Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Reunion -- I love Sweet Home High!

6 p.m. Reunion starts and I am in Dulles International about to board my plane.

7:15 p.m. Plane lands, parents pick me up and we dash over the clear upstate New York highways to get there ASAP.

7:40 p.m. My parents pull into the parking lot of Rizzo's Banchetti. I see three signs taped to the door (two for weddings and one for the Starpoint HS 20th reunion), but none are for Sweet Home High School 1993. I go into the main building and knock on an office door. The manager looks strangely familiar (is that Tom C. without the feathered bangs?) and he tells me that it's around the back and to “go in the door under the green awning.”

7:43 p.m. I enter the banquet room and it's pretty damned empty, maybe 50 percent capacity? The much-touted and looked-forward-to open bar is temporarily (I am hoping) closed. Atop a lone rectangular table in the back sit four silver buffet trays: pasta, chicken, beef (?) and something else so unremarkable i don't remember it (it definitely didn't look appetizing). Some faces are the same, others are older, one is unrecognizable, but none are embarrassingly fat or no one is shiny bald. I am disappointed.

7:44 p.m.: Kerri Z. (one of three people I talk to from high school and one of two people who was supposed to save me a seat) spots me. I walk over and give her a hug as she apologizes about the seat-saving thing not working out.
“No worries,” I tell her. “I just want to get something to eat.”
I also see Linda D-T (another former bandie from the high school days, though she bailed on her inner band geek before the end of high school). She's there with her husband, who like me is overdressed (he might be the only guy with a tie). We hug (linda and I, I shake hands with her husband, Matt). it's good to see her.

Organizer Karen M., who I said I think at most two words to in six years of high school and middle school, starts to welcome me. Then feeling like I might not know who she is, pauses and introduces herself. After about a half-second of regretful awkwardness (like, it's a shame that people are intro-ing themselves) we hug and I say: “Of course I know who you are. Thank you for organizing this. By the way, I think I saw Tom C. He told me where to come. He didn't seem to recognize me.”

“Yeah, he works here. He wouldn't come,” Karen replies.

Apparently, not many other people did either. Of our 265-person class, it looks like maybe 60 in the room, and that includes spouses and guests. My friends and I didn't expect many, but this is lame even to me.

Karen leads me to the greeting table so I can get my pin-on nametag. Whooo-hoooo a chance to stick a hole in my $25 Van Heusen Outlet dress shirt, which I spent like 20 minutes picking out the night before. As I ponder the stabbing of my shirt, I notice that I am perhaps the only guy there wearing a jacket and I feel overdressed. But not bad overdressed. When the rest of the guys there seem to be wearing Dockers and Polo shirts tucked in, I feel the same kind of superiority I felt in high school for a second. OK, I'm shallow and a jerk (the best parts of living out west and growing up back east, right?).

Karen tells me that they made sure to tell the serving staff someone was coming late and not to take the food away. Kerri had relayed my voicemails of my tardiness. I am honestly touched by these gestures. (If sincerity could be conveyed on e-mail, i'd mean it here. Unfortunately when you're as big a jackass as I am most days everything sounds sarcastic).

7:45 p.m.: Lisa A. (at least that was her name in HS) makes room between herself and Kerri so that I can join them at that table. This is a good thing. Suddenly, I'm having a graduation flashback of when Linda and I got separated from all the rest of our friends during the 2-hour ceremony. I think we saved each other's sanity that day, well Linda at least saved mine. She was definitely more popular than me back then and might have been able to make do without me, though if I remember our seats well I think we both would have died a slow death.
Organizer Sara M-F comes over. Again, I've said but a few words to her as well in my whole life, but she's very nice and welcoming, no awkward pause and an actually warm hug between two people who are strangers except for sharing the worst high school name in history. She reminds me that the food awaits. I thank her. But before I head for the food I want to spend time talking with the peeps, especially Linda and Kerri.
Linda and I comment on the over-dressedness. Matt feels it, but is a better person than I am and doesn’t feel the superiority I feel over my classmates.

7:46 p.m. (don't worry the minute-by-minute stuff ends very soon): Directly across the table from me is a very familiar face, and also the noticeable debut of the seemingly-a-tad-too-early-for-this-in-our-lives-PTA mom-hairdo. It's Stacey S., a girl we made fun of for not being very full-figured in high school (at least behind her back b/c that's what HS kids do, gutlessly make fun of people behind their backs in extremely cruel ways). She's married now and honestly, looks pretty good. And honestly, I think to myself, good for her. I am glad to see that she's doing well. We say hellos and the first of many “this is what I'm doing now....” quickies is exchanged. I'm an editor at a teen paper in Los Angeles, she's a nurse and married and with baby number one on the way. Heavy. (I don't remember if uttered that BacktotheFuture reference aloud or just thought it, but i felt indebted to Marty Mcfly).

7:49ish p.m.: Hunger pains. Time to hit the buffet. I walk up and as I am about to start dishing out pasta I am waylaid (sp?) and then nearly strangled in a hug from Sabrina J., my stand partner in band since like fifth grade or something like that. I hug her back... it's cool. I hadn't seen her since like freshman year of college when I ran into her in a store or something. She's one of the top three people on my list of “wouldn't it be cool to see that person....” [none of the others showed] She drags me to her table so I end up eating with her and her husband and some random person who i don't know and barely remember. The hardwired response of “Hey, good to see ya. How ya doin?” comes out and some equally automaton response comes back.
Sabrina proceeds to show me pictures of her 7-year-old son. Holy shit!!! one of my classmates with a 7-year-old, while telling stories to the rest of the table (mainly her husband) about her living off the food I brought to band and how she hated when I was absent because it put more pressure on her in band. Oh well, there are worse things to be known as than the food guy. Btw, her son looks very handsome. I cannot believe that a classmate of mine has a kid that doesn't just look like a chubby, teary mess.

8:05 p.m.: I make it back to my original table and Sara or Karen asks me if I'd like to vote in the class survey. I tell them that as someone who just got there and missed the previous night's icebreaker, it probably wouldn't be fair of me to vote. I learn from some at our table that last night's ice-breaker brought out more people than tonight, which is kinda ridiculous considering open bar and food for $25.
Soon after the awards are handed out. I don't remember much other than Marc E. (at least a guy who claimed to be marc ebert but could have just been some dude off the street wearing his name badge) wins the award for “most changed” and is given a pink plastic purse full of pennies (get it, change?). This kid was baby-face smooth and looked about 13 when we graduated. now it's just some short, chubby dude with a goattee who has clearly had too much to drink. While accepting his award he drops really-bad-movie-comedian jokes like “try the meatloaf” and “i'll be here all week.” Once he gets back to the seat he heckles our organizers for a lame gift which he cannot figure out. Hey, at least he proved my prediction right “someone will drink way too much.”

Deanna P.-Marriednameidon'tremember, a co-organizer and someone i had a bit of a crush on back in the day, wins least changed and gets an empty pink plastic purse. she proudly accepts. It's a deserved award, she looks basically the same and I mean that as a compliment. However, when i look at the table two away from us, I see a guy who actually looks like he was unfrozen for the reunion. He's exactly the same, Craig V. (sp?)

OK enough with the minute-by-minute shit. Soon enough I end up at the bar getting my first of several free Labatt Blue's. When one grows up in WNY one loves Canadian beer. Marc E., who looks as though he's never met a keg he didn't like or a hoagie or a couch, joins me. He recognizes me immediately (hey, i was the only Asian dude in our class) and asks how his fellow “willow ridge [our cookie-cutter housing development's name] homey” is doing? you haven't gone through the looking glass until you've had a short, fat, old-before-his-time-looking, high-school-classmate impostor call you a housing development homey. Noticing his inebriation, I dispense with the “update” reply and immediately go to the one-hand-handshake, one-hand-hug guy greeting and say “of course, dude. I remember you and your football jacket.”

The other Marc Ebert highlight: he got the honor/duty/boobie prize of reading off raffle winners for prizes that i don't even remember they were so cool. When reading the numbers he said stuff like “seven-three-one-six-one-niner.” whooooo-hoooo a tommy boy joke. Suddenly i'm glad i haven't made a Romy and Michelle Post-It joke; but not b/c it would have been lame, but b/c it might have been too sophisticated.

BTW, awards that should been handed out that weren't:

Most inappropriately dressed: Jeanine K.-SOMETHING. Pale greenish colored pants with a sleeveless blouse that sparkled (sparkled, what is this, Jersey?) and was quite low-cut.

Best skin comeback: Andy K. This dude's skin was so bad in junior high and high school that we made up a song parody about it (to Surfin' USA) that led to scandal and resentment and him telling me that he hated my guts.

Biggest disappointment: No one from the seemingly most popular cliques. We told ourselves that that was because they were the ones who had gotten fat and bald so they didn't want to come. Corollary: no one came who was really fat or bald.

Timewarp moment: Stacy S. with her PTA mom haircut and Rich M., a Costanza-like stocky dude, mouthing the words perfectly to Sir Mix-A-Lot's Baby Got Back while I'm trying to enjoy dessert.

Biggest missed opportunity: the friday night icebreaker. in talking to people we found out more people showed up for that and it was a mixed bag with lots of the locals. apparently they just wanted the alcohol and bar scene and not the awkwardness of the “catch-up” moments and “update speeches.”

Most surprising statistic to me: 65 percent with zero kids and none on the way. I estimated that figure would be at like half taht. The second most surprising bit of info.... one of our alums worked as someone who staged scenes for rodeos so worked up to her knees in bullshit. But that wasn't the weirdest way to occupy one's time since graduating... one dude played semi-pro football with thoughts that he had a chance of going somewhere with it. one dude, actually assembled fluid couplings for auto engines (oh wait, that was me).

Most bizarrely hilarious moment that could have stopped the world, or much much worse: Jeanine K.-SOMETHING, our previously referred to winner as most inappropriately dressed was one of the few women to take the dance floor. And continuing the grand tradition of HS, only females were shakin their thing '80s style (lots of clapping in rhythm and shoulder shaking) on the dance floor. While she's getting her groove on (and it's getting more white girl dance with each song) she catches the eye of Andy K., the previously referred to winner of best skin comeback -- acne is gone. [However, that doesn't mean that Andy has loosened up or changed that much. His posture is still straighter than Bob Jones College wants its students and he's also fashionably challenged (Dockers and golf shirt thing), and you can tell he's still a little uncomfortable around people. Actually, I should give him an award for most unlikely to be there.]

Anywayz, Jeanine catches his eye and she smiles in a kind of slightly intoxicated imitation of the Skinemax come hither look and she leans in and extends a hand inviting the world's stiffest dude onto the dance floor. Andy blushed but without turning red (at least in the lighting) and awkwardly declined to work it. While disappointment doesn't begin to describe how I felt, in hindsight I'm relieved. The universe may have folded in on itself and we all might be dead or something, had that actually happened.

Good moment for me: Aforementioned Andy K. actually talking to me and it not being #&*#^ up.

OK, all in all a weak turnout filled with disappointment, surprise, some happiness, alcohol, re-contacting with people, water going under bridges and totally worth it.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Prelude to a high school reunion

“50-60 out of 265 will show up, a good number of marrieds/engageds, a few kids (though none will be there), a divorce or two, a quiet person who got hot, hot people who fell, quite a bit of fat, some bald, some unexpected surprises (of the i-didn't-realize-we-were-that-close variety), some drama, at least a couple people on the prowl, a hook-up, a few people to overdrink and pretty much everyone complaining that things ended too early b/c they want to keep drinking.”

That was more or less my prediction of what my 10-year high school reunion would be. As someone in touch with just three people from the Sweet Home High School Class of 93 -- who also were in touch with just three people, how could we be expected to venture guesses any more specific than that? But based on other friends' descriptions of their reunions, I figured that this would be a pretty close.

August 1993: A group of about 6 honors grads from the Sweet Home High School Class of 1993 have dinner at Bennigan's restaurant in Amherst, NY on the eve of going off to college. We wish each other well and promise to K.I.T. (keep in touch for those foggy on their high school yearbook speak). Well, that largely turns into a big “yeah, um, sure....”

November 1996: Scott T., my best friend from high school, e-mails to tell me that he found e-mail addresses for Linda D. and Kerri Z. (two high school friends we had lost touch by senior year in college). He asks if I'd be interested in getting together to catch up during semester break. I'm in...

December 1996: The four of us get together at T.G.I.Friday's (where else do suburban kids go?) and have a good time reminiscing about the “old days,” sharing our own plans (all grad school) and speculating about our classmates' paths as our senior years in college wind down. Scott and I relate our run-in with a class hottie who got fat. It ignites curiousity. [Confession of character flaw that makes our protagonists more relateable-- we we're relishing the delicious possibility that people might be getting fat, losing hair, pumping gas and wearing the same clothes they wore in high school.] Our fledgling morbid curiosity leads us to make THE PACT -- come hell or high water, we're going to the 10-year reunion. (i'd like to point out that we made THE PACT and used that word some three years before American Pie came out).

Over the next 6 years: we do actually stay in touch via e-mail and try to catch up at least once a year during holiday breaks or when we happen to be in Buffalo at the same time. There is continuous reminder of THE PACT, even though at this point we're in Albany, NY; Los Angeles; San Diego; and Maryland.

The other staple activity of trips home (even when we're unable to see each other) is scoping our old haunts (like malls and restaurants) for people we went to school with, and then of course subsequent updating. Usually those dispatches were restricted to a visual assessment since we didn't actually want to talk to these people. We relied mainly on Kerri's parents to share details with her about news they heard. The news is of all sorts of varieties: kids, coming outs, jobs, engagements/weddings... whatever.

As 2002 gets ripe we start wondering when we are going to hear about the reunion. Classmates.com, a beautiful use of the Internet, contains zilch. And living up to the apathy of our class, as much as we purport to care about the reunion, it's not like any of us would do a damned thing to like make it happen though or anything.

Late 2002: Hypotheticals become realities as the Sweet Home High School Class of 1993 Reunion Committee emerges via e-mails to those they have managed to find. There's not much info at this point, but more is promised soon. Appetites are whetted.

Early 2003: Eventually a date is set (Aug. 2), a cost is revealed ($25 if you reply by July 1) and then reality hits. I already have a March wedding to fly back to Buffalo for and I am working at a not-for-profit, how the hell am I going to afford this?

A Friday April 2003: Kerri or Linda e-mails about her growing enthusiasm for the reunion. Me, the guy who does the most reminding about THE PACT, sends out an email to the PACTees saying that I'm doubtful (to be optimistic) about my attendance. I just don't think that I can afford. I deservedly get a little heat for this.

The following Saturday: While doing layout and design for our May issue of the teen newspaper I work for, I get into a conversation with our designer whose 10-year reunion is also this summer. She tells me of the surreal experience that was her 5th, my enthusiasm is amped up. I go home, find a supercheap flight and book my ticket, only catch--I have to fly out the day of the reunion and I'll get there a little late. I e-mail the PACTees and tell them of my reversal of fortune. More e-mails questioning my wishy-washy decision making ensue (deservedly so).

The next couple months....: The speculation is ramped up high now... who's gonna attend? who's gonna look like what? Who’s doing what? who never left? who came home? honestly, the PACTees are all feeling a little smug about our stations in life. One PhD, one almost, and the other two both have masters degrees and none of us are living in the 716 (area code).

The weeks before the reunion: What do we wear? Linda, Kerri and I are wondering what would be appropriate and make us look good, too. Eventually others get curious as well and send e-mails asking what's expected? Thankfully (i wish this was an audio email so that I could melodramatize the sarcasm here), the organizers tell us that Prom Dresses and Tuxes are unnecessary. Instead, professional casual would be fine: no jeans, no shorts, no sandals. Ties, jackets unnecessary. Khakis with a nice shirt would be fine, for the guys. And a nice pair of slacks or skirt with a nice blouse or top would be acceptable for women.

My designer friend of mine in L.A. whose reunion is coming up this weekend (second weekend Aug), emails about her outfit. She wants to go punk; we brainstorm that a black bandanna would be great.

Friday Aug. 1: It's out of control L.A. vanity time. I model four shirts with two jackets each (so 8 outfits) for Scott, who cannot attend, and his girlfriend. They help me decide on what to wear. I know that I'll likely be a touch overdressed, but I figure it's better to look a little too up than scuzzy. (this might have been a case of me forgetting my area code....).

Saturday Aug. 2: The alarm goes off 5:55 a.m. for my 6:30 a.m. departure. I figure with an 8 a.m. flight, i need to get to LAX in plenty of time. FORESIGHT ALERT. The United Airlines terminal looked like a 3rd world refugee camp. You couldn't discern any lines leading to anything. A woman is ready to deck me after I cut her off while fighting my way to a courtesy agent. I ask him if there's a better alternative for people not checking a bag. He points me to a bank of computers that has exactly three people waiting for it. I'm done in two minutes and I head to the security checkpoint bypassing the woman with the dirty look. Security line moves quickly enough (considering that they closed a checkpoint while the line was actually getting longer). Flight goes great to D.C. and I am feeling good. Karma seems on my side, while walking to my gate filled with glee of someone whose flight is scheduled to leave on time, I wonder whether it would be funny to make a Romy and Michelle's joke and tell people that I invented Post-Its. Then I come to my senses and decide, Uh no.

I get to my gate and stand around waiting. And I keep waiting and waiting and waiting until after the clock moves past the scheduled departure time (5 p.m.). At 5:10 p.m. gate agent dude says we'll be getting an update at 5:30 p.m. b/c of a mechanical problem. At 5:45 p.m. gate agent dude gets back on the indecipherable PA system to announce that the flight is still delayed and something about 6 p.m. I guess he said that we'll board at 6 p.m. because we do. I call my parents, who are supposed to pick me up at 6:15 to tell them of my new arrival time 7ish, and my friends at the reunion to ask them to save me food. All I've eaten all day is something that they called a “cheese omelette” served by an airline employee. A braver/stupider thing, I've never done.

I do land on time (according to the updated schedule) and my parents are there to fly me to the reunion via empty upstate New York highways. And it's on to the reunion....