Tag Archives: comparisons

The Fiftieth

25 Feb

 

 

The Fiftieth

L. Stewart Marsden

Barton Chandler looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and was not pleased. He pulled the bags under his eyes down with his index fingers, widening the spider-veined eyeballs until he began to tear.

There was no doubt about it –– the old man staring back at him was nothing like the taut-skinned pimply face of the 18-year-old he once was fifty years ago. He wondered if any of his classmates would even recognize him, and was a little fearful they might.

Taking the bar of soap and wetting it, he worked up soft white suds, which he gently massaged onto his cheeks and forehead. It was Dove. His mother swore by it, telling him it hid a thousands faults that had lined her face. He hoped she was right. It smelled good, anyway.

Rinsing and toweling off, he began to comb his hair. In his effort to distract from numerous bald spots, he had let it grow. He had never done the “old man thing” –– that of growing out the hair on one side of his head and combing it over his pasty dome. He had seen many of his father’s friends do that. Or pull it forward from the back in a quasi-Italian mafia style. He cringed at the thought. No, he preferred what he called the George Carlin look, and let his now fine and brittle hair grow long, into which he rubbed a special holding cream that cost far too much. He then combed everything back and into the nub of a ponytail, which he held in place with a tiny black rubber band. With his trimmed snowy beard and mustache, he fancied he did indeed look like the comedian. It was his homage to Carlin.

This, he thought, was the best of two worlds. He wasn’t hiding his hair loss, and he was making connection with the 60s and the hippy movement when he had been a fringe member in college –– until his dad sat him down and read him the riot act.

“I don’t spend good money on your education so you can traipse around looking like a long-haired freak, pretending to hate everything I’ve worked and stand for! Get it together, or get off the family dole!”

So he got it together. His dad was right on the money. The fling with the protest movements and anti-establishment was more or less a facade. Deep down he no more wanted to live in a commune with drug-heads than any other person. And while he shook his fist in rallies protesting the war, he was more afraid of being shot or blown apart than upset with the ethics of American presence in Vietnam. Plus, he had become used to the fineries his social and economic status afforded him.

He continued to primp, taking a small electric nose hair clipper to each nostril, and carefully plucking long eyebrows gone amok. Then he examined his ears, where to his horror tufts had appeared in recent years in the canals, but worse –– single hairs from his earlobes.

This was the first night of three at Caulden Academy for Boys. It was the must-do anniversary. The Fiftieth. After his graduation in ‘68, Chandler had been sporadic in his attendances, hitting the one-year and the five-year events. The first gathering was special because he knew many of the students and faculty still at the school. It was his opportunity to strut about on campus as a College Man; to flaunt the fact he could smoke there with impunity, and drink sherry with a faculty member without fear of being expelled. His second gathering he had graduated college, and was in his first year as an underling in the Chandler Corporation –– his gateway to ancestral sameness. His classmates were like him, many starting career paths. Still others were toe-deep in their post-grad pursuits of the law or medicine or some other impressive occupation. Fewer attended that reunion, although none had died yet.

Until tonight, there had been a drought lasting years where he had been too busy, too far away, too fearful to make an appearance. He had kept abreast of classmates who were featured by graduation class in the school’s annual report. It was how he found out the first death in his class was due to suicide. Other news items storied a variety of impressive and ho-hum feats, from world travel to partnerships in medical practices or prestigious law firms to various honors and accolades.

Chandler never sent in news items to the school about himself. Asked by his starter wife (he had gone through two wives) why that was, he couldn’t answer.

“You’re embarrassed, that’s why,” she said dryly.

He fell off the map where Caulden and his classmates were concerned, despite the regular requests for money, or invitations to attend school soirées held in local communities. Even his best friends at school grew distant, and he was totally out of touch with guys who helped him endure the prep school and its idiosyncrasies.

Satisfied he had soaped, cut, rubbed and covered enough to look presentable, Chandler reached for the starched dress shirt hanging from a hook on the hotel bathroom door. As he buttoned, he practiced smiles and looks of glad surprise. “Oh, you haven’t changed a bit!” he said mentally.

He opted to button his monogrammed sleeve cuffs, and not to insert the gold cuff links he brought. He preferred the toned down look. Tie, or no tie? Should he go casual, like a jet-setter? He chose a tie. It was a good juxtaposition to his ponytail, he thought. Go with who you are, his dad had told him. This is who I am, he thought.

As he measured the tie around his neck for a Windsor knot, he remembered Timbo Matthews. Timbo had taught him how to tie it. Previous to that he had always used the sloppy overhand knot he had learned when he was a Boy Scout.

“You can’t use that knot!” Timbo critiqued, then showed Chandler the only knot permissible if you wanted to prove you had class. For the school prom, Timbo tried to show Chandler how to tie a bow tie, but Chandler opted for the clip-on instead. Less frustrating. At least he still used the Windsor after all these years. When his dad retired from the family corporation, he took to wearing bolo ties, much to Chandler’s disdain.

“I can wear whatever the hell I like!” his dad said.

Chandler registered with the school for the reunion at the first email alert he received from the Caulden School for Boys Director of Development. He signed up for all the events, and made sure his room was booked in the only hotel in nearby Statler. That was months ahead of time. He even promptly filled out a questionnaire about himself that was to be reproduced in a yearbook format –– only paperback because of the cost. It was the first time Chandler could remember being put on an honor list of any kind having to do with Caulden.

Still, as the weekend neared, he found himself weighing whether or not to go. The class of 100 graduates had been whittled down to eighty or so due to a variety of illnesses and tragedies . His roommate during his Fifth Form year had just died. He had to find out via the annual report. It hammered home how out-of-touch he really was. Which led to him thinking about his starter wife’s comment. Was he embarrassed? He thought at age sixty-eight of what could or should he be embarrassed? Perhaps the greatest thing any of his classmates could boast about was that they lived long enough to attend the fiftieth.

He knew that wasn’t true. But embarrassed of what? Mediocrity? He was surprised to see one of his classmates referred to as The Honorable Terrence DuPree. A judge, for chrissakes! One day Terry bounded into his room during his Fourth Form year and dived onto Chandler’s bed as if to make a watermelon splash. The only problem was Chandler’s classical guitar was on the bed at the time!

When he was a student, comparisons were of a lesser, albeit more evil sort. Things like intelligence, looks, physique, athletics. Chandler fell into the midrange of each. He was smart, but not brilliant; okay-looking, but a bit dorky; never six feet tall; and though he reached varsity levels in sports his Six Form year, he mostly rode the bench. In college his greatest success was Shot-A-Minute Champ at his fraternity, and driving around campus in the ‘63 Chevrolet Corvette his dad gave him. Nothing stellar. And the guy who sat on his guitar at Caulden became a friggin’ judge!

Those thoughts gave him reason to reconsider attending the reunion. His was a hand-me-down career. The right of primogeniture and nothing more. Even his derelict brother –– the one everybody knew would end up to no good –– had created a business from the ground up that was now listed on the DOW.

Chandler pulled on stylish socks, then his pants, and slipped into his shoes. One last glimpse into the mirror. Oh, and a splash of Bay Rum cologne.

His hotel room phone jingled.

“Hello?” he said.

“Bart! Where the hell are you? The van is here to take us to school, man! Get your butt down here!”

Chandler felt a twinge of nausea and thought quickly about saying he was coming down with something.

“Yeah. Thanks. I’ll be right down.”

Advertisements