“The Season”

by “Brookyn” Mario Navetta

This article was originally published in the May 2009 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 38, Number 2).

When I think of it now, I am certain– well, almost — that it was something hormonal. The New York City winter would leave its gray smudged remnants melting on cold-shadowed factory streets. The block-sized park that disguised itself as our country retreat was again trying to prove to us that trees do, in fact, grow in Brooklyn. We began to get drunk with the savor of the bittersweet and confusing tumult of angst and euphoria that youth can’t restrain and old age can’t quite remember.

In this illusory foreplay of eternal spring, the synergistic storms of our world needed few natural catalysts to inspire us to passion — though we never used that word. And for those of us who were fortunate or foolish enough to belong to a competing drum and bugle corps, it was the beginning of that elemental stimulation known as “The Season.”

To be certain, “The Season” had begun long before on nearby “don’t play too loud!”

Novena-Novembered autumn and frigid Friday nights of subway rides to Arctic armories. But these were nothing more than restless, semi-celibate deferments of our obsession that had to be endured before we were mature enough for summer consummation.

Meanwhile, the seductive days and nights of late April and early May only intensified our lust.

Hyper-optimism was most often our paramount attitude. It would be different this year. We had survived the near-loss of our lead soprano soloist whose family abandoned the beauty of Brooklyn for the lush country life of Lawn Gyland.

Somehow or other, he convinced his parents that it was of life or death importance that he make the three-hour roundtrip at least twice a week. And one of our snare drummers broke an arm when he slipped on the iced basketball court of the schoolyard. That happens when you do things out of season. We lit candles for his recovery.

Divine intercession was a reality for us. I don’t think it’s necessary to relate the details of his miraculous mending. And if that wasn’t enough supernatural intervention, we had two new non-Brooklynites in our horn line. One, a former member of the Norwood Park Imperials, had moved to New York from Chicago. The other came all the way from the suburbs (“Yo, Vinnie! What’s a suboib?”) of New Jersey and had played with Garfield!

We had a new off-the-line that took us weeks to learn. The concert had also been restructured with more complex soprano and French horn runs. The drum solo following our production number had likewise been rewritten to better proclaim to the world we knew, just how much greater we were than last year. This Season would be our Season!

Our treks to find marchable outdoor space led us to a parking lot not all that far from a mental institution. Forget that it took us almost 45 minutes just to get there! Remember that we were thin enough to almost comfortably fit seven of us in a two-door coupe. And recall with even greater astonishment that we had only to dig for change under the car seats in order to buy enough gas to get us there and back.

“Lemme have seventy-eight cents regular.”

Luckily for us, the remainder of that seemingly never-ending seat-mining venture always yielded just about enough to pay for a post-practice pizza. Life was good!

The final schedule was always like an unopened Christmas present whose contents we more or less knew. There were the perennial Holland/Lincoln Tunneled sites of Bayonne, Union City and Newark, but we were never prepared for the little extra packages of exotic venues such as Horseheads, Giants Neck and our favorite, Toms River (“What and where the %*&# is ‘Toms River’? Hey, can somebody own a river?”)

We even got a paying exhibition job at a Long Island sanitarium. (“I wonder who told them about us?”)

But the greatest gift of all was the shortest of all our New Jersey excursions. We were going to Jersey City. We were going to Roosevelt Stadium. We were going to the Dream Contest!

This was the fabled Xanadu and El Dorado of drum corps that served as the Camelot-like backdrop for the legendary jousts of drum corps’ preeminent combatants. And we would be there!

We waited with all the impatience that being young is cursed. We generously squandered our time on anything that would bring that first contest closer. School became almost meaningful.

It was now the tolerable occupier of morning and afternoon hours, except when our attention was disrupted by the flirtatious perfume of newly-cut grass from our schoolyard’s meager lawn which transported us to the ethereal realm of the contest field.

We played long card games and saw double features twice. We stayed up late and harmonized in subways, talked about baseball and the fantasies that were the realities of our love lives.

But all that was never good enough. Inevitably and paradoxically, as we walked home in the intimately familiar quiet commotion of a spring night on Brooklyn streets, we exquisitely tortured ourselves with infinite if-tales of what “The Season” would bring.

Saturday morning. Up early. So little sleep last night.

“Ma, did you wash my gloves?” No need to relate the collective responses of all our mothers. And there was always the half-serious admonishment of clean underwear.

“. . . just in case you . . .”

“Yeah, Ma! I know the rest!”

The trip to the church hall, the double- and triple-check for missing equipment and people, the wait for the bus (“I hope it’s one of them new, air-conditioned jobs”), the pursuit to get the best seats (“Open the windows. We got an old bus”), the babble and blare of the five-pound “portable” radio, the lost reception and gassed redolence of the tunnel, emerging to the early-evening wonder of someplace else, and then the vaguely distant random din of horns and drums and cymbals, multi-hued flashes of glittering satin flags and uniforms, and the vista of the nearly-filled stands, the indecipherable cacophony of cheers as each corps is announced, the muted resonance of music we eavesdrop on as we say a Hail Mary — this is the blurred bedlam of all that we are.

The aphrodisiac radiance of this panorama is a final, near-climactic, unnecessary stimulant. We are on the starting line.

“And now, from Brooklyn, New York . . .”

“The Season” has begun.