I care.

Recently, a dear friend of mine asked me if I remember the 70’s. She explained to me how much we have changed since then. Instantly I believed that to be an obvious statement. And then I really thought about it. Have we changed for the better? “Back then we had real mayo in the fridge and whole milk and we didn’t need to care about the things that we care about today.” Today’s kids are bombarded with pressure; in school and on line. They see their friends with the expensive clothes. Do they wish for those clothes? I don’t know. I remember vividly seeing President Nixon on the television talking about how he had no plans of entering Laos. But as we all know, troops were invading Laos at that very moment. So politicians lied to us then too. So how much have we really changed as humans? Do I care more about my own life? Certainly because I didn’t care about anything back then. Maybe friends; friends were important. The most important. Those same friends that I don’t even know anymore. Why dont I know them? Perhaps because I have stopped caring. What is it that has made me stop caring? The fact is that I do care. But as an adult, my priorities have narrowed. I care about myself and the few people within my circle. So as a member of this planet, I try to be a good person but oftentimes fall just a bit short of successful. And you that are reading this now, know that I care about you. I care so much that you have entered my life at a time most needed. I care that you care for me. I care about the many things that are important to you. Life is a cruel joke my friends but we must live it to the fullest. We must suck out the marrow and stop to smell the roses.

I care.

In honor of the firefighters who gave their lives to save others on this day of remembrance…

When I was young; maybe 5 or 6, our home caught on fire. An aerosol can had come too close to the furnace and exploded. It wasn’t a huge fire and certainly not life threatening for any of us but it was very frightening. I recall being held first by my sisters and then by my mother. I would’ve been wrapped in my blanket – sheltered from the chaos. I remember crying once I learned that our dog Brutus died in that fire. That dog was my best friend.

Once the firefighters arrived, and we saw the damage, I felt my mother tremble. My father, who had been working nights had arrived soon after and I was placed lovingly on the curb across the street. My older sister came to sit by me and we held each other. The fire had burned a small hole in the roof just above my bedroom and I was told that we were going to have to stay somewhere else for a few days. It was disheartening to say the least.

Once the fire was out, our neighbors came around to offer help and I remember vividly one firefighter sitting down next to me. He put his hand on my shoulder as if to say that everything would be okay. He then picked me up and carried me to the big truck and let me sit inside. It was every boys dream. Afterward, he gave me a cookie from inside another truck then brought me back to my mother.

Eventually, the small section of our home was rebuilt by my Dad and his friends. We even got a swimming pool for the back yard. The neighborhood was different after that night; friendlier. I’ll never forget that night, and I’ll never forget that fireman who went out of his way to comfort a frightened little boy.

To all of those who sacrificed and gave their lives on this day 17 years ago, and every other day before and since: we owe you a debt that can never be repaid.

Coda’s Letter

I decided to dust off an idea I had a few years ago.  This is the beginning.  Let me know what you think.


 

Prologue 

 

Mexico City, Mexico 

Zocalo Square 1944 

 

 

Camilla Rosas set up her stand in the middle of the square, with a breathtaking view of the Basilica de Guadeloupe; her favorite place in the world.  Every day she watched as the faithful stood in line for hours to view the Tilma.  Tourists were also no stranger to Zocalo Square, or the Basilica.  American’s always came.  Thankfully, they always came with money.  For Camilla, and the other one hundred or so food merchants and street vendors: this was the only honest way to make a living in Mexico City.  Drugs, violence, and political corruption controlled the capitol.  If you weren’t involved in something illegal; you weren’t left with much of a choice. 

Camilla would often remark that Mexico City’s honest, hard-working people are here, in the square; selling churros and papaya just so they can bring home a loaf of bread and have the strength and dignity to get up the following morning and do it all again.  If it hadn’t been for the American tourists craving her fresh produce, she’d be outside the city peddling holy cards to people even poorer than her. 

This particular day was no different than any other: pilgrims stood in line and crossed themselves while tourists ate and drank in the hot Mexican sun.  So, it was no surprise to Camilla to see a small group of tourists standing near her cart, gazing around at the plaza in wondrous awe.  But they seemed out of place, like they were desperately looking for something without knowing what they were looking for.  She paid little attention to them as they zigzagged around the market; exploring the square before landing directly in front of her vegetable stand.  

There were four of them.  All men; and all of them dressed as though they were out for a fancy dinner.  Clean shirts and trousers, freshly pressed.  The shine on each of their shoes was high despite the dusty concrete.  To anyone else, they looked like well-dressed men sight-seeing.  But Camilla Rosas knew better.  She knew what they were.  And she knew their names.  The tall one, whose name was Coda, had taken a bag and began inserting random pieces of fruit.  At the same time – he asked: 

“Disculpe senora, Que es Este lugar?” What is this place?  His Spanish was impeccable. 

“Esta es La Villa de Guadeloupe.” 

“Never heard of it.”  One of the other men whispered sarcastically. 

Coda winked and took a refreshing bite of an apple.  Camilla winked back.  This was her cue.  She was unsure why this was necessary, but she loved this story. 

“In 1531,” She began as a crowd gathered.  Along the hill behind the Villa, Juan Diego was given a vision of Nuestra Senora de Guadeloupe – The Virgin Mary.  Proof of this vision was emblazoned on Diego’s Tilma, or cloak.”  She looked out at the people in line.  “The Tilma resides today in a shrine above the high alter, inside the chapel.”  Tears welled in her eyes as she continued.  “They come every day to see her: peasants, the crippled, old, young, rich, and poor.  From all over the world for a chance to be healed from whatever ails them.” 

Coda leaned over a basket of fresh tomatoes and handed Camilla a thick white envelope: the agreed upon amount.  She leaned in closer still and whispered in his ear.  He smiled and the four men continued their tourist façade. 

“What’s the name boss?”  Asked Elwin. 

Coda looked up at the glitter of mid-day sun reflected off the dome.  He looked back at his partners. 

“Miguel Fuentes.”  He wasn’t pleased. 

Padre Miguel Fuentes.” 

The Blood Red Box

Here, where my words mean the world but actions are meaningless.  My eyes continue to deceive me as I toil about the broken home of my once happy childhood.  Dishes still sat on the rotted wood of the dinning table.  My toys, strewn about the floor; resting where I last abandoned them decades prior.  I strolled down the front hallway that led to the kitchen; portraits of actors and actresses portraying members of a happy family adorned the yellowed walls of mold.  Faces familiar yet unrecognizable, danced under glass and wood, infested with age.

Dust and rat feces clung to everything like horrid words on a dirty page, and in the midst of my exploration I stumbled upon a box; sitting untouched on the parlor floor.  Not as unusual as one might gather.  Boxes seemed to be all about the floor in different stages of decay.  Yet this box was all together different.  For one it was clean; devoid of dust and dirt.  Not a single particle of misuse sat upon it.  The box was of a dark wood manufacture, with a hint of red in the grain.  Perhaps cherry or mahogany.  It was stained to shimmering brilliance.  So much so that I was startled to see my face as clear as a looking glass.  It’s hinges were brass.  That much was obvious.  Brass of the highest quality.  I dared open it then thought against it.  What the damned hell do I care about some box?   And yet, it was placed in the middle of the parlor.  On the dusty floor for anyone to see.  Anyone?  No, not anyone.  Me.  It was placed her for me to find, wasn’t it?

My mind was aware of something just out of my line of sight.  Blackish and without shape.  Like an early morning mist, only more dark and malevolent.   My eyes would not see it, yet I knew it was there all the same; watching me as if it were collecting information.  I lifted the box to examine the weight and instantly felt something shift from within.  The black shape that was still just out of my sight moved closer.  I could feel its foul breath upon my neck and I turned.  It retreated.

Holding the box with the utmost care, I lifted the golden hasp and noticed that it was crafted in the shape of a boar’s head.  The hand-crafted hinges groaned in complaint as I worked the lid open.  I set the box back down onto the broken floorboards and stepped away in haste.  One step, then another.  The black shape fell upon me and I was forced against my will to view the contents of the box.  At once, I was confused by what I beheld.  Blood, fresh crimson blood.  As I watched, the blood began to pool around the edges, sloshing like a wild boat at sea.  It spilled onto the floor and was absorbed into the moldy wooden floor.  The old wood turned dark like the red sea and instantly the house quaked and I swore to the saints that I heard it take a breath.  It spoke to me.  I trembled with abject fear.

What are you afraid of Walter?

“Whose blood is this?”  I asked out loud as the trebling of the old home increased.  I became unbalanced and lost my footing.  An opening in the floor appeared and I had the sense that it intended to swallow me whole.  I reached out and grasped the leg of the oak sideboard that my mother had purchased and it broke off and disintegrated in my hand like wet dust.  I fell, my hands – red with blood – grabbed hold of the ancient flooring.  The black malevolence appeared above me as a swirling ball of evil.  I asked again.

“Whose blood is this?”

Why, it’s your blood Walter.  It’s yours.

 

The Greatest Moments In DCI History

A self-indulgent essay in several parts.

Please bare with me…

Part 1


 

The smell of diesel and tar.  The comforting feeling of finally getting out of your uniform.  Having a smoke and chatting with the other corps before the busses leave.  To where?  You can never remember where you’re corps is headed next.  Another show.  Another night under the lights.

If you didn’t march, there’s no way for you to possibly understand how important these simple memories are.  Like the feeling of relief when you take your hat off as your walking through the tunnel; sweat running down your back.  It may have been a good performance or a bad one but it’s over.

Once the summer is over, memories are all we have to hold on to.  As time fades and adulthood creeps in, memories become elusive.  But these memories are visceral and have texture; like the smell of freshly cut grass.  For me, every summer the memories return.  I start to feel that need to hear some Drum Corps.  I wait – just like the rest of you, to see what my favorite corps’ program is.  My marching days are long gone, but the memories are alive and well.  I’ll attend a show and perhaps see an old friend.  We’ll talk about when this happened and laugh about when that happened.  I’m not only part of the past but a member of the future, because it’s that past that is creating the future.

The Drum & Bugle Corps activity has come a long way baby, from it’s meager beginnings in 1971 to where it is today.  We struggled through innumerable changes; both good and bad, but always moving forward, always evolving.  Drum Corps International has been thrilling fans for over 45 years.  The memories of those decades are thick with emotion.  And just like any other historical moment, these memories become frozen in time as we sit in the stands and cheer.

There have been so many great moments in the long history of DCI that it’s not an easy task to recall them all but I will do my best.

These recollections are in no particular order.


“The Winter Palace.”

 

On a foggy humid night in 1977, I saw The Phantom Regiment perform for the first time at a high school stadium in Belvidere, IL.  There were several corps competing that evening but none of them held me captivated like Phantom did.  The helmets gleaming in the field lights.  The long black capes; they were fascinating and mysterious.  I salivated over every note of the opening number: Dvorak’s New World Symphony.  Ironic, don’t ya think?

From that evening on, The Phantom Regiment was my favorite corps.  And though I did not march with them, they have forever held a special place in my heart.  Several of their programs throughout the decades are among my very favorite shows; save one: 1986.  The opening hits of Carnival Overture were powerful to be certain.  But there was something missing.  I didn’t know then what it was.  I can’t be sure that even they knew.

Placing 10th that year at nationals in Madison, WI might very well have been an omen of things to come.  There were whispers: “What’s going on with Phantom?”

“What’s going on with Phantom?”

Nobody outside of the organization could possibly have known the change that was about to come.

These days – with YouTube, Facebook, and other social media outlets, it’s not very hard to find news on your favorite corps.  We all wait impatiently for the first report of the upcoming season.  But back then, in 1987; it was winter, and no one was talking.  Little did any of us know:  “Winter is coming.”

If I recall correctly , I was in Des Plains, IL watching a show with a group of friends.  I didn’t march that year and regretted it.  I remember hearing a gasp – a sudden intake of air.  And someone pointed at the corps moving towards that backfield.  They wore a blast of clean white and black; flecked with shimmering silver.  Gone were the heavy shirts and baggy pants.  The most amazing transformation however, was the silvery-white plume perched on the helmet.  It was regal.  It was new.  It was shinny, and it was awesome.  They looked so good.  The name of the program that year was Songs From the Winter Palace, highlighting Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Nutcracker.  It was a beautiful performance from beginning to end.  Seeing that show and witnessing that transformation brought me back to that foggy night in Belvidere.  Those same emotions returned.

The addition of the plume and the updated uniform brought a needed element to that and future programs.  And it didn’t hurt their GE score either…

 

The Garden

I sat on a rickety old chair inside the garden this morning and watched as the birds circled overhead as if waiting for me to die. Soon enough I tell them. What else is there to my life now?
All happiness has vacated. I walk the halls of this lonesome home wondering where I went so wrong. You were here just 10 short years ago, sliding on the hardwood floors in your slippers that were made not to slip. Your blonde hair cascading over unusually tan skin; too tan for the
winter season. You would have sand in your shoes from constant walks along the icy shore. I never did you wrong. I never meant for you to be hurt. I never meant for you to die. I never meant to kill you the way I did. I never lied to you. Why did you lie to me? The images in my mind of your presence are out of order. I see you as you were on that summer evening; blood trickling down from a gunshot between your eyes. Still, more beautiful than anything on this
cursed planet. Then I see you as the young lady I met so many years ago; spinning like a top on black heels. Our dance was a mystery. Did you love me then or was it later? Did you love me
at all? Did you love him more than I? Nothing matters to me anymore but the garden I have planted myself in. When the vegetation has grown around me and my heart no longer beats, then will you see me? Or will I have to enter through the gates of hell to find the two of you together
again?

A little something from the Vault…

West Minster Abby

My first attempt at the great American Novel


 

Chapter 1 

 

The moon waxed purple and silver.  It was a vision I’d never witnessed before.  I have seen many strange and wonderful things here since I arrived ten years ago but never a purple moon.  I’ve seen a harvest moon; with its oranges and browns signaling the coming of autumn.  I’ve even seen a blood moon though I’m not quite sure what it means.  But never in my life have I seen a purple moon until this very evening.  Now it was around this time last year that Page’s hardware store burnt to the ground.  That was strange because prior to that, the last fire of any kind other than a camp fire in West Minster was 1973.  There were plenty of rumors floating around town that old man Page had had a number of financial problems.  We were all relieved to learn that old man Page and his store were fully insured.   

A year prior to that a child of six had gone missing; last seen on her way home from school.  The girl’s father had passed out drunk and forgot to pick her up.  This was not so strange; unforgivable yet not strange at all.  She thought she would have no difficulty at all finding her way home but after taking one wrong turn down a block she assumed she was familiar with, she got lost.  Three hours later she was found by her older sister sitting on a curb with her knees held to her chest, scared and alone and just a block away from home. 

I imagine that these events and others like them happen in small towns all over the country; nothing out of the ordinary.  And that’s why I love it here.  There isn’t much crime to speak of.  If I were a criminal West Minster, Illinois would not be on my list of potential visits.  We’re not even listed on the map.  When I say ‘the map’ I mean any map at all.  The closest interstate is thirteen miles away.  A few years ago, some congressman got lost on his way through and now the state is currently accepting bids to build a bypass to I-55.  Once that happens the peaceful town of West Minster will be no more.  

The increase in traffic will create more gas stations and the obligatory fast food chains.  Why hell, we might just get one of those trendy coffee shops with all those high-brow exotic flavors and free Wi-Fi.  I just might take advantage of that one. 

For now however, not much happens in this boring little hamlet.  That purple moon will most certainly make the front page of the West Minster Chronicle.  As a matter of fact, Lindsey Shae, the town’s one and only photographer was making her way up the path along the canal with her Nikon; seeking out the perfect vantage point.  Surely it will be her photos featured in the newspaper.  I strode up the small hill to greet her but she was gone.  She’s a quick one that Lindsey Shae.   

Soon enough the entire town was filing out into the street to gawk at the purple madness.  I stood there in silence; listening to their proposals and questions as to what might be the cause and watching the silver ripples in the water.  To most folks in West Minster the Canal is nothing more than a haven for mosquitoes.  It was once used, or so I’ve recently learned, to haul produce and other trade goods to and from Chicago and other towns along the Illinois River.  But I’m afraid that now it’s nothing more than what they say it is: a haven for mosquitoes. 

About one hundred yards east, down the dirt trail that runs along the entire stretch of the canal is an old wooden bench.  It was built in 1850 by Wilbur Hounds tooth, or so says the West Minster historical Society.  You can’t get a decent slice of pizza in this town but we have an historical society: go figure.  It was on that very bench about ten years ago that my life changed forever. 

Still glancing at the moon, draping everything it touches in a warm violet glow, I strolled to the bench and sat, inhaling the late spring air perfumed in lilac.  Please forgive me my dear reader.  I enjoy irony but unfortunately it is wasted here.  The lilac is simply a coincidence and by no means is it a by-product of the celestial glow. 

It was here that I met the man Tom Abby: the man that changed my life.  The man that saved my life, and the world…