A Million Synaptic Moments
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
I feel you Napoleon. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
I don't really know why it matters at all. I've been ruminating all day, though.
I just completed a comedy gig at a town near where I grew up. My dad still lives nearby. Though it is now 3 hours from where I live, I had a place to stay and that makes it a lot easier than driving back late, which you often do in this business. It wouldn't have been a terrible thing this night, however. I had a lot to ponder.
When I have shows near my hometown, I make sure to post on local Facebook pages to help the venue (and let's be honest, me) drum up an audience. In the past, friends from high school would show up and we would catch up briefly after the show. From there, we'd throw a supportive comment or "thumbs up" on a Facebook or Instagram post every now and then. It's clean, simple, and easy.
Last night was different. I could tell by looking out at the audience that, absent of anyone I came with, I didn't recognize anyone. So when a guy my age approached me and stuck out his hand to shake mine, I was caught off-guard. With a wide grin, he introduced himself: "Marc - Gavin".
Gavin? Oh, right, Gavin Sian. I recognized him right away. He aged well and still had the same features he did over 30 years ago when we were in high school. He also showed up every now and then in the "people you might know" suggestions on Facebook so I was able to quickly flip through the facial recognition Rolodex in my head and put the clues together. CT, Gavin, middle-aged, Facebook and come up with high school.
We were never friends or enemies. I am sure we each had pretty stereotypical opinions of each other - him as a jock, me as a nerd. He complimented me and segued, "I'm trying to think - Marc Kaye - you did some funny stuff in high school or something, right?"
I could see he was stretching a bit. He didn't seem to even remember my real last name - changed for purposes of doing comedy.
"Nah - I wasn't exactly popular then", I joked.
It's not his fault. When my friend Patrick outed me and my stand-up aspirations about 10 years ago on Facebook to others from our graduating class, one of my classmates responded: "Out of all the people I remember from school Marc is the last person I would expect to be a comedian." So, I could only imagine how strange it must be to see someone, like myself, present in such a different way than the last time you knew them - or thought you did. But that goes both ways. I am just as guilty.
Gavin was among the more popular crowd- football player, typical high school shenanigans. I remember him being pretty smart and an all-around adjusted kid - athletic, good-looking, smart, and well-liked. My experience was, shall we say, a bit different.
My main memory is of working with him at Pik Wik, the local grocery store, back in 1986, now replaced with a more upscale grocer, LaBonnes. Maybe the same can be said of us - evolved to an enriched version of who we used to be.
It was curious being able to extract Pik Kwik from the recesses of my mind after all this time. Did he remember that, too? This was the only shared memory I could think of that was positive and worth bringing up. (There was the incident where the football seniors pounded my lunch table with food when they read in the yearbook that I had listed them, all of them, as one of my pet peeves, but I chose to let that one die).
We had a manager at the store named Gerry who wore tight tan polyester pants with a built in strap that went midway across his belt line and buttoned at the top. His hair was receding and he had a prominant mustache and very buggy eyes. He never smiled and would twitch a shoulder upward as he was frustratingly ordering you around. You could tell he hated teenagers. I mentioned it but not sure Gavin remembered him.
Gerry would watch us from a one-way window in a dispatch room above the entire store. While I got a warning for being caught stealing Bon Bons that I hid between cans of Campbell soup while stocking shelves (I was assigned the soup and cake aisle), Gavin and his cohorts managed to keep the rest of us on the lookout after 8 PM when Gerry had departed. The large, black rubberized car-wash-like curtain would fall over the beer fridge and that was the cue for Gavin to quickly free a family of 6 packs from their frigid imprisonment.
He remembered that, relaying even more details to his brother who had accompanied him that evening. Gavin elaborated on the parties and drinking that would ensue on the weekend. I flashed back to dinner with my grandparents and watched the Golden Girls followed by Empty Nest. I left that part out, too.
I have a love-hate relationship with high school - and my town. As in I love to hate them both. I am almost 53 and I still cannot escape the feelings of unworthiness, awkwardness, nerdiness, and general dread that accompanied the majority of my 4-year experience. Even now, I largely avoid going anywhere in town, lest I run into someone I might know, even though the chance of anyone recognizing each other is fairly minimal.
So, here we were - consolidating over 35 years into a few minutes, with much more in common than we probably both would had ever imagined. We were both single dads to grown kids, living far away from town - me near Philly, him in Tampa. His father passed away not long after my mother did - and yet, all I could keep thinking was "wow - Gavin Sian is talking to me. Life is weird."
It was nice to connect and it didn't seem awkward at all, which made it seem even more awkward, if that makes sense. We were talking to each other like a couple of guys who actually knew each other at one point, though we never really did. You can be aware of someone your entire life and never know who they were.
Maybe he felt more comfortable with me because I had just spent over 30 minutes talking about myself on stage - so he got a lot of information, too much information, about me - two kids in college, divorced, dating woes, colonoscopy and sciatica as my safe word (though that last one was a joke, though a pretty good one, I might add). The point is - I downloaded a whole lot of new data to the "update from class of 1987" file. I can't say that we were on a level playing field, though. Did he have a safe word. Did he have his colonoscopy yet?
We bonded a little over our distaste for coming back to our small hometown and the almost pavlovian response we both had to it - ingesting more alcohol than we cared to admit.
"Are you here Wednesday?", he asked.
"I'm heading back to Philly but coming back for Thanksgiving so I should be"
"Every Wed before Thanksgiving - all the different classes meet at the sunset grille. It's a lot of fun. You should come by".
I didn't get the feeling he was suggesting that as a courtesy. He seemed genuine.
My first thought was "has this been going on since 1987 and I'm just learning about it now?" but I just thanked him instead. My second thought was "Did Gavin Sian just invite me to a party?" My third thought was "Is Amber Remsky going to be there?"
Immediately retreating back to the insecure kid I was all those years ago, I couldn't help but feel like this was a set up from a 1980s John Hughes movie where the geek thinks he got in with the cool kids but the joke's on him.
"Oh. cool , yeah definitely", I responded. though I knew that there was no way in hell I was going to be anywhere near the Sunset Grille that night.
In fact, I wasn't going anywhere in town Wednesday night, just to be safe. Trivial Pursuit and wine were just fine for me. The weird thing is I really liked him, or at least for those few minutes we talked. He just had a good energy about him. He had this "akuna matata" attitude even though I got the feeling he probably had been through some shit. But who hasn't at this point?
We were talking when my dad made it clear he was ready to leave. I gave Gavin and his older brother a bro hug and thanked them for coming to the show.
"Seriously - come by Wednesday", he reiterated before I left.
Oftentimes, I reflect on who I am friends with today - people I probably would never have predicted all those years ago. These are people that I doubt would have given me the time of day in high school, and to be fair, probably vice versa. And I love them fiercely.
I think it's great. I gain energy from meeting people that I connect with and learning about how different our paths were that brought us together to this very moment. There is something incredibly spiritual about that. I don't think this is something to be taken lightly. It's easy to relate when the first memory we have of each other is literally being created right then and there. There is no history. There is no memory. There is no imprinting of who they were to me or me to them or us to ourselves. It is virgin territory. There is only possibility.
However, it's much more difficult to attach when there is a familiarity with a past you rather forget - even if it resides only in your head. Had Gavin been sitting next to me on a plane and we had never known each other, we would enjoy a conversation, reflect afterward on how it made an otherwise uncomfortable flight pass by quicker, and even exchange contact information. But it just isn't that simple. At least not for me.
I see photos of him on Facebook at the Sunset Grille with friends of mine. I think that the same was true of some of these people - no particular history with each other, beyond than the fact that we were all born at the same time and lived in the same town. Why is this so easy for them?
All this time and I have never attended a high school reunion of any sort, though having been pushed by a few friends to go. Patrick called a faggot relentlessly during school, reveled in a photo he sent to me with his former tormentor; "me - with Danny Spagniolii! Weird, right?" What was I missing?
I am not bitter. I just can't imagine what that interaction would be like. What reflection we would share? Am I supposed to run into Shay Andros and say 'hey - Shay - it's me. Marc Kerachsky. Remember the guy you pushed into the locker after I announced I wanted to run for class president? Fun times...kids, right?"
I have a lot of shame that I carry with me to this day about high school. About being hated. Being bullied. Being left out but mostly about being scared, weak, and helpless. I can't put that on anyone but me now. But I also can't just find a place to fit into a homecoming of people I once knew almost 4 decades ago under different circumstances, most not of my own doing, just because we happened to share a zip code and birth year together.
This sounds melodramatic, I'm sure. The truth is that people are people and we have all lived and experienced a lot more life since high school. But maybe that's exactly why it does matter. Because I have lived an incredible life, as they have - good, bad, beautiful, ugly, tragic, and magical. And connections do matter. I can't bottle up the million synaptic moments that got me from there to here but they mean something. I am not that person from 1987 anymore and haven't been for a long time. Even though Gavin may recognize someone different, I don't. Not yet.