Goodness gracious. That was a busy weekend.
On Saturday night I attended my 20 Year High School Reunion.
In general, I'm not very successful at mingling and making small talk. At parties (at least back when I used to go to parties) my modus operandi is to sit down somewhere and let people come to me. This isn't done out of some innate belief that people are magnetically drawn to my lap, but rather because I detest the process of inserting myself into existing conversations with people I don't know well.
Now that 20 years have passed since high school, the phrase "people I don't know well" pretty much described everyone in the room.
Anyway, to all of those people who assured me that I would be the only non-fat person in the room, and that the cheerleaders would be ugly, and the football players would be football-shaped, you were very very wrong. I'd have to say that in general people looked BETTER than they did in high school. The homecoming king and queen were still vote-worthy.
One of the people who used to hang out with us nerds in Geek Gulch was a small Indian kid. He had been advanced three grades along the way, so he was three years smaller than everyone else, hadn't yet grown into his face, but tried to make up for that with a fuzzy little wisp of a moustache. Additionally, the kid had a 3 syllable Indian name that was hard to pronounce for us whitebread kids, so we just abbreviated it down to the first syllable, which, unfortunately, was "Dip". Although he had a nice group of friends (us!) I can't imagine it was easy going through high school that way.
So, Dip shows up at the reunion and looks like a male model. He's got almost shoulder-length wavy hair, he's well dressed, and he has definitely grown into his face. Dip is a doctor now and was just the most pleasant and well-adjusted guy in the room, a total delight. And he goes by "Bobby" now. Bobby won the prize for best transformation.
So, chatting with people like Bobby was excellent, but that still left dozens of people to whom I had nothing to say. Everyone wore a name tag that had their high school yearbook picture on it, and I had done some prestudy before the reunion to try and dredge up any long lost memories, but I was constantly wary of getting trapped into dead-end conversations.
Early on in the evening I thought I recognized someone I did have something to say to, so I took a sidelong glance at her nametag. She spotted me doing this, but it was not the person I thought. At that point we were forced to converse, given that we were both waiting for drinks at the bar, so we made stilted "So, since I didn't know you in high school, I guess you'll have to catch me up on all 38 years of your damn life. Where did your parents meet?" conversation. This is NOT my forte. From then on, each time I crossed through the room, I did so with my eyes on the floor. People wore shiny shoes.
It was even awkward when people came up to speak to me. In high school I was the valedictorian. I was always aware that this was a completely meaningless honor. I got the award because I had dutifully done all my homework, and I'm a pretty good test taker, but any number of people could have ended up being the valedictorian. I'd bet money that I wasn't the smartest guy, just the most drone-like when it came to doing assignments. Anyway, on Saturday night lots of people walked up to me and said, "Mr. Valedictorian! Whoa! You gotta tell me what you're doing now."
"Oh, well, please stand back, lest the very force of the mention of my accomplishments cause the delicate fabric of the space time continuum to disintegrate in front of me. I'm a computer programmer. I'm a cog in the corporate wheel. My corporate masters produce software that tries to help other corporate masters be 1% more efficient. We are unprofitable."
"Oh. I'm a rocket scientist. And then I fly the rockets, so I guess I'm an astronaut too. Nice chatting with you, Mr. Valedictorian."
Those were the worst conversations. Some of them were much better though. The most touching moment of the evening, soon to be an ABC Afterschool Special, was my chat with Lisa.
Me: Hey Lisa! Hey, I have one very vivid memory of you from middle school. Would you like to hear it?
Lisa: I'm a little frightened, but ok.
Me: I recall going to my first school dance in 8th grade. My friend, Kevin, who had been to one or two others, led me around and identified the girls whom I should dance with. At one point he pulled me aside and said, "Mike, now it's time to learn rejection. Go ask Lisa to dance." I was not at all convinced that you wouldn't dance with me, but I followed his instructions, and sure enough, you politely declined my offer. I went back to Kevin and he pronounced me a School Dance Graduate.
Me: Anyway, I'm not telling you this story to be an asshole, or because I felt somehow wounded by this, but I recall that evening very clearly as a sort of coming-of-age experience, and you were a part of it.
Lisa: Mike, do you know why I didn't dance with you?
Me: Because I was a nerdy little pipsqueak of an eighth grader?
Lisa: No. When I was 8 years, I was dancing in public for the first time and someone made fun of me. I've never danced since.
Lisa: See that guy in the dance floor looking at me? That's my husband. He's been waiting for me to dance with him for 18 years now.
Me: I guess I won't ask you to dance tonight.
Lisa: I wouldn't do it.
Me: I'll take a hug.
Anyway, I had a really excellent time at the reunion. The omnipresent awkwardness was a drag, but I had some really good conversations with some delightful people. I may even keep in touch with a few more of them this time around.
I climbed into bed that evening, turned off the light at around 12:30am, and thought, "Only four and a half hours before I have to get up for the half marathon." More on that next time....