Think About The Way XXI

Think About The Way XXI

The twenty-first of a never-ending series

By Doctor Gonzo

21 August 2006

Savage City — The drive to Savage City took no more time than normal, all things considered. True, traffic has picked up to ridiculous levels in the past few years, to the point where even when traveling on a Saturday afternoon, there is stop-and-go traffic as everybody tries to get to their cabins up north, or maybe just to their homes in the ever-expanding exurbia that is filling in between the Twin Cities and my destination to the northwest. Although I cursed it, there wasn't much I could do to avoid it. It didn't last long, though, and I was soon speedily on my way.

When I arrived, I stopped by Val's for a bite to eat. My trips are becoming less and less frequent, so when I do make it up in the vicinity of that ancient, tiny hamburger shack, I almost always indulge. It's the only time I eat deep-fried, unhealthy fare, simply because it is so good. One of the few redeeming facets of Savage City, in fact, as the rest of town is filled in with the detritus of suburbia. I have often remarked to people that it is now impossible to tell whether you are driving down Division Street or any of the main drags of Maple Grove, Chanhassen, Woodbury, or any of the characterless outer-ring suburbs of the Twin Cities. Something is always lost as time goes by.

Eating at a park by the river, I was amazed at how absolutely deserted it was. Nobody on the playground, nobody on the swings, not a single soul in all the acres of grass and trees save myself. On a beautiful Saturday, such a park in Minneapolis would be filled to capacity with sunbathers, cruisers, transients, and just about anybody who was trying to be seen. But I had only the company of the bees and flies that were buzzing around. Just another reminder that the experiences I had grown up with were quite different from the experiences that I had come to see as normal in the past few years, ever since I left my hometown more-or-less on a permanent basis some ten years earlier.

Ten years was the theme of the day. I was a bit nervous as I left and approached my first destination, a nervousness that others would confide that they too shared. For I was not in Savage City on a business trip, nor was I even up there for political reasons as I had been not a week before. I was there to attend my 10-year high school reunion, seeing people that in some cases I had not seen in a decade. I didn't expect it to go badly, but the anxiety was there. Social anxiety was a fact of life when I was growing up and attending Cathedral High School. Sure, my general anxiety has greatly diminished in the intervening years. But as is usually the case, the old triggers brought it back, and I gulped it down as best I could as I approached the tent set up in Riverside Park.

Greetings. Hellos. Faces, some that had not changed much in ten years, some that were barely recognizable. Friendliness as the rule, not the exception. Genuine interest in the lives of others, both on my part and on the part of those that talked to me. I soon found that I had little to be anxious about, and I spoke with people easily. Some I had not seen in ages, some I had not seen in a month, but the talk flowed effortlessly regardless. There was familiarity there, even though spouses and significant others and children ran around (not forgetting, of course, the dogs that people brought).

I felt confident and not terribly self-conscious, feelings that may have been new for me around some of these people. I tried not to dwell too much on the sad thoughts, that I was not there with my love, the person I was planning on attending with, and turned away from the bittersweet-ness to happiness. If CHS wanted to do a bit of advertising on behalf of their academic bona fides, the class of 1996 would provide great material. Lots of success, lots of college graduates and advanced degrees sought and obtained. A number of people doing yeoman's work as teachers, perhaps taking to heart the mantra of academics that our own teachers had tried so hard to drill into us. I enjoyed hearing what people were up to, sometimes in spite of myself. At present, my own career is firmly entrenched in politics, one of those verboten subjects to talk about with strangers, but even that caused few problems.

Beer snobbery aside, the afternoon picnic portion was soon over. I checked into the mystery motel that would consist of my accommodations for the night, and went back downtown to grab a quick bite at an old haunt that was older than myself, and then to the evening portion of the festivities. Drinks at the Red Carpet, known by me mainly for the quality of its drunken fights at bar closing, as Red Carpet patrons would assault customers of the Press Bar for no good reason. Again, I didn't expect trouble, but at the same time I didn't know what to expect exactly. But as they say, In Vino Veritas, so it would definitely be interesting.

I was there because I was bored, and I was there because life doesn't happen to you when you are holed up in your apartment. But mainly, I was there because it was hot, and I stupidly insisted on cooking dinner in my apartment without air conditioning. So it was 90 degrees in my abode, and cool air seemed pretty attractive. It could have been any bar in Uptown, and it was, in fact, just about every bar. I sat there, not terribly interested in the schlampen around me, just cooling off for the most part. But that didn't stop people from coming around me, and I couldn't help but hear their conversations.

"You are the love of my life."

That one got a smile.

"I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

I had to stifle a laugh. It would do me no good, I reckoned, to burst out when two random drunk people were talking shit right next to me. Even if I did find it to be hilarious.

Yes, I used to be a romantic, and this kind of didn't necessarily used to amuse me so. But allow me to be a bit jaded; I have recently heard too much to allow me to grasp my idealism too firmly. Where once I would have thought this talk to be noble, now I just find it to be a bit doss. Is that the right way to view life? Maybe, maybe not. But for now, that's how it is.

No, it didn't go down exactly like that at the Red Carpet. The laughter was true, not at the expense of others (for the most part, anyway). I was not jaded, not bitter, not down. More people showed up at the bar than at the picnic, which wasn't unexpected, so that meant even more catching up and talking to people. Plied with drink, perhaps it was a bit more fulfilling than earlier. As the night wore on, another phrase entered my mind, this one too not exactly in English: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more things really did stay the same.

To be truthful, a lot of things had changed. The pettiness and the cliques were thankfully gone, washed away by time and maturity. It was a lot easier to be open, also probably due to maturity and experience, the fact that one third of our lives had passed outside the confines of the school that we had spent two or four or six years at. I certainly am quite different from the person that walked away in a cap and gown one night at the end of May; I would like to think that I have changed for the better, and I think I have. As did everybody, or at least everybody that I feel safe enough to comment on. It was a bit refreshing.

But the familiarity was still there in many ways. Despite the passage of time, some memories are so deeply embedded in our psyches that mere passage of time could not erode them. Reversions to old roles and power differentials, fragments of old relationships that used to exist. Some, as the night wore on and the truth serum worked its magic, became readily apparent. You can never go home, and that's true, but from time to time you can get a glimpse of how things use to be if the stars are aligned correctly.

No matter how much time passes and how much things have changed, it is only human nature to hold onto a little bit of familiarity. Constant chaos is not conducive to success and prosperity. Holding onto something that feels comfortable, even if it isn't necessarily better, can be a hard habit to break. I saw it that night, and I didn't mind it. I saw it for what it was, and that made it easy for me to appreciate it.

"Everybody gets everything he wants." I think I've said that before. That line is at the beginning of Apocalypse Now, and to borrow another phrase from the film, when I heard that line it hit me like a diamond bullet between the eyes. Because it is true. Completely true. Everybody does get everything that they want.

I've proven it to myself so many times it has become boring. I get what I ask for. However, sometimes the universe has a peculiar sense of humor in delivering up what I want; or, more accurately, since the universe is but a figment of the imagination, the universe's sense of humor is that of the perceiver. And I have a unique sense of humor, I guess. So it doesn't always come out right, like getting wishes from a warped genie.

Sometimes, I find my mind wandering. It wanders far afield, until a passing thought sets off my alarms and I think, "Hold on here, do I really want that? Is it just habit?" Desiring the wrong thing out of familiarity can be hazardous when you get whatever you want.

Like many people, I didn't find high school to be a terribly idyllic time. The geniality and ease with which I spoke to so many people on the night of the reunion did not exist to much extent whatsoever back in the day. Sometimes, that was due to other people, but for the most part it was all me. It just took me a lot longer to, well, stop caring and simply live my life my way instead of in the way that I thought people would find least bothersome. Many times, it led to not living at all. I don't know where I got this from; I do know that several completely coincidental and blameless events throughout high school reinforced it. It took a while, but like all learning experiences, I think it left me for the better.

That's not to say I didn't have fun, though. On the contrary, I did have my moments. It was hard not to considering my classmates; any way you look at it, our class was pretty singular in its quality. But teens are teens and kids can be cruel. God knows that I was on occasion, and those times I certainly don't look back upon with much fondness or pride. Regrets, I've had a few. So has everyone.

Good or bad, though, there is familiarity to be had. It provides a bit of respite during life, and as long as it didn't form habits or fruitless desires, it is pretty harmless. I thus did not go back to my reunion looking to relive the (non-) glory days of my youth. I went back to enjoy the good and hope that the bad had disappeared, and that's almost exactly what I found. From the looks of things, others were there for the right reasons too.

Two pairs, two different places and different hours, same physical proximity; completely different interactions, though, all due to the different libations are mediating the situation. Strange to think how the roles we fill can change so drastically by tweaking a few circumstances.

The rules of the game were followed as far as I could tell, and despite the drink, nobody's roles were unexpected or coming completely out of left field. The familiarity would take some time to melt away, even after I hitched a ride to my motel, fell asleep for a few hours, then got up in the morning to leave Savage City and return to the place that I had called home for quite some time.

It probably took a little while to disappear because it was happy and comforting. There were a lot of changes; some good, some bad. Through these lenses we see ourselves, measuring our own advancement and success as people. I won't be dwelling in that old familiarity, the life that I have left behind, but I do hope that perhaps it won't be such a long time before I experience it again for a fleeting moment.

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