It could have been me too…

A couple of months ago, during a contentious Senate hearing over a nominee to the Supreme Court, I not particularly subtly voiced my concern about relying on imperfect memories of events that happened 30 or 40 years ago. Now that tempers have cooled slightly, I’d like to expand a little on why I came down where I did… and for the record it’s not because I think then nominee Kavanaugh was going to be the best Supreme Court Justice ever. It has everything to do with memory and how perception of distant experiences and events could wildly differ over time.

To start let me take you back to the long ago years of the middle 1990s. Every fall from 1992 through 1996 I and my nearest and dearest friends spent every Saturday crammed onto school buses often traveling for hours to the nearest marching band competition. Marching band has a sometimes well earned reputation as a shelter for geeks, nerds, and misfits. It also has a more concealed seedier side. Tell any former band geek a story prefaced with “this one time at band camp” and most of us will give you a knowing smirk.

You see the dirty little secret of marching band, at least back then, was that it could be an absolute den of depravity and what some segments of the population might be tempted to describe as “immoral conduct.” Now I’m not in any way admitting that I myself participated in any of this questionable conduct, but in close quarters, on a dark bus full of hormone-fueled teenagers crossing a hundred miles late into the night, things sometimes happen beneath the protective cover of a large blanket. There were a lot of first experiences on those long, late bus rides.

Then there were the parties. Compared to today, they feel like something incredibly tame. As far as I know there wasn’t even booze or drugs at any of  these parties – though there were a few sub sets of the group where that, too, could be had if you wanted it. Mainly our parties were a grand excuse to shove two giggling teenagers into a closet together for 7 minutes and then wrench the door open hoping to catch them “having a moment.” There was old school spin the bottle, regular semi-clothed cuddle puddles, and many, many “long walks in the woods on a moonlit evening” to pass the time.

It was the kind of rampant teenage b movie sexuality that Gilbert Gottfried use to host on USA’s Up All Night on weekend late nights. To the best of my knowledge everything that ever happened during our parties was completely consensual between all combinations of willing participants. The catch, of course, is that all this happened 20+ years ago. Maybe that’s not how everyone remembers those days. Memory is an imperfect instrument and with every year its rough edges get worn down even smoother. If someone from that long ago past rose up today and said it wasn’t, I don’t have any idea how one might defend himself from the accusation, particularly if the accusation itself is enough to establish a presumption of guilt.

So, you ask me why I was vocal in defending someone from 30+ year old accusations? It’s because it very easily could have been me or any number of people I know being pilloried in the press for activities that no one so much as looked at askance way back in the prehistoric days when they happened.

Life’s been good (to me so far)…

Every now and then you find yourself sitting inexplicably in a mile long line of traffic on your way home from the office. As you’re sitting there building up a good head of steam wondering what slack jawed yokel is standing between you and the sweet, nurturing balm of home, you sometimes get a gift. I know this because I got one of these gifts this afternoon. It was a gift in the form of my phone serving up a song I probably haven’t heard for more than a decade; one that I first heard when it was already playing on “classic rock” stations; one that takes me right back.

Instead of sweating my ass off in a Jeep with the windows open hoping to catch a breeze, I was behind the wheel of a ’91 Chevy Cavalier, its paint peeling, and seat frames welded something close to upright. I was beating the hell out of that old car on 4×4 trails, and running it flat out across railroad crossings to see if we could get all four tires off the ground, and planting it high center on a snow bank when I though I could pass a coal truck on snow covered roads. I was riding shotgun in an ’81 Camaro – you know, the kind with the side pipes and blue light in the dash.

For those almost nine minutes, Joe Walsh blazed forth one of the definitive songs of my youth misspent in pool halls and arcades and at backyard bonfires and some of the tamest house parties you could possibly imagine. For a couple of minutes rolling at dead slow along Route 40 in Havre de Grace this afternoon, we got the whole band back together and we were young and brilliant and brave and foolish again with a whole wide world stretching out ahead. Those were some times, man.

The universe couldn’t have picked a better time for a reminder that it really has been good (so far).

Towards the sound of the gun…

My first professional job after college was as a history teacher at Great Mills High School. I spent two and a half years walking those halls. A decade and a half has passed since I last set foot in the building, though I have kept in touch with a few of my former colleagues and more than a few of the students who I know count as friends.

It’s a hard day for Great Mills and those students, teachers, and staff past and present. It’s a hard day for the community. It’s a hard day.

Even in the midst of a hard day, though, the story of Deputy Blaine Gaskill, the school’s resource officer, has come to the fore. His is the story of heroism that came unbidden and unwanted. You see, he was the man charged with standing between his community and danger. When faced with uncertainty and chaos, Deputy Gaskill ran towards the sound of the gun. He ran towards the danger, engaged it, and ended it.

Blaine Gaskill is a hero. His actions reflect great credit upon him, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Department, and the good people of St. Mary’s County.

It’s the kind of debt that can never be repaid. I don’t know if the teachers and staff at Great Mills still gather at the Brass Rail or maybe the Green Door from time to time, but if they do, there’s a man who should never buy his own beer again. That might at least be the very beginning of a start on a downpayment.

Prune juice…

While I’ve been fiddling around on the internet this week I’ve gotten a steady stream of reminders that friends from high school are becoming parents of high school graduates themselves. I’ll just sit here for a minute and let that sink in. Their kids are finishing something I feel like we just finished ourselves a few years ago… Except of course we didn’t. As I was reminded when I saw someone mention the impending arrival of our 20th high school reunion next summer. How exactly that happened, I have no idea. It’s like I turned around to get something on the other side of the room and 19 years snuck away while I wasn’t paying attention.

I won’t get into the realization that these days 50 is way closer than 15. Aside from the occasional ache and pain (and other assorted indignities), I don’t feel like that could possibly be true. It is, though. Don’t bother to consult a calendar. Trust me. It’ll be unnerving if you do the math.

So if you’ll excuse me I’ll shuffle off to the kitchen now to enjoy a refreshing glass of prune juice and see if my dentures need scrubbed.

Passing…

Sometimes news hits you so hard in the head with a 2×4 that you don’t have any option but to just sit there and be stunned. Unfortunately you stay stunned only long enough for a deep, quiet sadness to rush in and fill the gap.

We kids of the 70s aren’t kids any more. We’re subject to the same laws of nature and time as all those who came before, but I never once imagined we could die. The reality, of course, is something completely different and made all the more appalling from its arrival on a crisp, clear, beautiful Saturday morning. Out of the clear blue, indeed.

Godspeed, Drew. The world is all the more dim for your passing.

Absolutely inconceivable…

inconceivableSure, I’ve been a curmudgeon for as long as I can remember, but the flood of pictures this weekend of many, many of my friend’s kids heading off to homecoming left me feeling a bit like I’d stepped through the looking glass. I mean weren’t we the ones going to those dances just a year or two ago? It’s inconceivable that anyone I grew up with could be old enough to comment about their offspring’s high school milestones.

Despite my 9PM bed time, constant state of near exhaustion, and the nagging aches and pains that seem to accompany me everywhere now, I don’t feel like all that much time has passed. I don’t feel that far separated from our younger selves. Maybe I’m better informed, a little more cynical, and a lot more medicated, but I still feel a strong connection to that dopy, awkward version of me.

Seeing so many of the next generation on the cusp of adulthood themselves is absolutely inconceivable. So if anyone needs me, I’ll be busy rejecting reality… and possibly checking to see if we can get a group discount if we all order our Life Alert systems at the same time.

Garden of Allah…

Don Henley released the song In the Garden of Allah in 1995. That would have made me a high school junior or senior depending on the date. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it before. I’m willing to bet that most people haven’t. I spent a lot of time driving around – because that’s what you do when you grow up in the sticks – and there was almost always music on the radio. It was a catchy tune back then and mostly I forgot about it until about two years ago when it started popping up when I told iTunes to shuffle. I must have been listening to a lot of Eagles tunes then, because it kept coming around. It’s one of the very few seven minute songs I don’t get bored with halfway through. After a few times through, it really got stuck in my head… and that’s about the time I started writing.

It wasn’t anything coherent at first. Maybe a few scribbled notes, a sentence here or there, but nothing with substance. Then a funny thing happened. It evolved and coalesced into the nucleus of an idea. I started off with the idea of writing something political and ended up with something clearly more religious. Blatantly so as it turns out.

So there’s the inspiration behind the short story I’m heroically trying to edit. It’s all there on paper now not because I wanted to explore than nature of good and evil, but because a really liked a quirky Don Henley song back in high school. Clearly the muse works in strange ways.

The big game…

This past weekend was Homecoming weekend in the little part of the world where I grew up. For anyone who grew up within earshot of Cumberland, Maryland the cross-town rivalry between the city’s two high schools is the stuff of local legend. Without rhapsodizing it, the homecoming game is a big hairy deal.

I don’t hail from the mighty city of Cumberland, of course, so I’ve always watched their version of homecoming with something of a bemused look on my face. You know, in the way that people watch others who are taking something just a little too seriously. But it seems to make them happy, so no harm, no foul.

I’m not going to lie, the idea of homecoming being a big deal is a concept that eludes me. I graduated from high school in 1996, went to college, and promptly moved away. Not long after that, my alma mater, along with a few other schools, went defunct. They ceased to be. They are no more. It became a dead parrot. In its place they opened a shiny new school that presumably is better equipped to meet student needs. I say God bless. Seventeen years after graduation, it’s not exactly like I spend a lot of time pining away for my junior year locker. In fact, writing this post has accounted for more time pondering high school than I’ve spent in total since I walked across the stage to get my diploma.

I have great memories of high school. My closest friends today are the guys who were my closest friends then. I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of thing that only really happens in a small town. Maybe it’s because I moved away, but I don’t lose any sleep about what’s happening at or happened to the school I graduated from the better part of two decades ago.

Maybe homecoming is an anachronism – a throwback to a time when you graduated, stayed put, and the social life of your town revolved largely around the comings and goings of the local school. Maybe it’s different if you have kids and it does provide some kind of continuity from generation to generation. Maybe it’s different if your school is something that exists as more than an ever fading memory. That’s a lot of maybes involved in a concept I clearly don’t grasp.

I guess I’ve just never felt the need for a special weekend designated for homecoming. Whenever I’ve felt the compulsion to stroll down memory lane or stir up the ghosts of the past, I just go do it on my own accord. No parade or big game needed. Then again, crowds always make me nervous so it could just be my inner hermit talking out loud.

1994…

Because it’s a Friday night and that generally means that blog posts pass by with a minimum level of attention paid, I’m going to go ahead and let this one slip out despite my better judgment. Now before anyone comments, I want to say for the record that this photo was taken in, as close as I can figure, late Scanned Image - Version 2April 1994. I know this because that was one of only two time in my high school career that we sprung for charter busses to take the band from Point A to Point B. The other time was in November 1992, and I’m just making an assumption that I would have been wearing something heavier than a hot pink pullover windbreaker to take on the frozen astroturf of Lackawanna County Stadium.

To my best recollection, this photo is the only surviving image of my having attended a long ago Azalea Festival parade in Richmond, Virginia. See, when you’re a band geek, even you spring trips are geeky. Even so, those times, and those people are some of my best memories. Thanks, Mike, for this little jewel and the opportunity to stroll down memory lane.

Reunion…

This weekend the Westmar High School Class of 1996 will celebrate its 15-year reunion. A decade and a half. Three lustra. Fifteen years. Nothing in terms of geologic time, of course, but long enough in the hear-and-now world. These five year anniversaries are as good a time for reflection as any and you know from reading that I’m not one to let a good anniversary pass without saying something sappy about it. So here it is …

I have a confession to make. I don’t feel all that different from the much younger version of myself. The thinking part of my brain keeps insisting that I should. That I should maybe feel like more of an adult somehow. I’ve added some paunch around the middle and lost more hair around the top, but I really feel pretty much like the same guy I was then. I mostly like the same food. I mostly like the same music (don’t judge me). A lot of the things that were important to me then are still the ones that are important to me now. Maybe I’m a little more moderate in my politics than I was when I was 18 and knew everything, but that doesn’t seem to make much difference because ultimately, I’m still me at the core.

I know there are plenty of Wildcats from that long-ago class who have their own high school age kids. There’s a thought that sticks with you. Surely they feel different, right? Metaphysically changed somehow by the passage of years and accretion of responsibility? I’ve been out there and seen whole big swaths of the world. I feel like I’ve seen it all… and I’ve mostly done it all. Sometimes to my own detriment, but always good for a “life experience” credit. I’ve done great things and I’ve had my self confidence shattered. Hell, sometimes it’s happened on the same day. But through it all, I don’t feel any different. Same guy, just with a few added layers of experience.

I get up in the morning, put on a sharp shirt and a tie and spend eight hours pretending that I’m a knowledgeable professional… but at heart I’m still the same guy who mostly wants to hang out with his friends and stay up too late shooting pool or sneak up to Frostburg to see a girl. Under the thin veneer of adulthood, I still like driving too fast and going to Denny’s at odd hours. If having a house, holding a steady job, and paying your bills is the defining characteristic of being “grown,” I’ve got it covered. If it’s some deeper change in your psyche, well, that’s a little more problematic.

It’s one of those deep thoughts I have lying in bed before sleep comes: Am I the only one who feels this way? Is everyone else really an adult inside their own head and I’m the only one who feels like he’s playing a part just well enough not to get caught? Maybe I am… in which case this entire post as served as nothing other than a 500-word admission of guilt. Surely I’m not the only one out there faking it, right? Even if we’re all not kids any more, I’m looking forward to seeing the old gang again.