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February 9, 2008

In which I borrow a PEN


I haven't felt much like writing lately. It's been busy, and I've been down with the flu since Tuesday. I'm finally starting to feel a little like myself again, so I thought I'd sit down and yarn a bit. I promised the PEN Pals story a couple of weeks ago and never got around to writing it. It's a good one.

Before I get into that, though, a couple of congratulatory notes:

1. Congrats to Steven, who wrapped his first season of basketball last night. He played for the 7th grade team at his school, and they finished the year with a 5-1 record. Steven was one of the guys who came off the bench, and he was usually good for a rebound or two and a lot of good effort. I feel like his biggest contribution to the team was that even when he was not in the game, he was watching and cheering for his teammates. He would jump up and cheer, give high-fives, and keep everyone encouraged. He was a good teammate, and when he got the chance to play he worked as hard as anyone else did. You had a great season, Steven, and I'm really proud of you for being part of the team. I can't wait until next season!

I have some pictures, and maybe a little bit of video, that we shot of Steven in one of the games. I'll have to see if I can find it, then I'll post it under separate cover.

2. Congrats also to Lee Wright. Lee is one of Ben's friends who I met a long time ago, in an apartment far, far away. We share an interest in writing and Star Wars, among other things, and we have always been enthusiastic readers of each other's writing. Well, Mr. Wright has recently been named winner of a playwriting competition in Chattanooga. He will have the chance to see his play produced on the stage in late March and early April. I'm happy to see Lee get some recognition for his writing. He likes to do Southern stories with characters you'd swear you knew back in the day. I can actually say I know a "real" writer now! That's what's got me inspired to sit down and write this today, and I have a short story I've been sitting on for two and a half years that I'm going to start messing with too, and see if I can get it finished. Who knows, maybe I can be a real writer too. Whoo!

So, the PEN Pals story...

It was my senior year of high school. In fact, I might could go so far as to tell you it was November 14, 1987, but I'm not entirely certain that's the correct weekend. Anyway, it was a Saturday, and the Parkview High School Panther Marching Band had gone to Columbus, Georgia for the Fountain City Marching Festival. This festival was hosted by Hardaway High School back then, and it was huge. We went every year and it was always a great trip. It was held in Memorial Stadium, which is a cool old granite stadium that hosted UGA-Auburn football games way, way back in the day. We would bus down to Columbus and spend the whole day at the festival, watching other bands until it was our turn to get our uniforms on and perform, then stay through the evening until the awards and the screaming and the foofaraw was over. If you've ever been to a band festival you understand what I mean about the foofaraw.

My senior year, we got down there fairly early in the day. We all went into the bleachers (on the left side of the stadium, if you're looking at the picture I linked to above. In fact, keep that picture up. It might help you imagine what I'm describing) and watched a couple of bands, then we started to break up. We were on the left side of the stadium because the main press box for the stadium was on that side, so that is the direction the bands were facing when they played.

There were merchandise tables at the lower end of the field (in the grassy space above that bottom parking lot), and we drifted through there, back to the stands, all around, until me and a group of 12 or 15 others wound up on the other side of the stadium, sitting in the middle section of bleachers, underneath that smaller press box. Of course, from that side, you couldn't hear the bands as well, but we weren't really paying attention anyway. We were sitting and chatting and having a good time. We were the only people on that side of the stadium, I believe.

The way these festivals work is, one band plays, then the next comes on, and so on, all day long. There's usually 5-10 minutes between performances, as one band marches off, the next one comes around, marches onto the field, and goes through their preparations. During one of those down periods, watching the previous band march off, someone in our little group said, "Hey, let's do the wave." So we did. Of course, there were only 15 or so of us in a little clump, so it was more like a ripple. Still, our schoolmates on the other side of the stadium cheered for us, so we decided to put on a little performance of our own.

As the next band came around and began to take the field, we formed various shapes--lines and circles and squares--and "waved" them. By this time the entire crowd on the other side, not just our group, was beginning to cheer for us. We had to do something to top it off. Let's spell a word, someone suggested, one letter at time, and wave each letter! Yeah! OK! What word? Hm, we're a bunch of hormonal high school boys, right? Yeah! Which means we're stupid too, right? YEAH! OK! Let's spell PENIS! YEAH!!!

So we form a P. Well, by this time the next band is on the field playing. We don't care. We form our P. Wave (cheers from the Parkview crowd, who naïvely assume we're spelling PHS or something pedestrian like that. Girl, please). We form our E. Wave (fewer cheers from the Parkview crowd, who now have no idea what we're doing, as the band on the field continues to play). We form our N. Before we can wave it, we see our director Mr. Beach, our drum majors, band captains, and others, coming around the top of the stadium towards us. We scatter.

They chased us down like a bunch of escaped pigs. They rounded most of us up by the merchandise tables. We got a sound scolding from Mr. Beach, although it was more in the sense of "you made me look bad" than "you made the school and yourselves look bad", but that's just the way he rolled. We got to march that day, but only because he didn't want 15 holes in his formations. We got straight ones, which is what every band wants to do at festival. I have a video of our performance that day. I wish I had a video of the band that was on as we were in the bleachers doing our thing. Heh.

Oh, but the story's not over yet.

We got back to school and the shizzle hit the fazizzle. The principal wanted to kick us out of band entirely for embarrassing the school. Beach wouldn't do it, because we had his top tuba player, a couple of high-ranking trumpets, and a couple of good drummers in our group. They finally decided to ban us from the spring band trip to Panama City. There was a big meeting with the parents where this was announced, and my dad was apparently all, "They're kids, they did something stupid, just let it go" and Beach told him no, we're not going to just let it go.

To this day, my dad will tell you that Mr. Beach was a @#$%&, which is why he kept forgetting to call Bill's name during awards ceremonies when Bill was in band. I say no, it wasn't because Beach was a @#$%&; I say it was because Bill was my brother. I could write another 2,000 words about how Mr. Beach couldn't stand me, but I won't. This is already way too long. Maybe another time. Anyway, we didn't get to go to Florida that spring, and we soon came to be known as the "PEN Pals," since P-E-N is all we managed to spell before the Gestapo came and stopped us.

Story still isn't over.

I'm not going to tell you what happened while they were in Florida, because it really doesn't matter (we had some fun, though). I will tell you that we all signed each other's yearbooks that year with things like "can I borrow a PEN?" or "NEED A PEN!!!?!?" Our senior class did a last will and testament and I left Mr. Beach a pen. Heh.

There's two last little postscripts, perfect codas to the whole thing, then the story's over.

The next year, I was a freshman in college, and went back down to Columbus to see the festival performance. My brother was a freshman in the band that year. I was standing with some of my PEN Pal friends who were still in the band, and we were looking across the field reminiscing about what had happened the year before. I said, "Do you want to go back over and finish it?" I managed to keep a straight face long enough for them to look at me like I was crazy, then we all lost it.

The second takes place two or three years later. I want to say this was my brother's senior year, because I don't think there was anyone left in the band from when I was there, by this time. I had come to Parkview for a game and was visiting my brother in the band section. I said hello to Mr. Beach, and was hanging out with my brother, who was the tenor sax section leader. He introduced me to one of his little freshman scrubs. The kid was all yeah, whatever. Bill said to me, "Watch this," then told the kid, "Sam was a PEN Pal." The kid's eyes went all Keanu and he said "Whoaaaa." Four years later, and we were still part of band lore. That was wicked. I wonder if the story still lives on today?

The End (?)

1 comment:

m00kie said...

Now that was classic. You should totally go back to the school and chat it up with a band member. See if they remember...I know some HS legends live on for almost ever.