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Monday
May022011

You and Me Could Write a Band Romance

There are days such as these. It's raining. Of the past 48 hours, I have slept for 4.  The steps are two at a time and the creases of my hip flexors are furious, furious at having been immobilized in a car for the distance of Mobile to Columbus.  At least once I have to rest my fingertips on the banister; I am off-balance, I am a hot mess in yesterday's cold wet socks, but I know where I am going, and that is towards the music.

Above my head on the landing is the emblem of The Ohio State University Marching Band.  When Jason The Ridiculously Young Drum Major took me through here on my last visit, he slid his hands over the symbol, tapping the edges and center.  "I have to do that," he said by way of explanation, not once breaking stride.   I kept silent in his wake; the last time I visited my high school to speak on Alumnae Career Day, I automatically took the long way through the building to the side staircases, a traffic pattern burned into me as a freshman and one I probably still would have taken had I stopped to realize what I was doing.

This is the Steinbrenner Band Center, the home of the OSU Marching and Athletic Bands.  It is built into Ohio Stadium and nicer than the administration building of the college where I last taught.  There is an instrument repair room, a separate media center, and a training room where the Drum Majors are iced, taped, and retrofitted with Bond-style silicone tracking chips.

At the moment, one of the practice rooms is in use, and I do mean in use:  The Spring Athletic Band has taken up residence and is playing the theme from Superman.  It's part of the show it will play as part of the Spring Game, a football scrimmage scheduled some four days down the line.  They've just met.  Unlike the Marching Band, there are no gruelling tryouts for Spring Band, no Script Ohio and no blue wool uniforms which, as Josh The Supposedly Subdued Drum Major once told me, are somehow simultaneously both unable to shed heat in the summer or retain heat in the winter.  There is, however, "Buckeye Battle Cry," and this is what I am hearing without benefit of YouTube or mp3 player for the very first time.

It's a big moment, and I mark it by dropping into a hard plastic chair which overlooks an interior concourse of a grey and dripping stadium.  I am quite sure that by mid-October, Marching Band, fifth-year senior standards that what I am hearing barely moves the needle on the Acceptable Scale.  But it thrums through the white floor, it gently nudges the recruiting posters on the walls, and in this way it is seen as well as heard.  It is music and it is moving like the live thing it is. 

Students begin to file past, all spit valves and rain gear, and Jason, baton in hand, informs me that he is headed off to warm up before the rehearsal moves outdoors and that he will see me, quote, "out there."  I am in the process of solving the national debt crisis via text with Stewart Kitchen The Kind Of Big Deal and shoo Jason out of sight.  It is quiet; I am still and alone and exhausted on a cellular level there in the hard plastic chair.  Raising my head is work I'm not yet ready to do.

I press both palms into both eyelids and channel my inner Joan Benoit, who is usually not locatable without the assistance of Red Bull and the promise of an immediate paycheck.  But the band will have re-congregated by now, and if I'm to catch the marching section of the rehearsal, I must go, for even A-Band waits for no blonde.  I go Out There.

Except I'm still by myself.  I wander the dark interior concourse of the stadium, seeing the 20 yard line slip past, the 30. The concession stands are utterly dark, shutters rolled down.  The Three Knocks plate, streaked, dented, and chipped by Jason and Stew and Josh on game days, shines unattended from the dank concrete.  My cell has no signal and suddenly this is all very Manos, but not in the ironic, epically mockable way.  I am wandering, cold, and guideless in Ohio Stadium, and in yet another confirmation of my decision to forego bearing children, I have somehow managed to lose an entire marching band.

For in the act of texting a former Drum Major, I have mislaid the current one, and chances were excellent that Jason wouldn't pause mid-ground bounce to answer a message the likes of "WHERE R U? I'M AT THE PART WITH ALL THE CONCRETE."  This thing wasn't even a circle; I couldn't do what I did as a panicked sophomore turned around in Notre Dame Stadium and resolve to simply keep walking until the most familiar ladies' room presented itself.

At last I realize that I'd had no memory of this here first aid facility when last here with Jason, which serves as an indication that I am probably walking away from the Band Center entrance.  Turn, turn, turn.  In five months the band alone would require several minutes to file into place and the seats would crack with bass and the psychic strain of a hundred thousand keening souls, but at the moment there's just me and the silence and the dripping. 

The search is not over once I slip out of the dark of the concourse and into the dark of the overcast afternoon.  If "out there" wasn't the Stadium where the Spring Game performance would take place, it must be the "practice field" I heard Jason allude to at one point.  The practice field which was... somewhere, on campus, within sousaphone-carrying distance. 

It would be flat, wherever it was.  Minus.  But it would also, presumably, contain the band, which would presumably be making noise.  Plus!  I start walking the wide path which hugs Ohio Stadium.  If I took the long way, I took the long way.

I walk past my car, the stained glass windows, the press entrance which I will use on Saturday.  I am still walking when I hear the same drumbeats which touched the soles of my feet not an hour earlier.  Tripping, now, with weariness and adrenaline in a nauseating cocktail, I move closer until I can make out the horn section.  And there--the Buckeye Grove I heard former Drum Major Alex Neffenger mention as a place he used to practice the ramp entrance.  The trees are sprouting, tiny pointed leaves... could be poison ivy, if you didn't know better, but these little ones, they are spring and they are blossoming into something gorgeous like you ain't never seen.

There's a melody now, and the roaring echo of the heavy brass.  Past the arches of the grove and over a rise, I see the whirling end-over-end flash of a baton against the tired clouds, perfectly timed to a roll from the snares.  I have moved towards the music; I have found my way, and I am here.

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