The past is a vast attic -- the dusty toy, the old album, the forgotten fury, must mixing with desire.

Some experiences glow all the brighter for being gone. Youth is like that. Years take away the gawky pain, leave only the sweet taste of first times.

Other moments are so bitter that no number of years will dull the sorrow. "If you want to keep the beer REAL cold," moans a country and western song, "put it right next to my ex-wife's heart."

But we are more faithful than we know to the things we leave behind, to the spent emotions, the discounted dreams, to the fears we've fought and the lovers we've left. Here then are a few tales of former times, ornaments from the attic, shadows of the future.

The strangest people in any orchestra -- every musician knows -- are the French horn and oboe players.

Why French horn players have a reputation for weirdness, I'm not sure. Except, perhaps, that the breath required for a good tone may rob brain cells of necessary oxygen.

But the oboe's link with insanity is much easier to understand. As an ex-oboe player, I should know.

"The oboe," my first teacher gleefully told me, "is an ill wind that no one blows good."

I should have taken the hint and run screaming from his studio -- a bare room ankle-deep in the wood shavings of countless hand-whittled reeds. It is this sensitive, fragile, temperamental, obnoxious double reed that makes the oboe an instrument of self-torture -- the masochist's choice.

I never wanted to play the oboe. My first choice was the drums; my second the harp. But my father picked the oboe for me.(For my sister, I should mention, he picked the French horn.)

His intentions were good. Since few junior high school students were ambitious (spelled d-u-m-b) enough to play an oboe, I was practically guaranteed a spot as first chair.

And the public schools, to lure innocent children to the instrument, provided a few oboes for students' use -- which meant my parents didn't have to buy me one.

The best part about being an oboe player was not having to take home economics. The only other redeeming feature was sounding the "A" to tune up the rest of the orchestra.

Things went downhill from there. The proper oboe approach is achieved by positioning your mouth, lips and tongue as if you were spitting out watermelon seeds. Far from attractive, I was convinced it would result in terminal double chin.

Oboe parts in the band were the pits -- particularly the march music. Lots of "oompah-oompah" beats hardly suited to the instrument. The orchestra parts were often nice, but as the only oboe I got no slack. A wrong note on an oboe sticks out like a pickle in a peanut shell.

But my most miserable moment, in six years as an oboist, was a Christmas assembly where I was to play in a quintet. I was down to my last reed and was handling it with ultimate care.

In an auditorium filled with parents, classmates and teachers I sat down, raised the oboe to my lips and the reed jumped up and nicked itself against my teeth. I know it did it on purpose. I could almost hear it laughing.

It was flat city for 20 minutes. A disaster. My Most humiliating Moment. An eternity of red face.

Which is why I am an ex-oboe player.