Thursday, July 20, 2017

Here We Are Now

It's been nearly two years since we moved in with my mother in law, following her husband's passing.  So how's life in our new 'hood?  As usual, I've merely alluded to things about my current day-to-day.  This time we are in a very pleasant gated community bordered by a golf course.   I probably should be more specific, as entries such as this will be of great interest in a few years, after we've moved on to the next stage of life.

I sometimes go back and read about my time in past apartments. I find them invaluable. They really capture my state of mind.  I've composed posts as I was leaving one place, about to move into another.  There were many others before I ever started this blog.  At least one abode no longer exists, part of an ancient multiplex that was leveled for a higher priced living and retail space.  It was right down the street from a cool one screen movie theater that ran mostly independents but also showed THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW every weekend.  When the new tenants came in, they were none too pleased with the crowd that filled the streets in the wee hours, possibly re-enacting the movie right under their windows.

Another was a two room garage apartment I lived in several months after I graduated college, and after the break up of an engagement.  The only window was in the door.  It did have a decent bathroom.  There was this red floodlight in the ceiling that doubled as a heat lamp.  When you turned it on it bathed the room in what looked like a 1970s horror pic.

I had a roommate once.  That was the next place.  He was a youth leader and sometimes I would find teenagers asleep on the living room floor when I returned home late. He requested that I not keep beer in the fridge when they were coming.  A really great guy, a true mensch.  We keep in touch on Facebook.  He never married, and seems to be quite fulfilled.  He's about to move to St. Augustine.

In 1994 I hopped around from one ill-advised living situation to another: friend's mother's house, then the house in which my mother was working as a nanny, and the oddest of all, the house my grandmother had recently sold (to a woman at her church) after living there for over twenty years.  I was now paying rent for the same place I had spent much of my childhood, and later lived in during my senior year of college.  It was like some kind of strange joke.  There are many stories about all three places, most of which will never be recounted here.

Eventually, I moved in with my mother and grandmother (two separate apartments in the same complex) when I decided to go back to school.  Before that I had moved to Atlanta and NYC.  In between was a really cool place that was the second floor of a house. Spacious Florida room in front. Very nice wood flooring. Great location.  Kitchen sucked, though; you could barely turn around in it.

But here and now we are content in a spacious DiVosta floorplan, not quite thirty years old. We're saving some money.  Hopefully we are both a pleasant distraction and a blessing to my MIL.  You might think that such a living arrangement may have its red flags, and honestly, there are times when it's a bit restricting and difficult.  My wife and I are quiet people who don't require much, and sometimes MIL wants more extroversion and conversation on our part.  We do our best.  Sometimes the three of us eat dinner together. A great time to verbalize our blessings.

There is a pool.  I've been in it exactly once, after some schvitzy yard work.  It's silly - we always talk about but never use it.  We are always so tired.  We work very long hours during the week and by the weekend we're spent.  We have been doing a weekly couple's workout every Saturday morning.

The above picture was taken on the night of July 4th.  We had a nice, mellow holiday which began with cleaning the bathroom, then lunch and a movie, then strolling around our 'hood.  I stopped and thought about the stillness of the moment.  Visions and low rumbles of firework displays to the north and south (a few amateur shows close by).  It was so peaceful.  Even the humidity didn't bother me just then.  We were mostly silent during our walk - not awkward silence.  Contented. Blessed.  One of those calm moments you want to last forever.  Seeing the silhouette of my wife on the left of the picture (if you can in fact discern that it is a human shape) might inspire wonder for someone who wasn't there.  Who is this? What of her life? I do that with certain images.  The scene had to be captured, savored.  Looked back on months and years later.  A picture of serenity.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Searchers

When a viewer approaches a film that has long had an impossibly grandiose reputation, it's tempting to blame yourself when you reach the end of it and feel somewhat disappointed. Were the taste makers incorrect? Were you born too late? Are you cognitively deficient in some way?  I was concerned that this would occur with Johns Ford's 1956 classic THE SEARCHERS, so I put off seeing it for some time.  Critics and filmmakers have sung its praises since its original release.  David Lean, Martin Scorsese, and even Jean-Luc Godard were inspired.  So was Buddy Holly, who named a song after an oft repeated line.  But by the time John Wayne was seen as a silhouette in a doorway near the end, an image as iconic as it gets, my fears were proven entirely unfounded.  Long before, in fact.

Wayne and Ford worked together so many times I imagine some unspoken symbiosis existed between (even with reports of Ford's taunting of his star).  As Ethan Edwards, Wayne has perhaps his most complex role as a Confederate soldier who irritates the Texas Rangers by refusing to join them, among other grievances.  In his wanderings, Ethan fought with the Mexicans in their revolutionary war.   Edwards also possesses a cache of gold coins that may have been obtained under shady means.  

When Ethan's brother's family is attacked (some of them killed) by Comanche Indians, the wanderer joins forces with Ranger Captain Sam Clayton (Ward Bond) and his posse in pursuit.  Soon after, they are ambushed (more than once) by the Comanche and the searchers are down to Ethan and his adoptive nephew Martin (Jeffery Hunter).  Their campaign to locate Martin's missing sister Debbie (played by Lana and Natalie Wood at different ages) will stretch into several years, much to the dismay of a young lady named Laurie Jorgensen (Vera Miles), whose family housed the men for a time on their journey.

Eventually the men will learn that a brutal Comanche chief called Scar (Henry Brandon) has abducted Debbie and made her one of his wives.  In a plot point that apparently mirrors many true life stories, the now adolescent girl has adopted the ways of her clan.   Ethan's hatred of the Comanche will lead to a decisive moment between him and Martin, as the latter attempts to protect Debbie from both the Indians and his uncle.

THE SEARCHERS quite artfully explores the racism that seethed between the Indians and their quarry.  Both sides justifying their hate and vengefulness by atrocities committed upon them.  Both perhaps are justified. Each believes the other is unworthy of life. Ethan is tainted by character flaws and inconsistencies and is single minded in his belief that Debbie is better off dead than as an Indian.  Does Ford portray the Comanche unfairly or inaccurately? Is the tribe only taking back what was taken from them before?

Frank S. Nugent's screenplay (based on the novel of the same name by Alan Le May) also allows much implication: of the physical defilement of young woman absorbed into an Indian tribe, of how some relationships among the Edwards clan may not be what they at first seem, leading to more implications of the motivations of the main characters.

Much food for thought.  Maybe overly familiar to young viewers weaned on later movies that pay homage to this undisputed classic.  Some films lose a bit of their punch when admirers/filmmakers lift scenes and dialogue for their own classics.  Maybe I was born too late to get the full effect of Ford's film, though I still found it powerful and unforgettable.  Winton C. Hoch's cinematography is among the best of its era and is as much a reason for THE SEARCHER's status as anything else.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Boys From Brazil

SPOILERS!

I don't know how Ira Levin's best seller read on the page, but its 1978 adaptation THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL is quite the camp fest. A straight faced film with more laughs than many comedies of its time (and possibly since).  It might have been unavoidable.  The story involves the efforts of thoroughly loony Nazi physician Joseph Mengele, now based in South America, to create a new master race of Aryan children.

The raw materials are there for an effective meld of sci-fi, social drama, political drama, and thriller.  All of these elements are included in Heywood Gould's screenplay but intentionally or not this production readily embraces the sensational at every turn. Director Franklin J. Schaffner (PATTON) seems to have followed his worst instincts and ignored the sort of restraint he's exhibited in earlier pictures.  The blame also must fall, quite unfortunately, on its stellar cast, which includes Laurence Olivier as Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (obviously based on Simon Wisenthal) and Gregory Peck as Mengele.

Lieberman gets a call from an enthusiastic young Jewish man (Steve Guttenberg) who has been staking out Third Reichers, including Menegle, in Paraguay.  There is a devious plan of some sort brewing, the man exclaims to Lieberman's disbelieving ears.  The kid gets too close and loses his life.  When Lieberman eventually decides to investigate himself, his travels gradually reveal a complex plot involving murder, adoption, ova fertilization, and cloning that is explained in a lengthy scene with a university professor (Bruno Ganz).

This is all fascinating, and the idea that all of it could potentially occur will give many viewers pause, maybe even send the intended chill down one's spine.  There are some potent moments, but not enough to temper the plethora of laughs and overracting.  And yes, this would be courtesy of the leads.

Olivier sports a bizarre high pitched accent and flails around.  Peck, in a very uncharacteristic part, chews the scenery like never before, particularly during a Nazi ball.  Watching the great actor go ballistic on a woman ("You ugly bitch!") is both hilarious and depressing.  Then comes the finale, where the adversaries find themselves rolling on the floor in a lengthy fight.  I've read that the actors had trouble nailing this scene as they could not stop laughing at its absurdity. Then come the Dobermans, and things get pretty ugly.  And then one of the Nazi clone kids arrives, emitting a "Holy shit!" when he realizes just who is in his living room.  Of course, he then has to take lots of pictures.

THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL therefore is little more than a globetrotting potboiler with a glossy veneer.  The screenplay, filled with hysterical dialogue and racial slurs, could've easily been another '70s drive-in B movie.  Perhaps the subject attracted the world class actors.  Or maybe Olivier sought subsidization for an expensive rug he fancied.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Founder

If I saw a competitor drowning, I'd shove a hose down his throat.

Ray Kroc billed himself as founder of the McDonald's Corporation, but in fact was the guy who multiplied the franchises across the U.S. and eventually around the globe.  Maurice and Richard McDonald were the true founders, a pair of nice guys who, after several failed to mediocre businesses, hit upon a formula to deliver well prepared food, fast.  Their San Bernadino, CA restaurant became an almost immediate local smash.  They were meticulous in how the restaurant was designed, how employees moved around, station to station.  How much ketchup was on each properly flipped patty.  The place was immaculate. The menus were limited to hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes.   They cared about their employees.

Kroc was selling milkshake makers when he met the McDonald brothers.  Their demand for several of them was enough to bring the middle-aged salesman (with several failed ventures of his own) out to California to see what it was all about.  He is immediately smitten.  The employees were quick and accurate.  The wheels began to turn.  Kroc thinks big.  The brothers aren't so sure; their few attempts to expand lead to compromised standards in the other restaurants.  Kroc thinks he can maintain them in dozens of locations.  Maybe more.  Yeah, many more.

At first, he is as exacting and caring of the McDonald's paradigm as Mac and Dick.  He angrily raids locations that cater to hooligans who like to loiter and leave trash about.  Franchises that corrupt the menu with fried chicken and burritos.  But a man like Ray Kroc can forgive details in the name of expansion.  Soon, he is convinced that Insta-Mix powder tastes as good as a milkshake made with ice cream.  Refrigeration costs are a bear, after all.

When Kroc learns that true profit comes from ownership of the land on which those franchises sit....

2016's THE FOUNDER tells the McDonald's story soberly, in as straightforward a fashion as you would expect from director John Lee Hancock, who previously directed THE BLIND SIDE and SAVING MR. BANKS.  The screenplay is by Robert Siegel, who penned THE WRESTLER. His decision to tell this story from Kroc's point of view makes it all far more interesting and even complex.  It's an absorbing movie, utterly fascinating at times.  We get a fair amount of detail about the restaurant business and the legal machinations which entail.  Apparently Siegel pretty much stuck to the truth.  The story really didn't require any embellishment or contrivances.

That's all fine, but what really makes THE FOUNDER more than another standard issue biopic is Michael Keaton's performance as Raymond Albert Croc, a seemingly kindly, enthusiastic fellow who gradually reveals his teeth, his taste for the jugular.  His ambition takes him down those familiar dark roads of severed friendships, broken marriages, dishonored business contracts.  Keaton displays his trademark tics - the friendly cocked back head and endearing Pennsylvanian (though also slightly Midwestern) accent, but he also sports his ice cold game face - sullen cheeks and coal black pupils, when his empire grows.  We've seen that visage morph in his other roles, comedic and dramatic, from NIGHT SHIFT to CLEAN & SOBER to BIRDMAN, and here it personifies the unrepentance of a hard business (but not necessarily a bad?) guy.  One who many would simply call a good capitalist who saw a golden opportunity and ran with it.

John Carrol Lynch and Nick Offerman lend their own quietly effective notes respectively to Maurice and Richard, perfectly embodying the American spirit of persistence, hard work and sweat ethics. Oh, and honesty (cough).  But where does that hard work lead?  Kroc was a tireless worker too, and uses a motivational speech record as his driver.  Both Lynch and Offerman give their real life counterparts a sort of sad humility that basically underlines the "Nice Guys Finish Last" cliche.  Their final scene, as they watch their old sign come down, is quite poignant. 

In the closing moments of THE FOUNDER, Kroc is seen several years after his first meeting with the McDonald brothers,  rehearsing a speech he will give to California governor Ronald Reagan.  He pauses when he comes to that part where he declares himself as the founder.  Is there some regret? Some, any bit of humanity?  Will your Big Mac be a little less satisfying after you watch this movie?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Baby Driver

I remember hearing that frantic rock instrumental (with periodic yodels) "Hocus Pocus" by the band Focus while riding the school bus sometime in the mid 1970s.  Vivid recollections of our hippie-ish driver speeding over a gigantic pothole on Belvedere Road, sending us off our seats like rag dolls.  She had a transistor radio on the dashboard, forever cranking out Me Decade rock 'n' roll.  It was probably my first exposure to such music, and that this occurred during episodes of reckless stunt driving is a fitting precursor to my appreciation of this summer's BABY DRIVER, a film that marries the excitement of a great tune with deft tire squealing.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an ace getaway driver for a criminal mastermind named Doc (Kevin Spacey) who employs disparate bands of volatile criminals to pull off various heists.  Baby is taunted by his far more hardened team members for his youth, his habit of not taking much, and constant use of an iPod.  Baby has had tinnitus since childhood, when a car accident took the lives of his parents, and the music effectively masks the offending high pitched ringing.  As an audiologist, I'm aware of FDA approved sound therapies that Baby could use instead, but that music doesn't work as well when throttling at top speed through the streets of Atlanta after a robbery.  Thundering tracks by the likes of The Damned, Queen, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in fact are quite necessary for Baby's impressive stick shifting away from the law.  When he loses his iPod in the aftermath of a heist gone wrong, he struggles to find something workable on FM radio.  Haven't we all?

It seems that Baby, who lives with his deaf, elderly foster father, never wanted to be involved in the underworld, but he's still paying on an old debt to Doc.  When Baby meets a cute, music loving waitress named Debora (Lily James, interestingly reminiscent of Madchen Amick when she was on the original Twin Peaks), his incentive to leave the life increases.  In fact, there's even the promise of that infamous "final job" after which Baby can quit the business for good and drive west on I-20 into the sunset with his new friend.  But as any filmgoer knows, if "you're in", exits are hard to come by.  At least one that doesn't involve a body bag.

BABY DRIVER is writer/director Edgar Wright's loving homage to the movies, and not just the obvious influences.  He has cited THE DRIVER as one.  Of course for the thrilling chases. Wright mounts some truly nail biting, wildly exciting and imaginative pursuits.  Real stunts, not computer generated.  Makes a huge difference.  The FAST AND FURIOUS movies by contrast look like heightened Grand Theft Auto video game sessions, with absurdly over the top crack ups. There's no investment (in characters or otherwise) in that.   What makes an effective chase scene is the adrenaline of great editing and stunt choreography but also a sense that someone could really get hurt or killed.  Add some choice pop/rock songs and you have pure cinema.

You've seen it all before, but having the music be so integral to the plot makes it all seem original and fresh.  The film has a massive, well selected soundtrack.  The rhythms and beats also sync with the action onscreen in ways that will take multiple viewings to truly catch.  There is a lot of detail in this movie; the opening title sequence alone is a treasure of clever visuals. What is also distinguishing is how sweet and downright moral the movie is.  Baby is a decent kid who is concerned about others, including innocent bystanders, and Debora does not turn out to be some femme fatale in a tired plot twist.  Seeing genuine folks (who are not angelic dolts) as protagonists in a film like this is increasingly rare.  They are not boring.  And they're just so danged likeable.  Almost like Clarence and Alabama in TRUE ROMANCE.  A certain innocence in a cesspool of peril.

Having actors Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, and Eliza Gonzalez play such menacing, fearsome lowlifes makes a beautiful counterpoint to our heroes.  Hamm in particular plays a character that is surprisingly complex.  Spacey almost steals the movie with his wily performance, a man who can be fatherly and then deadly at the drop of a dime.

"Hocus Pocus" is one of  those cool tunes on the BABY DRIVER soundtrack, but curiously is used during a chase on foot.  Its nervous energy suits the moment, much like it did when I wondered if my elementary school self would live to see adolescence as we bounced around West Palm Beach back in the day. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Right Stuff

1983's THE RIGHT STUFF is to my eyes an undisputed American classic.  A film that deserves rank with many revered pictures of earlier decades, even vintage Hollywood.  But unlike many of those films, it dares to be critical of its fabled humans, a group of "flyboys" who represent the U. S. of A.  This movie ain't no nationalist propaganda, the sort that might've been seen in the 1940s.   It boldly takes the image of the squeaky clean patriot to task.  To look behind the curtain, but without bringing it down.

The three plus hour film is based on Tom Wolfe's sprawling book, and paring it down must've been daunting.  There's some interesting history behind the screenwriting - William Goldman's script was rejected by director Philip Kaufman for being "too patriotic", and not featuring enough of Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to go supersonic and break the sound barrier.  Yeager was not among the astronauts who would later orbit space.  NASA wanted college grads, part of the image. War hero Yeager was a hot shot Major at Edwards Air Force Base, inspiring the likes of Air Force captains Gordo Cooper (Dennis Quaid) and Gus Grissom (Fred Ward), those considered to have the right stuff.  Chuck remained there while the others got the press.

THE RIGHT STUFF follows the astronauts, which included Marine John Glenn (Ed Harris) and Navy man Alan Shepherd (Scott Glenn), who are put through their paces with rigorous, sometimes humiliating (note the enema bag scene) physical tests to confirm their right stuff.  It is during these scenes that the film most obviously reveals its sense of humor, its lighthearted point of view. Much of the film has this tone.   This is not a dark, cynical movie, though many jabs at the media are present -news reporters are shown to be like wolves, scaling fences and the like. Future president LBJ is also hardly shown in a favorable light.   The Space Race against Russia was an anxious time for America, and policymaker and engineer alike are painted somewhat broadly, perhaps accurately.

Where does that leave the astronauts? None are ever shown to be angelic, and that is another reason why this is a great piece of work.  They ARE portrayed as real, flawed, perhaps studies in arrested development who succumb to narcissism, saving face, celebrity, and being juvenile.  But Wolfe and Kaufman perhaps make the point that it is such a rambunctious spirit, albeit pardoxically, that makes our land great, that pushes the boundaries to move forward.  At times the men do exhibit what might be seen as heroism, not just in flight but, as an example, in a refusal to do an LBJ interview.

THE RIGHT STUFF is grand entertainment -epic, sweeping in the grand tradition but never becomes pompous, self-important, or boring. Bill Conti's energetic score is never too much.  It's celebratory and revealing.  A championing of the individual and team spirit alike, though perhaps favoring the former.

And so by film's close, there's Yeager, still out at Edwards, still trying to break records ("that nobody cares about") within the Earth's atmosphere while the golden boys are wined and dined and watch a feathered dancer.  He'll push the new NF-104A up 12,000 feet, seeing the edge of space, only to suffer a scorched blow back down to Earth.  But he makes it, not yet joining those before him in memoriam on that old barroom wall.  He too had the right stuff.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

30

My thirtieth high school reunion.  I had to let those words sink in.  They hit me last Saturday night, in the parking lot of the Singer Island Hilton.  It was actually early Sunday morning.  As I walked to my car, I recalled Project Graduation, an alcohol and drug free celebration on the football field on graduation night, 1987.  I had stayed till 3:30 A.M. or so.  I tiredly walked off the field and up through those old outdoor concrete halls, out to the front of the campus and then homeward (I had no car at that time) without even a hint of sadness or regret.  I was ready to move on.

Funny what time does to your psyche.  I skipped my ten year reunion but became more intrigued with the whole idea later on.  The 20 was overall an OK experience but hardly a confirmation that I had missed anything prior.  The 25 was far better.  You can read about those on this blog.  The 30 had been discussed on Facebook for the past few years.  I was tired of it before it even happened.  Sort of like a Presidential election and its long campaigning trails. The 25 was quite satisfying.  It ended on such a good note I did not want to taint it with some awkward epilogue.   Honestly, much of life feels that way.

My closest hs buds sent me texts and messages months earlier.  Was I going? Yeah, sure.  Mainly 'cause they were.  I had no expectations this time out.  It felt more like an obligation.  There was a fair amount of guilt, too; many of these folks live locally, and I hadn't taken time to see (a majority of) them in five years.  For shame.  I feel less social with each passing year.  I do love and care for people, but I find I am much happier, more energized when I am with just my wife, or a few friends or family members.  Forced social interaction is deadly and just plain silly to me.  But...you never know what effect you may have on someone.

Earlier this week on Facebook I read a nicely worded summary of the past weekend.  This was from a guy who graduated one year earlier than me.  The Class of '86 had some miscommunications and their 30th didn't happen.  He and his wife flew from Washington state to attend our party, which as with the 25th was spread over three evenings (I was unable to attend the first night, a meet and greet at the hotel bar).

So Saturday night, after the festivities? A few of us went out for a snack and some quieter conversation and someone asked: "What did you think of the reunion?" The first thing that came into my mind was that this was asking me what I think of football, sunsets or video games. I.E. so much to like I'm not sure where to start, but I will now attempt to provide a deeper answer. As Ingrid said, it's not the venues, decorations, music or other accoutrements that made this a success though all were excellent. The chance to see old friends combined with family was terrific. Better yet is when someone whose time in HS was a little rocky and who stayed mostly out of touch for 25 years can come back, to a celebration largely focused on another class, even, and feel like they never left. Better still is when my darling better half, who went to high school 2000 miles away and had her own dramas from that era can come along and be made to feel like one of the gang. Best of all is when I can feel instantly connected to people that maybe I didn't know or wasn't the best of friends with, recognize how far each of us has come and make new friendships with folks I didn't know at all. Thanks to everyone who was involved in this incredible experience. 

I was one of those who joined him for "a snack and some quieter conversation".  I had met him once or twice during high school.  Was I part of his warm feelings? I like to think so. Despite an increasing (and yes, liberating) apathy as to whether people like me or not, I try my darndest to be open and friendly.  It's risky - sometimes you're met with rejection or even hostility.  I know how it feels on both sides.  That this new friend felt welcomed by his juniors speaks well of the social dynamics of the reunion.  

Oh, there was still some cliquishness to be observed.  The popular ones still sat together on the Friday night trolley ride and at the Saturday night semi-formal.  But I saw and experienced more interaction among everyone.  People do grow up and learn how to associate with others outside their old strata.  Most, anyway.  We had about fifty to sixty (out of a class of about four hundred twenty five) attendees.  Maybe most of the bona fide high school meanies didn't show.  Ah, a few did, but were cordial.  Or just drunk?

The trolley took us downtown for a pub crawl.  Bars with which I've long been familiar transformed into a temporary surreality.  We climbed several flights of stairs to a rooftop bar.  Many joked we were all too old for that.  The trolley ride was raucous, with '80s tunes blaring into distortion and several open containers.  A can of beer rolled up and down the aisle.  I'm sure the driver was elated when the night ended.  But before that, we had dinner and watched a band at my classmate's Greek restaurant.  It too was a bit noisy.  While waiting in line for the bathroom, I was asked by the belly dancer what sort of crowd we were: aggressive, rowdy?  Fire was a big part of her show and she seemed concerned.  I assured her, and there were no incidents.

There were several late coming surprise guests that night, including a guy who was always quite gifted at getting into trouble. I got into some with him back in junior high.  His father is one of my patients now, something that amuses all three of us to no end; I used to hang out at their house. Even more amusing is that my old friend now has a responsible job as an archivist.  

The next evening was a very low key dinner with OK food and a nice slide show.  Seeing old photos can be both hilarious and depressing, for multitudes of reasons.  The tables were decorated with Rubiks cubes, cassette tapes, Trivial Pursuit cards, and reading glasses. There was music, but no one danced.  The two ladies who worked extremely hard to organize the reunion were given plastic tiaras and wands, and lots of well deserved accolades.  One of them did her organizing all the way from Arizona.  

I could go on.  There's always so much to say about these things.  I had some good catch-up with my closest old high school friends, and even some quality time with those of whom I wasn't as friendly back in the day (a few dating back to elementary school).  It was a good time, but ultimately, as always, it evaporated moments after it concluded.

But that someone felt so welcomed and included is quite rewarding.  One never knows what encouragement you can give someone when you reluctantly drag yourself to that umpteenth gathering, be it a church social or even your thirtieth high school reunion.