The weekend high school mini-reunion plans changed quickly, so I took a half-day at work Friday and headed down to Pennsylvania for an evening of shooting the breeze over dinner & drinks.
I took the long way down from northern NJ (287, 206, 95), so as to avoid the Garden State Parkway and get a chance to stop in Princeton. I’ve always enjoyed Princeton, though I don’t think I’ve been to the campus more than once (my brother was looking for some Greek texts). This time, I hit Micawber Books and its used section, thought about the piles of books on the floor of my library downstairs, and didn’t buy anything. That was followed by a visit to Princeton Record Exchange, where I picked up a couple of used records (Madonna and Delerium), and got a present for the family who were putting me up on Friday night.
From there, it was off to the races. I got into Media/Swarthmore around 5:30, after the sun was down. I mention this because, due to traffic, I had to drive in from a different direction, and I got utterly lost in the dark. I ended up getting my bearings only when I realized I was about to turn onto the street where my mom lived from 1988 to 2000.
She & I moved down to the area in 1988, just before my senior year of high school. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I’ve managed to stay in touch with many more friends from that single year than I have from the 17 years I grew here in NJ. Before going out to dinner, I talked for a while with my hosts, the parents of my buddy John. They’d always extended kindness my way, including this weekend, when they put me up on little notice.
John’s parents marveled over the impromptu weekend reunion. They said they were amazed at how well this group of friends stayed in touch over the years. I pointed out that it was a lot easier to do so thanks to e-mail, but they felt that I wasn’t giving us all enough credit. After all, plenty of people have managed to lose touch even in the age of e-mail. I conceded, and it got me wondering about what keeps this group of friends together, even when so many of us have moved away, are starting families, have busy jobs, and all the other excuses most people have.
The night’s festivities were in walking/stumbling distance of the house. We had John’s mom drop us off at the restaurant, so we could just amble home at the end of the night. She said, “Now, if you need a ride home at any time, just call me.”
I said, “Don’t worry; we’re not going to steal a car and drive drunk back to the house. John’s a got a one-year-old kid, and if I get one more conviction, it’s my ass.”
About half the crowd was waiting when John & I walked into the Iron Hill Brewery. There was one “outsider” present, but only because one of our guys was trying to cram a ton of friend & family visits into this weekend, so we didn’t give him any guff. For my part, I was hoping to see some Philadelphia friends during this trip, but I wasn’t too optimistic of the prospects for that. After all, I’d been traveling the two previous weekends, and it was awfully important to me to get home Saturday and spend time with my wife.
And that married / single dynamic was evident in strange ways during the night. Once the full crowd for Friday night was assembled, it consisted of six guys who are married — four of whom have kids — and two guys who are single (and, to the best of my knowledge, don’t have kids). The conversation didn’t mysteriously break along those lines, but I realized that the talk among married guys (at least in our set) is a little different than we have with the singletons. It wasn’t “the old ball and chain” sorta thing, just a sense that our crazier stories were behind us.
Similarly, the guys with kids were talking about things that Jim & I weren’t able to relate to. But it was no post-tower Babel; it’s just different frames of reference.
So we had dinner, and we drank (except for one of the guys who doesn’t go much for drinking nowadays, since he got it out of his system at Penn State), and we talked about where we are and what our families are doing, and we goofed on one another in the merciless loving way these guys have, and we looked at baby pictures.
The best aspect of the evening was the ease with which we could all fall into conversation. I don’t tend to be the guy with “news,” but it was nice being congratulated on my marriage by each newcomer during the evening, and asked about the wedding, the honeymoon, “adjusting to married life,” etc.
We traded notes on absent friends, both members of this group who couldn’t make the trip, and the other people we’re still in touch with from school. It got me thinking about some from there whom I have lost touch with, and whether I should look them up.
Speaking of which, the guys were surprised by the story about how my girlfriend from that high school era (1988-89) recently got in touch with me. That was mainly in the “Holy crap! I haven’t thought of her in years! How’s she doing?” vibe. There was also a little of the “How freaked out were YOU?!” line of questioning.
We traded stories about another guy’s high school girlfriend, who’s gone on to become a Lubavitcher Jew. One of the guys in our set couldn’t join us on Friday night because he seems to be going through the same transformation and doesn’t violate the Sabbath anymore. He planned to make up for it by putting together an extensive tailgating bash before the Eagles game on Sunday.
The evening moved from Iron Hill to a couple of nearby bars, with our group diminishing in number with each change of location. We ended up in a cheap-ass, wood-paneled bar that was filled with smoke. It was kinda shocking to me, since NYC and NJ both ban smoking in bars. I have civil liberties problems with this, but I have to admit it’s nice to get home from a night out and not stink of cigarette smoke.
Still, when in Rome and/or Media, PA . . .
The gin quality diminished with each change of venue, dropping from Hendricks to Bombay Sapphire to Tanqueray. You’d think that, by the 7th or 8th G&T, I wouldn’t notice the difference, but you’d be wrong; my gin-snobbery seems to know no bounds.
Fortunately, the conversation stayed entertaining, even as our numbers dropped. In the second bar, one of our guys explained to me the difference in quality of medical marijuana. In the last bar, another guy mentioned that his dad was a Skull & Bones member at Yale. He told us how he and his brother goofed on his dad when a S&B documentary was on TV, and kept grilling him to find out if Geronimo’s skull was really on display in their HQ.
My buddy John later told me how this guy’s dad was a really important figure to them when they were growing up. He was a respected scientist & professor and, besides being a go-to quote for many of their science reports, it also seems he was just really supportive of the kids, and demonstrated an intellectual curiosity that rubbed off on many of them.
Now, I’ve gone on pretty extensively about the way I’ve stayed friends with these guys, and how much their friendship has meant to me over the years. That said, they also have a million anecdotes from long before I got there, years of bonding from childhood on, that I’m just not privy to. And as John related this story about our friend’s dad, it made me wonder how I would’ve gotten along had I been around these guys from the beginning. Knowing me — and knowing what I was like as a youth — I’d likely have been the disaffected, bitter outsider who’d have managed to alienate myself from the whole squad. I was such a retard.
Following all this, John & I ambled back to his parents’ place around 2am. I settled into the twin-bed with the head- and foot-board (meaning I slept diagonally and curled), and woke up at 6:30am when the family dog came by to see who was in the room. Remarkably, I didn’t show much by way of ill effects from the night before, except for my Barry White voice, which is the inevitable result of my trying to be heard in loud bars.
Having gotten my share of gin the night before, I shifted over to my other two drinks of choice — water and black coffee — and got back into conversation with John’s parents. He remained asleep in his old bedroom, pending an 8:30 alarm clock. John’s dad wanted to talk about the election, and the political scene this decade, and it struck me as funny that, over the course of Friday night, that subject never came up once.
The next morning, five of us met up for breakfast at a cheap diner. When I say cheap, I’m talking $2.99 for 2 pancakes, 2 strips of bacon, 2 sausages, 2 eggs, and coffee. In fact, when the bill came, and everyone started trying to come up with change and small bills, I tossed a $20 on the table and said, “Oh, just throw in a tip, ferchrissakes.” Everyone handed me wads of singles instead. Go figure.