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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Class of 1991 Willard High 20-year Reunion

Part 2

Beth Moore Siegfried has been a champion of not only showing up at the reunions, but driving in from Colorado and then being vocally emphatic about how great it is to be here to see everyone. Upon seeing her, one may have a hard time distinguishing Beth’s road delirium from certain aspects of her personality, which has always contained a dash of Pollyanna heroically staring down a motorized army out of The Road Warrior. Ten years ago, as if to prove that it is possible to be high on hardship, she busted out the 15-hour drive immediately after her dog died. This time, she brought her husband, plus renewed zeal about her job as an EMT. Even more refreshing and remarkable, Beth seemed to be cussing freely and casually.

Maybe it says something weird about me, that I considered Beth’s swearing to be a good sign, almost a positive indicator of mental health. I mean, some people just swear meaninglessly, and some others avoid it scrupulously; this doesn’t always carry great meaning. While I was an early adopter of profanity, Beth kept a tidy vocabulary all through school—one that surely made her grandmother proud just as it contributed to her anachronistic, Little-House flair. Whatever changed, I like to see it as an indicator of modernity, even if only to “do as the Romans do.” One thing I know now that I did not know then (although it was always on display): the way one speaks is the greatest factor in how one is judged.

An openness to cussing facilitated a major topic of conversation with Beth, in which I was forced to set her straight about how mean I was to her, at least in grades 4-6. Whether through resiliency or blindness, she claimed to think I was always nice to her. She was just being ridiculously generous, as per her personality. As per mine, I had to be brutally honest, saying, “No I wasn’t, Beth, I was pretty much an asshole.” To illustrate, I retold a story I’d already told once that day, to get at the characters of both Beth and Chris Delozier.

“Don’t you remember the reading contest in 6th Grade, Beth? We had Mrs. Blaze, and every time you finished a book report, you got another footprint on the wall. You had footprints halfway around the room, after diligently turning in a report every week. No one else was even close. Then about a week before the end of the contest, Chris and I hatched a plan: “WE GOTTA BEAT BETH.” We each had some Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, and we checked some out of the library. We just read one adventure out of each book, which probably took ten minutes each, and then wrote half-ass reports on them. We turned them all in at the very end, with just enough to win, so you came in third.” Just as in 6th grade, Beth took it in stride. We probably rubbed her face in it and teased her about it; she probably included us in her prayers that night.

I mean, it’s not like we burned her house down or dumped pig’s blood on her, but it was bad enough that Beth comes to mind during the Kevin Bacon part of Flatliners (warning: this movie is not as good as you remember it). The only other stuff I remember doing to Beth is writing “minus 0, you bedwetter” on one of her papers, and participating in some vague, peabrained consensus of disapproval—of which I’m sure there were many, but Beth’s raw deal was more raw than most.

Luckily, by the time high school rolled around, my burgeoning conscience—perhaps acne-activated— forced me to realign with underdogs everywhere. Beth was shuffled into a category of near-benevolent neutrality with a touch of guilt, but I still doubt I was ever noticeably nice to her. She was playing the long game, though. Having finally arrived at an (arguably) adult point of view, I now say if I were the teacher, I’d strive to crush the scheme of young Woody and Delozier. The shitasses!

Most people seemed to be enjoying the bios—if not their own, then other people’s. Travis Miller was sitting by Barry Henderson. Not only was it nostalgic to see such a classic pairing of school buddies, but they were tickled to the max (bonus ‘90s lingo) over the bio for Jeff Davidson. He’d always reminded me of Barney Rubble, and I’m pretty sure that cat was out of the bag before graduation, but I don’t think he really appreciated my jest. Travis did, though. I think that’s the sort of thing you might as well just roll with. Just be the best reincarnation of Barney Rubble you can be. Similar to how I will soon have to come to grips with baldness, and either join Hair Club for Men or just shave my damn head so I can really own it.

I spoke to Julie Douglas’s boyfriend about some common employers, and that was my best claim to meeting someone new. Other than that, I mainly failed to mix at the mixer. I think it was a common problem, as ancient boundaries still divided some from others. Later I would feel socially puny for having zero knowledge about Travis Shearmeyer, the most rock-n-roll guy in the room. At least I learned to ID him when he stood for his award.

The awards ballots came in and my wife helped me tally them. She is good at such rapid tasks, so it went pretty quick. The only bump came when two gals turned in their ballots halfway through the tally, giving Heather a momentary meltdown where she cried out, “What? No, fuck it, it’s too late!” This made me laugh, but some heads turned. I went ahead and counted them, but they made no difference in the winners, which were:

Least changed--Shawn Freeman, Scott Gayer
Most changed--Matt Farmer
Least disappointing--Eric “Juice” Poland
Most rock-n-roll--Travis Shearmeyer
Feel-good champion--Tony Gray
Most surprising absence—Chris Hampton

There were quizzical looks over categories such as “least disappointing,” if only because it implied that there might also be a “most disappointing.” Brad Jones voted a straight “Juice” ticket. Tony announced the winners, and reveled in his new title. At the last moment I added the write-in category “Couples Tanning,” and awarded it to Tony and Stacy Gray. This joke amused Stacy at the table, but she was already sick of it by the time I announced it over the mic—valuable lesson about the half-life of jokes. Some other people laughed. Unfortunately, I soon found out that the Gayers were probably more deserving of the award. Sorry, Gayers. Your rich, Ricardo Montalban tans will have to be their own reward.

At some point I realized there weren’t many pictures being taken. Fortunately, a personably tipsy Amy Robinson was given a camera and a mandate to snap photos, assuring a supply of images for later Facebooking. Thanks, Amy!

As the evening rolled on, drunkenness made for not only red faces, but Red Rogue appreciation. Adam Wade came over from the bar area and gave us a second wind, conversationally. He gave Brad and me a big compliment, something like, “Out of everybody here, I’m most curious to know what YOU TWO have been up to!” Brad immediately lanced the boil of our pride by joking, “We’re lovers!” Adam had built up a head of nostalgic steam about our comics, so I was either “least disappointing” when I reported that I still draw comics, or “most disappointing” when I had to admit that most of our creative efforts wallow in relative obscurity. Still, for 20 minutes or so, we were rising American geniuses to Adam. Ah, the power of liquor.

Over at the bar area, I saw Chris Hill, Bobby Tate, and Mark Herman. I talked to Chris for a while. I’d heard he’d been to prison, but I didn’t really know. I didn’t bring it up, and he didn’t either. We had a rather disjointed conversation about tigers hunting and killing people. He was kind of wired and intense, but did nothing worthy of incarceration. Brad talked to Bobby about skateboarding, because that’s what happens when you used to skateboard. Apparently, there are many sizes of boards to discuss. I also know that the wheels are called “trucks.”

At some point, Delozier, mid-conversation, asked me about the kind of pen he used to love writing with. “FLAIR,” I said, “which I think you only liked because you loved the wrestler Ric Flair,” and he laughed his wacky infectious laugh. Doz used to eat and breathe pro wrestling. Whatever else we talked about, it was enough to give my wife a new zest for Delozier tales. Her favorite is how he would say “WHAAAAT?” loudly and harshly from his room if his dad or sister called to him for any reason, as if they were violating his only demand. Later, Brad and I told some powerful Doz stories, and we looked him up in a tenth grade yearbook where he was wearing sunglasses, looking like a Miami Vice or CHiPs drug-runner when some of us still looked like children. He always had advanced comedic abilities, as well as the power to crush you both physically and psychically. Brad used to take beatings when Doz and Jason Craig teamed up in neighborhood play. I’d been on the shit-end of that stick a few times myself—once literally, when, in the middle of what I thought was a water-balloon fight, I turned my head into Jason smashing a huge handful of fresh cow shit into my face, filling all the space between my glasses and my eyes. Knowing that Chris was staying with Tony and Stacy, we wondered later if he was pushing Stacy’s buttons over at their house. I imagined him wearing a bathrobe and sunglasses while raiding their fridge.

We sat by Dr. Shawn Freeman, discussing the pantheon of coaches: legends of Grasdorf, Berry, and Gould. Brad retold the tale of Rueben Berry crushing our spirits when he took one of our comics away from some dolt who was reading it in the weight room, then threw it in the trash and said it was garbage. Grasdorf was huge, like a giant in a Ren & Stimpy cartoon, and his paleolithic tactics made kids quiver. Most vividly, Shawn did some lively and outstanding imitations of Mr. Gould—grading Jimmy Poindexter’s tests dramatically in front of everyone, drawing crazy maps on the board, flipping off Coach Davis through the air vent in his classroom door. I believe if Willard were expanded to fill America, Shawn could easily take his one-man Gould show on the road, as Hal Holbrook did with Mark Twain.

Quite a few people were disappearing as the time approached when we had to clear out. Brad pointed out that Mike West had a bad-ass comprehensive Memories Book, and lo, it was so. It was almost a Memories Encyclopedia. Mike could take that thing on a Martha Stewart show and be like, “Martha, get your weakling Memories Book out of my face. This is what a real Memories Book looks like!” Such a tome proves without a doubt that Mike is the once and future Class President. He can’t escape his destiny, as long as that book exists. It turned out that he had Brad & Chad items that we haven’t seen in years. I wonder if he has my lost birth certificate in there.

As if Mike’s archive wasn’t enough, Jennifer Elbert had a milk crate full of yearbooks. She appeared to have a complete K-12 Willarko set, which I had never seen in one place before. If I remember right, Heather and I started pawing through them without permission, to behold their wonders. I had fun breaking it to Jennifer that, despite her “real” bio arriving in time for the booklet, she still made a cameo appearance in the entry I wrote for Jason Kelly, where he played Frankenberry and she played Booberry in a stage play. She made a priceless “what is wrong with you?” face, while also playing along enough to be a good sport. From that point on, if I had to indicate Jennifer in conversation with my wife, we just used her Monsters Cereal moniker. Jennifer is, I still believe, the right choice to play Booberry. She was my first-grade crush, and first grade was probably when I really wanted that cereal. Scandalous! As for Jason Kelly being Frankenberry, well, the man’s a genius in any role.

As if to mastermind an awkward moment while pretending not to, Melanie Gugel put me on the spot by asking, with a nod to my wife, “Chad, maybe I shouldn’t ask in front of your wife, but did you have a crush on Melissa Fielder?” This did catch me off guard, but more because Melanie spoke to me than for any potential marital friction. Little did she know that Heather and I scout crushes for each other, both celebrity and non (celebrities are easier, since you can clip-n-save their pictures). This arose from the Melissa Fielder bio: “Dang, she was cute.” I think I said something slick like, “Um, yeah, I guess.” The bio, in turn, arose from a basic physical truth, but also from the fact that I knew nothing else about the girl, ever. She was not in my karass, so her cuteness was all I could think of. I also vaguely remember overhearing her, maybe senior year, saying in a gossip circle, “Chad Woody—didn’t he used to be smart?” Maybe I’d just completed a very stupid act. It’s also very possible that I’ve been in a “Flowers for Algernon” IQ decline for about 22 years now.

Mostly, though, Melanie’s question somehow illuminates the instinctive intractability that dwells in the sub-rational space between we two ex-Pioneers. Whatever it is, it is deep and it is murky and it is everlasting, like one of those peat bogs where they find mummified ancients. But it also has a distant, faintly numinous soundtrack by some version of The Alan Parsons Project.

Finally the cash bar was shuttered and the party was over, at least for the sensible people. Somewhere else, the drinkers were rallying to some new frontier. We drove back to my house and looked at some yearbook pictures, trying to figure out how much we’d forgotten. All I know is, nothing beats that shot of Mike Schultz gleefully preparing a raw chicken in home ec.

Next—the Picnic! Who will show up? Whose kids will be the spazziest? Why is Tony so upset by abundant beans? Find out in Episode 3: The Third Part.

1 comment:

heather said...

sweet Flowers for Algernon reference. you don't see that much on the blog scene...