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Wednesday
Mar022011

Buckeye Battle Cry

On Monday night, the cell phone of Carah The BFFE-- military wife, mother of three boys under the age of 5, currently moving cross-country-- began to ring. 

"Hello?"

"Carah?"

"...MB?"

"Yeah..."

"Are you okay? Where are you?"

"Sitting in a parking lot at Ohio State."

"What are you doing?  It's late!"

"Well, I was wondering if you could tell me why I am crying."

This was Carah's cue to laugh at me, because she was absolutely not surprised by the fact that I sat through my father's funeral utterly dry-eyed but absolutely fell apart in a rental car in a campus parking lot.  "Can I just remind you," she said, "what you've been through in the past two years?  And do you remember what I told you the day you first told me you were writing about this band?"

I fished around in my backpack for tissues.  "You said I was fizzing."

"You were fizzing!  And you were writing!  Because for the first time in months and months, you were happy!  And when's the last time you were this happy?"

"When I was working for NASA."

"And Discovery was just launched for the last time.  When else?"

"That one time a couple months ago when I went home for a week and I came back and there were eight new episodes of Top Gear on the DVR?"

"Okay, let's focus. When else?"

"...College."

"And where have you been doing this wonderful writing for the past week?"

"...At a college."

"Has everyone been nice to you?"

"Yes, very."

"So while still bleeding from several deep emotional wounds, you've met some very nice people in their musical and athletic element while you yourself have been in your creative element, at a college, and now it's over for a little while, and you're calling me in the middle of the night wondering why you're crying?"

"...Yes."

"See, this is why it's good that only one of us is blonde."

And, well, when you start the day with a tornado warning, continue it with the heady mixture of wine and Stew The Kind of Big Deal, and end it by watching four Ohio State Drum Majors in the very act of ensuring that they replace themselves with adequate, if not superior, successors, this is what happens.  The first two days I sat in on training sessions, I stayed far from the younglings, fearful of corrupting them with my Drops Everything All The Time presence.  By Monday, however, I felt that their immunity was secure, so I left my high heels in the bleachers and prowled after Jason The Ridiculously Young Drum Major to discover what kind of collected wisdom he had to impart to his charges (Gold Award Sentence which six weeks ago I never thought I'd hear come out of one male's mouth to another male:  "You gotta twirl smarter, dude.")

Mostly it consisted of encouraging them to suck less, keep their head up more, and ordering them to present their parents for his inspection and approval.  The focus was still squarely on Strut America!, with Josh The Supposedly Subdued leading a determined line of students around the track, batons in hand, counting out the four beats of "Buckeye Battle Cry."  Life is now quite literally full circle for Josh, and it is Good.

I heard that song in many, many forms on Monday--insistent mono beeping from a gift shop in the Student Union; from the iPod and speakers providing Soothing March Music to Twirl By; and from Matt the Badass and Jason themselves.  They were attempting to teach the entire Drum Major ramp entrance, from sprint to strut to salute to backbend to That One Thing With All The One-Armed Baton Stabbing.  The band starts playing the verse portion of Buckeye Battle Cry on his way through the band, and everybody starts storming the far end zone on the chorus.  Last words of the verse are the title of the song, and this is what Matt and Jason were half-talking, half-singing as they crouched down beside their charges to prepare them for the great cue.  So for an hour, from both ends of the fieldhouse, as my stocking soles were shredded on  the fake turf, this is what I heard:

(clapclapclapclap clapclapclapclap) "Buckeye Battle Cry, ba da da da da da... no.... no.  Just... stop."

It's a blessing I spent a decade or so studying every nut, bolt, and urine dump portal on the space shuttle, because it's the only roughly comparable thing to learning this ramp routine.  On the field the whole smash goes by in maybe seventy seconds; what I'm watching develop will take months to perfect-- or, if you are me, a lobotomy, a miracle, and a total coordination ability transplant.  A zillion things can go wrong, and, throughout this slow construction of the young drum majors' own personal Training Montage, they usually do.  The elbow isn't correctly angled, the transition from sprinting to strutting isn't smooth enough, the beat is lost.  I am watching a live human dissection of perhaps the most difficult presentation tradition in all of college sports, and it is stunning in its purity and in its parts.

When they had wearied of reminding everyone that if one snaps a femur bone during a performance, it must be done on the downbeat so as to avoid throwing off the snares, the senior Drum Majors gathered everyone in a circle.  This concerned me; unless it's a football huddle, nothing good ever happens when people are made to form a circle.  So I hid behind Josh.

But what happened was that Jason The Young launched into a closing soliloquy which was clearly an essential part of the training session as much as the patient arm repositioning and the water breaks and the "just... stop"s.  He'd heard it before, he was saying it now, and whoever takes his place someday will likely repeat it to kids now struggling with shoe-tying skills.  And this is what Jason said:  Ask the alumni questions, practice at home, and why haven't any of you introduced me to your parents?  Don't be ashamed of your parents.

At this point I was very glad indeed of the unwitting Josh's protection, and turned on my heel to examine a far wall for a little while.  As a person who once received an email from a graduate student which consisted of "Hay prof, when is R xam?!" hearing this from a twenty-year-old told me more about what really goes on atop this fake greenery than all the backbend attempts in the world.

So at the end of it, when I crammed my heels back on, saw Matt off to study and Jason and Josh off to dinner and keyed "Mom and Dad" into the GPS, I placed my fingertips on the steering wheel to rest a moment, just for a second, before subjecting the mid-central Ohio corridor to me and the loaned Honda Civic.  At this point my entire body, all at once, realized that for the past ten days I had been sleeping about three hours a night, but never caffeinating; sitting but not resting; driving and walking and searching and talking, but not eating unless the alarm I'd set on my cell phone insisted that I do so in order to avoid slumping into a hypoglycemic faint right into the mostly-empty wine glass sitting between me and Stewart Kitchen.  Even then, I resented laying my head on the pillow and tearing open the little packages of crackers. I had more important things to think about.

I was doing things I'd never done before, things like driving from Columbus to Cincinnati and back again in utter silence, punching off the radio and watching the counties roll past, river to river, plunging every neuron back into what I'd seen and who I'd met and trying to piece together why it felt as if the entire span of it seemed carefully scripted, smartly paced, and perfectly cast.  Once I sang all the way from the campus border to the first Skyline Chili sighting. I did not figure it out. 

Maybe I am not meant to.

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