Reunions.

While my intentions were to write this once I got back from my last trip… it’s been a trying week and a half since my return. But since I have a few free moments, I thought I would write about the second “homecoming” that I’ve had this year.

My 20th anniversary high school reunion happened this month. Just staring at those words seems surreal. It doesn’t seem like two decades have passed, and yet, there is no way that I could have crammed in the last two decades worth of experiences in on your average Tuesday. Even for me, that’s a stretch.

That’s not to say that getting to this point wasn’t a challenge in itself, as I had to work to ensure that I’d actually get the time at all over the last five months. While not the way I generally prefer to do things, it did all work out in the end.

I am a “Class of ’94″ graduate. I lived in my hometown of Corsicana. I would like to think that I got along well with everyone during those early years. At least, I didn’t have any notable problems or any “school bully” trope that I had to deal with through several years worth of therapy. But I also realize that I was very much my own individual. While liked, I wasn’t really invited to parties, or events, or to hang out in the larger social circles. That’s not to say that I didn’t have friends. I had great friends that I spent days with riding on 4-wheelers, or “mudding” in trucks, building fully decked out clubhouses with full running electricity and heating and A/C, and a zipline over a creek that separated our two yards. I played video games, collected comics, and didn’t listen to country music. I was shy, and never found a girl to date, or went to homecoming or prom.

Those who really knew me would sit together and create comics and other assorted artwork, and kept each ourselves busy with poking fun at life in general, and pulling all sorts of ridiculous stunts and pranks. Most people probably didn’t realize that I had a lot of issues going on at home, how my Mother and I didn’t always see eye to eye, or the fact that she nearly died during my Sophomore year.

My Senior year.

My Senior year.

When it came time for my class to graduate, most went off to college, or the military, or just simply moved away to other cities. And I stayed behind, going to our local junior college where my Dad taught. And for me, everything began to change. I moved in and out of my parents house so often that they could have put a revolving door on the place. I started dating. And one day, I answered an ad for our local video game company in town to test a game. While people graduated, got married, and had kids, I played Doom and Mortal Kombat 3 on a professional level. It was also around that time that Mom had gotten cancer and died in 1996.

And yet I stayed in Corsicana, a professional “joystick jockey” that turned those days that I conveniently came down with a “mysterious illness” whenever a new Nintendo game was released into a full-time career. I had great friends, and we were larger pranksters and adventurers than ever before. I terrorized drive-thrus and tennis courts and bachelorette parties dressed as Sub-Zero. I started meeting a lot of sci-fiction and action film actors. I eventually moved to Denton to go to UNT. I still worked in the video game industry in Dallas, and worked for one of the local film festivals….

And then 9/11 happened.

With my job lost, Dad getting re-married, and my heart broken from a girl I had fallen for at the time, I decided it was time for a change. And San Diego called my name. I was still in the gaming scene, but the industry was changing, and whether I was no longer a match for the industry that I loved, or had just simply overstayed my welcome, a new career path began to form. I moved to Los Angeles to become an actor.

Everything happened so fast. Too fast, in some ways. I worked between L.A. and San Diego in numerous films and televisions shows. I met a litany of incredible people, many of which were people I had idolized. I met Jen. The San Diego industry dried up in 2007, and I was ready for another change. This time, it turned out that Las Vegas was calling me over.

My time was spent either freelance writing, or acting. Dad passed in 2008, also from cancer. I ended up with our house a few years later, thanks to his help. I began working closer with music and film personalities, everything from Miss Universe to the Academy of Country Music Awards (oh, the irony). It was such a long ways from where I had started in my small town. And yet there I was, set to find myself back where I started 20 years later.

It’s hard coming back to where it all began. Not because I don’t enjoy my hometown. Far from it. But it’s almost a museum to a life that I once had, but can’t really return to anymore. My parents are gone. Most of my favorite places that I grew up with are either closed down or turned into churches (Cinema IV managed to be converted into a church? Really?). The local newspaper doesn’t always paint a pretty picture of the state of affairs there, sometimes seeming far from the quiet town I once knew. But I knew that I had to return for this.

The drive was long. Jen and I trudged over 17 hours worth of driving to make “good time”, barely sleeping in a motel off of Route 66 (at a motel called the Sands that featured the “Elvis Room” – A room full of various Elvis stock photos and his marriage license, which they somehow procured), and over at my sister’s, where her strange dog paced the floor ALL NIGHT LONG making weird Chewbacca “hooting” noises. We ate dinner with the family and Danny before we made the next leg of our journey. I was crazed from lack of sleep that Friday morning before the football game and post-mixer. Our hotel in Corsicana was a dump that smelled of mildew and likely had the cast from Deliverance plucking banjos out in those backwoods behind that place. It was a stark reminder that the days and nights of staying at Dad’s for my stays are long since over.

I had forgotten Friday night high school football. No, Texas Friday night high school football. They’ve built a new stadium since my academic days there, and the lights could easily rival any casino out of Las Vegas.

Football in Spaaaaaaaaaace!

Football in Spaaaaaaaaaace!

But after wandering all over the stadium, with no one knowing where my class was located, Jen and I eventually found a group of familiar faces.

Familiarity rings true.

Familiarity rings true.

And there I was, talking to a group of people I had spent almost my entire life growing up with, and yet being reintroduced to. The strangest part for me was that I remembered all of these faces as still being 18-year old kids. Modernizing an entire section of my past to the present day took some getting used to, but it was pleasant, and enjoyable falling back into some old familiar patterns. I don’t have as many links to my past as I used to. Finding that sense of connection tends to be more than invaluable to me these days.

We went to a small bar in Corsicana (also getting used to the idea that Corsicana has bars, considering that they used to be a “dry” town), where I continued to catch up, boast about our wayward youths, and take photos. It was nice hearing how everyone had grown up and had their own lives and careers and experiences. Toby showed up to crash the event, and we drove around the town for a bit updating me on all the changes that have taken place before we called it a night.

In true '90's fashion, I summoned my best "Kids In The Hall" by "crushing their heads".

In true ’90′s fashion, I summoned my best “Kids In The Hall” by “crushing their heads”.

The next morning, Jen and I began our day at the cemetery to pay respects to my parents. I haven’t been these since 2009, and the feeling of my family residing in a small space in the ground these days hit me so much harder than it has in a while since it was now right there in front of me. 20 years ago, they were seeing me through my Senior year. Today, I placed a bouquet of flowers onto a space to remember them. I let myself have some time before I began the next phase of this revisitation, and that was going back to high school.

The old(?) alma matter.

The old(?) alma matter.

Candidly, my high school weirds me out these days. Not due to any latent trauma resurfacing, as it’s more the fact that they built another high school around the existing high school. So what I remembered from my youth is essentially covered in a hard candy shell. To coin the popular phrase as I tied to wrap my head around this concept truly was a moment of “I can’t even”. And oh my God, so many gyms. There were probably gyms built into the bathrooms at this point, and I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Once we got into the areas of the school that I actually knew about, the tour took a far more familiar, yet surreal turn. Again, mildly stunned by all the changes, but it was almost like nothing changed. Someone brought a copy of an old newspaper with our Senior predictions, and I saw mine: Apparently, I was going to find my way to fame and fortune due to my demented sense of humor.

Pfft. Like that would actually happen….

At least the Tiger was familiar....

At least the Tiger was familiar….

I spent a little more time driving around town, trying to acclimate to just… everything. Blockbuster is a title loan store. Movieland is a scapbooking store. I don’t even know what exactly went down with our former mall. Still, places like Old Mexican Inn with it’s legendary “orange dip” remained the same, and Jen, John, and I had a nostalgia-laden lunch there. I also took my own private journey to reminisce through Corsicana, past old homes, old work places, where Dad taught… and I was kind of taken by some of the simple beauty of the little town. You forget cool breezes, and tree-lined streets, and the way the sky looks and how trains sound in the distance. So different from the light-up casino and desert environment that I live in now. I paused for a moment to really take it in. So much has changed, but the “feel” still holds true. For the first time on the “go go go” schedule this trip had been, I found a moment to relax a little. But it was time to get ready for the main dinner.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to my hometown’s country club before. I don’t know how that came about, but there you are. But I found it a good spot for everyone to meet. The atmosphere was a lot of fun. I was able to reunite with more people that hadn’t shown to the previous events where we shared more stories, and I got a chance to really talk. Trying to get back into sync with a group of people you haven’t seen in 20 years over a series of nostalgic and/or loud venues was a bit of a stimulus overload before, but this worked.

I swear that I don't have a drinking problem....

I swear that I don’t have a drinking problem….

Dinner was good, people danced (and threw me money as I do so – perhaps taking that “Vegas Entertainment” aspect seriously), and I got to bust out “Love Shack” with a few of the girls as my backup singers – I’m not going to lie: This was a dream come true. I’ve wanted to do that song for forever with backup singers, and who better than with the people that I shared all the best of my teen angst with? Lightning could strike me now, and I could honestly say “I’m good.”

Photo originally taken by James Roberts.

Photo originally taken by James Roberts.

And like that, my reunion was over. My brush with high school came to a close. And yet….

Jen and I made one last stop before we returned to the hotel. We drove to my old home and stopped just outside the driveway. Unlike all of those events and get-togethers that I had done in my high school days, this would be one time where I could not go through those doors now… or ever again. It had been a house of so many things, but at the end of the day, it was where I had once belonged. I think that what any of us had wanted when we were teens: To simply be accepted. To find where we were at “home”. I reflected on that time in my life… the people that were a part of that history, and for one more night, I had a small reminder of a far gentler and uncomplicated history. Bittersweet that so long a time has passed, but grateful for that moment at all, and the people that provided it that one final night. I was barely aware that I had teared up as I said my silent good-bye, then drove back to get ready for the long trip ahead that next morning.

That next day (after stocking up on some much-needed Texas food supplies), I drove back to my sister’s to say good-bye to the family. Jen talked with my sister as I tried to convince the kids that leg wrestling was a brilliant idea, and what could possibly go wrong. Again, far too brief a time, but I had family in my life, and it left me ready to go back to my life in Vegas.

The trip was long and boring, perhaps a lot to think about, but I left with a sense of closure and fondness for a world that I rarely get to revisit, but had loved so dearly.

I was ready to go back home.

Going Home.

This week has been a busy one for me, and I thought I’d take a minute to write about some of it out before I get ready for the next leg of my destination.

This Monday, I turned 39. I am in the final stretch of my 30′s. It’s a bit strange to write that, much less think it. I can’t help but think of the long, strange journey that has led me to this point, and the inevitable question of what happens next. I had no idea what to expect, really. As I once told my Dad, life doesn’t come with a script or instruction booklet. You just have to make it up as you go along, and hopefully, you get more right than not. I have a sense of accomplishment about several things in my life, but there’s also a sense of when are some things going to finally come together. Maybe it’s the reflective state that I’ve been in. It’s hard to say. Regardless, my birthday was celebrated in the company of good friends and well wishers, and in comparison to birthdays where police boats disrupted the festivities, I think my room for growth and satisfaction is improving.

This birthday also marked another milestone. My 10-year anniversary into acting. It was September 29, 2004 when I stepped into acting as a career for the first time as a career. Oh sure, I got my true start by dabbling in a few gigs here in there with a site called , but that was the day I had freshly moved into Los Angeles, and stepped into the realm of film as an actual job. My first gig? A straight to DVD film called Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon by director Albert Pyun. I played an airline passenger. Funny thing is, I’ve still never gotten around to seeing that film.

It was a surreal and bittersweet time in my life. I had gone to school for film directing and writing, yet here I was in front of the camera. Gigs expanded from there frequently and often. My crazy notion of becoming an actor was actually working. I played a zombie in All Souls Day, a cowboy on Deadwood, another airline passenger on Red Eye. I made SAG eligible in two months time. I really got my first steps on how to become a better actor via Ivan Markota’s school in Hollywood.

But it all culminated with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

I was living with a roommate at the time that, while we started as friends, we had very different philosophies about acting and film. I didn’t want to be a “star”. I wanted to be an actor. Our association collapsed when I was called for Pirates auditions and callbacks and he wasn’t. It’s hard to say what culminated during that time, really. He didn’t take it well that I ended up becoming a pirate for two of the ships crews on the film, and he was never called for an audition once. For all I know, he probably thought that I sabotaged his chances. We had our differences, but that wasn’t how I treated people. I did find, however, that he had a previously unknown sociopathic nature about him, which resulted in such “accidents” and “coincidences” such as getting wires cut in my car, artwork and movies destroyed, my phone stolen, my personal journal stolen, sent people to stalk my whereabouts after I finally had an opportunity to move out…. It wasn’t good. He predicted that my career would end without his direction. That was back in 2005.

And yet, Pirates, even though I only worked on the second film, was a remarkable experience. I met the cast, got interviewed by my hometown magazine, radio interviews, autograph and photo requests. It was all new and weird to me. And admittedly novel. But the days of being at the Disney and Universal Studios, while standing on deck of the Black Pearl or Flying Dutchman in full pirate regalia were the real experiences for me, and with every “conveniently missing” item I endured, that was something that could never be taken away from me. It was also fun running around in full pirate gear with my castmates at Universal, because we did get into a few “piratey” misadventures such as singing a “Pirates Life For Me” in unison as we rode the Jurassic Park ride.

Life has a strange way about it, and while my succeeding living situation wasn’t as threatening, it wasn’t ideal, either. I ended up moving back to San Diego, where I commuted for a good while, did a few projects, films, and skits. Some of my best work I ever shot apparently never left the editing bay. Others, like working a scene with Jim Carrey on Yes Man, did. And San Diego had its own work with Veronica Mars, and a series of cheesy telenovellas that were adapted for American primetime. Cheesy or not, I loved them. and I worked 6 days a week for months on end. I couldn’t have been happier.

But just like that, it was over.

Veronica Mars wrapped the series, and perhaps those telenovellas were a little too queso-gifted for their own good, as they had the plug yanked on them, and San Diego went dry. so I ended up moving to Las Vegas.

I found myself doing a lot of indie films and shorts and some other unusual pieces that were sent to me by casting agents. I started entering the stand-in arena, where my line of work put me side by side with music stars and beauty queens. I sat down and chatted with Cheech Marin while standing in for Tommy Chong during their comedy roast. Who knew that I would gain any sort of appreciation for country music? But when you work year in and year out with these people, it all becomes familiar, and in many ways comforting. I also found myself working with Jim Carrey again on the set of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. In 2010, I flew out to Kauai, Hawaii to audition for the fourth Pirates film. While I didn’t get the role, I did get a wonderful week of waiting for my callback as I laid on the beach drinking rum. There… have been worse auditions. Vegas has been an unusual place to try and keep a film career current and ongoing, but I can say that after nearly seven years, I have survived and made it this far.

I still get requests to hear more of my stories. Perhaps one day I will really sit down, pen in hand, and write out everything that happened in greater detail.

For now, I must get ready to drive to Texas. I am going to my 20th anniversary high school reunion. I haven’t seen my old school or many of these people in two decades. I haven’t been back to my hometown since 2009. I’m not sure what to expect, honestly. I see it as another means to “reconnect” with my past and origins as I did on my trip to Florida, and maybe that’s what I need right now: To remind me where I came from. It should be an interesting experience.

Off to pack my bags. Open road, here I come.