The only sucky thing about 2003 is that the “3” is a glaring reminder that ten years have passed since my high school graduation. Ah, let’s go back a decade to 1993, a truly twisted year that began with the Clinton inauguration and one high school band competition after another, and ended with no employment, commuting to Marquette, and Michael Jackson’s kiddie molestation allegations.

It was the year I discovered “Rubber Soul” and took the last real vacation with my parents to Mackinac Island, Michigan. I worked an exquisitely foul summer job as a busboy at A Buffet Chain Restaurant that Dare Not Speaks Its Name, and faced the first major disappointment of my life in not being allowed to perform in the pit orchestra for the school musical (It seems so lame now, but at the time, it was heart wrenching.) I also attended my first concert, which was, um, the Spin Doctors/Soul Asylum/Screaming Trees show at the Marcus Amphitheatre (yes, for a brief, brief moment, hearing “Two Princes” on the radio did not induce involuntary vomiting.)

Most significantly, I came of age when I was 18. Not sexually (that would take a few more years), but for the first time, I understood how important it was to have friends, and with them, seek out all those joints acceptable for a legal adult not old enough to legally drink. I was pretty miserable most of the time, not all that ready to leave high school or to start college when I hadn’t really considered all my options. But, there were scattered, blissful, shining moments.

Like January 23. On this unexceptionally gray, dreary Saturday, I traveled to UW Green Bay with the Pius XI High School Jazz Ensemble for a band competition. Brother Theodore (fond of the “2 Legit 2 Quit” hand gesture originally popularized by (MC) Hammer) drove us there from Milwaukee on one of Pius’ functional yellow school buses. I remember gazing at the barren Wisconsin wasteland, listening to R.E.M.’s “Automatic For The People”, The B-52’s “Good Stuff”, and Soho’s “Thug” on my Sony cassette walkman. Many underground tunnels interconnect the bulk of UW-Green Bay. Most of the day was spent transporting instruments, speakers, platforms, and music stands through an endless series of interchangeable corridors. This was most disorienting, as we walked for what seemed like an hour without the context of feeling like we were getting anywhere.

We eventually reached the right room and played three songs: “Outback Blues”, “Summer of ‘42”, and “North Shore Morning”. The last was my favorite, a serene latin/fusion number. Unfortunately, as one of the judges pointed out, one of the chords I played was wrong, only by a note or two, but still wrong. Not that our shiny-headed conductor Jim “V” Van Deusen ever pointed this out to me during the thirty or fifty times we rehearsed it. Fortunately, our alto sax player, Dan Byrne, told me he liked my chord, which made me feel swell.

Anyway, after visiting the unfortunately named “Ratskellar” for a late lunch, we found out that we won the competition (albeit, in a tie with another school.) Totally elated, we didn’t have to leave the University with all the loser schools. We stayed for a catered lasagna dinner (in which I gingerly picked my way through all the melted cheese). Then, we were invited to play two songs at the University concert that night, in front of an audience of 4,000. To a high school senior, this was just phenomenal. We warmed up in a dressing room lined with those mirrors that are framed with fancy light bulbs on three sides. I tried in vain to get my guitar in perfect tune and figure out that damn chord. Ten years on, I still remember how nervous we were, and how exhilarated we felt.

After we finished (that chord was still a little off), we took our seats in the auditorium and watched the rest of the concert. The UW Green Bay Jazz Ensemble started off with a song we ourselves had just started to rehearse in class. I don’t remember the title, but it opened with a 16-bar guitar solo played over the rest of the band. The guitarist in the University band played an impressive, intricate, loud guitar-hero solo, and I sat in awe and terror, wondering if I could ever pull off such a feat. (I’d have my chance at a Pius concert seven weeks later, and let’s just say it wasn’t embarrassing.)

Riding back to Pi’High, I swooned at the day’s accomplishments, at last really comprehending what it felt like to score a touchdown or hit a home run. I apologize if this reminiscing is tinged with a little nostalgia, but it really was that special. I eventually figured out that chord—I believe it’s a E-Flat Major-Minor 9th, or some other convoluted but sublime sounding jazz concoction—but I’ve only felt that sense of jubilation and accomplishment a few times since.