I met a guy at a party six months ago who told me that he had crashed his high school reunion. My 20-year reunion was coming up, and I decided to do the same. I realized that if I didn't get in, my former classmates would think, "That cheapskate tried to crash the reunion. He didn't want to pay the $100 like the rest of us." I wouldn't have the chance to tell them that it's part of my job description.
On the subject of job description, I knew this was one of the most commonly brought up questions at a high school reunion. People brag about their houses, their kids, where they've traveled. I certainly couldn't brag about the home I'm renting. I'm not married, so there'd be no trophy wife on my arm. And that's when it hit me: Greg Laswell, a friend and local musician, is dating actress/singer Mandy Moore. I'd ask him if I could bring her to my reunion. Imagine that, as everyone stood around bragging, we'd walk by, and her name tag would read, "HELLO, my name is MANDY MOORE."
Two problems arose: first, I called a handful of close friends from my graduating class and only one knew who she was (he worked in the town she's from in Florida). Second, I'd have to convince Laswell to pimp out his famous girlfriend. He's expressed how weird it is to have the paparazzi following him....
I decided to go stag.
I got word my friends booked a room at the Marriott in La Jolla, the location of our reunion and our senior prom.
I was angry with the reunion committee. I had sent them an e-mail months earlier about people in our class who were musicians. I thought it would be cool to have them play all the '80s songs we had grown up with. They told me that they had a DJ booked.
The first person I saw as I entered the lobby was my friend Jim, an L.A. lawyer. I found out that he's living in San Diego again and just made partner in his firm. When we got to the suite our friends booked, we realized nobody had a bottle opener for the beers. Jim said he could open them with a quarter, but none of us had change. One guy had dimes. Jim opened the beers with keys. Someone said, "Ya gotta love the stuff they teach them at law school."
As I helped my buddy Joe get his cuff links on, he said, "People are going to be asking the same lame questions about what you've been up to." Jim said, "Hey, let's do this: we'll pick some off-the-wall question to ask everyone that isn't cliché. Something like, 'Do your dogs ever get out of the back yard?' It'll be great."
As others arrived at the suite, I enjoyed listening to their conversations. One person said, "I have a confession to make... Jim talked me into toilet papering your house back in high school."
Someone brought up an athlete from our school. "Last I heard he was living out of his car in Poway. He was a big pot head." Someone else chimed in, "Oh, that guy. What a stud athlete he was. He died."
Steve said, "Oh, well, thanks for bringing this party down."
Joe got his cuff links on, fixed his tie, and talked about the time a few of them jumped off a light pole near Carl's Jr. "I got scratched up pretty good when I did the swan dive into the bushes." When asked why he did it, he said, "I had to. Jim called me a pussy."
After a few hours of hanging out and catching up in the hotel room, we headed to the reunion. I saw a Vietnamese guy who I knew in the lobby, and I said, "Hey Linh." I couldn't believe that without a nametag I got his name. He hadn't been in my class since fifth grade.
I was shocked to see a guy named Tad -- who was short and now about 6'1". He told me that he was an iron worker in Omaha. I said, "Oh, I hear it's lovely there this time of year." He said, "No, it's not." I responded, "Yeah, I know. I just had nothing to follow up with on you being an iron worker there." He told me later he felt self-conscious about his job, that everyone else was so successful. I said, "Dude, we had close to 1000 people in our graduating class and only 200 are here. Those are the successful ones. The ones that didn't show up had nothing to brag about." Someone else heard me saying this and said, "I only showed up because I didn't want them talking shit behind my back." I said, "I think if you don't show up, nobody remembers or thinks to talk about you. If you do show up, that's when they talk behind your back...when you go to get a drink. They'd say, 'Look how fat he is.'" The guy didn't get my point. He said, "You think I'm fat?"
Dawn, a cute blonde back in high school, was still a cute blonde. I remember hearing that her dad wrote the song that goes "...chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." It was my chance to ask her about it. She said, "Oh, no. My dad was the first person to ever sing that on TV. His voice coach wrote the song, and they sang it in the church choir. He was seven when he got to sing that on TV in the mid-'50s."
As we sat down to eat, one of our cheerleaders and class administrators gave a speech, and we did a prayer for the few of our classmates who had died. I thought it was odd that they never did the kinds of things I've seen at other reunions, where they see who has the most kids, has been married the longest, etc. When I asked her about it later, she said, "Every time I went up there to talk, it seemed like people would rather just keep mingling than listening to what we were saying."