Thursday, April 9, 2009

Class Reunion

At the 20th Unionville Class of ‘75 Reunion, I tucked the hem of my dress into the top of my pantyhose by accident and walked out of the restroom and onto the dance floor. One of my classmates was kind enough to tell me about it and I un-tucked my dress, covered my butt and continued along with the evening, a bit more self-conscious than before. IF that was possible.
Last night was our 30th reunion, held at Radley Run Country Club, and I have to ask why we go to reunions to see people we haven’t seen in years and years, and what do we get out of it? It has to fulfill a need on some level, otherwise we wouldn’t make the effort to be there. Certainly, curiosity plays a role—we want to see how the kids we grew up with are aging and where they are in their life—but how does that benefit us?

In Papua New Guinea, tribes come together annually for Sing-Sing, a gathering where they wear their unique tribal costumes, feast, sing and dance. This is an opportunity to celebrate, meet old friends and future spouses. It is a way of marking time and forming relationships and bears a strange resemblance to our ritual class reunions where we gather together wearing nice clothes to eat, chat and drink. Hmmm.

I believe class reunions are a way we deal with our mortality. We see our own life reflected in the eyes and lives of our classmates, a unique group of people that shared time and geography with us for a specific era, and we measure ourselves against others. We were friends and classmates, and we renew old friendships and begin new ones with folks that were merely acquaintances while we were in school.

In Altoona, PA, where I live as a foreign invader in the post-industrial town that protectively uses their families to insulate themselves, I am an outsider: a Stranger in a Strange Land. There is a plethora of generational poverty perpetuated by attitudes of entitlement, young, single mothers abound while parental responsibility is left to the grandparents, NASCAR and football are the favorite spectator sports and country music plays the theme song. Promising youth seek to leave the area, the local chapter of NOW folded due to lack of interest and conservative Protestantism with its accompanying mores thrives. Everyone struggles to be king of the landfill. It is a futile attempt that leaves nothing but disfiguring scars on the once beautiful landscape and uneducated population.

It was nice to be refreshed with my past, to remember WHO I AM, in regard to where I currently find myself. There is more to the world than the depressed wasteland of Central Pennsylvania, but one tends to get mired in one’s circumstances if one isn’t vigilant about maintaining a perspective that reflects the rest of the nation and world.

Everyone last night was asked where they lived, were they married, what they did for a living and how many children, or grandchildren, they had. Most conversation was superficial because of time restraints and I have to wonder how many real life dramas and heartbreaks were present but unannounced: is your husband/wife cheating on you, do you have an addiction problem, do your children have an addiction problem, are you dealing with health or financial problems in your family or is everyone just as perfect as they appear? I think each classmate should be made to confess their deepest, darkest secrets and their failures and embarrassments at these reunions so everyone walks away with a feeling of our humanness and frailty, with an appreciation of the ups and downs of life instead of seeing a bunch of polished resumes in designer clothes.

Perhaps a round or two of Truth or Dare or Bullshit should be on the agenda for the 40th: “Hi, my name is Barbie. Ken and I have been married for thirty years during which time he made CEO of a Fortune 500 company while Muffy and Binky both graduated with top honors from Ivy League Universities and presented us with a pair healthy, pink grandchildren.”

“BULLSHIT!” We would all cry in unison.

Barbie would excuse herself while she dabbed tears from her eyes and quietly begin to confess to the now hushed room how Ken brought AIDS home in the ‘90’s when he was bopping his caddy and that Muffy is now a stripper in East LA, while Binky is in rehab for the forth time this year, and how they had lost their house in the suburbs when they invested in a promising pyramid scheme and are currently living in the basement of Barbie’s parents’ house. The crowd would cheer and the rest of us would return home feeling pretty damn good about ourselves.

Another idea for the next reunion is based on the speed dating concept, where we would all be allotted a couple of minutes with each class member and then move on to the next at the sound of a buzzer. That way, we could quickly get through all the small talk and have more time for serious partying, while Jimmy Buffet plays our theme song, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.”

But, of course, we’re too old, too married and too responsible for anything like that now. Right? Right???

I know you—you’re seriously exploring the concept. You animal.

Perhaps reunions are just a reality check on the highway of life, like a drive-through service station where we get our oil changed and tires checked, “You’re down two children and your bank account is making a funny noise, ma’am. I think you better rev yourself up and get with the program,” says the mechanic who pops his head out from under the reunion dinner table and looks suspiciously like my high school biology teacher, Kenny Kane.

“Holy shit,” says the Unionville alumnus after draining her beer, “Do you think I’ll ever catch up?”

“Not with that attitude, ma’am,” he says with a swipe of the back of his hand across his sweaty brow. “You brought this on yourself. You should have paid attention when I had you in class instead of partying your way through school. Now everyone is going to point and stare and gossip behind your back and you deserve every bit of it. There’s a fungus among us, and it is you.”

“And by the way, ma’am” he adds before disappearing back under the table, “You should know that your dress is tucked in your pantyhose (sigh) again.”

~ Leslie Hayes
Sunday, August 07, 2005, 10:45 a.m.
On the banks of the Bohemia River
Somewhere in Maryland

After living fifteen years in the Florida Keys and five years in Northern Michigan, Leslie (Kling) Hayes now resides in Altoona, PA with her eleven-year-old daughter, Lauren, two cats, Skipper The Gerbil and a beta fish that refuses to die. Leslie is a published columnist and employed full-time by the PA House of Representatives. Ordinarily, she enjoys salt water fly-fishing, gardening, sailing, diving, camping and travel, but is grateful to find enough time lately to clean the litter box. Furthermore, she can’t sing, hates to cook and is abnormally nervous around attractive men. Her heroes are Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen and Janet Evanovich. You are encouraged to contact Leslie at:

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