I received an odd text from a friend of mine the other night, saying that he felt like he was living in Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. He was out with high school friends after a decade apart from most of them. I have to confess that I was not familiar with the Billy Joel song, although I had heard it hundreds of times -- just never paying attention to the lyrics. I read through them to get a better sense of what he was talking about. I had originally thought he was referring to an Arlo Guthrie song.
Fast forward to this afternoon and our class reunion picnic. Of the three events, this was the only one I had really planned to attend. Tonight they gathered at The Wildhorse Saloon on 2nd Avenue, but I had some other commitments for the evening. Barbecue and 25-30 people (including their children) arrived at Warner Park around 11 a.m. My mind went back a little over a decade all at once.
I was exhausted from having just moved some rather heavy furniture with my much smaller teenage body. Funny how high metabolism but low weight meant easy exhaustion. It was the fall of 1999 and the weekend of Halloween. There was more crap to unload from the cars and open trailers. For one reason or another, renting U-Haul was never considered, so this would be the first of many trips back and forth between Greenfield, Tennessee and Nashville. I was not in a good mood, even beyond your typical period of teenage angst. I left one classroom on a Friday afternoon, and would be in another on Monday. No transition, no time to think about it. I figure "irritable" was the least I could be.
I was walked around the high school by an office aide (a short, long curly-haired senior with presumably nothing better to do) to each of my classes. I would forget all of this by the time the tour ended, but it was a nice gesture. I walked into my first class to hear the teacher ask "Can I help you?" ... "Well ma'm, I do believe I am in your class." I had not meant for that to be as smart-assed as it came out. She was not amused, but I grabbed the first desk I saw. That would set the tone for the next year and a half right up until graduation.
"Yeah, you got screwed on that deal."
My friend Joey was right, but I had survived. "Dude showed up at the butt-end of junior year, didn't know anybody." Joey and Trey would both spend a bit more time with me during our tenure at UT Martin, but as far as the rest of these folks, I had only a limited amount of time to make friends or develop any kind of history with -- you know, those stories they tell about middle school that you weren't around to have lived.
The class vice president arrived to share some photos that he had taken over the years. I recognized most of the folks in the photos, but only as slightly shorter versions of the individuals that I met in 1999. Class year shirts sat over the left of the photos. There was my signature on the last one. At least I had proof that I was in fact there. A year or so ago, some of my photos that I had posted somewhere (I cannot even remember at this point) found their way to a Facebook album. I had taken them at random intervals our senior year with a crappy Kodak digital camera. The photos were popular with some folks, but were usually only of people I knew (read: not very many) and sucked in terms of everything that makes a "good" photograph. But I was glad the served some purpose other than taking up space on my disk drive.
After lunch was over, Samantha and I made our way home. I can assume that there will not be another gathering like that for another decade. The 10-year puts us at 28-29 years of age, just old enough to be done with whatever post-secondary education we had pursued, and with a few years in the workforce. Nobody rolled up a Ferrari or sent their regards on the letterhead of a multinational conglomerate that they ran. And who cares if they had. We are really just a bunch of men and women about to turn 30 who (as we have for the last 10 years) are evaluating life priorities and what's next. This was nothing more than an opportunity to reconnect with friends and acquaintances, perhaps compare notes, and then go right back to chasing down our own hopes and dreams.
Perhaps Hollywood has taught us to dread these pit-stops through memory lane. The disco ball over an awkward and mostly empty gymnasium, with people saying things they had waiting years to say, further adding to the awkwardness. Diets and hair restoration or finding a date are all things that are just fabrications of some writer that probably never went to their own reunion. Or maybe that really does happen elsewhere. For us, we just sat on a row of picnic tables and took one of those precious short breaks from life to ask "Great to see you! How have you been?"
For everyone who did come today, I wonder what how those who did not are doing. Granted, I have fewer people that I wonder about -- somebody said a name or two today, and my only thought was "Who the hell was that?" -- but I remain curious.
Maybe college reunions are different. Perhaps the 20-year reunion is more in line with what movies and television shows want us to picture them as. I think I will just go back to checking up on folks on Facebook.