Where in the world is Ray Carboni?

A trip back to my childhood home kindled an obsession with an old friend

The last time I saw Ray Carboni, he was sprawled out on the gymnasium floor of our high school, carefully penning his goodbyes into my yearbook.

It was 1976.
"Well, here it is, the moment I've dreaded and feared all year, the moment that I have to capsulize four years in 100 pages or less," he wrote in the inside cover of my book. "I guess I could call it The Agony and the Ecstasy. But that would be mild...

"Time has passed. All wounds are healed, and we coexist peacefully on the same planet. It wasn't always so. But our friendship has at times been as deep as it has been stormy. And it leaves me with a feeling like going to the bottom of the ocean and returning with a pearl. Because I journeyed into your soul, a harrowing journey, and came back undamaged but enriched..."

(Be kind. Remember, this was high school in the Barry Manilow era.)
"But this is now, and that was then--and we must look back now and then to see the pain of growing up," he continued. "You, my dear, were one of the biggest of those pains! But you also helped me grow up, and I thank you...

"Keep Kool, live long and prosper (and all that other bullshit) and don't forget the one who loved you."

Even today, I can still see Carboni slapping the yearbook shut, handing it back to me, and loping away--shoulders slouched, thumbs hooked tenaciously into the pockets of his jeans, big black tennis shoes pointed outward, almost Chaplinesque.

I figured we'd see each other again. We didn't.
Last week, I went looking for him.

There is no good reason to try and find Ray Carboni.
I am happily married. I have three children. I have a job, a new TV, a life. I don't have time to read a magazine, let alone go off on some wild tear, looking for a guy to whom I haven't given more than a passing thought in 20 years.

It's true that I tend to jump into things on impulse and then, at the sight of the first obstacle, become downright obsessed with them. I am especially attracted to challenges where the goals appear entirely unattainable and the missions themselves have no apparent merit whatsoever.

There was, for example, the time I spent four days tracking down a worthless gearhead who sideswiped my husband's parked car and booked without a trace. When I finally found him, in an apartment he'd only lived in for 48 hours, he threatened to shoot me, but settled, charitably enough, for calling me a "goddamn piece of shit."

The Hunt for Ray Carboni is, by comparison, entirely reasonable.
It began last March as the smallest germ of an idea. On a trip back East for my brother's wedding, my husband had flown back to Dallas while I had stayed on to visit my sister in Greenwich, Connecticut--the town next to Stamford, where I went to high school. Driving there in the rental car, with my kids asleep in the back seat, I decided to take a detour and do the nostalgia tour--to the old house, the old school, the old greasy spoon where I had been a waitress. While circling my high school, I remembered that my old friend Ray Carboni lived just a few streets over. Wouldn't it be fun to knock on the door, say hello to his parents, and ask how Ray was doing?

Try as I might, though, I couldn't find the Carbonis' house--or anyone who even remembered the family. I drove on and didn't give it another thought--until seven months later. That's when I received an invitation to my 20-year high-school reunion from an outfit that described itself as "professional class-reunion planners." For $54 a person, the letter stated, the Rippowam High School Class of '76 would get the following: a "buffet dinner, disc jockey, classmember search, memory book for each classmember, and other costs associated with conducting a successful reunion." Liquor and class photo not included.

The "classmember search" consisted of a one-page enclosed list of 107 former students who were "missing in action"--roughly a third of our graduating class. "We are looking for these classmates and welcome your help," the form letter stated. "Our search is ongoing and will continue until the night of the reunion."

Yeah, right--big, serious manhunt. Some of the names on the list were badly misspelled, and one poor guy had a new first name. One person on the list was an old girlfriend of mine whom I hadn't seen in eight years. I called her in New York, had a wonderful chat, then dutifully phoned in her address on the reunion company's 1-800 hotline.

That's when I noticed that Ray Carboni was on the list, too.
Carboni hadn't shown for the 10-year reunion--and what a party he missed. I'll never forget the shock I felt that night, walking into the biggest, tackiest Italian restaurant in Stamford, and finding complete and utter vindication. Near as I could tell, the cheerleaders and football players and studmeisters--the most grossly envied people in my senior class--had matured into 27-year-old, fat, chain-smoking divorcees on their second marriages. All the fringe players--the chess nerds, the tuba players, the severely pimpled--had blossomed into great-looking, college-educated, happily married or happily single young professionals.

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