Band on the Running Back:
Everyone Hates Strapping. Meanwhile,
Small Town America Withers

After three years as a columnist, I have pissed off nearly every person who ever called me a friend. Much of this alienation can be credited directly to booze. When drunk, I am a schmuck. So I gave up the juice to win back my high social status. Didn't work. I haven't had a drink in six hundred and thirteen days and I STILL have to wear a disguise to walk into the Cricket on the Hill.

Maybe it's my hard-hitting style, my honesty, the way I see through bullshit, the way I reveal my sources no matter how many times I've promised not to. Maybe it's the fact that all the people who don't talk to me anymore are assholes.

Ask me if I care. So what if I can't secure an interview with a band at Herman's New Talent Showcase? Big screw.

Oooh and I'm suddenly barred from ever interviewing another pianist at the Emerson Sanford Baptist Church . Well, happy ding dong to you too, Reverend Spitfire. Maybe you'll act like a damn grown-up the next time your pianist mentions that she danced with your son.

I'm a journalist and I find stories. Scoops. Dirt, if necessary. But always, always THE TRUTH.

So, with this in mind and a pair of stolen cowboy boots on my feet, I stuck out my thumb on an exit to Eastbound I-70 where I was picked up by a stoic woman in an ancient sedan. Two silent hours later, she dropped me off in a town called Jacks, which straddles Highway 36. Jacks is one of those soda pop towns, the kind where you stop to get a pop and keep moving. I went to the post office and said, “Howdy. Where's the general store?”

“Nearest store is seven miles from here.” (Wow. Not even a soda pop town.)

“Why's this town called Jacks?”

The post office lady sighed and rolled her eyes in a way that said, “If I had a nickel for every time somebody asked a dumb question…”

I changed my tact. “Anything going on tonight?”

“Not hardly in this town,” laughing self-consciously. “Well, there's the football game. We're playing Hinton tonight.”

Aha! Football. Marching band.

She volunteered, “I'll give you a ride if you can wait about an hour.”

We drove to Jacks High School where I watched a six-man football game. An American game of violence rendered quaint through rural Americana . There were no TV timeouts, and the crowd cheered and jeered throughout the proceedings. After every touchdown, cars parked around the perimeter of the field honked their horns.

I ate a hamburger and drank a lemonade. Since nobody knew me, interviews were easy. I told a farmer in overalls that I was Strapping Danforth (“Never heard of you”), a beat writer for Riff (“Never heard of it”). I asked, “When's the band come out?”

“What band?”

“The marching band. Theme song. ‘Charge!' You know.”

“Ain't no band.”

“—Actually,” interrupted another farmer clad in an AC/DC shirt and black jeans, “We had a school band up thru 1985 but when Mr. Polly left they didn't replace him. It was a good band. I played the snare drum.”

“Is there any music program at all at Jacks High?”

“Nope,” said the AC/DC farmer, “No art either.”

Overalls pitched in, “We don't have the money or the numbers or the management. 85 kids in this school from K-12 and the English teacher has a list of books that can't be taught due to questionable content. School's going to close any year now.”

It was halftime. The scoreboard said Home: 63 Visitor 27. The field sat empty. Moths fluttered around the lights.

“Still,” I said, “That's stupid. Even the crappiest school in Denver has a music program. Are we in the Middle Ages? How the hell can Cherry Creek have an Ultimate Frisbee team when Jacks High doesn't even have a marching band?”

Overalls and AC/DC shrugged.

The football teams ran back to the field and began warming up for the second half.

I pressed, “You're able to field a football team. How much does one of those helmets cost?”

“Hundred, hundred fifty,” said AC/DC.

“The coach, he gets paid, doesn't he?”

“Sure.”

“You could have a music program for half the price of a football team.”

Overalls piped in again, “We'd rather have football. They won state a couple years ago. There's not much in this town worth celebrating. A state championship every thirty years kinda keeps you going.” The whistle blew and the teams lined up for the second half kick-off. The crowd in the bleachers went bonkers. “Look around you. Who's gonna come to see a marching band play once a week?

He had me there. “Surely there's a musician somewhere in these parts?”

“There was a kid,” said AC/DC, “He went up to Denver about ten years ago. I heard he plays in some band up there.”

Overalls, interrupting, “—Wait, there's a dude named Jimmy Henderson who plays the guitar.”

“Sure,” said AC/DC, “I never heard him play but they say he's awesome. He plays the electric. You can hum a song to him and he'll play it right then on his guitar.

A SCOOP! “Where is he? I'm gonna interview him.”

“You'll have to wait ‘til after the game. He's the one with the ball right now.”

Jimmy Henderson was in the process of returning the kick-off for a touchdown. After seventy yards of dodging and stiff-arming, he was tackled around the ankles. As he fell into the end zone, one of his teammates fell onto him. The referee raised his arms. Car horns honked, the Jacks High side of field went nutty.

Jimmy stood up slowly as his teammates slapped his helmet and made teenage barks of happiness. Jimmy stared at left hand. The index finger, middle finger and ring finger each had extra joints, pointing up, down and backward. He walked to the bench where the coach straightened out the fingers and taped them together. For the remainder of the game, Jimmy sat on his black helmet and stared at his hands.

Jimmy didn't return to the game.

The final score was 82 to 69 with the visiting team, the Hinton Mustangs scoring 55 points in the second half for a thrilling come from behind victory after Jimmy was taken out of the game.

I didn't interview Jimmy. He looked too sad.

Afterward, I stood on the side of the Highway 36 until 4 am before a semi stopped and took me home. In the boondocks, the stars are lovely; but it sure is quiet.

--Strapping Danforth, September, 2003

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