Picture a telephone pole. Got it? Now add a mustache. That was my band director, Steven J. Tribble.
I kid, of course. He was a good guy. He just had a tough time coming to grips with his position in the whole dynamic of the Lock Haven High School Marching Band. As Band Director, one would assume he wielded some semblance of authority over us. It just never really worked out that way for him.
It’s not his fault. To garner our respect, he had to compete with one of the most dynamic personalities I’ve ever come across, our drum instructor, Blake Bergey. Blake was the coolest of the cool. All the girls wanted him, all the guys wanted to be him. He somehow managed to make Marching Band cool. Seriously. Tribble couldn’t compete with that. No one could. The whole match was rigged from the start.
But this story isn’t about Blake. That’s another novel for another time. This is about Tribble and me and our relationship, summed up ever so beautifully in a single anecdote.
It was a day like any other. Band practice started right after school. We were all lined up outside the band room, ready to march over to the practice field for a two-hour rehearsal. I was a senior. As such, I had an unspoken responsibility to the younger members of the organization. In short, it was to be the “Lead Jerk-off.” We had a rep to protect, it was us against him.
If you were to ask me now to provide a good reason for the dynamic, I would hard-pressed to offer up a valid response. It’s just the way we were. When I joined the band as a 12-year-old, the dynamic was laid out before me: drums were cool, band was lame. Blake was the man, Tribble was a weenie. Everyone had their role to play. As I became one of the older kids, I just kept the play going.
Anyway, back to that day. As we marched over to the field, I played “taps,” which basically means I hit my drum to provide a tempo that everyone could uniformly march to. It’s called playing ‘taps’ because this is what it sounds like: “Tap…tap…tap…………tap…tap…tap…..” It’s a big responsibility (obviously…) reserved for the senior-most member of the drum line.
So there I was, tapping away at what I considered at the time to be the proper tempo for a leisurely stroll over to the practice field. But for some reason, on this particular afternoon, Tribble came whisking up beside me, roll-stepping as always so his upper body appeared motionless (22.5″ steps, no doubt), and said, “Pick it up a little?”
Well. I mean. THE NERVE. How dare he?! So I did what the “Lead Jerk-off” was supposed to do in that situation and sped my taps up to “Ludicrous Speed”: “Tap tap tap, tap tap tap…” Christ, what an asshole I was. Everyone laughed, I had my little moment in the sun. I expected a heavy sigh from the man and we’d all carry on about our day.
But not this time. This time, Tribble turned around and glared at me with those Ron Burgundy fireballs in his eyes. He made a bee line for me and tried to grab my drum and harness off my body. He probably muttered something under his breath about me being “a little shit” but I can neither confirm nor deny that at this time.
And I gotta say, I was rather taken aback. This was a bold move on his part. He was taking a stand against my insubordination. (I totally deserved it, but that’s not the point.) So now all the kids stop and stare. It’s showdown time. I said something like, “If this is how you’re gonna be I’m leaving!!”
And right as we were having our little hissy fit in the middle of the street, along came Mr. Ray Williams, Vice Principal in charge of Discipline at the high school. He just happened to be walking down the street. He was heading right for us.
And in a MILLISECOND, Tribble and I both stopped what we’re doing. I said, “Hello there, Mr. Williams!” and Tribble was all, “Ah, ’tis a fine afternoon, isn’t it, sir?” We were just smiling away like a couple of dorks, like nothing was wrong. As Mr. Williams walked by us he gave us a grunt, like “….mm-hmm…” which basically meant pull yourselves together, gentlemen, and passed us without incident.
After we were a few yards away, Tribble gave me this AMAZING smirk like, “…what are we doing here,” and I couldn’t contain myself because the moment was just too perfect and I started laughing. He handed me back my drum, and we marched on to another uneventful afternoon practice.
Our little show of bravado ended up being just that: a show. It’s like we were just playing our parts: punching in, punching out: “Mornin, Sam. Mornin’, Ralph.”
I love that story because it shows what a deep-down respect I had for him. Tribble and I may have butted heads or whatever but Mr. Williams was his boss, man! I didn’t want to get him in trouble! Nobody picks on my little brother but me, you know? If I really hated him as much as I pretended to I would have said something like, “Mr. Williams! Thank God you’re here, Mr. Tribble just assaulted me!” But I would never do that to the man. I gave him such a hard time as it was, I know I was at least 26% responsible for any stomach ulcers he had to battle on a nightly basis.
We respected each other. We may have had a funny way of showing it, but that was the deal. Everyone had their role to play.