The Music

At the end of the school year at Robert E. Lee Elementary School, the band teacher at the middle school (Adams L. Middle School) arrived to test us fifth graders to see who had music.

If you had the music, you could be a part of the middle school band the next year.

If you did not, then you took woodworking.

We lined up by the stage. The band director played a few notes on the piano. It was strange to be in the cafeteria when it wasn’t time to eat. Every sound bounced off the floor and empty tables.

Some students hummed on key.

Many were off.

If you hummed on key, the director looked closely at your mouth and teeth.

If you could hum on key and had teeth, you were offered a place.

“Let me see your teeth,” he said.

“You will play the clarinet.”

“Let me see your teeth.”

“You will play the tuba.”

“Let me see your teeth.”

“You will play the flute.”

I stepped towards the piano, anxiously. I wanted to be in the band.

I didn’t yet know that I couldn’t sing.

The director played a few notes.

I hummed.

Or, I tried to hum.

“Stop, stop,” he said.

He stopped playing the piano and a few kids snickered.

He rubbed his head with his hands. Then he tried again in a different key.

Maybe all my 5th-grade voice needed was a different key.

“Well, he said after a few minutes of trying to find the right note for me to emulate.

“Maybe you can play the drums.”

Yes. Maybe.

My face turned red.

I sat down.

I forgot about the band.

But, in the 7th grade, I somehow managed to get into the choir. Mr. Casher must have had pity on me and needed another person regardless of ability.

I don’t remember, so I am guessing that there was no humming test at the piano.

Once, at a concert in the gym, I stood with the real singers. I was dressed in a blue suit. I don’t know why. I sang as loudly as I could.

An angry guy turned around and said, “Who is that back there singling like a horse?”

My face turned red again. I didn’t try to sing anymore that day.

I stopped trying to sing anything for a long time.

But the church I grew up in sang a lot. Actually, most everyone sang, even the ones who sounded like horses.

I was visiting a church in Crossette, Arkansas once and made a tactical mistake. I began to sing a little too loudly. (I thought that’s what we were supposed to do.) The guy standing in front of me turned around with a disgusted face like, “who’s that horse singing back there?” I stopped.

But, a few years later I was driving near Thomasville, Alabama and heard a commercial that changed my outlook on singing.

It began with a church setting and a voice trying to sing. The voice was awful. The announcer said that sometimes our voices may sound strange to people. But God hears our voices, regardless of our ability. And the singing turned into something beautiful. It was the way God was hearing this terrible voice. Suddenly, he was singing on key and it was nice.

The point of the ad was that God hears us sing – regardless of how we sound – and he likes it.

I don’t know how far to push the metaphor because the people around us actually have to listen to us even if we sound terrible.
So I decided a long time ago that I’m really singing to God, regardless of who’s around me.
I just try and keep the volume down low.
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10 Days in July

A friend posted a picture of a memorial brick on Facebook.

The picture was of a brick with my brother’s name, date of death, and place where he died.

It caught me off guard.

It wasn’t his birthday or the date that he had died. Just a random picture with his name:

David Swann.

He was born on July 12 and our dad was born on July 2. Their birth dates are separated by approximately 30 years and 10 days. They also share the same middle name:

Eugene.

Now, no offense to all of you Eugene’s out there, but I’m glad that this middle name tradition stopped by the time I came along.

The fact that they shared a birth month guaranteed that they would see eye to eye on pretty much – Nothing.

Having an alcoholic father did not help with seeing eye to eye on anything. David wanted to join the Army sometime in the Seventies. I was just a toddler at the time and don’t know the exact date of this disagreement.

I also don’t know who convinced him into wanting to join the Army.

Maybe it was a skilled recruiter or a friend (I have a suspicion) or maybe Walter Cronkite on the nightly news. I mean, who rationally wants to join the Army in the waning years of the Vietnam War?

Well, maybe you if you’re trying to escape a dysfunctional family. I don’t know. But I do know that dad said “no.” David must have been no more than 17 years old because if he had been 18, he would’ve simply joined the Army.

It also tells me that it was just a momentary desire because when he did turn 18, he didn’t join.

Maybe he wanted to be like dad. After all Dad was a World War II and Korean War veteran. He’d been a paratrooper, among other things.

Maybe David was feeling patriotic or needed a job or just felt the pressure from somewhere to join.

I don’t know.

I wish that he had joined. I also wish dad had been around when I enlisted in the Air Force two years after he died.

But, you can’t always get what you want.

Thanks, Marlon.

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Tunnel Vision

Mobile, Alabama:  I saw no signs warning me not to drive into the George C. Wallace Tunnel (eastbound) with an empty gas tank.

In my mom’s Ford Focus.

The signs were not necessary because the State of Alabama assumed that I would have the aptitude to ensure that the vehicle I was driving contained an adequate level of fuel to negotiate the short distance through the Tunnel to the east side of the picturesque Mobile River.

The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) did not care about my fuel needs.

The last thing ALDOT wanted was to have some knucklehead punk teenager run out of gas right in the middle of the Tunnel and stop eastbound traffic.

That would be a mess!

So, let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk about this guy:

Earlier this year, in my (sort of) hometown of Mobile Alabama, a truck driver decided to pull off a magic trick and squeeze his oversized trailer into the Bankhead Tunnel, which was clearly marked to prohibit such nonsense.

The clearance is 12 feet.

If any part of your vehicle is higher than 12 feet, stop. Find another way because it won’t work.

I once read about a guy who drove really fast over a bridge in a car filled with his friends. As they approached the bridge, there was a pressing question of whether the bridge was wide enough to handle the car. He said that if he drove really fast, the car would magically shrink as they approached the bridge (and necessarily the speed of light) and therefore make it through.

Maybe that’s what the truck driver was thinking.

I don’t know why he selected this Tunnel. There are several ways to reach the eastern banks of the Mobile River: A large bridge, two tunnels, and in an out-of-the-way path, a ferry.  The only vehicles allowed in the tunnel that he chose are passenger cars and pickup trucks.

Because it was built in the 1940s, well before large unrestrained 18 wheelers roamed the highways, it is a very narrow tunnel.

If you are driving a large truck or anything with hazardous materials, you are supposed to use the nearby Cochrane–Africatown USA Bridge.

I’m just glad he was hauling hay and not chickens, used cooking oil, or nuclear waste.

Back to the Ford Focus.

Well, it died – of course!

Right there in the right-hand eastbound lane. Within three seconds, astute ALDOT workers monitoring the tunnel flipped switches, which illuminated very pleasant colored large signs with a big red X on them.

The whole tunnel turned red.

Because of the pleasant Xs.

The red glow did not give me comfort.

Additionally, the astute observers of the closed-circuit cameras quickly dispatched a wrecker to push my mother’s car out of the GCW Tunnel and out of the way of clearly more important eastbound travelers, who felt it necessary to communicate the importance of their journey as they hastily drove around me waving politely.

Not.

They were probably from Mississippi.

I was probably 19 and lacked a fully developed brain at the time. Actually, I have concluded that few men really should be allowed to roam alone before the age of 30.

I’m also guessing that the trailer truck driver was probably under 30 or was trying to conceal his load of hay from the authorities as he attempted to make his way to Baldwin County where hay is obviously in short supply.

So, remember folks, before you leave on that trip, remember to fill up.

And please, read the signs.

 

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