This piece is less about being a band geek in high school and more about adolescent humor and bad judgement. It stars my pal Charlie Banks and kindly published in July 2018 by Twenty-Two Twenty-Eight.
by DL Shirey
It went like this: Two high school buddies square off in mock confrontation, voices brimming with testosterone. Mine’s longer than yours. No way, mine’s longer. Belts are unbuckled, giving the impression to nearby girls of an imminent comparison of penises. They are whipped out with a flourish–the belts, I mean–and held up to one another to see who wins.
This was foreplay in 1973, when I had no idea what it took to attract the opposite sex. Acting the buffoon was a way to get attention, as was ’70s fashion statements like bell-bottom Levi’s, flower-print shirt and a white belt. I even had a pair of platform shoes, which, thank God, went out of fashion before the year was up.
Getting attention was the easy part and asking a girl out wasn’t the problem. What I had no clue about was how to get past First Base. Another person who seemed to be in the same predicament was my friend, Charlie Banks. Our dearth of sexual conquests was so abysmal that, by the end of high school, we bet a thousand dollars to the one who got married last. I didn’t go all the way until my sophomore year in college and I finally tied the knot at 38. Charlie is still a bachelor.
In high school we were bandmates. Not in a band rocking out covers of Led Zeppelin or The Who; no, in Band, the school music program, playing saxophones instead of electric guitars. We paraded in uniform to Sousa marches and made barely-recognizable formations on the football field during halftime performances. Still, we thought we were cool, and in our own way, popular. Not football or cheerleader popular, mind you, that would be taking self-aggrandizement too far.
Band was a social network calendared with events. Marching Band went to parades on weekends, each home football game had a halftime show and basketball games had the Pep Band, an elite subset of two-dozen musicians. And after the games and parades we all went to parties, a pizza joint or the ice cream parlor. Opportunities to engage with young women abounded, so there were plenty of occasions for Charlie and me to perform our little skit.
Charlie was the only African American in our high school class. He and a few dozen Hispanics barely scratched the color off a blindingly-white student body from our Anaheim, California neighborhood. If there was racial tension, I didn’t see it, but then again, I was safely ensconced in the pale majority. We had Band, Charlie and me, and within this clique, all was right with society. My peers elected me Band President, while Charlie used our musical constituents and his dynamic personality to springboard to Senior Class President.
Our respective presidencies got us seats at the table of ICC, the impressively-acronymed inter-club council, where faculty and representatives from different student organizations came together to discuss school issues. I kept looking across the table at Charlie wondering how two cut-ups could be sitting in a conference room with cheerleaders, athletes and the most enviable kids at school. I felt like a comet that had strayed into the orbit of planets revolving popularity’s shining star. And when a gavel banged the meeting to a close, I found myself chatting with people I never had the nerve to talk to before. Thank goodness I was dressed in my best ’70s finery.
Then Charlie unbuckled.
Looking back, I realize the belt bit was nothing but a public display of immaturity in the same category with armpit farts, belching the alphabet or crowing “that’s what she said” after anything vaguely sexual. It was a dick joke, plain and simple, but High School Me thought it clever, with layers of subtlety and deception that got the audience thinking one way, then BAM! off it went in a completely different direction. And it always got a laugh.
“Mine’s longer than yours,” Charlie smirked.
The gleam in his eyes lit the room, our biggest stage yet. Recognizing the opportunity and the status of spectators who turned to face us, I decided to raise my game and one-up the punch line, anxious to make an indelible impression.
“Well, mine’s whiter.” I yanked the snow-colored belt from my waistline.
Silence is bad, but it’s worse when accompanied by a collective intake of breath. Charlie had a look on his face I’d never seen before, what I took as embarrassment from our comedic flop. It was only on that long, lonely walk back to the band room that I realized what I’d done.