Monday, December 20, 2010

Bak to Skool

A while ago I went to my 30th Anniversary High School Reunion. I had only been to one previous gathering, the 10th, and had a rotten time. The people who wouldn’t talk to me in high school still wouldn’t talk to me, depriving me of any chance to engage in condescendive posturing at my early successes in life and my collegiate-aged growth spurt. It was also the night that I got a phone call from one Florida girlfriend saying she had run into the other Florida girlfriend asking which one I wanted to keep. In retrospect, I gave the wrong answer, which was confirmed not only by short-term loss of relationship and long-term demolition of any chance of reconciliation with said blonde, but also because I learned that it’s not a good sign when you come into your apartment after a weekend away to find a stuffed brontosaurus hanging by the neck in a noose made of a silk tie, swinging a lazy circles from a ceiling fan. I also fumbled a lingerie-scented pass from a beautiful woman I had a crush on for years, but had suffered in silence while she dated one of my friends. So I really don’t have good memories of the experience at all. The only moments that I enjoyed were found sitting at a corner table with one Laurie Thornton who, while not really close friends in high school, I now had a common interest: I was an ED doc, and she was an emergency veterinarian. So we talked quite avidly about various organs and body fluids possessed by various two and four-legged species, and drove away everyone else at the table. (I personally think it was the topic of why cats hiss when you intubate them that did it. Incidentally, this is why you can always tell the ED people eating breakfast after a night shift at Cracker Barrel. In a room full of tables, theirs is the one that nobody wants to sit next to. )

Anyway, I hadn’t been back for any of the other reunions, but the Magic of Facebook got me in touch with some folks from high school, and though it took some doing I got talked into going. I’m glad I did. If it was pretty clear that if the 10th, 20th, and 25th reunions would be about keeping score, this one was more about survival. We’re all on the back side of forty, pushing the half-century mark. Now it’s all about rejoicing not in our achievements, but simply in our continued presence on this earth.

Overall, it was a very nice affair, and I’m very glad I went. I met up with a few friends for a drink beforehand…Jim Cramer, Roger Ramsayer, Missy Webber, Bill Koch… and we all thought we looked pretty good. This was a test hypothesis, or course, but as we came into the hotel ballroom to see the whole group I was glad to see it was generally true. We did look pretty good, for folks older than our parents were when we got out of school. The only thing that could have been better…and this is a very minor and quite selfish point, for the Planning Committee did a great job…is if they had music and dancing, so this nerd could finally sidle up to the hot chicks. (Would have done it, too...had permission from The Bride to flirt my brains out to make up for lost time.)

Later in the evening I’m talking to Brian Youll, who was very close to a good friend of mine who didn’t make it to the party, and up comes Laurie Thornton. It’s wonderful to see her. She looks great. And within ten minutes, we’ve done it again. We start talking our stuff, soon we’ve been left alone, somehow the traffic pattern has pushed us into a corner, and we’re having a grand time. Later in the evening, we get into a conversation with Steve Silbinger, a former classmate who has made his fortune in direct-to-TV products such as Urine-B-Gone. As clinicians intimately acquainted with the bodily fluids of various species, we were probably his most appropriate audience. (Neither of us remembered it, but it also turns out that Laurie and I sat next to each other in the class picture taken in the gym 30 years ago. So maybe it’s fate, and not just fluids.)

A somber part of the evening came with a slide presentation of the dozen or classmates who have already attended the Celestial Graduation. It was very well presented…high school pictures followed by photos of them later in life as well. A few of the people I knew peripherally, but one I knew quite well. You know how in high school you can have people who are your best friends for a month or so, and then you just drift apart, no harm, no foul? For me, Jeff Serrault was one of those guys. Jeff always carried a brief case to school, and we were all convinced he was going to be wildly rich the right way and we would all come beg him for money. He was the one who took me to get my driver’s license one afternoon my senior year. He passed away, and nobody knows where he was or what happened to him. It’s pretty sad.

But given that there’s humor in everything, a curious pattern began to emerge. With several of the deceased…including my friend Jeff Serrault…they showed old photos of them involved in school activities, such as sports teams or the yearbook. And in every photo they showed, whether it was the Literary Society, Student Council, of the Chorus, someone in the “Roll of Gone Before” was sitting next to Ann Lowry. As was I at that very minute. Coincidence? Maybe. I shifted in my seat.

Ann was my “friend who was a girl but not my girlfriend” in high school, although by all rights we probably should have been (and we were, for about three hours one post-pubertal night in college, but even that only went so far. I mean, it was ANN). Both student council nerds, both literary nerds, both short, both cute as a button. I often went over to Ann’s house to pick her up to do stuff together because, well, we could. Her folks were always great to me, and I still remember they had a small dog named Taffy that, as best I recall, barked and nipped and did very little else, at least while I was around. And so when the plans were made to meet up for the reunion, of course Ann was there, and of course I was going to be sitting next to her, which meant I had unwittingly placed my backside in the Hotel Banquet Chair of Doom. This was confirmed when they handed out a copy of the last issue of the student newspaper of our senior year and there was Ann once again, signing her choral heart out next to another decedent. And as I’m soaking up this tidbit of fate, the evening’s moderator, in a wistful moment, notes that “We’re getting older, so look around because next time some of us won’t be here.”

I had a great time, and I have concluded that I would very much like to attend my 40th high school reunion. But when I do, Ann had better be on the other side of the table.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, if it would be anything but. "Banquet Chair of Doom"...classic.