Reason? There are two kinds of kids in high school: the In-Crowd and…well…the rest of us. I view my persona in high school sort of like a young bird in a strange nest. I was 100% half-baked, had no idea (to carry-on the metaphor) whether I was a duck, an eagle, a robin, or possibly a cassowary.
Growing up in deep countryside, I had one kid who lived close, but he only commuted out from New York City on Friday nights. As such, I didn’t have scores of instant friends to rely on. Worse, where I lived there was zero blacktop, zero anything close to level ground, so learning how to dribble a basketball was a bit of a challenge. A consequence of this is I don’t really like basketball all that much. I did, however, manage to accumulate a small but weird group of kids who were in a similar predicament. Most were smart. Some were funny as hell, a few were even good-looking, but we all shared the reality of NOT being part of the “In-Crowd”. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have had it any other way… I look back on it as a tempering process. I’m tempered as hell.
Mostly, I concentrated on two things: doing well in school, and GIRLS. At the time, hanging out on a Friday night with guys never, ever, ever measured-up against asking a girl out. It was no contest whatsoever. That really hasn’t changed all that much. I’ve usually had a handful of thoughtful people to bounce ideas off, and that’s been enough.
Girls: With few exceptions, the only great relationships I had at West Morris Regional, were with the girls I dated. I dated long and seriously and sometimes extravagantly…and it set me up well for college. So…why a high school reunion? I’m really not sure.
For me, cold-bloodedly, the only reasons I would have gone to one, would have been: 1. to see an old flame from long ago. (This is always a dangerous and most likely a bad idea.) or, 2., to show old peers that I didn’t do that badly. I’ve done STUFF, braggable stuff, flown fighters, made sculptures for presidents, CEOs and other famous people, published books and novels and received US patents. Yeah, okay, I’ve done some stuff. But I don’t imagine others have just vegged-out for the past 50 years.
Human nature being what it is, we rarely think of that. We’ve grown, lived exciting lives and everyone else has remained in our little memory bubble, timeless and perfect. So…what’s the point here? At the very best, I could arrive and make someone I didn’t like feel like crap for an hour or so . BFD. I am, on rare occasions, shallow, but I’m not that shallow. Let’s flip the equation the other way:
What about the guys and gals that have made it farther than I have? I haven’t kept in touch, but I saw one friend/acquaintance who’s a doctor at Johns Hopkins. Nice guy. Happy for him. That’s about it. If the entire class went on to get Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, I’d probably have a quick drink and slip the hell out. I don’t think that happened. Seriously, my only curiosity would be toward the girls I dated and fell for. I still wonder what they did, who they became, if they’re happy, do they remember? But again, that’s dangerous territory and if you do a little research, reunions and tracking old flames down on Facebook are two of the prime causes of divorce. I kid you not.
Grosse Pointe Blank: What do you talk about at a Reunion? The only movie I ever saw that sort of rang true to what I expect my high school reunion would be like, would be Grosse Pointe Blank. (John Cusack, Minnie Driver.) Excellent Twinkie of a movie. Except for the fact that Cusack terminates another hit-man during the festivities, it pretty much summed up my attitude and my persona…that of a 1000% outsider. The Pointe of this is: You spend a few years, a few classes with some people while you’re all still in the larval stage, and then 30, 40, 50 years later you get together and talk about how great everything used to be. Or, you try to wisely paste-over half a century and talk about who you are now. That’s a good strategy for about ten minutes, but you’re a fire marshal and your old buddy is a philo professor or sells real estate. Quickly the time comes to freshen your drink, reload and repeat. The friendships that have endured, endure in spite of reunions, not because of them.
College Reunions: I’ve made some lifelong friendships at Franklin and Marshall College, though once again, not a cast of thousands, just a small handful. Proud of that. Once again, I focused on studying and dating. I have a profound curiosity about the gals I dated…as well as the couple of relationships that went deep south, into the dumpster. A moment of very shallow candor: A couple of times on a book tour I imagined an old sweetheart coming in, (preferably one that dumped me). I look up and smile, “Hi Analee, Hi Lydia, Hi Susie. Like my new book? You do? Well, then....nyah, nyah, nyah… ” (I understand about 90% of writers fantasize this very scenario at some point in their lives.) A truly embarrassingly shallow reason to write a book…and yet it works.
What you see when you arrive: Joe Walsh of The Eagles, summed it up succinctly: “Everybody’s so different….I haven’t changed.” That’s how everyone feels at a reunion and….uhmm…yeah, right, that makes a lot of sense… You’ve had 50 years to gradually become accustomed to all those changes. However, most of your reunion mates are seeing the new you for the first time, or possibly the first time in 10 or 20 years. We change, and mostly not for the better, at least physically speaking.
Our loved ones, our mates have grown with us as well and in that regard, love actually is quite kind. “You still look GREAT, sweetie! ” “Really?” “Yeah, ya do!!!” For the rest of mankind, or reunion-kind however, there’s often an undercurrent. What the HELL happened to (fill in the blank)? Worse than that, if your name tag falls off, people squint at you and try to figure out who this old fart is. “Yeah, we sat next to each other in Mr. Mathews’ physics class. Remember?” “Hey, wait a minute. Who are you?”
As hard as I have been regarding my own reunion, I was 1000% positive it would be better for Pamela, who, at the time, attended first Centenary, then Briarcliff in the ultra-wealthy section of New York. Both were exclusively girls’ colleges. I was sure that girls would have a much tighter, much closer, much more honest version of a reunion. Well…..
We arrived early, possibly to capture some sort of beachhead. A small group of Pam’s friends showed up soon after. Much laughter, giggling…YES! Maybe I was wrong! But then right on cue for what would be a B-movie, Alpha-Woman -Wanna-be showed up, intent on snapping her fingers and having everyone fall into line. Pam and I and her tiny cadre were still giggling and laughing, which strangely seemed to annoy Alpha Woman. She decided we were to ALL begin a tour of the campus…right now. Chop chop…
Pam suggested we wait for two gals who had just called and were just then pulling on campus. (One had flown in from Denver to be there.) Alpha Woman wanted nothing of this and proceeded to make it a show-down right there. Not sure what she did for a living, possibly a warden at a women’s prison? We suggested that we could wait another two minutes and with that the battle lines were drawn. This silliness was to continue for the rest of the day and into the evening. One group stuck with us and waited till the two others showed up. The other group marched-off and I mean that almost literally. It got worse during the course of the day. I wondered aloud whether Alpha-Woman hand-crafted some sort of battle plans for the day. Very strange. We all laugh about it now, but….geez , it was a reunion, the intent was to catch-up on old times and maybe laugh a bit.
Another reality regarding Reunions: If you miss a few, a thin impregnable membrane forms around you. You just don’t skip five reunions and expect to just show up at the 50th. In short, you didn’t pay your dues. It’s times like these that Pamela and I have the ability to conjure up great and highly animated conversations, laugh a bit too loud, hang around the punch bowl, wave at far-away visible non-existent friends as stars and politicians do…at which point I reach around in my pocket to see where I put the car keys.
If ever there were a case to be made for making the 50th, this would be the year! Got the cool car. Got the credentials. …..I still have hair!!! I don’t weigh 380 pounds, and best of all, with all that practice dating, I finally got my grand amour of near 50 years now. What else to you need? Some plausible reason to go.