It’s a well known fact that at the heart of every great comedy lies the natural but good natured tension that exists between the four major personality types — the controller, the analyst, amiable and expressive. In Seinfeld, Seinfeld plays the analyst, George, Newman and the Soup Nazi alternate as controllers, Elaine plays the amiable, and Kramer, the expressive.
If my early life were to be written as a low budget comedy, I could be cast to play at least three of those roles. To the extent that as a teenager I focused on being the class clown, I could have been cast as the expressive. To the extent that I spent a lot of my time playing pool at the Hole in the village and asserting my independence as a non-academic, I’d could have assumed the role of controller. Given the fact that I went out of my way to make sure I wasn’t on anyone’s enemies list, I guess I could have also been cast as the amiable.
Pretty much devoting my energies to the moment, however, I couldn’t possibly have been cast to play the role of analyst because I seldom considered the consequences of my actions. Perhaps the reason for that is that as a youngster I was never really called to account for my misbehavior.
* * *
It was at the end of my sophomore year that I really stepped across the line. Telling Dad that I was going to stay at a friend’s house one evening, I joined three car loads of guys having a Blatz beer blast in the evening on a farm just north of town. I’d never had a beer in my life and the half dozen I consumed over the period of an hour or so ended up on the side of the road on the way back to town.
I don’t remember a lot about the rest of the night but I do recall waking up in my bed in the backroom at home with a terrible hangover and a note pinned to my pajama top giving me a half dozen things to do before noon — mow the front and back yard, clean out the south side gutter, rake the mess in the flower bed, vacuum the living room and wash the dishes. I assumed that this meant that Dad would be back by then and that I would be suffering the dire consequences of my actions soon thereafter.
Dad arrived as I was finishing up the dishes and in his usual authoritative [not authoritarian] manner instructed me to join him in the living room. It was then that I expected him to read me the riot act but, instead, he told me that he had signed me up to attend a summer music camp in Eugene, Oregon. He then walked through the kitchen, out the back door, got back in his car and [presumably] returned to work without so much as a mild admonishment.
I can honestly say that I never again allowed myself to drink to excess. In fact, all the time I was in the military I assumed responsibilities as the designated driver when I joined fellow officers going out on the town in the evenings on temporary duty (TDY) assignments. To this day I’ll occasionally have a beer with a meal every now and again in a social context but never more than one. I don’t drink hard liquor and I don’t like wine.
* * *
Apart from meeting Connie, not much of my life during high school is much worth remembering. Music dominated my on campus life. While I played trombone in the school orchestra and dance band all four years, I lost interest in the marching band early on. I don’t know exactly why that happened but I’m guessing that the music Mr. Howenstein wanted the band to play didn’t resonate with me. Come to think of it, I didn’t much care for the uniform thing either — it just didn’t mesh with my James Dean –rebel without a cause — persona.
At the end of my junior year, I was appointed the student director of the dance band and, given an opportunity to make the most of it, held practice sessions in the early evening at home in front of Dad’s garage. I don’t think we got together more than a half dozen times but it was great fun playing a couple dozen big band arrangements that attracted a crowd and clearly entertained the neighbors. The practices also led school officials to arrange for us to perform on stage at the Tippecanoe County Fair one evening toward the end of that summer.
In my senior year the dance band cut a record onstage at Purdue’s Elliot Hall of Music. What I remember about the recording is that between musical phrases one could hear the sound of the band echoing throughout the empty performance hall which with a seating capacity of over 6,000 remains one of the largest auditoriums in the world even today. The record itself didn’t turn out that well because our timid drummer, Clyde Smith, couldn’t keep up a tempo if his life depended on it and one of the mics was placed in front of Jim Bowie, an alto saxophone player who had a deaf ear and couldn’t keep his instrument in tune.