The hardcore reunionites stroll over to Engine House Number Nine, or E-9, if you want to appear to be a local. An official historical landmark, E-9, sports everything you could hope for in a brewery/pub/bar: beer, people and firefighting paraphernalia. And as we approach, I notice that it has one more thing that I didn’t anticipate – karaoke. Sigh. I have nothing against karaoke, mind you. I don’t perform it because my talents lie in creating art and not performing it. However, I was hoping for an environment that conversations may continue.
I meet up with Rob E outside of the gate of the outdoor courtyard. He presumes that I might want to join a number of other people to smoke some around the corner. And he would presume right. However, as I explain to him, if I smoke out, I get WAY too introspective and begin to watch people intently, which makes me no longer the fun guy, but rather the creepy guy. So, in my old age, I’ve made a conscious choice to not do that when I’m in social situations. Fortunately, Rob is a friend and we aren’t in high school, so there is no sweat off anyone’s back. Furthermore, and I just realize this now, Chris P. is with our group, and he’s a Brooklyn cop. Granted, he’s TOTALLY out of his jurisdiction, but it adds a sense of irony to the situation. The remaining people join us, straggling in from Masa – Lee G, Rose F., Matt H., Darcy H., Shanna K., Jim B., Paul W. and Lori E.
Everyone heads into the bar where some Tacoma young gun belts out Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive in the wrong key. Lori and I hang outside to catch up. She hugs me again. It’s a comforting hug. In the same way the feelings of crushes and first loves linger, the feelings of friendships do the same. There is 20 years of missing shared experiences, but the warmth and comfort of friendship has not dissipated. At least, from my perspective. I presume from others as well.
Lori mirrors the conversation I had with Pete the evening before. She gushes with how proud she is of what I’ve done. I blush. I may play at being confident and secure and occasionally arrogant, but inside I don’t place an extraordinarily high value on how I contribute to the world. So, I still get almost embarrassed with sincere compliments. I would never overtly show it, but its there. She tells me that when I win a Grammy that I have to take her to the ceremony. Again, like Pete, I let her know that I wouldn’t be winning a Grammy, but I had already gotten an Emmy. She looks at me with mouth open. And she hugs me with an “Oh My God! Really!” And she hugs me again in only the way I remember Lori hugging – with love and sincerity.
We walk in. The doorman looks at my passport photo, then up at me, then back at my passport. He points sideways with his head with an implied Yeah-alright-go-ahead. Lori takes a little more time with an ID that was expired. She has lost her current one. We are kindred spirits.
Inside, our group has already scouted a table, but someone had yet to hunt and gather for adult beverages. I spy others in line approaching the bar. I slide up next to them to assess the situation. Numerous people are in front of us. But, a stool opens up next to the door and adjacent to the ordering station. No one moves in to take the position, so I place it on myself to take advantage of the opportunity presented. I step up and sit down, trying to make eye contact with the bartender, the more subtle version of snapping your fingers at him, which, in my experience, doesn’t make friends nor does it get you served.
The bartender is a busy guy, however, throwing together drinks like Tom Cruise in Cocktail without the spinning of bottles, big teeth, or Elizabeth Shue. My efforts are not immediately met with success.
Next to me, a tiny bleach-blonde girl with bad roots pushes her way next to me. I turn, “Really? Are you actually pushing your way in front of me?” She turns back, “Did you really just cut in front of three other people?” Nice, I think. She’s got spunk, but no where near the bitchiness of a Hollywood chick on Cahuenga Blvd on a Friday night who doesn’t have her name on the invite list. “Awww, whose been tellin’ tales out of school?” I say with a charming smile. “Those girls back there.”, is her reply. I turn to look. Two young ladies stand in a back stance with front leg planted. Arms crossed. Chewing gum with conviction. Obviously not pleased with my alpha maneuver to get drinks. An old adage about a woman scorned crosses my mind. I smile and wave. They chew their gum louder.
I turn back to my first hurdle. “And why should you take the front of the line?” “Cause its my 21rst birthday”. “Fair enough, “ I say, “then you deserve a drink, don’t you?” She smiles “I think so…don’t you?” “Indeed I do, and what would you like?”
She gives me her preference, a Washington Apple shot, and smiles with her twenty one year old lips, then goes into how she just broke up with her boyfriend and is so upset about it, but not really…like…you know? I turn and introduce myself to the gumsmackers in line. Their hardcoated exterior still impervious to my wit. “What are your names?” The first one is Abrothail (which is a new one on me) “Abrothail, that it an amazingly unique name, and one that I won’t easily forget.” She bites her lip and blushes slighty, her hand remains in mine just a little longer than required. A chink in the armor. “And yours?”, taking the next girl’s hand. She’s Megan. “Megan, not as unique as Abrothail, but lovely none the less, pleasure to meet you.” She responds with a facial expression that can’t quite decide on a smile or a pout. “What would you like?” I ask them. “What do you mean?” I mime drinking. “To drink?” “You’re going to buy us drinks?” I smile again. “Of course. Only seems fair, right?” I get their preference – gin/tonic, and a vodka/RedBull.
Back to bleach-blonde…”And your name is…”. “Michelle, nice to meet you” I see a guy on her other side with wavy hair and a Kevin Bacon-ish Footloose look. “And your friend?” He reaches over to shake hands “Kevin…” , “Ahh, Kevin. Makes sense.” I say. I download the drink order to the bartender which has grown to at least 12 drinks, including the couple of pitchers and a few specific pints for our crew, some of who have gathered behind me. I pass out the drinks to everyone and wish Michelle a happy birthday. Abrothail raises an eyebrow. “Looks like you got on our good side after all” I look back in her eyes while handing her the gin and tonic. “I always do, my lovely Abrothail. I always do.”
For a total of the cost of a night out at the movies with a date and a pizza dinner, I made a birthday girl a little drunker, diffused a potentially negative situation, flirted with young, beautiful women, AND got drinks faster for the rest of the team. In terms of life, that would be check and mate.
I turn and pour my Chimay. A litte bit of a sidetrack here, just because. If I can get a Chimay at a bar or restaurant, I’m the happiest person in the universe. Its my favorite beer not only because of the taste, but because of the alcohol content is higher than normal, so more bang for the buck, and the fact that its usually served in a glass goblet specifically designed to bring out the aromatic flavor and hold the carbonation. You drink anything from a goblet and you are automatically propelled into a different time where you feast on mutton and imbibe mead. Its brewed in a Trappist monestary in Belgium, where all proceeds go to the care of the monks and the grounds. And honestly, folks, if you can choose to support a huge conglomerate beer manufacturer that brews subquality beer, or a group of monks – which one would you choose? Since Bellarmine is a Catholic school, you should know that if you choose wrong, you are going to Hell.
Darcy comes up beside me to question the Chimay as I finish pouring. I explain the backstory and offer her a sip. I look down at the beer which still has a substantial head on it. “Probably should wait. That might get messy…and suggestive.” She laughs. Immediately, I mentally pull up the drawbridge on this line of conversation. I met Darcy a half hour ago. I only have minimal grasp of her sense of humor (which seems like she has a lot of). And Matt is lucky to have her. Therefore, I command myself, drop flirtation down to a minimum, or at least redirect it to safe targets.
Jim, Darcy and I saunter back to the group bearing pitchers of beer. Multiple conversation have been going on while we were gone forging for brew. I greet everyone sitting down as the pitcher is emptied into everyone’s glasses. I wrap my arm around little Rosie to give a comfortable squeeze. She fits like a puzzle piece. Rob E, Lee G, and Chris P all kick back with pints. Someone in the front of the bar attempts to sing Blondie’s “Call Me” – I’m impressed with the span of time that out barmates have reached. Then I realize I’m pigeon-holing the people in the bar like the DJ at Masa was pigeon-holing us. So I stop – being one who doesn’t like to be holed in any type of fashion.
I notice that Tori and her beau have arrived, I must make the best of Tori-time, so I excuse myself to join her. As I said in earlier stories, Tori and I seem to be able to be open and honest about anything and everything, so that conversation is riveting and delightful, and I’m not even distracted by her expensive and well-worth-the-price breasts. Seriously. We lean against the popcorn machine, moving from idle chit-chat to some really deep shit. But as her friend, and someone who cares about her, I listen intently, simply because that’s what friends do. Her man is contently distracted with conversations with Matt H. Bar attendees break our conversation periodically, but nothing without amusement and humor. Michelle, the birthday-girl, pushes her way through. I yell “HEY!” She stops. I smile, “Happy Birthday”, she smiles and returns to give me a kiss. Then leaves. I turn back to the conversation. Tori stares at me. “What?” I say. She shakes her head.
Lori and Darcy make their way into the circle. Evidentally, Darcy was Lori’s roommate in college up at Western Washington University, located in Bellingham, Washington, which is equally far away from civilization in any direction. A geographical oddity. Definitely, a beautiful place. I don’t think I could live there.
Anyway, Darcy tells me that Lori is her girlfriend. Matt is her husband. But Lori is her girlfriend. I have no issues with this. I don’t judge. Lori confirms the allegations. I feel like I am now in-the-know. Darcy brings me up to speed on her past. She was, indeed, athletic and tomboyish because of having brothers. Bonding happens fast with Darcy – she really is a fun human being.
Someone in the karaoke line bravely chooses Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody – a challenge to people with talent, much less drunk people from Tacoma. Darcy and I continue our involved conversation until the Rhapsody hits the climactic guitar riff assault on the senses, where we head bang Wayne’s World style and scream out the lyrics – not so much to show our singing prowess as to drown out the horrendous voice of the woman with the mike. At that moment Darcy and I meld into one.
“Will you be my boyfriend?” she says. “That might be a little problematic because you’re married.” Lori steps up “He can’t be your boyrfriend, because he’s my boyfriend”. “No no no,” Darcy rebuts “ I’m your girlfriend, so he can’t be your boyfriend – and Matt’s my husband, and Todd’s my boyfriend” I think, Dear lord, why didn’t thisi kind of thing happen in highschool? I agree, “Alright, I’ll be your boyfriend, but only if our responsibilities are understood. Matt, as your husband, has a certain range of responsibilities. Lori, as your girlfriend, has another. And I, as your boyfriend, have a third, which I will readily live up to. As long as the lines don’t cross, all shall be good in the world. Agreed?” She shakes my hand in agreement and gives me a hug.
Its getting late, and its been a long weekend of excitement and shenanigans at this particular hootenanny. But, I have no ride. Tracy and Holland I’m sure are in bed, and if I called Tracy, the idea of waking up and driving to North Tacoma from Lakewood is problematic at best and go-fuck-yourself at worst. Fortunately, Lori lives in Lakewood and isn’t against the concept of taking Todd home. I’m such a lucky guy to have such accommodating friends. Lori is ready to motorvate, so I make my rounds of goodbyes who, in addition to the list of the classmates, include my new girlfriend Darcy, birthday-girl Michelle (who has by now forgetten her ex-boyfriend and perhaps the existence of mass and time), and the gumsmackers from the line. I do this because its ingrained in me to do so. I shake Rob and Lee’s hands. I give Rosie a kiss. Its habit. Shake the guys hands, and kiss the girls – unless I’ve know them for only three or four minutes.
Paul W walks in, invading my goodbye session. “Dude, I was almost home when I realized your clothes are in the back of my car!” Did I happen to mention how good of a guy Paul W is? If I didn’t, or maybe you missed that part of the story, Paul W is THE most amazing human being. I walk out to the car with him to get my stuff and I swear he walked on top of the puddles. Not only did he remember my stuff (eventually), but he turned around, came back to E-9, and found me in the bar to inform me that my clothes were in his car. He’s a rare breed.
On the way home, Lori and I have deep, meaningful discussions. About her fiancé, About my lack or a wife or fiancée. Why I didn’t try to hit on anyone in high school – which is because I had a girlfriend through high school – and its not in my soul to be able to cheat on the woman I’m with – therefore, “no asking anyone out” was an unspoken rule. I mention to her that in retrospect, I see the telltale signs that some of the girls were interested in me. But, dopey me, I was in love. A silly concept in high school. And I was totally oblivious to any kind of interest from women — a handicap that I didn’t overcome until recently.
Lori drops me off and I hug her goodnight and give her a kiss. I have a deep mourning in my heart because I’m flying away in the next 12 hours, and I don’t have specific plans for coming back. I DO have intentions of coming back, but nothing is planned. I miss this group of people that I called friends, and still do call friends. I miss the laughter and the stories. I just miss….them. For a lot of people I talk to, the class reunion is a source of consternation and pain. A reminder of the horrible times they had while maturing through the teen years. You know what? Fuck those guys. My high school years were some of the best years of my life. Its not because I was popular (I wasn’t). Its not because I had sex with all the hot girls (I didn’t), and its not because my brain was excited by all the wonderful knowledge that Bellarmine was instilling in me (read as much sarcasm in that as necessary). It was because of my friends – the people who showed up this weekend – and some who didn’t.