Monday, October 28, 2013

Marching Into Debt

A few years ago, as we were trying to organize the alumni of my high school's band, I came face-to-face with the absolutely jaw-dropping debt into which some of the smaller bands have gone to mount one of these whizzbang Spectacular-Spectacular shows replete with special effects, props, on-field costume changes and a gazillion dollars' worth of guard equipment. I think the most grotesque expenditure I witnessed on-field that year was the use of single-cylinder chimes in a bell-themed show put on by one of the bigger bands. Their guard had a hundred girls in it- so that's a hundred chimes and a hundred stands...I'm a percussionist and I'm telling you, those chimes are NOT cheap. They were out several thousand dollars for that conceit.

There are a couple of reasons I'm not digging this "Theatre of the Football Field" thing: one is that a lot of these bands cannot actually march. They 'jazz run' or drift sort of aimlessly across the field from figure to figure- maybe this is me being stodgy and old-fashioned, but there's a reason it's called marching band. It annoys me so much that I can hardly stand it! The standard gait measurement is eight steps to five yards, commonly called "eight-to-five"; it can be used in asymmetrical drill, I promise, because back in Ye Olden Days of Yore, we were doing it. The other is that the "flash-and-trash" seems to outweigh both drill and musical execution- it's so much mindless eye-candy. I heard one of this year's eventual class-winners at semifinals and they were splattering notes like so many bugs on a windshield- yet their very flashy show put them over- and of the few bands I saw in that class, almost none of them could fix a straight line in a drill.

Here's a hint, directors: they're called "fundamentals". If you have to get up off your butt and mark your rehearsal grid with one-, two-, and four-step intervals to teach them how to relate to each other in the drill, DO IT. Your show is in trouble if you fix the figure in the drill long enough for people to notice that your kids don't know where they're supposed to be standing- if they cannot get where they're supposed to be, you need to re-think your drill-writing or fire the person to whom you jobbed it out.

I know you have to do what's necessary to compete- I remember making fun of bands who still had *gasp* majorettes when I was in high school- but you can't let the core (playing and marching) fall apart just to make something pretty. Also, if you're only going to use this stuff for one season, jeez. Think carefully about how much you can afford. How pretty is it if you're up to your eyeballs in debt for a show that doesn't get you anywhere judging-wise because your core is weak? Style over substance isn't how it's done- you have to have both, and have them consistently, to have a solid program.

My greatest wish is that KMEA would convince its membership that the music comes first, marching second, and the razzle-dazzle showmanship a distant third. I'm tired of seeing recycled shows about Skynet going live, or weather-related themes, or topical stuff- the shows are so expensive that the most popular ones are sold on as a package to other bands once the original bands are through with them...three years later within two performances, I saw two, yes, TWO recycled shows. It's no mistake that a couple of the bands in Kentucky are purchasing DCI shows and uniforms, either. I think that should tell us how far that's gotten out of hand. I bleed band, but it's insane to go into staggering debt for this.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Easier Than Voodoo Dolls!

One of the best times I had in college at Halloween was the year my friend Angie and I hijacked her fiance' Clay's apartment to carve Jack O'Lanterns. She'd found a farm way out in the county where the pumpkins were huge and, even better, cheap. We took a road trip, loaded up the trunk of my car with our big orange booty, then stopped at the liquor store on the way back to Clay's place.

A year or so before, I'd gone through a hideous breakup with Bill, who not only was Clay's freshman roommate in college, but had also just moved into the apartment directly above Clay's. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, because I saw him fairly often as a result- so Angie had decided to shepherd me through this dark anniversary with booze and knives.

My "tragically doomed love soundtrack" of choice at the time was Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, at full volume. Bill was the night attendant at the county morgue, so he slept during the day; we got an early start while we knew he was trying to sleep. We assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that he'd be down presently to complain.

Sure enough, we heard someone on the metal staircase outside and looked up to see Bill stomping down to Clay's apartment. There was a knock on the door, and Angie wisely told me to just stay where I was in the kitchen floor, drunk and furtively stabbing the hell out of my pumpkin, while she answered the door.

"What brings you down here, Bill?" We knew, of course, but that was our diabolical scheme all along.

"Could you please turn down the music? I'm trying to sleep. I have to work tonight."

Angie stepped aside long enough for him to see what I was doing. I looked up, smiled lopsidedly, and slammed a fistful of pumpkin guts into the mixing bowl for effect.

"What's wrong with her?"

I knifed the pumpkin a little too forcefully and heard a quick intake of breath in the doorway. "I'm pretending that it's you," I hissed. (Angie told me later that I looked like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.)

The color drained from his face. "Could you just turn it down a little?" he squeaked. Angie assured him we'd lower the volume. He paused to stare through the window as he retreated. I waved at him- knife in hand- with a huge psychotic grin on my face- the clanging of the stairs as he ran back to his place was sort of, well, satisfying.

So there you have it, ladies: Pumpkins+Knives+Bourbon+Friends. I'd been to school in England to try to get over him, but that's when I finally started to heal...and it is easier than making voodoo dolls.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

But I Was There First

At dinner the other night, my friend Stefan's little brother, who is in college at the moment, used a metaphor that pretty much slammed me into a wall. Not so much for what the analogy was, but for the fact that Hopkins cheerfully seized upon it. While the three men at the table forged on, I sat there turning beet red, then white as a sheet. After letting it ride for about five minutes, I finally rasped, "Enough."

They stared at me. I was clutching the edges of the table so tightly that my hands are still sore more than twenty-four hours later. Fortunately, before I could say anything, the appetizers arrived and attention turned immediately to the food.

Let me be perfectly clear on one point...perhaps not in the context of what they were discussing, but in one regard I am absolutely "first": mine is the first heart he broke.

The most humiliating thing about it was that in that instant, I was reduced to "one of the guys", again. Neutered, sexless, less-than. What can I say, I put myself in the situation and I have to accept the consequences.

That's what I've tried for years to make people understand. Part of me will always love him, but I know I'm not...whatever it takes. I can't magically turn myself into that. It's something I've known since I was fifteen, and that I'll carry with me until I die. It is a truly miserable feeling- I can't even begin to communicate how crushing it is.

This is the Devil's Bargain, and it's all that I will ever have of him.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Wheels on the Bus Still Go 'Round and 'Round

Yesterday I went to the opthalmologist about my glaucoma diagnosis (made by my optometrist), which as it turns out is incorrect- but my eyes were well and truly dilated, as in I looked like an angry cat and couldn't see to drive home.

I ended up bunking in at the Chez, which required getting up a zero-dark-thirty to drive back for work. There was dense fog, and as I batted along the highway out of Smalltownland, I got behind the school buses...at 6:00 a.m. . We abut a county in the Eastern timezone, with which we share a vocational school. While my hometown is in the Central timezone, the school system operates on the schedule of the two systems in the other timezone- ergo, school starts at the buttcrack of dawn.

It was cold this morning, and as I passed ever-Eastward, I saw bundled up schoolchildren waiting at the ends of their respective driveways. Some things have not changed in three decades, since back when I was one of those children waiting for the bus. Ours arrived between 6:15 and 6:30, and you'd better be there before the bus went by or you weren't catching it. Because I didn't have a license until after I graduated  and was not allowed to ride to school with my friends who had their own cars, I was also one of those social pariahs who had to ride the bus all the way through high school. As a band and Academic Team member, I spent my free time on buses as well.

I love my sister, but during my senior year, more than once, she left me standing there in the heat, cold, wet, fog, et cetera, to leap in the car with a male classmate of mine who had the hots for her. He never did get a date with her, because she a) didn't like him past not having to ride the bus, and b) our parents hated his guts and would not have permitted it. The same boy got drunk and rang our doorbell at 3 a.m. the night he and I graduated, spurring Dad to the front door with a loaded pistol. (Maybe it's the fact that God saved him from being Daddy's midnight target practice that inspired him to become a preacher...the world may never know.)

Possibly because I considered it sort of lazy, and was still smarting from the whole concept of buses, I did not ride the campus buses when I was an undergraduate. When the weather was clear or I had plenty of time, I also eschewed the ones from the graduate commuter lot when I was in graduate school. As I passed those children this morning, I hoped that they were warm and that nothing veered into the driveways in that dense, nasty fog.

No, I don't miss the bus. Not at all.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Heart's Not In It

Halloween has always been the favorite holiday of my family. It was my maternal grandmother's birthday, and my parents chose to be married on her birthday in 1959. My sister was married the day after Halloween, because Halloween proper fell on Friday.

My father and his best friend took up growing their own pumpkins a few years ago, which was catastrophic the first time around; Dad came back crowing about how he'd planted the seeds "good and deep", only to be mocked by my mother, a farm girl born and raised, who told him, "They're a ground-runner- you won't get many if you planted them deep!" She was right, so the following year they planted shallowly, resulting in more pumpkins than we could have possibly wanted, needed, or imagined. That was the year that my father carved 11 Jack O'Lanterns. He and his friend left the unharvested overage in the field for the deer to eat, and donated the 200lb. whopper of the crop to the local hospital where the two of them alternated as Chief of Medical Staff. (Better doctors than farmers, especially Dad, whose previous farming experience extended to growing tomatoes in our back yard. Sadly, his friend died at Christmas a few years ago. Now we buy the pumpkins elsewhere.)

The year that my sister got married, she and some of the bridesmaids took the children in the wedding party trick-or-treating after the rehearsal, which was held in costume. I went home and answered our parents' door (which I've done for the last eighteen years or so, pretty much ever since I moved back to the general area after grad school).

This year, I can't really get into it. Mom is so sick that it's hard to concentrate on anything else. My sister and I purchased three pumpkins each over the weekend; she helped Dad string up the handkerchief ghosts and put out the other decorations. I went to the grocery and bought about $50 worth of candy, which Dad has, as usual, already been eating as of the night I brought it home. It all felt sort of hollow. Mom was not able to receive chemotherapy on Friday because she's become immunosuppressed, and then the "chemo-brain" conversation in the car on the way out of the hospital garage surpassed 'trying' and went straight to 'awful' in ten seconds flat...I quickly drove to my sister's house across town, where we switched drivers. I ended up chauffeuring Jack, the Golden Retriever, to Smalltownland in the back of my sister's Prius. Golden Retrievers are a balm on the soul, even the ones with slightly fishy breath...

Over the weekend, the situation became somewhat fraught. I really don't want to discuss it, but it's been hard. By Sunday, I needed my inhaler- allergens plus stress plus too much exertion equals a huge problem. I called my mother twice after I got back to my house last night and twice today to check up on her. My sister is still at their house, but will leave tonight because she works in the morning. I feel sort of helpless, which I hate.

All year, I usually look forward to Halloween. This year, we're going through the motions. I will dress up and answer my parents' door and coo and gurgle over the costumes and pass out the fifty dollars' worth of candy ("You did get mostly chocolate, right?" asked Dad, who added, "Not the cheap kind. We can afford the good stuff!"). I just don't feel right about it, though. For my next trick, I'm going to go to Big Lots to see if they have any of the lighted Snoopy vampires left. Snoopy has always been a thing in my family, and so is Dracula (long story). Maybe it will cheer someone up, although I don't know if my mom will even notice.