"You can't go home again." Thomas Wolfe said that in a novel of the same name. I don't know what I expected from my 45th high school reunion in Marion, Ohio -- something in between a bad episode of Happy Days and the bar scene from Star Wars, I guess. Fortunately (or unfortunately if you're fan of the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert like I am), Benny Goodman was not playing in the background and there were no bounty hunters looking for my scalp.
There WERE folks startled by my cancer-altered appearance and it was immediately apparent that some of us had aged more gracefully than others -- MUCH more gracefully in some cases. It's funny. You know that you've aged. You're reminded of it every morning when you look in the mirror. But you expect to see the same people who remain fresh and young in your memory. The recognition is all the more jarring when it dawns on you that they are just as old as you are.
I also was reminded by Dennis Williams, organizer of the event and a childhood friend from the old neighborhood, that contrary to my memory this was my third reunion not my first. He pointed out that I had in fact been at the fifth and the tenth (probably) because of the presence of my ex-wife. I had no memory of these, perhaps blocked out by the episodic hysterical amnesia occasioned by my marriage during the period to Matthew's mother. In retrospect, I put that down to post-traumatic stress disorder. In any case, I hadn't seen most of these folks for over three decades and few of us had gotten any prettier.
The sword of time will pierce our skinsIt doesn't hurt when it beginsBut as it works it's way on inThe pain grows stronger...watch it grin.
Or so said a movie theme song that came out the year we all graduated. The number of the dead and missing in action has lengthened over the years. It could not be otherwise, I suppose.
As I discovered the names that made up the expanding list, I was moved in an Irish wake sort of mood to remember some of them to surviving classmates willing to listen. For instance, there was the time in 5th grade that Charlie Teets (my best friend in high school, now decades long deceased himself) and I persuaded Bob Frazier to eat a bunch of beans over a period of two days to test the scientific theory that if, (a.) methane was a flammable gas, and (b.) that farts contained significant amounts of methane, that, ergo, (c.) farts were flammable and could be ignited by a lit match. Bob was skeptical but properly encouraged he consumed five cans of pork and beans over a two day period and was properly gassy when the day of the experiment came -- the laboratory being the ground floor boy's restroom of Caledonia Elementary School.
Bob insisted upon being paid his two dollars up front -- a sensible precaution. So, paid in advance, Bob bared his cheeks to the wind, gripped the vertical stand pipe of the toilet, bent over at the proper grunting angle, and I readied the matches -- and the wait began. I went through four matches and two burned fingers before Bob produced the raw material in sync with a lit match, and then . . .
FIAT FREAKING LUX!
The result was a magnificent blinding blue flame which seemed 20 feet long and in its passing set the roll of toilet paper on fire! After picking myself off the floor (having knocked Charlie down as well in my sincere haste to get out of the way), I further burned my fingers trying to pry the the flaming roll off the dispenser and had to settle with improvising my own solitary bucket brigade by carrying water in my cupped hands from the sink, leaving a soaked, charred mass for the janitor to discover. Lord knows what he deduced from THAT evidence. Thus did 5th grade nerds satisfy their scientific curiosity.
But Bob, like Charlie, is gone now. So, too, I learned is Tim Trout. I dated his younger sister in high school briefly and Tim and I were roommates in a large rental tenement house in the Ohio State University area in Columbus for a while in the early 70s. My most vivid memory of Tim came about one day when I got a call on the house phone telling me to get down to 15th and High because Tim was himself high on some hallucinogen. This was hardly unusual for Tim. What WAS unusual was that he was directing traffic in the middle of the intersection -- naked. (He actually met Lewis Grizzard's definition of "nekkid" since he was not only without clothes, but was up to something.)
By the time I got there he was cuffed, face down on the ground, and the cops had thrown a blanket over him.
At this distance of time and place and events I no longer have memory of the legal results of Tim's escapade. I DO recall that as he lay there face down on the hot pavement, he was screaming about police brutality because, he claimed, the cops were trying to burn his private parts off. Specifically, he screamed over and over again, "MY DICK IS ON FIRE! . . . POLICE BRUTALITY! MY DICK IS ON FIRE!" And every now and then he added in, "HELP! THEY'RE TRYING TO BURN MY BALLS OFF!"
Tim kept trying to roll over on his back, which would flash his abused equipment to the crowd, so the cops would roll him back and re-cover him, leading to more screams on the same subject. The cops (and most of the crowd) thought this was all hugely funny. Heck, I even laughed myself, and I liked Tim.
What was funny in a different way was how most of us at the reunion clustered in the same old cliques. I mean, here we were 45 years later, with all that life had thrown at us in the interim, and most of us were still clustered in the same old bunches like we were still teenagers.
The greater difference, however, was between those who had stuck around Marion after graduation and those who had ventured out. And those of us who had left Warren G, Harding's boyhood home found more in common with each other than with those who stayed. I suppose it was the same with them. We shared stories of kids and wives (and ex-wives) and being from the same generation, time and place, we had much in common but we were divided, it seemed to me, by our status as hometowners or voyagers (although in my case "refugee" might be more accurate). This is not to judge one group as superior to the other, we were just . . . different.
Rosey's observations were similar to mine and although most folks were very nice and sought us out to chat over dinner, a couple of biddies insulted her for her Southern roots and accent. Some folks never graduate, I guess.
There were readers of the the blog there, even fans of my work with the armed civil disobedience movement, but there were also folks who avoided me as if my hair was on fire. These were mostly the same folks who avoided me as a "radical troublemaker" way back when. What kind of troublemaker, you may ask? Here's a typical anecdote.
One April Fool's Day, the school newspaper of which I was co-editor, came out with a spoof issue wherein we reported "the news" of the day, making up fictitious plot lines while reversing the usual roles -- the preps and the popular jocks became motorheads and delinquents and vice versa. It was all pretty innocuous stuff, but the administration had a cow and ordered us to quit selling them (I think the price was a nickel) and to buy back all the ones already sold.
I have vivid memories of the principal, Robert Barker, storming into the journalism room and issuing this diktat. And i, being the "devious subversive little bastard" that I was (Barker's words), sensed an opportunity. I asked incredulously, "Mr. Barker, are you really ordering us to stop selling the paper?" "You heard me," he replied, "Stop selling this instant."
I. Had. Him.
He took Harold Boncutter, the journalism teacher, in tow down to his office for some harsh words about "violating the dignity of River Valley." Once again Barger had screwed up. He had left us alone, without supervision, with 200 plus copies of the offending edition.
Without a word to the other staff, I scooped them all up and headed for the door. "Hey," somebody called, "you can't sell those." Without missing a step I called back over my shoulder, "Trust me, I won't sell them."
Of course you see where this is going -- yup, I gave them all away. I handed them out to every student I saw in the halls, at their lockers, from the second floor journalism office all the way downstairs to the cafeteria and got rid of the last of them there.
Every. Single. One.
When called into Barger's office (whose nickname was "Sonny," after the leader of the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang, Sonny Barger), I insisted that I had not sold a single copy and that if he had meant to say that they should also not be given away, why he should have said that and I would have complied. He looked like he was about to stroke out, or strangle me, perhaps both, although which before the other was even money.
As I recall, I got a week off school for that one, and my old man gave me a back hand across the face when I got home for once more getting in trouble at school. So I spent a week at home reading military history and science fiction, playing Doors albums and generally having a high old time. Please Brer Fox, don' throw me in dat briar patch. I considered the whole exercise entirely worth the cost.
They broadcast offers over the intercom to buy back even those copies that I had given away, but Mr. Boncutter later said they got fewer than half of the run back. He said that with a smile and never reprimanded me for getting him into trouble. Mr. Boncutter was a big believer in freedom of the press, even the student press. I learned a lot from him. I'm sure he has passed on by now, but wherever he is, I'm also sure the Fast and Furious expose by one of his old students undoubtedly made him smile.
We were -- both of us, Rosey and I -- glad we went and will go next time if God's schedule permits. On the whole we were treated wonderfully and would like to see those same folks again for the 50th.
Oh, yeah, and one more thing. It turns out that one of my former classmates is a 2nd Amendment activist in New Jersey these days and we know some of the same great "I Will Not Comply" resisters there. I offered to her that if they can come up with travel expenses and a couch to sleep on while I'm there, I would be happy to come to that state, give a speech in any venue they choose, and twist old Chris Christie's 2nd Amendment titty.
The Lord works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.