Getting the squeeze at my 50th high school reunion

Missed the first call to gather for the group photo to kickoff our 50th high school reunion party, probably flirting at the bar or musing over yearbook photos displayed half life size. Greetings with people I’d run around with back in the day went on too long. I was really glad to see everyone, see how they were holding up.

When the photographer called out: “Everyone not in the group is out of the picture,” I hustled over to the stage, surveying the lineup. Finding nowhere to squeeze in, I plopped on the floor next to a kindly looking lady. Her legs extended to the side and I gently slide her feet back, noticing her sensible librarian shoes, so I could fit my ample behind in the tight space and keep my knees together.

The photographer kept saying, “Squeeze in. I can’t get everyone in the frame.” I leaned on the sensible shoes, didn’t care about footprints on my dress. After half a century, more than 200 classmates, spouses and dates showed up for the event. I was trying to skooch in and make room for the stragglers on the end.

Beside me, my studious-looking classmate from George Washington High School in San Francisco turned and asked, as flashes from more than two dozen cell phone cameras were going off, “Are you Kate Campbell?” Flattered to be remembered after so many years, I said yes.

She said: “You friended me on Facebook. I didn’t know who you were so I unfriended you.

Me: Well, now you know who I am, send me a friend request and I’ll add you. (Searching tactfully for her name tag so I’d know her name when it popped up). I’d love to reconnect.

She: I don’t know if I want to do that.

Me: Well, that’s OK.

She: Do you have a million friends?

Me: Yes. (Surprised by her question because friend information is plainly listed on Facebook and, because I’m a writer, my work and my life are out there.)

She: I don’t want to be your friend, not if you’re friends with a million people.

Me: (At a loss for words, I’m thinking: Oooh Kay.)

She wandered off to her husband and her dinner. I went to the reunion alone and my high school homeroom buddy John invited me to sit with him and his partner Chris. He asked about my writing, what it’s like to be an investigative reporter, whether I ever had trouble with my wrists during 40 years at a keyboard.

I told him about some news stories I broke and explained my tricks for keeping fingers and wrists in shape — yoga, meditation, hand weights, braces, Tylenol. Nobody has ever asked me that before, I mean about my wrists. John is still as kind and thoughtful as he was in high school.

But, just like the old John, he chose the last table in the room before the patio. The French doors were wide open to cool the folks sitting at the heart of the elegant dining room.

In my cold-shoulder party dress, the breeze off the ocean eventually made my teeth chatter. I got my coat from the cloakroom after the salad course. When I returned, the man across from me asked about my first ex-husband, which was awkward because the man’s family is well known in San Francisco. I said he’s a very nice man and I wish him every success. The guy across the table wasn’t buying it and squeezed for some juice to go with the gossip.

So, I turned to the gentleman on the other side of me, asked politely what kind of work he did. He spent the entree course and the interlude before desert explaining his service under Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy as a covert operative in the years leading up to the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I asked his National Guard military rank and he said corporal, adding he could talk to me about it now because Khrushchev was dead and the United Nations had declassified his intel.

I asked what he did now. He was the date of one of my classmates, who offered, “He was in parking for 35 years.”

“Parking?” I said. He added he was now retired from the downtown parking garage business where he’d worked as an attendent. I started to tell him I’d just retired, too, thinking we could compare notes, find common ground, get a word in edgewise.

But he launched into his story about how much he loved cars, how he just couldn’t get enough of them. He said he applied for a job at Standard Oil back in the 50s, hoping he’d get a gas station job. He said the personnel lady didn’t know what to do with him since most applicants wanted jobs as petroleum engineers. He said he couldn’t stand the idea of sitting in an office all day and left.

I told him I had to use the ladies’ room and left. When I returned, he gave me a look that said, “You just don’t get me.” My look, much as I tried to disguise it, probably said, “The feeling’s mutual.”

Before the evening ended, I stepped into the party photo booth by myself and ran through the evening’s emotional roller coaster, then slipped out the side door and headed home to my keyboard.

Costume fitting for high school production of “Oklahoma!”