The feeling of dread that met me outside the bar only increased as I opened the door. The Bouncer at the Castle Lounge checked my ID, and secured a neon orange Budweiser wrist band around my right wrist. To his credit, he was good at his job and managed not to catch any of my arm hairs in the adhesive of the wrist band like so many bouncers are want to do.
And there I stood. In a bar I'd never been to, looking for a face, any face, that was familiar after 20 years.
For the record, I was a smart kid. I was mentally 40 until I graduated from high school at 17 years old, so even though you, fair reader, now know my precise age (like looking at my user info couldn't tell you that) I was still a year younger than all the bitches I was about to not want to talk to.
And there I stood. In a bar I'd never been to, looking for a face, any face, that was familiar after 20 years. The two people from High School that I was still in touch with (and by in touch I mean exchanged more than one email in the last 5 years) weren't going to be showing up, so the prospect of standing in a bar with a bunch of people that I knew but didn't know wasn't that thrilling.
Bur right inside the door was Peter. He smiled and called my name and we immediately started chatting. Technically, I've known Peter for 26 years-- since 7th grade. But he moved away for the first half of High School, so we really ONLY knew each other from 7th (and 8th) grade. But immediately we started catching up. Yeah, I left my corporate job. No, not married-- Came close, though (I was looking at rings, she was busy being a whore). Now I was chasing my bliss and being poor.
Peter led to Melissa, who led to Michelle and Christine-- all people I was actually REALLY happy to see and to hear about. The beer in my hand only cost $3.50, and it was a decent beer. I was having good conversation with people that I enjoyed being acquaintances with in high school. This was looking like it might turn out to be pretty okay.
Dan, the class president and basketball star sauntered up and held out his hand, "Mike!"
A hush fell over the group I was standing with. CeCe turned and looked at him like he had just made the Carlos Mencia "Der duh der" noise. "Clay," she said, "This is Clay." Dan looked stupidly around for a moment and then headed off, hand extended towards his next victim like some sort of Boston Name Mangler. But once he was gone everyone laughed.
I ran into Mary and LeAnn and Elaine and Craig and Rob and the conversation was good, and the people were interesting. Rob introduced me to his wife, who immediately asked, "Didn't we meet 10 years ago?" I nodded and laughed, "Your husband is just really proud of you."
I ran into John at the bar... another Jr. High friend. He was honestly delighted to see me, and I found myself honestly delighted to see him, too. We talked for quite a while about things, and it was really at this point when I realized just how much of my life I take for granted. I mean, I love the things I do, don't get me wrong, but I don't find anything SPECIAL in my doing them other than the fact that I love doing them, and that they're kinda cool. But when someone asks you what you do now, and the reply goes like this:
"Well, I left my corporate job about 5 years ago to do things that I enjoy. So now I do some production work. I'm poor, but really happy."
"What do you produce?"
"Right now I'm helping to run the San Francisco Improv Festival, i just got done being a casting assistant for Stanford scenes in High School Musical 3 (if they have kids, there will be a side track here about me almost knocking Vanessa Hudgens down some stairs), I produce a sketch comedy show in San Jose, I've done some work for the Learning Channel, the History Channel and G4-TechTV in Canada. Last fall I finished up a project for NASA that I'd been helping out with for 3 years on and off, and I'm working on the script for the feature film I want to start shooting sometime in the spring-- Zombie Rock Opera."
When the reply goes like that, they just sort of stare at you for a moment before saying something along the lines of "Holy Shit." After the third or fifth "Holy Shit" I realized that the stuff I do is pretty damn awesome, even if it is exhausting and stretches my finances to the point of invisibility.
Back at the table with Mary and LeAnn and Craig, we were approached by Greg and Michael (two other since Jr. High folk), did the catchup thing, and then Kami walked over and put her arm around my shoulder.
"Holy shit, if it isn't Kami [Yes I got her last name right thank you]. She went around the group, naming everyone correctly as well. Now, I don't know if it was the beer talking, or just something I'd wanted to address for a while, but the next thing I knew I had turned back to the group and said, "The first or second week of seventh grade, Miss Kami here walked up to me, grabbed a hand full of my ass and told me I had "a fur butt." I didn't know what she meant, but I was in love." She laughed, "We did have a special relation ship, didn't we?" I didn't say "If by special you mean 'You were the fat kid and I taunted you alot,' then yes."
And then, Eric walked up. I recognized his eyes, but didn't realize who he was until he said my name, then his own. And much to my own shock and horror, I found myself pulling him into a friendly embrace and asking, "Holy fuck, man, how are you?" Eric was the bane of my adolescent existence. Every moment I was near him was nails on chalkboard in my brain excruciating. It was almost like when his pituitary glad started the rush of testosterone in his teenage body, it told him, in no uncertain terms, "Make Clay's life horrible." And he did, for two years. And yet here I was glad to see him, and surprised that I was glad to see him.
From there, I made the rounds. Chad, Rhonda, Wendy, Jen and by this time, it was 11:30. I'd been there over three hours, and I'd not suffered any lasting damage.
I made my brief goodbyes, and headed home, secure in the knowledge that I'd get to chat with some of these folks again tomorrow night... and sorta happy about that fact.
Class of '88