The Critical Mass

If the choice was high school reunion or holding my hand on a hot grill for a minute…

An e-mail arrived a few weeks ago. My 35th high school reunion is coming up. Nordonia High School, a suburb of Cleveland. I will not be attending; The folk singer Peter Case is playing at a friend’s house that night, and I’m choosing that event. In truth, if the choice was high school reunion or holding my hand on a hot grill for a minute, you’d be seeing me in the emergency room. This despite the fact that I’ve just scanned the list of people who received the same e-mail – it’s a very long list – and suffered no virulent flashbacks. People were nice; the ones I remembered, anyway. Like, one in  three.

A questionnaire arrived. I’ll fill it out while you watch, skipping the personal questions, just so they don’t think I’m dead:

Tell us about your children… And now tell us about your grandchildren…

I didn’t much like kids when I was one, time hasn’t altered that. No kids, no grand kids.

How about pets?

Now you’re talking. Abilene, my 2-year-old, 90-pound Weimaraner, is sleeping on the couch. Sometimes I catch her in the back yard, eating cat shit. Before that was Mosel, another Weimaraner. She lived to be 13, probably because she didn’t eat cat shit, is what I tell Abbie. Before that was Hormel, my college dog, a mix of Rhodesian Ridgeback and a white retriever. She lived to be 13, probably because she drank beer.

What have you been up to… the last 35 years?

Well, in 1979… Jesus, where do you begin? I’ve interviewed Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Oliver Stone, porno star Traci Lords, Johnny Cash, James Brown, Patti Smith, Peter Gabriel, most of the Allman Brothers Band, did a shot of whiskey with Bo Diddley. I’ve been in barbecue competitions, gotten in bar fights, consoled friends in bad times, watched a man drown in a swollen river, slept with my wife in a phone booth in the square of a small German town in the middle of a rainstorm.

Tell us about your hobbies and leisure activities.

My life revolves around building fires, mostly for grilling and smoking meat, but sometimes just to watch the embers late at night. I like a good cocktail, or five. I read Beat literature from the ’50s, and history books about what an asshole Christopher Columbus was.

What do you remember as your most memorable moment from high school?

Actually, it was the 10th-year reunion, and I stepped out into the parking lot for a moment. It was a beautiful night. A handful of ex-classmates were out there. One of them, whose name I shall not reveal, had a goofy grin and pupils the size of housefly heads. Heroin, I figured. “Life is beautiful,” he said.

Do you have a “most embarrassing” or maybe funniest moment…?

I think this was high school; maybe it was junior high. Either way, the now long-dead afternoon newspaper, The Cleveland Press, published a story declaring Nordonia as some kind of haven for student drug use. As I had gotten home before my parents, I hid the paper that day.

What was your favorite school lunch?

Mom’s bologna sandwiches. I haven’t had one in 35 years.

Who was your favorite teacher? Why?

Thirty-five years later, I now think I liked them all. They were normal people who had jobs and lives outside of the building, and were watching the clock just as fervently as I was. I now empathize with them.

What was your favorite song or saying when you were in high school?

I started listening to Bob Dylan when I was a sophomore. I still do. One of my favorite lines was always,”There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.” That’s from “All Along the Watchtower.”

What is the one thing about your life now you’d like your former classmates to know?

I have a web site,

After high school I though I’d….

Have a beer.

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