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Violence Inherent in the System

"Fighting, on the part of both parties, is strictly forbidden and completely evil on account of it being a primitive display of violence. So anyone caught fighting will be struck forcefully with a wooden stick."

It was with this paradoxical warning sounding in my ears that I embarked upon a fight with Jeff Cranford in the sixth grade. We ignored the popular advice to take it outside, and opted to just have it out in Mrs. Dipple's classroom. She was not there at the moment, so we would not have to explain the part about it being a matter of honor and all that. A large audience gathered, and we proceeded to look mean and dance around a bit as we'd seen Sugar Ray Leonard do on Wide World of Sports, Howard Cosell calling the match. Neither ever landed a blow, either because our collective defense skills were honed to a fine degree or because neither of us threw a punch. Ah, yes; it was the latter.

Nonetheless, someone in authority with nothing better to do than roam the halls looking for trouble spotted us and reported the incident to headquarters. As Mrs. Dipple was absent, the room was left in chaos, and that kind of thing attracts the authorities like an ant to a picnic. Mr. Anderson called us in and proceeded to beat the violence out of us with his trusty paddle.

Not long after this, (because I was by this point, having tasted blood, a hopeless miscreant), I was subjected once again to the board of education. This time it was at the hands of one Herb Moring whom readers may recognize as a name synonymous with musical authority. Scott Tucker and self were in the band, attempting to play coronets, and doing a reasonable job at it, hovering around the first, second, and third chair positions with the likes of Brett McKnight and Mike Clem.

In addition to being sixth or seventh grade coronet virtuosos, Scott and I were given very greatly to the art of humor, and on this particular day, we found ourselves with little to do, outside the occasional horn-blowing, but giggle unchecked. Herb Moring decided to check us, and after a couple of severe warnings, he led us out to the hallway.

Now, I would like to rant a bit here. I lay all the blame squarely at Herb Moring's feet, and here is why. Herb, in addition to being the band director at Tecumseh Public Schools, was also the music director at First Baptist Church, where my family and I resided on Sundays. Everyone knows how music direct…let's call them choir directors…everyone knows how choir directors behave when you get them in front of a room full of people with song books. They have no capacity at all to lead the group through a tune from start to finish in one take. Taking a cue from Hollywood, they start at measure thirty-four on page five, play it through a couple of times, stop, have the altos sing their part three times through with interruptions when they sing "love" with the instruction to sing "lawwwv." Then the baritones, or whatever they are, get their shot starting at measure seventeen (and their part sounds nothing like any song we've ever heard). Finally, three weeks later as you're singing the song in front of a large, gaping congregation, you say to yourself, "Ah, so that's how it goes." Band directors are of this exact mindset, and especially ones who moonlight as choir directors. These guys have complete Attention Deficit Disorder as far as sheet music is concerned. They just don't seem to be able to listen to more than a couple measures at a time before they abandon that section and go off to another one three pages away.

This phenomenon was undoubtedly going on the day that Scott and I were so caught up in comedy. It might have been on account of Mike Clem, who always said, "Mm!" with particular force whenever he hit a sour note on his coronet, and this always amused us. But it was probably some unrelated joke that was passing between us while Herb was busy playing the saxophone part on some poor sucker's horn and afterwards hosing it down with his trusty little can of antibacterial spray can stuff. We were collectively stricken in the funny bone and could not become unstricken. Herb did not appreciate this.

Even world renown comedians have days when they cannot keep a straight face. David Letterman has been seen to crack under pressure from time to time. Johnny Carson was even worse. And Tim Conway and Harvey Corman practically made a career out of the practice. Peter Sellers attributes the phenomenon to old age, and it must be pointed out that Scott and I were nearing the end of our band careers by this point.

Being led out to the hallway meant only one thing. Nothing stood between us and the wooden implement of discipline except the time it took to secure a witness. In those days, violent acts against students were undertaken with the utmost scrutiny with regards to legality. One could not simply whack a kid during the heat of the moment (although Mrs. Sternberger often hurled chalk erasers at us with little or no warning), but had to secure a reliable witness who could testify in court that the act was done according to code. So shortly after being led out to the hall, Mr. Wilsie from the shop class across the way was summoned, and Herb proceeded with little waste of time to dish out the whooppin's.

It is very hard when you reach the age that getting paddled no longer strikes fear and dread into your psyche, to assume the proper expression of humility and solemnness after the ordeal when you are still pretty much taken by the recent joke that you were enjoying so much. Scott and I struggled mightily, after walking back into the room where our musical comrades sat looking at us and snickering and us looking back and snickering at them, to maintain our composure upon taking our seats. Herb Moring was not the kind of guy who went around the place cutting up and telling jokes and poking people in the ribs. His was a sober life, at least in his public capacity of band director to a bunch of unruly youngsters. And of course this made things even funnier to us.

You are expecting that Herb is going to shortly take us back out to the hallway. But that is not what happened. I do not actually recall precisely what happened, but I think Herb glared at us for a moment, gave us up as hopeless causes, and went on to measure forty-eight.

10/8/13

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