By Marco Buscaglia It is as inevitable as the setting sun. Once you age out of drum corps, you gain weight. For some, it's not much, maybe a few pounds. But for others, the extra padding under your clothes can add up to the equivalent of carrying an 8-year-old boy around on your back.
Most people classify their physical life by how much they weighed during certain events -- their high school graduation, their wedding or after the birth of a child. But for those who begin packing on the pounds the day after they age out, "marching weight" becomes a benchmark that they'll aspire to for the rest of their lives. I am one of those aspirers. When I aged out of the Cavaliers in 1989, I was a svelte 135 pounds. OK, maybe no one wants to see a 21-year-old who weighs in at a buck-35, but it didn't matter. Those three digits would never assemble themselves in the same order again on my scale. Even while I was marching, I occasionally noticed some weight gain. Once I began college, I would easily put on 20 pounds by the end of the school year, but those pounds would begin melting away during the Mother's Day camp and would be gone by the time World Championships rolled around. But the fall of 1989 would be different. The late-night Pizza World runs, coupled with a steady diet of fast food and carbohydrate-heavy beverages, added up to 175 pounds by the summer of 1990. And that year, there was no drill camp for me the second weekend of May -- I had to spend Mother's Day with my mother. I knew I had gained weight during the fall and winter, but I had no idea how much. That would change after my first viewing of the Cavaliers at the South Milwaukee show, my first show after I aged out. That first show is never easy for age-outs, and I was no different. One year, the member of a top-three drum corps, the next, a glorified groupie, fawning over the accomplishments of guys I used to hit over the head with my pillow. As if standing outside the women's bathroom holding my girlfriend's purse wasn't humiliating enough, I had to endure my first fat comment from one of my former marching companions, which went something like this: "Holy *&^%X^##!!, what happened to you?" It was only then that I took full notice of the life preserver wrapped around my waist, 40 pounds of flab, whispering, "Think you're mad now? We're still waiting for 30 of our friends to show up." Drum corps teaches you many things, but subtlety isn't on the list. If you want to know what people really think about your new haircut, your current job or your sister, go to a show where you can run into people you once marched with. Try putting a little weight on, then show up to the home show. You'll hear greetings like, "Whoa, fat boy, what have you been eating?" "What's up, tubby?" and the especially-hurtful, "Dude, you're looking a lot like your dad these days ...", which usually gets tossed my way much more often than the sought-after, "It's great to see you." But the comments don't bother me, really, especially since I'm guilty of making plenty of weight observations to others. Of course, I only say things to those who've put on more pounds than me. The list is fairly short. Sure, I occasionally whittle myself down a few pounds, but for the most part, my post-corps existence has been a neverending struggle to button my pants. And it's never more evident than when I watch the corps rehearse. Even my wife, though she wouldn't admit it, probably looks at the current members thinking, "I remember when chubsy-ubsy was that skinny." I hope that's all she's thinking. Of course, there are some age-outs that buck the trend. While most people gain weight after they've finished marching, there are those who actually lose weight -- as if a steady diet of cereal and sandwiches paired with 14 hours of rehearsal isn't enough to prompt the body to shed some pounds. I once marched with a rather rotund contra player who had to wear the "special" uniform -- you've seen it, the one that's a shade different than the others because of the need for additional material to frame the extra large size. He was a great guy, always working twice as hard as the rest of us, but just a different shade of green. I ran into him a couple years ago at World Championships in Maryland. As far as weight goes, he was, well, essentially the same size. But I found out he was an ordained priest. At least he's sacrificing something. Could there be a boot camp for age-outs looking to drop a pound or 20? Maybe a place to exercise while being humiliated by former staff members who remember you when you could actually see your toes? A place to eat some raw fruit and vegetables while sitting cross-legged in a parking lot? If it's marketed correctly, it could be an effective fund-raiser. "Spend a week with the Santa Clara Vanguard and fit into those size 34 pants once again!" Charge alumni and boosters $50 for each pound they lose and donate the money to the corps. Make the alums who actually gain weight during the boot camp fork over some serious coin. After each summer, I vow to get back to my marching weight before spring begins. Each year, I fall short. But if Jared of Subway fame can become a household name, certainly there's hope for the rest of us. So the annual quest to lose weight begins again, but this time I'm determined to succeed, sort of. If anything, it would be nice to do away with hearing the cellulite salutations from others next summer. It would be even better to move myself down a few pegs on the weight-o-meter in order to increase the number of people I can hassle. Of course, there's little chance I'll get the "It's great to see you" comments but at this point, I'd settle for, "Holy *&^%X^##!!, what happened to your hair?"
Day Marco Buscaglia marched in the Cavaliers from 1984 - 1989 and the Cavalier Cadets from 1978 --1983. He currently is an editor with Tribune Media Services in Chicago. Marco can be reached via e-mail at