Monday, November 9, 2009

Reunions, Good and Bad

Reconnecting with old friends is an odd experience when you haven't seen them or spoken with them in twenty or thirty years. Last year I went to a forty year high school class reunion. Yes, I did graduate from high school in 1968, and consequently from college in 1972. I was a part of the hippie anti-war lefty movement. We all had a great deal of hair in those days, and most of it was on our heads, not coming out of our ears or sprouting on our backs.

At that point I had never been to a class reunion and for some reason the fortieth intrigued me. I agreed to go. Babs and I packed our bags, hopped in the Mini, and off we drove to Jacksonville, Arkansas, "Home of the Red Devils." First of all, I was a little put off by the fact that the only class reunion I'd ever attended was being held in a VFW Hall. Forget any political ramifications from the fact that I'd been an anti-war protester during Vietnam. It was just a little seedy. That's all. Concrete floors and drinks from plastic cups. I've come to expect a little more.

Then when I began interacting with all of those people I once knew forty years ago, I couldn't believe how many fat old people were impersonating people I went to high school with. Babs and I looked positively young and chic in contrast. Of course there were one or two notable exceptions to the fat and frumpy run of old classmates. These were the women who had somehow failed to age like the rest of the crowd, and in some cases looked a great deal better than they ever did when younger. I believe we are talking about the cosmetic surgery crowd here. The very best faces, boobs, and butts that money can buy.

Then the really disappointing thing was that most of these people were just plain-assed boring. All they seemed to be able to talk about was their kids and grandkids. I couldn't give a good two cents about all of those people's kids and grandkids. Never met them. I wanted to talk about what people had been doing with themselves for the last forty years and apparently the only thing they'd been doing was reproducing and seeing to it that their offspring reproduced, not a lot more. Didn't anyone go around the world? Didn't anyone see cool stuff? Didn't anyone do cool stuff? Apparently not. Babs and I left early.

This past weekend an old friend from the late 70's showed up in Chicago. He and I once did live improv shows together in bars in a group known as The Traveling Medicine Show. He also contacted another friend from the Traveling Medicine Show who it turns out had been living in Chicago all along and while I knew he was here, I didn't know where. Turns out his name is very common in the Chicago telephone book and I really didn't feel up for calling every one of them and asking if each and every one of them was the one who once was in an improv group called the Traveling Medicine Show. The three of us got together. Old friends. Old drinking buddies. Old artistic mates.

When Dan and Chris and I were in our twenties, we were actors. We were all young, thin, artistically inclined and could charm the pants off a crowd or an unsuspecting young lady. Thirty years later, we're all in our fifties. Everyone has put on weight. One still has all his hair and it hasn't really turned gray. One of us has hair on the front of his head,but a huge bald spot on the back of his head, and the whole shebang has turned gray. One of us has virtually no hair on top of his head at all. Can any of us still turn the head of an unsuspecting young lady? Only if the young lady is a waitperson anticipating a big tip for flirting with the geezers and giving them good service. I personally suspect that when young women smile at me it's because I remind them of their father.

Man we had some stories to tell. We were all once actors. One of us still does some acting occasionally, when he can find the time away from the demands of family and making a living. The impulses are still there, though and when you put us all together everyone is on, competing for attention, for conversational time, for ego strokes. Put too many actors in a room together without a script or a director and it can get anarchic and ugly at times. This wasn't really ugly though. I got to see people who were actual friends, not people I accidentally knew because we were from the same hometown. We had things to tell one another, about cool stuff we'd done and seen and experienced. Okay, one of us did bring pictures of his two daughters and bragged about them, but it wasn't the only thing he had to talk about. There were divorces and new relationships and trips to Europe and parts unknown. There were shows we'd done and people we'd met and a million stories to tell and a sense of wonder that somehow we'd all managed to survive all the stupid crap we did when we were younger.

I guess the moral of this story is that "You can never go home again, literally, or figuratively." And not all reunions are created equal. There are people with whom you have never reunited for a long time because you really had nothing in common at all. And there are those with whom you have never reunited because you were all just very busy living life to its fullest. For a good reunion, I'll take the latter anytime.


  1. True dat! I think we all look back and perhaps remember snapshots...the sad part is that for some, the snapshots are all they have--reliving glory days that in reality...weren't that glorious. Facebook has opened several windows with folks I had to look in the yearbook to recall--I'm sure they did the same. I am very glad that life has taken me all over the world, and I'm thankful for a woman who has put up with my nonsense for over 37 years and given me the best daughter a dad could ask for--yes, I have pictures too. Reunions are a nice idea...and enjoyed by many--but like my lovemaking, after 5 minutes, I'd be ready for a nap! Not brag'n...just say'n! :)

  2. The funny thing is that each and every one of us sitting through these reunions feeling superior to the others, and being glad that we are who we are. The ones who couldn't embrace who they are and be glad for it, well some of them committed suicide, and some just disappeared in their self-imposed misery. I like to believe that my life and travels about the world and the things I've achieved somehow make my life superior, but in the larger scheme of things, what the hell does it matter. (Still a lot of that existential angst mucking about in my head after all these years.)