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"Lean in," the guy said. And I thought to myself, really? Do I really have to stand here like this with the drum strapped to my shoulders? Bad enough I need to come in on Saturday so they can get this thing made in time for the annual report to go to press, but then they make me lean over uncomfortably with this damn thing on my back for hours?

Not what I signed up for. Nope. I'm all for getting paid to ply my craft. And I understand that being attached to this parade unit means a certain amount of "yes, sir, right away sir," and so on.

But look. I was promised when I signed up that they treated the regimental musicians with the same amount of respect as they did officers in other specialties. We got the same benefits, the same pay, and the same access to good grub for our families. Sounded like a great deal, and definitely got the old father-in-law off my back vis a vis the music career.

"Well, well, well Reginald," he'd said, smoking his ridiculous pipe with the curved stem. I waved smoke out of my face as he puffed directly at me.

"Sounds like you'll finally be able to make a living for you and my Martina."

"Yes sir," I said. Or more like, I coughed it into his face, being careful to cover just enough of my mouth so that he wouldn't suspect that I was trying to get some loose molecules of spit on him.

Anyway, it all turned out terribly. I couldn't work with the symphonic rehearsal group in the evenings (as promised!) because we had to march. And weekends then got taken up with so-called "special projects," which were essentially opportunities for the regimental captain to rouse us out of our houses for whatever entertainment purposes he could concoct for himself.

Rembrandt was in town, he discovered, and so some poor private had to come over to me and Martina's house -- just as we were getting ready to tuck into our minimal weekend breakfast -- and deliver the news that I had to drag my drum over to the arsenal (through the snow. Ugh!) and stand for a portrait.

"What are you freaking kidding me?" I asked. Not the private, because I knew he was just delivering the message. And not of Martina, because I knew that she would only answer by putting her hands on her head and then shaking her head back and forth at her oats.

Which she did anyway.

Seven hours later (with no promise of additional service pay, of course), I am here still bending over with this thing strapped to my chest. Do I still, occasionally, think about playing with the full symphony? Dressed in a fine tuxedo? Responding to the conductor's elegant and emphatic movements from his podium? Do I entertain notions of following my dreams in the evenings, playing before packed houses of wealthy patrons of the arts?

Sigh.

I don't know anymore. I don't.