The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 6: Those Tater Tots Are Pretty Good, Tho

It turned out, after a tater tot and taco-laden discussion in one of the less crumb-coated tables of South Quad, that Hal adhered the most to college rivalry sentiments than did anyone else in his social circle.  Calling it a “social circle” included several caveats, of course, one of them being that Hal didn’t know half the people at the table beyond recognizing them as fellow band geeks, and another being that they were band geeks and therefore for the most part less adept at social interactions.


“I just don’t get what all the fuss is about.”  Kendra, a dirty blonde alto horn, wrinkled her nose.  “It’s so extra.”


“That’s what makes it great!”  Hal flung his arms outward melodramatically.  “It’s pure adrenaline!  Chaos!  Acrimony!”


“Eh….”  The lukewarm counter came from Millicent, a sophomore and fellow cymbal reserve with a lavender streak in her hair and a tendency to brood.  She was the one person at the table Hal somewhat knew.  “Pretty overkill, if you ask me.”


“Screaming at the refs isn’t really my idea of fun,” Kendra supplemented.


“We scream at the refs from anger, not because it’s fun.  The fun part is watching the other team lose!”


“I thought it was about watching our team win.”  Millicent’s voice was a deadpan.


“Well, that, too.”


Kendra mouthed something to Millicent that looked like the word boys.


“Well, as much as I love watching other teams fail spectacularly,” –this from a sophomore trumpet named Ryker– “I usually get more hyped when we win.”


Mildly incredulous that his tablemates did not exhibit an enthusiasm unknown to mankind, Hal turned to the fifth and final band geek munching away on tater tots, a freshman pic named Aaron.  He was a snarky lad prone to, according to his numerous anecdotes, butting heads with substitute teachers who mispronounced his name.  He’d often be reamed for messing up and then wind up outside the principal’s office twiddling his thumbs and wondering if the latest band video had caught him missing his dot.  Hal figured he was the type to revel in both the wins of the Wolverines and the losses of their sworn enemies, but he wasn’t so sure at this point.


“Oh, me?”  Aaron looked up from his tater tots.  “I kinda agree with Kendra and Ryker.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call screaming at refs fun, but I do love me a good football game.”


“I never said screaming at refs was fun.  I said the spirit of college football was fun.”  Hal defensively chowed down on his taco, then contemptibly popped a tater tot into his mouth while he was still chewing.  “Like the rivalry.  Not getting shorted by refs.”


“Didn’t they apologize–?”


Hal waved his hand dismissively.  “Not good enough.  You see, they done messed up, A–Aaron!”  He was interrupted as Aaron yeeted a tater tot at his head.


“Alright, that’s it.”  Millicent stood, surly, and scooped up her empty plate.  “I’m outta here.”


“What would you do that for, bro!?”  Hal gesticulated helplessly at the immaculate tater tot now marred by the filth of the cafeteria floor.  “Why would you waste a tater tot?  They’re not just tater tots–they’re most requested tater tots!”  Yet, as he spoke, he pumped the remainder of his taco into the air and launched it past Aaron’s shoulder.  “As per the menu!”


“Oh, it’s on,” Aaron returned, and seized his four remaining tater tots in his fist.


Author’s Note:  Band geeks do not yeet food at each other in actuality.  We’re more civilized than that.

The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 5: Beanie

O pom-pom graced atop the knitted dome

Secured by laces tipped with aglets clear;

Beneath thee soft-striped stitches tightly roam

In chevrons spanning from thee to the ear.

O stitches stretched into a snug caress

Around the fragile flesh and mind and hair

You trap soft heat and ward off cruel duress

That would arise were this pale pate left bare.

O flesh, that warmth may bless thy frigid heart

Nestled within thee, that the stitches may

Envelop fragile you from the game’s start

And shield you till night voids the might of day.

May ev’ry precious strand upon your head

Of the band beanie undermine cold’s dread.

The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 4: War Chant

The football players smashed into one another with the force of semi trucks, the sounds of their collisions drowned out by the pervasive screaming of fans.  Hal’s own throaty screech was lost in the chaos.  He wasn’t particularly loud, and his voice had gotten stuck at some point during puberty in the odd limbo between the voice of a boy and the sonorous, crisp boom of an adult male, subjecting him to frequent voice cracks.  His scream crackled now, and he could have been mistaken for fourteen or fifteen were he not a member of the marching band.


His right arm burned from the motion accompanying the excerpt from Temptation, commonly referred to as “Stands T” by the band.  Although he hardly felt it, the faint sensation was enough to distract him in the game.  He wasn’t much invested in it anyway, caring more about the stand tunes and watching halftime than anything else.


Why don’t we play a short version of W?


War Chant, the second half of the Michigan traditional duo that begins with Temptation, was just as musically robust and hype.  For the cymbals, it was a near-constant motion of pumping the arms up and down, interspersed with deep knee bends, 180-degree jumps (and one 270-degree jump), the infamous back bend, and, at the very end, a complex pattern of partner crashes that could literally kill you if you forgot to duck.  It was the perfect complement to the knee torture of Temptation, though W (or “Dubs,” as many people called it) contained knee torture, as well.


It is a universal truth that, when it comes to T + W, you can’t have one without the other…yet, in the stands, there was one without the other.  Hal had always been deeply saddened by this, as he loved both T and W, although they were grueling, especially when you were forced to do it inside the band hall with a mask on.


He always imagined a stands version of W drawing from the first part of the song, which involved a relatively complicated crash rhythm for the cymbals that alternated with eight-count drum features.  He’d never said anything about this to the band director or the drum instructor, seeing as he was a freshie reserve fresh out of a yearlong hiatus (though it might as well have been a punishment for something Hal didn’t do).


He swallowed as the play ended with the opposing team gaining three yards and prayed Stands W would become a real occurrence.

The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 3: Temptation

Tungsten clouds flattened as they scraped along the dome of the stadium, the residual howl of their wind battling the sonic boom of the multitude for dominance.  Within the confines of the band section, instruments bellowed and slammed into the rattled air, stunning anyone unfortunate enough not to have earplugs, and shot their notes toward the field.  Cymbals smashed a vicious beat over the intricate, layered rhythms of the drums.  Fierce, dark waves from the trombones blasted forth in ominous fronts that seized the hollow wind and regurgitated it as menacing music.


And the TV station, as per usual, completely ignored them.


Hal chopped his arm back and forth to the explosive cymbal crashes, throwing his shoulder forth and thrusting his upper body toward the football players as though they would acknowledge him.  They were too far from the band, crouched as they were at the 45 yard line, and their backs were to the north end zone where the band gathered.  Of course, the chant wasn’t directed at the Michigan football players; rather, it was meant for the opposing team, who had just fumbled the ball in the most spectacular fashion.


Hal and the other drumline reserves were not allowed to chant along with the student section for a very specific reason, but nothing prevented him from singing along in his head.  The mantra was an adrenaline rush, a ferocious vocal tacked over an exhilarating spew of domineering energy and sound.


He unleashed his fury in the form of a scream that flooded his ears but was easily trounced by the band.  Primal, feral, in perfect time, it blended with the shout of the rest of the cymbal line, his one sheer thrill forgotten in the chaos.


He wished he was able to play along with the rest of the band, but the cheer was the closest approximation he could get this season.  A freshman in the cymbal line, he’d never really stood a chance to make the performance block this year, and he had only a small chance to make it next year.  He’d practiced incessantly, but he was inexperienced and not as strong as the upperclassmen, who performed advanced visuals with seemingly little effort.


Hal loved marching band immensely, loved the cymbal section (it was objectively the best instrument), the people in it.  Loved screaming and dancing in the stands every Saturday with his band friends.  But there was a tickle in his mind, a gnawing, nagging sensation at the back of his throat, the tiny demon that numbed his arms and chipped away his resolve.


At the moment, with his arm gouging the wind and his intense glare fixated on the football players pooling around the 45 yard line, he was a machine.  A maize and blue warrior launching an offensive against the wind and against silence, smushed between two of his fellow reserves who pummeled the air with similar malevolence.  All thoughts silenced except the two-word mantra and the swell of the trombones.  Tension building, building until it climaxed in a minor duo of notes, a final crash, and then–



The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 2: The Last Band Geek on Earth

Amidst the spongy grass and gray pebbles dotted with flecks of quartz

Along paved trails that sluice through the leaf-frosted earth

Beside the brick structures segmented by imposing windows

Stands the last band geek on earth.


She stretches a bruised arm up into the sky

Bats at the wisps of cotton-like fog

Her hand fades into the silver and becomes the clouds

But her feet never leave the ground.


Tucked away behind the band hall and the slabs of pavement erupting from the dirt

Strewn across the coarse, fractured pavement and triangles of glass

Her wrecked

Resolve skitters along the slate aggregate and collides with dislodged rock.


And who is she,

Stretched betwixt the heavens and purgatory, lost in her own dust and her swirls of mist,

The engraving of her failure pressed into her flesh with nature’s stylus,

To dissolve in the muffled fall dawn and let her hair assail the wind?


Who is she,

Alone on the cement steps of the band hall with her uniform of sweatpants,

A phantom that is and yet never was

Destined for nebulae and neutron stars?


Who was she to believe

That when the band ascended into the constellations for their weekend away from Earth,

She’d journey with them?

The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 1: Kendra

The wind whipped through Kendra’s thin excuse of a raincoat, and harsh droplets stung her cheeks and speckled her glasses.  Her arms were drawn into her sides as she stood, shivering, her feet planted in a 45-degree angle and the tips of her fingers red and numb.  Locked in her left hand was her cell phone with its shattered screen protector and worn case, opened on an intricate display of symbols and letters across a coordinate plane.  She squinted at the screen now, at the highlighted dot at the head of a thin lime line, the opposite end of which marked where she currently stood.


The wind picked up, flung a punch directly into her slight form.  Behind her, someone let out a curse he thought nobody else would hear.  He must have nearly shouted, since she could hear him well enough despite the thick foam plugs wedged into her ear canals.  Not that she blamed him.  She was biting back her own gripe, but she was saving her lips and breath for playing, and she did not have much air left.


A command made faint by the plugs in her ears prompted her to travel to her next dot.  Another backwards move–seriously?–in sixteen counts, and diagonally to boot.  Still, she scurried to the next spot on the field with haste, if only to warm herself for five seconds.


The hand holding her horn was frigid.  Even with the grease-stained, formerly white glove on, the low temperature, drizzle, and gusts brutalized her extremities, and it wasn’t like these gloves were meant for insulation.  They were meant for playing this damn instrument, a rental from the band hall with a sticking valve and perpetually flat tone, that she played outside of practice, oh, maybe once or twice a week if she felt like it.  If she thought she stood a chance, she’d practice harder, almost every day, but things had tapered off once she’d realized she wasn’t as good as the other kids in her section.  She’d tried to get her motivation back several times, but it just wasn’t there anymore, like she’d somehow given up.


Another direction issued from the tower compelled her to run back to her previous dot, phone in one hand and rain-slicked brass instrument in another, her ears stinging and the hood of her jacket flopping back, dodge a random cymbal player, and stand at attention, all while shoving her phone back into its pocket on the inside of her jacket.  They’re just marching for now, sixteen steps back with their respective instruments held aloft, yet Kendra found herself doubting her step size, her ability to march in time to the metronome.


This was for the homecoming game; everyone was in the show, regardless of how good they were.  Kendra was thrilled to be out on the field marching actual drill and learning music for a show she would perform, yet she could not shake the nagging notion, the mantra that sometimes kept her awake at night:


You’ll never be good enough for this.