Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Class of '85 - 20th Reunion (2005)

You’re 38 years old. You live in a condo in Chicago. You have two cats. You have a good job and good friends. You’re still close with your family. The relationship you were in four months ago resembles a burning tire farm, but other than that things are good.

You get an e-mail from Shawn Elmore. He wants to know if you’re going to the 20th class reunion. You say you really hadn’t thought about it. He says, “C’mon man, it’ll be cool.” You tell him you already keep in contact with those you keep in contact with. He says, “No, this is a big one, you gotta go.”

You want to argue with him, but you know it’s impossible. You love Shawn and want to be there for him so you say yes. Besides, Ab will be there and he lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. Plus Dave lives in Des Moines. Your folks are there. So what the hell, right?

But you don’t think about it too hard. You work. You live your life.

You get an e-mail from Jeb Barmish one day. He and you had touched base a few months ago. Randomly. You weren’t best friends, but you were co-captains on the swim team and always liked each other. You remember eating pepperoni pizza at his house when you were a kid. Was it a sleep over? He wants to know if you’re going to the reunion and if you’re going to play golf. You write him that your golf game is a fine line between golf and walking around aimlessly. He says his is the same and you should go. He e-mails you a pdf with all the info.

You continue to live your life.

You leave work early and start packing Thursday afternoon. You look at a t-shirt which has a picture of a kitten on it. Underneath it are words written in script. From far away it might appear to say, “Hang in there, you can do it.” But upon closer inspection it says, “Every time you masturbate, god kills a kitten.” You consider the t-shirt. If you wear it, what will people think? Will they think you’re trying to be the class clown? You wander into the back of your skull and try to remember if this was what high school was all about; your appearance and other people’s appearance, which led to how you made decisions and judgments. Geeks, goofs, jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, druggies, punks, clubs, groups, cliques. Izod or Polo, Guess or Gap, collar up or down? You decide to pack the t-shirt and as many neutral clothes as possible.

You get on the road and listen to the new Citizen Cope and the new Spoon cds. You wonder what people listen to these days. Have they gone classical? Do they still rock out to Zeppelin? Do they listen to Dead bootlegs? Or NPR? Or are they madly downloading Fitty Cent, Avril Lavigne, and podcasts?

As you cross the Mississippi and enter Iowa, you roll down the windows. It’s hot and humid. You breathe in the sweet Mid-western air and listen to the buzzing of crickets and cicadas along the interstate. You smell the distinct odor of pigs and cows. Your windshield is smeared with bugs. Heartland.

As you close in on Des Moines, it begins to sink in. This is going to be so surreal.

You get in around midnight. You say hello and goodnight to your folks and go up to your room. You lie on your bed in the dark. You wonder what will happen because of what’s happened in the last twenty years. It takes awhile to fall asleep.

You get up early Friday morning and head to Jester Park after mapquesting it on the net. You had no idea Jester Park even existed.

You find a spot to park your car and take out your clubs. You look at the sky. It appears as if it might rain. There’s a group of carts collected together by the pro shop. And by the carts are a bunch of adults. Are these your peers? They seem rounder and grayer than you remember. It feels like the first day of school. You’re nervous, excited and sick. You walk up to someone. “Hi,” you say. “I’m Steve Stein. Am I in the right place?”

“Yes, you are,” says the stranger. “Just find a cart. I’m Tim Heil.” It can’t be. Where’s the long blonde hair? But then he smiles. It gives him away. It is Tim Heil. You turn around. Sam Ayers? Jim Cavanaugh?

Jeb gives you a quick hug as he walks by. “You turned out alright,” he says. You watch him walk to his cart. He looks a little like his Dad.

You see Jennie Creighton. She looks the same, maybe a little more exotic. You know it’s Jennie Creighton, but what you say is “Jennie Craig?”

“Uh, close,” she says. “Creighton. Jennie Creighton.”

You’ve made your first faux pas. It’s only been two and a half minutes. Thankfully, she laughs it off.

“Where do you live?” you ask.

"Bali," she says.

“Bali? Really? Ab Bear lives in Jakarta. I think you’re neighbors.”

Joe Tamse? Mike Blaess? Is that Jill Taylor? Shelly Bolton? Wait, did Jennie have an accent? Ajay looks the same. Ajay Kwatra. You remember getting high and listening to Duran Duran in the basement of his parent’s house on 50th street. And you saw him in California once at a film festival. He’s a lawyer and his brother Vinnie is a doctor, right?

Kevin Perez? Tom DeLay? Jeff Brody? It’s so surreal.

Elyse and Jami run up to you and scream. Everyone turns around. You feel like a rock star. But you can hear screams and shouts all around you.

No way!
Dude!
Oh my God!
Fuckin A, man!
This is so surreal!


And laughter. There’s lots of laughter.

You find a cart. It says Brian Arnold. He had really thick leg hair, right? Skinny?

Scott Pochter is on the cart next to you. He smiles and nods. “Hey, man.”

“Hey.”

A woman sits next to you. “Hi,” she says. “I’m Lynn Walker.”

Right. Of course she is.

“I’m Steve Stein.”

“Oh my god,” she says. “I wouldn’t have recognized you.”

“I can show you an ID.”

She laughs and we’re off looking for hole 14. We’re part of an A/B foursome with Kim Staples and Cindy McDonald along with their husbands. Kim and Cindy look like themselves. You recognize them. Wasn’t Kim in an English class? No, it was homeroom. Sure, it was alphabetical. Staples, Stein.

Shelly Wirtz and her husband John pull up in a cart. Shelly looks like Shelly. John must look like John. This is so weird.

“Brian may or may not make it,” Shelly says. “We should just play.”

You assume she means Brian Arnold. But wasn’t there a Brian May?

You pull out your 3 wood and explain the two things you want from this golf match. “One,” you say, “is no laughing. And two is I want to hear someone say, hey, let’s use Steve’s ball just once.”

You swing and it goes way right. This won’t be your hole.

The foursome is you, Lynn, John and Shelly. But Shelly’s not playing. When we get to the next hole, Lisa Schiefer drives up with Brian Farrell. Brian doesn’t look well.

“Man, I don’t know why I’m not feeling so good,” he says to no one in particular.

You think he may really be sick, but everyone laughs. They know. He doesn’t look well because his blood alcohol content is still high from the night before.

“Whew! Gonna need some help today. See you later, June.”

Right, they’re married. Ward and June Cleaver.

Shelly goes with Lisa. Lisa is still super cute. So is Shelly.

Brian takes a while to find his game, but he finds it. I get to hear “hey, let’s use Steve’s ball” a few times. But mostly John and Lynn are carrying us. Lynn laughs easily and it’s a pleasure golfing with her. It’s not awkward or weird. It’s cool. And Brian and John are great. You feel good. It’s surreal, but it’s all good.

At one point Brian explains that he lives near a house he used to deliver newspapers to as a kid. “No, guys, listen, it’s like I’m still in Bedford Falls.” It’s funny. We laugh.

The lightning in the distance has turned into heat and humidity. The sun has come out. It’s getting hot.

“Can anyone else feel the trickle of sweat running down their back?”

Normally a round of golf is four hours. Our round is five or six because no one is focused on the game. Everyone is talking. And everyone else is talking. Sometimes there is shrieking on the next fairway, but you’re not sure if it was a good shot or if someone just remembered someone. The class of '85 owns the course. Every few hundred yards is someone you sort of recognize. Every now and then, Shelly comes by with Lisa. One time they arrive with Stacy Sellers. The name is familiar. But in the Venn diagram of your youth, your circles never intersected.

Lisa says, "And this is Steve Stein."

Stacy's looking at you and trying to place you. You're looking at her and trying to place her. There's a pregnant pause. You reach your hand out and say, "Hi, I'm Steve Stein."

She laughs and takes your hand.

"Hi," she says.

There’s Roni and Robin. They were best friends, right? And these guys who are their husbands, they didn’t go to school with us, right?

Lynn asks if you moved to Chicago after college. You explain it was a very circuitous route. You don’t go into to details. You just highlight some of the mile markers.

It’s funny to hear Lynn and Brian talk about their kids. Because they sound like kids who have had kids. But they also sound like proud parents, which is cool.
In the cart you tell Lynn, “When I was in high school I thought I knew everything. When I was in college I realized I knew nothing. And when I got into the real world, I found out my parents knew everything.”

“Yes,” she says. “Exactly.”

It’s been an awesome morning. You go to the clubhouse. It’s just so fucking weird. There they all are. What do you do, what do you say? Who do you talk to first?

You ask Jami to point out David Smedema. You need to talk to David Smedema. She points to a large man who looks like David Smedema’s dad. You pull him to a corner and unburden the luggage you've been carrying for twenty years. He says, “Dude, I don’t remember that at all, but don’t sweat it. I build houses in Phoenix and it’s all good.”

It is all good, isn’t it?

Everyone is supposed to go to something called Clive at Five. You ask Brian where it is. It sounds like the place behind the Donutland where you used to get high. “No, but it’s near there,” he says.

Before you leave, you talk to Mike Lichtenberger, Tom Hamilton, and Brent Cheney. Brent Cheney looks exactly like Brent Cheney, maybe a little taller. You tell them you remember that whenever dodgeball was a gym activity, you stayed the hell away from Brent Cheney because you knew it was going to leave a mark. The guys laugh. Tom says, “I think it’s still that way.”

You have a late dinner with your folks. Your cell phone keeps ringing. Your boys want to go the Valley West Pub. Jami and Elyse say everyone is at Miss Kitty’s. Miss Kitty’s? What the hell is Miss Kitty’s? You redirect traffic to Miss Kitty’s. It’s a honky tonk bar with people line dancing. They have cowboy hats and large belt buckles. There’s a mirrored riding saddle that hangs over the dance floor. It’s not really your scene. But way in the back you see some familiar faces.

Upstairs, apparently, are the rest of your classmates. You’re scared to make eye contact. What do you say? Do you know these people? Should you know these people? Which ones are the spouses? You see Jennie Van Ginkel. Immediately you give her the time travel award. She looks EXACTLY the same. Quite frankly, it’s freakish. She comes down and hugs you. “You look great,” she says. “It’s so good to see you.”

“You, too,” you say. “You, too.”

It’s so surreal. It’s all so surreal.

A couple of other people pass by who look vaguely familiar.

“Isn’t this so weird,” says Jennie.

“Yes,” you say. “It’s incredibly weird.”

You're at the bottom of the steps when you see Holly Oppenheim. She looks great, still pretty. But she looks delicate, fragile. You remember hearing something about her brother. You're not sure what to say because you don't know the story. But you go up to her and hug her. She hugs you back.

The music is loud and it's hard to hear. But it comes rushing out of your mouth.

"Ab's here."

"Really?"

"He's just down there."

You point over your shoulder.

“He lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. He teaches at an international school. He's married. He's good. You should talk to him."

"Where is he?"

You turn around and point. Ab's ten feet away at twelve o'clock talking to someone.

"Right there," you say.

"I don't see him."

There's a song playing that seems to make the moment more dramatic than it needs to be.

"See the glass on the thing? He's the guy right past it in the red shirt."

"I don't see him."

It feels like a movie. You're in the scene where you're trying to reunite two lovers after many years. The audience desperately wants them to see each other, to connect.

"He's right there."

You point. You're pointing so hard it might break the skin. "Oh," says Holly finally. "I see him. I recognize him. I just didn't see where, yes, I'd know him anywhere. He's Ab. He looks exactly the same."

"So do you."

Holly is smiling.

"You should say hi to him. I know he'd love to see you."

"I will."

You hug her. You kiss her on the cheek. You want to tell her everything is ok, and that everything will be ok. But you don't know that for a fact. And you don't know the story. But you give her the look that suggests everything really is ok. She nods and looks out toward Ab. She's smiling.

You make a note to self. It’s not only the things you see in people from twenty years ago. It’s also the things you don’t see, the things you can’t see. Holly remains looking toward Ab, smiling, collecting herself, steeling herself. How did twenty years get away so fast? And how is it able snap back right in front of you?

Eventually you muster the courage to turn around. The first table has a group of cheerleaders. They’re older, but they’re still hot. You lean into the table and say, “Hi, I’m Steve Stein.” The table laughs and says hi.

Renae Busing pulls you close. You remember when you were a senior and the brave moment you had in the hallway when you said hi to her and she smiled and said hi back. She leans in and says, “I never knew you in high school, but everyone keeps talking about you. They say how good you look and how cool you are and what a nice guy you are.”

You think to yourself that maybe now would be a good time to leave because it probably won't get better than this. This is the stuff they write for television in an episode of Urkel. It never really happens.

“Are you sure?” you ask. “I said Steve Stein.”

“Yes,” she says. “It’s you.”

“Thanks,” you say. “I’m just a regular guy.”

She smiles and touches your shoulder.

But it makes you think, wait, wasn’t I a cool nice guy in high school? Or was that my own little secret?

You meet and greet other people. There’s a four to eight minute window before it begins to get awkward.

Didn’t you and I…
Weren’t we in…
Stillwell, right?
Indian Hills?”
Remember when we were in detention?
Prom?
That was you?
Didn’t you used to have…
Was it gym class?
That big white car, right?
And we had to make a video…


You’re at a table of women. They seem so familiar and strange at the same time. Two of them you had crushes on at some point. A couple you sort of remember. A couple you can’t place. And one you think you were pretty good friends with. You have an epiphany. You know why it’s so weird.

You say, “Ok, I know why this is so weird. I call it my smokers theory.”

The women all lean in. You have to shout because the music is so loud.

“I live in Chicago,” you continue. "It’s a big city with lots of people. I work in a big building. In front of my building are people who smoke. Every day I go to work I see them. They’re always smoking. Every now and then I see them at a grocery store in my neighborhood. I look at them as if maybe they were in that movie with Ben Stiller where he’s a, no wait, they weren’t in any movie. They smoke in front of my building. They’re just totally out of context. So when any of us look around here at all these vaguely familiar faces, we’re thinking, hey, weren’t they in that movie with Joan Allen where she was a, no wait, they’re in the movie of our own lives. We all have these blurry images of passing someone in a hallway, or raising a hand in history class. Right?”

They laugh and agree.

“And further,” you add. “This is not how I remember high school.”

You pause. They’re waiting for the words, but you milk the moment.

“You know,” you say. “Where I’m surrounded by a group of beautiful women.”

It’s cheesy, but the delivery is good and they let you get away with it.

Kristen Littlejohn, Leslie Snook, Chris Maharry, Sandie Peebler, Holly Oppenheim, Lori Lockridge, Brett Beeman, Mary Rooney, Whitney Fogt, Sandy Brody.

Troy Tucker gets the time travel award, too. Is that the same striped polo shirt from high school? It’s just so weird.

You hang out outside. You talk to Michelle Bolton and her husband Steve. You connected with Michelle several years ago when a short film of yours was playing at a Kansas City film festival. She asks about Katie Bassman, a woman a few years behind your class who you were dating at the time. You explain that she’s great and happily married.

You talk about architecture with her husband.

Dave Feingold finally arrives. He just got done with the news at WHO-TV. He explains that in case no one knows, it’s hot and it’ll be hotter tomorrow. Everyone laughs.

Sue Zmolek arrives. Wow. You talk to Sue. You maybe said six or seven words to each other in high school, but now you’re having a twenty minute conversation. She’s cool.

It’s late. People are beginning to yawn and leave. A bunch of younger people are coming out and taking over the patio. It makes you feel old. You grab a bench and sit with Ab, Dave, Ed and Chris. It feels good to sit and chill.

Jennie Creighton runs over to your table. “Oh my god,” she says. “There are cowboys inside doing the YMCA. It’s a freaking hootenanny!” She runs off.

Jody Morgan arrives in a wedding gown. There are shrieks and screams. She looks beautiful. You think to yourself, man, that’s a lot of stuff for one weekend.

You get home around two in the morning. Your dad is up reading.

“Are you waiting up for me?” you ask half kidding, half concerned.

“No,” he smiles. “I just couldn’t sleep.”

Your mom walks into the room. She wants to know how it went.

“It was cool, but it was so weird.”

She wants to know more, so you start with the details. Your dad yawns and says he needs to go to bed now.

“Wait a second,” you say as you laugh. “I’m telling you how bizarre it is to see my high school classmates double their age in a day and now you have to go to bed?”

“You’ll tell me tomorrow.”

It is late, and he didn’t go to school with them. It dawns on you that the legends of youth’s parade are only yours to interpret and understand. And while the bizarre experiences of reunions are universal, the inward journey is still only yours to digest.

You go to bed. You’re exhausted. Weren’t you golfing with Lynn Walker this morning?

Next morning you get a call from Ab that he and Ed are going to come over. Dave says he and Gina and their little boys will be over as well. Shawn says it’s too damn hot out for a picnic so he’ll come over, too. And Chris says he’ll stop by after the picnic.

Everyone chills by the pool.

Someone asks what you’re going to wear tonight.

“Just pants and a cute top.”

People leave around four to get dressed and get ready. The event starts at six. It’s happening. You get dressed and go downstairs. Your folks say you look nice and to have fun. Your dad says to tuck in your shirt - it’s total déjà vu.

It’s sunny and hot as you get in your car. You have on your sunglasses and baseball hat. You panic about what to do with them once you get to the reunion. You pick up Dave and drive to the Sheraton that used to be a Holiday Inn. He says to leave the hat and sunglasses in the car. Right.

Duh.

Roni and Robin are at the entrance with their husbands, and they’re wearing black dresses. You feel underdressed.

“No,” says Robin, “you’re fine.”

You walk into the lobby. You have that nervous, excited, and sick feeling as you pick out your name tag. You look at the names of people who are not there yet. Some you remember, some you don’t.

You walk into the ballroom. You recognize no one. And then slowly… But thank goodness for the name tags. Some of the guys are wearing suits. Some are business casual. You’re casual business at best. The women seem to all be in dresses.

The first person you talk to is Steve Herman. His smile is exactly the same as you remember. But in a second, he’s gone.

You see Brian Hausauer talking to Lee Adelman. You walk over and say hi. You remember both of them, but you remember being unkind to Lee when you were a kid. You made fun of the way he talked. You feel ashamed, but Lee and you are adults. He takes your hand when you offer it and he smiles. You’re relieved. You apologize for being such a dick. He tells you he owns a store outside of Phoenix. He seems to be well. And he seems happy to be here, which makes you happy. And it turns out Brian lives in Austin and is a big Spoon fan.

“Oh, they’re awesome to see live. They’re so good.”

The surreality is only starting. You can tell.

You see John Christiansen at the bar. He’s got the same great grin. You catch up quickly. It sounds like he has a cool bar/lounge in San Francisco. You’ll check it out when you visit your sister in El Cerrito across the bay.

Chris Maharry takes the mic. He thanks everyone for coming. We pause in silence for the people who have died. You have a chill. Chris asks everyone to go into the atrium so we can take a class picture. Slowly people begin to gather. But it takes a lot of work because everyone is still re-meeting each other. There is still a lot of laughter and shrieking.

After the picture you find yourself talking to Frank Grund. You were best friends with Frank when you were a kid. You remember tp’ing houses with him when the pope visited Living History Farms. You remember writing out POPE in toilet paper on the lawn, and waving to the helicopter as it flew overhead. And you remember laughing so hard. It was so funny. But there was some sort of falling out junior year or something. You can’t remember what it was about. A girl maybe?

But Frank’s voice and smile are the same. His laugh brings back memories of playing with matches and gasoline, and shooting cans of spray paint with a BB gun. You meet his wife and tell her some stories of Frank’s gloried past. You feel bad when he tells you his dad has passed away. You remember his dad was a good guy and they had a big boat on the side of their house. Frank tells you about his chain of coffee/café stores he’s starting up in St Louis. It sounds something like a cross between Cozy’s and Starbucks. You’re happy for him.

Everyone heads back into the ballroom. Dinner. You’re starving. The food is good. You see Elizabeth Vasquez at another table. You remember her instantly. You walk over and touch her on the shoulder.

“Hi,” you say. “I don’t know if you remember me, but we used to have lockers right next to each other. I’m Steve Stein.”

“Oh my god, hi! I wouldn’t have recognized you. But yes, our lockers were right next to each other. How are you?”

You both talk briefly and then you let her get back to dinner. She seems happy.

You wolf down your dinner. You’re at a table with your boys in the back corner. It’s good to be with your boys, but it reminds you of how you were with classrooms. You always sat in the back corner, unless the teacher put you up front for misbehaving or not paying attention.

Man, this is weird.

After dinner, you begin to mill about. At first you stand with Matt Bullard and take it in. He’s taller than you remember. He played for the Rockets, right? You and he were never good friends or anything, but you say hi and introduce yourself to his wife.

You see Curt Coghlan and excuse yourself. Curt Coghlan. Curt looks just like Curt only taller. You talk with him and his wife. You always liked Curt. But you can’t remember why. Didn’t you and he hang out and do things? Football games? Pizza hut? He’s an incredibly nice, good, decent guy. Maybe that’s why you always liked Curt.

You continue to mill about and latch on to clutches of people. You listen as they tell about their lives, their children, and their jobs. It’s easy for you to tell people what you do for a living.

“I cut commercials,” you say. “I’m an editor.”

“What do you mean?” they ask.

“You know when you’re watching TV and you Tivo through the stuff to get to the rest of your show?”

They nod.

“That's my work.”

Pam White suddenly pops up in front of you. Didn’t you go to a prom with her?

“Hi,” she says.

You catch up quickly before she says, “Lauri’s here.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, follow me.”

Lauri Bruett. Your first real girlfriend. Your first burning tire farm. Lauri Bruett. Man, you loved Lauri Bruett. You wrote the letters ILLB on the inside of your hi-tops. You talked to Ab forever on the phone about when she said this, did she mean that? Should I ask her this? Should I ask her that? Do you think she really likes me?

You remember Lauri and Heather Campbell coming over to your house once when your parents were gone. You remember Lauri in front of Felix and Oscar’s at Merle Hay Mall. You remember her at a football game at the old Valley Stadium. You’ll never forget Lauri Bruett.

You’ve remained friends with Lauri throughout the years. You hung out with her in Iowa City for awhile. You used to have a minimalist hobby of always sending her a birthday card every March 8th. But the last few years you’ve lost touch. She moved or changed her e-mail address. That’s how it goes.

Pam brings you over to Lauri and Tim, her husband. You’ve met Tim before. He’s a good guy. It seems he’s had a few tonight. But you take in Lauri. She’s as beautiful as you remember. Same lips and teeth. Same eyes. Same laugh. You loved that laugh. Loved it.

“I have a bone to pick with you,” she says.

“Me? Why me? What did I do?”

“I saw the words ‘mmmm, bacon’ after Letterman once, and I e-mailed you and you never e-mailed me back.”

“I never got it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. I would have written back. I always send you a birthday card. Remember?”

She laughs.

“Ok, well, were you ever writing for Letterman?”

“I wish, but no.”

“Oh, well, there might be a couple rumors out there that have you writing for Letterman, and that you hate me.”

She laughs. Damn, you love that laugh.

“No, sweetheart. I would never hate you.”

You grab Ab, Ed and Dave and sit in the bar by the entrance of the hotel. You need a breather. It’s all so overwhelming and weird. You and your boys catch up on who you’ve been talking to and confirm it’s not as bad as anyone thought it would be and ultimately it’s weird, but cool.

You head back in to the ballroom. You see Tom DeLay. He looks the same and he’s the same smart guy you remember. You could always instantly connect with Tom. You catch up quickly. It sounds like he’s doing well and he’s happy. He philosophizes about how this is a really good reunion and that ultimately it’s a self-selective group. You agree and tell him your smoker’s theory as Dr. Mike Blaess walks up. It’s like being in the locker room all over again, only with less snapping towels.

Paul Kim is the same sweet guy. He used to be a police officer in Kansas City. Now he models and does good deeds. He shows you the scar on his arm where the bullet went in.

“I’m sorry you got shot,” you say. “But it’s still pretty cool.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Herb Hollwager is the same guy, only he’s a little gray on top. He asks you to tell his wife the Donutland story. But it’s not as funny as it is for you and Herb.

Mike Coop. You remember learning to drive a stick shift in the parking lot of his condominiums. You remember the way the car bucked and stalled. You remember the way you and he laughed. You always had fun with Mike Coop. Now he’s a code warrior with three kids and a wife in Florida.

Chris Min is a neurologist and gets the time travel award as well.

You see a guy who looks like Pete Christiansen, but he has a beard and was in the year behind you.

“Pete?”

“Yeah, man. I’m crashing your reunion.”

“Cool. My brother wanted to crash it, too,” you say. “He said, ‘I bet I look more like you did than you do now’.”

We laugh. It’s good to see Pete. You remember playing football with him and John in Dave Anderson’s back yard. It seems like a dream it was so long ago.

However it is, you know this is once in a lifetime. Where you were born, where you grew up, who your neighbors were, who your parents were friends with, what neighborhood you lived in, who became your friends, who didn’t, who was popular, who was pretty, who was cool, who was normal, who wasn’t. It’s all random and not random all at the same time, and it can only happen once. Twenty years. Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa.

It’s midnight. You’re exhausted. Your back hurts from standing around and talking all night and you just want to sit. So you sit in front of the dance floor and watch everyone who’s dancing. These are your classmates from 1985. Twenty years ago they were your world. You developed philosophies and theories with them, and about them. You made plans and dreamed. You hung out. You made out. You passed notes. You called on the phone. You drove a car. You laughed. You cried. You got drunk. You got high. You got in trouble. It was so long ago. It all happened. Didn’t it?

It’s the last song. It’s some sort of hip-hop line dance thing. You watch Jennie Creighton. Wow, how can she still move like that? The song ends and everyone begins to drift off the dance floor. But the DJ says, “Ok, one more.” And he puts on the song by Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

Poor old Johnny Ray…

People run to the dance floor. They run and jump like kids.

Now you're grown, so grown, now I must say more than ever. Go Toora Loora Toora Loo-Rye-Aye…

You watch Jill Taylor and Sue Zmolek as they dance. You watch them bounce up and down. They look so young. You zero in on Jill. She looks the same as you remember. You don’t see the 38 year-old woman with two kids and a husband in Minneapolis. You see the seventeen year-old girl with the pony tail who you used to sit behind and daydream about. And that’s how it is. Time is inescapable and no one stays seventeen.

Now you're grown, so grown, now I must say more than ever. Go Toora Loora Toora Loo-Rye-Aye…
But not us, no not us we are far too young and clever. Remember Toora Loora Toora Loo-Rye-Aye…


Jill Taylor doesn’t know her kids or her husband yet, doesn’t run marathons, doesn’t know about Minneapolis. She’s dancing and smiling and laughing with her friends. Come on, Eileen is the most beautiful song you've ever heard. It’s full of hope and possibility. Just like high school.

The lights come up and everyone starts saying their goodbyes. You say your goodbyes. You know a couple of e-mails will go back and forth, maybe some phone calls, but mostly people won’t see each other for another five years. People have their lives and families and the earth will continue to spin on its axis and orbit around the sun and that’s ok. C'est la vie, non?

You go up to Ed’s hotel room and hang out with your boys. Elyse, Jami, Jennie Van Ginkel, and Becky Weber are there, too. You listen as everyone tells about their experiences.

Did you see…
Can you believe so and so is still…
Where was…
I couldn’t believe…
There’s no way those are real…
It seems so long ago that…
Remember when…


The girls leave. You can barely keep your eyes open. Neither can anyone else. None of you are that young anymore. Ab, Ed, Dave, Shawn, you and everyone else from the class of ’85 is at least 38 years old. How did that happen?

As you leave the hotel at three in the morning, you can hear talking and laughing somewhere on one of the floors, some partyers keeping it going. It’s late. There’s no chance. You have to go home.

As you head out to your car, you see two people walking together. It’s Jeb Barmish and Lee Adelman. You couldn’t write a scene like that. It would be too contrived. But there it is. One of the most popular kids in school, and one of the kids who had it the toughest. Jeb and Lee turn around and wave. You wave back. There’s a cool breeze blowing and the hotel has turned on its sprinklers. It will be hot again tomorrow.



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tuesday Doomsday



It's Tuesday. Pam is in the hospital (since Sunday), and our nanny (who is awesome) happens to have the day off (birthday). I don't have much going on at work today (client review), so I'm the manny today. It's just me and the kids.

Because of the flooring done in the basement last week while we were on vacation, we have no cable or wifi. But that's no big deal. We also, as I discovered last night, have no hot water.

So I call the plumbing people first thing.

"We can get someone out there this afternoon," she says.

"No one can come sooner?"

"Nope."

But a short while later she calls back.

"We can get someone out there in about an hour. Would that be ok?"

"Hmmm, let me think about it a second yes that would be great."

I give the kids breakfast. But I can't really wash things. I rinse them and put them in the dishwasher, but the dishwasher is now full, so I start stacking the dirty clean plates and glasses on the counter.

The plumber shows up. I take him downstairs with Judah under my arm. He takes a look at the hot water tank, tinkers with it for awhile, and says, "It's gone."

(It's a year past warranty.)



The plumber goes out to his truck and comes back with a quote for a new hot water tank. It costs more than having the floor redone. So I do the math in my head. I multiply the dishes by meals and mouths, and then subtract space and time. I divide by necessity.

"Ok," I say. "Can it be done today?"

"If it's in stock."

He makes a call. It is.

"Alright," I say. "Let's do it."

I play with the kids and eventually start to think about lunch. The plumber comes back. He needs to remove the old water tank before putting in the new one. He explains he also has to cut the gas and water.

"No problem," I say. "Just give me fifteen minutes to make a frozen pizza."

The smartest thing I do is refill the Brita pitcher with water. I do it just in time as the faucet slows to a drip.

Now we have no gas. And no water.

The kids eat pizza, and some apple and blueberries that I rinse with water from the Brita.

After lunch I put Judah down for his nap. The mechanical closet is right next to his room. They're going to start banging away soon. But I bet he'll sleep through it.

When I come back upstairs I have a different view of the kitchen. Breakfast and now lunch have forsaken the smooth landscape of the granite countertop with stalagmites of various foodstuffs, and the floor (under where Judah sits) is a wasteland of carrots, apples, and bits of cheese. Food is fastening itself to plates, bits of juice are becoming part of the glass. The dishwasher is mocking me.

As much as Pam is a Stein now, she's still very much a Mufson. She would FREAK OUT IN HORROR if she saw the kitchen right now. It is a hot dry crusty mess. So it's good she's not here, as it's very pre-Renaissance here at Chez Stein - like we're only a rat infestation away from a great plague.

Nola's room is on the other side of the mechanical closet, so we play dolls upstairs in Pam and my bedroom. I can hear the men working below. I check the monitor. Judah is asleep.

Nola and I turn the dolls into mermaids. The bedspread is the sea and the pillow is land. Suddenly Nola gets a look on her face. It's one I vaguely remember from when she used to sit in the car where Judah sits now. I saw it years ago in the rear view mirror on a trip to visit aunt Karen and uncle Greg. And I see it now as she sits across from me on the bed. It is a look of uncertainty. She doesn't understand what's traveling up from her stomach and into her mouth. Ah, yes. There it is - lunch! A Vesuvial eruption all over our bed, bedspread, pillows, and carpet. It's on her clothes, robe, and teddy bear.

It's SO gross, especially that hot vomit smell that instantly fills the air.

For what it's worth, I'm pretty good in a crisis. I'm very calm. My brain shifts down a gear to the one that focuses on traction. No yelling, no screaming.

"C'mon, sweetheart. Let's go to the bathroom. It's ok."

I lift her up and carry her to our bathroom. I start to take off her clothes. Instinctively I turn on the faucet.

Nothing happens.

Because there's no fucking water.

#Facepalm

I grab a towel and wipe her down. It's all I can do. I throw her clothes and the towel in the tub. As it turns out, Pam's clothes from the other day are still there.

So. Gross.

"I feel better now that I threw up, daddy. It's all orange which is good because I like colors."

"Good, I'm glad."

From downstairs - a loud bang. They must have dropped something. And it's followed by screaming. But not from the men. It is the screaming of a sleeping baby suddenly not sleeping.

I finish wiping Nola down, and bring her out to the family room where our suitcases remain unopened from our vacation. I unzip one.

"Are any of these your clothes?"

Nola takes out some shorts and a top.

"Ok, put those on. I have to get Judah."

I go downstairs to get Judah. He is not happy.

"What the fuck, man! I was sleeping! And then there's this loud bang and all of a sudden I'm wide awake! And no poop! I always poop when I nap and now I'm backed up and where the fuck were you, man?! I've been screaming for like three minutes! WHERE THE FUCK WERE YOU?!"

"Dude," I say. "Not now. I need you to be cool."

"I'm not going to be cool! I'm upset! I'M VERY VERY UPSET!"

I put Judah in a fresh diaper and go check on the men to see how much longer. Only they're not there. Where the fuck are they?

I go upstairs to check on Nola. She's fine.

"It's good to throw up, dad, because then you feel all better."

"Ok, good."

I call the plumbing people. They'll check where the men are and get back to me. I sit with Judah and Nola in the family room, pretty much now the safe room.

I hear the men outside coming around back. I bring Judah downstairs and ask how much longer. 'Bout an hour' they say. I explain about the vomit. 'Maybe sooner,' they say.

I go back upstairs with Judah to sit with Nola who's playing on the couch. She's fine. But then that look of uncertainty...

I scoop her up in a flash and take her to the powder room, the only vomit-free bathroom. She aims for the bowl, but most of the damage has already been done. It's on her and me, and in her hair.

And there's still no fucking water.

That smell.

I wipe her down with hand towels and make a pile of her clothes and the towels on the floor. All of a sudden I'm Liam Neeson in Taken 1, 2, or 3.

"I'm going to get you more clothes. Stay here."

Judah is about to put his hand in a puddle of bile, but I grab him just in time and take him down with me to get more clothes for Nola. I explain to the men as I pass by that I need the water on. I'm still Liam Neeson. "Guys, I really need the water on. It's not so pretty up there. I need. The water. On."

I dress Nola and we sit in the family room and wait. I watch Nola and Judah play together. It's sweet. They have no idea, no care for clean dishes or laundry. So innocent.



After the first vomiting - which seems like days ago - I remember thinking how things couldn't get worse. Now after the second vomiting, I refuse to hedge that same bet.

It's after 5. How did it get to be after 5? Dinner. I need to make them dinner.

What to do, what to do?

But you know what? It's not the Dark Ages all up in here. We have a microwave. And a refrigerator.

#ChallengeAccepted!

Judah has a repeat of lunch for dinner, and I heat up some broth for Nola in the microwave. I can do this. As God as my witness I can do this!

When dinner is done, I stack the dirty dirty dishes on top of the dirty clean dishes and then we all find safe harbor on the couch. And wait. The sun goes gold over my shoulder.

"Mr Stein?!"

I go to the top of the stairs.

"Yeah?"

"You're set. You got hot water. It might take a bit for the water to heat up, but you should be good."

But he had me at 'set.'

Within 20 seconds I'm downstairs filling the tub with warm water. When the plumber finds me to sign everything, Judah is already in the bath.

After I put Judah down, I put Nola in the shower.

"We're double shampooing your hair tonight."

"But dad!"

"You have vomit and food and all kinds of nastiness in your hair. We're double shampooing and that's it."

"Fine."

After I put Nola down I call Pam to check in. Her voice is weak and tired. She says they may keep her until Friday. She asks how everything is at home.

"Fine," I say. "No big."

"The kids are ok?"

"Yup. They're sleeping. It's all good."

I say goodnight and goodbye and now the real work begins. My home is way past nightmare. It is a hellscape. And for the next 6 hours I am wiping things down, spraying things, soaking things, vacuuming, and doing laundry. Loads and loads of laundry. Sheets and blankets and towels - things that take a long time to dry.

And now it's four in the morning. Even though I've had the bacon scented candle going for hours, the vomit smell still lingers. But I'm done for the night. I have clean sheets now and I'm done.



The kids won't be up for another three hours.

Or so.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...


Addendum 1

Judah and I have not come down with anything. (Knock on virtual wood.) It would seem we are Gods.

Addendum 2

The car seat. Nola threw up in it on Sunday. It's been in the car with the windows cracked for days. Luckily, it's been cool out. Long story less complicated, I took it apart and cleaned it Wednesday night. The hard part was putting it back together. It reminded me of the time I replaced the gasket in the dryer. I will never do that again. I'll gladly pay someone $175 to do it for me. Concerning the car seat, the key is the 'D-Ring' located in back. If this ever happens to you - the D-Ring.

Addendum 3

I brought Pam home Thursday evening. And Judah nailed it. "Mama!"


Bonus: In lieu of vomit pics, here are some highlights from how it went down Sunday night/Monday morning...


Pam is unwell.
(As fate would have it, she's in the same room I was when I had vertigo.)


So far they think Nola is just visiting...


...and having a moment with Mommy.
(The clock's not working in this room, by the way. It only worked once while we were here.)


No, she's here as a patient - in her own room.


The nurse gives her some My Little Pony stickers, and Nola explains about how everyone is always surprised that Twilight Sparkle has wings as the needle goes in. She takes her IV like a champ.


And when I see Pam on Wednesday, she is doing MUCH better. Thursday evening I take her home.

Fin.

Friday, January 23, 2015

No One Wants a Car Stall



According to this test on the internet, I'm a feminist.

No, not really.

Because I don’t like labels, that’s why. I mean no one does, right?

Well, every now and then feminism comes up. Someone’s like, ‘Hey, are you a feminist?’ And I’m like, ‘Sure, I dig chicks.’

Easy. Eeeeasy. Just stay with me. I know exactly who I am, ok. I’m equal rights. Period.

Whoa, what? No, I’m not making a joke. C’mon, man, that’s just a part of speech. I’m using it for empha-

Of course you’re not a man. I just said man because that’s what people say.

Yes, like ‘hey guys.’

Because dude’s not right, right? And I can’t say ‘c’mon, woman’ because that’s even worse.

Ok, now where was I? Right. I’m a word guy. Just the other day I was thinking about Chiberia vs Chillinois. I live in Chicago so you’d think Chiberia, but I prefer Chillinois. I think it’s actually more clever. I saw it on a billboard for vodka and I was like, yeah, that totally works.

Anyway, feminist sounds kinda girly. 

What? It does.

No, there’s nothing wrong with girly.

Ok, if I’m looking at two bracelets and one is made of thin gold chains and the other is black steel cable, I tend to go for the black steel cable. Doesn’t mean I’m not girly. I’m comfortable being girly. I like colorful dress socks and umbrella drinks as much as the next guy. I just dig the black steel-.

Girly, I don’t know, it’s got lace. It’s soft…

Yes, boys can like things that are soft. I like things that are soft.

I can’t say girly? Seriously?

Fine. Feminist sounds feminine.

Yes, I know what it means. It just SOUNDS feminine.

No, there’s nothing wrong with feminine. But I’m a guy. I’m a dude. If I’m going to buy myself a jacket I don’t want one that has curves and a bust, ok? I want something kinda boxy that tapers a bit toward the waist, and preferably it has a swing shoulder.

I don’t know, it’s got vents in back, and it gives you a little bit more room when you need to bear hug someone.

Yeah, I hug. What’s wrong with hugging?

Then yes, I guess I’m in touch with my feminine side.

No, I have no problem with feminine. I get it. It’s just a word. And we need certain words to help describe things. It’s so we all understand what we’re talking about. I’m totally on board with that.

Well, I consider myself a humanist. I’m for human beings. It doesn’t matter your gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, social class, height, weight, vertical jump. We should all have equal rights.

I don’t know. I guess I wish feminist was humanist. I think it would be much easier for everyone to get behind.

No, I know. I understand. But it’s like car stall.

Just hear me out. Car stall. It’s totally what it is; a stall in which you park your car. But no one wants to call it that. They want something fancy, a little more all encompassing.

Exactly. People want a garage. I can put my bikes in there. My kid has a Big Wheel. Maybe I have a riding mower. A garage. Feminism should be like a garage where everyone is welcome.

Humanism.

You’re right. No, that doesn’t take into account the centuries upon centuries of unfairness, inequality, and oppression.

Yes, you’re right.

You’re right.

No.

No.

Yes.

Yes.

Then fine, I am a feminist.

Yup. A hundred percent.

No, I don’t need this test to tell me. I am absolutely positively hundred percent a feminist.

I’m a feminist I’m a feminist I’m a feminist.

Can I ask you one thing?

The other day I jumped rope for 30 seconds. Well, it was 30 seconds, rest a minute, jump another 30 seconds, rest-

Thanks, I’m trying to watch my figure, so…

I saw you smile.

Anyway, it was hard. Like my heart was going to explode because apparently I lack the cardiovascular superpowers of a little girl.

Can I say that? Is that funny?

You’re laughing so it was ok, right?

Because it’s not as funny if I say boy instead of girl. It’s just not.

Right, but by making this joke I just want to be clear that I’m not trying to retard the progress of civilization and culture.

Oh, c’mon, I used it like a verb!

Monday, January 5, 2015

I Am A Complete Gun Nut

I'm a gun nut. Been a big fan of guns since I was a kid. Pretty sure my parents gave me my first gun; although, I can't remember as guns have always been part of my life.

Guns are VERY popular in my family and have been since like forever. We break them out big time during the holidays. As soon as someone walks in the door - BOOM! You can hardly get a word in edgewise without someone shoving a gun in your face.

People get all crazy when they talk about kids and guns in schools. I say give 'em to the teachers, too. Same with the lunch people, hall monitors, and janitors. Even the ones in charge of detention. But first and foremost, let's load our youngsters up with all kinds of guns. With the bullying and everything else, kids NEED guns. They need to feel safe and protected, loved. I can't imagine a world where kids didn't have access to guns. Heartbreaking.

Look, I'm not the only one who says happiness is a warm gun. Hello, The Beatles!

And all that open carry stuff - calm down, everyone! Much ado about not too much. I say, let your freak flag fly! Let everyone see that thing! Don't be shy - if you got it, flaunt it. Everyone else can just look out the corner of their eye and admire it, covet it. (Although, really, I'd like to see something where anyone who wants a gun can get one.)

Guns are the answer people. G U N S. Guns!.

Oh, wait. Crap. I meant hugs. Hugs. My bad. Carry on...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Years Eve 2015, Our Epic Rager



My wife and I had a rager New Years Eve. An epic rager.

We had been drinking pretty much ALL day. By the time the sitter got to the house we were like, 'Goodbye, goodnight, and good luck!'

I don't even remember how we got downtown. I think it was actually one of those peddle trolleys with a bunch of Tri-Delts. It was freezing, but when you're playing 'redlight take a shot', you don't really feel the cold.

Anyway, they drop us off at Excalibur because that's where we always start. But there's something wrong at the door. This big brick of a guy says we're NOT on the list. My wife goes zero to a hundred in a nanosecond and gets right in his face.

"We're VIP, dude! We're VEE VIP!" And then she starts throwing gang signs, at least I think they are. The guy keeps his cool and points to the end of the line, which is actually around the corner. I put my arm around my wife and tell her we'll get it straightened out when we get inside.

Anyway, we're there for like a minute when a van pulls up. It's a red Econoline from 1994 - so not quite something you see shuttling the well-heeled at the airport, but not quite something Tommy Bradford would drive. The side door slides open. The interior is white, but it's a white that's 'seen things'. A young woman is sitting by herself in one of the captain chairs. Starting at the floor and cradled between her legs is what appears to be a red four foot bong. She can barely reach the bowl, but she pulls it and inhales. She looks familiar to me as she leans back, but I can't quite place her. She's thin with wisps of blonde hair. Her eyes, which have a lot of liner, are kind of squinched. Bright red lipstick on her lips...

She holds her breath, like really holds it. And then all of sudden coughs out a big plume of smoke. It's either Pineapple Express or Purple Kush. With one hand on the bong, she holds up the other as she's coughing. I totally know who this is.

"Are you Tay-"

"SHUT IT, BITCH! Shut it right fucking now!"

My wife is putting 5 and 6 together as she stares at the woman.

"Ok, ok, ok," says the woman. "Just get in. Get in!"

We climb in and sit on the bench in back.

"Dan!"

The driver hits a button on the dash and the door slides shut.

My wife and I stare at the woman and look around the van. The floor is littered with Burger King bags. Lots and lots of Burger King bags. And unwrapped Twizzlers. It's like someone went to Costco, bought a tub of Twizzlers, and just dumped them out. And despite the Pineapple Kush wafting through the air, it smells a little like pee.

"Where the fuck is Thalia Hall?" asks the woman.

My wife and and I look at each other, shrug our shoulders.

"Seriously? You don't fucking know? You tourists? You from Indiana or something?"

"No," I say. "Chicago. But we don't know Thalia Hall."

She sizes us up.

"Y'all know I'm dating Andrew WK, right?"

I shake my head. My wife, however, as someone who sets her homepage to US Weekly, slowly nods her head. "Yeah," she says. "I think I read that."

"Well, I'm supposed to meet him there and these two don't know where the fuck that is."

The driver waves his hand. And the guy riding shotgun waves his hand. "Hi," he says. "I'm Paul."

"What the fuck do you do anyway, Paul?" asks the woman. "Why are you even here?"

"I'm your guard, ma'am."

"Well, what if these two are trying to kidnap me?"

"You're actually kidnapping them, ma'am."

The woman lets this sink in for a moment and a smile crawls across her mouth.

"Ha! You're right. Y'all want beer or some shit?"

My wife is kind of in shock that this is happening. I'm actually pretty good with it.

"What do you got?" I ask.

"Best goddamn beer there is... Fuckin' Hamm's!"

For the next three hours my wife and I drive around Chicago in a van with Taylor Swift pulling bongs and slamming Hamm's. We are literally partying hard while trying to hook up with Andrew WK.

(No, I don't know why no one didn't just google Thalia Hall on their phone.)

Some of my best New Years moments ever have taken place in cars - looking at you David, Ab, Bill, Ed, and Laura. Anyway, we're on LSD (Lake Shore Drive) heading back downtown (we were EVERYWHERE) when we see the fireworks at Navy Pier. They're beautiful! It's like Fourth of July. Only much much colder.

My wife and Taylor are pretty much BFFs now. They're laughing and singing. But I'm beat. I didn't sleep well the night before and it's catching up with me.
The van pulls into the Hotel Raphael. Andrew WK is waiting there. He's wearing a light blue cardigan, khakis, and light blue flip flops. He's under the heat lamps so I guess he's not too cold.

"TayTay," he says as Taylor stumbles out of the van. "I was so worried about you." They hug and Taylor points to us.
"This are my new friends."

We give him a small smile and wave.

"Hi," he says as he shakes our hands with a firm grip. "I'm Andy. So nice to meet you."

"Uh, I like your advice column," I say.

"Oh, that's so sweet. Thanks. Would you like to come up to our room and have some water or something."

My wife is totally up for it, but I pull her back.

"We have to get up early. We have kids, so..."

"Totally understand. I have nieces and nephews. I get it."

Taylor points to the van.

"These guys will take you wherever you want to go." Dan and Paul wave from inside the van. Taylor turns back to us with the sweetest kindest smile. "Thanks for hanging out you guys." And she puts her hands to her chest and makes a heart shape. I didn't think I was that kind of guy, but I totally did the heart shape thing back.

And that was our night. Maybe not a full on epic rager, but it was pretty cool.

Full disclosure: I don't really know any Taylor Swift songs other than that one about shaking.

Fuller disclosure: I probably should have asked if WK is a family name.

Fullest disclosure: My wife does not know any gang signs.