May 06, 2008

The High School Reunion

By Johnny Hughes © 2008

Bobby Hankins ordered chipped beef on toast all the time just because it said SOS on the menu. I ran into him at the Ranch House my third week back in Lubbock. We talked three hours He had me signed up for our upcoming high school reunion that first morning. He kept asking me if I remembered people which I didn't, but he told me all about them anyway. No one would ever forget Bobby, especially me. Now the most mellow guy in West Texas had a license to carry a hand gun.

At an annual-signing party right before high school graduation, I overheard Bobby ask, "Why does he keep giving everyone pictures? I don't even know him."

"Maybe he wants to prove he was there." Jo Gail said and everyone laughed.

Before that, I'd taken lots of pictures at school events and given people pictures of themselves. Many nights, I'd walk home from the Hi-D-Ho with a sack of what was left over, french fries or hush puppies. My meager soda jerk wages were spent on getting film developed. Taking pictures of people and giving away pictures was more than my hobby. It was my identity.

The High School Reunion web site listed those who had passed away. The two people who were about my only real friends were gone. Lonnie had been my best friend since Boy Scouts at St. John's. He'd shoplift cigars, steal hubcaps, sneak into the Lindsey Theatre, and hang varied species of road kill from area flag poles. Lonnie was always part of the popular crowd and invited me along wherever he was invited.

Betty was one of the only girls in the Photographer's Guild. We fell in love on a photographic tour of Carlsbad Caverns. She taught me about life and love. I never asked who taught her. We'd go parking at Prairie Dog Town and Copper Rawlins would run us off. I rarely thought of her, but just knowing she was dead haunted me for days.

Three weeks after I got back in town, an envelope arrived with two photographs. One was of the house I had lived in during high school as it was back then. The other was a recent photo of the same house. There was no letter or message.

"Yeah, I got pictures like that." Bobby didn't look up from his SOS. "Jo Gail and some other folks got them too."

The next morning, Bev Cobb invited me to a reunion planning session at the Country Club. I figured Bobby put her up to it. This is looking to me like a networking opportunity that might land me a real job.

There were already a dozen people sitting around the table when I arrived. The chitchat about napkins, food, missing classmates, and live music turned to photographs before the steam quit rising from my coffee.

"That picture of my house had Daddy's Cadillac in it. I was sixteen years old." Jo Gail's voice rose with every word.

She handed me a stack of eighteen pictures. The full ashtrays and the empty tea glasses signaled this meeting started without me and about me.

"Did you send the pictures?" she asked.

My story about leaving Reno and all didn't grab them and only Bobby seemed to be listening. Later, I saw Hoss and Nancy at the Mall and we acted like we didn't recognize each other.

Bobby told me several classmates had posted opinions on the reunion web site. The Photographer's Guild and the mysterious photographs were discussed, but not my name. One lawyer believed crimes, including stalking, could be involved. Bobby said a high dollar Private Detective from Dallas had talked to some folks but I never heard from him. Bobby believed me when I said I never sent a soul a picture.

When he told me this, I was watching these modern day cowboys bellied up to the counter with authentic garb and a cell phone where their six-shooters should be. The waitress said she had been telling Bobby jokes for twenty years.

All those hours drinking coffee with Bobby Hankins persuaded me that his sense of self and sense of place were based on a deep wisdom. He wasn't educated or polished and good ole boy was a compliment. The Ranch House promoted equality and fraternity. Everyone from shade tree mechanics to District Judges would shake hands or share a joke with Bobby.

I'd bought a new light-weight, gold jacket and some new loafers with tassles. I removed the tassles and spray painted them gold. Just as I walked into the bar of the Holiday Inn on the Thursday night starting the big weekend reunion, a dozen or so people at a table with Jo Gail and Bev jumped up and left as if I had flushed a covey of quail.

"Lookee here, you said you didn't even remember most of those people," Bobby said. I had beat him down to the Ranch House the next morning. "Jo Gail has tagged you a pariah. Some of them are going to shun you. They were headed for a tour of the new gym at Tech. It won't matter much in a month."

The next night I got all dressed up and drove by the Holiday Inn a few times. Then I drove all the way around the loop and was in my new apartment on the couch in time for Jay Leno's monologue. Bobby said the reunion had been a big success.

I didn't send anybody any fucking pictures!

Johnny Hughes is the author of the novel... Texas Poker Wisdom.

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