I actually attended a high school reunion committee meeting last week in southern California. It’s been decades since I last interacted with my high school classmates.
I recognized everyone except one person. He was a tall, husky fellow. His hair was grey, and combed completely back. He had a beard, wore cut offs and sandals, and had on a multi-colored beach shirt.
He introduced himself to me as Bill Simmons. “Oh, yes,” I responded,” you played baseball?”
“No, that was Bob Simmons,” he said.
At that point, I drew a blank. There was nothing about him that I recognized.
During the meeting, he was quite a character, cracking jokes, and carrying on side conversations with different people.
After the committee meeting he came up to me, and rehearsed events of MY high school days. He remembered whom I dated, who one of my friends was who had died in his early twenties. He even remembered the color of the sweater I wore as a yell leader.
This was a mystery man to me. I tried to find some connection.
“How’d we know each other?” I asked.
“I wasn’t in any clubs,” he said. “I wasn’t an athlete. And, you and I never hung out together. I knew who you were. I’m pretty sure you didn’t know who I was. You dated SH; she was one of the cute ones.”
I was flattered that someone remembered I had dated a cute girl, even though she had a habit of going out on me behind my back, but who’s remembering?
He then started telling me some stories that were real whoppers. Like, how he helped the Israelis identify enemy planes during “The Six Day War” of 1967. He said he smuggled Arab model airplane insignias to the Israelis when he worked for Douglas Aircraft, now McDonnell Douglas.
After a couple of stories like that, I didn’t know what to think.
(Before I go on with the story, I want to tell you what I did after the meeting when I returned to my home in Salt Lake City. I immediately looked Bill up in my year book. When I saw his photo, I remembered his face instantly. I remembered him as funny and happy. He was fairly tall, thin, and looked like a Jersey boy. Dark, wavy hair combed in a Jersey Boy style. The person he is today bears absolutely no physical resemblance to the way he looked then. Not one single similarity.)
Back To The Reunion Meeting
Anyway, back to the story.
Even though he told whoppers, I found myself drawn to him. He was naturally engaging and seemed genuinely content.
What was going through my head, as we talked, was how uninvolved he seemed to have been in high school. Most of the time this was not of a person’s making. When Bill and I went to high school, one had to be invited and voted on to get into clubs (fraternities and sororities).
Club membership often was the bridge to other activities, such as successfully running for student body office. Unless you were in a club, your social standing in the high school community was seriously limited. It could be overcome, but it was difficult.
The fraternity and sorority system within the Long Beach Unified School District began to be phased out my senior year. It continued to function in some form or fashion for a few more years, until it eventually faded away. It was a cruel system that discriminated against most students. It built a class structure.
The more I talked to Bill, the more impressed I became with him. He neither wore his non-involvement on his sleeve defensively, nor hid it in any way.
This was extraordinary to me.
I Enjoyed High School
After he rehearsed the facts of my high school life to me, I told him high school at times had been a little bit stressful for me. (I wanted to make him feel good.)
“Why?” he asked. “You should have been the happiest guy in town. You had a good thing.”
“Everyone has their challenges,” I said, “Even those you think have a lot going for them.”
“How was it for you?” I asked.
“One of the best times of my life,” he answered quickly. “I enjoyed high school.”
“You have to be kidding,” I thought to myself as I broke out laughing. “Here is a happy person, no matter what his social standing may have been.”
I was impressed. I consciously kept the conversation alive.
I asked him what he had done for a living. “Oh, I buy old dilapidated buildings, fix them, and rent them out,” he explained.
“How many buildings might that be?” I asked.
“A lot, I’ve lost count over the years,” he explained.
(By the way, this was verified by some of the people at the reunion meeting who knew him well.)
“I’ve had some great experiences doing it,” he said.
He then proceeded to tell me how rich Iranians would come to California with their jewelry, and how he would rent space to them while they sold the jewelry to Americans.
Who knows if he was telling the truth.
Almost Out The Door
He followed me to the door after we finished talking. As I was about to leave, one of the female committee members came up and introduced herself to me. The first thing the woman mentioned was that she was not only in one but two sororities in high school, and that she had been president of one of them.
After my conversation with Bill, I was determined not to talk about clubs. But from behind me, Bill spoke up and said, “Roger, you were president of yours, weren’t you? Don’t be shy.”
And there the three of us were, talking about clubs again, while Bill stood by with a smile on his face.
“This may be one of the more remarkable human beings I’ve ever met.” I thought to myself.
We both left the home at the same time.
“See you at the reunion,” he said. “You’re coming aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes, I am,” I responded. “Let’s sit together. I’d like to meet your wife.”
And off he went.
If I had it to do all over again, I would want to be like Bill Simmons, minus the tall tales. . . , but what if he’s telling the truth? Ah, I don’t care. He made my day.