To say I was ready for the type of life style I woke up to in Alexander, New York would be at best an understatement, but did I mention that I had been elevated to Rock Star status? Oh yeah, I was also humble. The Cavanaugh’s home was a lot like Wally’s and Beaver’s with a few differences. Mrs. Cavanaugh had a very stressful job at the prison and would have a few glasses of wine most evenings. Once Mr. Cavanaugh got home, he had a ritual of visiting this old vintage refrigerator with a lever on the side that produced a fine ale and he would retire to HIS CHAIR and smoke these wonderful smelling cigars. Most evenings were spent talking about the bright future their son Marty had and a few life lessons to you know get me on a right track and all. I was now enrolled in the local high school or should I say the only school where I was expected to get involved, get good grades, and stay out of trouble not because that was a good plan but more along the lines of we didn’t want to tarnish the Cavanaugh’s image and their track record with Marty the Swim Team Champion. Don’t get me wrong, these folks were very good God-fearing people and had done well with life in general and they should have been proud of their only son Marty, who by the way had become my wing man. He had this ’68 convertible Ford Mustang and he knew everyone in town, especially the girls. The Cavanaugh’s thought what better plan for me than doing what Marty had done, you know Marching Band and of course swimming on the Swim Team, maybe even a run for a class officer next year.
I was all in, except not too far into this plan a few things just didn’t go as we had all pictured.
Swim Team. I just really didn’t even know how to swim very well. I mean I could keep myself from drowning and even get from one side of the pool to the other. Evidently what I had learned as a child was something close to what they called dog paddling. Practice, practice, practice most days in the morning before school and two hours after school every day except Saturday and Sunday. I really wasn’t having a lot of fun. I mean they would wrap an inner tube strip around my legs so all I could do was use my arms and not be able to kick. Then they gave me a float board where all I could do was kick to swim back and forth so many times I would puke. I wasn’t going to give up as failing wasn’t what Rock Stars did; I even started to get better, not good just better. Did I mention the girls would always come and watch the boys Varsity Swim Team practice? I mean there wasn’t anything else to do in town. I think they liked an underdog story and boy did I have one. It looked like I was never going to beat anyone in a swimming race, but there was this situation where one of the events was the mile swim and every team had to have at least two entries and you guessed it, I was the second entry. Come to find out the other team entry was good old Marty and well he was always going to win. That was a given. My job was to at least finish because if I could finish that would guarantee a point for our team. There were times where I would get lapped not once, not twice, but three times. If you could just picture it – all the other swimmers had finished the event and well, it would get very quiet in the stands, maybe even a few folks were holding their breath wondering if I was going to finish. It must have looked painful, but lo and behold I would finish and the crowd would jump and cheer. Ok maybe they felt sorry for me but I was having a good time and it was my job to get a point for the team and that I did every time. I even got better as the year went on. I still got lapped at least once, but that’s progress in my book.
Band. I mean I had never played an instrument in my life, but these folks had taught me to swim and I was sure they had a plan. Let’s face it, there weren’t too many kids to pick from so it seemed that everyone made the team. Drums, that’s what Rock Stars played, but it seemed the only real drum available was this thing they called “the Bass Drum.” I had a few not so choice names I preferred but I was now in the Band. Oh, and by the way this is the same band that played with the football team, I mean this couldn’t get any better right? Not so fast. There were a few hurdles I didn’t see coming. I mean I could hit this drum thing ok, but apparently there was a sheet with weird symbols that would tell me when to hit the drum and well I just couldn’t get that figured out. “Ok,” said the Band Director “let’s just feel the beat and we will come back to reading music later.” This worked pretty good in the band hall, I mean I was rocking it most of the time. Was I in for a treat though, because now they wanted to strap this heavy, big, round, uncomfortable drum into this backwards metal shoulder mount with a cinch around my waist. I thought “This can’t be the best way to do this.” Wait for it, now we were supposed to march in rhythm, in step, doing some weird pattern and at the same time I was to feel the beat. Well I’m just not that guy who can walk, pat my stomach and chew gum at the same time. It was not going to happen. Sure enough, I told you they had a plan and plan they did. I was instructed to march with the band, but I was also instructed to never really hit the drum as we marched. You know just act like I was hitting the drum, they didn’t want to hear any sound. It appeared I was so bad at keeping step and rhythm at the same time I would knock the whole band out of step with my missing the right beat, and well they needed to have a Bass Drum in the marching band yet evidently it wasn’t so important to really hear the damn thing. All in al, I lettered in both Band and the Swim Team and really wasn’t doing too bad with the girls either.
After the last football game of the year, we went back to the Cavanaugh home. It had begun to snow and snow was a big thing for me being from Texas, but not so much for them. Mrs. Cavanaugh sat me down and said “I have some news from your mom. It appears your brother Sean is very sick and they don’t think he’s going to live much longer and they felt you should know. I suddenly wanted to be alone, not wanting to process my emotions in front of them. I quickly went to my room. Sean and I were close, you know sort of partners in crime growing up. I knew he would die like my older brother Mike had at the age of 17 from Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, but Sean was so much younger.
I had been in New York for almost 9 months at that time. At 3am off I went with my back pack, walking in the snow down the rail road tracks, smoking one of Mr. Cavanaugh’s cigars. I figured that I had got myself here and I would get myself back to San Antonio the same way, but boy it sure was cold.