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The #1 Reunions '99 Partier:

As witnessed by Mordecai

They say that Elvis could electrify an entire building when he walked into it; even if you didn’t see him come through the door, you could tell he was there by the way your body felt. They say that Marilyn Monroe could make any outfit, no matter how poorly made or of out of style, look fabulous. They say Marlon Brando could overpower his fellow actors so tremendously, that scenes would be so imbalanced as to be unusable in the final cut. Some people are stars. Some people have gifts. Some people can inspire the masses. Some people can make the most ridiculous and moronic behavior enviable.

It was about 7:00 pm on Saturday of Reunions 1999. Just a short time before, Pancake and I had been passed out on a stretch of grass across the street from the E-Quad, face down in wax paper cheesesteak wrappers from Hoagie Haven. Bert had woken us up by jumping on us. By now, the Bolleterri shirt was just a yellow rag, a scarf wrapped several times around his neck, and trailing down his back. The end of the T-shirt was sad, but not surprising. We had started shotgunning at the P-rade at noon, then moved onto a perfunctory Battle Royale in the Woody-Woo fountain that really wasn’t very notable. Then we had proceeded to Ivy for a late afternoon cocktail party that had begun with sandwiches, chips, Chardonnay, grandparents and little children, and ended with half-naked people dancing an inch-deep in beer to Def Leppard pumped through a feedbacking speaker. I don’t really remember when Hoagie Haven came into it.

Now we were walking through the fifth reunion, from the North checkpoint by Blair Arch to the South gate by Dillon gym. Bert was wearing his orange sun hat, on which was pinned the blue and yellow “Bert for Baltimore” button from Preakness.

It was dusk, but he was wearing gold Oakleys. He was attracting attention because he was walking through the courtyard with a very unusual posture: his arms were raised straight above his head, his long fingers stretched to the heavens. To every passing girl, regardless of age, he would ask (while continuing to walk straight ahead, not acknowledging them at all with his body language) “Are you looking to get laid?” Nobody answered him; there was no talking back, only a clearing out of his way. Bert was treated like a mad dog coming into town.

We passed through the South gate, and I felt the hateful glare of the proctor. This made me feel self conscious; it appeared to bounce off Bert without effect. There was a strong current of humanity headed down to Poe Field to watch the fireworks display, and that is where he was leading us.

“Hey buddy!” the speaker’s tone was aggressive and confident. I snapped my head up to see five or six guys sitting on a third floor Spelman balcony with a keg. “We got a shirt up here for you if you need it.” The balcony erupted in guffaws, and (though I can scarcely believe it now) two guys high-fived. Bystanders tittered and pointed, and I saw a little girl seek safety in her father’s pant leg. Bert stopped dead in his tracks. It’s very sad to see how people naturally band together to condemn and ridicule somebody who is different. I remember feeling terrible. I hadn’t had a beer in two hours and was feeling slightly nauseous, but watching Bert become the butt of a joke had really made me feel ill.

He kept standing there, tall and proud, hands stretched to the heavens, facing straight ahead, down the hill at Poe Field. The laughter from the balcony died down, then resurged with an awkward giggle, then died again. And Bert continued to stand perfectly still, feeling his silence sweep over the crowd, feeling everyone’s eyes on him.

And then he moved. His right arm shot up like an arrow and his bony index finger pointed at his ridiculers on the balcony. He didn’t grace them with eye contact, just held his finger in their face for a second, and then he spoke.

“Evray-baa-daya”. He boomed, with a melodious inflection to the word. Anyone within a hundred feet of him must have heard him and must have stopped what they were doing. He paused two beats, then continued.

“Yeah, yeah!” All at once, the crowd grasped that he was singing, not talking to them, and the tension released a little. “Rock your body!” Now, Bert broke into his signature dance, stepping forward and back, with his shoulders jerking up and down crazily, but still in rhythm. “Yeah yeah!” The feeling of release in the crowd was wild. Bert was in the throes of dancing ecstasy, wriggling about like a fish on a line. Some people started laughing, but in a good-spirited way. Some joined in the singing. I saw the same little girl start to dance.

By the time he reached the “Backstreet’s back – all right!” finale, everyone was clapping and cheering and laughing. The balcony meanwhile, hadn’t mustered up a single response. In fact, nobody looked up at them, I assume because we all felt embarrassed for them.

It was at that moment that I realized what I had been taking for granted for all these years: that Bert is a star, and that I had better enjoy him before some talent scout signs him up and takes him away from me forever.

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