It was 3AM when I woke up. Outside the dark rain clouds we had eyed earlier on the Ellis Island Ferry hovered precariously above and rumbled quietly, almost gently, in the distance. I sat up in bed, my eyes only reporting images of soft shadows and shapes around me, and then I reached over and turned-on the bedside lamp. Light poured onto the auburn bed sheets and carpeted floors and a moment later I heard a rustling from the far corner of the room.
"What?" I asked.
Mmmm-turn the goddamn light off
"It's time to get up, Aaron." I replied.
"Naw, man," I said. I threw my bed sheets onto the floor and placed both feet onto the ground. "Banim said we gotta be at the buses and ready to go by three-thirty. If we're late, we'll miss our rehearsal."
Huang's voice: "It's raining outside."
I strained my ears. The drummer was right- outside there was the faint pitter-patter of raindrops splattering against the window.
"Well, that sucks," I muttered.
"Turn it off," came Huang's voice in agreement.
I walked slowly to the bathroom and ran the faucet water hot. I splashed a few handfuls on my face and suddenly I remembered the water from the Potomoc River as it had blown in a mist onto our faces at the Jefferson Monument a million years ago. But it hadn't been that long. It was only... had that only been 2 weeks ago?
I dried my face with the plush white hotel towels. "Don't you wanna be on TV?" I called out from underneath the towel.
More incoherent mumbling
I stepped out of the bathroom and threw my towel at Aaron's sleeping mass. It landed with a soft thud on his back and he groaned softly.
"Let's roll," I said.
Aaron groaned again and did not respond. I sighed.
"It's fucking raining," Huang repeated and put his pillow over his head. In the process he knocked over a photo we had taken as a group with a life-sized Scooby Dog at Macy's the day prior. It fluttered to the ground and slipped under the bed.
"They can't make us march in the rain," Huang moaned. "Don't they cancel the Macy's Parade for things like this?"
"I'm pretty sure they don't," I began and then coughed violently. The chill from the top of the Empire State Building had given me a bit of a head cold the day before.
"Guys?" I called after a moment.
No answer this time. Not even a grumble.
"Guys, it's time to go get famous," I said and stepped back into the room. I carefully stepped over a stack of programs from the Smithsonian Museums and swiftly evaded a partially-open suitcase over-flooding with clothes. When I was in-between the beds, I looked down at the sleeping masses and nudged them slightly.
"It's almost time, c'mon. We didn't travel across the country for nothing."
"Screw it, Law. Just... screw it."
Outside the pattering of the rain falling over Manhattan seemed to get louder and every few seconds an errant taxi cab horn would float up from the street and bounce off the skyscrapers around us. In the other direction I could hear the hurried footsteps of our co-band members rushing out the door with their uniforms dragging partially on the floor, their breathless whispers echoing through the thin hotel hallways. If we stayed the way we were, a trip chaparone would come bother us in a bit. If things still didn't change after that, then two chaparones would come. And then, if things still didn't change...
"I'll see you guys downstairs," I said and started reaching for my uniform. "Don't worry, I'll try to save some TV air time for you."
Aaron and Huang groaned.
Episode 2 of "The High School Years", (a segment which I've preemptively-named "Zero Period", a reference to those misty early mornings on the West High football field during comp season), was created from a number of tapes in my collection that covered the field competitions and football games of my senior year. Going through them all these years later, I found a lot more in those tapes than I previously thought. Aside from the usual stock marching band competition footage, (as well as the occasional "Penis Cam"-segment which my friends inexplicably loved to record from time to time), there are a number of interesting and rather touching shots on those old 8mm reels of tape, shots that I may have overlooked as a young man but now appeal to me in a way that only old, forgotten memories can. I spent more than three-quarters of my time in high school on the field with my sax- it's no wonder these high school memories touched me deeper than the others.
It is not what happens during the field show that is the most important thing on these old tapes- it is the stuff beforehand and afterwards, the preamble to the show and the aftermath of the competition. There's such an electricity in the air in those shots, a youthful energy that is prominent even when the people on screen aren't saying a single word. I didn't have much footage of the show itself in my collection. If you want that, go ahead and ask Jim Banim about it- he'll probably show you a garage full of old film reels and videotapes containing the greatest moments of the West High Entertainment Unit. No, instead what I had was the life and the vivacity surrounding every tournament and field show, the adolescent thrill and excitement which manifested itself through ostentatious boasts and exuberant practical jokes played on both band members and band directors alike. You could have sworn that me and my friends were high on something during most of that footage. But, I swear to you, we're not. That's the craziest part of all.
I was 14 with a knack for the playing the saxophone when I first entered the band in 1996. Kevin Ryu and the other band seniors at the time had formed an opinion early-on that I was to be known as "that stuck-up saxophone kid from Jefferson with a huge ego" and I was to be humbled at all costs. That lasted for awhile- I distinctly remember getting hazed harder than Wei-han during band camp and once or twice I caught Dan Kim and Tom Kwon giving me an evil eye from across the room, (Tom now frequents the bars in Hollywood with me on a weekly basis). Things changed when the whole "make-fun-of-the-big-head"- thing got old and people realized I just wanted to be part of the group. I made friends pretty quickly after that.
The Entertainment Unit was our life's blood when we were in high school. It was our first introduction to West High itself, (band camp always started a month before the start of classes), it was the key to our campus status, (3 of the last 4 homecoming kings had been from the band), and it gave us something to do on the weekends that didn't involve being stuck indoors, (don't you remember those late nights out at field show comps and the ensuing late night Denny's runs?). It was our entire world during our adolescence and at one point or another we all were leaders in the Unit, dated other people in the Unit, and shared classes with other people in the Unit. Blake Armstrong once told me that in ten years the only two things you remember from high school are your graduation day and the band. And if you didn't have the band... well, shit, sucks to be you, doesn't it?
What you see in "Zero Period" is only the tip of the iceberg. There are literally hours upon hours of good footage from my marching band days in my collection and while I could only choose mere minutes out of the thousands to include, just trust me when I say I could make a whole other movie from the outtake footage I have. And who knows- if the stars align in the right way at some fateful day in the future, I just may do that very thing.
So enjoy, my wonderful and ever-so-important classmates, enjoy this latest endeavor of mine and all the emotions that come with it. I was touched and quite happy to get all that positive feedback from Class Roster last month and it has reassured me that, though at times the nights are dark, there are those of you out there who are still watching, (quite a lot of you, in fact, as the counter on my facebook page reports). Now sit back and allow me to welcome you back to a world where marching bands and auxillary teams rule the night, a world where the trumpeter with the toughest chops wins the crowd and the drum major with the fastest baton takes the prize. I am damned proud to say that I was and still very much am a member of the West High Entertainment Unit and this video is for all those rehearsals, all those shows, all those trophies, all those nights that got my heart beating and lifted me beyond the confines of my high school shell when I was young man.
This is "Zero Period" and you had better get a move on.
We're about to run the show from the top.