It would be like old times, the Connoisseur reflected, the chance to relive those innocent years of youth. His old school chums would dredge up long-suppressed memories of awkward moments in the classroom and on the athletic field, laugh over each other’s ill-fated teenage romances, and call each other by nicknames whose origins were too embarrassing to explain. In short, it would be hell.
“Ever go to a class reunion?” he asked his squash partner during a break in play.
“Are you crazy?” responded the other, panting. “You know what reunions are for? Revenge! The only reason people show up at those things is to see who’s gotten fat and who’s going bald. You’re not actually going to one, are you?”
Well, he probably wouldn’t —except for the speaker they had lined up.
“And who might that be?” his friend asked, absently.
“Me,” the Connoisseur confessed.
His ambivalence first surfaced when he was invited to join the reunion committee. (All he had to do, he was assured, was vote on the menu.) But he was secretly thrilled when, weeks later, he was asked to speak on his generation’s place in history. The organizers obviously had followed his writings on politics, military affairs, and culture. Quasi intellectual? Let the guy who scribbled that in the Connoisseur’s yearbook eat his words. He struck an oratorical pose before the mirror. Good thing he had kept himself in shape . . . sort of.
Before long, however, he was having second thoughts. An audience of strangers was one thing, but an audience of one’s peers from an all-male prep school was another matter entirely. The slightest hint of pretension or self-importance and dinner rolls would fly, wedgies would be inflicted, and the Connoisseur could wind up in analysis.
The fact is, anything could happen at a high school reunion, a premise that has fueled countless movies and sitcom episodes. Long-forgotten rivalries erupt, punch bowls are overturned, mayhem ensues. The story lines vary, but the moral remains the same: One man’s memory lane is another man’s emotional minefield.
It’s more than cliché, the Connoisseur recalled Harry Aponte, professor of social work at Philadelphia’s Hahnemann University, telling him. “When you go back to a high school reunion, you’re going back to that state of mind in which you were most vulnerable. The primary concern of adolescence is, What do others think? No matter how grown-up or successful you think you are, reunions tap into that place in you that’s still there.”
The Connoisseur was reminded of Superman. Here on Earth, the Man of Steel could leap tall buildings in a single bound. But approach him with a chunk of Kryptonite—a vestige of his past—and his superpowers disappeared. Oh well, the Connoisseur thought as the big night approached, at least he didn’t have any superpowers to lose. Unless, of course, one counted sophistication and élan.
On the night of the reunion the Connoisseur surveyed the room. They were all there: the class president, the class valedictorian, the captain of the football team, the social butterflies, the jocks, the nonconformists, the class cutups, and the rest. Now, they were bankers and lawyers, doctors, and distinguished scientists and educators. Was it his imagination, or were they casting envious looks at the evening’s speaker? It was understandable, the Connoisseur mused. It wouldn’t be long before he would hold center stage.
“Ready to go?” asked the reunion chairman, who had materialized beside him. The Connoisseur nodded. Before he stepped up to the podium, though, he just had to know one thing: How was it, the Connoisseur asked the chairman, that of all their accomplished classmates, he had been selected to speak? Was it his acquaintanceships with the powerful and glamorous of the world? His experiences in exotic climes? His charm?
The chairman looked chagrined. “Remember how you agreed to be on the committee? Well, the day we had to choose a speaker, you were the only member who wasn’t there.”
It was going to be a long night.