It almost always happens on a Friday night.

My life slows down just enough to free up a few hours. No lessons to prepare for. No classes the next morning. Weekend errands and chores can wait until Saturday. Grading essays can wait until Sunday. I give myself permission for one evening to not be productive or efficient or responsible. I drive away from work with an extra bounce to my step, and Monday morning seems far away.

I feel the blissful freedom and exhilaration of a child when school is cancelled unexpectedly and one suddenly finds oneself with time to kill. Freedom. Time just to mess around. The air sizzles with expectation. Work is over for the week. It is Friday afternoon, and I pick up a six pack of beer before I arrive home to start the weekend.

I sit down in front of my computer to see if I can do something new - some challenge to overcome. Some new corner of the Internet worth exploring. I explore and play around, usually with less rather than more success. I get around finally to checking my personal e-mail.

I usually have a beer or two, after which I often start thinking about people I knew in college. What ever happened to Doree? People I did not know and had... Fraternity brothers who upon graduation disappeared into the ether? Acquaintances who I stumbled upon a few times after college and then never again? I search Google, and then I refine the search terms. I massage the database; I comb through millions of records.

I search the LAUSD site for any mention of my old colleagues from Berendo Middle School. If I could find a few sentences to explain their current teaching position and current school, I would be satisfied.

I search and I search and I search. I vary the boolean operatives and mix and match search terms in numerous possibilities, looking for hits. I search the alumni directories of universities. I am very thorough.

I have another beer while I type away at my computer, and the hours speed by and everything begins to blur. But almost nothing comes from my searches. Nothing. It seems the less success I have, the harder I try. Before I know it midnight has arrived. "How is it possible there would be nothing out there on Jamie Moore?" I check a few other corners of the Web. I logon to my faculty Lexus-Nexus account. Nothing.

Sadly, I reflect how slightly the Internet captures the richness of real life. I give up my search and, exhausted and discouraged, I lumber off to sleep.

But the questions there remains. Where is David Uri? Pat Hickey? Is Jamie Moore still a fireman? How about Corey? Niko? What happened to Rick Bin? Is Ilan in college yet? How about Maria U? Dan Weeks?

One would think almost anybody with even a semi-serious job would be on the Web somewhere, but such is not the case.

I can find on almost anyone info in the public record databases, or in their credit reports. But those are fee-based services, and I am not ready to buy this information. If a friend had suffered a divorce or declared bankruptcy, the only proper way to find that out would be for them to tell me. I am not ready to run a credit report on a friend, even a long lost one. A matter of simple privacy.

There are other alternatives, of course.

I know fairly well the corner of the Rose Bowl parking lot in Pasadena where I could find the tail gaters having their UCLA pre-football game BBQ and beer-fast. I know fairly well who I would encounter there every other Saturday throughout the fall, and I would be glad to see them.

But I could not sit on my butt for a full three hours watching a football game -- too sedentary, too passive! I have not watched an entire sporting event in years. This blessed and precious spare time during the weekend could be put to a 50-mile bike ride, with sweat and pain and silence to think. After three hours of endurance and trial and coming to appreciate spiritual self-revelations at the end of a five mile climb. Watch a football game instead? No thank you.

I hate crowds. I hate sitting in traffic with tens of thousands of other spectators trying to get on or off the same freeway. After a week in crowded, boisterous classrooms full of teenagers, a weekend afternoon in a stadium crowded with thousands of college students screaming its allegiance to the home team loses its allure.

The football games is not for me. I was not terribly into them when I was a student at UCLA.

And every year I find myself more and more solitary; I like it, I need it.

If invited to a get together, I would most likely not go. My first instinct would be to say, "no." I am not sure why. Inertia?

But then there is me on Friday night with three or four beers on board, desperately searching for my old friends and acquaintances. Hour after hour I scour the Internet(s) for any traces of them I can find. I look for hints as to their lives, loves, jobs, failures, successes.

I look and look and look and I find next to nothing.

What happened to them?

Old friend or acquaintance? Check in with Rich! (There is always the traditional e-mail way.)

He would be most happy to hear from you...!

Friday, November 25, 2005