It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you are about to meet for the first time (or perhaps third at the outside) your husband’s dearest friends he has not seen in 20 years, the dreaded PMZ (pre-menstrual zit) that can probably be seen from space will make its unholy appearance with uncanny timing. While everyone else is talking about how much or how little everyone has changed, I was cheered (and by “cheered,” I mean “annoyed as all hell”) that my skin hadn’t changed a bit since high school. Grand.
Despite my (admittedly minor) dermal disaster, we had a good time anyway. It’s not so bad, attending someone else’s high school reunion. You get all the experience of the reunion with none of the pressure or bad memories. Not that I have many bad memories of high school. Neither do I have many good memories. What I seem to have now are just factual memories, most of which are devoid of emotion by now, seen through the kind haze of years and perspective. I know I laughed; I know I cried; I know I’ve grown up, and the scars have faded, at least.
We got into Omaha Wednesday night, somewhat late as the plane slowed down to allow the storms that were punishing the area to pass through so we could land. I have never seen lightning from above before this trip, and it was frighteningly beautiful, reminding me what a really amazing planet we live on. Scott was enthralled by the rain going horizontally past his window, and wanted to share it with me. Apparently, he hadn’t noticed that the armrests of my seat now had permanent marks where the heat and pressure of my white-knuckled fingers had melted the plastic as we descended and bounced through turbulent skies. I kindly told him through clenched teeth to fuck off. I actually said something nicer, but the message was clear; I was holding on for dear life.
We stayed in a cheap motel close to the airport that night. I say “stayed” because we did not, in fact, sleep in said motel. The bed was crappy, the room stifling, unless you turned on the A/C unit that sounds like a Mack truck engine. There was no winning, and I was feeling wiped out the next morning. The older I get, the more important a good night’s sleep becomes, and I am old enough now that it is absolutely essential. The sad part was that we were staying in the same motel at the end of the trip, and while I entertained some bizarre fantasy that perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad the second night, it was exactly as bad.
The next morning brought sun and humidity and breakfast and visiting with Scott’s friend Sheryl (Hi, Sheryl!) and her two delightful daughters who were ridiculously cute and hilarious. From there, it was on to Lincoln, where we had time to pretend to be tourists prior to dinner with Scott’s aunt and great-aunt. After touring the town from the perimeter, a perimeter much expanded since we last lived there, we were ready for lunch, and headed to Runza, a Nebraska original. A runza is a type of sandwich made by the Germans from Russia who settled the area. Inside is hamburger and cabbage, and it is cooked inside bread dough. Scott’s got a recipe from his grandma’s church cookbook that he makes from time to time, and they’re delicious. I beg him to make them; they’re that good.
I had never had the original at the restaurant, though. They used to make an Italian runza there, but have discontinued it. Scott always dismissed the Italian runza as some bastard sammich unworthy of the name “runza,” but I liked it. However, having had such good luck with his version, I was prepared to try the original that he loved so much, and that’s what we both ordered. He tucked into his with gusto, and I took a bite of mine that started with gusto and ended with disgust before my molars had touched.
“So, what do you think?” he asked.
“Um…is it always this salty?” I asked, pretty sure that a kitchen accident involving a blind chef and a whole canister of Morton’s must have transpired not long before we entered the restaurant.
“Oh yeah.” Which somewhat explains Scott’s salt habit. He loves his salt; he is the only person I know who salts his food before he tastes it.
I tried another bite, hoping perhaps that it would improve upon acquaintance, but gave up after 3/8 of the sandwich. It was, from my perspective, gag-worthy. I offered him the rest, and contented myself with my very excellent onion rings and orange soda.
We toured the town a bit more after lunch. Lincoln is Scott’s hometown, and he only moved away because his new wife dragged him to Minnesota both to be closer to her family and also to enjoy what she delusionally referred to as “better weather.” (We still refer to “that one nice summer day” we had the last year we lived there; the last winter we were there, we went 34 days straight without seeing the sun. I wish I were kidding.) I lived in Lincoln 7 years, finishing both high school and college there, and until Tucson, it was the longest I’d ever lived anywhere. And yet I found as I we drove through the city that I had zero emotional connection to it anymore. It seemed vaguely familiar, but that’s about it, which I found kind of surprising. I think it’s probably because I left nothing behind there. My family moved away before I did, and the only person there that mattered to me I took with me when I left. I have no roots there, having been born and raised an air fern for the most part anyway.
Eventually, the sleep deprivation of the night before caught up with us, and we made our way to the B&B, which happens to be in our old neighborhood. We drove past my place, and then tried to figure out where Scott’s apartment had been, neither of us remembering the exact address, but I knew it was within walking distance, because I walked there all the time. As we stood outside the B&B on our way in, Scott looked across the street and said, “That’s my apartment!” ‘Twas right there.
We unpacked and took a nap so that we’d be, if not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by dinner, at least coherent. We had dinner plans with the aunties at the Nebraska Steakhouse, a great old lodge of a place with at least a dozen dead animals mounted and displayed proudly on the stone walls. It is the only place I’ve ever seen a full turkey mounted, tail feathers fanned to advantage like a brown peacock’s. I was a little apprehensive after lunch, fearing that my fond memories of the cuisine there would remain just that, and that the intervening years would’ve lessened the quality of the restaurant. However, everything was exactly the same, and excellent. I felt so much better. There are few maladies in life that cannot be cured by a nap and a good meal.
Friday we bummed around during the day, with our first stop being the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus where we met, courted, and ostensibly obtained the education that would make us employable members of society. We toured the whole campus, starting and ending at the student union, which bears little resemblance to the one we used to hang out in. We actually were able to go a little ways into Memorial Stadium, where I had never before stepped foot. Though NU football is the official state religion, I never converted.
We went by Morrill Hall at just the wrong time, walking right into a mastodon stampede!
Poor Scotty was THIS CLOSE to being squished, but luckily he got out of the way in time, barely breaking a sweat.
By then, I was overheated and in dire need of lunch and another nap prior to heading to the first official event of the reunion, a gathering at a bar in the Haymarket. I knew Scott, had met his friends Sheryl and Nicole way back in 1990, and after that I was out; everyone else was a stranger. However, they were playing excellent music that night, when I could hear it over the din of the crowd, and I enjoyed a string of songs that could’ve come straight of my “Favorites” playlist on my iPod. It felt like a gift. We found a table in the corner as a home base, (because that’s what geeks do at a gathering of all their peers), and caught up, conversed, and commented on the visible signs of aging that had descended upon the class. Scott did pretty well in the hair contest, in that he had a great deal more than many of his former classmates despite the slow backwards creep of his hairline in the last two decades. He is the gracious sort, though, and I didn’t notice him engaging in any particular glee regarding this fact. I drank copious amounts of water and soda in between trips to the bathroom. As I walked through the crowd, I could see people staring at me, squinting at my nametag, trying to figure out who I was and whether they liked me in high school. Either that, or they were staring at my killer rack and admiring my fashion sense. (Or maybe it was the PMZ.) I felt a little bad that they made such an effort, as they were never going to remember me. We bailed sometime after 11, as I was in danger of falling asleep in my Sprite.
I slept so hard that I didn’t even hear the innkeeper come in—3 times—to bring us our breakfast. It was already on the table when Scott shook my arm to wake me. I could get used to that kind of service, I tell ya. We were in no hurry to get going, having no firm plans until a 2 p.m. tour of the high school. The tour was led by the principal, who was an English teacher when Scott was in school, and when I was student-teaching there 4 years later. The school is in the midst of a major renovation, and was not the school most of them remembered, to varying degrees of sadness. It was amazing to see all those people around my age with their kids; I realized that we are the age I always think of my parents as, and I wonder how that happened when we weren’t looking.
The dance was Saturday night. We didn’t end up dancing after all because a) they didn’t play a single Duran Duran song (WTF?), and b) my bum knee was more derelict than usual. We did, however, watch other people attempt to dance, and I know it was probably a good thing for all those folks who were spastically pogo-ing to the smooth sounds of 1988 that I couldn’t dance, for surely I would’ve shamed them all. At the very least, staying off the dance floor allowed me to avoid further injury by fellow dancers. I’m not sure at what point people decided that hopping up and down approximately in time to the music constituted “dancing.” However, allow me to state here and now that they were 10 kinds of wrong.
We sat at a table with the same gang, eating hors d’oeuvres and candy from the bowl on our table and the one I stole from the empty table next to ours and talking until we remembered, “Oh yeah, we’re old” and decided to head to our respective lodgings just short of the 11 o’clock end time of the shindig.
Sunday morning we woke up to a terrific thunderstorm, where the rain was coming down in sheets, and the thunder was constant. We desert dwellers aren’t really used to that. Our intrepid innkeeper brought our breakfast from the other house even so, and by the time we’d finished eating, showering, and packing, the sun had come out.
We checked out, and stopped by Scott’s great-aunt’s apartment to say goodbye before we hit the road back to Omaha to spend the day with his aunt and cousins. After a nice day of conversation and memories, we headed back to Motel Hell, with a pit stop at Walgreens for Ben Gay on the way, because I’d slipped on the rain-soaked tree schmutz outside the B&B, pulling every single muscle in my upper back that is still hurting today, despite icing and heating all week and an hour-and-a-half massage Wednesday night. (Did I mention I’m looking into starting yoga? I really need this to stop.)
At the buttcrack of dawn after another sleepless and pain-filled night we headed to the airport where we were greeted with gross incompetence on the part of the airline—that would be Expressjet, in case you were wondering whom to add to your “Craptastic Airlines to Avoid” list. (I know it’s a long one these days.) I was beyond annoyed, and was writing the postscript to last week’s post in my head until the building rage made me give up the effort. We seethed relatively silently, but it was only the threat of a double room with no view at Guantanamo and a Midwestern aversion to making a scene that kept me from going ballistic. Sometimes I wish I were one of those people who just screams until they get their way. I see it work, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Eventually, though, we made it to our gate, on our plane, and were never so glad to see the dry desert mountains of home as we flew back into Tucson.
It was good to get away, but it was even better to get home. There is nothing like your own bed, your own stuff, and your own stinky dogs. Next vacation, we’re traveling no further than the backyard.
More pictures here. Click the ‘i’ in the middle when it starts to see captions with the slideshow.