The Night of a Thousand Lawyers
Okay! So I was at the hotel bar a few hours after my dad’s funeral trying to decide whether or not I was capable of continuing on to my high school reunion. I was sitting with Tamara and Tom. They both had flown in from the east coast for the occasion, but neither of them would have felt like I was letting them down if I bailed. Which knowledge made it easier for me to decide to go. But not before Jack rolled into the bar with his hair and his aviators and his general air of disheveled savoir-faire.
“Oh, look, it’s my husband, the drug dealer,” I said. For the record, Jack is not a drug dealer. Neither do I have first-hand knowledge of him ever having been a drug dealer. But it’s a good look for him. The other thing about Jack is that he can step into any conversation and make himself at home right away. He does this by telling stories. He finds out who you are and what you’re interested in, then he opens his file box and pulls out some debasing trainwreck of a personal anecdote, lays it at your feet, and says, “Beat that!” Most people can’t. Neither Tom nor Tamara even tried. Maybe because they’re both lawyers and have things called “confidentiality agreements.”
Anyway, we had some drinks and Jack took off back up to the room, and the three of us packed it up and headed out to Tom’s rental car and now that I’ve broached this topic I completely don’t feel like talking about it. We had fun, it was fine! I was shocked at my heretofore untapped ability to compartmentalize — sad death thoughts, over here! Fun drinking trivia, front and center! I completely understand now why people have wakes. It’s easy to be sad and eat an entire chocolate cake and go to bed for fourteen hours (my family’s preferred method for dealing with stress), but hugging a bunch of people and shouting at the top of your lungs and tripping over shit in the dark: that’s therapeutic.
Anyway, the reunion weekend was a two-part deal. The first night was just the informal drunken barbecue for our class, but second night was this formal shindig on campus for all alumni, in a giant tent that looked like DIA. The invitation had specified black tie. I was afraid I’d have to buy a ball gown or a wedding dress or some shit, so a month beforehand I’d e-mailed Tamara to ask what she was going to wear. “A tuxedo,” she lied.
That was a thought. I actually own a tuxedo. I inherited it from Jack’s stepfather, Red, because I was the only person it fit, boobs and all. I’d only worn it out once, when Jack had had a New Year’s Eve gig at his ex-girlfriend’s bar and I’d dusted off the tux and tagged along. At one miraculous point in the evening, Sean Kennedy arrived wearing a wig and a dress. In hindsight, we would have made a perfect couple at that point, me in my tux and Sean in full makeup, but the place was jammed and I was afraid to lose my seat at the bar, so I let myself be trapped for most of the night sitting next to the drummer’s angry wife, who just sat there not drinking and glaring at the band. Sometimes my social anxiety gets the better of me, I latch on to the bitterest person available, and hoo-wee, I have a good time.
Anyway, when my dad died and I had to go to Denver two weeks earlier than planned and pack in like ten minutes, I opted not to bring the tux. I just threw in a black skirt and this weird, deconstructed, inside-out Edwardian jacket that I bought off the sale rack at Pierre Lafond/Wendy Foster a few years back. The jacket says a mezzo-forte Fuck You to black tie; I figured none of my high school friends would expect any less from me than a half-hearted, non-threatening attempt to subvert the dominant paradigm. It’s what I do.
Tamara was a knockout in this backless velvet thing and silver heels, which pretty much made me look like a troll in comparison, but if there’s one thing I love about Tamara it’s that she absolutely does not give a shit about who looks like what. She was just happy to come up to my chin for once. (She’s one of the wee people, and I’m above-average in height, if not most likely to succeed.)
We called a cab and got over to school, and as soon as we stepped out into the parking lot Tamara was all, I either need to get the fuck out of here or get a drink RIGHT NOW. It was freaking her out, being back. I’d gone through my own angst five years ago, walking around campus with my eyes all welling up and feeling like a sentimental jerk. Certainly people have a variety of reactions when returning to the scene of some of the best and/or worst times in their life, and such feelings are out of our control. And that’s why God invented the vodka gimlet.
But first we had to get in line for name tags, which were these giant, ugly things we were supposed to wear on lanyards around our necks. The men could clip their tags onto their breast pocket, but the ladies got to walk around in their ball gowns with sandwich boards around their necks. I don’t know what a reasonable compromise for the strapless set would have been, frankly — a “HELLO, I’M _________ ” label stuck to your boob? A temporary tattoo? Sharpie across the forehead?
Anyway, we got in another line and got a couple of vodka-based cocktails from a comedic bartender girl wearing a black shirt and a neon-pink tie, and then I spotted Pete. Pete was this sarcastic kid in the class behind us, and of course now he’s a lawyer, too. “PETE,” I said, rolling up on him and holding my sandwich board up to his face, in case he didn’t recognize me in a skirt with no hair. “EDEN!” he shouted, and he then he grabbed my arm and whispered, “Brian is here and by God, you leave him alone, I’m trying to set him up with my sister.” I held up my left hand and showed him my wedding band. “I’m married!” I protested. “It doesn’t matter,” he sighed.
Pete was good friends with Brian, and Brian was more than good friends with me. At my wedding I didn’t have a maid of honor, I had Brian. There’s more to it than that, of course; suffice to say, I was thrilled that he was there. I’d spent a chunk of time at my parents’ kitchen table searching for him the previous week, a man with an expired Web site, no valid e-mail addresses, a disconnected phone, and a mother whose first name I’d forgotten. It would be typical of him to enjoy pulling a little vanishing act, and normally I’d applaud that sort of thing. We lost touch with each other all the time, and then one or two years later we’d pick right up where we’d left off. However, circumstances being what they were — me being stuck in suburban Denver, needing him to know what was going on — my desire to connect with him had become somewhat desperate, and after a couple of drinks I’m afraid I was looking a little wild-eyed.
It was now 7:00, and Tamara and I had agreed in advance to get the cab to pick us back up at 10:00. Despite the slight surge of energy my goal of hunting down Brian had given me, the whole social thing was starting to wear on me. I felt like I’d used up all my conversation the night before, but wasn’t yet drunk enough to just start randomly hugging people. It was going to be a long night. Then Cami showed up.
She hadn’t been at the barbecue the night before, but here she was, maybe the richest girl in our class, with her hair blown out and her jaw thrust forward and her cool gaze assessing our table. I’m sorry, was that a little too Marjorie Morningstar for you? She’s the type of woman who immediately conjures up TV-movie narratives. I had tried to warm to Cami, back in the day, without much success, but now I had to admit, her cleavage was impressiv
And after all, she’d been my date to senior prom.
Well, you know, prom is a weird thing. All that pressure to make it into some big unforgettable night. Instead of thinking, “Hey, Eden! Why wait around for god-knows-who to ask you to this dance thing? Why not pick out some vulnerable underclassman and drive him around in your Volkswagen Bug all night instead!” — which is sort of what ended up happening — instead I waited around to see if any of my male classmates would ask me to the dance, and none of them did. I remember a couple of them being shocked when they found out I was dateless. It seems that the two or three boys who considered asking me just assumed that one of the other guys would do it first, so they each asked somebody else. Whee.
Anyway, as it turned out, for whatever reason, nobody had asked Cami, either. Maybe because there was no male equivalent to Cami in our school, no Blanes or Eric Strattons around. She figured out soon enough what was happening, and even though she probably just wanted to cover her ass, she rounded up me and two other wallflowers and invited us all over to her house for dinner on prom night so that afterward we could all walk into the dance as a pack.
Her house was big and scary — scary in a “everything’s covered in marble veneer” sort of way — and her dad was not like my dad. My dad was huge and bearded and thundered jolly German phrases at awestruck passersby; Cami’s dad was short and trim and tan and handed her a $100 bill for us to go grocery shopping. I don’t remember what we bought besides this exotic thing that I’d never heard of called “tenderloin.” After we’d cooked and ate and whatever, left the mess for the housekeeper, Cami brought out a cake with a bunch of twigs sticking out of the top. “What’s with the twigs?” I asked. “They’re mushrooms,” she said in this pleasantly haughty way that always shut everyone up.
It turned out that one of our classmates (Tamara informed me twenty-five years later) functioned as the Hallucinogen Pipeline to our small and surprisingly close-knit group of jocks, stoners, gearheads, mathletes, music geeks, and future MBA’s. And for the occasion he had hooked Cami up with an ounce of twigs. Chewy, chewy twigs, which the four of us ate on full stomachs and which therefore never were able to take full effect, beyond some mild pupil dilation and brief fits of giggling.
We got to the dance and our little dinner party dispersed for the rest of the night. I remember very little about the evening except that eventually I ended up soaking wet and running around a golf course at two in the morning with two freshman boys, Paul and Bill, who had crashed a prom afterparty, and whom I eventually drove home in my Bug as we sang along to a homemade cassette of Give ‘Em Enough Rope.
So, right! There we were, twenty-five years later, in a tent filled with a thousand shouting alumni and Cami two chairs down from me saying, “SO WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW, EDEN?”
“TRYING TO GET A BOOK DEAL,” I yelled back. That was enough for her, I guess; she gave me one of her classic nebulous smiles, kind of sleepy and superior at the same time, then turned her royal laser beam on poor Kevin sitting next to her, alone in a sea of tuxes with his rumpled khakis and Hawaiian shirt, with Cami asking him if he had any blow. No, I have no idea what they talked about. Their kids, probably. Where the nearest Costco was.
I excused myself from the patient and charming Reid (who’d been my date for the junior prom) and went to go look for Brian. I figured he’d had plenty of time to chat with Pete’s sister by then, so I staggered off toward the front of the room.
Pete saw me coming. I smiled at him. To his right, Brian was sitting with his back to me. I made hilarious comedy gesture #21 — screw up your face like Popeye and make your hands into claws like you’re going to wring someone’s neck. Apparently I was inches away from comedy-strangling the wrong man, however, because Pete shook his head violently and pointed across the table, and there sat Brian. He stood up. We hugged. And then I popped him in the arm and said, “WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN, I’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR YOU FOR WEEKS.”
He admitted that he’d actually moved back to Denver six months ago, he just hadn’t told anyone. “GODDAMNIT,” I said, and poured out everything about my father, and how much it would have helped if I’d known he was around. I think he was surprised at my fury. Now, it certainly wasn’t his fault that his little stunt had backfired with me. Under any other circumstances it would have been pure pleasure to see him. I guess now it was slightly impure pleasure to see him, what with me being sort of needy and, uh, drunk.
Around about 10:00 the cab driver started calling Tamara’s phone to say he was waiting for us out front. I was deep in conversation with Pete’s sister, but at Tamara’s insistence I called the cab driver back and said we’d be there in ten minutes. Thirty minutes later he gave up and drove off, I bummed a cigarette from the only smoker in the entire place (a.k.a. Pete’s sister), and we stood outside the tent where Brian was hilariously describing his latest online business venture, a deeply complex and elf-free virtual world.
After group pictures and saying goodbye to everyone twelve different times, we walked to Tom’s rental and he drove us back to the hotel. The next morning Tamara, Jack, and I had coffee in the lobby and talked about the endless reverberations those last two years of high school still have for us — or me, at least. I haven’t really explained it to you at all, of course. I’ve been writing this post for days and no doubt stretched your blog-reading patience to snapping. Hello, twelve people who are still reading this. Hello.