My heart was beating out of my chest as I tried to be quiet in my dark hiding place.
I was pretty scared. Afraid that I was about to be caught and taken to jail.
The police were going through the building I’d broken into and they were looking for me. I could hear them talking and could see the sudden flashes of their flashlights as they scanned the darkened building.
Rewind to two hours earlier.
Kenny Alison, Steve Cox and I were just hanging out and talking about the kind of stuff that twelve year old boys talk about. Probably twelve year old girls. Somehow the conversation drifted to music. Both of them played the guitar a little. I sort of played the drums. But what I really wanted to play was the pipe organ. I loved the sound of a pipe organ and told them so.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea, why don’t we go to the church and you can play the organ there!” Steve suggested.
All of us were members of the Boy Scout Troop that met in the basement at St. Paul’s Methodist Church. The church had a big pipe organ. And since we knew how to “break into” the church (there was a bathroom window that was never locked) we imagined that we could just go down to the church at 9 PM on a Friday night and play the organ.
This was one of those classic nights where I had told my mom that I was staying at Steve’s house. Steve’s mom believed that he was staying at Kenny’s house. And Kenny had told his mom that he was staying at mine.
Oh what little criminals we were.
But our criminal activity was about to be taken to a whole new level.
Once inside the darkened church, I went directly to the sanctuary where the big pipe organ was waiting for me. I sat down at the bench and was amazed! Good grief! All of those rows of keys! And knobs! And pedals! And buttons! I found a switch that looked like an ON/OFF switch, took a deep breath and flipped it ON.
The organ console came to life! There was a low level hum and the illumination of hundreds of indicator lights! Some flashing red, or green, or white! It looked like Christmas decorations! All of those lights meant something. What, exactly, I had no idea.
The cockpit of the Space Shuttle has nothing on the control panels of a classic pipe organ!
I took an deep breath and pressed my finger down on one white key.
Let me tell you this, and I’m not kidding, the whole church came to life and shook from the loud and massive and powerful sound of that one single note! I had never in my life experienced anything remotely close to that feeling in all of my twelve years! It was incredible!
I started playing. Well, “playing” isn’t the right word for what I was doing. I was just randomly mashing keys and pedals in an attempt to sound like E. Power Biggs — one of the most famous organists in the world. Apparently there was more to playing the organ than what I was doing. So while the whole church erupted in waves of organ sounds, nothing I did passed as actual organ music.
Truth be told, it was really just organ noise. But I was having a capital time! It was awesome! Right up to the point where I saw blue lights of the police cars flashing through the stained glass windows.
Organ noise of that magnitude alerted the neighbors that something was amiss at the church. They in turn called Fort Smith’s finest. That sent Kenny, Steve, and yours truly scrambling. I flipped the switch on the organ OFF and that sadly took all of the life out of the place. The organ had quit breathing and all that was left of any sound in the church was the three of us running for a place to hide, since the police had cutoff our escape route.
Fortunately for us, we knew that church building as well as we knew our own bedrooms. We found our little hiding place in the dark and tried to be quiet. But that’s hard to do when your heart rate is off the charts and you’re breathing faster than you ever have in your life!
After what seemed like hours, the police determined that the desperados who’d found their way into the St. Paul’s Methodist Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas had somehow given them the slip and were long gone. They called off the search and headed to the Irish Maid Donut Shop! (Or so I imagined.) And we slowly snuck out of the church and disappeared into the night.
Kenny and Steve and I were inseparable during the summer between 6th and 7th grade. Between Albert Pike Elementary School and Darby Junior High School.
Then something happened that changed our lives forever. But no one told us exactly what it was. Each of us made small decisions that, at the time didn’t seem like much. But somehow those things changed the course of our lives.
I stayed in Scouting for another year and made Life Scout, just below Eagle (which is one of my biggest regrets — not staying in and making Eagle). My Scout Master said that I got lured away from scouting by the smell of perfume. Maybe so! But Kenny and Steve had dropped out of scouting right after our big break in.
In junior high I tried out for the football team and ran for a position on the student council. Kenny and Steve didn’t get involved any school activities. I loved school. They hated it. By the end of 7th grade we had drifted apart and into different circles of friends. By 10th grade they barely acknowledged me in the halls. Both of them quit school as soon as it was legal for them to do so.
The next time I saw Kenny was years later. He was in county lock up and I was a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps. One of my relatives was a Sheriff’s Deputy and he was giving me a tour of the new jail when a familiar voice called out my name from within the bars.
Kenny and I chatted for a bit and got awkwardly quiet. The young men that we’d become bore little resemblance to the boys we had been. Kenny had gotten involved in drugs and was looking at doing 5 years in prison. I asked about Steve but Kenny didn’t know where he was. That was the last time I ever saw Kenny.
Last summer I was in Fort Smith and ran into Steve’s younger brother Chris, a really good guy. I asked Chris about Steve and Kenny. He told me that Kenny had died in a house fire caused by cooking meth just a few months after being released from prison. He was only 26. And Steve was in prison in Texas. He was a career criminal. Chris told me that Steve’s crimes had included the manslaughter of a girlfriend who had OD’ed from drugs that Steve had given to her. He’d been a thief, a drug dealer, and a murderer. Chris believed that Steve would never get out of prison.
And the three of us had been the best of friends when we were kids.
And the three of us had gone in different directions. And for the life of me, I don’t know why our lives turned out so completely different. We all came from good homes. We all had loving parents. We all had the same background. We all had the same opportunities. I don’t know.
It’s a funny thing. We make decisions everyday that don’t seem to make much difference in the direction of our lives one way or the other. And yet, other decisions do in fact change the course of our lives and send us in another direction. And those that that do don’t ever announce themselves as such. I guess you just have to be ready. Sometimes our lives turn in an instant like a guy riding a unicycle. And at other times they turn slowly like an aircraft carrier at sea.
Take out your life map. Look at where you’d like to be in a year, in five years, in ten. And plot your course for those places. I can’t imagine that Kenny or Steve ever did.
And let me know if you hear of a pipe organ I can play. Preferably one that won’t require any burglary!
Our friend and former Boot Camper, John Madden (not the sports caster), has had a very serious medical emergency. After passing out a few days ago, he was taken to the hospital in a coma. As of this morning he is awake and able to communicate a little. Keep John, his wife Wendy, and their little ones in your thoughts and prayers.
John was a 0530 Boot Camper until a he had to quit after taking a new job. He’s one of the good guys!
SUMMER SCHOOL SPECIAL
Have a student who’d like to join USMC Fitness BOOT CAMP for the
summer? Special discounted program for summer student recruits! Email
me for details
TODAY’S BIG THREE
1. Natalie Williams (Boot Camper) looking for a Marketing/ Event
Coordinating or Advertising job. Has a degree in Marketing Management
and has several years of experience. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
with any leads or job opportunities.
2. Anna Haug (Boot Camper) is looking for a new job. She’s had experience in outside sales.
3. Cindy Pensoneau (Boot Camper) has an apartment for rent. She sends: “Charming English Tudor duplex, 2BR/1BA + sunroom, 9ft. ceilings, hardwood flrs., 1600 sq. ft. recently renovated, 2nd floor/treetop view, just West of Overton Park. Covered parking, ample storage. $1,100/month. 249 Hawthorne Street. 901-270-7450, leave message.
A body in motion, stays in motion. A body at rest, just gets fat.
To your continued good health and fitness!
Sergeant Major Tony Ludlow
USMC Fitness BOOT CAMP, Commanding