by David Prill

“Hey, where the heck is that music comin’ from?”

This was Big Jim McDiffie at a Memorial Day backyard barbecue, circa 1974, back when you knew exactly where pretty much all music came from, that was the appeal--you can’t hum along to the Unknown. Penny loafer jingles, tinny children’s songs from the ding-dong man’s truck (according to moms everywhere the music meant the truck had run out of ice cream), the mailman whistling an old Johnny Mercer standard, side A of the soundtrack of the suburbs.

And most importantly, his school song:
Wave the flag for Hillmont High School
Her colors black and gold.
Marching always on to victory,
No matter who the foe.
So, we’ll forever praise and cheer you,
Our Gobblers brave and true.
Wave again the dear old banner,
Hillmont High we’re all for you.

Brought a tear to Big Jim’s eye. Used to, anyway.

Big Jim had been a star athlete at Hillmont High, lettering in football, baseball, basketball and cheerleader-chasing. He was the missile-firing quarterback in football, pitcher and cleanup hitter in baseball, and all-city forward in basketball. Until a back condition knocked him out of his roost. His spinal column was twisted like a snake on hot blacktop. The doctors said his athletic career was over and out. It was too frustrating to attend the games as a spectator, so began the isolation with occasional detours into alienation. Almost felt like he had already graduated, especially since he didn’t spend much time in class anyway. He spent less time hanging out at the Red Barn with the gang, tough guys with french fries dangling from their mouths, more time wandering alone down the paneled station wagon-lined streets. His coaches had always admired him for his ability to see the whole playing field, to anticipate what was to come, to be one step ahead of the other players. But now Big Jim, as he wandered, was trying to see the whole field, the future, but he couldn’t see much at all, the field was too big now, and there were too many unknowns.

Like the music, today.

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