After hearing about my reunion through Facebook, I rolled there in the dead of winter to see Lisa Gehrig. They held it on the rooftop of the Westin in downtown Los Angeles. Why did they decide to hold it outside that time of year?
Lisa greeted me at a table full of name tags, alone in the hallway, just me and her. Her girlish figure had blossomed into a woman’s after twenty years, dangerously slender in a leafy gown.
“May I help you?” she asked.
“Hi, Lisa,” I said. “Twenty years have sure flown by, haven’t they?”
“I’m sorry, but you went to my high school?”
She’d insulted me, but I let it slide. “I did.” I held my hand out for a handshake. Her hand was like lavender soap. “Paul Talisman. Sophomore year, I sat behind you in biology.”
“Really? I’m so embarrassed, but I wish I could remember.”
“You captained the cheerleader team,” I said. “You were voted class president, prom queen, homecoming queen, and you ran the chess club, the key club, the ski club.”
“My God, I’m starting to blush,” she said.
“Ironically, you went to the University of San Diego to study Biology.”
“How is that ironic?” she asked.
“Because I sat behind you in biology. You already forgot. And then you went to med school.”
“How do you know?”
“Because people talk.”
I’d lived in Woodland Hills for most of my life, and people gossiped.
“Remind me of your name again?” she said.
Of course she’d forgotten my name already. The popular people had too many friends, so they forgot most people. I gave her one of my business cards, which I still carried in the age of smartphones. The title under my name said, Actor.
She wrote my name on a name tag. “OK, Paul. Stick this on your left breast. And come to me with any questions.”
I stuck it on my red Columbia fleece jacket but could hardly stick it on polyester.
“What about you? What’s been going on for the past twenty years?” she asked.
I’d been fearing that question. “Oh, you know. Blockbusters, comedy tours, deals with cable networks.” I’d lied about everything.
She looked past me at her fellow cheerleaders behind me and got up to hug them. They looked the same way as they did in high school. I remembered their names, too, sadly enough.
When everyone showed up, they looked past me, but I remembered their names and faces. It was a talent I’d acquired somewhere.
The servers and bartenders wore tuxedos. The air nipped at my hands and ears. I warmed my hands with my breath, standing under a heat lamp, and got lost in the chatter of the alumni. The class of ’95 carried the same herd mentality as I’d remembered. My name tag had fallen off somewhere. A large banner spread across the wall on the side of the hotel’s rooftop: Jefferson High School, Class of 1995. Loudspeakers blasted music from the nineties. I cried at “Tonight, Tonight” and at those years I’d wasted trying to pursue my dream of becoming a Hollywood star. If it had happened, there would’ve been no need to lie to everyone that night. I hid my tears, wiping them away with my backhand.
Everybody else flocked to their groups. My friends were scattered among them, not to say I had a lot.
I approached one of my close friends. Martin Chang used to drink Capri-Suns during lunch, but now he was holding a Martini. We would hang out in the cafeteria, eating soft pretzels with mustard. He used to play chess and the violin. His mother would make him stay home at night to study and practice. All that hard work got him a ticket to Harvard.
“Martin Chang, Space Engineering.”
“Holy shit,” he said. “Paul Talisman?”
We shook hands.
“You still living in Norway?” I asked.
“How did you know?”
“Because I know everything.”
“Well, cheers, buddy.”
He held his glass out for a clink, but my glass was empty.
“I see you still wear a bandage on your nose.”
I switched subjects. “So tell me about Norway.”
People prefer to talk about themselves. I stood there as he chewed the fat about Oslo, skiing, and fantasy football but tuned out. My eyes were too busy scanning the rooftop for Lisa.
“Anyway, it was good seeing you again,” Martin said. “Better get back to my group.”
He left me for the students from GATE, the elite with 4.0 GPAs, who would attend the best schools. I’d taken a comedy school in Van Nuys to study British comedy but kept that to myself.
The bartender, Nick, was the coolest cat at the reunion. I went for more whiskey before smoking a joint downstairs. He treated me special, unlike my alums, hooking me up with top-shelf Johnny Walker.
“How you feeling, man?”
“Could be better,” I said. “And you?”
He popped a champagne bottle between his legs, looking like a leading man in a tuxedo, fitting perfectly into his pants, shirt, and jacket. Oh, what I wouldn’t do to look like him. After his age, my hair had begun to fall out.
“My twenty-year reunion isn’t here yet,” he said, “but I went to my ten-year reunion, and let me say, I got with every woman I wished I had in high school. It was one of the most memorable nights ever.”
Nick had lived my dream. I’d avoided my ten-year reunion because I thought it would be the same shit as high school. But Nick had told his story. Oh well. I was getting uglier at thirty-eight, and so had the class of ’95. Crow’s feet, gray hair, and double chins had grown everywhere.
Nick poured my whiskey and a complimentary glass of champagne. I tipped him ten, which cost a lot because of the rent.
As I stood there, who else approached the bar but Ben Michaels. “Well well well,” I said. “If it isn’t Ben Michaels, all-state quarterback, scholarship at UCLA, transferred to Stanford, majored in Economics but went into real estate.”
Michael turned to me and grinned sideways, wearing the same perm above his suit and tie, with a red handkerchief in his jacket pocket, holding bills in one hand and a key fob for his Mercedes in the other hand. “How did you know all of that?”
“Just a talent of mine,” I said.
“You went to Jefferson High?”
“Yep. Paul Talisman. Hollywood actor.”
“Actor, huh? I used to be a talent agent.”
If I would’ve known that, I wouldn’t have told him about my acting. There were still more things to know about the people I attended high school with.
Ben picked up his Old-Fashioned and sipped it, keeping his beady brown eyes on me. “What films have you played in?”
I’d worried about that question, too. “Independent films, which you probably don’t know about.”
“I’m a film buff,” Ben said. “Try me.”
So I had to make up titles. “Red Sunglasses?”
“Hmm,” he said. “What else?”
“The Cobbler’s Mistress?”
“Wish I could say I’ve heard of it.”
“You’re right. I’ll have to look them up,” he said.
His wife met him there and ran into his arms, smiling, a tall blond. They must’ve met in college. “This is,” he said, having to think again. “Remind me of your name?”
“Right. Paul Talisman.” He laughed at my name. “He knows everything. It’s insane.”
She shook my hand but kept her name to herself. I guess I had to be important enough to know it.
Ben squeezed my shoulder. “Come on.” He seemed drunk already, and I was halfway there. “I want you to meet my friends.”
As if they were strangers to me, which the popular crowd might as well have been.
From what I remembered, I stood among the flock and played the game, telling each person what I knew and astonishing them with my answers.
“You’re Peter Gonzo, who went to juvey after that assault charge on Josh Dawkins with a flashlight, junior year. What’s it like working at Meineke?”
Peter seemed sad that I’d brought that up, having probably forgotten he’d bullied me before Principal Wible pulled him out.
“Michelle Rosa. You had your first child, senior year. Studied at Cal State, Dominguez Hills, to become a nurse. And you’re Grant Henson. Westpoint. Now you work for the federal government.”
“What about me?” I heard. “What about me?… What about me?” The game was too simple. But it crushed me to know everyone but Martin Chang had forgotten me. I resented them again. The students used to avoid me because of the bandage. Martin was my only friend except for Will, and he stayed home. At that point, I wanted to leave.
Martin caught up to me after we ate the New York raspberry cheesecake. Why did I go to that reunion? All I’d looked forward to seeing was Lisa Gehrig one last time before she would weather. She held hands with Ken Gehrig, a lawyer. Martin slung his arm around me, a happy drunk, unlike me.
“We’re heading to a pub down the street. You should come.”
The alums had quickly emptied out after dessert. By then, I was piss-drunk. “I guess so.”
“You guess so? Hey, everyone wants you to come. You’re killing them with this game.”
The night obscured away. Lisa’s name flew over the rooftop.
“It’s not a game,” I said. “I just like to know what people are doing.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” Chang said. “Let’s go.”
I last remembered the silver necklace on Lisa Gehrig’s neck.
At a juncture, everything blacked out.
I woke up the next morning with the worst hangover ever. A painful brick was lodged inside my head.
After a shower, the hangover lasted. I threw up in the toilet and then checked Facebook for anything new, hoping someone would get in touch with me with connections. As it turned out, Lisa Gehrig sent me a friend request. It excited me. I must’ve impressed her with my charm, or she felt bad for forgetting me, but at least she remembered me. Regardless, I accepted her request.
She also invited me to an alumni page where people had written about me. I assumed:
That drunk with the bandage on his nose was out of control.
They called the police.
Maggie’s OK. But those glass shards made her bleed. The dog, too.
How did a dog fit into the equation?
I refused to read the rest of the alumni page.
But the thought about Lisa lingered, so I searched her profile. She lived in the Pacific Palisades with Ken and their four children and posted pics of her kids in bear costumes, dragon costumes, alligator costumes…They looked like a gang of stuffed animals. I took a closer look at albums of her in designer gowns, like the one she’d worn at the reunion. She posed in some of them with other wealthy Caucasian wives on a staircase, lined up like contestants for Miss America: backs straight, jaws up, same real estate smile.
Ken held her in each pic in an album called Ken and I, a fat man with eyes like raisins. His bald head was out of proportion from the rest of his body. It deadened me to see her with another man. She smiled with her mouth open in each pic while he gritted his teeth. He looked like the typical vanilla alpha male who couldn’t articulate a joke or have much to say. Lisa had posted eighty-four pics of their vacation in Barcelona, which she’d called: Our Second Vacation in Barcelona.
The farthest I’d ever traveled out of the country was Tijuana. Those were dark times. I had twenty-three dollars to my name before my next paycheck. A full-time job at the bookstore barely keeps a single man afloat. It gave me hardly any time for auditions. But I shall become a leading man in Hollywood before forty. The dream of acting in British comedies still lives. At my thirty-year reunion, I shall speak the truth loudly.
But what happened last night after the blackout to have everyone talk about me? I messaged Martin Chang, anxious about what he might say.
Please tell me what I did last night.
Chang wrote me ten minutes later. They’d booted me out of the pub for being belligerent, which wasn’t my bag. I’d stuffed my mouth with tacos, half awake at the table, and hugged people, even the jukebox, sarcastically calling each person my favorite person. That sounded more like me.
Then I’d kissed Sammie Williamson, track and field star, full ride, Colorado University, Physics major who chose to be a veterinarian instead. Her husband pushed me out of the way and told me to get out. I pushed him back. Martin said her husband went to the doorman, who weighed over three hundred pounds. I told the doorman to fuck off. He went to throw me out. And then I smashed a beer bottle on the floor. It exploded into shards, which gashed Maggie Rodriguez’s leg. Maggie rode in a wheelchair and had to drop out of school because of her sick mother. And then I cut up the dog. How could a man my age behave that way? It was like my teenage self had projected against them.
And then I ran behind the bar to start making drinks. The doorman chased me, but I escaped him and lay on the counter to sleep before he literally threw me out. He’d picked me up and tossed me out like a fertilizer bag. Martin said I was lucky not to end up in the hospital or jail. It explained the bruises on my knees and elbows.
I told Martin I felt the most ashamed in my life.
We’ve all been there, he wrote.
But to that extent? At my age, my spite had only worsened. When I had friends in my twenties, they would call me a happy drunk. I used to walk up to strangers and hug them for the sake of hugging them, believing I would be famous someday. But once that chance diminished, my anger possessed me. I took it out on my alums, ninety percent of which I despised because of their snootiness. Martin said I’d accused them of being the same douchebags from high school. I was the talk of the night. Martin told me to take it easy on myself, not to beat myself up.
I drank a six-pack, smoked weed, and looked at more of Lisa’s pics. She sure loved herself.
Once the hangover went away a day later, I sent her a message: Do you want to meet for coffee? How audacious I would ask that to a married woman. I’m still waiting for her response.
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