Saturday, February 12, 2011

Class Reunion-50th

By now, you all know Gal Friday (and every other day of the week).  Well folks, Gal Friday (GF) did it again.  This time she dragged me mucho miles to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York for my 50th class reunion.  This occurred last October, but I've waited to comment on this grandiose event until I recovered.

First of all let me explain that she allowed me inside the ramp van MOST OF THE WAY.  She seat-belted me in my red or maybe burgundy (I'm color blind) power chair and then secured the chariot via ratcheted tie-downs in the van.  When we hit Vickerman Hill, the 1000-f00t steep decline  into the valley, she jerked me from the van and with a bungee cord tied Ole Red, with me aboard,  to the rear bumper.  She set my chariot to free-wheeling mode, smiled at me and yelled, "Have a nice ride."

Now GF is a cautious driver and didn't go faster than 60 mph down this treacherous grade; however, I hit speeds up to 90.  At one point I flew by her so fast I didn't have time to ring my tricycle thumb bell.  A bungee cord is pretty flexible and its elasticity is quite phenomenal.  I swayed in and out of both lanes using my joy stick to avoid cars, trucks, animals, birds and things that flew by so fast, I couldn't identify them.  This terrifying ride was like a deadly video game but with potentially fatal consequences.  When we reached the bottom of the hill, she caught up with me, stopped the van and allowed me back in.  I will credit her with this, though - she left my seat belt on at all times.  GF is going to edit this posting so I might as well admit my version may be somewhat of an embellishment, but in the past this pathway into the valley has seen many accidents.  I noticed they now have a run-away truck ramp and dead man's curve is not as sharp.

We had another couple following us.  A classmate, good friend and lovely woman who's married to a great guy live near us and since we were both going to the reunion, we caravanned it.  I realize two vehicles doesn't constitute much of a caravan but better than two camels.  Well, Margie was horrified after witnessing my brush with death and rushed over to see if I actually survived my deadly ride, or so I thought.  However, when she reached me, instead of compassionate questions about my health and safety, she carped about speeding and reckless driving. A guy just can't win.

The reunion committee scheduled a casual gathering at BPOE 1444 Ilion Elks Club that night and that's where we headed.  As you can imagine, my chariot can't climb steps, but fortunately the Brothers of Elkdom built a wheelchair ramp for entering the club.  Unfortunately it's steeper than the north face of Mt. Everest.   But after my death-defying race down Vickerman Hill, this looked like a no-brainer.  Undaunted and with a prayer on my lips, I navigated upwards.  The door at the top gave me entrance to the bar, which I badly needed.  After a few belts to get my blood once again circulating,  I wheeled into the gathering room.

I thought I made a mistake; it looked like I interrupted an Alzheimer's support group.  Who the hell were all these old people?  I stopped one old geezer doing the geriatric shuffle toward the men's room and asked if this was in fact the class of 60 reunion crowd.  He adjusted his thick glasses, looked me over very cautiously and said I looked familiar.  He asked if I had been at Ilion High in 1960 and I nodded "yes."  Then he asked me what class I taught.  WHAT!!!

I ventured further into the room.  Looking for somebody I recognized, my eyes finally fell upon an old friend's father.  I called to him and he headed through the throng.  As I watched him near, something blurred in my memory; he didn't look quite the same as I recalled.  Actually he seemed in better shape than I thought he would since he had to be 90 something by now.  I asked about his health and he gave me a five-minute recap of his medical history.  Then I asked about his son, my friend.  A blank expression clouded over and he didn't reply.  Afraid he might be comatose, I reached over and shook him. He ripped his arm away and, while shaking a finger at me, yelled out how many years ago his father died.  I still didn't grasp his meaning.  I figured the shaking finger was due to palsy and what the hell did I care about when my friend's grandfather died.  I never met the man.  Obviously this poor old man I used to admire and respect so much was submitting to senility.

After an embarrassing pause, he carefully explained - like speaking to a two-year-old - he wasn't my good friend's father, he was my good friend.  WHAT!!!  I could see, by the concerned look in his eye, he thought I might need immediate cardiac care and I'm sure he was thinking 911.  I wondered what was happening.  Had I been in some kind of time warp?  There was no way I even came close to resembling these old farts.  Something was amiss here.  Maybe this was a dream or an out-of-body experience.  Trying to calm myself, I sat quietly and listened to remarks in the crowd.  I heard women say things to other women like, "You look just like your mother."  I heard men talking about surgeries, braces, stents and pills.  I searched GF's eyes waiting for a logical explanation.

Then people started coming over to me, shaking my hand and introducing themselves.  Their names brought images of young, healthy kids to mind, but what connection did they have to these senior fogies?  These people were obese or white-headed or wrinkled or bald or couldn't see or experienced hearing loss - or possibly all of the above.  Where were the sexy girls in my class I used to fantasize about?  What happened to the sharp, good-looking guys and the athletic teammates?

Then something  happened; it was like a secular epiphany.  With a digital camera, one of the prom queens, who now looked like a retired prison warden, took a picture of three of us classmates posing like we were back in high school cheering on our gold and brown "Bombers."  When she showed me the result, I thought it was the wrong picture. I saw the image that captured three drunken old men stupidly smiling into the camera and I thought the one in the middle might be drooling.  I condescendingly said something  gracious about these three poor chaps and then asked her to show me our picture.  She claimed this was it and the poor schmuck in the middle was yours truly.  WHAT!!!

Now please understand, I don't look into a mirror very often. I haven't since a few years back when I did and got scared by the reflection. With tremendous strength of character, I asked to see the picture again. Sure enough, the guy stuck in the middle was me - I could tell by the unique shirt I wore for the occasion. Embarrassing tears began to form so I hightailed it back to the bar for more bottled courage. After a few more belts to regain reality, I looked up and noticed the guy in the mirrored back bar was the same guy in the middle of the devastatingly telling digital picture. Besides, he was the only guy in a wheelchair. I ordered some more booze. The rest of the night got a little fuzzy, but I think I remember some of these elderly classmates sharing a few more drinks in our motel room. Yeah, I'm pretty sure.

GF roused me from my drunken stupor the next morning and we joined many classmates who stayed in the same motel, for breakfast, or was it lunch?  Somehow the breakfast/lunch crowd ended up back in our motel room.  I had planned on visiting some relatives that afternoon, but the spontaneous party ran into the late afternoon.  It was fantastic.  In the light of day and after a new found outlook derived from the previous night's revelations, I knew these people.  They weren't strangers; they were old friends.  Some of the people were reunion committee members and had information on the attendees and those who couldn't make it.  I inquired about those who were absent.  I must have come up with about 20 names.  As I ticked the names off, one by one the same answer came back - "I'm sorry to tell you, but he or she died."  WHAT!!!  About 90% of the people I asked about were now deceased.  One guy present begged me not to ask about him.  I discovered 30 classmates had passed away.  This was from a class of about 150.  How could this possibly be?  I mean we weren't that old.

The afternoon flew by so fast, before we knew it, people had to scurry to get ready for the night's gala reunion dinner.  During our little afternoon tea, a few drinks were consumed and everyone left in much better spirits than when they came.  Truthfully, to me, that short time in that tiny motel room, sharing old and new stories with my high school friends, was a golden memory never to be forgotten.  That alone was worth the trip no matter how long or dangerous.  To those who didn't make it; believe me, you were very present in spirit.

The dinner that night was more fun than should be allowed.  People who hadn't seen each other in 50 years caught up.  The music was drowned out by a more melodic sound, that of laughter and good cheer.  My only gripe was the weekend was too short.  I didn't get to talk to so many classmates I wanted to see.  I did get a lot of email addresses and phone numbers that I will follow up on and I'm excited with the thought.

I was asked by the committee (who, by the way, did a superb job)  to compose a poem for the reunion and read it at the dinner.  With a little help from GF and a staff member, I blurted out my composition and didn't get hit with any food or utensils.  To me, this was a victory.  GF, always prepared, brought along extra napkins in case the fruits and veggies did fly.  I felt pretty confident, while wheeling up to the mike, because the law couldn't arrest me for drunken walking.

Following the dinner, a group of us met back at the motel restaurant for coffee and dessert.  My sense of accomplishment regarding my poem soon proved to be false.  When I asked the woman next to me what she thought about my verse, she promptly mashed my joy stick and drove me into the table.  Both the stick and I were jammed under the table and time seemed to slow to the pace of a snail in reverse.  Finally her husband discovered a miniature version of the jaws of death in his watch pocket and cut me loose.  I then realized my attempt at poetry wasn't the big hit I imagined.

The next day GF and I visited places referred to in my novel, Blue Chariot, which is a suspense thriller that includes some scary scenes around the Mohawk Valley.  We enjoyed a pleasant day seeing various areas and envisioning scenes in the book.  When we returned to the motel, Ralph, a friend since 5-years-old and someone I've always stayed in touch with, called me.  The three of us met for dinner and guess what - we gathered back at our motel room for drinks.  We broke up slightly after 3 AM.  It was rather simple for me to find my bed.  I just had to raise from my chariot and fall forward, but I think Ralph had to make several passes to find his room.

The next morning GF and I breakfasted with my aunt and uncle who still live in Ilion, my hometown.  They are 80 and 85 and look terrific.  After careful consideration, I realized they looked younger than me.  Boy this reunion trip was turning brutal.  Then we departed the valley and headed west to see some sites I included in my second suspense thriller, Mistake.  We headed for Ithaca, Watkins Glen and Penn Yan.  That night we stayed around Rochester and dined with my niece, her husband and son and his wife.  She mentioned I smelled like I had been stomping grapes all day so I restricted myself to one cocktail.  Family members can sometimes be a little too truthful.  I mean I hadn't seen my niece in years and I thought she could cut me a little slack, but it is what it is.

The next day we shuffled off to Buffalo. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)  GF, the saint she is, consented to a visit with one of my old high school girlfriends I hadn't seen since 1961.  Her husband had passed away and I had consoled her via email.  I promised, after consulting with GF, we would visit her when we came to upstate NY and here we were.  My ego allowed me to be a little nervous about our dinner meeting thinking GF might wonder about the wisdom of reuniting with an old flame.  After all we were on a reunion excursion so this fell nicely into the theme - right?  Jealousy never reared its ugly head which also got me thinking about my appearance.  I figured if I looked even half-way decent, GF might worry, at least slightly, about an old girlfriend making a pass.  When we entered a nice Italian  restaurant, I saw the look of disappointment on Judy's face and spent the rest of the night in a lousy reality check.  This trip got worse every day.  I didn't know how much more my ego could take.

Judy, of course, looked like she did when I last saw her 50 years ago.  By now I wished she resembled her father, who, in my opinion, wasn't a handsome man.  I discovered she was about to marry some "prince of a guy" and move to some mansion in FL.  Oh joy.  He probably is young, handsome and rich.  My self-worth was sinking fast.  As I sat there, the proverbial bump on the log, the two women got along fabulously.  I ordered more wine.  By now, I didn't bother to ask the girls if they wanted refills; I sailed alone.  By the time we closed what I now considered a dump, I drove my chariot crooked.  Hitting numerous tables and chairs, my legs suffered so many bruises they throbbed at every heartbeat.  To top the evening off, I whacked my head on the van's roof as I wheeled up the ramp.  I wasn't sure if the red liquid emitting from the wound was blood or wine.  I wanted my mommy.

We drove through the Allegheny Mountains on our return trip to DE the next day.  Sunshine filled the sky.  Even with my bloodshot eyes and dulled senses, I couldn't help but appreciatete the hardwood trees of fall ablaze with reds and golds.  The scenery of rural NY and PA was lush with green foliage and spectacular farms boasted beautiful hip-roofed barns and magnificent silos standing tall like sentinels watching protectively over their pastures.  We passed through quaint small villages decorated with stately old homes with manicured lawns adorned with autumn flowers and colorful fallen leaves.  Some towns sported classic courthouses amid crisply defined town squares.  All this beauty-why did I feel so rotten, so down in the dumps, so physically and emotionally bruised?  I can't wait for my next class reunion.

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