Sophomoric Hijinks. Literally.

The collar was turned up on Cleo Rucker’s overcoat as he stood shivering next to the bus. He reached into his pocket, tapped out an inch of a Pall Mall, pulled it out with his teeth, flicked one of those brand new Bic disposable lighters and inhaled the entire cigarette.

In about 30 seconds.

Those of us in the bus boarding queue dropped our jaws, widened our eyes, elbowed each other and nodded our heads his way, not wanting to point with our fingers.

“Check out C.R. He’s smoking!

I was a sophomore, third chair (out of three) treble clef baritone in the Second Band at Wichita Heights High School. Our band, all sophomores (save a handful of no-talent juniors) combined with the two-years-more-developed First Band to form what became known throughout the Midwest high school instrumental music community as the Mighty Falcon Marching Band.

C.R. came up with the moniker and made sure p.a. announcers, school district flaks and others in a position to share the good word knew it. He had a little Prof. Harold Hill in him.

As high school marching bands go, we were sort of a big deal. Four years earlier, our forebears marched in Richard Nixon’s first Presidential Inaugural Parade (H.R. Haldeman’s caps) in the nation’s capital and just a few hours before C.R. sucked down the Pall Mall, we had the honor of marching in the Cotton Bowl Parade.


January 1, 1973.

At 15, I was four scant months into my high school career and at the bottom of the ways of the world learning curve. The hard edges of my ignorance and naiveté were getting rubbed down, little by little, day by day.

Our band director smokes?

C.R. plied us with multiple and assorted door-to-door financial opportunities to raise the scratch to make the trip. Band candy, magazine subscriptions and these ginormous cardboard salesman’s cases filled with useless household gadgets.

“Yo lady, howdja feel about buying one o’ these hypodermic butter dispensers? Ya just stick a stick o’ butter in here and push down.”

“What if my butter’s refrigerated?

“Uh...”

We sophomores hung together, since the upperclassmen/women would not waste their precious time on the likes of us, so when Senior Steve Johnson (not his real name,) second chair alto sax in the First Band chatted me up on the bus ride south from Doodah to Dallas, I thought maybe I’m not such a geek after all.

We’re talking sports and cars when he nonchalantly drops, “You’re Viki Matson’s little brother, right?”

Viki Matson – senior, first chair flute in the First Band, National Honor Society. Has this sort of entourage of acolytes who follow her around. She – and acolytes, oblivious to her kid brother.

In downtown Dallas, C.R. puts us up in the Hotel Adolphus, for years the tallest building in Texas. The elevators had these pressure sensitive buttons. We soon learned that right before you exited the elevator, if you reach back in and run your finger down the row of buttons, floors 1 through 23, they’d all light up. And the elevator would stop at every floor. With no one getting off.

Yuk, yuk, yuk.

Sophomoric hijinks. Literally.

At night, we'd congregate to play cards and smoke Kool menthols. Someone said some brewskis’d go down smoothly and then I remembered Steve Johnson was pretty proud of the fact that he’d just turned 18.

OK, Johnson, here’s the deal. Score us some brewskis and I’ll put in a good word for you with my sister. One 6-pack of Lone Star passed around 2-dozen sophomores. Not enough for a buzz, but sufficient to make Steve Johnson a legend among the class of 1975.

To kill some time in Dallas, C.R. took the Mighty Falcon Marching Band to the movies. Man of La Mancha. Peter O’Toole tilting at windmills. Sophia Loren’s endowment on the big screen before a theatre full of raging sophomore hormones.

“To love pure and chaste from afar...” 

On the trip home, I squeezed through the acolytes in the back of the bus to get next to my sister. Yanno Vik, this guy Steve Johnson’s sort of an ace. 

She looked at me as though I was from Mars, wrinkled up her nose and offered:

“Eww...”

I made my way back to Johnson and let him down easy.