Life, One Sip at a Time: Of Trombones and Trajectories

The early morning sun danced over the ocean’s surface as blithely as a bride at her wedding reception.

Scents of lavender, mixed with a myriad of unrecognizable, exotic tropical smells, filled the air with a potpourri of fragrance enlivening my senses and refreshing my soul.

St. Arbuck’s in Ka’anapali, on Maui’s north shore, was filled with the pleasant buzz of conversation typically found among those who have nothing better to do than enjoy a perfect day in paradise.

It was definitely what Kenny Chesney would call the “coast of somewhere beautiful.”

So far Maui was definitely living up to its billing.

I sat there with my beloved who, true to form, was navigating her way, quite successfully I might say, through the morning Sudoku while I perused the local news.

Have I mentioned that she has now graduated, at long last, to real coffee?

Well, ’tis true.

I feel so triumphant.

My eye happened to fall upon an article about a high school band in the south that had been bilked out of several hundred thousand dollars by a nefarious travel agency in Fiji. The money was to have paid for a year-end trip to the islands.

Turns out the money, instead, paid for a rather lavish lifestyle for the travel agency owner.

I love marching bands.

I may have mentioned this before, so stop me if you’ve heard this (actually there’s nothing you can do to stop me—others have tried), but I grew up in a small town.

Like 10,000 residents small.

At the age of sixteen I joined the local community band—the Watsonville Community Band to be precise.

The band’s musical prowess was the stuff of legend among those of us inclined toward wind-driven instruments.

Which compels me to ask: What do you call a wind-driven pitch approximator?

Give up?

A trombone.

(Cue groaning)

Since you didn’t know that, you most likely don’t know the range of a tuba—about thirty yards if you’ve got a good arm.

I’ll stop now.

The band had an aggressive concert and marching schedule and an ambitious young manager.

We triumphed over most of our competition in parades up and down the state of California and, as a result, were invited to march in the International Lion’s Club Parade in Chicago, IL, which, as it so happened, was scheduled during the World’s Fair in Montreal, Canada.

We decided to do both.

It was pretty heady stuff for a generationally and socially diverse bunch of amateur musicians from a tiny agricultural community.

Chartering a United Airlines flight, we headed for Chicago.

I’ll never forget that flight!

A spontaneous jam session broke out at thirty-seven thousand feet as the majorettes danced in the aisles with older men whose inhibitions had been sent packing by a seemingly unlimited supply of free booze.

I had just graduated from high school and was far too lacking in confidence to join in the festivities, although seeing Darlene moving fluidly up and down the aisle wrapped up in the arms of one drunken dancing fool after another was sheer torture.

Darlene!

She of the ten thousand-watt smile, dancing eyes, perfect body and personality that seemed to brighten any space she occupied.

I had an adolescent-sized crush on Darlene.

What was that?

Of course she didn’t know it!

What, do you think I was crazy?

You didn’t go around telling major babes like Darlene stuff like that!

I mean she was the love/lust object of every guy in the band.

Old, young…it mattered not.

Panting from all the exertion of having just danced with fifteen or twenty men, she plopped down in the empty seat next to me.

My heart nearly stopped!

She sort of stared at me for a few seconds, her lips stretching into that crazy smile.  “So, you going to dance with me, or what?”

I can’t remember exactly what I said but in some form or fashion I indicated that while I would have loved to accommodate her request, I was, sadly, forced to decline on the basis that my dancing resembled an octopus on crack!

She pouted for a minute before saying, “Nope! Not buying it. Come on.” And with that she pulled me to my feet—which suddenly felt like the size of beer kegs—hauled me into the aisle and, well, she danced like a whirling dervish while I held on for dear life at once both terrified and enraptured by being that close to the one and only Darlene.

When we were done, we returned to our seats and she looked at me in silent appraisal long enough for me to be quite uncomfortable.

Finally she said, “You’re pretty cute.”

Once again, I can’t remember exactly how I responded to her compliment, but I’m certain it had something to do with blushing and babbling something profoundly incoherent.

We talked for the rest of the flight, the dirty old men casting frequent resentful and envious glances my way as they tottered down the aisle toward the restroom.

We talked about life, plans for college—she had none, I was going away—a guy in the drum line she kind of liked and whom I instantly hated; music, dancing and whether Taylor’s Hot Dogs were, in fact, the best hot dogs on the planet.

They were and still are.

She finally fell asleep with her head on my shoulder.

I fell asleep feeling like the luckiest guy on the flight.

At one point she woke up, looked at me, smiled a little and then promptly fell back asleep.

Wow! I’ll say it backwards…woW!

When we got to Chicago we marched down the same street that in a year and one month would be filled with thousands of war protestors battling the Chicago police and chanting, “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!”

In eight months, Martin Luther King would be assassinated, followed two months and two days later by the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

Of course, we knew nothing about those tragedies then; tragedies that would forever change the trajectory of our nation.

We played on the grand staircase of the Conrad Hilton hotel; ate a lot of good food; the adults drank, and drank and drank; Darlene danced, and danced and danced; my obsession grew and…well, you get the picture.

The night before we were to leave for Montreal, the band manager organized a party.

A real blowout.

The afternoon of the party, I was out by the pool when Darlene—clad in a bikini that did things to my hormonally charged eighteen-year old system that should’ve been criminalized—sat down on the lounge next to me.

She did that silent appraisal thing again and then said quite matter-of-factly, “You’re my date tonight.”

And I was.

Gladly.

We had a blast.

At the end of the evening when I walked her to her room, she unlocked the door and then turned suddenly and kissed me full on the lips.

“You’re such a sweetheart,” she said a bit breathlessly, while cupping my face in both of her hands. “You are kind and caring…and cute. Don’t ever change.”

And without another word, she went into her room and shut the door.

I stood there reveling in that kiss—a kiss that I would remember for years to come—breathing in the warm, velvety summer air and, although I didn’t know it at the time, making a decision that I would, indeed, attempt to be a caring and kind person for the rest of my days.

Darlene and I remained friends for the rest of that trip and very good friends thereafter, at least until I went away to college.

“What are you thinking about, baby?” my beloved said softly, jolting me out of my reverie.

“Oh,” I said., “just thinking about how random moments in time can completely change the trajectory of a person’s life.”

“Do I sense the genesis of a new story?” she asked with that dazzling smile of hers.

“Oh, who can say?”

RG…out!

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