Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Actually, no I don't 'love a piano.' I like them as friends.

Whoever happens to actually read this probably knows me, and you probably know that I'm not the sappiest gal this side of the Mason-Dixen line. But some things deserve their due.

Four years ago today, my friend, Chris, was killed in a plane crash with four other music grad students, inlcuding another BG alum, Robert Samels, on their way back to I.U. from a Bach chorale rehearsal. I had known him since college, and he was a funny, insanely talented, inappropriate human being, and I loved him for it. I've been reading some things my friends have posted and was reminded of some blogs that I had written after this happened. While this was a horrible time for his family and friends, there were so many reasons to laugh, at him and with him, and be happy that, even for too short a time, someone like this was a part of your life. It was a shock that cannot be explained; partly because it was the first time that I can recall him being early for anything. But through this, I was able to reconnect with some awesome people, and make new friends as well, and I can't help but be thankful for that small bit of good that could come of something like this.

Even as I write this, I know he'd make some sick joke about the lump growing in my throat.

So, guys, I'm reposting the bloggings (some of you have already read them, but, well, read 'em again, damnit) and hope they make you smile as I did remembering all my quirky memories of him, Robert, and you Mens Chorus types. I knew early on that he was someone I would never forget. Unfortunately, I can now understand just how true that sentiment has had to be. I think we can agree that there really wasn't anyone quite like him, and I miss him very much. But don't tell him I said that.

Your mom Sings Dem Herrn
Sunday, April 30, 2006

My first impression of the BGSU Men's Chorus was by accident. I was a freshman, and didn't know shit about the music college, or any department, for that matter. I wanted to major in English, didn't know anyone, and that's all I knew, really. I had unwittingly enrolled in the Women's Chorus because I wanted to keep singing in choirs; that's how cool I was. Being surrounded by women, all wearing goth 80's prom dresses and pearls seemed all right with me at the time. We all looked like burnt muffins. And, you know, I thought we were pretty good.

We sang the first half of a concert, then the second half were those other guys. I was sitting in Kobacker hall, and all of a sudden, there was this flurry of marching and German. (Zing! Gay Men? What?!) Suddenly, we were surrounded by men, walking down the aisles like the Third Reich. In tuxedos. And my 18-year-old heart thumped in my size 10 dress (yes, not only were they ill-fitted, but they ran about 4 sizes too small. Flattering all around. There is one picture in existance, taken for the parents. You'll never see it.) I'm happy to say that they've since improved the dress code.

There were several impressions made that day that would be very amusing when I actually met these guys later. My teenage eye was caught by a cute blonde in the front. (I would come to know him later as Bob Strickland. Yep.) There was also a certain Baritone who was lovingly mocked onstage (5th year senior, ooooh!) due to his overdue solo, which admittedly, blew me away. I would see him later that year, when I went to see my friend, Joey, in a mini-opera about the environment. He was a tree, so he had stuck a fern-like plant down the back of his shirt. Made sense...I guess. Anyway, he was The Man, The Myth, The Moorman, and it was No Man Is An Island. (This would also be funny later.)

The more they sang, and the more obvious fun they had, the more I wanted to drop these hacks and go play with them. But, for obvious reasons, I could not. And yes, I would have worn a tux. (Do I hear a zany teenage comedy? The Sopraritone! Someone call UPN!) Anyway, they ended with Please! Mr. Columbus!, which is a really funny, difficult song (including a bit of choreography). If they would have publicly asked for my virginity, I would have only regretted not having more than one to offer. Even the gay ones.

I wasn't really around MMAC the next year. Women's Chorus was the only reason I was ever there anyway, and I had a mutual break-up with the new director. Probably because I never went. Probably because I didn't care. Even the dreamiest of conductors couldn't inspire me to phone in A la Nanita Nana. (I still have the pearls. Take that!)

Anyhoo, the beginning of my Junior year was eventful. I had finally overcome the crippling stagefright with acting, and was ready to conquer the next one: singing. I auditioned for the faculty, and was very lucky to be placed in Myra Merritt's (Ms. Merritt, if you're nasty) studio. I had also just met my friend Shannon's new squeeze, Eric, who in turn introduced us to a bunch of jackasses, including one that I would somehow start dating. For a whole month (actually, an accomplishment for both at the time), followed by the most amicable break-up I've had, second only to the Women's chorus (And, no. No pearl necklace this time. Which, I suppose, wasn't really my loss.) They were all pretty tight, including alumni, all very inappropriate, and very fun.
It was through this group that I learned of the new, hidden epidemic in the drug world: Tags. At every bar, and every party, they would go out back and "sing" tags. It was said to be innocent, but they'd come back all giddy and loopy, and I knew they had a problem. But I didn't know how to help them. I tried everything from "Shut the fuck up, you're in a bar," to pleading, "What's wrong with you?" But my desperate cries for help fell on deaf ears. Probably deaf from the tags.
I also learned just how many Chris' existed in the world. There were certainly a plethora, rarely called by their proper name. Off the top of my head- C.C., Chrissy, Carducci, Cricket, me, etc. There was only one that I never called by their last name, and that was Chris Leacock. Because it made me blush.

The following is one of my favorite stories ever told to me:

Chris Leacock's parents had unfortunately passed away years before. One day, when he was living with Bob, he got a phonecall, so Bob yelled for him.

Chris- "Who is it?"

Bob (moment of forgetful sarcasm)- "Your mom!"

(Pause) Chris- "Must be long distance!"

Just giving you a glimpse at the mentality of these guys. Anyway, I would go to my afternoon lessons and run into them coming out of chorus. I'd occasionally hang out by the side door, dodging smoke, being molested by large gay men in Bettis jerseys, the usual. There was quite a bit of time spent at Gay Corner. This consisted of 2 apartments across a parking lot from eachother. There were 4 people involved, and one of them was straight. (And that one was a photo finish to hetero, anyway.) The funny thing about Shaun and Eric's apt. were their bedrooms. They were side by side, and if you looked head-on, the one on the left (Moorman's) had this plush comforter with 34 pillows and matching cabana boy. The one on the right was....a college guy's room. Something like...a twin bed and a lawn chair. It was like looking at before and after, only straight and gay.

I also had the pleasure of attending a holy union. At the end of my junior year, Eric and I ditched those losers and went to a wedding. (By ditched, I mean he was still pining, and I had been dropped for the second time that year by the same dego, thus proving that I'm in the same league of people who, say, run face-first into a brick wall over and over until they get a different result. Still no pearl necklace. Still ended up friends.) Eric and I were mopey (well, mopey for us, anyway), so we hung out a lot, including drinking on the steps of U. Hall the night he graduated. Honestly, I don't remember who's wedding it was, as I had never met the groom. I do remember it being early, boring, and our table had a pyramid of beer cups by the end of it. Then, we all slept in bunk beds in a trailer (c/o J.R.'s patient future father-in-law), and Eric had to take me to a beer drive-thru for girl products. Classy all around.

It was an unspoken rule that if you were in Men's Chorus, you were to have a man-crush on R.D. Mathey, the director. I knew of him, but I hadn't met him. Until... I went to their Halloween party one year with Noah, who was dressed as R.D. I had decided to go totally feminine and chose William Wallace. Surprisingly, couldn't find a kilt. So, my very tall, very straight friend, Nick, and I went to JoAnne Fabrics and he made me one. He sings, he draws, he sews! Anyway, Nick came in to get me, and there I was, blue makeup, sword, nappy hair, etc. And his reaction was a surprised, "You have nice legs." Not quite what I was aiming for, but I'll accept that. Anyway, so my only formal introduction to R.D. was as a Scottish warrior, with the kid dressed as him. I'm fairly certain he hasn't recognized me since. Thankfully. Due to drunkenly leaving my camera in an alumnus' car from Columbus, I have no documented proof of this costume, sadly. I did manage to survive waking up in full costume, including sword. A real sword.

One day at a fine dining establishment called Kermit's, I was introduced to the mechanics of the Atkin's diet by a man who, to protect his identity, we'll call "Lassie." Yes, you can have a steak and eggs, just keep those pesky potatoes away. Got it. And, it works. Very well, in fact. It was also my first attempt at the Meijer game. You can buy everything at Meijer. Pets, guns, greeting cards, produce, beer, etc. So, we'd list the three things adding up to the best and/or most misleading purchase. Ex: A carton of smokes, a fifth of Jack, and diapers. Or, Condoms, Vaseline, and a disposable camera. OR, garbage bags, a hammer, and gerbils. And so on. My favorite was Eric's- a rifle, the Bible, and a highlighter.

There were lots of fun, quirky times with these guys (rolling Eric around in a garbage can, and Jason Budd in a mumu included). I wasn't around everyday, but enough to appreciate this, um, unique group of personalities. I did get to go to a few concerts and witness the true beauty of disgusting people who truly loved eachother and music. I was unfortunately fortunate enough to see them a few days ago. Some are good friends, some I've kept in touch with, others I haven't seen in years, but it was good to see them all. I was strangely happy to see them all sing together again; big, shit-eating grins on their faces. I used to pan the chorus, looking for the guys I knew. And this time, though he was particularly hard to miss, it surprised me that I didn't find one. But I kept looking, because it was harder not to. I have never laughed and cried so much in one day. For only the second time in my life, I sobbed because, and through the entirety, of a song (fuck you for that, by the way). And that is a testament to the kind of people I consider myself lucky to be associated with, in some way. They truly rose to the occasion, including R.D., who rarely sings in public, making an exception for the worst best reason. I don't know what I believe, but I definitely know it wasn't unnoticed.

In all seriousness, it was awe-inspiring. The geniune love, pain, and completely inappropriate humor was indescribable, honestly. Mark Twain said, "The human race has one very effective weapon; laughter." Truer words were never spoken. You gave him one hell of a send-off. If I could, I would ball tap each and every one of you. And I mean that.

The Terfel, The Witch, and The Fun Bike

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I had been out of school for two years, and still had never had what I would call a crazy ass St. Patrick's day. All through college, I always had some sort of rehearsal (which everyone else would be tipsy for, anyway), and my first after graduating was during the run of Tony n' Tina's Wedding in Pittsburgh, surrounded by WOP's. Which, I guess, was fun. (When else can you be an 8-month-pregnant, dego maid of honor, resentfully sneaking champagne, AND have a removable baby?) I moved to Chicago in April, so I had to wait a year until my first St. Patrick's day here, and I had had enough, damnit. This was gonna be my year.

I got a call that my two friends, John and Chris, were coming into town for an opera, because that's what straight men do. (Probably safe to say that will be the only time I'll ever be in a position in which Bryn Terfel and I are both taken into consideration.) And how would I like to be followed around by tall, lanky, blue-eyed baritones, you ask? I'll take two, please! Both very witty, both very animated and (unitentionally) funny when angry. (How to make a Chris and John: 1.Take two teenage girls and marinade in ESPN and Curb Your Enthusiasm 2. Send one to spring training, the other to charm school, then both to Vienna 3. Add testosterone 4. Sprinkle with loveable arrogance, and serve.) Both incredible smartasses when given the chance, as well. So, of course, I was, and am, quite fond of them. We had all met separately in college, but ended up in several of the same boats.

Actually...over the last 7 years, John has served as my: friend, coworker, costar, boss, boss's son, cheuffeur, and has slept on every couch I've owned. But, most importantly, my classmate in Singer's Diction, with Andreas Poulimenos, aka: The Greek, and/or Silver Fox (P was, and is, a big, scary man with a big scary voice, and a big scary Imperial March-worthy full-length leather coat....who used to tell dirty jokes and let me hug him.) Ironically, years later, John would save my ass as a dialect coach for a play I directed, featuring a character who spoke entirely in Italian (mine is dodgy, at best). Oh, shit, who speaks Italian? John! Seriously. He is the only person who could make me 1. eat mussels 2. drive to Ohio to see Oklabastardhoma! after swearing to never sit through that show again. Though never a fan, my only real example, admittedly, was not the best. It was so bad, Chris and John laid down on the floor in the balcony sometime during the 3rd hour of the performance. Now that was entertaining. Everybody, hands on knees! Okla! Homa! Okla! Homa! Now you! Have the! Song in! Your head! (Side note: When there is a song that builds in a way that sounds like everyone's about to, you know, but nobody looks remotely happy to be there- it's a crap show.) He is talented, generous, wordly, and smart. However...not smart enough to not tell me that he absolutely despises blogs, MySpace, etc. So, I'm just going on and on. Take that, Glann! Even if he does skin me alive, at least he'll know which wine to pair me with.

Anyway, the pressure was on to find something fun to do. There's always the downtown parade (Hey! The river's green! That's....gross, actually) and the famed South Side Parade. I had somehow managed to acquire a boyfriend, and he and his friends were going to the South Side, via a cheap bus ride sponsored by Glascott's, a bar in our hood. So, I passed the idea along, to favorable results. You want to sit drunk on a school bus for 45 minutes at 9:30am on a Sunday with beer provided, for 20 bucks?! Done and done!

The night before, I had a late-night improv/musical/nightmare, and they had the Lyric, so we met up after. You know when, in a moment of clarity, you realize you have a long day tomorrow, so maybe you'll take it easy.......and your friends are drunk when you get there? Upon going to a random bar I never go to (Alive One), we happened upon a slightly cracked, plastic green bowler hat just sittin' on the table. Seemed like a waste. Give it a purpose, shall we? Because, as you all know, if you find something lying in a bar, you should immediately put it on your head. After a short evening (for me) we part ways, and vow to meet early so we can be at the bar by 9am. This is funny for all kinds of reasons. 1. When you think of any of the three people involved, a lot of things may come to mind, but punctuality and 8:45am would not. 2. I was worried about other people being late. 3. Meeting before 9am to go to a bar on the Sabbath. Hey, you worship your way, I'll worship mine.

Around 9am, they come walking up, still drunk. John's wearing the plastic hat, and would all day, until it's untimely demise. One of my roommates, Kelli, only in town on weekends, stuck around to come with us. She's awesome, just takes a little while to warm up to people. Usually. Unless, of course, they're a Red Wings fan, which worked out nicely. So, a German, 2 Degos, and a Scot walk into a bar...and the people I was meeting were already on a full bus (nice friends ya got there) so we got on our own, damnit, and we were on our way.

By the time we got there, low blood-sugar and Bud Light had joined forces, and I was unsober. Perfect time to get a call from my friend in Pittsburgh, "I'm engaged!" Well, I'm drunk! The goals were now clear: remember where the bus was, find the boyfriend, remember where the bus was, eat something, buy a flag, remember where the bus was, and Carducci had to see the bagpipes. Not hear them, so much as see them. Like a kid at the monkey cage, seriously. We get no cell reception, end up in a Jamaican restaurant, and eventually lose interest in finding my people. And nary a bagpipe. After 400 floats of Irish Dancing schools (all girls wearing fake ponytails, aka: falls, or white girl weaves which are, apparently, a rock in the foundation of Irish heritage. What?!), we hear....bagpipes. Happy day! We would proceed to hear them about 96 more times. But, hey, worth the wait.

We seemed to be some of the very few fortunate enough to actually make it back to the bus (thanks to a message we left ourselves on John's phone. My, how Back to the Future of us). Now, we just had to wait to get out of the sea of people drunkenly trying to get the hell out of the South Side. All of a sudden, this guy passes by on the funkiest looking bicycle ever. It was green, two wheels in the back, and a goofy-ass flag behind it.
There are times when you realize you are witnessing a thing of beauty; you are moved beyond the English language; you long to let that person responsible know it's impact on you, which itself is so great, you cannot possibly express it through words.
But you go and try anyway.

"HEY!! (pause) Fun Bike!!!

Nice. I'm not naming names, but it was the dark-haired guy. You would have thought someone tripped a nun. Uncontrollable laughter. The sheer absurdity of it all, in the back of a half-empty school bus. Lots of funny things that day, but that, mixed with a touch of alcohol-induced delirium, was the winner, for some reason. And a running inside joke was born.
To our dismay, the package did not include beer on the ride home from the parade. Because, you know, we really needed to drink more. So, we rounded up the tattered remains of people on the bus, banded together, and bribed the bus driver to stop at a liquor store in a dodgy neighborhood. Just like Braveheart. With Germans and Italians. In the ghetto. Das Braveheartilli In The Hood.

The day ended back at Glacott's, where Kelli sent her nauseous self home to Wisconsin, just missing our meeting of Dwayne, the leprachaun-clad midget, with which we spent some bonding time. The plan was for the boys to nap at my place, and I would meet up with them later. Never being the most organized of people (Carducci pulled out a palm pilot in my presence the next time he was in town. I've never recovered.), John lapsed into a coma, I didn't make it back to my own apartment, and Chris woke up with the only available second-wind, leading him to the 7-11 to get a sammich and sit on my front stoop, sans friends. Probably fantasizing about the bagpipes. Or Welsh baritones.

That year holds the title as my favorite St. Paddy's Day. Over the years, I've been to the parade again, even saw Dwayne...not the same. Sorry to say that even a midget was not an equal substitute (especially one that's also an underwriter at a mortgage firm and makes way more bank than I do).

This year's officially sucked. The parades and crawls were the weekend before, and I had dropped any plans anyway because my mom had to go and catch cancer (so that must be the .3 that Airborne can't prevent), and I wanted to be there for her surgery. On the 17th itself, I had to work, of course. There I was, lamenting my lost holiday and brooding over actually important things continuing to wrong, when Oooh, I have messages! Upon checking my voicemail to see who liked me, I heard an Indiana area code. Could it be...? "Fun bike!" click. I went on to explain to my coworkers that my idiot friend, Chris, was the reason I was laughing (They didn't really appreciate it. The downside of inside jokes, you know). Made my day. At last, something funny happened. My response was a thank you for cracking me up, and I hoped he was having fun, wherever he was. And I meant it.

Still do. With all my heart.

Who the hell plays a hammer dulcimer?
Friday, April 28, 2006

Robert Samels was a very tall man who had a very serious chronic problem: no one pronounced his last name correctly. My first impression of Robert was when he was in Sweeney Todd. The show was sort of a big deal because they hadn't done a musical in 2 years, and this one had music majors out the wazoo. Worlds colliding (imagine the knife fight in the "Beat It" video.) Being a Theatre major, minoring in music, I was sort of like Switzerland. Anyway, he was this big guy, with a voice that was about 25 years older than his face. Very scary, rich, bass. He was 17 years old, and I had no idea what to make of him. Or so I thought.

The most distinct memory I have of him was that year as well. Every Friday at the College of Musical Arts, there was a seminar and you were semi-required to attend. Especially if someone from your studio was performing. During one in particular that was held in the Chorus room, Robert comes walking out and I thought, "Hey! That's the guy from....what the hell...is that?!" It was a hammer dulcimer. Who doesn't have one of those lying around? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, allow me to share part of a definition: hammer dulcimer is an ancient trapezoidal music instrument with several courses of strings.

Even the definition is hard. It kinda looks like a xylophone, but with strings. Kinda. Anyway, I walked out with some friends, and the consensus seemed to be, "Who plays the hammer dulcimer?!" Who? Who, as a child, wakes up one day and says, "Mom, I wanna play the piano, and the drums....and the hammer dulcimer!"? It became a bit of a running joke, and up until last week, I still thought of that every time his name came up.

Over time, I would get to know Robert better. He was one of those I thought of as the "good kids"- Teresa, Becky, and a majority of Dr. Lockard's studio. You know, the Collegiate Chorale types. We were in some shows together at the Huron Playhouse (Glann-packed with fun!!) where I would learn that, in addition to being a composer, musician, singer, obstetrician, and goodwill ambassador, he was also a good actor, with great comic timing. I would also witness what I believe, if memory serves, was his first time being totally shitfaced. Imagine a very happy elephant after you've shot him with a tranquilizer. I have pictures. (One in particular features Bill Sparks, wearing my bikini top over his shirt (huh?), tootsie-pop in hand, looking down in shocked amusement at an arm sprouting between his legs. That arm was Robert.)

We didn't know what was happening. Robert was loosening up. Actually, we analyzed it. Seriously. We decided that he was happy to be free from classes and responsibility, and this was relaxing for him. A 14-hour workday was vacation. Mmm'kay...? I would also experience his wonderfully horrifying sense of humor.

One particular day, we were sitting in the hallway and he decided that he wanted to sell inappropriate greeting cards, so we came up with a few:

Outside- "Sorry to hear you lost your baby.."
Inside- "Hope you find it soon!!"
Outside- "Sorry to hear you've been raped..."
Inside- "Slut."

And so on. I wish I could remember the rest of them. He actually kind of grossed me out with the baby one. I was recently reminded by the John Glann of the homemade giraffe he had somehow acquired. It looked like a saw horse with a head, only about 2-3ft. tall. He used to put it over people to screw with them while they were asleep, thus inspiring it's name, "Straddles". He even wrote a song about it. Four part harmony. Anyway, Robert went on to play three roles that summer (Sorry, Robert. Even you can't be in Nunsense. Or can you?) His Richard Henry Lee song in 1776 would crack my shit up. All 8' 5" of him, runnin' around with 2 gays. (Forwaaaaaard Hooooo-oooooo!) Cracked me up so much, that I ganked a production shot of it, which I found a few days ago and gave to my friend, Geoff, who was in it with him. He somehow managed to escape the horror of the fourth show that year (Greg, Dave, Ed, and Laura were not so lucky) and ended the season playing Harold Hill in The Music Man. He totally rocked it, of course. (It was a little scandalous, since he had a huge crush on Becky, aka Marian the Librarian. Shhh.) During one of my lame ass solos, there was a line to him about Marian having a lump of steel or something "here! Where a woman's heart should be." I would clutch his hand to my chest to fuck with him. It didn't. He just looked at me with fear. Every night. Oh, well. No one was complaining. It worked for the song.

The next year I had a newfound respect for Robert, knowing now what lay beneath. I was quite excited to see him as The Mikado, second only to my excitement to see my very, um, bubbly friend, Joey play an executioner named Ko-Ko. I had the good fortune of having Robert sing in my recital, replacing a friend of mine who had a previous engagement. To protect his identity, we'll just call him "John Glann." Anyway, I needed a bass for my rockstar quartet- Geoff, Moorman, Cotherman, and Robert. All friends, all talented. I was quite lucky. We did "Lida Rose" (Fine, don't cast me. I'll just sing the song in my recital. Take that!) and it was awesome. I don't know why I was so surprised when he said he'd do it. I guess I thought he'd be too busy composing a new national anthem for Prague as a work study, or something. (Fun fact: during the whole one rehearsal we had, my accompanist couldn't come, so Robert starting playing. Of course. Why wouldn't he?) Anyway, I was very flattered to have him be a part of it, as he was stupidly talented.

We didn't keep in touch after I left. I'd ask about him and hear of his goings-on from mutual friends, and I'm sure he cried himself to sleep that I left, etc. He was on the plane with my friend last week, and I was sad to learn that such a funny, talented person was gone. We weren't terribly close, but I was fortunate to be around him for a while, and have yet to meet anyone remotely like him. He just wrote an opera that was performed at I.U., one of the best music schools in the country, at 24 years old. I know I'll continue to marvel at all that he has accomplished at such a young age, and mourn what he could have. He would have been a huge success, and I'm not just saying this because of what has happened. I, along with everyone else who ever met him, never doubted that he would be something big. And he would have been. Right after he cured cancer.

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