Real Class

It felt strange and familiar at the same time.

The bustle, the crowd, the jumbled noise of several dozen people talking at once, these I knew. Even the faces in the crowd were much the same as they had been.

But that had been 20 years ago. Now, it seemed like every third “hello” required a flip through the mental Rolodex.

“Hi, Scott!”

“Hi ….” (Flip, flip, flip.) “Hi, Justin! Man, you haven’t changed at all!”

Yeah, it was reunion time for Big Blue, the Longmont High class of ’91. Some of us had kept in touch. A lot of us weren’t quite sure what to expect. I mean, the last time we’d been together, LHS was still a football dynasty, had no freshmen, hadn’t yet rebuilt the school down to the smallest floor tile.

Facebook helped, of course. We had some idea of what to expect. Still, what if we had nothing in common face-to-face? Worse yet, what if the memories were too strong – if some of the jealousies and cliques that make up the teenaged life had survived?

For me, high school had been a huge improvement over the bullying and harassment of my seventh and eighth grade years. But I’d still been in an odd spot. A nice guy, but no one’s boyfriend; around, but not really in. Even with a lot of close friends in choir and drama, even with my work on the school newspaper bumping me up against segments I wouldn’t have normally known, it still sometimes felt like I was on the edge, looking in.

Maybe every teen feels that way, that perception that everyone else has it down and you’re the one who’s awkward. After all, what context do you have?

But 20 years later, I didn’t feel I was at the edge anymore.

I felt like I was at the crossroads.

The friendships were still there. The awkwardness was mostly gone. Any invisible walls seemed to be a lot lower than I remembered. And I suddenly realized why.

We had nothing to prove.

In high school, you’re still trying to define yourself, still trying to build who you are. All of us had had 20 years to work on who we were – and in some cases, to rework on it, if the result wasn’t looking so good.

We’d found our places. For most of us, it seemed pretty good.

There was the wild and crazy guy who’d settled down to become a marine biologist in Hawaii.

There was the former school newspaper editor, now a minister back East.

I already knew that one of my oldest friends had become a brilliant photographer up in Denver. But I didn’t know about the one working in the Middle East … or the one designing city parks … or the one who’d  become a working actor and playwright, grabbing hold of his dream with both hands.

The picnic may have been the best part – the chance to see the fathers and mothers and grownups we’d become, as kids bustled around the place, playing with each other as we once had.

One of my classmates – the playwright and actor – put it best.

“I always kind of knew this, but I realized it in spades yesterday,” he wrote on Facebook. “We had a nice graduating class. … (S)omething was in the water by the time we all hit 16, because you’re all still awesome.”

Yeah. I guess we are.  Friends then. Family now.

Not  a bad experience at all.

Even if it did leave us feeling Blue.

The Luckiest Number

 There aren’t many folks who’ll welcome a 13 into the house.

Our city’s planners didn’t. Why do you think we have Mountain View Avenue?

Garth Brooks didn’t. The man once skipped directly from track 12 to track 14 on a CD, filling the 13th with a few seconds of applause.

Baker’s dozens, skipped hotel floors … the list goes on and on. Call it superstition. Call it tradition. Call it seriously unwanted.

At least, until it reaches my doorstep.

At Chez Rochat, the big 1-3 is more than welcome. Come on in. Make yourself comfortable. Come back anytime.

After all, how many people are going to turn down a 13th wedding anniversary?

That’s right. On July 25, 1998, a skinny young man with hair that would not stay down said “I do” to a kind and beautiful lady and heard her answer back. Well, mostly heard her, over his own hyperventilating.

These days, the hair has shed, the waist has spread, and the breath has reached a more regular rhythm. But the love has remained the same. And with every passing year, I’m reminded just how fortunate we are.

Well, maybe fortunate’s not exactly the word. Every marriage takes a lot of work, ours no less than any. But every time I see a friend blink and congratulate us as though we’d just hit the diamond anniversary, I can’t help feeling there’s been a little bit of luck, too.

I’ve been lucky to find a woman who would stay calm during her husband’s epileptic seizure. Who smiles at his rampant geekery and tolerates his reporter’s schedule. Who hasn’t yet executed him for leaving his tennis shoes in the middle of the living room.

Given her own soapbox, I guess Heather might say the same about a husband who held back her hair when Crohn’s disease turned her stomach upside down, or who greeted her Sailor Moon fixation with an amused grin, or who nodded and said “Yes, dear,” when she adopted a small army of birds to join our parakeet Sharpie. (Yes, the Rochats now have their own air force.)

But luckiest of all has been that we both believe in this. That we understand a marriage is more than just “a wedding and the other stuff.” That there are fun days and hard days, but no days that aren’t worth trying just one more time.

In a society of seven-year itches, maybe that’s the best fortune of all.

On our wedding day, my grandma gave the two of us a bit of advice. “If you can make it past the first 30 years,” she said, smiling, “the rest is easy.”

There’s a long time left to 30. But standing here at 13, it doesn’t look so imposing as it did. Not here at this point, where, as Heather puts it, our marriage feels both brand new and as though it had always been.



Call it what you will. But it’s definitely not a wrong number.

Growing Ivy

My niece Ivy is one year old.

Let me try that again.

My niece Ivy is one year old.

It still doesn’t seem possible.

Oh, I know it’s not just possible. It’s inevitable. But it still seems strange. A year ago, she was this cute and wrinkly little being who had escaped her mother’s body in record time. Now she’s this cute and far less wrinkly little being with bright  hair, a bright smile and a crawling pace to match her little Ferrari shirt.

Ivy passed the milestone on Monday. Probably in fifth gear. And it looks even faster one time zone away, as I follow her progress through picture after picture from Kirkland, Wash. Nine months ago, I was dangling keys in front of her face to stop her from crying. At this rate, it may only be another nine before we’re hiding the keys to stop her from driving.


Why do we always say that?

Maybe because it makes us look at ourselves again. Most of us, I’ve noticed, have a magic age that we mentally locked onto long ago. For me, even though I know darn well I’m 38, my mind froze time somewhere around 25, when I got married. Anything that’s a reminder of being past that point comes as a minor shock.

Babies are a constant reminder.

They can’t help it. Every day it’s something new. Opening eyes, learning to stand, nearly pulling the drawer of a end table onto themselves. You have to watch every single second or you’ll miss something – probably something that will go straight off the carpet and into their mouths.

Ivy has become 365 times older than she was the first time I saw her picture. She’s four times older than when I first saw her face. There’s room for a lot of change there.

And it forces everyone – moms, dads, uncles, aunts and more – to notice the changes in themselves as well.

The good news is, for a lot of us, it comes with its own cure.

No, I’m not the dashing (ha) young man just out of graduate school and just into newspapers. Thirteen years has stolen hair, added inches, accumulated stories and stress. But to a young lady in Washington (and another one in Arvada, and a young man in Johnstown), I’m one of the most fascinating people in the world.

She’s not going to see the changes that sometimes bother me. Not for a long time to come. What she’s going to see are the friends and the family who love her very much and can’t wait for the next step.

And that, dear Ivy, will never change.

Happy birthday.

Forgoing Fargo

 Anyone got a 49-star flag handy?

We might need it. Send it by way of North Dakota. Assuming there is a North Dakota, that is.

No, the entire state didn’t fall into a black hole, though I admit that can be hard to tell around mid-January. Instead, it ran headfirst into its own 1889 state constitution – the same constitution that somehow failed to require an oath of office for the governor.

Legislators, yes. Judges, yes. Executive officers, no. And for 16 years, state resident Jon Rolczynski has argued that that means North Dakota isn’t a legal state.

“When I found the flaw, I was having dinner with a friend,” he told “I called him over and said ‘Look at this! They forgot the word executive!’”

This year, the state – or whatever it is – agreed a fix was needed. So, next spring, voters up there will get the chance to clean things up. And yes, there have been numerous wise guys online asking to vote it down and confirm its non-state status. (How things would be better by being a U.S. territory without congressional representation they don’t quite explain, nor how North Dakota would go about refunding decades of farm subsidies and other federal payments even if this did put them outside the U.S. somehow. Details, details.)

As for me, two things come to mind. The first is that we finally seem to be fulfilling an old campaign pledge of Dave Barry’s, to sell off one of our extra Dakotas to help the budget deficit.

The second is that once again, we get to see the value of copy editors.

Copy editors are the vital folks that keep the news readable. They’re a little like mine detectors: When they do their job right, you never know they’re there. If they miss something … boom.

That’s when public affairs become “pubic affairs.”

Or when President Lincoln suddenly delivers a speech in 1964 instead of 1864. (AAA World not only acknowledged the error, it ran a photo of Lincoln appearing with the Beatles as a poke at itself.)

Or when no fewer than seven mistakes appear in an obituary of Walter Cronkite, including the wrong dates for the moon landing and the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It goes beyond news, of course. About five years ago, a comma was misplaced in a Canadian telecommunications contract. The difference in meaning cost Rogers Communications around $2 million.

Small things make a big difference.

Not a bad life lesson, for that matter. If more of us paid attention to the small things – little courtesies, minor maintenance, seemingly tedious busywork – the big things might never be a concern.

It’s when we fail to pay attention to life that we end up working ourselves into a state.

Or, in the case of North Dakota, working ourselves out of one.

Backup Brain

  It sounds like a tabloid headline: The Internet Ate My Brain!

But that’s more or less what a new study comes down to. It claims that constant exposure to the Net has changed the way we think and especially the way we remember. After all, why bother trying to recall an obscure piece of information if a Google search can find it in five seconds?

“When people expect to have future access to information,” notes the report by Betsy Sparrow, Daniel Wegner and Jenny Liu, “they have lower rates of recall of the information itself, and enhanced recall instead for where to access it.”

Or, as the saying goes, there’s what I know and what I know how to look up. And given the chance, we tend to rely on the second.

And really, that’s not all that new.

Ask any married couple.

You know what I mean. Marriage confers a lot of benefits – a loving partner, a faithful friend, a chance to eat food that doesn’t come out of a colorful cardboard freezer box – but one of the greatest may be that it provides you with a second brain. This is invaluable when your original factory-issued cerebellum breaks down on a matter of crucial importance.

“Hon, what’s the name of the older guy in Sense and Sensibility? You know, the one we really like?”

“Alan Rickman?”

“Thank you.”

My parents are the all-time champs at this. They can keep a volley going for minutes at a time, rifling each other’s minds until they come up with the correct answer – or at least, an answer they can both agree on.

“Isn’t he the guy who was in …”

“No, I know who you’re thinking of. That’s the guy from the movie last week.”

“No, the guy in the movie last week was the one in that comedy, the one with the college student.”

“That wasn’t a guy, that was Emma Thompson.”

“No, the one WITH Emma Thompson.”

“Right, which is the one from …”

Major international summits have involved less discussion.

Really, for most of us, it’s a lot like searching the Net. You know you could find the answer in a book. There’s a good chance the book will be more accurate. But searching the backup brain is convenient. It’s familiar. And it only occasionally results in having to sleep on the couch.

If there’s any danger in the march of technology at all, it’s that we might have even less reason to talk to our spouses than before. As if 24-hour sports channels hadn’t done enough damage.

It sounds a lot like this move I saw once.

You know the one?

It had this guy …

The Greatest Show on Earth

Dinner was over at the Hargett house. Now it was time for the floor show.

Elizabeth and Ashleigh, my wife’s grade-school sisters, sang and danced with all their might. Lyric sheets sat before them on the living room floor, sometimes intensely studied for a second or two before the singers rejoined the song on the stereo.

“Whoo!” “All right!”

Earlier, they had been talk-show hosts with the same fervency, giving each of us the World’s Silliest Interview as a monitor-mounted camera recorded it all for posterity. (“What’s your favorite color?” “Blue.” “Wrong!!!”) Still earlier, they had been infomercial hosts, selling a torn office chair and other products for gazillions of dollars.

I smiled and laughed and cheered them on. And remembered. Oh, yes, remembered.

In a very real sense, that was my sisters and me out there all over again.

When we were kids, Leslie, Carey and I put on more impromptu variety shows than the Muppets.  Sometimes for my parents. Sometimes for our grandma. Very occasionally, it was just for each other and the eyes of a few dozen admiring stuffed animals.

Record albums were the most common prop. Not exactly titles off the Billboard 100, either. A Li’l Orphan Annie fitness album (“Feeling Good With Annie”) may have been the most used, starring one sister as Annie, myself as Daddy Warbucks and a babysitter as “Professor Fitness.”

This was deathless entertainment, mind, especially when Professor Fitness accused Daddy of being “Flabby, flabby, flabby!” As my own frame was spindly, spindly, spindly, the show quickly reached the levels of high comedy – though not nearly the bladder-opening levels of hilarity achieved by my sisters and their Strawberry Shortcake disco album.

Yes, really.

It went beyond musical extravaganzas, mind.  Often way beyond.

Sometimes it would be skits, with the scripts either checked out from a library or made up five minutes in advance. (Our combination of A Christmas Carol with the characters of Star Wars lives on in my mind for some reason.)

Sometimes it would be self-developed games like Commercials – do a 60-second spot on a random “product” – or Channel Changers, where each person had to jump in with an overlapping radio show, every time the dial was re-tuned.

And of course, there was no missing the Christmas Eve Fashion Show ™, featuring the latest in pajamas unwrapped by us just 45 seconds before.

It was wild. It was weird. And I think it was a big part of why we grew up the way we did.

No, not in need of psychiatric assistance.

There was always a chance for that moment in the footlights. In the end, it didn’t even really matter what the moment was. We were having fun. We were learning confidence and creativity. We were developing decidedly odd senses of humor.

We were being a family.

Those are the best moments of all. The ones that build the mental photo album and remind everyone, then and years down the road, just how lucky they were to have each other.

It might not be ready for Broadway.

But it’s not too shabby, shabby, shabby.

Foregoing The Honor

News-flash! Adolf Hitler de-honored by Austria town!

Which might mean more if, you know, Adolf Hitler were still alive.

Or if anyone could remember whether he’d received the honor in the first place.

Yes, it’s that strange. The town of Braunau, Austria, the area where the infamous Nazi dictator was born, has revoked Hitler’s honorary citizenship. There’s no record as to whether it actually granted him one, but by jingo, they’re taking it back!

It’s actually part of a trend among Austrian towns these days. One by one, each has been symbolically stripping him of any honors that didn’t automatically expire at his death in 1945. In dubious cases … well, better safe than sorry, right?

In other news, the United States will be removing Al Capone’s membership in the AAA auto club. I mean, there’s no proof that he belonged, but you can’t be too careful. And John Gotti, your Reader’s Digest book club membership is on notice.

I won’t say it’s an entirely meaningless gesture. How and if a society remembers someone can be important. Nobody wants to be the town with the Joseph Stalin High School or the Bernie Madoff Civic Auditorium, after all. Heck, it hasn’t been that long since Longmont had its own debate over Chivington Drive, named for a hero of the Civil War battle of Glorieta Pass – and the leader of the infamous Sand Creek Massacre two years later.

But at a certain level, memory only matters so much. (Especially when you don’t quite remember what you’re remembering.) What matters is what you do going forward.

Imagine for a second that I was the biggest bully in my high school. (Well, make that “most notorious bully” – I was about 145 pounds soaking wet my senior year.) Imagine that I left so many hurt lives and bruised bodies that today, 20 years down the line, Longmont High School decided it wanted to apologize. As a symbolic gesture, my name is taken off the old roster of the school newspaper and removed from the programs of school plays. The school even – gasp! – rescinds the letter I received for choir.

But if it does nothing for the kids suffering from bullies now, they may as well have spent their time and energy replacing the carpet instead.

It’s great that the towns of Austria want to symbolically spit in the Fuhrer’s face. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. But how much are they, or any of us, ready to act against today’s villains, today’s evils, today’s prejudices? How readily will we stand up against the selfish and the sinister before they’re 66 years in the grave?

That’s the real history test. And it’s the one later generations  will levy against us.

Assuming, of course, it hasn’t been filed with the citizenship documents.

Accio Memories

It’s time again for the world to go to Potter. Just once more.

If you’ve been keeping track, you know the final Harry Potter movie debuts in London on Thursday. If you haven’t been keeping track but have small children, you likely know just how many days, hours, minutes and seconds remain until its local opening – with regular updates.

It’s the end of an era. A rather exciting one.

How often, after all, do kids spend  almost 15 years getting jazzed about a literary idol?

Yes, I’m a bit of a fan myself. I like J.K. Rowling’s combination of broad humor and tender heart. I like what she has to say about love, about friendship, about sacrifice and self-discovery.  I like how she takes the wish-fulfillment most adolescents have – this isn’t my real family, I was born to something special – and shows how even when it comes true, it’s not free.

But even if I’d never read a page, I think I would love her anyway.

I spent four years in college working in a bookstore. Among kids, our most popular books by far were the Goosebumps series, the juvenile horror series by R.L. Stine. They weren’t exactly great literature – OK, they were literary chewing gum – but they went off the shelves almost as quickly as they came in.

For that, I loved them.

You see, reading isn’t a natural instinct. It’s a trained habit. It requires a curious mix of impatience and dedication that’s almost foreign to a video-game mindset, the eagerness to dive through a story and the willingness to swim through a river of words to do it.

You have to get hooked. And over the last decade and a half, Ms. Rowling has been one of the best pushers in the business.

I used to direct summer Shakespeare in Kansas, with casts that had a heavy teen content. It was not unusual, when a performance weekend overlapped with a “release day,” to see half the cast backstage, plowing through a few more chapters of Hogwarts while waiting for their next entrance.

I didn’t mind. (Well, as long as no one missed their cue.) The passion had been freed. It was becoming a habit, even an addiction.  Seven hundred pages? All the better – more to read!

That was the real magic.

The books came to an end four years ago. The films, riding their success, are concluding now. But I hope the reflex that’s been trained over seven volumes and 4,175 pages won’t die. That the same eagerness that led children to fill bookstores at midnight (and resent spoilers dearly) will find its way into other works, other stories, other discoveries.

And I hope all of us can keep encouraging them. No delays. No stifling.

Just Harry up, already.

Setting Fourth

After 13 years in the newspaper business, you get used to certain patterns, especially at holidays. So, in honor of our nation’s 235th birthday, here are 13 certainties about Independence Day:

1) There will be at least one survey showing that a quarter of Americans think the colonies declared independence from Mexico, or that George Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence … assuming that’s not the name of Eminem’s latest rap. The remaining three-quarters will cluck at the displayed ignorance, berate the state of the schools … and then never think about it again until the next July 4.

2) Somewhere, somehow, in this country, a production of 1776 is being staged.

3) Our dog Duchess will be completely undisturbed by the incessant fireworks, the only thing in life that fails to scare her. This will be made up for by a nationwide canine chorus that will echo from sea to shining sea, in perfect counterpoint to the bottle rockets, cherry bombs and other minor artillery.

4) Somewhere, somehow, in this country, the 1812 Overture will be performed, despite being about the victory of Imperial Russia over Imperial France. No one will mind because cannon are just that cool.

5) At least one third of the people in any given community will have a “watch spot” for fireworks that is guarded more zealously than a favorite fishing spot, and often produces more satisfaction. (For me as a child, it was my parents’ roof.)

6) If the temperature rises above 80 degrees, at least one TV weatherperson will refer to the day as “hotter than a firecracker.” This will become near-unanimity as the mercury travels above 90. There is no known way to prevent this.

7) Every American will encounter at least half a dozen articles/columns/websites which proclaim a list of “Myths about the American Revolution you never knew.” Eighty percent of them will be the same myths that were run last year.

8) Somewhere, somehow, in this country, a 10-year-old is discovering how awesome Black Cats sound when set off in a trash can.

9) In honor of New York colony, reason number nine will abstain … courteously.

10) Every resident of every town and city in America knows in their heart of hearts that their community’s fireworks show is either the best or the worst to be found in the country. There is no apathy when it comes to skyrockets.

11) “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is truth in advertising. That is roughly how long you will continue hearing Da-DA, da-da-DA, da-da-DA after the band has finished playing.

12) Now and forever, July 4 is for family – whether it’s the family gathered around the backyard barbecue grill, the city-wide family gathered in the park to hear the band, or the nation-wide family looking back on yet one more birthday for its country and the labor, love and sacrifice behind it. A flag may march at the head of Indpendence Day, but the smile of a child, happy and free, is at its heart.

And finally …

13) It is a certainty that hack writers will use July 4 as an excuse to declare independence from work, creating a 13-point list in place of a real column.

It doesn’t get more self-evident than that.