My father — he’s been dead ten years and more now, and for most of the twenty-seven before that he was swanning around saying “I have no daughter” when people asked — complicated story — well, families suck, but he was a man who could tell a story, which redeems a lot. He played the French Horn in The United States Army Band, or TUSAB, an acronym which was stenciled on everything in sight at the Fort Myer band auditorium, puzzling me in my childhood when I was often dragged along on quick missions on base. Everything on base was either dingy light yellow, battleship grey, or brown, wavy linoleum. It’s much spiffier now, but these were the days of clapboard “temporary” buildings” that had been temping along since the end of the war.
I guess you could call my father a veteran. He never saw even the back end of a battlefield, having bad eyes and flat feet, the dead last of cohorts to be deployed, and in his abortive memoir of the war years, he described his ohmigodIdontwanttogetmyassshotoff moment of truth when he sent home for his horn to try out for the camp band. He had observed that troops shipped in and troops shipped out, but the band stayed. It worked. And he became a military bandsman for life, playing the last honors for countless veterans laid to rest in Arlington, playing for President Kennedy’s funeral while I huddled at home with a bad flu, tearfully watching everything on a tiny black and white screen. He gave his respect where it was deserved. Where it was not, he found… ways of expressing himself.
He got moved around to two more bases before the war ended — the last one in Georgia, commanded by a generally despised officer named Braun who had, the rumor went, been sent back from the European theater for vague “inhumane” behavior. According to my dad, he was a stuck up little martinet, fond of Draconian penalties, who relished little more than the regularly performed base “pass in review” — when the infantry had to march in formation past the reviewing stand, saluting as they went, metronomed into line by the base band playing a march as they, too, strode by. Base personnel speculated that a little Nazi had rubbed off on him.
There were tuba players in the band, of course, and they were friends with my father; there is a freemasonry among all musicians but a distinct one among brass players, who seem to share a crude, mutinous sense of humor. I think it is because of the farting noises that you invariably make while trying to learn the right way of getting a sound out of a brass instrument. (Note for what it is worth: I learned to play the oboe.) If you don’t have the inner eleven-year-old that remains capable of laughing hysterically at this kind of noise all your life, you may not be a brass section candidate.
Somewhere along the line, someone coined a cantrip on the notes so-so-so-so-la-ti-do-re-mi, mi, re, do! with the potted German everybody-talk lyric: “Was ist die Farbe, dem Pferdenscheiss? Braun, braun, braun!” [What’s the color of horse-shit? Brown, brown, brown!] It went around the base rapidly, as such things do in time of war when people need to blow off steam and frustration at being dragged off the farm or out of the family store, or just ward off fear of deployment.
Thereafter, every time the band passed in front of Colonel Braun on the reviewing stand, no matter what march was being played, the tuba section on a high sign would play that melody. History does not record whether the CO ever noticed, for all anyone knows he was tone deaf, but people felt better.
I understand the current denizen of the Oval wants a big ass military parade across Memorial Bridge, with tanks and things — never mind that it’s ready to fall into the Potomac — and down Pennsylvania Avenue.
I suppose you don’t really need a rhyme for orange. Or oh-rang-eh as it would be in German. Just a suitably disgusting substance. Any ideas? Slime mold? Metamucil? I’m almost ready to call up my dad on the Ouija board.