“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
– Mark Twain
Last week, I began telling a story about my dad… one time for sure when he nailed the whole “being a father’ thing. To help understand this moment, I found it necessary to share a little bit about our common history at Texas A&M and in the Corps of Cadets.
As I said before, life in the Corps is pretty tough, and your freshman year is a lot like being in boot camp for nine months with the added bonus of being a full-time student who needs to actually make good grades.
Being in the Aggie Band, though, took the whole concept of making life miserable for the fish and turned it up to 11.
In addition to everything the other fish had to do, we had drill every afternoon from 1600 hours until formation and chow at 1830 hours. The first half hour of drill was called “sectionals” where each instrument section (such as trumpets, woodwinds, drums, etc.) would work on their specific skills and maneuvers. As it turns out, the vast majority of the skills and maneuvers in my section (woodwinds) involved having inspection-perfect uniforms, including combat boots polished to a mirror shine (we called it a “two-bulb” shine… the shine had to be so perfect, upperclassmen could see the distinct reflections of each of the two florescent bulbs in a dorm room’s ceiling light fixture). The inspection involved a good 3-5 minutes and ended in doing push ups while getting yelled at by sophomores for the rest of sectionals. The remainder of drill was spent perfecting the upcoming halftime drill for the week with a lot of push ups and getting yelled at thrown in for good measure. Sometimes we missed formation. Sometimes we got into Duncan Dining Hall just long enough to have five minutes to inhale our food before we had to report to our dorms for a quick shower and then Call to Quarters, which was mandatory study time.
Other things about being a BQ (member of the band) were harder, too. When it came to our uniforms, the shine on our shoes, how we spoke to upperclassmen, our requirement to always have a fish buddy with us (you have no idea the abject terror one experiences when finding oneself the lone fish in front of upperclassmen)… in all of these things, and more, our upperclassmen held us to a higher standard than what we saw in the rest of the Corps.
For example, unlike the rest of the fish in the Corps, our upperclassmen required us to speak in unison. You could always tell when a group of BQ fish were talking to an upperclassman because the first word was drawn out long enough for everyone to get into sync: “Miiiiiiiiiiiiister Jones, sir!” Looking back, I’m amazed at how we were able to organically develop a cadence in our speaking which allowed all of us to say stuff in unison.
Fortunately, this was made easier (a happy accident, I’m sure, as upperclassmen are loath to make fish lives easier) because as a fish, you’re only allowed to say one thing to an upperclassman when initiating a conversation:
– “Mr Smith, sir! May we have permission to speak sir!” (It’s actually not posed as a question.)
Likewise, there are only four fish answers:
– “Yes, sir”
– “No, sir”
– “No excuse, sir”, and
– “I don’t know, sir”
For the sake of accuracy, I need to be more specific about that last fish answer. You’re not allowed to say “I don’t know”. The correct form of this answer is as follows:
“Sir! Not being informed to the highest degree of accuracy, I hesitate to articulate for fear I may deviate from the true course of rectitude. In short, I’m a very dumb fish and do not know, sir!”
Sounds like a fun life, right? Hence the phone call to my dad….