The Defiant Thomas Brothers


Listen to Patna Music V The REPO REmix

The Trombone Got Me Into College

I attended my daughter's Winter Concert the other night and it made me think of all my young years as a band kid. She plays trombone like her Pop.

I loved my trombone. That trombone got me to New York, Seattle, Hawaii. I was twelve years old, in Hawaii, without my mother all because I played trombone in a band.

That trombone even got me into college.

Back in 1994, about two weeks before school was scheduled to start I received two letters in the mail from Clark Atlanta University.

The first letter was from the band director inviting me to audition for the CAU Marching Panthers band. While the idea of a "full or partial scholarship" was alluring, the idea of marching in a band again was not. I had not marched in a band since my departure from Buddhism like five years prior and I had no plans of returning.

Besides, my financial aid was fine. I tossed the letter to the side and moved on to the second letter.

The second letter was from the financial aid office. This letter was sent to me to inform me that based upon my grandmother's income (I was twenty-two when I arrived at CAU. Thought I had been on my own for like five years at the time, I could not apply for financial aid as an independent. I was not twenty-four, I was not in the military and I was not a ward of the state. I was my Grandmother's baby trying to go to college so Grandmother claimed me on her taxes so I could use her info for financial aid.), I did not qualify for one of the grants for which I applied and as a result I was twelve hundred dollars short for the year.

I returned to the band letter.

The letter gave a basic overview of the program, a contact number, audition dates and the date of the first day of band camp. I guess the proper thing to have done was call the number, set up an audition, audition and, if selected, show up on the first day of band camp. A date for which was provided in the letter.

I was not auditioning. I didn't own a trombone. I had not touched a trombone in over five years. I haven't even looked at one. While I could still read music and I was halfway familiar with the slide positions, there was absolutely no way I was going to survive an audition for a college band. I didn't have the chops.

What I did have was band experience.

Mother was a Buddhist and an active member of an organization which I think is called SGI-USA now but was NSA back then. Anyway, the organization had programs for the youth members, and as I was raised as a youth member, I was a part of one of those programs. The Brass Band.

I joined The Brass Band when I was four and spent the first six years of my membership carrying stuff. I never performed. I never marched. I just watched.

When I was ten, I decided that I wanted to be in the drum section and I told the band director. He laughed and sent me over to a group of other teens and preteens that play drums and trumpet that also wanted to be in the band. I spent two years in this group.

My faith in my ability as a drummer was created by my being in the school band. I was a drummer and I was advancing every year, seat wise, and I imagined this was the natural order of all bands including The Brass Band.

What I failed to realize then was that my steady progress in the school band had less to do with my talent and more to do with school band members graduating from middle school. Brass band members don't graduate from Buddhism. This was their way of life. They would be in the band forever.

When I was twelve, I approached the band director again about marching.

"I have enough drummers," said my band director. "too many drums over power the band. I have enough drums, enough trumpets and more than enough saxophones."

Then he said the words that would change my life forever.

"It's too bad you don't play trombone. You can never have enough trombones."

The Great Trombone rule. You can never have enough trombones.

The next semester in school, I quit the drums and took the beginner's low brass class. Next semester I was in the school band as a trombone player and that summer I was marching in The Brass Band.

I marched with The Brass Band until I left home. When I left Mother, I left her Buddhism and it's band with her.

I was done with the trombone. I never even considered playing it again until I got the letter from the financial aid office. But now it was clear that my ability to play trombone was my way into college.

I devised a plan. I was going to show up on the first day of band camp and get in the band on the hopes that the CAU Marching Band director was also a believer in The Great Trombone rule.

The next day, after hours of random calls, I found a pawn shop with a "dried up horn" for "cheap". I took a hundred bucks from my rent money and bought the dried up horn, slide grease, slide oil and trombone Christmas carol sheet music.

I remembered "whole step, whole step, half, whole step, whole step, whole step, half" so I was able to practice my major scales. My road back to the band was a regiment of major scales and Christmas songs. I practiced every day until the first day of band camp.

I arrived at the grassy area next to CAU's gym with no idea where to go or what to do. A random flute player guided me towards a trailer where another band member was checking in new and returning members. When I entered the trailer, I was greeted by a girl sitting at a table with a list of names.



She checks the list. "You are not on the list, Yusef."

"I know."

"Maybe they forgot to add you name. When did you audition?"

"I didn't."

"I don't understand, Yusef."

"Listen," I said, "I didn't audition because if I had auditioned I wouldn't get into the band and I really need to be in the band. So, can you just do me a huge favor and go tell the band director there's a guy trying to get into the band. Just tell him I need to talk to him. Please."

The girl looked at me for a minute and then smiled. I know now that the smile was because she knew how verbally abusive the band director was and she was already reveling in the tongue lashing I was about to receive.

She got up, disappeared into an office then returned with a tall, older man who looked bothered. I caught my self chanting a Buddhist phrase of prayer under my breath.

"May I help you, young man," barked the Band Director. The girl was standing behind him smiling.

"I'm here to join the band."

"You're not already in the band?"

"No, sir."

"So, you auditioned and we did not accept you?"

"No, sir. I never auditioned."

At this point, the girl laughed out loud. The Band Director spun around, shot the girl a look (she got quiet) then spun back to me.

"Young man..."

(I need to note here that my band director stuttered. To try to write it out would be ridiculous but know that all that follows came out in pieces)

"...this is a university and this is a university band. The majority of the band members are music majors and minors who take playing music seriously. They take band seriously. I take band seriously. And I...what makes you think you can skip my auditions and just walk up and join my band?"

"I play trombone. Sir."

The Band Director closed his eyes and shook his head and I knew he was a believer in The Great Trombone rule.

"I only need six hundred dollars a semester."

"That's it?" he asked.

"That's it," I said. "Oh, and a trombone. Mine is a piece of crap."

"Don't make me regret this."

"I won't."

He turned to the girl and told her to sign me up then returned to his office.

"You're lucky," the girl said.

I was. I was lucky and I knew how to play trombone.

I love that trombone.

LeBron James is the new Christian Laettner

People hate LeBron James. I thought it was the regular dislike that any athlete that manages to win multiple times receives however this Finals has revealed a level of hate that I haven't seen since Christina Laettner.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of posts calling LBJ names like Crybaby, LeBum and SheBron. Some have complained that the announcers are showing him too much love. Some are even insinuating that the refs are being paid off by LBJ. And almost all of these posts are from people who aren't Warriors fans and probably didn't know there was an NBA team in Oakland until videos of Stephen Curry's daughter went viral.

Why the hate?

This isn't a guy who allegedly raped a woman in a hotel. This isn't a guy whose gambling problems allegedly lead to the death of his father. This isn't a guy who throws gang signs and hid the name of his hood in the design of his shoe. This isn't a guy with multiple arrests for domestic violence. Yet, all these guys get more love than LBJ.

Why the hate?

Complains over fouls? Who doesn’t? He thinks he's entitled to win? So. Last I checked sense of entitlement doesn't get the ball in hoop. His nickname is King James? Yeah, I struggled with that anointing too back in the day. However, after spending hours trying to figure out a cleverer nickname I had to acquiesce.

Maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with LBJ and everything to do with Haters. And when I say Haters, I don't mean the Taylor Swift "Haters gonna hate" Haters, I mean The Luniz "why you wanna Playa Hate on me" Haters; the Too Short "put you in a cross cause they really just haters" Haters. The people who see a player doing well and can't stand it so they just hate.

That's all LBJ is. A player doing well. Real good. Like triple double in the Finals good. And maybe these people can't stand it because their favorite player (who is not Stephen Curry) nor their favorite team (which is not the Golden State Warriors) is not doing so well...obvi.

This isn't about LeBron James. This is about the large amount of hate that lives in the hearts of men and social media that provides the perfect outlet for hate.

LeBron James is just a target. And long after he is gone, the haters will find a new target.

Now cue Taylor Swift.

Associate well spoken with something that makes sense

I am not a racist. I don't believe a particular race is superior. I am not a bigot. I don't hold prejudice against racial or religious groups. I am associative. I associate people with things. Tall Short People of Asian descent...Asia. I admit it. I do it. I think others do it. And I don't mind when they do. Except when the association is "speaking well" and White. Or Gay. Then I mind.

These associations seem ridiculous. Yet, I have come face-to-face with both. From the same man. This man, whom I associate with one of the twelve tribes of Egypt, first asked if I was mixed, then asked if I was gay. Upon receiving two no's, he exclaimed, "but you speak so well."

"Speaking well" or being well-spoken - according to - is having a clear, articulate and socially acceptable accent and way of speaking. There is nothing racial or sexual about this definition. But for some reason my way of speaking made this man believe that I have a White parent or that I romantically love men.

I can kind of see the White part. Dr. John Baugh, the researcher who coined the term "linguistic profiling," said in the PBS special Do You Speak American, "It is often assumed by Blacks as well as Whites that African-Americans speak bad or lazy English." If my guy holds this same assumption, then my good and active English must have meant a heavy White influence.

Dr. Baugh went on to say, "Black English has roots as deep and a grammar as consistent as Scottish, Irish or any of the other Englishes spoken around the world." I associate this statement with the opening number of the musical My Fair Lady. Professor Higgins sings, "Oh, why can't the English learn to set a good example to people whose English is painful to your ears? The Scotch and the Irish leave you close to tears. There are places where English completely disappears. In America, they haven't used it for years." It would seem bad English is a nondiscriminatory equal opportunity practice.

I don't get the gay association at all. I don't even know how to begin to connect those dots. I chalk that association up to the unfortunate fact that we live in a society where anything and everything can be labeled gay. I'm sure someone will associate me with gay for referencing a musical in the previous paragraph. The association between well-spoken and gay is ignorant. And I'm willing to bet that there are thousands of homosexual men and women nationwide brutalizing English.

I am an American and I embrace English because it is the language of my home. I practice pronunciation and articulation because verbal communication is a large part of my daily life. I have found that life is more enjoyable when I'm understood. And I believe the same is true for everyone. Life is better when you are understood.

So, associate on, good people. It's natural. Just do me a solid and associate well-spoken with things that make sense like reading, dictionaries or Pappy the Cat. Just not race or orientation.

I am not a foodie

My out of town friends hate me. I am sure of this. I know this because whenever any of them come to Chicago, I am the last to know. They don’t call me when they are planning their trip nor do they contact me when they arrive. 

Rather, they text me the night before they leave to tell me what bar they are at and to meet them there if I want to see them before they leave. 

I have witnessed this phenomenon for years and until lately was baffled by the occurrence. Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that they were coming to Chicago and immediately called her to find out if she wanted to hang out. The answer was “no.” When I asked her why not, the answer was clear. “You don’t eat.”

I am not a foodie. In fact, I’m far from it. I hate eating. I find it to be a waste of time and money and the only reason I do it is because if I didn’t, I would die. I wish stores like CVS sold military ATPs. Then I wouldn’t have to eat at all. That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy certain foods. I mean, if I have to eat, I might as well like it. But I could eat the same thing every meal every day if I had to and not be bothered by it one bit. 

I don’t know why I’m like this. Since most psychosises are attributed to childhood, I’ll assume that growing up in a home with a mother whose only meal choices were top ramen, tuna cakes and beef stew did the trick. Whatever the case may be the result is that I have grown into a man that eats to survive and not for pleasure or for experience. 

And yet, somehow I ended up living in what I believe to be the greatest city in America for food. From Soul vegetarian to Dos Ricco’s Mexican-Asian fusion, Chicago has something for every pallet. Furthermore, there are multiple dining options for every cuisine choice. It’s not uncommon to find two restaurants side by side with the exact same menu. Chicago is a foodie’s Disneyland. 

Being a non-foodie, I have taken for granted that I live in an amazing smorgasbord of food choices. I have also lost sight of the fact that people come here to bask in those choices. (I know what you’re thinking, Taste of Chicago, duh. But I don’t go for the food. I go for the free concerts.) 

I understand why my friends don’t call me when they come to town. Chicago is a great place for food and when it comes to food I know nothing like Jon Snow. I don’t know where that restaurant you heard of is and even if I did, there a good chance I haven’t eaten there so I can’t tell you anything about the place.  If I was a foodie, I wouldn’t hang out with me either.

Luckily, Chicago is also great place for beer. And I love beer. So, yeah, call me when you hit the bar.