But for the lack of a good opening paragraph, this article was ready last week. Alas, since I can’t think of anything snappy, funny, or even good to start this off with, this’ll have to do. (I’m terrible at this sort of beginning.) If you were wondering what happened at the 10-year high school reunion that took place a couple of weeks ago (and for which I held a vote on what The Wife should wear), wonder no more. Actually, let me restate that: If you were wondering what happened at the 10-year high school reunion, read this, then wonder no more, since you’ll have then read what went on. Sort of.
(By the way, it would really help if you, you know, carve an onion or poke your eye or something. This is supposed to be read with a tinge of nostalgia. In case you lack that, pain serves as an equally effective substitute.)
Before I start, a note of caution: The following is simply an account of my thoughts and reactions. It is not my intent to judge, demean, or embarrass anyone in any way. As is my policy, no real names are to be used, only nicknames which may at most be identifiable to the people there will be used, unless the person has made a concerted effort to publicize their name, in which case the nickname rule does not apply.
Also, I’ll admit that it’s hard for me to write this without inserting lessons learned upon reflection of the experience itself. I’ll try not to put in too many observations, as it may turn it into something I don’t intend for this to be. You will, however, have to indulge me when I veer off into the reflective route (and I do at the end of the article).
The Evening Begins
The evening began, as so many others do, with a car trip. Of course, this was no ordinary trip, at least not for me. It was a trip through the city of Tampa at night. Now, if you know anything about Tampa it’s that after 6:00 PM it’s a wasteland, a barren slab of concrete, roads, and buildings behind which can sometimes be found danger and intrigue, but mostly just another barren slab of concrete and roads. Alright, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if you’re coming from a town as lively as Fort Lauderdale, it’s really not much of one.
The reunion started at 9:00 PM, and was scheduled to take place in the Hyde Park Cafe, a trendy little open-air club near downtown Tampa. Of course, at that time I was still in Brandon, half an hour away, waiting for The Wife to get ready. While I wanted to be there on time, she insisted we follow the unspoken rule of exuding some sort of faux confidence by being “fashionably late.” I’m sorry, but there’s nothing fashionable about being late. In fact, if you have to start by saying “I’m sorry I’m late” you’ve automatically taken a hit to your position. I think it was my high school band teacher, Mr. Keen, who once said “On time means getting there early. If you get there at the time it starts, you’re late.” (Actually, he didn’t say that so much as he yelled it to the band, but you get the picture.)
By the time we get there it was about 9:30. By “there”, of course, I mean “the general vicinity.” See, like most downtowns, Tampa’s full of one-way roads. This, of course, makes going from one point in the city to another as inconvenient as scratching your right cheek by swinging your left arm behind your neck. After a number of twists and turns provided in large part by MapQuest, we finally got there.
And passed it.
So, we turned around (via another road) and swung by it again.
And passed it again.
By now I was getting pretty… bothered, so after passing it this second time I decided to turn off in a little back street to see if I could swing around to the parking lot, wherever it was. Turns out the back street wasn’t so much a back street as it was a labyrinth, one in which I drove around in for almost 10 minutes before we were told by a guy in an orange blazer I had been aimlessly ambling about the club’s parking.
We got out of the car and trekked the half mile back through the darkness of night, fighting off immortal beasts of prey and summoning spirits and the undead. Alright, so there weren’t any beasties to level up with. And it wasn’t half a mile. And it was fairly well lit. But the rest of it is true. We… trekked there. She looked good, I looked passable, and I was ready to meet with a few living memories.
One thing to remember is that in high school, I didn’t just have self doubt, I had pretty low overall self esteem (thanks be to the culture of hating fat people), my only saving grace being that I could hang out with other nerds with impunity (also, I had fairly good hygiene). This, of course, made me dislike a lot of people then I probably really shouldn’t have.
Here’s the deal: what happened then happened, and while memory does serve to preserve the past it also often teams up with human nature to erase (or at least dull the sting of) those things in which we find no pleasure. Indeed, I find no pleasure in believing of people things which I used to believe of them, things which were birthed from a self absorbed attitude brought about by the coupling of insecurity and doubt.
I therefore made a resolution to enter this meeting a new, casting aside perceptions and misconceptions of the past and instead rely on the rosy-tinted glasses of nostalgia to have done their thing. Simply put, I decided that history would not be destiny. While this may come naturally to people, this does not always come naturally to me. Therefore, the decision to act in such manner as I wished others to approach me was likely the single most important decision made, since it allowed me to enjoy the presence of people there as what they were: friendly folks looking to see how others they grew up with had done in the past decade of “growing up” (if I may use the term). It not only revived old friendships, but also completely obliterated old hatchets, giving birth to friendships anew. How those relationships grow are a complete other matter, if they even grow, but the evening was not to be spoiled by such predilection towards analytical segmentation and predictions. At any rate those which do not grow can stay evergreen in the garden of memories, if not they blossom as life goes on.
Memories Come to Life
As we walked in I spotted the first two memories of the night. (From hereon out I will refer to people as memories. Having not spoken to most of them in at least 10 years, at the beginning of the evening they were nothing much more than that to me: physical memories, some good, some not so. Of course, by the end of the evening this perception would change, thereby introducing a new reality.)
Lady Dia and X, two of the three organizers (Lady Dia being, from all appearances, the primary organizer) were greeting folks as they came in. What I found most interesting is how neither of them seemed to have aged a day. Now, that may be simply a matter of perception — those you grew up around will never seem that much older, as your memories mix with their current reality to present you with the person you perceive — but it seems as this was an overarching theme for the evening, one of many. Indeed, physically speaking there would seem be three groups of people: those who had changed (physically) a lot, those who had not changed at all, and the very few in between who had changed just a little. I was told more often than not that I was in the second group. I’ll let the value of that determine its own worth, though I can’t help but wonder whether there can be found in an attic somewhere a picture of me getting older.
Neither The Wife nor I had ever been at the Hyde Park Cafe. It’s a small club in Tampa’s Platt street where the main floor is comprised of an open-air area, flanked on three sides by covered bars, some benches and tables, and to the far right a dance floor. While dark, the lighting made for a perfect mood setter. It was definitely on the classy side. Indeed, the club had a rather nice air about it, which was unexpected, since I’ve convinced myself I hate clubs (a conviction I’ve began to revisit). By the end of the night I had come to the realization that aside from being a place where a guy could convince a drunk girl to let him in, clubs also serve as wonderful writing environments (I lamented the fact that I had neither a pen nor a notepad with me during the evening), as well as being great for people watching, extending past the obvious prurient interests. In fact, as a writer I can’t imagine why one wouldn’t want to go to a club and start a few conversations. After a few drinks people will give you all sorts of interesting tales. If you’ve read a few people skill books you don’t even need them to have drunk: the environment has a tendency to reveal a side of people they wouldn’t otherwise show.
Once in, it wasn’t thirty seconds before I saw the next memory, Myst. Myst and I had known each other since about the time I moved to the United States (although I’m not entirely sure she recognizes that fact). Like so many of the stories I would hear throughout the evening, Myst had found a career as a teacher. It wasn’t surprising: her mom is (was?) a teacher, and Myst was always obviously respectful of the position.
As we spoke, another memory, Viol (accompanied by her new fiance), stopped by and said hi, quickly followed by Groovy. Viol and I had a somewhat accidental friendship in that we were only friends because we kept going to the same school and playing in the orchestra. Viol, as her name implies, played in the string section. This friendship culminated in our going to prom together, a prom which ended up with both of us somewhat pissed at each other: she wanted to talk with friends and I wanted to dance. Still, I love her just the same.
As for Groovy, since our last meeting she’s gone from ex-radio jock to rocket scientist. Seriously. (Yeah, I did a double-take, too.) Turns out she went to school for six months and was able to get the degree from an online study cou… wait, six months? Online study course? I’m missing something here, aren’t I? (I believe my half-joking words were “Sounds like a mail-order degree.”) Anyway, a few minutes later we got to meet Groovy’s boyfriend, whose inebriation would later be responsible for her early exit from the reunion. (When the large, muscle-bound men came looking for them she knew it was time to go.)
It was at about that time that I realized we had been standing in the same spot, right in the middle of one of the main entrances to both the bars and the dance floor. Instead of just moving to the side, we decided to move along: there were a lot of people I was hoping to see. The next couple we saw were July and Ferris. I wasn’t surprised to find out that July was a teacher (she always did have that teacheresque feel about her; the good kind of teacheresque feel, like what you get with a good first grade teacher, not the bad kind that you get with a nasty high school English teacher). I was, however, surprised that her husband Ferris became a teacher. Seriously, picture Ferris Bueller (hence the nickname). Now make him school principal. Yeah, it’s that strange. Don’t get me wrong, he was a nice guy, but this was definitely unexpected. For the record, July and Ferris have been together in some way for 12 years. High school sweethearts, indeed.
After the short conversation with July and Ferris, we moved on to the area with the tables and food. This is where we’d end up spending most of the night, crammed right along with everyone else, but with just enough room to keep it from being annoying.
Side Note: After you’ve talked to a person, do you keep saying “hi” to them (even if it is with visual queues only) every time you make eye contact with them (by the mere fact that you two just happen to be looking at each other at that time for some inexplicable reason), do you purposely try to coolly avoid their gaze, or do you simply not react? The first gets annoying after the first three or four times; the second is a lot of work and planning, and makes you look like there’s something wrong; and the third, unless done juuuust right, can make you look like an asshole in a Sartre novel. Nevertheless, must we make small talk every time we pass?
By this time it was 10:00 PM. I looked around and saw a number of people, almost all of whom I recognized: Mulch, Row-Sh, Spanky, WithAuthority… the list went on. Of course, getting there fashionably late meant that new faces would keep showing up until later in the evening.
It is often said that at a high school reunion, the years come right off and you sink back to your usual roles. Within a few minutes, I found out what that meant, as I stood behind a large group of folks who I intended to talk to, folks who I had been very close to in high school, but who were so focused on their own conversations that they didn’t notice me, even after I said “hi.” Not a problem. It was a club, it was dark, it was loud, and I had a choice: stand there and wait until they finished or move on and talk to other people.
I moved on.
This was in breaking with my then-traditional pattern of action, especially since — and I’ll be completely transparent here — I didn’t really like a lot of these people in school. However, I realized a long time ago that this had less to do with them and much, much more to do with my perception of them. In short, it was my fault, not theirs. I’m not sure whether an apology is in order, but if it is, then it is theirs. I am reminded of the following saying:
When you’re 18 you’re worried about what everyone else thinks about you.
When you’re 40 you don’t care what anyone thinks about you.
When you’re 60 you realize that no one’s been thinking about you.
Herein then lies yet another truth: that while it is preferable to be talked about well, the only thing worse than being talked about badly is not being talked about at all.
I walked away from this first group (I would come back to meet with them later in the evening, anyway) and was able to catch up with WithAuthority, a friend from high school and my roommate from college. He’s now a former Iraq veteran who works with computer networks. He remembered The Wife because it was when I roomed with him that she and I met. Calling back memories, of course, was easy: his slutty ex-girlfriend now running a massage parlor, our ritual of waving pillows at the smoke detector in the dorm after one of us burned food, watching Patton, getting mugged… the list went on.
Afterwards I met with Spanky and her husband, SuperTrooper. Spanky and I had been in band together, and while she and I weren’t exactly what you called “friends” in school, we were by no means unfriendly to each other. (In fact, she was one of these very people who I had an unfavorable perception of for no good reason.) While the first, this would not be the last time during the evening where I would meet someone who I hadn’t been particularly close with and held a full, productive, and thoroughly enjoyable conversation. Of course, it didn’t start out that way. As soon as Spanky introduced me to SuperTrooper, I quieted down. The guy, as the name implies, is a state trooper. While I’m not exactly a speed demon on the road (you’ll rarely find me being aggressive behind the wheel, unless I’m in Miami, where it’s a requirement) I didn’t quite know how to react to that. If I wanted to make them laugh, this was the way to do it. “Gnorb, I… noticed you went a little silent there.”
As expected, SuperTrooper’s main concern was “Do I recognize anyone here who I’ve tailed?” I’ll leave you to guess why.
Towards the end of our conversation, Spanky mentioned that we should all take pictured. It wasn’t until I spoke with Spanky that I remembered I was toting a camera around. I don’t mean my camera phone, I mean my real-live camera. Needless to say my lack of pictures can be directly attributed to this bout of forgetful stupidity.
Off in the distance, surrounded by groups of adoring fans, there was Mulch, the class Salutatorian. Most of the class remembered his brief, five minute graduation speech, which when compared to the Valedictorian’s 15-minute ramble, would end up seeming like one of the greatest speeches of all time. (Move over, Churchill.) Yet it was our experiences during college, where we took programming classes together, that he and I really shared, mostly because we didn’t have any classes together in high school, even though we knew of each other. (There’s a lot of that in high school, isn’t there? Of knowing of each other, but not actually knowing each other.) As the evening wore on, it would be Mulch and Matt with whom The Wife and I would be spending most of our time.
An interesting aside, Mulch’s date to the prom, Tiny, wasn’t there at the reunion, yet I remember talking to her after that prom. Tiny was mad because Mulch wouldn’t dance, and we agreed we should have gone with each other, instead of she with Mulch and me with Viol. Of course, this would have been fairly interesting considering I’m 6’1 and Tiny was around 5’0.
As the evening wore on, there were other people we met with. Some I had known well in high school. Some I had reconnected with via MySpace and had a close relationship because of it. Of course, I was highly disappointed that some people were not there (or, if they were there, that I had did not see them), many whom I had expected to be there (not because they were on any list, but because — well, I was convinced that it just wouldn’t be the same without them there). Alas, the turnout, while better than expected according to Lady Dia, it was indeed far too few. By the end of the night, 70 of our classmates had shown up. Our graduating class was something close to 250, if I recall correctly. (Missing notables included the little group made up of Pez, Zapatero, Cloud H, and Mustang, who WithAuthority and I hung out with; Nym, whose wedding I’ll be attending next month; Bob, who amazed me with her breadth of knowledge and erudite manner; and a host of others.)
Something I haven’t quite alluded to but I find fair to talk about is marriage, since many of the folks I met that evening were married, and who, like the wife, were not part of our graduating class. It seems that the married/non-married split was about 50/50, with those who were married almost always having already had kids, those who weren’t married not yet having had any kids (I don’t remember there being any single parents), and those who were left falling into the minority category of being both married and sans children. (Indeed, I can think of only four couples, myself and The Wife included, who did not yet have kids. The other three were KioYou and her husband (whose name escapes me); Von and his wife Melllvar; and SisterOfTheKorn and Ghost.)
Towards the end of the evening, Matt, Mulch and I were reflecting on the fact that a decade already passed. “Ten years,” said Mulch, reflective of both the evening and life since.
“The question,” I responded, “is whether or not you would trade the wisdom that has come with ten years of experience for the youth enjoyed then. Have you grown? Are you a better person today than you were then? If the answer is no, that you would not trade the wisdom for youth, then the past ten years have indeed been worth it. If the answer’s yes, if you would trade who you are today for who you were then, then perhaps you should take a long look at your own life.”
Then Mulch started crying. Jokingly, of course.
So then did the hours pass, and as they did the bar took its toll on the crowd’s overall IQ. Indeed, this was a testimony to the great power of Bacchus. Lips flapped, arms flailed, and emotions poured out confessions of unwarranted affection and attention. This included actions, better left untold, which took place much to the prurient pleasure of onlookers (for those who are into that sort of thing). As it is, I tend not to like hanging around with drunk people for too long, so it was about this time that I decided goodbyes were in order. I wasn’t the only one doing so, however: SuperTrooper, who was leading his increasingly affectionate wife out of the club, felt it was about that time as well.
(For the record, my drinking there consisted of one cup of Kahlua with non-dairy cream. The Wife had only some nameless fruity drink. Neither of us was particularly buzzed.)
As I began saying my goodbyes, I noticed there were some people I knew who I had not yet had a chance to catch up with. While my intent was to meet with them (if even for a brief moment), I will confess that not all went as well as I had hoped. While I intended to catch up with these people — at the very least to say “hi, I acknowledge your existence” — I realized after leaving the club that, regretfully, I did not even do that. In fact, I can distinctly remember one instance towards the end of the evening, when I was saying my goodbyes, where I brainlessly blew someone off. I had intended to say a quick hello to this person and instead got caught up in saying goodbye to someone else, forgetting entirely half of my purpose there. Cut me some slack here: it was 1:30 AM and I had gone 48 hours on about five hours of sleep. Nevertheless, to these people I apologize. In fact, I intend make an effort to contact them and, if you will, make amends for my grievous forgetfulness. It was not my intent to be rude, nor have you faded from my memory. Rather, my memory faded from me at that particular instance.
One Last Hit
The last event worth mentioning came just as The Wife and I were about to exit. I noticed a girl, G2, who I had apparently just recently arrived. While I recognized her only vaguely (one of those “know of them” instead of “know them” situations), I decided to say hello. (She would go on to remind me that she had a twin.)Throughout the conversation, I found out that she’s been working as a writer for one of the local Tampa papers, doing music and concert reviews. (She had just come from a concert and was there with her editor.) In fact, she was the only other writer there, aside from Matt and I.
What was really interesting, however, was the interest G2 took on The Wife. As we were chatting — or rather, yelling at each other hoping the other could hear above the music — she started telling us how she thought The Wife looked so beautiful, what a precious jewel she was, how lucky I was to have her… Whatever. She was obviously drunk, and it seemed as if the air made her drunker. She even asked me how it was that I found such a precious jewel.
“You want the facts or you want the truth?” I asked.
“What’s the difference?”
“The fact was that I found her in a bookstore. The truth is I found her when I looked inside myself.”
Yes, that scored me some points.
As the conversation wore on, G2 kept gushing about The Wife. At one point her editor, Ed, tried to stop her, but when she ignored him he simply sank back into the stool he was watching her from. As G2 continued to gush, her voice got higher and higher. So much so that I half expected dolphins and dogs to march into the club, seeking retribution.
Matt’s girlfriend caught the moment best by asking me, “You mean you can hear after that?”
“WHAT?” was the only thing I could respond. It got the point across.
As we left the club, I asked The Wife that while it may just have been me, it almost seemed as if G2 was hitting on her. The Wife agreed. Before I could catch my own words I found myself saying “Well, she’s cute. That would be hot.”
Remember those points? Yeah. Blasted away by laser beams shooting from The Wife’s now incredulous eyes. I blamed the comment on being tired, which got me off the hook somewhat, but didn’t get my points back.
On the way home I reflected on the evening with The Wife. We talked about the club (and why we should find some like that in Fort Lauderdale/Miami), the people, and observations we both made. While hers revolved mostly how people acted and looked (she was, after all, meeting all these people for the first time), I got a chance to reflect on myself and some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years. Here are some of the realizations I made:
- I wasn’t the only person with insecurities and doubts, not the only one thinking “these people won’t like me because…” and whatever the reason I made up was (usually “I’m too fat”). (Yes, feel free to say “duh.” I did.) I was just to self absorbed to notice that others were going through the same thing, and it took at meeting 10 years later to see what I already knew. Lesson: people are going through the same things, have gone through the same things, or will go through the same things that you are going, have gone, or will go through. Very rarely is this proven any different. This is also the perfect excuse to allow yourself to seek advice from others without feeling inferior to them in some way. (It was a conversation with Mulch which embodied this realization.)
- Tampa has only 2 degrees of separation between people. If you don’t know someone, you probably know someone who knows them, and you definitely know someone who knows someone who knows them.
- Don’t make assumptions about people. You have no idea what’s going on in their minds so until proven otherwise, assume it’s positive. Most of the time it is. When it isn’t, the problem’s usually with them.
- Of course, if one person tells you something, you can ignore them. If two (unrelated) people tell you something, perk up your ears, but don’t pay too much attention. If three (unrelated) people tell you something, pay attention.
- If someone doesn’t like you, that’s their problem. If no one likes you that’s your problem: look within for the answer. (See #3.)
- Hopefully your reputation precedes you. While it’s nice to be talked about in a good way, the only thing worse than being talked about badly is not being talked about at all.
So here then ends the tale. If you were at the reunion (or weren’t able to go), please don’t hesitate to sound off here. I’d love to read some of your reactions to the evening’s events, as well as your observations thereof. If you have pictures you’ve posted up (or want to post up) go ahead and post the link. You can host the images over at Flickr or Image Shack for free, or if you REALLY feel like it you can send them to me and I can host them. (My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, though please, no files over 20MB.)
With that, here’s hoping to another great reunion in 10 years.
Hey, wait a minute! What about pics of you and The Wife?!
Oh yeah. About those. We… uhm… forgot to take one. Sorry.