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All The Way to the Stairway

Just past the halfway point of Summer Sessions, fresh from Lexington Green, I saw my first live ramp entrance.  I was barefoot on the practice field, a long cotton skirt barely rippling in the evening air as about two hundred candidates lined up near Buckeye Grove, the softly lit stadium behind them.  The cadence was marked, the band members offered up war cries to the cloudless night sky, and all of D Row, Jason The Ridiculously Awesome Drum Major in the middle and Kyle Who Owns at his right hand, strutted through the ranks and performed the toe-touch salute in a single line. 

As scattered parents knitted and tapped iPhones on the hill behind me, I trailed them all down the sideline, tears on my eyelashes.  Such passion.  Such tradition.  Such glory and dedication. 

Jason returned to the bleachers for water, baton in hand.  He saw this, saw the tears and overwhelm and the utter disaster this rehearsal squad had made of me, and he said:  "I have got to introduce you to other people in this band."

I was, for once, a step ahead of him; I'd signed up for a program called Adopt A Row, which matches dinner-wielding alums and friends of the Band with students in the first few weeks of the season, when they're on campus but the dining hall menus really aren't.  I was paired with S Row, which is comprised of trumpets, flugelhorns, and a dead squirrel on a stick

There are fourteen marchers in S Row.  They are excellent musicians, rich in tradition as well as seniority depth, and steady drillers in toiling in a relatively unglamorous non-i dotting, non-first-on-the-field taking, non-baton twirling position.  They are faithful to the Band, to their University, and to their Buckeyes.  These are the very bandsmen which form the stalwart bedrock of the OSUMB, and they... were... given... to... me. 

In my terror of unfamiliar trumpets, I expanded the invitation to include D Row.  That brought the number to nineteen.  This made me feel quite the raving social maven, smug in the problem that I now had more attendees to a party than square footage in which to put them.  I was living in a rented room in one of the most notorious drug havens in Columbus with a paralegal and her two cats.  The cats liked to open closed doors by the handle with their upsetting little paws and pee on my air mattress.  Even by male college students standards, this was not an acceptable locale for a gentle soiree.

The smugness evaporated when I presented my problem to the staff of the Band Center and was placed in a second-floor conference room, which is far more table than room.  It's all wheelie chairs and projector screens and huge slab of corporate bolted into the floor with maybe an inch and a half for maneuvering around the sides.  I closed my eyes briefly when I entered to take a look at my venue; logistically, I'd have an easier time catering for a team meeting on the first Death Star.   

Then it dawned that I might, as the hostess, be expected to produce food of some sort.  I pulled a Lunchables out of the fridge and ate the processed coins of turkey out of the plastic wrapping while I pondered this.  I do like to cook.  I have this hardback little photo album with folded-up recipes crammed where the pictures should go, and I use it.  I turn on the stovetop and I boil s*&#.  I own an egg separator, people.  But... nineteen

The greatest number of people I'd cooked for at once until this point was four.  Two were my parents and third was my husband, who I once saw attempt to eat ice cream off the floor.  So half of that party knew not to expect much and the remaining quarter had the culinary standards of a third-world leprosy patient.  S Row, well-- the poor sweetings didn't know any better.  They were too busy being competent.

As the aunt of a peanut allergy kid and a meat-free Vatican baby on Fridays in Lent, I was wary of placing food on the behemoth table which my guests might not be able to eat.  So I gathered S Row around me following rehearsal a few days before the dinner.

"Hi.  I'm Mary Beth.  I'll be feeding you."

(Terrified stares)

"Any of you have allergies?"

(Head shakes)

"Any of you under dietary restrictions?"

(Head shakes)

"Any of you vegetarians?"

(Head shakes)

One, Frank, deigned to speak.  "We're carnivores."

I high fived Frank.

"So anyway.  I love you guys."

(Terrified stares)

"See you Tuesday!"

Pasta was in order.  The distance between my room in Graffiti America and the Band Center could be covered in about fifteen minutes, enough time to keep the food warm but not enough to justify the requisition of one of these, which for some reason I'd failed to register for upon my marriage.

For a German who deeply distrusts any foods more spice-laden than yeast, I can present a fairly decent lasagne.  I also have in my arsenal a family recipe for macaroni and cheese fashioned from sour cream, cottage cheese, and crack cocaine.  But I have seen college students eat--mostly male, marching-all-day college students--and even after doubling the recipes, they'd be left gnawing on the projection screen. 

I augmented with salad.  Which I bought ready-made.  I was gladly spending six hours a day with these people but I wasn't making them a mega-salad.  There's a familiarity line in every author-subject relationship.  Mine is ripping apart eight heads of lettuce.

"For how many?"  the supermarket deli clerk asked as I placed the order.

"Two-seventeenths of a marching band."

She wrote that down. This was, after all, Columbus.

And... cookies.  Cookies for my TBDBITLovelies.  I have long presented affection in sugared form, and thus S Row would be force-fed love in the form of shortbread.  And because I am me and lack basic time management skills, I made them myself, and so of course slid the last batch into the oven at four in the morning as the cats looked reproachfully on.

I wiped down the batter on the ceiling (the less said about this, the better) and pulled the strings closed a full trash bag.  And then I steeled myself for the out of doors, because only the smartest MFAs hang around garbage cans in the back alleys of neighborhoods described as "challenging and diverse," which is realtor-speak for "A day without bullet casings in the driveway is a day without Ohio sunshine."

I was simultaneously doing laundry in a separate part of the house which for security purposes required a separate key and also a Glock hidden deep in the box of Tide, so I performed a Green Beret security sweep, switched a load of whites from the washer to the dryer, and dumped the trash.  And turned to go back inside.  And realized that I had no idea where my keys were.  And realized that yeah, actually, I did have an idea where my keys were-- I just didn't want to admit to myself where that place was, which was... not the laundry room.

I do not recommend dumpster diving by the light of a cell phone, as this somewhat increases the odds that the cell phone might also wind up in the dumpster. 

Back in the house, I ousted the cats, who left with ominous mews, and made myself a ball on the borrowed sheets.  A woman grieving is a well-dressed wreck and a woman falling in love, even with a marching band, is a fiasco in perfume... and I was both.  But now I had lasagne in flimsy little tins to show for it.


Transportation. Everything in coolers packed tight with handwarmers, which I considered a genius stroke until I noticed the NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION warnings on the packaging.  Too close to the food?  ...Whatever. These were members of The Ohio State University Marching Band.  They were tough.  They were impervious to the ravages of the ingestion of mere polypropylene.

Some of the students were moving that day and needed to leave early.  Right, I said, I'll be there at 5:30 with the food.  And pulled into the parking lot at 5:32, because the really great thing about Columbus traffic is, it goes along click-click-click-click at the same pace at the same time for weeks on end, and then it throws a wreck at you, and it will wait to do this with a full row of flugelhorns, trumpets, DM candidates, and the Head and Assistant Ohio State Drum Major sitting in a conference room, patently awaiting their evening meal.

Band directors are fond of this directive:  "To be early is to be on time; to be on time is to be late; to be late is to be left behind."  At this point, "be left behind" could have been easily swapped with "gladly suffer public lashings instead unpacking a Corolla full of pasta and Diet Coke no one will drink," because as we all know, when it comes to creating first impressions, I am fine and I am fierce.

I gathered an initial armload of napkins and empty to-go containers, because... priorities.  Two passing students stood nearby, transfixed by the display of a blonde kicking a cooler before her down the parking lot before suddenly remembering that she'd left her car door standing open, then doubling back, still hugging her napkins, to boot it closed.

"Hey," one said, "you need help?"

I could have cried, but I reserve that for only barefoot Summer Session ramp rehearsals and truly important parking lot-related occasions.  "O gentle Buckeyes," I said, "I require help on a more constant basis than any woman ever born."

They unpiled the contents of the car into the Band Center elevator and sent it upstairs, as requested.  I clattered my way into the conference room.  Maybe practice ran over.  Maybe they were still slowly wending their way from the field.  Maybe they were wandering around the Band Center conducting deep philosophical discussions about tuning slides.  Maybe they weren't hungry.

Or, maybe every single one of them was already seated around the conference table, hands folded before them.  

"Can we... help you carry something?"  This from dashing soloist Ryan Columbare, who, as a fifth-year, has seen it aaaaaaaalllllllllllllll.  He was now about to see a row dinner with a row and no dinner.

I threw down the tongs, braced both hands on the nearest flat surface, head down, and nodded.

This type of thing is where D Row comes to play. "Okay.  Out," Jason said, and the entire room rose.  I led them to landing of the second-floor elevator.  Where there was nothing to carry.   


I've lost my car, my keys, my middle nephew, my laptop, and my cell phone.  And my wedding gown, and a neighbor's parakeet, and a boat, and a VIP tour group I was leading through the Kennedy Space Center, and (ironically) my college diploma and (somehow even more ironically) my GPS. I'm a structural disaster, okay.  I know this.  I had not heretofore, however, misplaced an entire meal for two-seventeenths of a marching band.

S Row, however, was marching blind.  S Row just wanted to eat and instead found itself climbing up and down the Band Center steps, hunting-gathering its dinner.  Then I realized something, and grabbed Josh (I submit to you yet another Josh), a member of D Row, and begged clarification.

"The third floor," I said.  "The elevator goes there too?"

He nodded, for Josh, although quite eloquent and articulate, was too much a gentleman to point out that yes, Mary Beth, when a building with three floors has an elevator, it tends to run beyond the second, here in this magical era of electricity and pulleys and baseline adequate architects. Also I'd quite literally grabbed him, the desperate reach of a desperate Adopt-A-Rower whose adopted row at this point would have quite preferred to remained orphaned and eating drill charts for sustenance.  I dragged the majority of S Row up the final flight, and there:  The warming salad, the cooling pasta, the four AM shortbread.

As it happened, the to-go containers were not required.  I passed around a plate of desert, now enhanced with a handful of chocolate chip cookies.

"Did you make these yourself?"  lovely veteran Jeanette asked.

"Absolutely.  No problem," I said, tossing the plastic cover with the price tag over her head and into the garbage.

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