In 1990, I was a college sophomore studying Computer Science at the University of Akron. While there, I took the mandatory Honors English Composition classes. At the time, I never considered myself a writer, let alone a good one. But in my second English course, I actually wrote some pretty good stuff, thanks to Dr. Pope, one the best professors I’ve ever had. Two of my assignments were selected for a journal called Fresh Inc. What I didn’t know at the time was this journal was going to be used the following year in freshman composition courses. I had several people I knew tell me they read my writing as part of a course they took.
Everything in this story is true, from the point-of-view of my 19-year-old self. The original assignment was to write about a person. I knew Dave was who I was going to write about immediately, as this is a tale that had to be told. My favorite reaction to it was from my blue-collar dad who found it being printed out on the old home dot-matrix printer as I was in the middle of writing it. He asked me if I was indeed Dave. No Dad, just one of his faithful followers.
To the naked eye, Dave seemed to be an ordinary kid. His appearance was that of a studious, conscientious individual, his dress conservative, except for the occasional Superman tie tack, or Bob Evans “table cloth” shirt. A model student, his grades were at the all “A” level consistently. He was always concerned about his homework, even to the point of finishing it on the way to class. But his ability did not end in his academic classes. It extended elsewhere, into the field of music.
In band, where I knew him best, he excelled in many capacities. On the field, there was no better. He executed his maneuvers like a programmed robot. The notes that came out of his baritone were always the loudest and most accurate of anyone in our group. But his ability, and love, for music did not end there. In his junior year, the jazz band was revived after a few years of dormancy, and there Dave developed both his instrumental play and his singing ability. That year, at one of our concerts, he performed a scat solo that made him sound as though he had been an understudy of Louis Armstrong.
Dave loved jazz. His favorite musician was Al Jarreau – the one who sings the “Moonlighting” theme. Dave went to Jarreau’s concerts every single time Al was in town, and must have had every album that Jarreau ever made. Dave knew the lyrics to most of his songs by heart and often sang sections of them out loud. One time he even told me he wished he had been born black, because they were the best jazz musicians.
Dave was dark, of Italian ancestry. He wore dark-rimmed glasses, which made him look like an owl, especially when he showed up in his cap and gown on graduation day. He sometimes had a mustache under his nose, but even when full grown it didn’t look like it should be there. His most distinguishing feature, his mischievous grin and chortling laugh, usually showed up when someone did something that struck his fancy, which was most of the time.
Dave’s major strength was his likability. He had a way of pulling people to his side, even though his side wasn’t necessarily the best one to be on at times. I often found him talking to people he didn’t necessarily want to be conversing with just so they wouldn’t feel bad. But his sense of humor was the one thing that really made Dave what he was. It wasn’t that he was funny all the time, but when he was, he had a sense of humor all his own.
Dave’s “funniness” started to make its appearance in his sophomore year, but really took off when he was junior. Nobody is certain just how it started, but I have a feeling it had something to do with a common term many of the students liked to use in reference to any member of our instrumental organization – “band fag.” When confronted with this title, most of the student in the band would either get angry or just ignore it, but not Dave. He used it as an excuse to express his creativity and humor in a brand new way. And thus, the era of Dave’s “gaiety” was born.
At first it began subtly, without much notice, since he only acted gay around his friends in band, but he did it in such a way that you couldn’t help but laugh. It wasn’t unusual to see Dave walk up to a male friend and tell him in masculine, matter-of-fact voice that he was cute, or that he had a nice butt, or even go to the point of giving some obscene, but anatomically correct, compliment. The usual reaction was either disgust, or a humorous “Thanks Dave,” combined with a return compliment of equal severity. Either reaction only encouraged him to continue his ways and improve upon them, which he did over his high school career. Before long, it was a well-known fact, at least in band circles, that Dave was “gay”, partially because he advertised it himself. It was not uncommon to see him writing graffiti on walls, music stands, and books that proclaimed “Dave is Gay!” At Friday night football games he would often start Miller-Lite type fights with two groups of band members shouting back and forth at each other – “Dave is Gay!” “Dave has AIDS!” “Dave is Gay!” “Dave has AIDS!” But of course, Dave did not stop there. Soon his way of acting became a secret way of life for him. He continued to improve this brand of humor in bold, new directions. Before long, he was not only known for his “gayness,” but also for his ability to make suggestive comments about any person or subject at the drop of a hat.
Of course, Dave’s act would not have continued if he had no audience to play to, but he was able to “infect” others with his warped sense of humor. At first, it spread to only a few of his friends in the band, and they helped Dave improve his craft by adding new ideas, and finding new ways to express the same old themes. But by the end of his senior year, many others had been infected – including nine-tenths of the low brass, all the saxophones, a few of the trumpets, and to a degree, even our field commander, who had plans to become a priest after graduation.
Dave was a genius. The things he thought up and did could only be described as awe-inspiring. He developed an ability for changing the lyrics to songs that made me think of him as a demented “Weird Al” Yankovic. There wasn’t a song written that he couldn’t adapt to fit his strange sense of humor, and no music was safe: Top 40 hits, band songs, school cheers, and even classical music. His masterpiece was when he “improved” Prince’s already obscene song “Darling Nikki” and renamed it after himself – “Darling Davey.” The only lyrics that Dave didn’t bother changing were Jarreau’s, although he did often make fun of some of the passages in Al’s songs.
But Dave’s genius also extended into other creative disciplines. One summer at band camp, for Dave used one of his breaks to express himself in writing. With a friend as a look-out, he quietly snuck into the girls’ restroom. Once inside, he quickly took out a pencil and scribbled on one of the walls, “For a good time, Call Dave. 555-3164.” After completing his task, Dave exited the same way he came in, and luckily escaped without notice. He never did receive any calls, at least none that I heard about.
Throughout his high school career, Dave successfully avoided discovery by his parents and teachers, mainly be switching between his band and his normal personality. It all depended on who he was around. Of course, he had a little trouble in the presence of both his band friends and someone from the outside world, but he usually handled it pretty well, at least for a while. By the time he had reached his senior year, however, he didn’t care who knew about him or heard him talk. Reports circulated of remarks he made in academic classes just loud enough for the student around him to hear but not the teachers. Thus, during his last year, he slowly deteriorated to the point of almost getting himself into trouble. Fortunately for him, the year ended before that happened.
Today, Dave is attending Ohio State University, where he is studying to become an optometrist, a career that fits his academic side. Behind him he left a legacy that is slowly but surely fading away. Those “infected” by Dave have been somewhat successful at continuing the tradition, but without Dave’s creativity and special sense of humor, things are just not the same. Within a few years, the only trace of Dave’s band life will be his name on the Louis Armstrong Jazz Band Award plaque that hangs on the wall of the band room, and few “Dave is Gay!” scribblings that remain undetected on the chairs and stands. Soon, no one will know who wrote those words or even what this Dave character was all about. But not to worry, for as you are right now reading this last sentence, I know that Dave is down in Columbus, infecting new people and creating new traditions that only Dave and his special sense of humor could set into motion.