Saturday, August 13, 2011

You, the ROTC,and a Nearly Six-Hundred-Year-Old Poet

 At the same time Shakespeare was writing his plays and poems Sir Philip Sidney wrote his Defense of Poesie, which, depending upon the kind of English major you were when you read it, you either found compelling and seminal or boring and flaunting that particular Elizabethan kind of cuteness that made you think of ruffles on sleeves and collars.

You were wanting to be a tough kid.  Noir.  Street smart.  There was a coed named Jackie.  Refused to tell anyone what her major was. what classes she took.  Only some years later did you discover that Jackie may have hung out on campus but she was not enrolled as a student.  Your relations with Jackie were the essence of simplicity.  You'd approach her and hand her a five-dollar bill, folded in quarters.  She'd take the money, then tell you a time, usually after eight in the evening.
At the appointed time, you would be in the outer lobby of the UCLAN Theater on the east side of Westwood Boulevard.  A car would appear from the south, stop in the white passenger loading zone just beyond the box office, then drop a pocket-sized tin of Prince Albert pipe tobacco on the gutter.  The car would then speed off.  The tobacco tin was filled with a mediocre-to-good marijuana.  Since you were already a pipe smoker of legitimate pipe tobacco, the Prince Albert may have been infra dig but it needed no additional subterfuge, although you rarely if ever used the marijuana on campus, the exception being the days of ROTC drill.

Neat in your cadet uniform, you'd have prepared yourself for the hour-and-a-half of parade by getting stoned with three friends who were in the marching band.  After a general assembly, the band struck up, the color guard appeared, and the battalion set forth to march about the athletic field in cadence to John Philip Sousa marches.

One of your musician friends was a trumpet player by choice in his civilian approaches to music.  The ROTC was thrilled when he agreed to play the tuba in the marching band.  Another played the clarinet.  The third, a bass player in civilian life, took up the drums for ROTC purposes.  All three were devoted jazz players, deeply immersed in the rapidly developing harmonic variation known as be-bop.

Galling as it was to have to wear a uniform and lug a rifle about a large athletic field for ninety minutes, it was something else to do so, your mind massaged by the effects of marijuana, and the occasional sounds of John Philip Sousa marches where appropriate fifth-notes were flatted, and through the overtones of the ensemble band, you could hear certain chords not returning to their tonic but played out on the dominant or sub-dominant.

These sounds--Sousa marches with be-bop subtext--and your slightly altered sense of reality were likely to produce in you an extreme tendency to giggle, which would have brought a bevy of student officers to your side, questioning your overall sincerity, and the actual officers who were military, assigned to teaching ROTC classes, regaling you with such Socratic dialogue tropes as wondering if you'd think it so funny were you to find yourself in Korea as a draftee.

To--as it were--enjoy the music, while keeping your mirth to yourself, you spent considerable time reviewing The Faerie Queen and Defense of Poesie, neither of which you considered funny.  One description from Defense stuck in your mind and has stayed with you to this day,  a description of what you hope to become, what you have set your course on becoming, and what in effect is your pole star.

Listen once again to Sir Philip describing what you would become.  Listen to him describing the storyteller:

"With a take, forsooth,he commeth unto you;
With a tale which holdeth children from play,
And old men from the chimney corner..."

That held you through the tedium and the giggles. That held you.

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