that’s what dumb do: the time(s) I looked the fool in marching band

Last week I took some time to illuminate you about one of the many ways I have found to endorken myself publicly: by being a band geek. And while I was okay at it during my high school years, in college I was just barely good enough. Like, there was last chair, and then there was the pity chair they tacked on to the end just for me. I was not a shining example of bandsmanship, is what I’m saying. Especially during marching season, which was little more than an extended period dedicated to humiliating not only myself, but also everyone around me.

I’m not saying I stumbled around the field at halftime like a frat boy trying to find his room key at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning, it’s just that I occasionally got… distracted. Cut me some slack, kids, I was surrounded by hundreds of bleating horns and crashing cymbals and thumping drums and whispering woodwinds. Of course, so was everyone else, so what was my problem? No, seriously, what was my problem. (Feel free to speculate in the nonexistent comments section.) Let me give you a couple for-examples of my clownish marching ineptitude.

For starters, one of our fundamental marching moves was called “high mark time,” which involved marching in place while bringing your knees way up, like a high step without stepping anywhere. It was drilled into us to keep the side of our foot close along the inseam of our stylish marching pants as we raised our knees, to keep the step clean and precise. On the Monday after a weekend game, the director was showing us slides of the halftime show (like a football coach reviewing game film, but with slightly less concussion footage). One photo showed the back side of a line of clarinets, all crisply performing the high mark time… all except for one iconoclastic holdout whose leg stuck out like a dog marking a fire hydrant. We were all trying to figure out who it was (don’t tell me you can’t see where this is headed) when it became obvious that the doofus in question was standing to the left of the tallest clarinetist in the section, and that yes, I was positioned to the left of the tallest clarinetist in the section.

You had one job, Horn. ONE JOB. I had somehow found a way to screw up pretending to march.

At least that screw-up wasn’t all that obvious to observers in the stands (most of whom, let’s just be honest, were probably either in the bathroom, in line buying nachos, or had left already to secure kegs and red Solo cups for post-game). But if you’re going to make a mistake, I say, make it an obvious one.

Picture this: pre-game. Stands are packed. The Pride Band is marching onto the field to salute our proud nation with the Star-Spangled Banner. A long line of woodwinds is marching in a straight line from the end zone to a destination somewhere in the vicinity of midfield, where they will take their place in formation with the rest of the band. I was amongst that line of woodwinds, and as we marched in our customary 8-to-5 stride (that, eight steps for every five yards) we were all mentally counting down the steps until we were supposed to stop. And so I came to a sharp halt when we got to the yard line in question.

Well, presumed yard line in question, I guess.

Because everyone else kept marching.

[Expletive!] I had stopped five yards short! And lordy, did I stick out like a sore thumb: a perfectly straight line of bandspeople moving in formation, with one clueless half-wit hanging a few yards back for no apparent reason. Oh well, the show must go on… so I quickly recovered, caught up with my line, hit the next line marker right in step with them, and stopped.

And they kept marching. Again.

Because no, Price, we still weren’t there yet. Flustered, I caught back up to them. This time, I just decided to march with them and halt when they halted. For whatever reason, I just had no memory of where that was supposed to be. I just kept my head on a discreet swivel, desperately watching the marchers to my right and left to try to suss out the finish line. Eventually, they stopped, and I only went a yard or two further before I realized it and had to scoot back to the line.

Back when I was in the Pride, in the olden days before Twitter-shaming, we had our own guilt-heaping tradition: people who made mistakes during pregame or halftime had to run a lap during the third quarter. And brother, you best believe I ran that game. I’m surprised the director didn’t personally chase me around the track with a pack of rabid Rottweilers.

I wasn’t all that great at marching, is the long and short of it. Or playing, come to think of it. Why I wasn’t booted from the band with extreme prejudice is a mystery to this day. I assume the band director allowed me to remain out of pity, or perhaps to keep me around as the Goofus to everyone else’s Gallant. As a cautionary tale. As the solitary DON’T after a long list of DOs.

I suppose I should be thankful that the university graciously allowed me to participate despite my embarrassing them nearly every time I took the field with the rest of the band. But then, if I was booted out of every organization I publicly humiliated with my gross doofitude, I’d be unemployed, single, and probably dead. Because if there’s one group I’ve let down over and over again, it’s humanity. But hey, every team needs a sixth-string bench warmer who makes the rest of you look good. How about you stop pointing and laughing and maybe offer a simple thank you? I’ll just sit right here and wait for your gratitude to flow my way.