Thursday, August 19, 2010
“I saw the car!” said a fellow-alumna of Lourdes Academy at the anti-reunion in Cleveland. “It has so much character.” She was speaking of the Éclair, which had passed inspection at Bulloch’s ($37.50) and made it yet again all the way across Pennsylvania, and was parked in front of the Saucy Bistro, where a group had gathered in remembrance of Mary Beth, who did not make it to our fortieth-year high-school reunion. I was prepared to deliver a eulogy—a brief eulogy—but no one was in the mood. So we drank to her memory—her sister Cathy, Susan, Jayne, Mary and Dean, Mary and Patti, Meg, Nancy, Paula, Mary Lou, Aura and Tony—and then those of us who were going to the official reunion formed a caravan to a sports bar called Stampers.
What can I say about seeing what people look like forty years after high-school graduation? It was an all-girls Catholic school, and during our tenure there the nuns came out of their habits, and shortly after that most of them left the convent (and some of them left the Church) and the school closed. The people I’ve stayed in touch with look the same to me, and the people I haven’t stayed in touch with I wouldn’t have recognized without their nametags. One of my old friends kept going out to the parking lot to smoke, and I went along with her, out of force of habit. Tareytons, Doublemint gum, and Tab were our poison back then.
After one trip to the parking lot (and one too many pints of beer), I decided that I would not have composed a eulogy in vain. So I put on my cowboy hat and took the stage (such as it was), and I talked about how Mary Beth and Susan and I used to play Michigan rummy, in a version packaged as a board game with the characters from “Bonanza” on the cover. We each adopted the persona of a character from “Bonanza.” Mary Beth was Pa, Susan was Adam, and I was Little Joe (no one wanted to be Hoss), and for years Pa and Little Joe carried on a correspondence … But never mind. No one was listening. Everyone was busy reminiscing about the blue plaid school uniforms and the flamingo-pink (or was it tomato-soup red?) gym “costumes” we were compelled to wear. In the yearbook, our hair styles are as dated as those of our mothers when we laughed at them as kids.
In the end, I had such a good time that I left the Éclair in the sports-bar parking lot and accepted a ride home to a friend’s house, where I slept on a luxurious couch. In the morning, she drove me to my car. The Eclair may have plenty of character, but on this occasion her battery was dim unto death. I jumped back out of the car and stopped my friend from driving away. I don’t know which is worse: having a dead battery from some mysterious mechanical ailment or having a dead battery from the stupidity of leaving your lights on. In that caravan the day before, it had looked like it might rain, and so, as if in a funeral procession, I had turned on my lights, telling myself I’d be sure and remember to turn them off. But the evening brightened, and despite a trip back to the car for my camera and all those trips to keep the smoker company and to get stuff together for a night on my friend’s couch, all I noticed was that the automatic door locks weren’t working.
I have jumper cables (in fact, they were a gift from the late Mary Beth), but I’d never actually used them to jump-start my own car. My friend offered to call her husband; I thought about calling AAA. But it was eight o’clock on a Sunday morning, and rude to disturb the peace. We could do this. The hardest part proved to be getting the hood of my friend’s car open. Fortunately, I have a little generator in the trunk, with instructions on it about which color clamp to attach to which battery terminal and in what order. I wish there were a mnemonic device for this. I attached first the red (positive), then the black (negative) onto the good battery, and then the red and the black onto the dead one, and tried starting my car. Nothing happened. “Doesn’t it have to touch the metal?” my friend said. I had been trying to cover as much territory with the clamps as possible, but I reattached them to the nuts—red, black, red, black—and this time my battery gave off a little spark, and when I opened the door, the car beeped to tell me the key was in the ignition: It was alive!
I drove off to see Dee, who helped me celebrate my name day. I’d almost forgotten, in the effort to resist the brunch and Mass that formed the centerpiece of the reunion weekend, that August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, is the day when all people named Mary celebrate (at least in Europe). The superstition is that if you go into a body of water on that day, you will enjoy good health for the rest of the year. So I took a dip in Lake Erie, my natal waters. The slime along the rim and the packed mud on the floor and the wavelets don’t have that health-giving salty tang you expect from water once you’ve gotten used to the ocean. Once, this water tasted not just fresh but sweet to me. Not this time.
Back in New York, on Tuesday morning I moved my car to a spot on a Thursday/Friday street, but when I went back to it on Wednesday, there was a ticket pinned under the windshield wiper. Damn. I had parked along a median strip, and it was hard to tell which sign applied to my side of the strip, an ambiguity that I plan to develop when, inevitably, I contest this ticket for parking in a No Standing zone.