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Jason The Ridiculously Awesome Drum Major is clapping, but no one is strutting, and he really, really isn't applauding.

"D-Row, north face."

"North!  Face!"

He's stood them in two lines and is drilling them in marching fundamentals.  It's pretty much the most intimidating thing I've ever seen on this campus.  I include in this statement the stadium parking lot, in which I've lost my car at least twice.

"D-Row, southface."


And they not only have to play this, the world's most white-knuckled game of Simon Says, they have to do it in time to the cadence of his clapping.  And his voice.  While the instrument-carrying candidates of Summer Sessions blast an entirely different, slower beat at their backs.

"D-Row, south face."

They're already facing south, so nobody goes anywhere.  A few legs twitch.   Alex Who Talks Real Pretty is standing nearby, looking horrified, and I'm standing next to him, looking terrified.

"D-Row, at ease."

"Rest one." 

They're not actually resting, of course; backs are still straight and they're holding their batons in stiff angles at their sides.  It is a grim business, this drilling, and the musicians have been hard at it for weeks already. 

"If you're screwing up the fundamentals of marching during marching fundamentals..." he says.

"Did you find this difficult?"  I ask Alex.

"What, the marching stuff?"  He shakes his head and expands on his response by twice pounding his chest over the heart. 

It goes without saying how very, very badly I would suck at this, and how very, very badly I've already sucked this night, having shown up at the session in a cut-off Saint Mary's tee shirt and yoga togs, setting up an extremely minor D-Row buzz in the process.

"Are you working out with us?"  JD Who Gots Game said, eyeing my extra water bottle.

"I am working out with you."

"You should do everything D-Row does."

"That is the plan."

That was the plan.  D-Row is smarter than I am, however, and hadn't ingested anything all day but liquefied testosterone, while I was 90 minutes past dinner at Panera.  For months I've been on a lady writer's meal plan of about 1100-1500 calories spread daintily throughout the day to fuel a 300-500 calorie workout.  These guys burn that much screaming "WEST! FACE!" back at Jason.

I had forgotten the cardinal feature of this band:  They make it look easy.  They make everything look easy: the marching, the playing, the marching while playing.  The laps which condition them to march while playing.  And so I thought--wrongly, wrongly, oh so very wrongly--that thirty minutes of jogging ahead of time would burn off the leading edge of the nervous energy which would surely regenerate in abundance. 

Two laps and a sprint later, struggling not to throw up in front of or on coach Greg Eyer, I was sucking down oxygen like the engine on an F-16 and coming to an intimate understanding of why, when I previously met Jason for dinner on the day of a session, we always ate after it was over.

"Whhhhyyyyyy are you doing this?"  Greg said.

"You ever hear of sympathy labor?" 

The late food wasn't the only problem, of course, and as I reflected on Greg's excellent question, I wondered why I can't be the kind of writer content to merely observe and go home to my bean sprouts and NPR tote bag, and why it was such an Exciting Big Deal to get out from behind the keyboard that these people who have known me since February are shocked to discover that I own a sports bra.  I never came to an answer, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the fact that when I made an appointment with my local Air Force ROTC recruiter--whose very existence, I should add, rested on his ability to produce live bodies for commissioning-- he said, "I am not convinced that you and the military would make for a productive match."

At sunset, after Alex made a miniscule adjustment to level out the baton of a protege, and as the muscles beneath my washer-beaten pants began to stiffen, I shifted uneasily as the block of candidates marched in our direction. We were in their territory.

"Find a place," Jason yelled.

They knew where to go, standing stock still between the rows of potential colleagues; I didn't.  The first time this happened I hid behind Alex, because no matter who you are or how many times you've done this, you are not going to mow down an alumni Drum Major with a baton in his hand.  The second time, caught by surprise (this should reveal a great deal to you about my ninja-like situational awareness) I tossed a deeply afraid look at Jason and then closed my eyes as the trumpets and mellophones blasted past on either side, the players not looking to the right or the left, as if I weren't there, exactly as necessary, exactly as instructed. 

As they finished playing, the noise bounced off the University buildings a hundred yards distant and washed back over us, and the sympathetic tolerant faces I'd come to trust were hidden; there was no one to reach for.  I heard the labored breathing of the hopefuls surrounding me, felt the sweat and the pensive ring of the last note, and wondered which direction I was in fact facing, because I couldn't find my place and this band will absolutely swallow you up.

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