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Jack Smith

The world is too much with us; late and soon, but baseball and the Marine Band are hymns to the soul

November 07, 1985|JACK SMITH

Re-entry into the United States is not as easy as it ought to be. We flew home by way of John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, where we had to wait four hours for our flight to Los Angeles.

After you've had a beer or two and read the New York Times clear through, what is there to do in Kennedy Airport? It is not as fascinating a place to view life from as a park bench in Paris.

When we landed in Los Angeles it would have been about 6 o'clock in the morning, Paris time. We had been up 24 hours.

Not only did we suffer jet lag, but, as I have said, I had to watch the Dodgers lose game six in the playoffs, in a most distressing way. I had come home just in time to see them blow their season.

In a day or two, though, I was caught up in the World Series. Before that Series started I couldn't have named four players on the Kansas City Royals. By the time it went down to that seventh game, I was a wild Royal fan, my spirits rising or falling on every swing, and I was second-guessing the managers and the umpires with every other fan in America.

I don't know anything that makes Americans more alike, around the world, than their love of baseball. I suppose that seems to exclude the millions that don't like baseball, but they're caught up in it too. In the end, the World Series is inescapable. Except for beer drinking, it slows down the whole economy. Even my wife was watching, and she still thinks that ERA means equal rights amendment.

We had 30 days of mail and 30 days of newspapers to go through. It is impossible, though, to catch up. Life is a fast train, and we can't sit on the observation car and enjoy what we've passed. We are rushing too rapidly into the future.

Going through the papers day by day, I had a speeded-up vision of the unstable world we live in, like a movie run too fast. I had no sooner read the first reports of the Achille Lauro hijacking than I was reading about the thrilling capture of the terrorists by U.S. jets, and the aftermath of controversy and international tension.

Compared with the pace of other centuries--the centuries we saw relics of on our European trip--life today indeed is fast; alliances and relationships between the nations are altered every hour, not just every few years. Sometimes it seems as if the world is moving toward a critical mass, and must soon explode.

Meanwhile, I have lost forever some sequences of Mary Worth. I'll never know whose lives that old busybody was rearranging during the 30 days we were gone. I must have missed some obituaries, too, so I don't even know what celebrities have died.

I didn't really feel that we were home until we went to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center the other night to hear a concert by the United States Marine Band.

This is the band that traditionally is known as "The President's Own," but of course, as an ex-Marine, I think of it as my own.

The Marine Band is the apotheosis of the John Philip Sousa sound. Sousa enlisted in the Marine Corps as a band apprentice, and he was bandmaster of the band from 1880 to 1892, during which time he brought it to the brilliant level of precision and elan that it maintains to this day.

It is simply splendid. I was surprised to see half a dozen young women in the front row, playing clarinets, flutes, piccolos and a harp. I should think the Corps might have to change that appealing TV commercial that ends, "We're looking for a few good men."

Their uniforms were dazzling. Red tunics with gold braid epaulets, black frogs and three rows of brass buttons. White belts on the men, with long blue trousers and red, white and blue stripes. The women were similarly attired except for long blue skirts, unadorned.

The director, a colonel improbably named John Bourgeois, was absolutely effulgent. He wore a dark blue uniform with red piping and a chest full of gold braid, plus his own medals.

Just to show that they could do it, they played the Marche Hongroise, from "The Damnation of Faust," by Hector Berlioz, and an overture-fantasy, "Hamlet," by Tchaikovsky; but in between they broke out into smashing marches--full of drums and brasses, and bounding with spirit, and the audience was thrilled.

They played a feast of Sousa's own, including "Rifle Regiment," "High School Cadets," "Gallant Seventh," "Hands Across the Sea," "Manhattan Beach" and "Invincible Eagle." The applause was thunderous.

I couldn't help thinking of the tattered field band that had played taps and the Marine Hymn at the cemetery on Mount Suribachi, after Iwo Jima. More than 6,000 men were buried there in trenches gouged out by bulldozers, and the band itself was merely a remnant. We survivors wept.

It wasn't until the final encore the other evening, after a medley of service marches, that the band stood and played the Hymn.

The crowd stood and whistled and cheered and demanded more. But Col. Bourgeois simply bowed, and congratulated his band, and bowed some more, and raised his arms in a farewell gesture.

After all, they had stood and played the Marine Hymn. Could there possibly be an encore?

We were home.

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