Monday, March 12, 2007

25 Years

Earlier this week, the woman who organized my high school’s 20th year class reunion let me know she’s started the ball rolling for the 25th year reunion. I know in the past, they’ve had trouble getting people psyched to attend “5” year reunions, having better luck with the 10th and the 20th. But I guess “25” is one of those numbers, a quarter of a century, and this will surely happen later this year, probably in the summer.

I’m not too freaked out over this. The big freak-outs were my late 20s and the year 2000, both of which occurred about five years apart. The late 20s, in my mind, is the worst time mentally in most people’s lives, worse even than high school. Because we set all these artificial barriers around the age 30, by which time, all these designated things must happen, and if they don’t happen, I don’t know, it’s like Columbus sailing his ship off the edge of the world. The approach to the year 2000 had that same ominous vibe to it, with all the doomsday shit being predicted, and our own private doomsday scenarios, remembering how we viewed the year 2000 as graduating students in 1982 and wondering how radically different out lives and the world would be. (In some ways, everything has changed, and others nothing has changed.)

Thirty came and went, and no one spontaneously human combusted, or became the laughing stock of society because they weren’t millionaires or famous. The year 2000 was anti-climactic compared to the unanticipated shit that went down on 9/11/01. We’re still here. Maybe 30 is that time in life when much of the bullshit starts to float away, when you see through things and can gauge what they really are. And your sense of judgment relies more on understanding reality rather than quantitatively assessing your life and the lives of others. I don’t think some people ever get past that, mainly because they’ve constructed lives based on that premise, and there’d be a sense of emptiness without it. I’ve always appreciated a black man saying, “All I got to do is stay black and die.” Amen, brother. All I got do is stay white and die.

These are the kind of things you ponder leading up to a class reunion, and probably the main reason a lot of people don’t attend. Out of a class of approximately 200 kids, we’ll be lucky if 30-40 of them show up for a reunion later this year – most with spouses. I’ve surmised that out of the approximately 160 people who don’t show up, there’s probably an equal number to the people attending who had a very bad high-school experience and never would attend something like this. Gay kids, kids who got picked on relentlessly, burn-outs, kids who dropped out occasionally, etc. Some kids died -- all well documented in our memories and phone conversations, legends springing up around them as we go on. That still leaves roughly 120 people who, for one reason or another, will not attend a class reunion.

And I wonder, who are these people? I imagine once the final list is presented months from now, I could simply look them up in an old yearbook. But it’s a bit strange to me that a vast majority of kids from a high-school class would not attend a reunion, most of them not being those singled-out kids who had an absolutely terrible time in high school.

It’s my theory that a lot of them don’t see themselves as being successful in life, and therefore don’t want to put themselves in a situation where people they’d have a hard time bullshitting – who knew them when they were young – might recognize the same thing about them. I’m not sure how to define success anymore and think it's a word we all ought to be less concerned with. I’ve met plenty of people in New York with seven-figure financial worths, yet I’m not overly impressed, and in most cases wouldn’t want their lives, as I can see the enormous pressure and compromises that are part of that deal. In some cases, I’m horrified. Either they came from that sort of financial background, or they’ve fought tooth-and-nail to get there, and you have to wonder what really matters to people like that. I recently watched the movie Wall Street, and while I laugh out loud at many of the cheesy lines, one of my favorites is still young Bud Fox yelling at the multi-millionaire Gordon Gekko: “How many yachts do you have to water ski behind?”

One of the refreshing aspects of the last reunion, and the one before, was that the people who did show up didn’t seem to make a burning issue out of where we were in life. I’m sure bon mots may have been dropped in conversation, but for the most part, no one really cared. Most people were married and had kids, meaning they were running on that treadmill and probably didn’t have time to worry about such nonsense. And we didn’t all revert to who we were back then, none of that clique-forming crap I hated in high school. Frankly, there were only about 3-4 hours to hang out and get caught up, so there simply wasn’t even time to revive any of that. I’m sure if we spent a week together, we’d be at each other’s throats. But a few hours once or twice a decade? Who gives a shit? Show up and have fun. Realize we have a lot more in common than we’d thought. And if you don’t have fun, skip the next one.

Would it be some other reason so many people didn’t show up? I’m sure a lot of it is simple disinterest. These people have no curiosity about how former classmates are doing, probably see a few of them in the course of their daily lives (if they haven’t moved from our home area), and that’s good enough for them. Of my siblings, my sister will attend her reunions, but both my brothers who graduated in the same year, never will. Neither had that bad a time in high school. In short, they just don’t fucking feel like it.

And I think that’s where a vast majority of those non-attendees stand. I was hardly a popular kid in high school. To people outside my small group of weird-assed friends, I was considered quiet, studious, a little odd. A smart kid, but not that smart, and hanging out with enough burn-outs that I wasn’t wired into any “smart kid” scene. I was good at sports, but didn’t pursue them much in high school. (I regret this a little … until I meet guys from the football team today who can predict rain with their knees.) I wasn’t and still am not a gregarious person who’ll set a room on fire with his presence. You get me talking, I’ll have you laughing and keep you engaged, but I was never one of those spark-plug kids everyone was impressed with.

I guess it was when I found that reunions weren’t like some lame John Hughes flick with a desperate 80s soundtrack that I warmed up to them. The reality was just a bunch of people you once knew in some sense gathering in one place to have a few drinks and meet again, I’d imagine to see how much you’ve changed, how much you’ve stayed the same, etc. I don’t have particularly fond memories of high school, nor do I have particularly negative memories. I didn’t hate high school at the time, and don’t hate the memory of it now. I had a much better time in college – was one of those people who came into his own in college – but that doesn’t mean high school was some wasteland of negativity. It wasn’t that bad. (And it’s strange that I have no urge to attend any sort of college reunion, even though I had what I can still see was a great time there.)

I’m not looking to portray this as some “everyman” parable, that we’re all the same, and we’re all just awkward, acne-scarred kids at heart. I guess from my point of view, and a way I’ve always felt since leaving that area, it’s a good idea to maintain links to your past. I could have easily moved to New York when I did in the late 80s, stayed here all the time, cut off relations with friends and families, and started up one of those urbane existences where I created some new family out of similarly dispossessed people who ran away to the city. But fuck that. It didn’t take me long to realize that just wasn’t me in any sense, that I’ll always be from a small town, and I’m O.K. with that, to the point now where I look at a lot of aspects of city life and wonder, “What in the hell am I still doing here?”

A lot of people probably ask themselves the same question the first few minutes into any class reunion. But if you feel your way around, let yourself be open for a little while, it should all start making sense. If it doesn’t, you can always go back to your regularly-scheduled life, which we’ll all do anyway at the end of the night.

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