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« Vital Conversation | Main | Single Candle »

Dear Sharkbait

"Can you write 'Happy Birthday Sharkbait' on it?"

This, then, was where my MFA had led:  Standing in a Dairy Queen in Jacksonville, Florida, with the social leadership of S Row of The Ohio State University Marching Band.  A girl in my position (non-OSU student or alumni, non-Band member, non-tuition payment ability) doesn't go anywhere in this group without first receiving an invitation.   No invitation sporadically meant lunch consumed whilst hiding behind the nearest available stadium pillar because everyone else was quite understandably snug in their rows and I feared their mighty flugelhorns.  But tonight, I was invited. 

I was invited because after months and months of observation and conversation, cookie baking and hand shaking, some members of this tightly coiled group were receiving me into their social lives.  Sometimes these invitations consisted of several insistent texts from Frank The Carnivore, announcing that he and forty-five of his closest friends were in the hotel hot tub and I should come too.  Sometimes I was introduced to the occasional parent on game days ("Mom!  Come here!  This is the book lady!")   Sometimes I was--major step, enormous relationship moment--asked to attend row dinners.  Once I was winding my way to a bookstore with one group, met another row coming the other direction, and was author-jacked to a Caribbean restaurant. 

I'd driven to Jacksonville from Mobile, a nine hour journey I originally assumed would take maybe four.  I discovered this at 1 AM the day I left, this geographical reality that Florida panhandle was slightly longer than originally anticipated, and also, unlike Alabama, in the Eastern time zone.  There has not been so much weeping and cursing at a map since Hitler found out Twitter was down again.

The Band flew from Columbus to Florida, upon which busses unleashed them into a Marriott and where the hotel staff was astonished to discover that some 250 people simultaneously returning from a mulitmile parade might want to, I don't know, take a damn shower.  The water pressure in the entire hotel slowed to an ooze, and as I stared at the drip easing its way out of the bathtub faucet at a far slower pace than the almost-tropical sweat was trickling down my neck, it occurred to me that yes, this Band was a force to be reckoned with.

But now... now some were beginning to trust me.  Also I had a car.

This car ferried an ice cream cake for an S Row rookie known as Sharkbait, up and down A1A from the Dairy Queen to the Walgreen's across the street (Oh! We need candles!  And a lighter.  And plates!  Oh, and forks... and...) then back to the hotel, all part of an intricate multi-faceted surprise party plan involving a side door to the hotel, a Mexican restaurant, and the International Atomic Time Scale.  A year ago I was somewhat dimly aware that this thing called Script Ohio existed somewhere on an enemy's space-time-college football continuum; now, I was in Jacksonville, in Florida, having just wept upon seeing Ohio State's marching band exit the field for the final time, cramming candles onto an ice cream cake in the back seat of a Corolla with a person introduced to me as "Tiggles."

"You're welcome to be part of the singing horde, of course," she said as we darted up and down the hotel lawn, melting cake in tow, in search of a fabled hotel side door that, as it happened, did not, technically, exist.  I paused, savored, and kept door-hunting. 

When the lights went down in the hotel lobby,  I hovered in the background, camera phone at the ready because the batteries on my point and shoot were long since exhausted; he might want evidence of the moment once the pink gel HAPPY BIRTHDAY SHARKBAIT had been consumed.  And yes, Sharkbait was surprised, but no more surprised than those of us who thought the trick candles in a low-ceilinged, closed-in room were a really wonderful idea. 

As the candles sat smoldering in a hastily produced glass of water, I distributed hugs and faded back out of the smoky lobby.  They were a force to be reckoned with.  A beautiful, brassy, once in a lifetime, firey force.

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