Copyright John T. Reed 2014
On May 10th, I attended my 50th high school reunion in New Jersey. I have lived in Northern California for most of my life since 1977 so that was a jet lag and regional adventure among other things. You need to prepare for such events I suspected and I was right.
I actually was going to go to the 50th reunion of the high school where I had moved away in 10th grade. Why? Because a Facebook friend who went there told me about it. I tried, but could not find, the 50th reunion of the school I graduated from on the Net.
In a series of semiweekly emails over about five months, the woman in charge of the reunion where I moved away in 10th grade sent me photos and biographical blurbs about the past reunions which they had every five years. I was anxious to avoid not remembering, or not recognizing the changed appearances, of my classmates. I feared that would make them feel bad. Also, I wanted to learn the bios so I could ask pertinent questions and learn from those with different experiences. I strongly recemmend that anyone planning on attending a reunion do the same.
However, I ended up not going to that reunion after all. Why? Emails often lead to misunderstandings because of inability to see body language or hear voice inflections as you could in a phone call. Sure enough, my email pen pal suddenly took something I said the wrong way. Normally, I would just explain the mistake and apologize for not being clearer. But she banned any further communications directing me to henceforth communicate with another female classmate for “all my reunion needs.” That second woman had recently been taken by ambulance to the hospital for an extended stay and was undergoing oncology treatments. I was not about to bother her with any “needs” of mine. So I canceled my hotel and car rental reservations.
That was a sad ending to my relationship with that class, which was sort of the closest thing I had to a hometown in my somewhat nomadic childhood.
I could not, however, cancel my plane reservation, so I asked my West Point classmate with whom I was going to stay before and after the reunion if I could also stay for the additional three days I had planned to be at the 50-miles-away reunion.
He was shocked when I said I was not going to the reunion because he knew how much I had been looking forward to it. He asked why I was not going to my other school’s reunion. “I can’t find it on the Internet. The school web site has an alumni section, but it has no reference to a 50th reunion or any contact info for my class.”
Five minutes after I got off the phone with him, I got an email from him saying something along the lines of, “You idiot! It’s on classmates.com. And it’s the Saturday after your other reunion.”
I confirmed that and asked him if I could stay still more days with him to get to the Friday before the second reunion. He is single and makes his living as a magician and mentalist so he has plenty of flexibility and said, “Great.” Furthermore, the quarterly luncheon of our West Point class of 1968 who live in the DC area was going to be Friday May 9th. So that would add another reunion to the trip. Also canceling my attendance at my junior high reunion enabled us to have lunch with another West Point company-mate on May 1st just before he took a trip.
And you should understand the classmate I was staying with was not just any classmate. He was in my sister squad (a squad is 10 guys) starting on July 1st, 1964 our first day at West Point—about three weeks after we each graduated from high school. He was in my academic year company (initially about 32 guys in the same class) for all four years we were at West Point. We were roommates at West Point when the new cadets of the class of 1971 entered at the beginning of July 1967 (I wrote about that at www.johntreed.com/JackReed.html and www.johntreed.com/West-Point-recruiting-film-from-when-I-was-a-cadet.html). After graduation, we were ranger buddies at U.S. Army Ranger School. Indeed, we were such good ranger buddies to each other that the instructors noticed and assigned us to new ranger buddies—an unprecedented action as far as I know. They thought our having each other for ranger buddies was making ranger school too easy for each of us. Hey! We had learned to “cooperate and graduate” as plebes at West Point.
They later awarded each of the two of us the ranger tab (a large percentage flunked the course) and recommended that both of us be brought back as Ranger School instructors even though we were in the Signal Corps branch (communications) and Ranger School is run by the infantry.
We were roommates as Army officers at Fort Gordon, GA and twice at Fort Monmouth, NJ. We co-invented the dating “System” that I described at length in my Succeeding book “Spouse choice” chapter. That is how I met my wife of 39 years. On double dates, girls often commented about how amazingly well the two of us got along. He was the best man at our wedding, the date of which was changed to make sure he could play that role.
We have visited each other for the last 50 years and talked on the phone about once every two or three weeks. In one phone call, he said his usual greeting to me—three words—and I immediately asked, “What’s wrong?” I could hear it in his voice. He was calling to tell me he was about to undergo a triple by-pass and had been planning to build up to it gradually in the phone call.
In Vietnam, each of us designated the other as the officer to accompany our body home if we got killed. If you think that’s morbid, you are missing the good-deal aspect. If I died some officer was going to get the good deal of being able to go back to the states for a week or so. Why let it be some stranger? It would have been a parting gift—and had the guy who interacted with our bereaved parents be a guy they knew. We also took Vietnam leave together in 1970 in Hong Kong where we bought our stereo equipment.
In short, the guy is not just my college classmate, he is an extremely close, read-each-other’s-minds, friend and I suspect a closer friend than most people, and even most West Point graduates, ever have.
We had already planned to attend an Orioles game and to visit the Gettysburg battlefield before I canceled the first reunion. The game was postponed by rain, as was one the next night, thus resulting in a double-header the following afternoon. Because I canceled the first reunion, I was able to attend that. The Orioles won both games over the Pirates including winning the second with a dramatic walk-off home run in the 10th inning at 1AM. We were sitting in the first row with one of the owners of the Orioles. Our cup holders were on the back of the Orioles dugout. My classmate is “the Official Magician of the Baltimore Orioles,” a position that did not exist before he came along.
On the actual evening of my no-longer-attending reunion—May 2nd—I was in Annapolis, MD eating supper at Buddy’s Crab and Ribs. Super cream of crab soup. On the following night—when that same school was having its all-classes, every-year dinner—I was eating even better cream of crab soup at Cantler’s Riverside Inn. Neither of these places is fancy. I think they each had a roll of paper towels on the table instead of napkins. I don’t know how good the meals I missed at the reunion were, but I am almost certain they did not have better cream of crab soup.
Washington, DC is the region where the most graduates of my West Point class live; probably the most graduates of all classes who graduated at least 20 years ago. Double-dipping is common among West Point grads, that is, spending 20+ years in the Army then taking a civilian job at the Department of Defense or some government contractor.
There were about 32 guys at the lunch—one was a non-West Point Air Force colonel who was there because he had a son at West Point and the meeting included some discussion of our class’s picnic with incoming members of the class of 2018—who will graduate 50 years after we did. My cadet company—C-2—had 6 guys there, by far the most of any company.
For some reason, I guess because my wife and I have Harvard MBAs and I started investing in real estate when I was a 22-year-old second lieutenant, many of my West Point classmates seem to think I am extremely wealthy. I hear little bits and pieces about it from time to time. At the end of this lunch, a classmate made some comment in which he assumed I may have come east on my private jet. Or maybe, more modestly, in a rented private jet. Jesus H. Christ! I flew on Southwest.
Even my magician friend makes references to my being rich. And he has been to my house on many occasions! I think the number of bedrooms, baths, and lot size are about the same as his house.
I am not rich and famous. I am affluent and well-known in some fields. We became millionaires in 1983 and were surprised at how soon you hit the point of diministing returns on the utility of money. We have an 11-room house, several rooms of which we rarely set foot in. What are we going to do if we double our income? Buy a 22-room house that will have about 14 rooms we never set foot in?
I discussed the issue of more versus enough at length in my book Succeeding. Please buy a copy for both our sakes. It will help you have a better life and I need the money. Well, at least I have not run out of useful things to spend additional money on. Really rich people have all the stuff they really need and spend new money on silliness. I have not reached silliness yet. My wife may be pushing it though.
And guess who else was at the West Point class lunch? One of my “classmates” from the little town where I had decided not to go to my reunion.
Why do I put “classmates” in quotation marks? Well, you see, I never met the guy before we met as West Point classmates.
I saw a roster of my class early on at West Point. I was surprised to find one guy whose hometown was listed as that same small town (less than 2,000 population then) I had lived in during junior high—my graduating class there only had 33 girls and 22 boys. But I did not recognize his name. A couple of months later, the uniform of the day had us wearing one of the two West Point uniforms that had our names on them and I saw his name tag and recognized it was the last name of my small-town compatriot. I asked if my assumption was correct that he must have moved there after I left in 1961. Nope. Born and raised there.
“So how could we not know each other?”
“Because I am a Negro and you are white. The schools in that town were segregated. I went to the Negro elementary school in that town and for high school I had to take a bus to a Negro school 16 miles away every day.”
Was this in the deep South? My family sort of had that surprising reaction when we first moved there but no, it is above the Mason-Dixon Line. But I recently learned it was one of five Union states that had slavery until the XIII Amendment was ratified after the Civil War. So I missed my small town reunion dinner Friday, May 2nd, but I had a reunion with one of my same-age, fellow former citizens of that town, who was also my West Point classmate, at lunch on the following Friday, May 9th.
Because we were talking about our in-common small town when the lunch started, we ended up sitting next to each other. Since there were probably only about 20 classmates at that small school reunion dinner on May 2nd, I managed to reune with 5% of my “classmates” from that town by going to the West Point lunch. To put it another way, 10% of those in the class or who should have been and were attending a renuion together in the class were at the DC lunch on May 9th.
I got a sense reading between the lines that the school I moved away from in 10th grade—although the buildings are still in use as a middle school—was put out of the high school business, in part, because of its continued segregation after legal segregation was ended. Kids there now go to a consolidated regional high school with a totally different name on it. Had I gone to the small town school reunion, I would not have reuned with my black classmate from both West Point and the small town because I would have been back in California on May 9th.
The mother of my West Point classmate from there tried to enroll him in the white high school his senior year, after President Eisenhower had sent federal troops to desegregate public schools in Little Rock, AR a year or two before. The legal doctrine of “separate but equal” allowed segregation. But here is what Wikipedia says about that.
The doctrine was overturned by a series of Supreme Court decisions starting with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. However, the overturning of legal separation laws in the United States was a long process that lasted through much of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s involving many court cases and federal legislation.
When my WP classmate’s mom tried to enroll him in my school, the superintendent visited her at home in the “colored town” there at night. No one was afraid to go in black neighborhoods at any time of the day or night back then. He told the mom she could insist on enrolling my future classmate in my white high school, and he would be allowed to attend, but that he “could not guarantee his safety.”
She left him in the Negro high school. (The word “Negro” was used by the New York Times and everyone else until a few years after I graduated from college in 1968.) I suggested to the woman in charge of the white high school reunion that we invite my black West Point classmate from that town. I got no response to that suggestion. It would have put him face-to-face with those from whom the superintendent said he “could not protect” him.
When he first told me about that years ago, I told him I could only think of two boys in the class who might have given him a hard time verbally. As it turned out, both of them failed to get promoted at least once and did not graduate with my class.
My black West Point classmate from that small town is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel who holds a PhD from Columbia University, my oldest son’s Ivy League alma mater. I would have loved to have introduced him to my white classmates at that reunion dinner.
We did a number of other things during my 12 days in the Annapolis area where my classmate lives. Would you believe there is a West Point Society of Annapolis with about 100 members? I am pretty sure there is no Annapolis Society of Highland Falls (the little village next to West Point).
I wandered around DC one day, particularly the White House, as research for my first novel, the Unelected President. On another day we went to Fort McHenry. That is famous for the Star-Spangled Banner being inspired by a battle there. After having visited there, which I recommend, I now see it mainly as a battle with the poem/song being a mere footnote.
On August 24, 1814, during the War of 1812, the British ran over a bunch of cowardly U.S. militia (now called National Guard) at Bladensburg, MD and captured DC and burned several public buildings, most notably the White House and Capitol. About three weeks later, the British decided to do the same to Baltimore, which was actually a more important military target because it was the second biggest U.S. city and a major commercial and navy port.
What they did not count on was the Baltimore military forces being much better soldiers and sailors with much better commanders. Also, Baltimore had Fort McHenry which is essentially a perfect location and a near perfect fortress for the time. The little known Battle of Baltimore ensued.
Apparently assuming the quality of the U.S. military at Baltimore would be the same as at Bladensburg, the British landed 5,000 soldiers on the North Point peninsula east of Fort McHenry. The U.S. military there fought hard, albeit while giving up some ground, at the Battle of North Point. But it was enough to convince the British to try another approach. They were withdrawn.
Then they tried sneaking marines on shore west of Fort McHenry at night. They were discovered and chewed up by various U.S. coast artillery batteries all around the bay.
Then they decided to bombard Fort McHenry with Congreve rockets and mortars from British ships for 25 hours. The range of the British naval weapons was a little bit greater than the range of the American cannons, so the British ships got just outside of the range of the American guns. But at that greater range, the British were inaccurate. Most of their shots missed Fort McHenry. Hundreds still hit it, but did almost no damage to it.
After studying and visiting the Battle of Gettysburg, which was a big cluster, I was proud of both the American and British commanders and men at the Battle of Baltimore. The Americans created a stout defense in terms of both fortifications and good men. The British had enough to overcome only a weak American defense. The Brits tried several approaches. None made any progress. The American troops and defensive forts and trenches looked far too strong, so the Brits left, and our flag was still there.
An eminently sensible battle all around. We won because we had more excellent troops and extremely strong defensive positions and good ground. The Brits saw that and, unlike Robert E. Lee, had no need to prove their manhood nor inability to recognize quickly that they had underestimated their enemy. Cheerio.
I think my best weight is about 172. I got down to that from 175 for the reunion when I left home for the trip back east, but I suspect I was 178 on the actual night of the reunion. At least that’s what I weighed 36 hours later when I was back home. Why the gain?
It is easiest to adhere to a diet when you are home and eating alone or with your family. On the road—if you no longer live in the vicinity of the reunion—and when with friends you have not seen in a while, you tend to engage in celebratory/recreational/social eating and drinking. I don’t drink alcohol, but on the road it is harder to get my usual beverage—Coke Zero—so I end up with regular Cokes. And logically you try to eat good foods that are not available in your home area like cream of crab soup.
So if you are traveling some distance to the reunion area for a number of days—two weeks in my case—put the reunion at the beginning of the period, not the end as I did.
The mode at the reunion was a blazer, dress shirt, tie, and slacks for the men and the equivalent for the women. The dress code had been announced as “smart casual,” but when the organizers responded to inquiries about what that meant, some men said they would not come because of the dress code. So it was changed to “whatever you want.”
In the event, guys generally wore a jacket and tie, not the shorts and flip flops we feared. I would say that the farther people came from—I came from CA to NJ—the better dressed they were. Local people who still live near the high school we graduated from, seemed to regard the event as less of a big deal. Since ties are removable, I suggest you dress as we mostly did. You can take the tie off if it seems appropriate. I wore the blazer I am wearing in this YouTube of me making a speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sua1_TrrskU although with regular cuffs instead of French (cufflink) cuffs and with a rectangular pocket square, not the points some clothing store salesman talked me into.
I have been to three types of reunions: my high school, West Point, and Harvard Business School. Knowledge of how to dress varies dramatically among the three, especially within the first two. I think people could and should all learn how to dress in a once-in-a-lifetime, one- or two-hour class on the subject taught by a competent instructor. They would get a lifetime of benefit from it because we all spend a lifetime making first impressions on others who are often important to us, or might have turned out to be if we had made a better first impression. I had to give myself the class in spite of going to a college and grad school where you might think they took care of it.
Knowing how to dress is one of those things that everyone thinks they know already from just picking it up as they went along, like table manners (e.g., the spoon goes on the saucer not in the bowl when you eat soup). I say the same thing about bunting and sliding in baseball in my baseball coaching books. Can everyone learn to bunt and slide? Yes, but do not make the mistake of thinking that since everyone can do it that no one has to make any effort to learn it. To bunt and slide correctly, you have to learn the correct technique and get many practice reps. The thing you don’t need is athletic talent for either. Similarly with regard to how to dress and how to eat, you do not need to be a gifted designer or talented wine taster, but you do have to make about one hour’s worth of effort at some point in your life to learn it, and you should.
The best dressed reunions I go to are, as you would expect, those at Harvard. The worst on average was the high school. West Point, surprisingly, is closer to my high school than my grad school. But some of the people at my high school knew how to dress and they really stood out in that group—sort of like investment bankers at a Knights of Columbus dinner.
Here are the eight books that constituted my self-assigned course on the subject. Dress for Success was also good but needs to be updated. Most of these are for men. Women probably have lots more good books on the subject.
• A Gentleman Gets Dressed Up by Bridges and Curtis
• Details Men’s Style Manual by Daniel Peres and the editors of Details magazine
• Dress Your Best by Kelly and London
• The Handbook of Style: A Man’s Guide to Looking Good by Esquire magazine
• Guide to Style by Tim Gunn
• Style and the Man by Alan Flusser
• Gentleman’s Guide to Grooming and Style by Bernhard Roetzel
• Nordstrom Guide to Style by Tom Julian
The basic formula is classic fabrics (cotton and wool) and colors (navy, black, tan), classic design (doesn’t go out of style), and custom fitting (made-to-measure or tailor-made/bespoke depending on how unusual your body dimensions are). Get a custom-made shirt of each type, but leave off the monogram that often is offered with them. And if you have strengths and weaknesses in your appearance, like most of us, use clothing tricks to emphasize or deemphasize them. I have broader-than-average shoulders thus the double-breasted blazer whose button alignment emphasizes shoulders.
If you want to see bad dressing in the extreme, go to a current high school prom. Ours in 1964 had no such pimp-convention fashions.
I was big on dating in college and thereafter, but not in high school, so I was not expecting to encounter any girls I had dated. The list of who was coming did not include my prom date/senior year girlfriend or the one classmate I dated after high school. So no worries, mate, right?
Here is the Facebook post I put up the day after the reunion:
Just went to my 50th high school reunion last night. Never been to one of those. Interesting experience as I expected it to be. I’ll write a web article about when I get home. Too much for a Facebook post. The main surprise for me was I thought I had virtually no female relationships to speak of at that high school. And I did not expect the main one, my prom/Army-Navy Game date, to be there because she was not on the list of those coming. I had forgotten how many of my female classmates I had invited up to West Point. Plus I did not recognize any until I looked at their name tags which also had their 1964 yearbook photo.
I was disabused of the notion that I was mainly there to reunite with football teammates when I was walking past a couple of late-60ish matrons—the most common type of person at 50-year high school reunions—and one barked, “Jack!” in a way meant to stop me.
I Iooked at her face. No clue. Then, simultaneously she said her name and I looked at her yearbook photo and name on her name tag. Holy smoke! My girlfriend from senior Spring and college freshman Fall!
Men and woman acquaintances hug pro forma nowadays when they run into each other. But apparently, when the other person is one of whom you each once thought “This could be THE ONE,” the hug is longer and tighter than pro forma. Totally unpremeditated and unexpected. And nice.
We exchanged life stories and parted. At the end of the evening as she was leaving we exchanged glances and waves. As with the hug, a bit more information was conveyed by the glances than similar waves between 50-year-ago friends with less history.
My prom date had an extreme makeover personality-wise in the last 50 years—from quiet shy girl to head of her deparment in a professional organization. Hollywood would have cast her as a librarian in the background in 1964; a talk show host now. She and others might say the same thing happened to me during that period—from “most quiet boy” in the class to military commander, public speaker, writer. However, others, like a girl who came up to see me at West Point with a car load of other girls from our class, seemed to have the exact same personality as when we were in high school. My prom date and I needed a personality makeover; she did not.
I feel bad about not recognizing my prom date’s face. As I said above, I got a bunch of recent reunion photos from the woman in charge of my small high scool reunion to help avoid that.
Did I ask my big metro area school for similar photos? Hell, no! Not after the first reunion plans going up in smoke because of an email misunderstanding. Plus, my junior high school reunion was only for about 20 people out of a graduating class of 56. The organizers of the big metro area reunion were dealing with a graduating class of 388 and attendance in the 130 classmates range. They were too busy to deal with extra requests from anyone. Furthermore, the high school from which I graduated had not had a reunion since the 25th so photos from that might not have been much help.
About 10% to 15% of each class were known to be deceased: 7 at my small alma mater; 48 at the bigger one.
There were two other women there whom I had invited up to West Point—a carload of four high school classmates, one of whom was my date and the three others I fixed up with West Point classmates. They both reminisced with me about that weekend at West Point.
Then there was the fourth woman who approached with me to reminisce about visiting me at West Point. I wince at the memory of it. Everyone I told about it winced.
She walks up to me—perhaps the best-dressed woman at the reunion, and probably also the one in the best physical shape and the tallest—about 5' 11" or 6' tall. I was 6' in college; 5' 11" now. In high school, she was beautiful, popular, and one of the class leaders. Because of the seven-times larger student body size, you had to be a lot more beautiful, popular, and tall to be a standout in any of those categories at my final high school. I remembered wanting to date her when I was in high school, but did not recall ever screwing up the courage to ask.
She starts talking about the weekend she came to see me at West Point.
I assumed she must have been one of the girls in the carload of four and asked if that was correct.
Stunned, after a pause, she said, “No, Jack, I came by myself just to see you.”
At that point, I felt six inches tall, not six feet.
I asked for some details which I figured would turn the light bulb on. But after my question about the carload, she was mad and claimed, in retaliatory fashion, that she could not remember any.
Four inches tall.
I have a memory so good that I constantly get comments on it. The woman in charge of the first reunion commented before she got mad at me that she and her best friend in our class wanted to thank me for bringing their childhoods back by remembering so many things they had forgotten and turning on the light bulbs in their memories. If the woman at the reunion had given me enough details to turn the light bulb on, I almost certainly would then have remembered more about our dating than she did.
My magician West Point classmate said,
But you have no recollection of dating one of them at West Point? I'm surprised… Your memory is generally very good. And with dates involved generally excellent.
Correct. And my youngest son, who is 27, said, “There is no way you would forget a two- or three-date relationship including the woman coming to see you at West Point.”
He wondered if she is mistaken.
I would have to know her better to consider that.
Assuming she is right, which I think is probable, this is what must have happened. When a leave from West Point was approaching, I decided to call her cold and invite her out to a movie when I was home even though we had no history together at high school. We must have enjoyed that date then had another, probably supper. Again we enjoyed the date and I invited her to come to West Point, probably three or four weeks hence. Looking forward to that date was almost certainly the highlight of my life at West Point for the next several weeks.
She borrowed her parents’ car and drove the two hours and twenty minutes one way from my hometown to West Point and stayed in the girls dorm at the Thayer Hotel with three or four roommates she did not know, paying for the stay out of her own pocket. There was a burly MP at the door next to the big sign saying no males allowed into that building. Our date would have been from about lunch Saturday to 1 AM that night, then during or after mandatory chapel on Sunday morning until 1830 Sunday when we had to march into supper and after which we were not allowed to “escort” (be with a girl or other non-cadet). We were also not allowed to escort Friday night and we had classes and, in nice weather, a parade on Saturday morning.
During our four years at West Point, dozens of girls came for the weekend to see me. So it is possible I could forget one of them over the ensuing span of 48 or 49 years. It’s a long time even for the mentally healthy.
But from the girl’s perspective, going to West Point was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Little girls seem to universally have dreams about being swept off their feet at some point by Prince Charming. I am not Prince Charming. I didn’t even play one on TV. But for four years in college, I had to dress like one. In the 1960s and before, West Point was, for college-age girls, a Prince Charming theme park.
See what I mean?
Plus, where does Prince Charming live? In a castle. Where do West Point cadets live and go to school? In a bunch of gray stone buildings that look very much like castles. The West Point campus may be the most visually dramatic in the country. Sports Illustrated said it was the most beautiful venue in America for a college football game. On October 16, 1965, her 19th birthday and homecoming weekend at West Point, my date, not the one I forget, looked around at Michie Stadium, the cloudless blue sky, the impeccably groomed and clothed thousands of cadets, and the peak-color mountains and said,
This is surreal. I feel like I stepped out of real life into a Technicolor movie screen.
That woman, who now lives in PA, tracked me down through the West Point Association of Graduates in 2006—38 years after we last saw each other. She and her husband have had supper with my wife and me several times since, including last September. That’s another quasi 50th reunion.
So which is more likely, that I misremembered one of the dozens of girls who came to West Point to see me during those four years or that a girl who went there once in her life to see me and misremembers it?
Two inches tall.
What is the explanation of this memory loss? Well, she seemed to leap to the worst conclusion. I think it is just that 48 or 49 years is a long time and neither she nor I can remember every thing from back then without some prompting to “refresh our recollection” as the lawyers call it in court. It is an unlikely and inexplicable memory loss on my part, but her leap to the worst possible explanation was unwarranted. I liked and respected her. I would not have forgetten her because of who she is; only because of some random neuron or synapse broken circuit.
I was wondering if I should write her a letter or send her flowers to make up for it. But I figured it would just be reminding her again that I totally forgot my entire romantic relationship with her. The implication is I thought she was such a dud that I don’t even remember her existence. I don't know why I don’t remember, but it sure as hell was not that. I preferred tall girls. My wife is 5'7 1/2". Most of the girls I dated for a long time were 5' 8". The tallest girl I remember ever dating (then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s niece) was 5' 10". This woman at the reunion was a more memorable 5' 11" or 6' tall. And the girls you forget are the drab, blind dates that you got fixed up with when your roommate’s date brought her college roommate. The problem is I even remember those—not their names, but at least the weekend and who the guy was who owed me for agreeing to it.
HOW CAN I POSSIBLY COMPLETELY FORGET A BEAUTIFUL, POPULAR, CLASS LEADER GIRL I WANTED TO DATE IN HIGH SCHOOL, THE TALLEST GIRL I EVER DATED, AFTER A THREE-DATE RELATIONSHIP INCLUDING HER COMING TO FEMALE-DEPRIVED WEST POINT TO SEE ME!!!?
I cannot put her high school yearbook photo here because of privacy laws. However, if I did, all the males reading this would instantly agree that I did not forget her because she was forgettable. Miscellaneous brain-wiring malfunction is the only possible explanation.
But apparently I somehow did just that, and maybe spoiled her evening at her 50th high school reunion, or at least part of it!
I tried to find record of her coming to West Point in my old boxes of college calendars and a 1966 diary—the only one I ever kept. Saw no mention of her although I did not make a complete search. Could I have prevented this? Perhaps by reviewing all those records before I went. Had I seen a date with the girl in a calendar I would have said, “Really!? I dated her!? Damn! Way to go, Jack!” Then when she accosted me at the high school reunion I could have said, “March 16th, 1966. I really appreciate you coming up there to see me back then.”
The phrase that kept coming to mind as I was talking to her at the reunion was Billy Crystal’s signature line by “Fernando” from his 1985 music video “You Look Marvelous.” That well-deserved and sincere compliment might have made her evening, but I could not get it in because she kept saying, “That is so funny” where “that” referred to my not remembering at all the shared weekend she wanted to reminisce with me about.
I stayed with my West Point roommate in Maryland and with a real estate colleague I worked with when I got out of the Army in 1972 in NJ. I don’t sleep as well away from my own perfected-over-the-years bedroom, bed, and pillow. I could have taken the pillow, but that might have been the straw that threw my back out in the checked-bag suitcase. You do need to get decent sleep one way or the other. Afternoon naps can help. Or maybe a second perfect pillow being shipped to your friend in advance then shipped back home.
I was going to rent a car and a hotel room for the small school reunion. One reason I’m glad that did not happen was the combination hotels and reunions have a vague hint of trysts. My wife did not come with me, although she was in DC for a business conference the first week when I was in the Annapolis area. Before I canceled the first reunion, I was worrying a little about avoiding any appearance of impropriety with regard to any unaccompanied, opposite-gender classmates. In NJ, the plan always was to stay with my former colleague and his wife.
I actually also got an offer to stay with one of the subscribers to my Real Estate Investor’s Monthly newsletter and his family while I was attending the reunion I canceled.
The point is you need to think about getting enough sleep and probably some other issues that do not come up with hotel stays if you stay with friends and relatives. And you need to think about possible appearance of impropriety if you are married and unaccompanied and staying in a hotel or motel—not from that mere fact but from possible end-of-the-evening situations that you could find yourself in. Neither was an issue for me, but I could see how it might be.
On the other hand, if you are single and looking for reunion romance, I would expect you should stay in a hotel or motel. Trysts and romances that sometimes lead to marriage are apparently fairly common results of co-ed institution reunions. Two of my junior high classmates who initially married other persons and got divorced ended up marrying each other as a result of reconnecting at the 25th reunion. At my 50th, I saw a couple of little things that may have been romantic signals from female classmates to males. Then again, they may have been entirely innocent. You never know with that stuff unless you encourage it.
I took a carry-on and a checked suitcase. The airline put a warning label on the suitcase that it was heavy. I did not throw out my back moving it around, but I was risking it. I priority mailed two medium flat rate boxes of stuff home, thereby making my suitcase and carry-on lighter and safer when going home. I mailed those two boxes on Saturday in NJ and they arrived at my home in CA Monday at noon.
I went from DC after my West Point classmate quarterly lunch to NJ by DC Metro with one train change then Amtrak to Philadelphia then by NJT train to Pennsauken, NJ where my host and his wife picked me up in his car so I could take them to a nice supper in return for their hospitality and loan of a car for the reunion dinner itself.
The move to the Metro station-Metro A-Metro B-Amtrak-NJT-ride was a bit worrisome because of all its moving parts and relatively short times between modes. And although I arrived at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia an hour before my NJT train, it took me almost all of the hour to figure out how to buy the $1.75 ticket (there is a little machine from which to buy them) and the directory map is rather vague about its location and the Travelers Aid counter was unmanned. Then they did not post what track it was on until about 10 minutes before departure. Like a good former Army ranger, I had reconnoitered the move from the Metro to my Amtrak train during my day of wandering around the White House and environs (up one flight of stairs and on the west side of Union Station). I had no opporunity to reconnoiter 30th Street Station though.
I asked to borrow a car from my NJ host. The alternatives were to rent one for a 6PM to 11PM dinner or to be dropped off and picked up by my host. I did not want that because I thought some classmates and I might end up in a conversation too good to end at 11PM and that we might go to some nearby, late-night diner to talk some more. In the event, I waited to get my 1961-1964 oldies cassettes back to return to my magician roommate. He made them and wanted to take them to his 50th reunion next month. Then I drove to my colleague’s home at 11:30 PM. The car they loaned my was a fire-engine red convertible. “Oh, Jeez!” I said. “My classmates are going to think I rented that special to impress them.” In the event, it was dark and raining and no one saw me get into or out of the car. I actually have been driving my own red convertible at home since 2006.
I only wear that hat when I drive my convertible with the top down. Did I buy that car to impress people? No. My wife made me buy it. I was on the waiting list for a 2006 Lexus 460 LS, the four-door car that parallel parked itself. One morning, my wife said why not get the convertible instead?
Her: We already have a Lexus 430 LS. Why have two identical cars?
Me: Me driving a red convertible!?
Her: If you don’t get it, I will.
By supper time that day, after never having given a thought to buying a red convertible, not even before that breakfast, I had traded in my Toyota Avalon for the above car and was driving it. So although it was my turn to buy a new car, my wife got to pick it. But at least I get to drive it. She drives her 430 LS.
I wanted a non-stop flight from SFO to BWI but could only find one that arrived too late and left too early to return. So then I picked the one-stop change plane routes with the shortest overall duration. In retrospect, if I have to stop, I prefer to be able to eat a meal, take a walk, and relax in the terminal during the stop which makes each flight easier to endure. So in the future I will look for the cheapest which probably has longer layovers. Plus you can now generally see all the alternatives displayed including the layover time on line. The guy behind me in line at PHL airport was also going home to CA from his 50th high school reunion. Tis the season.
I am sometimes told I look younger than my age. I am skeptical, but I have been getting that at college and grad school reunions all along. So I was curious to be in a room with all people born in 1946.
I thought a bunch of my classsmates looked the same as when we were in high school, notably the quarterback, running back, and tight end from the football team. QB looked the same. The RB used to have thick black hair—he was named “best looking boy” back in ’64—but other than having a shaved head now, he looked the same to me. The tight end is almost unchanged other than some gray hair. He’s one tube of Grecian Formula away from being carded if he orders an adult beverage.
A week after I turned 21, I went to a 21-or older bar for the first time in my life with some West Point cadets. The bouncer asked for our proof of age but when I reached for my wallet said, “You’re okay,” meaning the other guys, who were all older than I, were the only ones who needed to show proof of age. I was obviously well over 21!! When I was a single bar bartender after college graduation—the Dolphin in Sea Isle City, NJ in the summer of 1968—I mentioned my then age. The customer I was talking to snorted and said, “You’re not a day under 27.”
So how is it I look like I’m 17 at age 67 but I could not even manage to look like I was under 27 when I was 21?
Those three football teammates looked like they are ready to play a game tomorrow. Some might have said the same about me. I’m not. I would be okay for two or three plays, then I would probably be removed from the field on a stretcher. Too brittle at 67 for that sort of exertion. They would probably claim the same.
No way I look as good as those guys with regard to lack of aging. Nevertheless, one classmate said I was the only guy in the room he recognized from across the room without having to look at my name tag. The woman who brought the car load of girls to West Point said I had not changed. “So you’re saying I loooked like a 67-year-old man when I was 17?” “No, you look like a 17-year old now.”
Give me a break. I know. I know. She’s just trying to be nice. But don’t be ridiculous about it.
Here is my 1964 yearbook portrait as a 17-year old—the one that was on my reunion name tag: There are summer-of-2013 photos of me in two web articles about a trip to Canada: http://www.johntreed.com/observations-of-Canada-2013.html and http://www.johntreed.com/live-cheap-in-a-pickup-truck-camper.html.
As a group, I thought my male classmates were surprisingly in shape and looking young. I don’t mean to suggest the females were not. I just did not do a visual survey of them on the grounds that it would be a bit unseemly for a married man. I could only see my male classmates’ weight, but conversations indicated many get regular weight training and aerobic exercise.
We have a national obesity epidemic nowadays, but there are also many in our Baby Boomer generation who watch their weight successfully and do weight training and cardio. The Greatest Generation may have been less fat as a group, but hardly any of them exercised other than perhaps taking their “constitutional” daily walk. Plus they smoked and drank too much.
I commented that my high school classmates looked to be more fit as a group than my West Point classmates who are supposed to have been inculcated with a lifetime fitness ethic. But I must note that my Harvard classmates are the tops in that department, which is not something they are known for. They are good looking, well dressed, and generally fit to the point where I expect passers by at our reunions in hotels wonder, “What group is that?” Or perhaps commenting to their waiter, to borrow a line from from director Rob Reiner’s mom from When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what they’re having.”
I was channel surfing last night and watched an old episode of Bonanza. “Little Joe” was played by Michael Landon. He graduated from the same high school as me—ten years earlier. His name was Eugene Orowitz then. His 50th reunion would have been in 2004. The brother of one of my football teammates there is one of the Oak Ridge Boys, which has always made wonder how South Jersey could produce a country-western singing star. It is neither country nor western.
If you could have brought my high school class in a time machine from when we were 17 to the 50th reunion, I expect our 17-year-old selves would have been greatly relieved. Some would have been horrified, not by how broken down they were, but by the effects of aging and bad habits like smoking or over-eating on skin and hair and waistline. But in general, they would have felt as we feel. Age 67 is not much different from age 17 for about 98% of what you do on a given day. I sleep. I eat. I drive in my car to run errands. I watch TV. When I was 17 I ran five miles every morning around the Cooper River. Now I go to the gym most mornings to either lift weights or spend 30 minutes on the elliptical cardio machine. And most of the problems of aging can be offset by limiting food intake, sun exposure, better dental hygiene, exercise, dressing well, and so on.
Our 17-year-old selves would be thrilled with the easy self-confidence we all acquired. They would be fascinated by how their lives unfolded in terms of whom they married, their careers, children, grandchlidren, great grandchildren. They would be shocked by adverse events like divorce, being fired, failures, deaths of loved ones, and the poor health of some peers—although those peers generally do not attend reunions. You hear about them there. They would get motivated to take better care of themselves and to be more careful and patient when making important decisions. But mainly they would stop dreading age 67 and see it as an age like all others to be enjoyed, an age that is worth surviving to experience, an age like all others that has its advantages and disadvantages.
Our 17-year old selves were full of “can do,” or pretending to be. A U.S. Army Division in World War I had “can do” as their motto. And they were obnoxious about it. They said “Can do, sir” when they answered the phone and when they saluted. They had a song about it and Jody chants they said as they marched.
But they were not the first U.S. division to participate in World War I in France. When they belatedly arrived, they were assigned to pitch camp with a unit that was already there. They marched toward that division camp site chanting their “can do” motto. But as they arrived, the back of the line heard the front of the march go silent. They learned why when they could see the entrance gate. Across the top of it was a banner that said, “Have done.”
My high school’s graduation in June 1964 was our “can do”—we hoped—moment. Our 50th reunion was our “have done” moment. Good luck to those who think they can do. Thank you and congratulations to those who have done.
Live long and prosper,
John T. Reed
Post script: On 8/11/14, the woman who got mad at me before my midde school reunion sent be a fat envelope. I considered asking the bomb squad to open it. It was full of the stuff I would have been handed had I attended the reunion including a calligraphed, hand-made name tag with a photo of my from a 1961 yearbook on the back. Interesting contrast with my much bigger high school. The big school apparently bought some sort of Classmates.com reunion package that included professional, slick name badges and some handouts containing class names and addresses. The small school envelope, was all hand-made, home cooked, thoughtful, fun, extensive, interesting, and obviously a labor of love. It takes all kinds of schools to make a world.