Tag Archives: Syracuse University

Who’s In Charge Of The Damn Band?

My final year of high school I was trying to decide which college to attend. My father had attended Boston College and was a B.C. Eagle heart and soul. But I had designs on being a writer and I had heard Syracuse University had a tremendous school of communications. So I set my sights on Syracuse.

One weekend my Dad and I drove the 6 hours from Boston to Syracuse to check out the University and, as long as we were making the trip, attend a Boston College vs. Syracuse University football game in an old concrete cathedral called Archbold Stadium.

My Dad, being the devoted Boston College alum he was, seemed to know just about everybody who taught or worked there, including the conductor of the B.C. Marching Band Peter Saragusa. And Mr. Saragusa was nice enough to get us tickets and arrange a place for us to stay in Syracuse. Nice guy, huh?

So we made the drive out along the Mass Turnpike and onto the New York Thruway, past Albany and all those little villages in upstate New York. Soon we were within Syracuse city limits and I grew excited to be able to see for the very first time the spectacular University high upon a hill overlooking the city.

Unfortunately we were staying some distance from the University in a Holiday Inn at Carrier Circle. Lots of things seemed to be named after the Carrier Company, which would in just a few short years provide the money to build the massive Carrier Dome, right on campus.

We arrived on a Friday morning and had a good, long look at the S.U. campus, including a tour of the S. I. Newhouse School of Communications, which by itself pretty much sold me on the school. I didn’t need to see much more. But it was a very pleasant Autumn day so we walked around campus and observed the students coming and going from class to class. It looked like a great place to go to college. The afternoon grew late, so it was back to Carrier Circle and our hotel. After dinner and my Dad’s customary Giant Manhattan, we retired back to our room. It had been an exciting day and we had to be up early for the football game. So, it was lights out.

We couldn’t have been sleeping long before I woke up to the sounds of all hell breaking loose outside the door, in the form of a some very drunk members of the Boston College Marching Band. Silly us. Neither my father nor I was familiar with the age-old tradition of marching band members getting stinking drunk and making as much noise as humanly possible in their hotel the night before a game. The party had quickly spilled out of their rooms and into the hall. In fact, the majority of noise makers had positioned themselves, or so it sounded to our ears, directly outside our room. They were playing their fifes and horns and banging their drums. They were singing the B.C. fight song and any other song they could thing of. In short, they were making enough noise to wake the dead.

My Dad and I tried to ignore it for a while, but the noise level seemed to be increasing with each passing minute. Eventually, my Dad came up with a brilliant plan to simply go out into the hall and ask these screaming Eagles to move their party. Bad move. It just made them worse. There was no way in hell we were going to be able to sleep.

Oh, sweet Jesus! Please save us from this growing bacchanalia.

Finally, my Dad decided the only thing left to do would be to ask for help from somebody at the front desk of the hotel. He put on all his clothes and left me behind to enjoy by myself this rapturous racket.

When my father got down to the front desk he calmly described what was going on. “The B.C. marching band is making an incredibly ruckus, partying and pounding on our door,” he told the attendant. “Is there anything you can do.” Or maybe he wasn’t quite so civil and simply shouted, “Who the hell is in charge of the damn band?”. The front desk clerk inquired as to my father’s name and room number and disappeared for a moment.

When he reappeared, the night clerk seemed quite perplexed. “I’ve just checked the records” he told my father, “and they indicate that you are actually supposed to be in charge of the band. So I’d advise you to get them under control.”

No, no, no, no, no, no, no! This can’t be happening my father must have thought.

But then it all must have become clear. His good friend, the marching band conductor Peter Saragusa, had booked my father and I a room under the pretense that we were the band’s chaperone’s. A neat trick for a free room had backfired big time. And now we were doomed. We couldn’t even get a different room. This was our spot.

I’m certain that neither of us, my father nor I, got more than an hour sleep that night. And to add insult to injury, once we were inside Archbold Stadium for the game it started to blizzard. In October. To the point where you couldn’t see the players on the field.

I vividly remember my father, with a somewhat pathetic look on his face, looking at me and saying with his eyes, “Are you sure you want to go to college here?” And then we probably left and found a new hotel.

But I did end up going to Syracuse. And in no time, I grew used to it all; the parties, the blizzards, and the endless snow.

So here’s a tip. The next time you’re watching college football on T.V. and they show you the marching band, keep in mind that chances are those young people were probably up all night partying and banging on doors.

And make damn sure you’re never in charge of them.

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Filed under Humor, My Stories

Backgammon, Bootlegs and Best Friends

In 1978, I was 17 and newly arrived at Syracuse University. SI can still remember how nervous I was that first day, as my Dad and I drove up the long driveway to Mount Olympus. That’s where my dorm was – Flint Hall. I didn’t know a soul in Syracuse. But I was fortunate to meet a guy in those first days who became my best friend in the world. His name was Kevin and from the time we first met, we were inseparable.

Kevin had it all and was everything a guy could ever hope for in a friend. He was incredibly kind and polite; he was deeply considerate, sensitive and sometimes shy. But what was most important was that we loved the same things. Kevin and I loved the same music, the same books, the same movies. And Kevin was from New Jersey, that mystical place in my mind from whence hailed my rock and roll idol Bruce Springsteen. Kevin also shared the same passion for Springsteen and he taught me all I needed to know. From then on it was Kev and Kel (me) and we made quite a team.

Except for when we were in classes, or on certain weekends when Kev would drive to visit a girl he liked who was going to school in Springfield, Massachusetts, we were always together. Whether we were going to see a film on campus, or spending some time being recruited by the fraternities that we secretly swore to never join, Kevin and Kel were pretty much one. We go to all the frats and drink their beer and eat their pizza while we secretely vowed to never join one. We’d go to “floor parties” in the dorms, where we met other great friends. Guys who lived on my floor like Mike and Eric, not to mention the girls who lived on the upper floors of Flint and all over Day Hall.

And the one thing that we both loved to do in those quieter hours after finishing with studies was to play backgammon.

I remember we played mostly in Kevin’s room (his room being “cooler” than mine that freshman year) and we played all the time! We were both about equally good (or perhaps equally bad) but we just loved to play. We played to beat the band and the band of course was Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

Of course we had to have a soundtrack on those halcyon evenings, and Bruce and the boys delivered on that. We had all of Springsteen’s regular releases and his bootlegs too. We’d listen to them over and over wearing out the grooves in the vinyl. He had an old fashioned turntable and stereo that he and his Dad had rigged up and it always sounded great. And when it came to bootlegs he had his favorite and I had mine.
His was a show from the Paramount Theater in Passaic:

Many Springsteen fanatics, like myself believe this to be his greatest recorded show of all time. But for me, well, I had another favorite that I found down on Marshall Street in the grimy, dusty used record store. It was know by just one word, but it was a thing of beauty and joy forever. It was “Winterland.”

And so there we were. The world could be coming to an end but it wouldn’t bother us. Kevin and I had our backgammon, our Bruce and our friendship. We’d sit and play game after game and talk. We’d talk about the girls we liked and some who liked us. We’d talk about our classes and goofy professors. We’d talk about our pasts, presents and we’d talk about our futures. Kevin swore that one day he would own his own Taco stand in San Diego (while he hardly owns a Taco stand, he currently lives just outside San Diego…how prophetic!).

Life was good. The wicked ways of the world hadn’t had their chance to turn us back. We were young, and free and having a hell of a time.

And the first snowflake hadn’t even fallen.

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Filed under Music, My Stories

How I Almost Died Sledding At Syracuse University

There’s a steep hill that leads into Oakwood Cemetery next to a dormitory at Syracuse University where we would occasionally sled when I was a student. (What in God’s name was I doing sledding next to a cemetery. I don’t know. You do all kinds of crazy things when you drink terrible beer in college.)

Yes, highly educated students would bundle up in heavy coats, scarfs, mittens and hats and jump onto anything made of plastic for a fast and fun ride down this one hill. The path we would sled down was a good distance from the gravestones and we were always careful not to veer anywhere near the stones or markers embedded in the ground. When I think back now, I realize that I deserve everything that I got.

It had been a average, run of the mill night of partying and bacchanalia at Syracuse that fateful Saturday night in February of 1980. In case you haven’t heard, in addition to producing great scholars, Syracuse also has a reputation as a bit of a party schools. And as all good alums, we were doing our best to uphold that tradition.

I vaguely remember making the rounds to a few different parties, drinking the usual bad beer and then walking back to my dormitory with friends. However, instead of doing the smart thing and continuing to walk into the dorm where I could find comfort and a warm bed, I decided around midnight to check out a group of noisy school mates who were sledding down the aforementioned path.

I was welcomed with a round of hellos and huzzahs, and since I didn’t have my own piece of plastic I was handed one. The idea was to start atop the hill, lay down face first on your belly onto a sheet of plastic. Next you’d give yourself a push and proceed down the slope and then, using your body to direct yourself, veer off to the right until you came to a stop. I did all of this perfectly, until the part where I was supposed to veer off to the right. Instead, I spun out of control and veered to the left – directly into a darn head stone like one of these.

I know, it looks so serene. And in a way it was. But I was in pain. Serious, terrible pain. But I had been lucky, for if I had hit the marker with my head I would not be sitting here typing my blog entry for today. I would be dead. But I guess in my spinning I instead hit the stone with my midsection/side. I stood up and immediately fell down again. I vomited blood. (Never a good sign.) And there I lay for about a minute before my pals noticed I was down and out.

Slightly out of breath, I recounted to them my unpleasant diversion from “the sledding route” and it was quickly determined I needed medical help fast. Thanks to the Syracuse EMTs they were there in a jiff at the top of the hill where my adventure had started.

Now the challenge was for the EMTs, assisted by my buddies, to carry me on a stretcher up a steep hill without dropping me. Well, wouldn’t you know it, they dropped me. Which made my side hurt a great deal more. But into the ambulance I went and if was off to University Hospital Emergency Room – STAT.

Surrounded by several doctors poking me and probing me and doing unspeakable things with their fingers to try and determine my injury. And asking lots and lots of questions.

Had I been drinking?
Yes, a little.

How fast was I going when I hit the headstone?
Fast.

You get the idea. Finally some not-too-bright intern decided I probably had broken ribs and sent me for x-rays. So there I was on a cot in an empty hallway at about 1:30 in the morning by myself and having an increasingly hard time breathing.

“I need to see a doctor,” I would plead every time somebody walked by. “All the doctors are busy,” I was told.

You see the problem was that I didn’t have broken ribs, I had a ruptured spleen, which was a much bigger deal in 1980 than it is today. I’d show you a picture of a ruptured spleen, but I don’t want to make you sick. It’s disgusting. But a spleen, according to Wikipedia, “is an organ found in virtually all vertebrate animals (me included) with important roles in regard to red blood cells and the immune system.” As I would later find out, a spleen is very important when you’re a child. When you’re an adult, not so much.

But when ruptured, the spleen causes internal bleeding which leads to death. Which I was trying to avoid that night. The chief symptom is shortness of breath, which I definitely had. After what seems today like an eternity, I found a sympathetic nurse who took my blood pressure, called out “Code Red” or something serious sounding and all hell broke loose. People started running, moving my cot into one room and then another. Catheters were being inserted into places where things normally don’t go. I was introduced to a Dr. Mahrburger (You never forget the name of the man who saves your life.) He told me he would have to call my parents to get authorization to do “exploratory surgery,” which basically mean they cut your belly open and see what they find. Once they had that, it was time to count backwards from 100.

100….99…98…lights out.

I guess that’s what it might have looked like. All I know is that good old Dr. Mahrburger, who I later found out had not slept for two days, did a fantastic a job, allowing me to live to tell this tale. The next thing I remember was waking up with all kinds of tubes coming in and out of me. I was so high on Morphine, I didn’t know my name. My parents and my sister Elizabeth had jumped into a car that night and made the 6 hour drive to see me in a haze of opiates. I sorta smiled, picked my head up off the pillow and said “Hi folks” and went back to sleep. God bless them for coming. It was great to see them.

I was in University Hospital for 2 weeks before I was pretty much back to normal, just like this kid only a little older.

I’m fine now except once in a while I get a weird kind of sensation, “spleen envy.” I do have privileges like a special licence plate with a spleen and a marker going through it. So I can park closer to the supermarket. I’m only joking!

Oh,by the way I’ve sworn off sledding…especially on hills next to cemeteries.

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Filed under Health, My Stories