I was born in the year of 1956. It was a great year. Many great people I know were born that year. My closest friends were born that year. As Frank Sinatra once sang, “It was a very good year.” Even though I was born in 1956, I was actually reborn in September of 1970. That was the year I started high school.
The high school I attended was (and still is called) Christ the King, which is located in Middle Village, New York. I learned rather quickly that there were many new things that I was going to learn other than my academics. There were activities of all sorts-athletics, journalism, art and my favorite—MUSIC.
In the first year, I threw caution to the wind and decided to try everything that I was eligible to try. I tried out for the basketball team. Thank goodness that turned out to be a huge bust. I was turned off right away because I really could not get into the basketball atmosphere. They were very talented individuals there, but it just was not for me. I did wish them luck and they did quite well.
Next, I tried out for the track team. I had SOME luck there because the team was divided into two groups: the cool guys who always came home with a medal from the meets, and the scrubs, the group that was composed of guys like me who never won anything except derision from the other guys who always won medals. In the first group, there was one guy who, to this very day, I held the highest amount of respect. His name was Charlie. His specialty was the mile run. He was extremely dedicated to the sport because he found his niche very easily on the first day. You could easily tell that he was going to be the rising star on this team.
I honestly enjoyed the first year even though I won nothing. In all honesty, I did not give it my best. Sometimes I would jog on my free time at home. Most of the time, I did not. While Charlie would probably watch his diet and eat just what a class distance runner would eat, I had no restrictions on myself. For me, a good lunch was usually composed of a Snickers bar and a can of Pepsi. Yup. I was on the right track… to nothing at all.
I really enjoyed the coach. He was my first track coach and I always wanted someone to help me establish some discipline. His name was Brother Pat. Brother always reminded me of the comedian Bob Newhart and former New York Mayor Giuliani. He was a shorter man compared to the other teachers, but he was quick with the wit that endeared everybody to him. But, he was also stern when he needed to be. When he spoke about anything, he meant business. Right away, I knew that he was the person I needed in my life at this moment. Even though I could not win a medal, he really made it fun to be on the team.
We had a newspaper that I did not write for at the time. I would write on it in the coming years, but not during my first year. I picked it up one day. Brother Pat really surprised me and I am sure that it surprised other members of our freshman team as well. There was an article where he was interviewed about his freshman runners. As expected, he spoke very highly of Charlie and the others who were doing quite well at that point. After reading about Charlie, I was ready to put the paper down and go about my day, but before I did so, I read further. As I read the article, I noticed that he talked about the WHOLE team and he did so in a very complimentary fashion. He mentioned each of us by name and gave a very nice remark about how he saw us. He envisioned that each of us would go on to big things and how we each were making a huge contribution to the team in some fashion. I was honestly floored. “He saw that in ME?”
The next day when I saw Brother Pat in class, because he was also my math teacher, I did not delay in thanking him for what he said in the article. He was a very humble and non-assuming individual. He quietly accepted the thanks and quickly diverted my attention to what we were going to do in class that day. For the remainder of that first year in CK, I decided to try to gain the discipline I needed to do much better.
The next year, we were allowed to try out for the sophomore level of the track team. We were each given a letter with the distances we wanted to run. My new coach put down the standards that he expected us to meet at our desired distance. Mine was to run 220 yards in under 30 seconds, a feat that I was never able to accomplish. Why? Because I lost my desire to work hard at all. The coach was extremely patient with me, but I was extremely rebellious in nature. I skipped practices and rarely came to the meets. When I did, I just did not care. I didn’t expect to win anyway and I didn’t.
The worst part of my second year was my attitude. Instead of leaving the team right away, I let my attitude get the best of me. The coach was a rather nice man who also had a Marine Corps background. He instilled a great deal of discipline in his runners. In hindsight, I should have heeded his advice and done what was required of me, but I did not listen. I remember one day in the school’s main office, he told me that I was supposed to be at a meet which I didn’t attend. He wanted to refund my fee for the meet and I got very rude about it. An assistant principal who was standing nearby overheard the exchange and made me apologize. I was nearly suspended for my snarky behavior. I accepted the fee and went on to class all while praying that I would not be called to detention for it.
The next day when I got up for school, I decided that it was time for me to look for a new activity. Every day while I went to school, I would always pass a bulletin board just outside of the cafeteria. On it would be the results of the last meet. Even though I was no longer on the team, I was always fascinated by the results, especially Charlie’s. When I saw him, I would always congratulate him and so forth. I was really impressed with the progress he made. In all honesty, I was hoping that he would the first New York high schooler to run a sub-four minute mile before we graduated. That is how good he was, but what about me?
A Typical Group of Guys Getting Ready for a Gig
My mouth was used to getting me out of trouble, but sometimes, it got me into trouble as well. One day, I found myself unable to talk my way out of trouble and needing a way to escape someone who wanted to beat the crap out of me. I found myself running for cover. When I stopped somewhere, I found my area. The floor was elevated in sections. There were music stands all over the place. There was a piano in one section of the room. I found the band room!
The next day, there was a call for those who wanted to join the band. I made a mad dash to the room because I was very interested in joining. There was no need to jog every morning. I did not have to go to any meets. I did not even have to purchase a uniform in order to take part. All I needed was an instrument of my choice and a few lessons to get me started.
I selected something called a trumpet. I heard of these, but I never actually saw one, much less played one. I watched the other guys who also selected the trumpet. None of us knew how to play it. The other guys were barely able to make a sound come out of it. I felt that this was where I belonged and that this would be my instrument of choice. My high school band teacher was very patient in working with me and seemed to be very impressed with my progress.
As the school year went on and I took more lessons, I found myself enjoying my new ability. I put all of my efforts into practicing on it. I played in my first school concert that same year. Brother Pat, who was also my second year math teacher—algebra—commended me for playing the trumpet. He stressed to me that school is not just for the academics that it contained, but the activities—extracurricular—that were also there. I remember when somebody teased me for being in the band, Brother Pat jumped to my defense and supported me even though I no longer ran track.
As we went on to finish high school, I still checked that bulletin board because I was still fascinated by Charlie’s times. I never stopped congratulating him on his success. He found his niche on the very first day. Now, I had mine. I sometimes even carried my trumpet with me from class to class. I wanted to be described as a trumpeter more than anything else. Whenever I walked around in school, my teachers, classmates and schoolmates always knew at least one thing about me. I was always the Trumpet Man.