Well, yeah. I mean, like, a shit-ton.
Last Friday afternoon, I picked up my girlfriend at her office, and we pointed the car due south along I-45. The destination: Conroe, Texas. I've written about my hometown (in mostly unflattering terms) before. Right here, if you must know. This, however, was a trip that - much to my surprise - I found myself actually looking forward to.
The honest truth is, I had no intention of going to my 30-year high school reunion, but then I got drunk and basically told everybody I was going to go (you can read about that experience right here), and then I actually purchased tickets to the event while sober, and I'm dating a very smart, very hot woman who was absolutely not going to let me back out of it, if for no other reason than to meet friends from my past who might possibly be able to answer the one question about me that I would never answer about myself: Has he ALWAYS fuckin' been like this? (Turns out there was an overwhelmingly definitive answer to that question. I'll get to it in a minute.)
The reunion weekend officially kicked off with a golf tournament, which I skipped on purpose. Watching me play golf is hysterical for the first five minutes. Then it becomes depressingly sad, and that just ruins it for everybody, and I didn't want to be that guy. So we ended up at the official pre-reunion party, out on (swear to God) Cude Cemetery Road, at a place called Big Country Icehouse and Grill, owned by a former classmate, and not, to my everlasting relief, located on top of an actual cemetery.
The first person I ran into (technically, he ran into me) greeted me with a loud "Larry Fuckin' Brantley!" (For the record, my middle name is not Fuckin'. But how outlaw would that be?) And the Catching Up On 30 Years officially began. Fortunately, I'm friends with a great many of my former classmates on social media, so it wasn't necessary to bring them up-to-speed on my divorce, or my twelve year-old daughter (I did talk about her, though, kind of a lot), or my career, or the fact that I actually was on an Emmy-winning television show in the 90s (a lot of them have kids that watched the show), or the blog, or the fact that the beautiful woman on my arm actually came with me of her own free will, and I hadn't paid her or threatened her family to do so. Which took a lot of the pressure off. So did the bottle of Scotch I brought with me. The one I damn near finished by myself. That evening.
This is Vicki. The fact that she - of all people - is wearing a name tag is fuckin' hysterical. Imagine if Paul McCartney went to his high school reunion and slapped a sticky note on his shirt that said, Hi, I'm Paul! She's WAY cuter than Paul McCartney, though.
Friday evening was a little overwhelming, though. A lot of people were flitting around like mosquitoes near a bug-zapper, trying to make sure they didn't leave anybody out of the experience. I mention that, because the people who were doing that are way nicer than me. Once my best friend from high school (he's still my best friend, now I think about it) and his wife showed up, I pretty much parked and observed. I made one or two passes through the joint to look for friends I might have missed, but I couldn't have any real conversations inside the bar; the band was at full volume, and my rock-and-roll ears are nearly as useless as hubcaps on a tractor. That was the point at which my girlfriend (the smart, hot one, remember?) reminded me that I would have an opportunity to have actual conversations with people Saturday night, at the actual reunion event. So we packed up our bag of liquor (you read that right: a bag of liquor. Not a small bag; one of those heavy, reusable bags, the kind that could tote a cinder block) and we headed back to Geofmo's house (the best friend), where the girls crashed about 1AM, and Geofmo and I continued to drink and make music until 4AM, which was around the time I tried to play Stairway To Heaven on the Scotch bottle, while taking a big swig of my guitar.
Go back up to the top of this post. See those gigantic Bloody Marys? That was Saturday brunch. By the time we finished those, we had to get ready for The Event.
Self and Geofmo. The sunglasses are not a fashion statement. They are fucking necessary.
The first thing we had to do was check in, at which point we were given laminated name tags that included - no real surprise here - our senior pictures on them. It's not that I was embarrassed to wear my senior picture. Shit, I've posted WAY more embarrassing photos of myself on Facebook besides my senior photo (in which, by the way, I look like a poster boy for a mortician's business). It's just that I'm against name tags in general. Call it my rebellion against conformity. Whatever. I went the entire evening sans name tag, and not once did I get a Who the fuck are you? from anybody.
Self, Rocky, Robert and Kurt. Only one of us is tortuously hung over. (Hint: it's the guy in the sunglasses, the one who brought his own fucking whiskey glass to the event. Freak.)
I was relaxed; I was myself. A lot of stories were told about me, some of which I had absolutely no memory of, some of which I remembered very differently. It didn't matter; they were all in the past, and we had all finally arrived at the place in our lives where we could let the past stay there. (Well, except maybe one former classmate, who clearly thought that she and I had some sort of arch-rivalry thing going on back in the day [no, we didn't], who did not speak to me so much that weekend as shout at me, in what I presume she thought was a very fun and playful way, but which was neither.)
At some point in the evening, the one thing I dreaded came to pass. I was in the middle of a conversation between my friend Rocky and my girlfriend (they both work in the medical field, and I do not, so I was figuratively the turd-in-the-punchbowl for that conversation), when I heard my name called over the public address system. I was asked to come up on stage - and I had no idea why. Because I hadn't been listening, because I had been trying to follow a conversation between an old high school friend and my girlfriend, both of whom are orders of magnitude smarter than me, but I'm pretty good at nodding in all the right places in almost any conversation, and I was just about to cut loose with a really good, well-placed, informed nod, to indicate that, fuck yeah, I know exactly what's going on in this conversation, and then I heard my name called, and my brain ground to a screeching halt because why the fuck do you want me to walk up there?
My first thought was that I was about to be publicly shamed for not wearing my name tag all evening. Because that's how strongly some people feel about name tags, especially if they worked really hard on them, and then some thankless asshole just refuses to wear his, because of some high-and-mighty "rebellion against conformity." I had no idea how I was going to deal with that, and was actually looking around for a fire alarm to pull, when they called another name: Tori Lowrence Mitteness. At that point my sphincter relaxed, because Tori is simply one of the sweetest, awesomest people on the planet, and nobody was going to embarrass or shame her. Nobody would even think of it. Plus, she was wearing her name tag.
Tori and I had been called on stage to accept recognition for Least Changed Since High School. This made perfect sense - in Tori's case. To wit:
This is Tori. There's literally no need to post a high school picture of her, because holy shit she has not aged one day. Not. One. She's clearly immortal. Or she's a robot. A really attractive, sweet, down-to-earth robot who is about to take over the planet.
In MY case, however, to present me with the honor of Least Changed Since High School means that the organizers who voted for me have gone literally, actually blind. Like, Ray Charles blind. For one thing, I no longer look like Moe Howard. (Moe Howard was one of the original Three Stooges, the one with the bowl haircut - and yes, I had a bowl haircut. And a pencil-thin mustache. I was basically Girl Repellent.) For another thing, the ravages of Time and Gravity have done their evil work on me, unlike Tori, who is so genuine and lovely that both Time and Gravity were probably like, You know what? Let's give her a pass. She's just so damn lovely.
Tori and me. I rest my fuckin' case.
Later that evening, after we'd left the reunion, after the overwhelming experience of once again seeing so many people that were such an integral part of some of the most defining years of my life, my girlfriend suggested that, maybe - just maybe - Least Changed Since High School had nothing (or, at least, very little) to do with appearance. Based on damn-near every story I heard about myself last weekend, I am mostly remembered as The Guy Who Made You Laugh. Not The Guy Who Looked Like Moe Howard, or The Guy Who's Dad Killed Himself In A Trailer. I was - and am - still thought of as the funny one. As high school legacies go, that doesn't suck. I'll take it.