Weekly Shocks' Blog

A Shameful Tale From My Misspent Youth

While I work away on other matters and neglect this blog, please enjoy this little essay I wrote a couple of years ago when I was unemployed and pretending to be a frustrated-yet-brilliant writer. So much has changed since then: now I’m an unemployed grad student pretending to be a frustrated-yet-brilliant writer! Anyway, this little bit of fluff was rejected by a ridiculous number of publications without so much as a word of explanation. I was so crushed I completely forgot about it. Hopefully you folks have lower standards than most print magazines and will find it at least mildly amusing.


Color What?

Like a lot of Irish Catholic kids who grew up in Boston, I was forced to participate in athletics through the ubiquitous Catholic Youth Organization. CYO is a wonderful group that brings together the children of the Church to rejoice in the glory of God’s love and then teaches them to torture one another through merciless taunts, manipulative blackmail, and brutal physical combat. It is also dedicated to exposing young Catholics to some of the more colorful examples of the English language.

Actually, I enjoyed CYO quite a bit, despite being a hopelessly incompetent athlete. I played softball for a number of years and specialized in striking out and letting pop flies land on my head. I was spared the indignity of competing in track meets by coming in dead last during try-out heats. My golf lessons were cut short at two when I failed to hit the ball more than three feet from the tee, but still managed to clobber my instructor in the head so hard she required hospitalization. In short, I sucked big time at sports. Nevertheless, I did spend an obscene amount of my youth in an activity called colorguard.

Trying to explain what colorguard is to people who’ve never actually seen it is a lot like trying to explain that you’re not really insane even though you’re wearing a straitjacket and are locked in a padded cell. Here it is in a nutshell: you take a group of kids, mostly girls, although occasionally a very brave (or stupid) boy will risk severe beatings and will also join in on the fun. You teach them to throw around objects that very closely resemble – but are not actually – sabers, rifles, and flags. This, of course, is very stupid and many of your kids will inevitably get hit with these fake weapons. You expect that, so you yell at them when they cry that it doesn’t hurt all that much, “and quit yer bitchin’.” You then teach them to do throw their dangerous objects around while moving in various patterns, usually while dancing. For some reason, this is called “marching.” It really should be called “child abuse.” Regardless. Next, you put them in “uniforms” which are, in reality, cheap, handmade costumes designed to provide hundreds of humiliating photos for friends and relatives to laugh breathlessly over for decades. Finally, you send them off to gyms throughout the region for the entire winter to perform in front of baffled audiences and judges in competitions. These judges will give scathing, tape-recorded critiques which are then listened to at the next practice in order to improve  performances and crush spirits. At the end of the “season,” half of your kids will have come to their senses and realized this colorguard nonsense is a time-consuming load of rat turds, and will subsequently quit. The remaining morons will sweat away over a new routine and do it all again next year.

There. That’s colorguard. Make sense? No? Well, I’m not surprised: I did the damn sport for nearly a decade and I never really got it either.

I really did enjoy colorguard, though I can’t quite understand why. I was never any good at it and most of the other girls involved thought I was totally weird. Still, the natural ham in me would not be repressed and, as I got older, I got to travel to strange, beautiful places like Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Dayton, Ohio for competitions. Of course, we couldn’t afford airfare, so travel was usually conducted via school buses deemed unfit for usual service, but more than good enough for carting kids halfway across the country. You’ve never lived until you’ve driven 16 straight hours in a rickety yellow school bus with fifteen other irritable and hyperactive teenage girls.

When I was eleven, the instructors of my guard, for reasons I’m still trying to figure out, appointed me captain. Maybe they were hoping that the rest of the guard would try to kill me off in the vicious power-struggle that is CYO-based sports. I don’t know. Anyway, I took my responsibilities as captain very seriously. These included yelling out obscenities to rival guards while they performed (which I was very good at) and performing a very small, but necessary solo in the actual performance (which I was not so good at). This solo required me to stand in a tightly packed circle of other guard members, and throw a high, lofty triple, which, as you might expect, requires the piece of equipment to turn three times in the air before it is caught. It’s a relatively easy toss, one I had been doing well enough for about two years by that point, and so, of course, I dropped the damn thing nearly every chance I got. What made it worse was that I didn’t simply drop my saber, but I also managed to take out nearly every other member of my guard while doing it. I have no idea what happened – one minute, I’m smiling happily, ready to charm the crowd with my grace, skill, and consummate leadership abilities, and the next, my saber is an Instrument of Death, whirling uncontrollably through the air, defying the laws of physics, and smashing all those who dare cross its path. I had become a pre-pubescent Attila the Hun in gold spangles and fluffy hair. It was terrible. I spent most of that year apologizing to my bruised and bleeding friends who never looked at me the same way again.

I probably should have taken the obvious hint that throwing heavy objects in the air and catching them without injuring people was not for me, and yet I continued doggedly along well into my teenage years. Finally, when I was seventeen, my back decided that my brain had clearly gone on holiday and was not going to make the rational decision to quit before I killed someone. Back therefore took matters into its own hands (do backs have hands?) and responded by going into a semi-permanent series of excruciating spasms that made exotic activities like walking or sitting in a chair unbearably painful. I think it was cosmic payback for all the pain I had (unwillingly, I promise!) inflicted on others. So, with a touch of sadness, I hung up my golden spangles and my Saber of Death and retired from my glorious athletic career. The colorguard community has been thanking its lucky stars ever since.

I still think back fondly on my colorguard years and wonder whether I had been hitting a crackpipe every night for all that time. I can’t really come up with any other explanation for why I competed in the damn sport for as long as I did. Still, it gave me some great memories and I learned a neat party trick: give me an umbrella or a broom, and I can’t help but start spinning the damn thing while friends and acquaintances look on, intrigued and mildly impressed. Until, of course, I inevitably hit someone or break something. Then they demand I stop and threaten to call the police. It’s a rich life I lead, all thanks to colorguard!


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  1. * Amy says:

    LOL, I did colorguard! This is so true. 🙂

    Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  2. This is funny stuff. I am an old Doc and can barely remember being young, but this revives some memories.

    I posted a blip on my blog today and the last part of it did speak to the subject of youth. I hope you’ll go over and check it out.

    Enjoyed your blog.


    Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  3. * Tony C says:

    I fondly remember those early times. Your portrayal of the color guard is dead on!

    Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  4. * thenewcomer says:

    it sounds like cheerleading for the insane…

    Appreciate your moments of unemployment while you can. I have just lost my freedom, and can no longer pose as an “unemployed grad student pretending to be a frustrated-yet-brilliant writer”… Oh, the novels which will never see light due to my new-found occupation as a wage-slave!


    Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  5. * wonker says:

    Interesting blog, I’ll try and spread the word.

    Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  6. * Simonn says:

    I truly appreciate you taking the time to share this . Look forward to more posts from you

    Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  7. * Good Guy says:

    What a great article. I stumbled into your site when I was searching for movies and I must say I really enjoyed your post. Will be back to check more out in the future!

    Posted 9 years ago
  8. * hothead334 says:

    This explanation is so true! I came to your blog looking for ways to describe how colorguard makes me feel and why the heck I stay in it, and our experiences sound so similar it’s scary! If you would let me I’d like to link this to my blog. I’m just starting out but I already have a few videos up if you want to check it out.

    Posted 8 years, 1 month ago

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