Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Sunday Memory Drawer - The Springtime Musical Interlude

We chatted last week about the onset of spring and how the season provided me with some undue angst.   You heard about the annual storm window drama last week.  Now let's focus on another ritual that annoyed the crapola out of me.

I connect with some grade school pals via Facebook and this blog.  Voila.  Pictures like this one are shared and the flood gates open. 

Don't squint trying to find me.  I'm not in this photo.  But two of the aforementioned chums are.  Diane and Cheryl, the latter graciously letting me use this snapshot for my own weekly babble.

In May of every year, the city of Mount Vernon, New York set aside one weekday afternoon for a school parade.  The entire public school system was involved as one after another lined up at the starting point, which was Third Avenue and Second Street.  From there, they'd all march, each with their respective bands, through the major shopping district of Fourth Avenue and then Gramatan Avenue.  The marchers included not just band members, but school officers, teachers, and the like.

Everybody but me.  Somehow, I wasn't any of those things. 

I can remember those springs with trepidation.  Weeks before, the preparations would begin.   Band practice in the afternoon.  One friend after another would be excused from class to rehearse for some parade-related exercise.  Before you knew it, the classroom was empty and I was left alone to read "Henry Huggins and Ribsy" or whatever Beverly Cleary book I had just pulled out of the school library.

I recall thinking that, somehow and some way, there must be some reason for me to march along with all my friends.   Didn't the fact that I always got stellar report cards count for something around there??

Apparently not.  So I decided to try the conventional route.  I would learn to play a musical instrument.

Okay, backing the story car up a bit...

I had never before shown any musical aptitude whatsoever.  One Christmas when I was about eight or nine, my parents inexplicably gave me a guitar.  Not one with Donald Duck on it.  Nope, a full blown "Peter, Paul, and Mary coffee house" guitar.  Why?  No clue.  Did they suddenly want me to become another Trini Lopez?

So, I dutifully took the lesson booklet also provided and sat down to learn the guitar.  To my surprise, I figured out how to play a few chords and notes.  One afternoon, I went downstairs and played for my grandmother.  I serenaded her with a tune I had fashioned myself.  "Taps."  On a guitar.  Yes, I know.  So did Grandma.

"That's supposed to be played on a bugle."

Sorry.  That's all I got.

Not to be dashed, I commenced a few days later to put together the first few chords of the "Theme from Bonanza."

Bum dee dah bum dee dah bum bum bum...Bonanza!  Well, that's how it sounded to me.  Not to Grandma.

"When are you going to play a polka?"

Never at this rate.  Meanwhile, the blisters were forming on my fingers.  A few weeks later, the guitar wound up in the closet with a lot of other not-so-bright gift ideas.  Ironically, to this day, I still have that same guitar.  In a place where it belongs.  In an East Coast closet with other junk I simply can't bring to a dumpster.

But, back then, I realized that a guitar wasn't going to be my entry into the loftiness of the spring parade.  Unless, of course, I strummed it all the way down Fourth Avenue like I was some waiter in a Mexican restaurant. 

Nope,  I had to try something else.

The clarinet.

Our school had a program where they tried to cultivate your musical skills.  They rented out instruments, case and all.  I remember the day I received my clarinet.  I opened up the suitcase.  It didn't look like the thing on the Benny Goodman record album cover at home. 

Oh, I have to put it together?

That took a day and a half to figure out alone.  I blew on the damn thing.  Nothing came out except a little spit.

Oh, you have to put this reed on it?

That took another day and a half to master.  My reed kept falling off.  Perhaps it knew what it would be in for.

Luckily, the school system wasn't dumb enough to simply hand over musical instruments and tell kids to "have a nice day."  They did provide lessons.  I don't remember the name of the teacher.  That person, however, probably has not forgotten me.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find a note.  Or hit one.

I'd practice at home.  More air blowing in, more air blowing out.  Grandma, who was the only one home during the day, had a suggestion.

"I liked the guitar better."

Thanks, Grandma.

At the rate I was going, my musical participation in a college football halftime show ten years later was probably a stretch.  There was no way I was walking down Fourth Avenue anytime soon.  President John F. Kennedy had made two promises to the American people.  By the end of the decade, there would be a man on the moon.  And Len would hit a note on his clarinet.

I'm glad NASA held up their end of the bargain.

An unwitting person would act as the ultimate savior to all those suffering around me.  My orthodontist.  I've written about him here before. As he liked to call himself..."Dr. Arthur Ash not the Tennis Player."  I had my first appointment with him to get my Bugs Bunny overbite fixed.

"Once we start, no apples, no Turkish Taffy, and, oh, yes, no musical instruments like a clarinet."

And that was that.  I handed back the clarinet.  There was the hint of faint applause all throughout Mount Vernon, New York.

Another sterling spring memory.

Dinner last week:  Szechwan shrimp and beef.

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