washington, and today on the show, we're revisiting issues from time past. Now, sensitive listeners and those with young children should know that this story does contain some actions your mother would never approve of. And we here at SNAP JUDGMENT, we certainly don't approve either. Our own Stephanie Foo in conversation with Andrea Wachner has the story.
STEPHANIE FOO, BYLINE: In high school, Andrea Wachner acted in Shakespeare's "Romeo And Juliet." She was Third Serving Wench.
ANDREA WACHNER: In high school, I was a total drama geek. I did - I was in all the plays and thespian club.
FOO: And at Palos Verdes Peninsula High, being Third Serving Wench was not very cool. The school's in Southern California.
WACHNER: The kind of place where, when you came back from summer vacation, people would have different noses. And on your 16th birthday, it was pretty standard practice to receive a brand-new BMW or a Mercedes.
FOO: So even though nobody bullied her or anything like that, Andrea just felt left out.
WACHNER: I felt like I did not fit in. And so then it becomes, well, how do I make it through every day? How do I get out of here alive? So I tried to make it as fun as I could. I played games; I told jokes; I played pranks on people; I got in trouble in class. I was a smartass. I was more than relieved to get out of there. In fact, I vowed never to return.
FOO: And she didn't. After graduation, Andrea moved across the country to New York. And she pretty much forgot about high school until 10 years later.
WACHNER: Getting the invitation to my high school reunion was as if I had received a piece of mail that was covered in spiders. I think I literally dropped it to the floor and screamed. It was terrifying. It was horrifying. A lot of people that may or may not have known me trapped inside of a room - and that's when it hit me that this was a room full of sitting ducks. There was a way to sort of play with that situation. You know, what's the best worst thing I could do in the situation? I had the idea to send someone in my stead. I think stripper was the first thought I had.
FOO: Yes. Andrea decided to hire a stripper to impersonate her at her high school reunion.
WACHNER: It was such a great fit.
FOO: Because a stripper would be, like, the most unlikely thing for you to have become?
WACHNER: Yeah, no one's going to look at me and be like, that's a sexpot. Yeah, sure, it says a lot about what I think about my own sexuality. But, I mean, the whole point of reunion is to put your best foot forward, and I say I took the notion of a high school reunion and I flipped it on its head.
So I had to make two trips to California before the actual reunion to sort of find out where the reunion was - scoping out the scene and getting prepared and go stripper shopping. I had never been to a strip club before, so then I quickly realized that strippers don't look like me.
FOO: And what do you look like, to clarify?
WACHNER: What do I look like? Anne Frank. It was so funny. It was like with every girl that took the stage, it was less and less likely that she could be me. Like, the first woman was African-American. The next woman was, like, 70 years old. And then the next lady was a beautiful Hawaiian girl, and it was just like, oh, my God. But then this dancer named Cricket was introduced, and the second she took the stage, it was a transcendental love-at-first-sight kind of moment. She was absolutely breathtaking. And literally, before I could even finish my question, she said yes.
FOO: So she looked kind of like you.
WACHNER: I kind of think she looks more like Bjork than like me. But with the glasses, you know, it was not as hard to sell.
FOO: But really pulling this off was going to be much more complicated than finding a vaguely Jewish-looking stripper. And if it worked, she wanted a souvenir. So she decided to get the entire thing on camera.
WACHNER: So I hired one of the sound guys from the show "Punk'd," and he brought a crew with him.
FOO: A crew which set up the headquarters in a room they rented directly above the ballroom where the reunion was to take place.
WACHNER: So we had two cameras following Cricket around all night. The main camera had wireless transmission, so I could see whatever that camera was filming. So Cricket had a tiny wireless earpiece in her ear, and she had a microphone that was hooked into bra. So I could hear everything that she was saying, and I could feed her information right into her ear.
FOO: The night of the reunion, Cricket waltzed into the headquarters, late.
WACHNER: She's wearing this black, lace, silk slip as a dress, black-and-white thigh-highs. She has eight-and-a-half inch platform, patent-leather stiletto boots. She's got a full face of makeup that includes bedazzling. And as she was leaving I felt a little bit like a coach sending their team off to play. And I tried to give her, like, a rallying come-to-Jesus kind of pep talk. No matter what they say, no matter what happens, you are Andrea Wachner. Do not back down.
FOO: And then Andrea Wachner sent Andrea Wachner into the lion's den - or the Panther's den, rather. That's their mascot.
WACHNER: She walked in, and it's, like, this huge crowd, right? And they're all drinking, and they all know each other. And she knows no one. And literally within the first, I think, minute, she's, like, making her way to the bar. She literally dove boob-first into this crowd, and she bumped into someone and she goes...
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CRICKET: Oh did my [bleep] in the way? Sorry.
WACHNER: It was just amazing. She walked right up to people and was introducing herself as me. And I could see in the background right away that people were pointing at her and pointing at her boots and going, no way, no way, that is not her. I informed her that all this was going on behind her back, so she would walk right up to them, and be like, hi, how are you?
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CRICKET: It's been a while. Thank you, you look good, too. How have you been?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Pretty good. I do remember Andrea Wachner.
WACHNER: You know, and there were certainly people who wanted proof right off the bat that she was her. You know, tell me something that only Andrea would know. If I had a chance, I would give her something that usually was, like, the first thing that popped into my head about someone - which, one of the best examples of it that working was this guy that I grew up, and we have the same birthday.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CRICKET: You have the same birthday as me. How have you been?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It is you because you know that.
WACHNER: For the most part, everyone there believed it was me.
FOO: And here's the ironic thing - the fact that Cricket hadn't gone to school with any of these people, that actually kind of helped her fit in better.
WACHNER: Everybody else came into it with so much pretense. And she had none of it. She walked into this situation with wide eyes and a genuine interest in everyone. That's what made her win them over, right? She was interested in who they were in a way that other people weren't necessarily.
FOO: But even though Andrea's classmates liked Cricket enough as a novelty - cracking jokes and dancing with her - most of them wanted to eat dinner in polite company. In other words, no strippers allowed.
WACHNER: Dinner was a buffet. Nobody wanted her to sit at their table with them. They were pretty rude actually. There were clearly open seats, and they told her that it was taken or whatever. And it was, like, the cliche of being in high school and trying to find a spot to sit in the cafeteria - like, where do I belong, and who should I sit with? She finally found her spot with the band geeks, and I just thought that was so lovely. So thank you to the band geeks.
We had decided that she was definitely going to dance. That was kind of like, if you're going to send a stripper to your high school reunion, she kind of has to strip. So I sort of reflected on my high school years, and I picked the song that I thought was the most poignant. I picked "Stay" by Lisa Loeb. So she just dragged a chair from one of the tables up to the dance floor and just had a go at it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY")
LISA LOEB: (Singing) You say I only hear what I want to.
WACHNER: I just sat there and watched in complete awe, everybody whipping out whatever device they had to document it. People were literally running back into the ballroom from outside in the hallway, and then there, you know, was a whole contingency of people who were horrified and offended. And then there were some really fun ladies who were like screaming, take it all off. They went up, threw money at her, which - my favorite part of the story is they picked up off the floor and took back afterwards. I don't quite understand that. She was just incredible, incredible.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY")
LOEB: (Singing) Yeah, I missed you.
WACHNER: Take a bow, take a bow. As soon as she was done, as soon as the song ended, she informed us...
CRICKET: I lost the earpiece. The earpiece fell out.
WACHNER: So that was probably the most stressful. And I'm an idiot screaming into the microphone.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
WACHNER: It's on the floor. It's on the dance floor right in front of you, right in front of you. Oh, she can't hear me, she can't hear me.
CRICKET: I actually lost an earring.
WACHNER: But we eventually found it and put it back in, and it was fine. We stayed there for probably, I'd say, another half an hour. She gave some lap dances and was informed that whether she was me or not, they liked her better, which I think is, you know, the message to take away from all of this.
FOO: Eventually the camera crew and Cricket came back up to the hotel room.
WACHNER: What I thought was so amazing about Cricket was the first thing she said was, now I understand why you didn't want to go. I was glad I had done it, and I was so thankful. I was just amazed at how well it had gone. And I knew right away that I had more than enough material to make something good.
FOO: Andrea started to cut together a short documentary of her night.
WACHNER: And at some point, I put the six-minute trailer up on YouTube. And somebody contacted me from abcnews.com. She asked if she could interview me.
FOO: Andrea's story went online in the middle of the night.
WACHNER: And at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning, my landline started ringing off the hook. And by 10 o'clock that morning, "Good Morning America" had a whole film crew in my living room, and the whole thing just sort of exploded. And then certainly, the cat was out of the proverbial bag.
FOO: So this was the first time that most of Andrea's classmates realized that they hadn't partied with the real Andrea.
WACHNER: I was threatened with several lawsuits - you know, one person in particular. And it surprises me that she's upset because we actually were friends in high school. And that is interesting because you would think that if they knew me, then they shouldn't be surprised or upset. But at the same time, it's like, well, of course it's them 'cause why would anyone else care?
There were some horribly mean things that people said. I'm not talking superficial mean, like she's ugly, which I got a lot of that, too. Somebody said, don't feel too bad, guys, her dad died a few years ago and she deserved it or, you know, something like that. How can that not hurt? It of course makes you feel guilty, and I wouldn't be human if it didn't. You know, a lot of people accused me of exploiting them and the night, and certainly I did. And, you know, my therapist can give you a dollar amount of how much I have spent talking to her about it.
FOO: But a lot of that guilt dissipated as more emails started coming in. Turned out, there were plenty of people who hated high school just as much as she did.
WACHNER: I heard from a lot of people from my class that also didn't go to the reunion and heard about it and took the time to reach out to me and tell me how funny they thought it was. And it made me realize, like, these are the people I should have known in high school, and I didn't take the time to know them. And I should have because maybe I would've had a better time. But this actually brought them to the foreground in a way that they never would have otherwise.
FOO: So this actually facilitated, like, a better reunion for you. It did all the things that a reunion is supposed to do. Have you kept in contact with any of them?
WACHNER: Yeah, I have more friends on Facebook from my high school than I should rightfully have. I have no regrets about doing it. What I've come to learn about myself is that I'm a late bloomer. At the 10-year mark, I was not ready. Now I can say that, yeah, there are some people I would genuinely like to know again.
WASHINGTON: If you want to see Cricket in action, head on over to snapjudgment.org or irememberandrea.com, where Andrea Wachner's documentary will be available for the very first time. That story was produced by Stephanie Foo. I know what you're thinking, that's not enough SNAP. I need more. The SNAP JUDGMENT podcast - full episodes, pictures, stuff - available for you right now, SNAP nation at snapjudgment.org. Twitter - snapjudgement.org. Yes, SNAP is on Facebook.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has absolutely not granted me the power to speak on their behalf. SNAP deeply regrets any announcements on the contrary. Much love, the CPB. PRX goes by PRX for short, prx.org. And this is not the news. No way is this the news. In fact, you could have been picked on in high school, spent 25 years planning a revenge. And when you run into the auditorium to release the hounds and the doggies start growling at you instead, you would still not be as far away from the news as this is. But this is NPR.
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