A Merry Heart Does Good Like a Medicine
Norman Cousins, while struggling with a severe neuromuscular disease, said, “Laughter is like internal jogging. Ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.” Those of you who regularly scan Reader’s Digest remember a column titled, “Laughter is the best medicine”. Indeed it is, and sometimes we forget that. So here is my prescription for surviving everyday stress…laugh three times a day! Some of the most effective laughter is that which we do at ourselves. The less serious we take ourselves, the less burdensome everyday stresses and strains. For example, I recently attended a local high school football game and quickly lapsed into a flashback when the bands took the field for the halftime entertainment. No, I wasn’t in the band in high school. The idea of walking backwards in circles while reading music was a bit overwhelming, but my mother was convinced that I had the potential to be the next John Philip Souza. She felt that one way to navigate the treacherous waters of a new high school was to join their celebrated band. I had just been uprooted from a comfortable middle school existence in Memphis to the mountains of East Tennessee , replete with orange painted outhouses, to begin my high school years. I was the size of a Hobbit, and about as good-looking, so my social integration options were vastly limited. I certainly was not a candidate for football (a religion in Knoxville) although; in retrospect, I would have made a wonderful tackling dummy. Track was not an option as I had the speed of an anemic sloth. Basket ball…well let’s just say dribbling at the level of other’s knees didn’t fare well for a stellar career. So maybe the band was a way that I could find my niche in an otherwise niche-less existence. At least my mother thought so. So the first day a school she set up an appointment with the band director to discuss my future musical career. Unfortunately, she made me come along. Once we arrived in the hallowed sanctuary known as the “band room” , Mr.Jenkins, the band teacher, granted us an audience.
“Now exactly what instrument does your boy play?”, he asked condescendingly. I felt this was a rather appropriate question and a reasonable place to start the discussion until it dawned on me that I didn’t play an instrument. I suspected that my mother also knew this as she had not seen or heard me with anything other than a kazoo since kindergarten, but she was not fazed by the inquiry.
“He doesn’t…yet”, she confidently replied. This obviously was not the response Mr. Jenkins was expecting as he stared at her with a look that said, “Well what in the name of Beethoven are you doing here then?” Mom, ever the perceptive sort, picked up on his incredulity and explained that before we invested in lessons or instruments, she wanted to get his impression as to which instrument I was best suited to play. At this point I was busily plotting both my escape and my plan for putting mom on medication. I had read of studies that looked at a person’s likelihood of being a criminal based on their physical traits, you know, beady eyes, big forehead etc, but I had yet to see any research correlating a person’s physical appearance and their ability to master a band instrument. I felt myself slowly sinking into “Music Man” hell. Mr. Jenkins composed himself, obviously trying to pacify the crazy woman sitting before him, and shot a glance at my face, as if to say, “Is she serious?” I cocked my head, subtly conveying the dual message that yes, she is serious and she may be armed, so do what she asks. He then proceeded to survey my mouth, fingers, eyes and anything else he could possibly think of that would indicate the ideal instrument for me. It was like being scrutinized for lice after being accused of infecting the whole school.
After what seemed like hours, he stopped, grunted, and said “trumpet…yes, trumpet”. A huge grin crossed mom’s face as this seemed to validate her quest. All I could think of was Dizzy Gillespie, that huge, old guy who puffed out his cheeks to the size of a steroid laced chipmunk whenever he played his horn. I didn’t want to walk around school with the cheeks of a bloated rodent, so I instantly expressed my apprehension. Of course, my protest fell on deaf ears as mom was already negotiating horn rentals and lesson fees.
How was I supposed to get the girls playing something you have to clear spit out of every few minutes? Neil Diamond never wooed a woman with his classic marching tunes! As I walked out of the room, visions of chapped lips and elastic cheeks dancing in my head, I realized that maybe I needed to find a better way to fit in. I wonder if girls dig science projects?