My elementary school friends, Melvin Limbaugh and Charley Hannity were always such blowhards. They had an opinion about everything. And they always agreed about everything, which I could never quite understand. For example, Mel always insisted that Jif peanut butter, hands down, was far superior to Skippy. And Charley would nod gravely, as if he was taking an extremely serious matter under long and deep consideration, then would invariably look up and simply say, "Yup. Jif; no contest."
"Melvin," I would ask, for clarification, "are we talking chunky or creamy?"
"There are no distinctions required in this discussion. This is about brand loyalty, my ignorant young friend." (This was a 10-year-old!) "If Jif made toilet paper, I'd be on board in... well, in a jiff." This in the days before "branding" was a popular cultural phenomenon. Maybe Limbaugh truly was ahead of his time?
But Charley always acted the same; no matter what Mel came up with, Charley was his "yes" man:
"There are actually more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on earth," Limbaugh announced one day, quite out of the blue. Again, Hannity with the silent nod, the creased forehead as if deep in thought, and then: "Yup. More stars." Like it was an indisputable fact.
"You know this for sure Mel?" I asked.
"Count'em," he'd say.
"Count'em," Charley'd echo.
I never forgot those two idiots, acting like they knew everything about everything, and never the least hesitation about broadcasting their views to anyone who would listen. We also went to high school together, where their little act continued, with only slightly more sophisticated content:
"Spiro Agnew is the unsung hero of our generation. Time will prove me right, you just wait. You watch." And Hannity, sporting a somewhat pathetic attempt at a goatee, would stroke it, think deeply, and chime in, "Unsung, absolutely. Just a matter of time."
Over the years I've often wondered who those pompous douche bags turned out to be as adults. Well, I got the chance to find out.
I wandered into the Sheraton ballroom for my 40th high school reunion, a bit guarded, a bit anxious, like many of us, I would imagine. We all wonder if our lives will measure up against that of our contemporaries. And what's the unit of measurement? Income? Job? Family? Success? Happiness? Children? Fame? Will I have to rattle off my resume to each person I encounter, as a proactive preventative move? I dreaded that possibility.
For one thing, I had led a very unique and different sort of life, but it just wouldn't hold up against the heart surgeons and corporate executives if we had to duke it out in public. I had no kids, and only enough cash in the bank to support my post-Rainbow Gathering, off-the-grid lifestyle. Brown rice is still cheap, and who needs anything better than a '72 VW van if it still gets me to the co-op and back? But I've never set foot on a golf course, and I have often gotten all the way to Super Bowl Monday without realizing there had been a game the day before. Not exactly a man's man. So high school reunions were a potential nightmare for someone like me.
As it turned out, my fears were groundless. For one thing, nearly all my peers looked at least 15 years older and 20 pounds fatter than me. For another, underneath it all, it felt as if nobody had really changed. You could see right through all the new, grown-up and dressed-up adult personas, and I found all the same people still in there. I'm a firm believer in the uselessness of therapy; as far as I can tell, nobody ever changes even one tiny little thing.
Little Sally Schlepstein (I changed her name for privacy reasons) (it was really Lilly Schlepstein) was still a non-stop chatterbox who could somehow manage to grab your attention from across a room and prevent you from moving your head or neck. It was like a magic spell, and once she had you in her gaze, it was riveting, and impossible to disengage. It's hard enough to end a conversation with someone up close, in order to move on in the mingling process, but usually one can point to their empty glass or use the restroom as an excuse. But with Sally, you were just stuck until she was finished with you, even from 20 feet away. It was like that in high school, it was like that still.
And little Stevie Nutjob, we used to call him, because he was always saying things to try and be part of a conversation that were completely unrelated to what was going on. Tenth grade, we're all sitting around the lunch table, talking about the Dick Van Dyke Show:
Freddy Cheapskate: "Have you noticed in the new season, in the opening credits, Rob Petrie steps around the ottoman, instead of tripping over it?"
Eli Grossmeout: "And that's important, why?"
Freddy: "Just sayin'; the nuances of the contemporary sitcom are not lost on me."
Eli: "Congratulations; you're a rocket scientist of TV-viewing."
Stevie Nutjob: "Speaking of ottomans, I went bowling with my Dad over the weekend. I bowled a 180!"
Fast-forward 40 years to the reunion. I'm chatting with two guys from the old school newspaper group.
Me: "Remember that time we cut school, presumably to 'cover' an important news item for the paper?"
Joey Gentile: "We spent the whole day throwing rocks at pigeons from Nickols Bridge. Dem were da days."
Stevie Nutjob: "That reminds me of the time I went to the dentist with my uncle."
But I digress. The main event of the evening, for me, was heading over to the cash bar and running smack into none other than Limbaugh and Hannity, who now bore an uncanny resemblance to Laurel and Hardy. It took all of three seconds for me to confirm my theory that people never really change, they just get older and fatter. Showing no interest whatever in me or my life, nor whether I'd be interested in hearing his current political views, Melvin Limbaugh wasted no time in letting me know exactly what was what in the current election cycle. Once a blowhard...
"Here's what you need to understand young man: Romney is a Democrat, Ron Paul is a Communist, Newt Gingrich is an adulterous pig, Rick Perry is a moron, Rick Santorum is gay. Now I've been a dyed-in-the-wool staunch Republican my entire life, and damn it if I'm not going to vote for our incumbent President next fall, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama. Seriously. He's my main man. There are no other choices."
Charley Hannity, now sporting a full salt and pepper beard, tugged at his whiskers and stared thoughtfully into his shot glass, then shaking his head in the affirmative, looked me straight in the eye and said, "No choices. Pigs and morons."
With that, we clinked glasses. "I couldn't agree with you more, gentlemen; now, if you'll excuse me, I see that Sally Schlepstein is calling me."