Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My friend Rob and the "Oklahoma!" story

I know a lot of very funny people but nobody on earth makes me laugh like my friend Rob Gander. 
He and I are similarly wired in a lot of ways but also different enough to keep the relationship interesting. Rob's a theater guy. I like to think I am, but I'm really not. I can recognize something by Neil Simon or somebody trying to be Neil Simon but that's about it. Rob knows about Sartre and Jacques Brel and all kinds of other stuff that makes my head hurt. I met him when I lived in Sarasota and got involved with a local theater company, Theatreworks. He was directing "Bleacher Bums", the play about Chicago Cubs fans. I auditioned and was cast and Rob and I hit it off immediately, in spite of my increasingly exaggerated re-telling of our first meeting:
ROB: Thanks for coming in. We'll announce the cast after tomorrow's auditions.
ME: Great. Can I come back tomorrow?
ROB: Sure.

ROB: Thanks for coming in. We'll announce the cast after tomorrow's auditions.
ME: Great. Can I come back tomorrow.
ROB: I guess. If you want. I mean, there's no point but it's open to the public so I can't legally keep you from coming in. So yeah, the short answer is yes. If it were me, I wouldn't bother, but hey. Sure.

He and his wife Melody, whom I have seen in her underwear because we were in a show ("Grease") together, now live in Nevada where Rob is a college professor teaching theater. Sometimes I call him and say something like, "So Dr. Gander. Once again what was briefly yours is now mine. Ha ha ha ha!" or I ask him about all the hot co-eds in his class. This is because my knowledge of what college professors do is informed entirely by movies, specifically the Indiana Jones saga and "National Lampoon's Animal House".And then we complain about our lives and catch up on terrible things that we find funny.

The other day, I remembered one of my favorite Rob memories, which I'd like to share with you now.

As I mentioned, Rob is a theater guy. That doesn't mean he loves everything about it though. Quite the contrary. There are many, many aspects of it that he despises. I was still married at this time and I don't remember how or why but our wives wanted to go see a local production of "Oklahoma!" at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre. Rob was not a fan of any of the last ten words in that previous sentence. Yet another re-telling of corny old material by performers of varying degrees of proficiency spread out over two plus hours in what might as well have been a rest home cafeteria (on average, the typical Golden Apple Dinner Theatre patron was about 135 years old) is something theater people have to do from time to time because that kind of thing sells tickets. But most of them hate it at least a little bit. In Rob's case, he hates it so much that I believe it physically hurts him. As such, he would never willingly subject himself to a production of "Oklahoma!" unless he had to. He might begrudgingly present the show as a means of keeping the light bill paid but he definitely would not buy a ticket and watch it on what would otherwise be a perfectly good night to do absolutely anything else in the whole world. However, as spouses all have to do from time to time, he eventually resolved to suck it up and be a team player.
MELODY: Come on, it will be fun!
ROB: No. No it won't. It'll be awful and long and terrible.
ME (purely instigating): It's a western! How can it not be awesome?
ROB: If anything, it's a mid-western, which is very true to life because nothing interesting happens in it, ever. (NOTE: Rob grew up in Wisconsin and I'm from Michigan)
DEBBIE (my wife, totally sincere): I really want to see it.
MELODY: Some of our friends are in the cast.
ROB: Those people are not my friends.
MELODY: Since when?
ROB: Since they were cast in "Oklahoma!"
ROB: Fine. I'll go. Sure. It will be great.
I knew with just the gentlest of prodding that I could get him to abandon that attitude, though. Our wives knew this too and made sure to keep us separated by sitting between us. We ate dinner, which I don't remember but I'm sure featured an entree of the 'creamed' variety. Rob was managing to stay on his best behavior though, and I remember being kind of proud of him, in spite of how much I wanted to instigate activity that would get us both in trouble for weeks. "Wow", I remember thinking. "He's actually going to get through this." 
Then the house lights went out. The stage lights came up and an actor offstage launched into "Oh What a Beautiful Morning", That's when I heard Rob let out an exasperated and disgusted "auuugh", His resolve had lasted exactly two syllables into the first line of the opening song. He had made it as far as "There's a" and melted down before "bright, golden haze on the meadow" before being utterly defeated by life. Meanwhile, I nearly ruptured myself in trying not to laugh.
Man, I miss that guy.

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