About 15 minutes into my four-hour shift as a Salvation Army bell ringer I cursed myself for quitting the high school band in the ninth grade. Sure, I was never more than a middling clarinet player. But had I stuck it out 35 years ago, I might have been able to bleat out serviceable versions of "What Child Is This" and "Oh Come All Ye Faithful."
Instead, I left the band to pursue a career as a benchwarmer in football and basketball.
So here I stood outside a shopping mall with nothing more than a tinny bell to attract charity.
I knew I would never make beautiful music like the two girls from a local high school who I had heard singing lovely carols a cappella at this spot a week before.
My pal Russ at the YMCA had warned me not to sing.
"I saw …