Marching Band

Bernard knew he was dreaming and wanted it to stretch that dream till the end of the parade, till the entire platoon drifted slowly under the Arc de Triomphe, his cornet blaring a final tribute to Napoleon, the Marseillaise. The emperor himself in full regalia would be watching, standing in a flag-draped box attached to the Arc itself, a monument he had commandeered just two years earlier. Built in record time to greet the returning triumphant armies from Egypt and Mesopotamia, its awesome size gave Bernard some serious goose pimples. Or perhaps the bedroom was too cold. He was playing first cornet, marching proudly in his hussars uniform with the gold festooned tricorn firmly planted in his swollen head. Hundreds of French schoolgirls with smart blue scarves over white blouses were lining both sides of the Champs Elyses blowing kisses at...him, it seemed, face red with a final flourish on his brass instrument.

This is when he heard his mother yell at him:"Get your damn bicycle from behind daddy's car. We're leaving in five minutes" The ranks dissolved quickly and Bernard remembered as he was leaping from the bed: his parents were going to spend the Easter weekend doing some spring skiing in Vail. He would be alone with his two sisters for the next three days. That was truly exciting, save perhaps that he would have loved to have mom get a glimpse of him wearing his new uniform at the Easter parade, the first outing after a snowy winter of the Pueblo Harmony. He had practiced all week, went to a summary fitting where no one seemed to care if this thirteen year old really filled those striped pants adequately.

"They grow so fast"... he had heard from a clarinetist giggling with Nantel, the only sousaphone player of the Harmony. Adrian Nantel had exceptional breath and could handle the giant instrument like his personal cell phone. He was to star in the parade by playing "Them Basses", a virtuoso piece with a terrifying sousaphone solo that, according to the Director, very few men could play in its entirety. Nantel for almost fifty complete winters had delivered fuel oil to the houses of Pueblo, hauling that long red rubber hose through mountains of snow , behind houses, sheds and all sorts of obstacles and vicious dogs. That kept his lungs open for business, those long solos that required massive amounts of blown air.

Yet in spite of some admiration, Bernard disliked the fellow intensely for his bad manners. When during winter they had marching practice in the girl's school gymnasium, Bernard as third trumpet ended up marching just ahead of Nantel and his bulky instrument. Every time Bernard tended to drift off the rank and file, Nantel would remind him to pay attention by kicking him in his young behind. Not a painful kick at that, and understandably the old man's mouth being busy with the huge mouthpiece, it was just a convenient way to remind the young fellow to stay in line. Bernard had problems with the faster tempos. He had to focus intensely on the small music score sheet perched on his instrument. Ta-dam ta-dam tatata ta-dam. Third trumpets provide the fill-in notes and some rythmic support for the first and second trumpets, the real stars of the band. Their score offers no memorable riffs, just these repetitious syncopated blahs. His eyes were glued to the sheet while his feet shuffled to the right where several giggling girls filled the gymnasium doorway with their curious stares. How humiliating were those kicks. There had to be some vengeance, thought Bernard when his mean streak would surface from time to time.

Every Tuesday night after his work as a librarian, Louis Miller, the Pueblo Harmony director, was also paid to act as Bernard's private trumpet tutor. They would both sit in front of a worn copy of the Arban Method For Trumpet while Louis discoursed for long minutes on the charm and pomp of French Military music. Then they would play duets, sampling these glorious tunes from a method written in 1854 and unchanged since. Eventually these fiery French military marches gave Barry a premature taste for honor, courage, blood and glory. On that fateful weekend he would need it, starting off with a dream that would have made his teacher proud.

"Aux armes, citoyens" was he humming in the shower when Nathalie banged on the door. "Get out of there I need the bathroom". Bernard always wondered why they only had one bathroom, but he also liked generally liked to tease his baby sister, responding quickly: "What do you give me if I let you in?". He would stall her for awhile to make her really mad. But she quickly responded: "I'll tell you where mommy hid your new trumpet". The door swung open before Barry had fully tied his bathrobe, too excited at the revelation. "Where is it?". Nathalie responded coyly as only young girls can do:"I'll tell you if you and Suzan let me go see the parade Sunday".

She was to stay home for the entire three days, strict orders from dad to the other two, respectively 5 and 6 years older than her. At fifteen Suzan was even taking driving lessons from mom, something that made Bernard very bitter. "Your sister can reach the gas pedals without me having to slide the seat forward. It'll be your turn to learn when you grow up some more legs". Mom's red Mustang was her pride and joy; keeping it dent free was also her fondest wish.

Bernard's fondest wish was to hold in his hands that polished silver trumpet from Eddy's Music store. That wish was to be fulfilled on his 14th birthday, just three weeks after Easter. Too bad he would be playing the Easter Parade with that dented jalopy of a trumpet, one he inherited from his uncle Jacques now retired in Mexico. He could at least try it while his parents were gone, maybe go through a lesson or two in Arban's Method, just to be more prepared for the parade in two days. But Nathalie would not tell. "Hey Sisser, if I let you come to the parade Sunday, what could make me sure that Suzan won't tell mom and dad. Then I'll be in a real mess". They young girl came out of the bathroom with her doll still wet from a quick shampooing. "That's all that's worrying you?...go to the garage right now and come back to my room. We need to talk"

The parents had left just hours ago and the Mustang was already gone. Suzan was having a solo flight to her girlfriend down the street. Bernard was rubbing his eyes in disbelief when he entered Nathalie's room. "Boy the NERVE she has....Did you actually see her leave? Lowering her head
the young girl went into one of her endless monologues that irritated her brother: " Sure I did. Said if I told mom she would tell her about the time I used the electric knife to cut open Sally's doll when she left it here after we had a fight about the pink carriage dad bought at a garage sale on Vista Road, y'know, the green house, and she said she saw it first and was going to get some money and..." Barry was not listening, flashing a smile as wide as the Arc De Triomphe. He had just acquired some serious leverage, and maybe some courage. He grabbed his stunned sister in a bear hug and lifting her as high as he could declared..."Sure you can come to the parade with Suzan if she'll take you. I wont tell"

Suddenly a glorious weekend was possible, starting with the sweet sound of a brand new Yamaha blown in the empty garage. The case had been stashed there inside of a cardboard box that said something else. The infatuation with the sounds coming out of that gleaming bell actually made Bernard play better, surprising himself by playing the entire Regiment de Meuse et Loire in one of the last pages of Arban. Then he remembered his band duties. As the youngest member he had the task of coordinating the musical copies and help the Director plan the program for Sunday. It was almost ten o'clock and he hated to be late. This is when the garage door opened as by magic and Suzan turned the red car into the driveway. "Suzan I'm late for band practice please please give me a ride to your school. I can't make it on my bike for ten"

Their fate was sealed for the entire weekend, all three of them were sworn to secrecy, mutually corrupted and sinful but nonetheless happy as clowns. Suzan would take Nathalie to the parade and he would take Yamaha. Miller handed over the cardboard box and a prepared list of tunes to help him assemble the sheet music in the proper order. The band would start on flat ground in front of the Police station with Colonel Boogie, then graduate to a series of Sousa classics in front of City Hall and Knights of Columbus. then the showoff stuff downhill to the Palace cinema, then something easy uphill on that steep climb to Ste Cecilia's cathedral on the hill. No, there is no way Nantel would perform his bass solo going downhill. Too easy. The 4:35 minute piece will be played on the steepest part of the entire course, culminating in front of the holy patron of music, Ste Cecilia, a lace where all the little pious ladies and young girls will be wearing their cute little Easter bonnets. A simple sheet music switch that Miller never noticed.

This is also where the Mustang would be waiting, towards the end of the course to provide Bernard a ride home after a glorious parade in a new uniform. That night Bernard slept fitfully, excited and scared at the same time, having a few weird dreams where he was actually buried in snow that Nantel was piling up on him with a red shovel. He had no breakfast, spending all his time ajusting the suspenders on his too long pants. And the jacket was too tight, making him look like a Technicolor version of Charlie Chaplin. The cap with the chin strap would restore his manhood, along with the two hundred dollar instrument his mom bought with money made selling Avon products on the side.

The sun was gorgeous and the parade moved forward like a cruise ship, slowly at first, but quickly in step with the marching band where he occupied the third row, ahead of old man Nantel as usual. Bernard's confidence was not there behind the gleaming instrument. He missed a few notes in Colonel Boogie then had to fake a good part of Sousa while desperately looking for the right bar in the sheet music. Too many distractions, not the least of which was the Channel 10 cameraman filming up close. What if mom saw that in Vail on TV, between two ski runs, recognizing the gift-to-be-opened-on-your-birthday-only-if-you-have-good-semester-grades.

Nah! They don't do Pueblo TV in Vail. Besides I could invent something. Bernard could always invent something, as far back as when he was barely four years old and told all the neighbors and relatives that his birthday was tomorrow, a technique he had discovered to get presents all year round. He managed to play all the right notes all the way to the Palace Theater, easy stuff mostly, marches they had rehearsed all winter on Sunday mornings in the gymnasium. His confidence was back when they attacked the hill. Nantel was struggling with those long riffs, Them Basses sounding more like Them Collapsed Lungs .

One minute into that piece, before the difficult sousaphone solo, Bernard saw the red Mustang with his sister Suzan sitting on the trunk. He tried to look dignified, inflating his chest, tightening his prepubescent jaws in the chin strap, stiffening his legs and...most of all, focusing on the sheet music to create what is expected of a third trumpet, a series of bleeps falling right in between the soloist's melody. And it was working. He caught a glimpse of little Nathalie just twenty feet away near the car, he face beaming with pride in her big brother, holding on to a doll carriage. A doll carriage...she brought her pink carriage in momma's car! the twit!

Bernard was getting distracted again, especially when Nantel attacked the solo, his instrument held at an unnatural angle. He must focus and not give any sign of complicity in the parade's musical program. Look competent, look innocent thought Bernard as again he searched for the right bar, having lost his position on the score. Nantel was torturing his part with unfinished legatos, misfired triple-tonguings and deflated fortissimos. During the coda, his breathing was audible eight feet away in spite of the din created by forty other musicians. But Nantel kept to his file, unlike Bernard who was at that time drifting dangerously close to a parked red car, mother's beloved Mustang.

They say certain things need to happen to make stories memorable. So they did happen: Nantel did not finish his solo for the first time in a lifetime, and Bernard banged one shin hard against the aggressive bumper of a 1976 red Mustang, the trumpet flying in a collision course with the hood of the car until a fifteen year old girl deflected it towards the sidewalk where a nine year old girl caught it in a carriage where slept a Raggedy-Ann doll with her eyes open. Three musicians tended to Nantel holding his heart while kneeling in the street. Three more tended to the boy who had just bloodied his uniform pants. The drum major was waving his stick to slow down the rest of the parade while a bunch of girls with little yellow and pink bonnets were ogling the whole scene. Nathalie had wrapped her doll and the trumpet with a blanket and was already walking home after seeing Mrs Aster, a neighbor. She would spill the beans on everyone. Susan was hiding behind a tree. She felt safe as she had documented two other red Mustangs in Pueblo. Besides she had just spared this one from impact and a serious nick.

Over Kraft dinner and hot dogs, the three kids were watching the Walt Disney hour without seeing anything, their minds terrified still by what could have happened. A dented trumpet, a dented car, an investigation, denials, a gossipy neighbor, tears, penalty, prison maybe. After all even in Pueblo people need a permit to drive a car. Bernard went to his room without desert and did his homework for a second time, not remembering that he had already done it Friday night at his mom's request. Then he went into the garage and waxed the entire Mustang, a favor he did for his mother every time he needed more than his ten dollar weekly allowance. Susan washed the entire kitchen floor and Nathalie being Nathalie spent the entire Sunday evening in the bathroom curling her doll.