This post will be a little self-indulgent, as it will not touch on anything related to real estate, interest rates, or economics. It is inspired by my recent attendance at the 40th reunion of my eighth-grade class. Most people whom I’ve told about this event have been a little perplexed as to why we would have an 8th-grade reunion. I grew up in a small town of about 10,000 people in the suburbs of Chicago. It was a very close-knit community in which about one-quarter of the class (approximately 185 people in the class) went to school together at the same school from kindergarten through eighth grade. I was one of those people. My first change of school took place when I went to high school. We also tended to have relationships with many of the other people that matriculated in seventh grade to junior high as we would interact with them through sports, family, friendships and just growing up in the community. And while it’s much more common to have high school reunions, our graduating class had 1,100 people so it was far less close-knit than our 8th-grade class and correspondingly less meaningful.
I estimated that about 80% of the people of the attendees still lived in the area and I was one of the 20% that was not. Returning to where I grew up and reconnecting with so many who were with me during a very formative part of my life naturally conjured up a lot of thoughts, observations, feelings, and emotions from the weekend. And when I feel this way I often turn to music to help process them. Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, The Beatles, and one quote from Lou Reed were the ones that helped me in my reflection of it.
Let’s start with Bob Dylan and what he wrote in Tangled up in Blue:
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenter’s wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doing with their lives
I’ve always been intrigued by that part of the song. As I’ve reflected on my life and the people I grew up with I have periodically wondered how their lives unfolded. The reunion was an opportunity to fill in the blanks by reconnecting with people who I was involved with during a very formative period of my life. And so I’ll take a few minutes now to reflect on some of the people I caught up with somewhat akin to Billy Joel‘s song the Piano Man in which he introduces us to some very interesting characters he came across while he played piano night after night in a bar.
Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there’s someplace that he’d rather be
He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me”
As the smile ran away from his face
“Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place”
Now Paul is a real estate novelist
Who never had time for a wife
And he’s talkin’ with Davy, who’s still in the Navy
And probably will be for life
Let me first start with a picture.
This picture is priceless and one I will always treasure. The first one is from a Bar Mitzvah I attended in 1978. I’m second from the left and, of course, one of the shorter ones. Fast forward 41 years and to our pleasant surprise, all five of us were at an event the night before the reunion and the fourth person had the picture on his phone. With three of us living out of state, the fact that all five of us were there was extremely fortuitous. We naturally decided to replicate the picture with our much older (and hopefully wiser) selves. I think I am now the tallest one, edging out the person on the far right. As an aside, the one comment that was consistently conveyed to me was how surprised people were by how tall I was. The first picture shows why this was the case.
In a nod to Billy Joel here are some observations of people I reconnected with that I found to be interesting or humorous. I’m not providing their names in the very unlikely event some of the reunion participants are reading this.
W – Divorced with one daughter. Never remarried. I guess he too never had time for another wife after a very brief marriage at a young age. He’s extremely gregarious and fun and participates in variety shows as one of his hobbies. He and his siblings are at war with their stepmother over money. She is about 25 years younger than their recently deceased 92-year-old father. My friend’s father owned racehorses and W has been to the Kentucky Derby 21 times. He is contemplating moving to Los Angeles to be closer to his daughter. Quite selfishly I would love that.
E – Very successful in the hedge fund world with an emphasis on energy. We had a great conversation about the future of oil, Midland, TX, real estate, and interest rate trends. We concluded that we needed to spend a lot more time together. I told him I would probably never buy real estate in Chicago given the negative feedback loop of pension liabilities requiring hire taxes which leads to people leaving the area and state which necessitates higher taxes as the tax base erodes which leads to more people leaving. He said he will never invest another dime in Illinois. The home he has been in has probably lost money in the 20 years he’s owned it. I can’t verify if this happened but someone told me that they had heard that a fellow classmate confronted E about the trauma he caused him growing up and he needed therapy for it. If he was hoping for the big cathartic interaction that would start the healing process he was very disappointed as E supposedly laughed him off and told him to get over it. Oh well. Based on another conversation I had with someone it’s possible E caused such trauma as this other person told me that he lived near E and one day they were playing together and it came time for E wanting him to leave and rather than just asking him politely, he pulled out a BB gun and told him he was going to count to three and then he would fire at him so he better start running. The friend naturally thought he was joking but he soon realized he was not and he started to run. After he reached three, he fired the gun and shot him in the leg. Ouch…in more ways than one.
JS – A former hardass bully and now a good guy in real estate site selection for a major retailer. He made a blanket apology to a group of people for his behavior growing up.
S – Rock star at a major law firm. He is doing great.
JG – He hit a home run with a trading firm he founded. He thanked S for taking him on as a client as he said because of his experience taking other companies public or being bought out by private equity firms he was able to successfully navigate the buyout of his firm by a major brokerage.
D – He had a stroke in kindergarten. This was obviously so shocking and unusual and really my first introduction to a child having a stroke. Fast forward 24 years and the same thing happened to my son Jacob when he was two. The world works in mysterious ways. He has done so well in life as he was good friends with a very entrepreneurial person at the University of Illinois who went on to found a payroll company. D was an early employee and CFO. The company went public in 2014 and the stock has quintupled since then making the founder a billionaire and has enabled D to focus his time on philanthropy. He brought a trophy from one of our softball teams coached by my dad and another father. He also brought a postcard written to him by our kindergarten teacher during her summer break in 1971. It was so touching to read.
A – He owns two businesses. One is ski guiding for very adventurous people in Utah and the other is furniture related. He is also a musician who has written his own songs and plays in bars and coffee houses. He was a good classical piano player growing up and he also plays guitar. It was wonderful reconnecting with him as we spent a tremendous time together in our youth. Our dads coached our softball team for a few years.
AG – He speaks six languages and lives near a major midwestern university. He looks a lot like Bill Walton.
P- He is a golf pro who invented a new grip. He lives in Florida. He has led an extremely interesting life traveling early on with AG to India, Nepal, Japan, and other places. He met Danny Rifkin, the Grateful Dead’s manager, in India in the town where Buddha first preached.
JH – A newscaster in a western city for 17 years. He went to USC. He’s gay and he shared with me his relationship challenges. What a great guy. He is still the same jovial person.
JB – He died in his 20s from being electrocuted. It was only about 30 years later after attending this reunion that I learned more of the real story. He got married at a local courthouse to an immigrant who was not a citizen. Apparently he had some unusual turn-ons as he supposedly jury-rigged components from a clock radio to tie electrical wires to his private parts while watching porn. It obviously didn’t go well as it killed him. His wife supposedly found him the next day dead. B has questions about what really happened as she became a citizen by marrying him. I felt compelled to include his story in this blog post. A total of eight people have passed away from our class.
JF – He lives near me in California and has a very big job with one of the area’s cultural institutions. He’s a wonderful person and I hope to see more of him over time.
DM – He was great in math and worked in aerospace and then decided he wanted to fly jets and joined the air force. He recently retired from there after 26 years. He was a navigator because his eyesight wasn’t strong enough to be a pilot.
K – She is a Division President at a nutrition firm. She is married to an Israeli so we had a lot of notes to compare. She recently saw my 8th-grade girlfriend as they live very close to each other on the east coast. I was very impressed by K. She is very bright and has had a very successful career and she has hardly aged.
Earlier I mentioned The Beatles as a musical influence for this post, particularly in reference to In My Life, as it is one of the songs that my trip reminded me of. I had always thought of it as a nostalgic and beautiful song but after revisiting the lyrics in the wake of Roneet’s passing they really hit me in a different way, which is the beauty of the arts, especially poetry and music.
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life, I’ll love you more
I was so glad that I went to the reunion but also very happy that I chose the path I did away from there to California and ending up with Roneet. And even though I only have fond memories of where I grew up and it is such a beautiful and wonderful place with equally wonderful people, including some of my family, my life is in California as that is where Roneet and I met and built our lives, family, and careers together. It made me realize that the memories that I had were wonderful, but my life in California with her are my most wonderful ones which make the lyrics hit so close to home for me. I never realized that until revisiting them for this post. But once again, that is why art is so important.As Lou Reed said, “lyrics should challenge whatever preconceived notions that listener has.” Click To Tweet
It truly was a memorable weekend and one that I will cherish for reconnecting with so many from my past while also reinforcing how wonderful my life away from there turned out to be. My affection still remains for the people and the places of my youth, but in my life the direction I chose away from there is what I love more because of who I took the journey with.