Monday, May 17, 2010
Cathartic Trip Down Memory Lane.
It's been 25 years since I graduated high school. A perfect opportunity to set up a reunion. When I think about how much has changed since then. Words like Internet, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Ipod, Photoshopped and Pearl Jam were not part of our lexicon back in the day.
Now, I went through the same school system in Mt. Olive from the day I entered kindergarten at Mt. View North until the day I graduated more than 18 years later.
When Mt. Olive class of 1985 entered eighth grade in 1980, We combined three schools, Mt. View, Sandshore, and Tinc Road students in what we called our Upper Elementary school. This expanded our class to over three hundred students, giving us an opportunity to make a lot of new friends. We were the first class to spend four full years at our high school. We then graduated and went our separate ways. I was in contact with very few of my classmates over the years. Even in casual run-ins. So, I felt I left high school way behind. Or so I thought.
My own journey took me to NYC, Jersey City, Seattle and back to Jersey. No marriage, no kids but two marriage proposals that ended before marriage. Job wise I've done everything from doing freelance art, warehouse work, retail work, sous cheffing, box hauling, bar tending, occasionally getting published, movie extra work, forklift driving, chauffeur driving, bicycle building, one singing gig, caricature work, and now security work since I threw up the flat red hat into the air in June of 1985.
So, I was apprehensive about going to any reunion. I didn't succeed in the way I hoped I would. I left Flanders, New Jersey behind when I went to SVA in NYC. I then embraced a west coast lifestyle when I lived in Seattle, Washington for 14 years and I had not talked to even one of my classmates in almost ten years, until I went on Facebook in 2008.
Say what you will about it, Facebook is an effective way in reconnecting with people. I connected with some good friends and some high school mates. Some of whom I wasn't sure I would be friends with these days. Facebook is great way to get a gist of what they are like these days. I tried it with classmates.com but blanched when they started charging for services and it wasn't nearly as effective as facebook has proven to be.
As a result I hadn't got invited to my tenth or my twentieth reunion. Just as well, I wasn't really in a good place either of those times. Still I was wondering if I had any standing with my classmates whether anyone missed me or whether people I was really good friends with are so different that any reunion would spoil the good memories.
Talking online with some of them was cool but I wasn't sure how many life changes people have been through and whether I would have a problem with that or if I would offend people with how I live my life. Still, I thought it would be fun or at least cathartic. If it didn't go well, I can just wait til the 50th which when all is said and done would seem like less time going from age 43 to 68 than from 18 to 43.
I was definitely looked forward to seeing some people and almost dreaded seeing others. I was wondering if politic battles would come up. Or reminders of what a jerk I was in high school.
I took the week off from work and decided to use the whole day of Saturday the 15th to explore the old stomping grounds before I hit the hotel. I drove up 206 from rt. 22 from my place in Union. I forget how nice the ride is on this route. So green and serene are the rolling hills on the road to Flanders. May is a great month to be in Jersey. When I approached Chester I noticed Larison's Turkey Farm is now Larison's Steak House. The Mini Mac is still there but they now have outdoor seating. I rode through my old Sutton Park neighborhood, I couldn't help but notice that many of the houses need a little bit of maintenance, including the house I grew up in.
A little serendipity allowed for me to go to the Swim & Sports Club to donate blood. It's a private but humble club I belonged to when I was a kid. It hadn't changed much. The pool's the same unlined concrete structure it was thirty years ago. I chatted up with one of the managers there and he invited me to have a beer after donating blood. That wasn't gonna happen because of the danger of drinking alcohol after donating blood. The doctor said not to drink alcohol for 24 hours. That wasn't gonna happen either.
One stop I insisted on doing was to eat at the After Charbroil & Ice Cream Parlor. It's so great to see that it's still there and looks more or less the way it was back when it opened in 1970. That was the year my family moved to Flanders. As a matter of fact, one of my earliest memories was going there with my Dad even before we moved to there. We were still checking out the building progress of our house.
The After was also where us teenagers would eat after our finals were done and we were too early to wait for the bus and too young to drive home. We would walk the long walk and stop at The After. Great ice cream, great burgers and some of the best french fries around. But I have no idea why they called it "the After". After WHAT, exactly? In 1970, there wasn't much nearby to stop in AFTER anything. The high school wasn't around, The rolling skating rink was a Foodtown at the time. Still, It's refreshing to see an independent food stop that didn't have a kitschy faux nostalgic name and ta fake "50's" theme over the years. It was still wonderful. I enjoyed a medium rare Bison Burger with a fries and a Coke and other than feeling bloated It was like I was 16 again.
So it was mid-afternoon and I'm looking to check in to the former Holiday Inn where our reunion is taking place. But first I needed gas and to get a six pack just in case I, being a beer snob, was not satisfied with the offerings at the party. Going down route 10 I gazed at where the Roxbury Mall and the Ledgewood Mall is located. It's been at least 15 years since I've seen it and it's very difficult to figure out where one ends and the other begins. Neither looking at all like it was back in the 70's and 80's. It's a text book example of where we have gone as a country in recent years. Time was, these malls featured stores that were regional. Jamesway, Caldor, Rickel, The Wiz, H.L.Green and others you would not see if you went to other parts of the country. Now pretty much every store there, Home Depot, Best Buy, Wal-Mart and others are ones you'll see in every moderately populated area from coast to coast. And with the generic remodeling, They lost their unique character.
I was happy to see that the Circle Lanes are still in Ledgewood though the Ledgewood Circle is gone as is the Ledgewood Drive-In and even that old house that sold the hubcaps. (That's what we called rims back in the day kids!)
I checked in to the Quality Inn (Formally Holiday Inn) about 3 in the afternoon. It seemed empty of people. The lobby had no one around. The parking lot was thin of cars. I was wondering if I had the right place. I'm like that sometimes. I chilled a little watching a baseball game I wasn't interested in (The hotel had no SNY.) and made a feeble attempt to ride my bicycle around the area. Not bicycle-friendly to say the least.
I killed a few more hours before I took a shower, got dressed and headed to the lobby to enter the party. First I had to check my bank account on the lobby computer to see if my check cleared to spare an embarrassing moment at the door. No problem there. I stated my name to the women handling things at the door without really looking to see if they were familiar. Since they didn't know how my last name was spelled, I guess it wasn't anyone that knew me.
I went into the room and bee-lined it to the bar to grab a bottle of courage. Before I did, I confronted Don, The only person from my high school class I've seen in recent years. Then it was glad handing all around. Everyone I saw was glad to see each other. All the high school hang ups were gone. I talked a long time to people I was surprised to talk with. Everyone I talked to seem like people I'd be comfortable hanging out on a regular basis these days even those I wasn't comfortable talking with in high school.
I was quick to drink. Thankfully Yeugling was there. That was the only one of the beer offerings that suited me especially in that it was an open bar. Like I said I'm a snob. Beer allows me to get buzzed but not drunk. Still, I musta told about 6 women I had crushes on them. Told several others I thought they were cute and they still looked great. Being around old high school chums with a better sense of who I am will do that.
I commit few faux pas. One was that I called one woman the wrong name. She looked like someone else who just happened to be standing on my left at that very moment. That same person was one of my facebook friends whom I didn't know because I didn't know her married name and she had no profile pic. I looked closer at the woman I called the wrong and knew who it was though I mispronounced her last name. She looked really good. Another faux pas was I did an in voluntary inward hiss when someone told me what he did for a living, I slipped. But the party was polite, Nobody talking too much about their jobs. Most of the folks (womwn mostly) didn't bring their respective spouses. I was surprised how many people live are teachers now, professors even. Many of the people who don't live in Jersey were more glad to be out than I was when I lived in NYC.
I reconnected with my art class chums. Particularly, Someone I was very close with in high school and she looked great. She helped me set my course of confidence back in my senior year that lasted about ten years after high school. Another guy who was voted most artistic left art way behind and is living well having made what turned out to be the right decision.
Since most of the women were married I wasn't looking to hook up with anyone but man I was very tempted. Anyway, The party at the open bar continued in the hotel bar in which I dropped a near empty glass of beer courtesy of my numb thumb on my right hand.
After the bar was closed I was not ready to let the night go and thankfully a group of 8-10 of us congregated in to a room where we just mellowed down talking about life in general. I was noting that the last time I saw these people, If we were to have gathered in a hotel room like this drinking beer it would have been a mini-scandal being underage and all in 1985. The only scandal now would be if someone in the room had lit a cigarette.
It got to the point when it was time to crash. Despite the fact we were not young kids, We did hang out until 4AM. We left en masse and I sauntered back to my room which for some reason was nowhere frickin' near where the rest of the class's rooms were. I tried to sober up by drinking lots of water and watching TV. But I nodded pretty soon after with the TV on. Shades of my art school days.
I woke up early enough but very groggy. I made it a point to make sure I grabbed some free food before they shut it down. But they didn't have much beyond cereal and bagels. So I ate the bagels, But what I really needed was water and coffee.
No one from the party was there but soon they would show up a little worse for the wear, I was thinking it was a shame it wasn't a weekend event, It would've been great to get more reacquainted with the ones I didn't get to talk to. But many of us only took the weekend off so they had to get back. Yep, We now are responsible citizens.
Oh well, A picnic was suggested for two years from now which would be the 40th anniversary of when we entered kindergarten. That would be an all day affair at Schooley's Mountain if all goes to plan. I'll show up early this time.
My friend Paul who lives in Queens, NY needed a ride back to the bus station so we were able to catch up a little more which was great. We were hoping some of the Sutton Park South crowd was there.
So in conclusion. My original intent to hang out and not show up for one of these events until our 50th reunion is now out the window. I now look forward to any gathering that may come up in the near future even if I move back to the west coast.
I was saddened to hear who has died since 1985. All of them were guys. Two I was pretty good friends with, One who I knew all the way from kindergarten.
Thanks to facebook I'll be in touch with many of those I saw that day.
Thanks for everything Mark, Kevin, and Mike and anyone who worked hard to put the event together.