From My Post Road Window / Nicholas Troilo

Shallow Hal

I wanted to be ready.

Over the past few months I have spent at least two mornings a week in the gym. I dropped 25 pounds; knocked 8 inches off my waist and hips; reduced my suit size to 43R.

I built muscle definition. My biceps no longer look like bread dough; my deltoids are noticeable and, although I don't have "abs like Jesus," I've got a flat stomach and the potential for a beach-worthy six pack. I need maybe a year's worth more of two or three workouts a week to build the body that I want to call me.

I had my hair cut two weeks ago. I hate the just cut look. The ladies at Williams and Warren did a job on my eyebrows. I had a manicure.

I just leased a new Mercedes -- the poor man's C300 model -- still I feel good behind the silver star. I packed my Hugo Boss suit; my favorite Brooks Brother's tie, my best dress shoes and a pair of new "slim fit" black Calvin Klein jeans that fit me fine.

When I looked in the mirror I saw a modestly affluent Fairfield County guy who I could mistake for Hugh Jackman or at least a slightly older George Clooney. I was ready. I was ready for the 50th reunion of the Class of 1960 of Reading Central Catholic High. I mean, I WAS READY.

In high school, I was, well, sort of, well, sort of a nothing. I had a few friends. I dated a few girls. I didn't play any sports. I never ran for a slot on the student government. I would not have been elected if I had. I didn't make the National Honor Society. I got just OK grades. I didn't play a musical instrument. I wasn't in the band. I wasn't in the school play. I joined the popular school boys' chorus for just one year. I didn't belong to any clubs other then the German Club because I had to join the German Club for the language course. I wasn't a Key Club member.

There was nothing about me that could make me popular or interesting. I was a poor kid who lived in a poor, Italian ghetto neighborhood of the city. I had clean clothes but no sense of style. In my senior year I shared my sister's '54 Plymouth. It was a two-toned brown Valiant and had push button drive -- not exactly the car Frankie Avalon would drive to take Annette Funicello to the junior prom. Mostly, I took the city bus to school in the morning and I walked the 12 or 13 blocks home usually alone.

But I had become a much different man than I was a high school boy and I was determined at the 50th reunion of Central Catholic High School to reflect the new me. But I didn't. Instead I showed up as Shallow Hal.

After the first enthusiastic hug and the first "Nickie, you look great," I fell right into that familiar Fairfield County cocktail party malaise. I know I didn't ever say the words but I am sure my attitude said, "I know you can't wait to hear all about me." I blabbed about myself and I genuinely believed that I was interesting.

In truth, I didn't realize how my ego had captured my soul until late in the evening when my wife poked me. "Are you running for mayor of your old hometown?" she asked. "Why?" I asked. "You're working the crowd as if you have something at stake," she said.

That's when I began to listen. And when I did, I discovered that the men and women of my old high school class were a pretty interesting group. More interesting then me. Their lives, like mine, had its ups and downs. They raised kids and their kids now have kids. Few moved far beyond our old hometown and some who did returned when they started post-retirement careers. I could sense that comfortable feeling about being in a place that you can call a long-time home. I lived in six different places since I left my hometown and I was jealous of how cozy everyone seemed. They knew the facts of each others lives and they invited me back into their's with ease.

I don't know how many of my 1960 high school classmates I will ever see again. Already, 50 of my classmates have died. But I know when there is a chance to meet again, I'll make a different effort to be ready. I wasn't much of a man as a high school boy. And today I am a much different man then I was back then. My class reunion changed me more -- no more shallow Hal.

I wonder if anyone noticed that George Clooney looks like me. That's not being shallow. That's just an old man still thinking he can flirt like a high school teenage boy -- and remembering 1960 at Reading Central Catholic High.