Sunday, June 15, 2014

I'm Gonna Party Like It's 1979

My college reunion at the University of Virginia was last weekend. Thirty-five years in regular math; twenty years in years.  I’m pretty gung ho—the name of this blog is the Wandering Wahoo after all—and a UVa reunion is pretty darned fun, so I made plans to go as soon as the dates of the event were announced.

That's my dorm, Emmet, on the left in this oil by Charlottesville artist Edward Thomas, who, interestingly enough, also lived in Emmet.
I even did my bit for the Reunion Committee, which meant listening to the occasional conference call and sending out emails to encourage the folks from my first year dorm, Emmet, to attend. It wouldn’t be much of a reunion without a crowd, or to paraphrase my friend The Other Rick, a UVa Reunion without Wahoos is just masturbation. Part of my pitch—toward the bottom, when I was really clutching at straws-- was “You can even catch up with the folks you used to date. Trust me, you won’t be the first person to say “What was I thinking?!”  Yes, there is a reason I’m no longer in sales.

It gives me great pleasure to say that, although the vivacity of these blooded colts at the University frequently leads them into all sorts of deviltries and excesses, they have almost invariably the manners of gentlemen. P.C., 1853
Each Reunions Weekend includes classes at five year intervals so my weekend included the 4s and the 9s (e.g. the classes of '74, '79, '84 and so on). Over 3,000 Wahoos attended Reunions Weekend, with a total attendance of more than 5,000 when counting spouses and so on. It was the best attendance ever—so there was probably more than a little “What was I thinking?" going on.

When I checked in at Alumni Hall, the impossibly young and perky UVa student volunteers gave me my registration packet, which included the official lanyard that held a giant ID card. My name and school were printed in large letters on the front, and my schedule was printed in tiny type on the back. The top of the lanyard was a color coded bar with REALLY big numbers that identified attendees by class.

Invariably I’d look at a person’s face, and then my eyes would dart down to their lanyard to see what year they were before looking up to again to see how kind Father Time had been.  Occasionally I'd have a little flashback to the days towards the end of my mother’s life when I’d take her to the supermarket.

After she'd given up driving, I'd take my mother on her regular jaunts to the grocery store. As you can imagine when you’re in your 80s, as my mother was, and not long from check out time, you're not looking your best. A life spent enjoying Stroh’s Fire-Brewed Beer and Benson and Hedges Menthol 100s eventually catches up to you.

Every now and then, we'd run into an old acquaintance of hers. They’d chatter away like best friends and then we’d go on our merry way.  On occasion, when we were an aisle or two away, my mother would say, “Who was that?”, even though two minutes previously you’d have sworn she was shooting the breeze with her long-lost twin cousin Raoul. I’d say, “That was Marge Smith” and my mother would invariably reply “She looks terrible!” I chuckled every time. Still do, as a matter of fact.

So at my reunion, I’d check out the year on the lanyard, look at the face, and then go (non verbally, this time) straightaway to the Betty Bryant/Pavlov’s dog reaction of “She looks terrible” just as my mother used to say in Weis Market. Sometimes I even chuckled to myself.

As I always do at Reunions, I stayed on grounds, in a dorm. I know, it’s hardly Wynn Las Vegas, but the Monroe Hill dorms (formally Brown College at Monroe Hill) are not without their charms. This time I was in Smith. Or Psmith, as P.G. Wodehouse spelled it. Monroe Hill is a handsome bit of 1920s era Virginia-style Georgian revival and its location couldn’t be better. I parked my truck in the Central Grounds Parking Garage and walked everywhere.

I had a two room suite. There was the Morning Room (complete with WBF). And there was the Drawing Room. It was practically Downton Abbey. I shared a bath with another two room suite that no one checked into, so I had a private bath.

The UVa community is social media savvy (just ask former Rector Helen Dragas) so Reunions organizers encouraged attendees to post photos with the hashtag #uvareunions. Yes, lured by the promise of fleeting fame and a gift certificate for an intimate waxing, I uploaded my share. There was a reason I didn’t win, since I took a rather more “artistic” tack and ended up competing with 163 different Instagrams of people with Katie Couric. She either knows more Wahoos than anyone in Christendom or is just about as gracious as you can get when it comes to being photographed with strangers. Probably both.

My schedule of official events started with drive by at a reception at Carr's Hill, the president's house, followed by a cocktails at the Architecture School. Since most of my school chums and the people I know at UVa are from the A-School, it’s a good place to get the social lay of the land for the weekend.

Big surprise, the first person I ran into was that guy who brings a different woman to every reunion. I'm sure you know who I mean. He goes to every reunion you've ever been to. Last time he brought a woman who was into NASCAR, before that it was the woman who owns a chain of laundromats in Arkansas, and before that it was someone who wore a dirndl and looked as if she was in a community theater production of The Sound of Music. Seriously. That's not something you forget. This year his date was a little more nondescript. He looks the same as he always does, only now with dyed hair.

After the reception, it was time to stroll over to The Lawn for my class’s Friday night event. It was at the Stanford White end of the lawn, on the flat green bordered on three sides by Cabell, Rouss, and Cocke Halls. There were party lights, tables, and chairs, even a couple of outdoor sofas. It was all very festive.  I’m not sure what was on the buffet, but I know that it didn’t interfere with my consumption of adult beverages. My friends and I thought that the band, Three Sheets to the Wind, was sort of cheesy in a non-ironic couldn’t-they-afford-anything-better way. However, we decided that they improved with each drink. Just when I was getting into the swing of things as a middle-aged party animal the band stopped; it was the stroke of midnight. It seems that even universities have neighbors. It was probably a good thing too, since I needed to be fresh as a daisy for Saturday.

Three hundred people signed up to do yoga on The Lawn bright and early Saturday morning. I was not one of them.

Curiously, the commemorative plaque omits any mention of Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts.
My Saturday started out with breakfast at the Colonnade Club. It’s in Pavilion 7, the oldest building on the University Grounds, and the site of the cornerstone laying, attended by Mr. Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and assorted other dignitaries and hangers-on, with entertainment by Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts. Ok, I’m not sure Doug Clark was there in 1817, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

With its antique filled rooms The Colonnade Club is the sort of place that where you expect to see ancient men in even more ancient seersucker accompanied by conservatively dressed women with thick Southern accents and impeccable manners. Those folks were conspicuously absent. Instead the place was filled with pushing 60-somethings, who, for the most part, looked as if they shopped someplace between Lands End and Banana Republic. There was a tasty buffet in one of the large reception rooms followed by al fresco dining in the garden and on the piazza. Dining hall food was never that good. A hearty breakfast outdoors on a sunny day sure does wonders for a hangover.

Since the brain cells were finally starting to percolate, I took advantage of the opportunity to hear the address by UVa’s President, Teresa Sullivan. As you may recall, it wasn’t that long ago that she was caught in a management kerfuffle orchestrated by former UVa Rector Cruella de Vil, I mean Helen Dragas. President Sullivan conducted herself with dignity and grace through several difficult weeks, earning the respect, and perhaps even love, of much of the University community. Helen Dragas, well, not so much. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that when the President of the Alumni Association introduced President Sullivan, the alumni and friends filling the Old Cabell Hall auditorium gave her a standing ovation.

Her speech proved her to be filled with charm, humor, and a firm command of the managerial and financial issues inherent in managing a large university and medical center. After her remarks, she was joined by faculty member in the engineering school and someone from career services both of whom gave short presentations on their work and research, and then all three took questions from the audience. It was one of those proud to be a Wahoo moments.

I'm the one in madras.
There was a luncheon on the shady portion of the terrace at the Architecture School.

I could hear the ghost of Bobby Mincer saying "May I hep yew?"
Then I did a little shopping and tried to take a power nap, neither of which I’m particularly good at.

I don’t know why I was asked to be on the Reunions Weekend LGLBT panel, I’m not in the news, and I haven’t done anything particularly special, but seemingly by Virginia standards I'm Out and Proud. Once I confirmed that they hadn’t mistaken me for someone else I said sure, I’d do it.  I agreed to be on the panel without looking at my schedule, which meant that I had to miss my class’s TOM (as in TED’s cousin) Talks. Oh well, stuff happens.

There were about 30 people at the LGBT discussion in addition to a panel of five and a moderator.

The panelists were an interesting bunch. One of my fellow panelists, Brendan Wynn, provided the perspective of the recent UVa grad/activist. Interestingly enough, he caught one of the three passes thrown by Peyton Manning at Valedictory Exercises a couple of weeks earlier. I told him he could dine out on that story for the rest of his life. Yeah, he probably knew that already.

Another panelist was getting a Ph.D. in math education. People do that, apparently. We talked a bit about how kids can’t get help from their folks these days since parents don’t know the way they are teaching math. I noticed her tattoo and asked if I could take a photo. I had to say, “What is it?” She told me that it was Euclid’s proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. Oh right, I knew that.

The discussion was mostly about the path toward LGBT equality in Virginia and the twists and turns along the way. Domestic partner benefits are apparently against the state’s constitution in Virginia and that makes it tough for employers to attract people who would like to provide health insurance to a spousal unit and kids through employer sponsored insurance.  When the mic came around to me, I didn’t have much to add to that conversation since I live in Pennsylvania. Instead, I told the story of working at a polling place for my friend Mike Fleck where I got to get up close and personal with a wet-behind-the-ears home-schooled second coming of Greg Marmalard who was proselytizing on behalf of Mike's opponent, a socially conservative as in and I quote "conservative family values" write-in candidate. The audience was suitably appalled, but in retrospect, I think I should have mentioned that I asked Greg M 2.0 if he wanted to nail the MILF (yes, that's what I said) we saw in the parking lot getting ready to go on a bike ride. Judging by his reaction, I’d say Greg M 2.0 has a thing for Mrs. Robinson in black yoga pants. It’s one thing to spend hours with a teenage troglodyte, but quite another to spend that much time with a horny teenage troglodyte.

Saturday night meant another party. (Are you sensing a theme?) This time it was it was the Big Kahuna, with the best entertainment. In other words, time to deploy the party trousers. Since I wasn’t sure what the weather would be like, I took three pairs with me, all products of the Ralph Lauren or Brooks Brothers outlets at the Las Vegas Outlet Mall. I had a choice of the old standby green martini jobs, the orange pair that was such a hit at the UVa/Penn State game, and the pink oxford cloth number. It was hotter than blazes, so I went with the pink oxford cloth number. Go big or go home, I say.

There was good food, and lots of drink, though I did have to walk to The Corner to get a post dinner cup of coffee. No coffee after dinner? What were they thinking?! On my way back to the party with my cup of Joe, I got an up close and personal rendition of We Are….Penn State! from a nice but high-mileage group of partyers who took time out from crashing another event to offer me a beer, ask me where I was from, and tell me how much they liked my pink trousers. (It takes balls to wear those, man!)

I did a lot of shilling that night for blog readers, so if I lured you in here thanks for sticking with me.

The early evening entertainment was a band from Atlanta called Simply Irresistible. I think there were 15 in the band. To the best of my hazy recollection, there were four fierce women in Spandex and leopard print, a Justin Timblerlake-esque lead singer, some horns and reeds, guitar, bass, drums and so on. Absent Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, they were just what the doctor ordered—and of course, they were the warm-up act for Charlottesville institution, Skip Castro.

Before the evening was over, I asked an attractive gent whom I recognized from the LGBT reception to dance and soon enough I was dancing badly in the name of LGBT equality. I don’t think that anyone even looked twice, then again, the several hours of open bar might have inured me to raised eyebrows and whatnot. After some dancing, we walked over to The Corner for a Gusburger but the line was too long. Even after a few drinks I still have the patience of a Southern California wildfire. Instead we walked across the street to the Grounds and canoodled a bit and in the process applied some grass stains to my white oxford cloth shirt. Then we, well, spent quality time at the appropriately named Budget Inn, where, even later in the evening (or earlier in the morning if you prefer), a can of soda exploded in the refrigerator. Real life tends to intrude on the search for, well, whatever it was I was looking for.

On the walk back to Smith dorm, with my virtue in roughly the same state as at the beginning of the evening, I took time out to live tweet a picture from my Walk of Shame. It was my last ditch effort to win something in the photo contest. Where was Katie Couric when I really needed her?


  1. This is a test of the emergency broadcast system.

  2. Those pink shorts will be a perfect match with Lanny's tee-shirt this year. I look forward to spotting your ubiquitous self in the Festival crowds.