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Alma Matters

Ten rules for surviving your class reunion.



I’m lucky to be alive. It was the last day of my college reunion, a morning mopping-up brunch for stragglers with late planes or diehards who wanted to wipe every last morsel of nostalgia from the sentimental smorgasbord of symposia, cocktail parties and themed buffets. My wife, recovering from a bout of pseudo-swine flu, had stayed in the hotel, and my assignment was to gather foodstuffs from the farewell brunch and bring them back to the hotel for a quick meal before heading for the airport.

Across the college yard, I had made my careful way, carrying bacon, eggs, muffins, bagels and fruits compacted between two paper plates as I reflected on the reunion, already formulating advice I would give to future reunioneers. Riding atop the upper plate was a Bloody Mary swirling about a semi-wilted stalk of celery. I had sidestepped two or three sweaty cyclists, and had avoided a collision with four photo-snapping tourists by performing a turn and shuffle maneuver. The bloody Mary emerged unscathed, with just a few red droplets staining the paper plate.

One more street to cross, and then a short block to the hotel. In the distance, the dim figure of Newton Mather came pedaling down the street. I never really liked Newton (no one called him Newt), but full of reunion goodwill and fellow feeling, I called out to him, and in the process took my eyes off the path. My foot caught the curb, and down I went, bacon and eggs and fruit and bagels and muffins flying. Newton, naturally, kept pedaling, and I was helped to my feet (in reality, extracted from a bicycle rack) by an alarmed coed, now spattered with bacon grease, who had seen the crash landing.

I limped back to the hotel, my hipbone swelling with a hematoma, and my face bloodied with tomato juice. Despite my arduous recovery, I have, knowing that many readers will soon be participating in the coming season of reunions, resolutely proceeded to codify my own Ten Rules for Reunions.

1. Go with a spouse or significant other or girlfriend or boyfriend or life partner. They might resist, but you should force them to go with you. You will always have someone to talk to, especially about how bad or old your classmates look.

2. Don’t take your children. They will only get in the way, and your classmates will cast annoying looks your way—the clear message being why would anyone bring their (noisy/bored/exasperated) kids to a reunion?

3. When the class bore approaches you, run for your life. Once in his or her clutches, your opportunities for mingling and/ or striking up old acquaintances will suddenly become nil. I lost one complete afternoon imprisoned by a classmate whose life purpose is now to prove that Shakespeare’s plays were really written by Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, when everyone knows they were really written by Benjamin Franklin.

4. Sit with someone you don’t know at lunch. You’ll meet some interesting people and learn surprising things, such as the fact that the guy who always ate alone at the dorm once spent a weekend in Oslo with Catherine Zeta-Jones.

5. Don’t stare at nametags. Looking down at the tag is a dead giveaway that you don’t know who the hell you’re talking to. Instead, stick out your hand, look at them in the eye and say, “You haven’t changed a bit.”

6. Remember that you are not in school anymore. At every symposia or presentation I attended, most questioners were still trying to prove that they deserved to be admitted in the first place. “It seems to me that Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutics offer a more plausible vocabulary for exploring …” What the fuh?

7. Don’t lose weight, get a facelift, a boob job, or hair plugs just for the reunion. People will notice something strange, and they won’t really care anyway. They are thinking about themselves.

8. Don’t suck up to celebrity classmates. Break rule No. 5 and stare intently at the name-tag, then ask in an insincere voice, “So what line of work are you in, (Brad/Meryl/Tommy Lee)?”

9. Don’t try to rekindle old romances, or start new ones. If it didn’t work out in the first place, it won’t now, and if you weren’t attracted then, why would you be now? Better to mingle with everyone.

10. Don’t carry food back to your hotel on the final day of your reunion.