zhmort (zhmort) wrote,

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Meeting Gruntinator

gruntinator was no badass military grunt when I first met him. He was a high school band geek, seeking -- and spectacularly failing -- to raise his station in life and become a high school band "officer."

It was first semester of my sophomore year. My family had just moved back to Salem, Oregon after spending about 6 months in Vancouver, Washington. We moved from Salem to Vancouver with about six weeks left in my freshman year so that my step-dad could pursue a new job up there. Unfortunately, everyone in the family except the step-dad hated Vancouver, so we moved back to Salem (to a neighborhood close to the same old high school) a little before Christmas the next year. It was a lot of upheaval in a short time, but I was very glad to be back.

Band had been a big deal in my life since 5th grade. I played trombone, and was pretty good at it, and derived a lot of my self-esteem from that. So reuniting with my old high school band was a relatively emotional moment for me. There were old friends there, and some new kids, and a feeling that I would do well there, back in my element. As it happened, the band director from the previous year (who was crazy) had quit or been fired (can't remember), and there was a new guy leading the band. He had many different ways of doing things from the previous guy. One of his big things was "student leadership." He liked to have the band elect officers, and then use those officers in organizing band activities. It was like the band was the U.S., he was President, and the officers were his Cabinet. (Except the officers were elected by the band members. So never mind that analogy...) As it happened (didn't I already say that?), on the day I came back to school, the band was holding elections for officers. This meant that during our 55 minutes of band class that day, various kids got up, gave speeches about why they wanted to be or should be elected, and then we cast our votes.

Gruntinator was one of the new kids I didn't know previously (he'd transferred there at the beginning of the year). He was running for Vice President, or Treasurer, or something like that. His speech was awesome, in that there were a bunch of us who made fun of it for days to come. He talked about how the band was like a lump of coal, with the potential to be diamond, if only the right forces could shape and mold that coal, and coax it into diamondhood. He told us that he was one who could do what must be done, and that he would make us into a diamond, if only we'd elect him. He got very emotional (his face got red and we thought he was going to cry), and he used cool hand gestures, and it was way over the top. In retrospect, there was nothing to make fun of about his speech, except that he was so intensely into it. He didn't get elected, but it was mainly because he was New Guy, not really because of the speech.

We didn't hang out much that year, but we were both in band, and at the beginning of the next year, I did vaguely remember who he was. I had taken Public Speaking 1 second semester of our sophomore year, and was moving on to Public Speaking 2 at the beginning of our junior year. As it happened (okay, a lot of stuff happened as it happened, so I'm going to have to say that a lot), Gruntinator had signed up to take Public Speaking 1 that same semester (they put the 1 and 2 kids all in the same class since there weren't ever too many taking it at once), so we ended up in the same class. Although I didn't feel I knew him that well, he was somehow the person in the class I felt most comfortable with on the first day of class. So we sat next to each other. I think the way it worked was that I had my seat near the front, and he came in a little after me and asked to sit down. I recognized him from the previous year, and said, "Sure." I no longer remember for certain whether by this time I still thought he was weird, or whether I had seen him be fun and entertaining in the interim and suspected him to be cool by this point, or whether his impression on me had just faded and I didn't know, or what. But band geeks must stick together, that much I knew, and it felt comfortable to have him sit down.

That was a good move. Gruntinator turned out to be a cool, cool guy. I have chatted briefly recently with youngoat about the fun that can be had in speech class, and much of my outlook on that came from having so much fun with Gruntinator our junior year. His experience giving that election speech the previous year had impacted and inspired him, and he really wanted to become a good speaker. But his desire to do good and be good collided with my propensity for blatantly goofing off and somehow getting away with it. I had figured out early the previous semester that I could get good grades on my speeches if I made them funny (because it entertained the instructor, besides relaxing me), and I hadn't done a serious speech since my very first. Gruntinator caught on to this real fast, and it was just a matter of days until we were spending all of our time trying to entertain each other, one-upping ourselves over and over with our funny-speech/stand-up-comedy ideas. Some times we even worked in tandem (even though we had to speak separately), choosing topics that were somehow comically related. Here's an example I relayed to youngoat, modified slightly for clarity:
For example, Gruntinator and I requested to go one after another during our demonstration ("how to") speeches. I did mine on tie tying, and he did his on fly tying. My first two tie knots were normal (windsor and double-windsor), and the rest were just silly made-up knots. (I demonstrated the triple-windsor and quadruple-windsor, "also known as the megapoly-windsor", which just looked like a big wad of tie at the base of my neck. I also made a "bow-tie", which was just the same long tie, tied in a square-knot/bow.) Gruntinator came on after me holding a piece of thread and a fish hook, announcing that his speech would be on "fly tying." He paused for a moment as if considering his next words, then put the hook and thread aside and jumped up onto the front-most table. He was wearing sweats, which didn't seem significant at first. Up on the table, though, we saw what that was about, as he pulled out his sweats drawstring and proceeded to repeat my exact speech, except using his drawstring (his "fly", get it?) instead of a tie. We both got A's.
Hanging out in Public Speaking class led to hanging out in band, which in turn led to hanging out after school making funny rock videos (with some other guys, all of us air-guitaring, air-drumming, lip-synching, etc.). I think I was with Gruntinator the first time I got bold and (shudder) skipped class. I was quite the good little Christian boy at the time, and rarely did anything so naughty. I think that first time we skipped, we did one of our favorite after-school activities: going to the mall and playing 4-person Gauntlet with two other band/silly-rock-video friends. I remember how naughty and cool and alive it felt to be there playing video games at such a totally wrong hour (1pm or something) on a weekday. I felt powerful and grown up. It was a good time.

We developed a great friendship that year, and I remember specifically noticing, early on, that he was my first friend with whom I *never* fought. We rarely disagreed on anything, we were able to have fun any time we were together, and we never seemed to get tired of each other. That was a turning point for me in my frienship history. I've had a number of similar relationships since, but none before that that were nearly so good. So in my mind, Gruntinator was my first adult friend.

I guess it's no wonder, then, that he's now also my longest-term friend...
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