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The applause died down as people rose and headed toward the steaming buffet tables. Again, this kind of thing was best done with a significant other, I thought, and felt everyone was looking at me. Finishing my drink, I got in line and grabbed a plate, disappearing among the hungry. I hoped to solve my problem of where to sit on the way through the hall with my full plate. I didn’t. Looking everywhere as I pretended looking nowhere, I ran out of options and simply went out the doors, pretending for the bar man’s quizzical look as I passed him that I had a pressing matter that not only required my attention but a steaming plate as well. I walked to the lobby. It was a big place. There were other wings. Could I meld into another party? Be accepted by new strangers? Under the lobby’s massive chandelier I realized I lacked silverware.
No one comes to these things alone, I thought, and began to sink into a self-pity that emptied me faster than I could empty my drink.
I went down another wing toward the sounds of a different hall, hoping to find a fork along the way. There wasn’t. I saw a room full of swaying Orientals with loosened ties singing karaoke en masse and drinking from bottles of liquor. Everything else was shut. I checked the ground floor suites for room service trays left outside the door—nothing. So I took the first side exit I found and stood under a dripping bough beside a garbage receptacle and ate with my hands in the rainy night. I devoured every last new potato and broccoli floret, all the flaccid penne and peas, half out of drunken hunger, half out of wanting to get something tangible out of the evening.
I dropped the plate in the garbage receptacle and went back in. Washing my hands in the bathroom, I looked in the mirror and wondered how much further I had to go before I hit bottom. I dried my hands and headed back to the festivities to find out. At the threshold of the hall, I saw some antics going on as people dined, recreations of scenes on the football field maybe, or else teacher impersonations. It was hard to tell.
A group of athletic guys got up and headed out, and when I nodded at them as they went to the bar behind me, their rambunctious attitudes seemed to lessen. I felt they were blaming me, even whispering about me, that I was sapping their good energy and filling it with my shame and loneliness. Then I did something I couldn’t believe. I drew away suddenly to the glass doors as though positioning myself for optimum reception and proceeded to take a call on my nonexistent cell phone. I used my ear closest to the wall and talked into my hand. I thought it funny and a little sad, as I noticed the jocks weren’t looking at me anymore. They were giving me privacy, respect. Being alone and quiet is perceived as a weakness in our world, but whip out a cell phone and suddenly you’re invulnerable, a person of some importance even, mystery. I actually said things out loud:
“Well, that depends.”
“Ha! You would
“Overcast now, some rain. Big surprise!”
“I don’t know how long.”
It made me laugh and want to cry. I spoke into my empty hand near a potted plant and a window full of rain, walked the lazy pace and made the facial expressions I’d seen on people talking on real phones.
The bar crowd dispersed when Frankie Goes to Hollywood blared forth and the laser beams multiplied. I stopped playing airphone, but not before checking the time and pocketing it. I went to the bar and saw the money in my hand trembling. It had given me a sick rush and I needed to sit.
The establishment seemed to expect more business; a second bar was assembled as though from thin air and two bow-tied, stripe-shirted men with large cases started putting together roulette and blackjack tables down by the glass doors. And soon they came, crowds upon crowds of the vaguely familiar, heading to the bar and casino tables, some to smoke in the night. They gathered around until I was dwarfed. 80’s music still blared, now Howard Jones’ “What is Love?,” and I guessed there was dancing going on, but clearly thirst had gotten the better of most. Booze, easy wins, or rainy air—I chose the latter and began snaking my way through the crowds. But I was stopped again, this time by the extremely large hand of the event’s coordinator, a guy named Ryan I’d exchanged emails with a few times before coming. He’d been the kind of red-haired nerd who was so smart you couldn’t tease him. Now he was a towering, beaming capitalist. I imagined his spouse to be somewhere around eight feet tall. He clapped me on the back, and even though we were of equal height, I felt that I was his child.
The Class of 1987 continues...