Baton

It’s not often that a sign of one’s youthful indiscretion remains visible for all to see for three decades, but such was the case for several of my classmates and me – until very recently.

The friends involved in the incident I recount here were Ken Huen, Randy Krueger and Steve Schau. Ken and Randy were in my class (1982) and Steve was a year younger.

In December 1981, the middle of my senior year, Denison High School (DHS) had an in-school holiday party.

I don’t remember many of the details of the party, but Ken, Randy, Steve and I ended up in the DHS cafeteria, where several activities were taking place.

We soon became bored and came up with an excuse to go somewhere else.

The party was something of a random affair, with activities taking place in the library and other parts of the building.

We took advantage of the fact that nobody was paying a lot of attention to counting heads and made our way to the band room, which was locked and unoccupied.

The band room was a natural place to go, as all four of us were extraordinary musicians.

Ken and Randy were gifted trumpet players, Steve was a natural-born saxophone player and I was far and away the worst percussionist to ever attend DHS.

We, of course, knew how to get into the locked band room and spent a good part of the afternoon goofing off and playing stupid games there in the dark. This was before the FAC was built, so we had light from the door at the back of the room.

Ken says I’m the one who did what comes next, but I have a fairly clear memory of watching the events from the back near the tympani.

At one point, Randy (it could have been Steve) went to the director’s position and started to conduct the empty band room.

Randy, using the baton that belonged to band teacher Charlie Vetter, conducted with gusto and we all laughed at his performance (my friend Scott, who was NOT there, says this sounds like something I would have done).

On one of Randy’s (I’m just going with Randy here) wild motions, the baton flew out of his hand and traveled straight up in the air.

He kept conducting in the same way Wile E. Coyote would act before recognizing that he was hanging in midair and about fall.

Randy (absolutely nobody thinks it was Ken, but I can tell you that Ken was not nearly as square as most of the teachers thought, so it could have been him, in theory) stopped and looked around for the baton, but it never came back down – and wouldn’t for more than 30 years.

The next time we had band rehearsal, Mr. Vetter checked for the baton under the music on his stand, but it was (almost) nowhere to be seen.

He did finally spot it in the middle of rehearsing a piece of music and then turned red in the face.

Now - let me tell you - we were not bad kids.

We were not troublemakers, though we all did some questionable things (and I’m technically still banned from the DHS library) but we didn’t set out to stick the baton in the ceiling and we certainly didn’t think it would take an Act of Congress to get it back down.

For whatever reason, for a long, long time, nobody decided to knock down the baton with a jacket or a water bottle or with a long stick.

Nobody changing a lightbulb ever decided to reach over and pluck it out.

And so it remained stuck there as hundreds of music students came and went.

Several of us took a tour of DHS during our 25th class reunion in 2007. We came down the steps from the music room and burst out laughing at the sight of the baton still stuck in the ceiling a quarter-century later.

I put a picture of it on Facebook in 2009 and a lot of my friends had a good laugh about it.

I tagged Charlie Vetter and wrote that I hoped he wouldn’t be mad about it. We had never admitted to putting the baton there at the time.

Mr. Vetter responded, “I am retired. There is nothing that can make me mad about this picture. Still can’t believe it is still there. Cheers everyone.”

As we all learn at some point, sadly, nothing lasts forever.

The baton was still there when I visited the school in the last year or two, but at some time between then and now the unthinkable happened.

It was gone when I went to the band room last Monday.

I asked a student if he knew anything about the baton in the ceiling and he said it had fallen down.

He didn’t seem to understand the gravity of his words.

I explained that I was in the band room the day the baton had gotten stuck there. The student smiled and nodded politely as he quickly walked away.

And that’s the end of the story, for which I have not been able to come up with much of a point, except for this:

We stuck a baton in the ceiling of the band room and it remained there, in plain view, for a ridiculously long time.

And it lives now only in our memories.

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