Invitations come for high school and college reunions, weddings and phone calls about funerals. Weddings, because I give good gifts and I always dance with the mother of the bride, school reunions because I spent forever in expensive universities taking advantage of hardship scholarships, and funerals because I am in a life passage where friends are dropping like flies.
At these events you find out that the best-looking girl in high school got fat and the quiet guy became a mortician. The wild ones became the police. The athlete got a disabling disease. The artistic kid who was always defending himself became a boxer. The linebacker bully now weighs over 450 pounds and is incapable of getting off a barstool.
At a recent reunion I sat with a bunch of rich old friends and for an hour they took turns talking about heart attacks, diabetes and prostate cancer. When it went around the table and came to my turn, I had no medical problems to brag about, so I got up and bought a round of drinks.
Returning with the drinks, they were on the subject of who was dead. Some died of natural causes, some killed themselves, some died of the diseases that had just been mentioned at the table, some drank themselves to death, some shot up on the wrong stuff or too much of the right stuff, and some of them just bored themselves to death.
Then we came to the “where are they now” stories.
The boy who loved bicycles now owns a motorcycle dealership. The person who knew the most about the Bible, the Torah and the Koran is now an atheist. Two people who decided to make a living from preaching the gospel are in jail, one for stealing the church’s money and one for doing unspeakable things to children.
No one knew anything about Mrs. Miller, my favorite English teacher. No one even remembered her. She made me understand Shakespeare and said it was all right to swear if you were making a point. “Just don’t make profanity redundant.”
All the people I knew in Business Management went bankrupt. The teacher who taught me how to type died with Alzheimer’s and his funeral is next week. Three alumni made arrangements to carpool to it. Funerals have become our important social events.
The last funeral I went to was for a man who abused his body so badly that it finally just gave up and died. There was a church service in a church he never walked into and a graveside prayer that would have made him laugh. During the get-together afterward at his home the family spoke about what a great guy he was and what a wonderful father. I didn’t speak. I couldn’t remember a story where he wasn’t drunk or loaded or cranked or hyped up or chasing some woman who was drunk or loaded. However, the family remembered him as a good father and husband.
So, at this reunion, after another round of drinks and when we all got tired of talking about our physical maladies, when we became weary of the stories about our famous and infamous, when the quips about the prom queen, track star and the sophomore who painted the senior quad statue green became repetitive, I asked about other people who had not been mentioned. Most of the people I was interested in were too plain to be remembered; too ordinary to be part of “whatever happened to.” The only thing these everyday people accomplished was to create families and raise children and stay out of trouble and build businesses and pay taxes and vote and take care of their parents and be good neighbors. They had not done anything clever enough to become a wisecrack at a reunion.
No one at the table remembered the regular people I asked about. Instead they reverted to talking about the money they had earned and lost, their multiple divorces and the “bitches” that ended up with their fancy houses. Long-term marriages and how well their children were doing were subjects that didn’t come up. When things did lighten up and they did discuss something positive the word Porsche was repeated like a mantra to maintain their youth.
A few days ago I went for a motorcycle ride with a father and his son. They are some of the down-to-earth unpretentious people I like and have known forever. The father is a good man, a good parent and a good example for his son, who, in his own right, is a hard-working kid concerned with his future.
During a rest stop on our ride, listening to the young man expound on life and politics and make statements that could easily have come out of his father’s mouth, his father said, “Doesn’t it bother you when you sound just like me?”
The boy winced. “Yes, it really does. I hate when I sound just like you.” The boy then playfully hit his father in the arm and there was good-natured scuffling for a few minutes. Pecking order re-established, the three of us got back on our bikes and continued our day ride.
It has been amusing to watch the boy grow up and become a duplicate of his father. No matter how hard he tries to rebel, tries to find himself and not become an old fuddy-duddy, the boy always seems to circle back to where his father started and has become lucky enough to replicate a good man. The facts are clear. The genes have done their work and the Xerox machine of natural selection has conveniently reproduced another carbon copy of a person worth emulating.
Not long ago, at the mall, I caught a sideways glimpse of myself in a distant mirror. For a moment I thought it was my long-departed father. I had to laugh at myself like the boy has to laugh at himself. Sure, I am a little taller than my dad, but there he is. I always wanted to be myself and railed against becoming a copy of my old man, but there he is standing in the sideways glimpse of myself.
I stood for a long time looking in that mirror. It was enjoyable seeing my dad and listening to him say, “Doesn’t it bother you when you look and sound just like me?”
“No, Dad, it doesn’t.”