June, 2007

I just came home from dinner with a dozen people I haven't seen for the better part of 40 years. We all went to high school together in Alexandria, Virginia, and came together at the urging of a mutual friend and classmate who was determined to stage a reunion "...for people who'd never in a million years come to a regular reunion-type reunion.".

This was the first event of a planned 3 day get-together. Tonight was a simple restaurant dinner; tomorrow night's a party at our host's home; Sunday is a gathering of old musician types who played in local bands way back when. Someone's booked the party room at their pool house and there'll be guitars and basses, amplifiers, a PA system, microphones, drums, keyboards, harmonicas, tambourines-- and who knows-- maybe even a cowbell or two.

The guy who organized it lives locally. He's an old pal from school, and I haven't seen him in a long time, but then I haven't socialized for a long time, either. He began the process several months ago, sending me emails about the idea. I wasn't too interested, really. I didn't figure too many people would remember me, and I wasn't sure anyone whom I might actually be interested in seeing would show up at such a thing. I'm not in touch with anyone from those days except a pal who's a teacher in Los Angeles and another who's a software salesman and trainer in New Hampshire. I haven't seen either one of them in person for years, but I knew that neither would be coming here for this.

I recall high school as being pretty much four years of sheer panic and blind terror, through which I passed fitfully, hoping not to be punched out by other guys or laughed at by girls. I was clueless, awkward around and baffled by females, too uncoordinated to play most sports, and a fairly mediocre student with a basically shitty attitude. I don't recall having much of a social life-- except for getting high in dark basements and listening to The Velvet Underground, Paul Butterfield, Jefferson Airplane and The Blues Project. I played music now and then with a few friends in local garage bands. Not your standard A-list, social butterfly stuff. My pals were mostly all young dopesters; artists, musicians, fringe-types, and several of them are actually dead now.

So, this old classmate calls me up three or four times, sends me emails and photos (he's designed an invitation, and everything, a spoof of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's album cover), and he even has 2 other people call me to bug me about coming to at least ONE of the 3 planned gatherings. I resisted and stalled and was vague about making a commitment. This was kind of alarming, as I was pretty severely depressed and out of the habit of going out amongst people. I finally relented, as I felt I'd look like a complete jerk if I still refused after all his good-natured coaxing. I figured the restaurant dinner would be the least taxing event. If it was too much to handle, I could always drop some cash on the table and split. I was kinda dreading having to listen to people talk about their fabulous lives and accomplishments, and then having to make up outrageous shit just to sound like I wasn't a complete loser...

I bit the bullet and went, and... I had fun-- much to my surprise. People "ooh"ed and "aah"ed and hugged me. Two different people told me that they only came because they'd heard that I might be there...

A drop-dead gorgeous girl named Janice, who was the best dancer I'd ever seen in my life, bar none-- (before or since that evening in the Summer of 1968 when she cleared the floor at the YMCA where my band was playing a Saturday night dance; Christ, she could boogie!) -- ran up and squeezed the hell out of me and launched into this extended tale of how she thought I was soooo hot back then, and how she had such a desperate crush on me, and blah, blah, blah...

"I remember I used to wear this outfit I thought was so cute, and I thought that maybe you'd notice me in it. It was this yellow blouse with a ruffle in the front, and it had ruffled sleeves, and I wore it with this striped skirt..." and as she talked I VIVIDLY recalled the outfit. And yes, by God-- she certainly looked hotter than hell in it. She was a real head-turner!

"I remember you used to wear those cool, green, corduroy bell bottoms; (Shit; this was 1968... gimme a break...)  I was crazy about them", she said to me.

I said: "Right-- the ones with the big, permanent, goddam wet spot in the front? I was crazy about you, too! If you'd just TOLD me about it, you could've saved me from an entire Junior year of frantic, lonely
masturbation, goddammit! Look at me! Now I have to wear these friggin' glasses, thanks to you, you thoughtless bitch!" She shrieked with laughter and planted a kiss on me that I'd only dreamed of, 40 years ago...

I was floored. People remembered me and liked me and looked forward to seeing me after all this time. They recalled stuff I hadn't thought about for decades-- pranks I played, crazy stunts and strange, drug-fueled adventures we had together; an asshole World History teacher we all loathed, who once challenged me to a fistfight... We recounted all sorts of stories and legends and gossip and rumors I'd long since forgotten. We laughed ourselves silly. I had no idea I figured into anybody's big picture. No notion at all that I'd made any contribution to the collective memory banks. Not Clue #1 that anyone remembered anything special about me at all. Yow; what an education...

It was surreal and funny and amazing... and rather humbling. My perception of myself was as this guy who just tried to keep his head down and not get noticed or singled out for mockery or punishment; a guy who only wanted to quietly get by, to stave off my angst by making wry jokes and to armor myself against my perceived inadequacies by adopting a "who gives a shit?" attitude. That apparently is not the guy I was projecting to these people. They saw someone more memorable and apparently more fun than that.

"Remember when you did this crazy thing/said that funny thing ...?"  No; I didn't-- but the memories came back with a bit of prompting. Apparently I wasn't just a scared, sullen kid all four of those years. Who knew?

One of the school's especially "cool" guys was there, too. You probably had someone like him in your school: The good-looking, self-assured kid whose family probably had money-- but he wasn't a complete dickhead about it, you know? He radiated self-confidence and good cheer,  always seemed to be at the center of activities, was popular as hell, had the pretty girlfriend, the cool car, threw great parties, made good grades, was fit, played sports, didn't seem to have a problem or a care in the world. I don't even think he ever experienced a goddam pimple! The guy you looked at and said to yourself: "Jesus; I'd like to be him, just for a weekend."

(There is surely a female equivalent for him at every school in the world. I just don't recall ever looking at hot, popular, perky young Susie and saying: "Jesus; I'd like to be her..."  That'd be kind of gay, don't you think? I had enough to grapple with between 1965 and 1969, thanks...)

Anyway, you know... THAT guy...? Well, he came up to me tonight and told me that seeing me had just made his weekend, and how he'd always enjoyed being around me, how he remembered me, and how he'd always wanted to be " know, cool, like you were. Funny and cynical, and kind of a wiseguy and stuff..." but he thought that I disliked him and he was always nervous about trying to meet me and hang around with me.

Well, fuck me silly!  I wanted to be him and he wanted to be me?  If we could've worked it out, I probably could've actually slept with hot-hot-hot Janice and all three of us could have fulfilled a shitload of our dreams. Go figure! I found myself, over and over tonight, muttering: "Man; I cannot believe this..."

I was told by 4 or 5 people tonight as we parted company: "You HAVE to come to the party tomorrow! Blah-blah-blah is coming, and such-and-such will be here, and we had such fun tonight, you just HAVE to come back.  So-and-so will just DIE if you're not there..."

Well, hell; I may just do it...

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