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Matthew Meets the Man
I MEET THE MAN
You know what happens on Thursday afternoons in mid-sized cities in Texas? Nothing. My town, like a lot of places I guess, is like a suburb without a metropolis. A place where the sidewalks roll up at ten p.m. Do you want some good Japanese food at midnight? Well, sure. Dallas is a few hours that way, and Austin is a few hours that way.
But sometimes boredom and quiet inspire big dreams and creativity. There's a pretty good art scene here and live music almost every week. Touring bands sometimes book showshere to break up the long drive between two larger scenes, and since there isn't much else for people to do, the turnouts are often surprisingly good.
Without a steady stream of metropolitan influence, sure, I'll admit it: I wasn't BORN cool. There was a time when my mom picked out clothes for me, and I was content to mostly sit inside and play video games or trudge around in a creek with my friends. Don't get me wrong, I still love that stuff (except for the mom-picked clothes--that, well, mostly ended a long time ago), but something happened to me on what could've been just another Thursday afternoon that made me want more.
Rounding the corner of my block on my way home from school, I wasn't surprised to see Sully in his driveway.
"Hey, Matt." He looked at the back of my bike. "What's in the case? Cattle prod collection?"
Sully and his family had moved to my town from New York a couple months before, and he always found ways to make little Texas jabs. Of course, he was constantly out in his driveway working on his crapped-out Corvair, which arguably made him much more of a redneck than I'd ever be.
My head scrambled for the perfect "yo momma" joke, but I thought about the fifty pounds and tenure in juvenile hall that Sully had over me and reconsidered. "It's ... a trumpet," I replied. Yeah, I didn't really know him well enough to "bust his chops," as he puts it.
"Trumpet, huh? That's a shame, kid." I hated when he called me that. Sully was only four years older and two grades ahead of me. "You know, if you played the drums, you could have your pick of bands to play in. But ... the trumpet ... Neat."
Suddenly the trumpet case strapped to my bike weighed a hundred pounds. He was right. I should have fought for my first instinct.
See, in seventh grade, I signed up for band. As in school band, with a band director and chair tests and all of that. When my parents took me to the band hall on orientation day, there was a presentation and some short meetings to sign up for instruments. My dad had raised me on stories of his hotshot trumpet-playing past, and it was assumed that I would follow in his footsteps.
During the presentation, that went out the window. The demonstrations by the current band were dull at best. I was bored out of my skull through the woodwind and low brass demos. My dad nudged me in the ribs when they brought out the trumpets.
But then another group of older kids came out and lined up behind the percussion equipment in the back of the band hall. They went through a precise, powerful--I don't know--riff that filled the room. There were snare drums and cymbals and booming bass drums and those giant timpani things and gongs and all kinds of awesome stuff. That was it: I wanted to be on the drum line. I took about four steps toward thedrums before my dad put his arm around my shoulder and steered me to the brass sign-ups. And that was that.
In the car, I had a bit of a tantrum. I'll admit it. I whined about wanting to play drums and how the trumpet was stupid and wah, wah, wah. My dad's response rings in my ears to this day, and sounds lamer and lamer each time I remember it. "If your band is playing a gig, and you're the drummer, by the time you're finished packing up all of your stuff, the trumpet player has already left with the good-looking women."
Why did I fall for that load?! I wasn't going to play in some lousy jazz band. My dad just wanted me to carry on the trumpet legacy that he had started when he was a kid. Plus, the fact that he didn't have to spend any money on a new instrument escaped me then, but I'm older now. Don't try to sneak one past me again, Dad.
Now that I'm in high school, being in band means getting to school an hour early every day to march around the practice field in hot, muggy weather, turning blue in the face, and getting red half-circles on my lips. There are all kinds of sharp turns and marks to hit, and I have to make sure that I keep my trumpet bell at the right angle. Oh, and I have to play the notes. Meanwhile, the drum line has all the fun in the world. They don't have to march as hard, and they're alwayslaughing and chewing gum and getting, like, respect from the rest of the school. It's cool to play drums. I might as well wear a retainer and carry a ferret around with me. What a nightmare.
But that day in Sully's driveway, something occurred to me. Marching band drummers aren't the only people who can play drums in a REAL band--as in a not-for-schoolcredit-and-no-uniforms-unless-it's-part-of-your-gimmick band. In fact, only one of the three drummers I knew of in local bands was actually on the drum line in marching band, and he was a xylophone player. That barely even counts. I could do this--I could be a drummer and have my pick of awesome bands. We could tour and sign to a rad label and make fat stacks of cash. All I needed was a drum kit and a little practice. Whoa. I think that's what's called an epiphany.
"See you later, Sully!" I started riding fast for home. My house was on the other end of the block, but you know how it is when you have a great idea or really have to go to the bathroom. It felt like it was miles away.
I chucked my bike down on my front porch without un-bungee-ing my trumpet case from the back, plowed through the front door, and rounded the corner into the kitchen. My parents were looking at bills or papers or whatever, and Ipaused ... then made my proclamation. "Mom. Dad. It is my destiny to be a drummer in a band."
"Matthew, Ma-thew," my dad said. "Remember what I told you. By the time the drummer is finished--"
"I know. And I don't mind playing the trumpet. I want to play a drum SET in a REAL band."
"Drums are pretty expensive, dude."
"I know, dude. I could get one used online or something. It would just be a few hundred bucks."
My dad's response was the sucking in of air. My momdidn't even look up from her work. "I don't want you to quit trumpet, Matthew. It's not okay to just quit things."
"I'm not going to quit trumpet, Mom," I said. I could feel my airways constricting. "I want to play drums, too. Not for school. For fun. For life."
"I should never have let you quit soccer. That set the precedent for this."
I tapped an invisible microphone. "Is this thing on? Mom. One, I was like five when I quit soccer. Two, I'm not quitting band."
"Okay. I hear that. Just making sure."
My dad recovered from the initial shock of the idea of actually having to spend money. "That's a lot of jack, Matt."
"Circles!" I yelled. "We're going in circles here!" I stumbled away from the airless kitchen and made sure to give the front door a really good slam on my way out.
Sully was still messing with his car when I trudged back. I told him about the dream-crushing blow I had been dealt. "How the hell am I supposedto get anything I want when my dad is the cheapest guy on the planet, and my mom is always making sure I'm learning something valuable?"
"See this sweet sled?" asked Sully, petting the side of his crusty jalopy like it was a show dog. "I got it for three hundred and fifty bucks from some old weirdbeard on the north side. I had to get it towed to my house. Any day now it'll be up and running, and I'll be picking up preacher's daughters and Miss Texas runner-ups."
"What's your point?"
"My point is, I didn't go crying to my parents for the three-fifty. Or everything I've put in it since to fix it up. I busted hump and got it myself. You know what your problem is?"
Is it that I'm seeking advice from the oldest junior in the history of Franklin High School?
"Your problem is that you let The Man run your life."
"The man?" I asked. "I just said it's both of them. Dad and Mom." What was he babbling about?
"I'm talking about The Man. Capital T, capital M. Authority.Cops, parents, teachers, bosses, old people. The Man is the system of control that keeps its fat thumb pressed down on your freakin' head to make sure you don't have too much fun. In this case, The Man is dear old Mom and Dad trying to keep you from getting a drum kit and having the time of your life."
Sully was making a lot of sense--again. I considered alerting the media.
"Look, there's a show in a couple hours at that joke of a pizza place. I'll drive you."
Kaboom. On that Thursday afternoon, I had realized my destiny AND discovered the forces that would try to keep me from it every step of the way. Big day. And it was just getting started.
Text and illustrations copyright © 2011 by Travis Nichols