But here I was, in from Arizona to overcast Oregon, having suited up in the airport bathroom, and taken the time to sit in one of those high chairs to have my scuffy brown teacher shoes publicly shined by a man that snapped his towels and moved his brushes as deftly as any Hollywood stereotype. They were Clarks, the same brand worn by about 90% of male teachers, and the same model as my mentor before me. I looked at them now, proudly, and thought about what lie ahead, already hearing the questions.
“What do you do?”
“How have you been spending the last two decades?”
“Phoenix? Really? Phoenix?”
Portland’s late summer dusk was roiling over with a gray sheath from the west. The hurling luggage outside looked like salmon arching upstream, and the oversized clock on the wall said it was about time I went upstream myself.
It would be the first time I talked to anyone from high school in twenty years.
I left my bag with the concierge and headed down the fancy wing to the hall. I could hear the 80’s music as I approached, Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” all the doors open to it, showing darkness, lasers and strobe lights. A wave of laughter rose up and I thought: oh God, which middle-aged person is break dancing? I made it to the greeter’s table where name badges were lined up alphabetically. Just a glance at them filled me with terror. I sidestepped this and worked my way through the crowds to look in at the darkened hall. It was smaller than a gym and a DJ was laying down more 80’s beats, currently Duran Duran’s “Rio”, while people stood in groups by the dance floor and sat at the round tables. A few peered at the playlist illuminating the DJ’s face with iPod light and snickered.
Outside the hall was the bar and further down a glass wall of exits and enough room for some stand-up tables and the occasional potted floor plant. After pinning my name badge to my chest I went directly to the bar, got my rum and Coke and wandered. From the back of the bar line to the hall entryways there was about fifteen feet of congregated people. Clusters, it seemed, of already established friends. What we used to call cliques. I avoided them and stood near the greeter’s table with my drink, watching for new arrivals.