I have never been in charge of any kind of alumni reunion related decisions. I don’t go to those events. I did go to a high school event on the 5 year anniversary but I think that was the only one.
An interesting challenge would be to match up two people who did not know each other, or who just barely knew who each other was, and see how much each of them can remember about the other.
I remember a guy named Jimmy. I think of him every once in awhile because there is a talk radio show host whose name is very similar to his. I always have to remind myself that the talk show host his name is only similar, it is not exactly the same.
Nevertheless hearing mention of the radio show host’s name reminded me yesterday, once again, of Jimmy, a person from school I never knew. I mined my memory for anything I could remember about this person, just to see what was in there.
In freshman year he and I and several others were sitting at a school cafeteria table when I accidentally spilled some of a beverage. It was not hot coffee but whatever it was a few drops of the liquid landed near this person. He scowled, giving off the distinct impression that if he were not so forgiving or if we were not on school property he would be kicking my ass right now. He does not seem like a badass type to me, I remember thinking. But on account of that little brush with gruffness I stayed away from Jimmy all the way through High School.
During the last weeks and days of our junior year, with everyone’s adrenaline rushing in anticipation of the end of the school year and all of us being elevated to seniors, Jimmy rushed through the classroom door right as the bell rang. If you made it to class after that bell rang you might get sentenced to a 1-hour Detention, or “Penance Hall” as they somewhat religiously called it at that school.
He burst through the door looking confident that he had beat the bell, but then just as quickly his face turned to frowns. He clearly spoke the words “Oh mother fuck”. A thunderclap of laughter slapped the room. Jimmy had rushed into the wrong classroom, promptly turning around to find the right one.
The most memorable incident involving Jimmy is one I think almost everyone from the class might remember, whether they knew him or not. He got involved in some trouble, and was nearly expelled. I can only remember one person who actually did get expelled from that school while I was there, although some of the early freshman exits might have been quiet expulsions.
I don’t remember all the details of what Jimmy got involved with but it included kids from other schools and an incident allegedly involving guns. The kids from the other school had been expelled and, as a form of revenge, they planned to show up uninvited at a rally for the basketball team of the school they’d been kicked out of. Jimmy drove them to this event but stayed in the car. He thought they were just going to do something attention-grabbing at the school rally and then run back to the car so he could drive them off. Instead, for reasons never explained to anyone I knew, these kids claimed they had guns, and that they were going to shoot up the place. They later said they were only kidding. It came out after police investigation that this was true. There were no guns. Jimmy seemed to have proven to the school administrators that he had no idea those kids from the other school were going to enter that basketball team rally claiming to have guns. He thought they just wanted to make an appearance.
Jimmy had to report to a committee at the school, a group which I assume comprised the principal, the prefect of discipline, and the higher ranking priests from the rectory.
The day of his hearing, entirely by chance, I found myself parked in the senior parking lot at the moment Jimmy appeared to report to this committee. It was a Saturday. I was parked way off in a corner where he could not have seen me. He opened his car door and bounded from the vehicle, a sprightly and confident gait about him. He held his head high, in a manner I compare to the of the Llama, a beast I think exudes a contagious if somewhat ludicrous confidence.
Jimmy was very sharply dressed that day, as I suppose one should be when facing a panel of your of your potential expulsioners. A fellow student being expelled from that school carried a gravitas about it tantamount to death. This scenario might have informed my earliest notions of death as an occurrence from which you are offered a chance to clean up after yourself, clean out your locker, and straighten out loose ends with friends and family.
Being dead does not work like that, of course. The best you can do is make plans.
I have other memories of this individual, maybe far more than appropriate for someone I did not know, or with whom I had one direct encounter involving spilling liquid near his hand.
The other memory comes from a school alumni magazine which I still receive every few months. In that magazine Jimmy was featured as the owner of a restaurant and bar. The picture showed him pouring a beer for a customer. He was positively gung ho about the new business but at the time I maintained the ignorant bias that doing something in the service industry is something less than living up to your ambitions in life.
It turned out that for him it was actually a family affair. Multiple generations of his forebears owned restaurants of various kinds, and he felt he was carrying on the tradition. But I see attitudes similar to those I used to have even from people in the business themselves. My friend owns a bar and she once said something seemingly lamenting how she had been valedictorian at her school but “Look at me now. I own a bar.” Maybe she did not really mean it like that but I did not understand why she said it so deflatedly, as if it was a negative. Goals change, right? Reality dictates that goals must change.
A last memory of Jimmy is from more recently. Last year I somehow got added to an email distribution list of people from my high school (Class of 1986) in advance of the upcoming 30 reunion. Receiving these emails did not seem enough of an imposition or me to go to the trouble of requesting that I be unsubscribed. But anytime emails from this list arrive in my inbox I feel a certain irritation over being added to it without being asked.
It was Jimmy who, on one of these mailings, encouraged us all to donate money to “the school that formed us as men.” Those were his exact words. He also added something implying that we were Men of God, or Men of Christ. I was almost drunk enough to respond to the mailing list that the school had formed me into a degenerate alcoholic who only goes to the chapel to masturbate. But I didn’t do it. The idea of doing it was electrifying but the specter of dealing with potential consequences was not.