In some ways, a fire department parade can be more challenging for me than an Italian feast. At a glance, a parade seems easier. You show up, wait on some Long Island side street for it to be your division's turn, then march out on to a main road for a little under two miles. You're there two hours at most, and actually playing for less than an hour. Italian processions average 3 to 5 hours, with no direct route. Often we snake back and forth through what seems like every street in Brooklyn. While they aren't normally more than 5 hours, there's one I do each year in New Jersey that can go anywhere from 12 to 15 hours. And next week I have a gig in Pennsylvania that itself is only about three hours, but total bus traveling time will be around six, so there goes nine hours of that Sunday.

Yes, a fire department parade is less of a commitment in both time and distance. Unfortunately, I only get about three or four of those a year, whereas I get at least twenty Italian jobs, minimum. But, there are definite advantages to the Italian jobs. Parades are judged, and require a rigid military step with the drums. Left! Left! Left, right, left! At a feast, you stroll. It doesn't matter if your left foot hits the ground while the guy next to you is taking a step with his right foot. In fact, the guy next to you might not even be next to you. Parades require a strict formation. You have to stay shoulder length apart, line up with the person in front of you and look to the right to make sure your row is straight. At a feast, you're more of a cluster of 7 to 9 players. There's a rough formation with trumpets in the front and drums in the back, but it's very loose. In a parade, you wear a uniform similar to the fire department you're playing for, your collar buttoned, your hat brim polished and rigid, and your tie clip shiny. At a feast we wear red or green t-shirts and white caps.

A parade formation is most taxing on the guys in the front row, specifically the front right or point position. He or she is the musician everyone else relies on. The others in the front row look to their right and stay lined up with this individual, who is maintaining a regulation ten foot distance from the color guard carrying the flags and axes in front of us. The entire front row determines the spacing of the rows that follow. each individual lined up with the person in front of him or her, hopefully all shoulder length apart. When we march on a road with a yellow line, it helps us to center our position. When we have an odd number of people per row, the person in the middle walks that line, but when we have an even number as with a parade I played on Friday, the two people in the middle have to stay on either side of the line at equal distances.

It's a lot to think about at the same time, keeping lines and columns straight and distances consistent, all the while stepping with your left foot on each down beat of the bass drum, 30 to 40 players walking as one. Then you throw in reading music at the same time. Technically, I don't need to carry a book since I have the marches memorized, as I do with the Italian songs, most of which are only available as illegible handwritten pieces anyway. My solution when I first encountered that was to learn to play the songs by ear. My dad took all the music and over the years has rewritten nearly all of it, large and clear enough for him to read. Marches are printed, but the band leaders may sometimes make modifications, stopping at different sections or repeating others. The books help when they shout out things like “Stop at #5’s coda!”. We make sure we're playing at various checkpoints where judges with clipboards are making notes, and especially past the reviewing stand at the end.

For two parades now, they've put my dad and I in the front row with the trombones. Two Baritone horns and two trombones leading a band is not the way I'd line things up, but apparently American formations put trumpets toward the back and not lower brass as the Italian bands do. I vaguely remember my high school band lining up the same as the fire department bands. On Friday, I had the less daunting front left corner, but at the previous parade they put me in the point position. It's a lot of pressure maintaining 20 feet from the people ahead of you and checking to make sure your row is lined up with you. I found visualization useful, imagining a twenty foot rope connecting me to the color guard. If the imaginary rope was taut, we were good, but if it went slack, we were getting too close. On Friday, the rope went slack more than once, and broke several times, but I had to keep looking to my right and doing what the point person was doing, keeping the row straight rather than worry about the band falling behind or getting too close. Think of any comedy that puts unlikely people in military situations. Visualize Gomer Pyle or Lou Costello in Buck Privates, and you've got MCF in the army. I manage with the band, but I'd definitely be the guy turning the wrong way with my rifle.

After the parade, I got into a silly argument with my dad about a nearby intersection where we got sideswiped a few years back. I vividly remember we were at the firehouse, parked up the block and running late enough to miss the bus that took the band from the firehouse to the beginning of the parade. My dad insisted the intersection was further up the road but I could clearly visualize that near death experience like all my near death experiences. I told him to note the street and that we'd look up the accident report when we got home. I reminded him that I filled out the visual portion of the report for him, drawing a sketch of how the other vehicle struck us. He insisted the cop filled out the report. To my relief but not much surprise, the report confirmed my memory when we got home. Someday I'll lose my ability to picture things clearly in my head, which is almost certainly diminished already from the level it was at in my youth. I rely a lot on my memory, imagination, and anticipation.

Before this last parade started, my dad stopped in the firehouse to use the restroom. He put his horn and his sunglasses down on a black table. When he came back out, one of our leaders was shouting to head for a truck which was about to depart. My dad grabbed his horn and ran, leaving behind his glasses as I anticipated. I picked them up and followed. The three mile ride to the beginning of the parade was rough, an inexperienced driver hitting every bump in the road and stopping short every few feet, while we were packed like sardines in a container with weak air conditioning. When we finally emerged in fresh air, my dad finally realized he lost his glasses, asking me if I saw them on the truck. I handed them to him and told him where he left them. Someday, I'm going to suffer the same oversights. I've nearly lost my own sunglasses at least twice this year alone. As I get older and it gets harder to keep track of memories or picture things, I'll need to rely even more on lists then I do now.

Out of sight, out of mind, out of options.


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