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Monday, May 29, 2017

Summer Night Memories

Dear reader, I want you to ask yourself a question--what memories get triggered on a gorgeous summer night?  

Do you think about that one person you were comfortable with as the two of you cuddled around a campfire?  Or do you think about that one night with your friends where everything felt so good you knew it would never happen again?  

You know that night I'm talking about, too, right?  That night where every joke, every story, ever log on the fire, felt as if it somehow matched everything else so well you never wanted it to end.  You felt, in that moment, at peace within and without, and the universe had aligned to give you a break.  

I had a summer of those nights one year when I was in high school between my Sophomore and Junior year.  

Most people never understand what the marching band experience is like if they've never done it themselves.  And not all marching bands are alike.  We weren't the pimply kids who put on a crappy uniform from the 60's and play tired old tunes out of a book.  We competed.  We put on field shows and got judged.  Our parades were judged.  

The world of competitive marching bands for a high schooler is vastly different.  You get yourself bonded to a group of people and you stay bonded.  I was closer to my bandmates than I was to the guys I played football or wrestled with.  In fact, the sports people picked on me and made fun of me.  The band people accepted me.  

I come from a musical family yet I'm tone-deaf.  I'm the only one, too.  My family used to gather around and sing.  Sure, they'd be drunk, and the songs would be old and boring, but it was tradition and had meaning for them.  I tried to join.  I wanted to join.  As a 6 or 7 year-old child, I wanted to be a part of the family.  But because I was tone-deaf, I was told to shut up.  My mom got mad at me and said I was throwing everybody off.  

So I wasn't allowed to be in that tradition.  

Instead, those songs remind me of having a headache, being tired, and wanting to go home.  Songs like "Good Morning Starshine" make me thing of drunken aunts slurring and bossing me around.  It reminds of me not being able to watch tv because it was too loud but not being able to join the group because I sucked.  

My grandfather was a musician.  He had a band called Farold and his Bluebirds and they played in the speakeasies own by Al Capone during Prohibition.  He played the french horn, I believed.  He was highly talented.  

My mom was the music director at our church for over a decade.  Then my aunt took over for about as long, if not longer.  Another aunt made a career in music and has several albums.  It's what the family does.  

But I was talentless in music.  So when the band director at my high school wanted me to join up, it seemed like the legit offer and something I should do.  And I was going to be on the drum line.  

They put me on a fucking bass drum.  I was pissed off about that.  But because the rest of our drumline had no sense of rhythm, I was the metronome for the whole band.  Our section leader, John, had no rhythm whatsoever.  He was so poor, he used to fuck up rim-shots as the band marched into position.  

But as a unit, our drumline was amazing.  Far better than anything in the area.  Our drumline coach, Romero, was awesome.  And he taught us to be serious at our craft.  Romero also took me aside, and we did a lot of one-on-one work when I did timpani solos in music competitions.  Through him, I learned rudiments and the basics.  

I wanted to do more.  I wanted a drum kit of my own and I wanted to play in a rock band.  But that was forbidden to me and when you're 14 years old, some things are just that way.  It never stopped the dreams, though.  

Our band competed in field shows and parades during the summer.  We went on tour and played all over Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.  We slept in gymnasiums and lived on McDonald's.  

The long hours under the sun wearing a heavy drum weren't nearly as bad as one might think.  The worst of it was our band director.  She was chemically imbalanced and a rage addict.  She and her father were terrors in the music education world and nobody dealt with them if they could avoid it. In fact, she would lie and break rules flagrantly but nobody would call her on it because of her behavior.  

Dealing with The Director was an exercise in studying a person's disposition and waiting for the next explosion.  You knew it was coming, but you never knew what would set her off.  But we put up with it.  Our entire band was made up of kids who would rather deal with her than go home because home was that much worse.  Home was alcoholism, abuse, neglect, and pain.  

The rages only lasted a few minutes and then she would be okay until the next one. 

Big things were okay but minor things would cause her to scream and rage without mercy. Sometimes she would grab students.  

But not me.  

Funny story:  We had a parade to do in Dixon.  We were rushed to load the vans and we were always running behind anyways, but this time was worse.  We had been doing field show practice and The Director never kept track of time very well.  She was horrible at time management.  So of course, we practiced too long, and we weren't prepared to pack and go to 20 miles down the road to Dixon for a parade.  We get there, and our bass drum carriers, the harness we wear over our shoulders to hold the drums, were missing.  They had been left back in the school's music room.  

The Director was already shouting and getting angry at everybody because it was our fault she was terrible at time management and organization.  Rage addicts normally blame others for situations they created.  So, this time, as her anger built, the inevitable rage explosion was visibly coming.  We walked on eggshells but then somebody had to tell her the harnesses for the bass drums were back in the music room.  That did it.  

The Director, in a predictable rage, went to grab a student and throttle them.  Sadly, the nearest student was me.  Big, six-foot tall, 235lbs, weightlifting, wresting team, me.  She moved towards me, her arms reaching out, only to look up at me and realize there was no fucking way she was putting her hands on me.  None.  I had already decided that if she did, I would go ahead and oblige her engagement in physical confrontation and she would lose badly and painfully.  

So no, she stopped in her tracks, backed up, moved about ten feet to her left and grabbed a much smaller David.  He had a lot of nicknames.  John the drumline leader (and her favorite) nicknamed him Paco Moreno.  And Senior Satan.  I'll tell the reason for that later on.  But no, she grabbed and throttled poor David.  

It was antics like that I couldn't stand.  Several times a day she would freak out and just explode, screaming at the top of her lungs at us.  She did it in front of other bands, spectators, anybody.  During tours, we would have a practice field to use for a scheduled time after our parade.  One hour.  
Other bands used to watch us practice just to watch her freak out.  And then they stopped after feeling sorry for us.  Other band members from different bands would come to us later on and express how bad they felt that we had to deal with such bullshit.  

One time, she was in the middle of a rage fit, and she fell down on the ground, kicking and screaming.  

But aside from all of that, there was something incredible about being on tour.  The hot summer nights, the new smells, new sights, watching the other bands, it created a magical time.  

We used to sit in drum circles and meet other band's drumlines.  We would sit and chat.  We were open and outgoing, encouraging each other, trading stories.  It was at that time in my life when I first had some girl cuddle up next to me.  It was the first time in my life some girl openly gave me a hug because she was so happy to see me.  It was the first time a girl was happy to see me, for that matter.  

In my high school, I wasn't well-liked.  Girls used to treat me like I was a gross, disgusting piece of shit.  They would make exaggerated facial expressions and stick out their tongues.  In high school, I never had a single date and I never went to a single homecoming or prom.  Nobody wanted to go to a dance with me.  

But that summer, it was different.  That summer, I felt a connection with people.  I felt acceptance. There was a belonging and camaraderie.  We were all eclectic, unique people with artistic personalities.  We were expressive and exuberant.  And we knew we could be ourselves in that culture and still be accepted.  I no longer felt like a loser or that I wasn't good enough to be in a group of people.   

It was the first time for that acceptance for me.  It was the first time for so much.  I can still hear some of the bands play their field shows.  I can still hear certain drum line bits for various songs.  I can still smell the grass and the way the night air smelled so differently from home.  

That summer taught me something important.  That summer, I learned that it's okay to be creative.  It's okay to be different.  And it's okay to be artistic.  Plus, I learned that maybe it wasn't me that was the problem at school.  Maybe, it was them.  Maybe.  

I eventually left the band.  The director was a nutjob who played headgames.  She was of poor character and no integrity.  It just became too much.  

But I stayed in contact with a few people, sending letters back and forth for a few months.  And those lessons gave me a lot of traction in life.  

The other night, I was outside, feeling the warm air.  It brought me back to those nights in Wisconsin, a girl I was close to under my arm, her head resting on my shoulder, as we just enjoyed the night together.  I went back inside, went on youtube, and pulled up videos of various drum corps and their drumlines.  That night, PBS played a documentary about the Madison Scouts, a drum and bugle corps out of Madison.  They showed practice sessions that reminded me of our long, hot music camps.  And each person had a gold tan and bleached hair.  

I used to have drum sticks and a practice pad.  It'd play on that for hours.  Over the course of my many moves, they were lost or stolen.  I decided the other day I'm going to replace them.  It's time to get my chops back for no other reason than I enjoyed it.  And most importantly--I'm going to seek out other local writers just so I can be with my own.  

This summer, I'm going to spend more time with artists.  It's been far too long since I've done that and it's badly needed.  I'm going to seek out places with artistic vibes and go there because that's a place where people like me are accepted for who we are.  It's where people like me belong.      

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