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A storyline that never gets old
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For people of a certain age, The Big Chill will always have a certain resonance. You know the storyline. Thirtysomething college friends get together after a long absence for an untimely funeral and spend their weekend together weaving back and forth between the past and the present.

A few months ago, driving outside Santa Fe, I remember a couple I knew in the Ozarks who had moved west. So I grab a cellphone, call information and spell the name. An operator says, “For no extra charge, I can connect you.”

With no time to think of the consequences, I say, “OK.” Seconds later I’m on the line with someone I haven’t spoken to, thought of, or communicated with in 20 years.

“Hi,” I start, lamely.

“C’mon over,” she said as if we had just seen one another yesterday. “I’m babysitting my grandchildren.”

Talk about the present. But grandchildren? Impossible. Already I think it’s a mistake, but I go anyway.

Four wrongs turns and two conversations later I’m at the house. Rick, her husband, a hippy carpenter, is now Richard and a successful developer. Moon, their daughter, is now Miranda and the mother of four with a husband in Iraq. Donna, with the same space between her teeth and good-looking mole on her cheek, is an oil painter.

“Remember the time you drove me and my brother down to Miami Beach to see my grandmother and you let me eat all that junk food and I threw up all over your car?” said Moon/Miranda.

No. But I didn’t doubt it.

“Remember my long hair?” said Rick/Richard, taking off his cap to show his remaining six strands.

Since we’re all separated by a mere six degrees of separation, I told them about a Savannah friend, Marilyn, who was married at their Eureka Springs, Ark., house. Then they told me about a recent wedding they attended of another friend’s daughter. After an hour, we took some pictures and parted.

That same trip I had lunch with an old college roommate in Boulder, Co., who had Googled me. She reminded me about the time she phoned me in Chicago but that I couldn’t talk because a mouse was in my apartment. Problem was I never called back.

“I was troubled,” I stumbled.

We talked more about now - she was studying for a Bat Mitzvah - than then.

A few months ago, after listening to Christopher O’Riley’s delightful radio program, “From the Top,” I wondered if it might be the same preteen whose mother, Ceci, a friend from Chicago, used to nag. “Christopher O’Riley, get in here and practice your piano.”

I met Ceci at a public TV station when I quit teaching high school English - the only thing I ever thought to do - and started work as a clerk-typist, the only other job I felt qualified for in the late ‘60’s.

So in the middle of some sleepless night, remembering Ceci had moved to Pittsburgh, I Googled the name and found an article connecting her to Christopher. Sometime later, I called her up, too, which is when I learned we both loved the series Deadwood. A good sign.

And when she invited me to a 70th birthday party at a friend’s home in Ligonier, Penn., I went. Christopher was in Belfast playing a concert, but her three other children were there.

One reminded me of the time I went to their house with a bad sunburn and Ceci put me in the bathtub with vinegar. Another said I had a cool apartment with blue walls. A third, strictly in the present, made for all the guests a belt of small Bibles, a Bible belt. Very clever.

Two other men I knew from Chicago - but who now live in California - were also there, 40 years into a relationship.

“I’m not moving any more plants!” said Dick when he saw me, grinning, referring to all the times in Chicago they helped me. Some things never change.

Since we had the whole weekend together we didn’t have to fit everything into an hour. We could just hang out. We had time to read Frank Rich’s column out loud about the Libby indictment, then read David Brooks’ spin.

We could throw a little dish about people we’d never see again, tease Ceci about her four husbands, eat some glorious food, talk about books.

“I feel like a Rockefeller here,” I said of the plush, WASPY surroundings.

“Well, you look like a Fishman,” said John, not missing a beat.

“But the best thing,” announced Ceci, “is we have an extra hour.”

An extra hour to stay in that suspended space before returning to the real world - and no funeral to attend. What could be better?