My father is an absent-minded professor in every sense of the word; his accustomed mode of conversation is lecturing, especially when he has more than one interlocutor. His wife totally gets him, though she herself has quite a different personality. She talked to us about Huguette Clark, whose obituary had just been in the paper (indirect link to the obit in case you don't want to use up your NYT.com clicks, though she had read the dead tree edition). She also told us to see the Alexander McQueen exhibition in addition to her own.
"Who's that?" D asked.
"A fashion designer," I said.
"It's gothic, it's exotic, it's perverse ..." said Mrs. Dad.
"You should have started with that," D told me.
Apparently the lines for the exhibition can get huge, winding through European sculpture through Cypriot Art and Ancient Near East to finally wind around the balcony. D asked if there were ever particularly inappropriate galleries that visitors had to walk through on their way to an exhibition.
"I have a letter on file," my father said, "from when there was a Tiffany exhibition many years ago, and they had to go through the Buddha room to get to it. This woman wrote to protest that she had been subjected to heathen idols and she was never coming to the museum again."
(This, and my father's other story from when he worked at the MFA in Boston and got a letter from someone who complained, "I came to the museum to see Indian Art but was unable to find any." -- they'd been expecting Native American Art, not Indian Subcontinent -- reminded me of when we used to get bizarre letters when I worked in publishing, including one complaining that our otherwise high-quality wall calendar had a disgracefully small hole to hang it on.)
Anyway, we did hit the museum first thing in the morning, as the line was already forming down the main steps. Mrs. Dad met us just before the doors officially opened and whisked us to the McQueen exhibit, after which we went to hers ("Rooms With a View") and had an early lunch with my father in the new cafeteria in the American Wing.
IT'S AT THIS POINT that D and I parted ways. It takes a certain kind of insanity to appreciate my college reunion experience and although D is, on the whole, insane in most of the right ways, it's hard to really get into it if you didn't go there. Even so, as I drove into New Jersey I sort of wondered what I was doing and what I was going to do with all these people, most of whom I hadn't seen in at least five years. But as I headed down Rte 1 I passed all the familiar cross-streets with their jughandle turns, that voice in my head telling me again, "I'm getting closer, I'm getting closer" until I finally made it to campus and found a parking space. The air was decidedly soupy that day, 80s/90s and humid. I caught a shuttle up-campus and promptly got lost.
I knew from previous experience that the campus is never quite the same as you remember it. New buildings have been planted where there never were buildings before (or in some cases, where the buildings you knew used to be -- the freshman dorms where many of my friends lived had been torn down and replaced with less heinous ones that won't lead to a persistent rumor that they were inspired by concentration camps). Even though the courtyard that was my destination existed when I was still an undergrad, I'd had little reason to visit it and during Reunions, the campus geography is a little altered anyway, with fences erected to keep each major reunion in its appointed headquarters (or rather, I suppose, to keep interlopers out). I finally converged on an access point to the courtyard at the same time as my former roommate K.
We met up with a few others and promptly fell into old patterns. I'd forgotten that one of K's verbal mannerisms is to use the adverb "vaguely" as a kind of all-purpose intensifier, and I found myself picking it up subconsciously within minutes. After dinner we hit a student-run cafe on campus that promised (and delivered) free cookies and tea. T was brave enough to venture into the unisex bathroom, which many of us had not had the pleasure of using. It's apparently a little challenging but, as T said, "There's a technique, and it came back once i was in there ... but it's a little like landing at Hong Kong airport before they built the new runway."
We settled into conversation, not unlike what we might have done in that very same place 15 or more years ago, when P, who's now a lawyer, muttered, "You guys are such nerds ... I'm thinking, these guys are on Facebook and they sound so cool usually, but now I'm sitting here and you are all nerds!"
At some point, we got into an argument about the distinction between polygamy, polyandry, and polygyny and which were subsets of which. We had reached a consensus, finally, drawing on our knowledge of Greek roots, when B said, "This is great! We're having an argument --"
"About etymology ...?"
"No, we were having a dispute and no one here pulled out the Internet and ruined it!"
(That was kind of a rare moment. People had iPhones and Blackberries and were Facebooking and texting and emailing on a regular basis ... one way in which things had changed since the last time we'd seen each other.)
At last, I had to make the trek back to the parking lot where I'd left my car. They decided to accompany me so I had some company when I encountered another mysterious new building which had sprouted midcampus: a science library, apparently, attached to the building that housed the Math department.
We wandered into it, and found a large space labeled as "Treehouse" on the floor plan, which required us to gain access to it. Unfortunately, the building seemed to be designed with lots of odd spaces that prevented passage in certain directions. We wandered downstairs and upstairs, past drinking fountains (with a helpful sign depicting someone bent stiffly at the waist over the fountain -- "Tell me if I'm doing it right," said B, and he did quite a good imitation of the sign, until I said "No, the water's going the wrong way" and he nearly choked.) We found an underground passage with a sign pointing the way to the Math building, showing a man and woman in a suit and dress, respectively. "What does that mean, 'well-dressed people this way'?" B wondered. "There should be a picture of a mathematician on that sign, but there isn't."
I made it back to my car, eventually, and to my hotel, finally falling into bed well after two o'clock. I suppose that's another thing that's changed: That now seems ridiculously late.
FRIDAY WAS MORE generalized hanging out. K and I went to the Glee Club reception because N had been a member and, we thought, would be singing in an impromptu performance. When we got there, however, we walked into the tail end of rehearsal -- it turned out that N was supposed to get in touch ahead of time and get the sheet music if he wanted to sing, so he was part of the audience with the rest of us. They were in what used to be the student center (since transplanted to a much grander, though architecturally less interesting, affair). It was octagonal on the outside with a balcony around the entire second floor. The choir was upstairs with the audience in the rotunda, the opposite of theater-in-the-round. The acoustics (and the singing) were surprisingly good. After the performance they took a break and people mingled for a while, then all the alumni including N got together and sang some more traditional songs that they all knew. K wandered around with a camera and I stood quietly to the side while they sang. K and I met up afterwards as the crowd started to break up, but first there was a hum of people tuning themselves up for another song. "Are they going to sing something else?" K wondered aloud for a second.
But I recognized the hum as the one that precedes the singing of the alma mater, which was de rigueur at any musical (and many non-musical) events. K and I joined in for this one, since we actually knew it. "OK, cross that off the to-do list," I said when we were done.
"Didn't mess it up, either," said K.
We had made reservations for dinner off-campus with a group of friends. On our way to my car, N (who is a structural engineer with a specialty in bridges) pointed out a sinuous new footbridge over the main road running through the middle of campus. "What I can tell you about this bridge," he told us as we walked over it, "is that the engineer was _______ under the direction of $N'S_ADVISOR and that the US engineer was ______, and it serves no purpose whatsoever."
It was true; the bridge did not seem to be located in a particularly high-traffic area, although there was also construction in progress that suggested it might become a more popular crossing-place in the future.
We made it to the restaurant and met up with the rest of the gang. Unfortunately, the restaurant had live music that night, at high volume, which made it almost impossible to converse with anyone not sitting adjacent.
I ended up sitting near R, another roommate's husband (who was an honorary roommate at the time we lived together), who told a story about how he'd bought a gladius. A couple of his high school buddies had gotten them, apparently, and had both assured him they were awesome and that he had to get one himself. So he'd ordered it from the same place they did, and dang if it wasn't a real sword, and sharp too. He then described an Easter dinner with the extended family in which they'd cooked far too large a ham. At some point during the evening, R thought, "Hey, I have a sword!" and it suddenly seemed like a great tool with which to hack at the massive hunk of meat.
At this point, his wife J realized what he was talking about, and though she was at the other end of the table, too far away for me to hear a word she said, her gestures clearly communicated, "Oh god, my lunatic husband is telling the gladius story again."
THE NEXT DAY I GOT UP extra early in order to get to campus in time to get an actual parking space. Saturday is the main day with the annual parade, all kinds of post-parade receptions, and an evening concert with fireworks.
I managed to snag one of the last spots in the lot, and as I started walking toward campus, ran into the VP of Engineering at my current job, who coincidentally graduated the same year I did, though we never crossed paths as undergrads. He was there with his wife, who was celebrating her 10th. We walked for a while before parting ways, and I ended up having lunch in my class's courtyard with the usual suspects.
At one point B came to the table, whispered something urgently to K, and whisked her away. He wandered by later on to say, "Sorry for stealing K, but G was trying to convince me to get married again."
"You were married?" asked N.
"No, it's just that every time G sees me, he tells me I have to get married."
"And how does K help with that?" I asked.
"She's an anthropologist. I needed her to argue on my side."
When I finally made it over to where the great marriage debate was going on, B said, "Hey, you're one of those people who like marriage. You have to sit on that side of the table."
"I'm OK with marriage if it works for you, but I don't think people should get married just for the sake of it."
"OK, maybe you can be on this side then," B conceded. "G is in favor of marriage for marriage's sake, because of game theory."
"Well, I don't like game theory," I declared.
B seemed to find this fact amusing.
"No, really -- J will back me up. Right?" J had been in the same class on game theory in sophomore year, and agreed with me heartily.
Anyway, after the parade (which K analyzed as a ritual with rules that people happily followed even without the threat of censure), after reception with lots of good food, after nostalgic ice cream run, after music and fireworks (close enough to them to get ashes blown in our face, not quite close enough to have chunks raining down), I made my way back to the hotel for the last time. In previous years, we've had one last brunch together before going our separate ways, but it had been a long weekend (K reminded me that I traditionally hadn't been back on Thursday; I usually came on Friday when most people arrived), and I missed D and wanted to get on the road early Sunday morning. Back past the familiar roads up to the Turnpike and on my way home.
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