Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I wasn’t sure what to expect on Saturday’s night at the theatre.

The play was Oklahoma!, performed by a local junior high school, and directed by their teacher -- my girlfriend Adelphia.

For the past few months, I had been hearing all about what went into putting on this production. The conflicts with the students’ soccer schedules, the concerns about correct music and lighting and choreography and costumes and how all this agita affected Adelphia's array of ailments. I had seen all the drama behind this musical, but I knew it wouldn’t be a tragedy.

My concern wasn't about the play -- I knew it'd be great. And as sure as I was, the show exceeded my expectations. The entire theatre was decorated like wind-swept plains of the West, with wheat and corn and overalls everywhere. The stage and costumes were great, too. And the performances even better. It's hard enough to get young teenagers to remember their lines, sing on key, dance in rhythm, and some of those numbers were pretty tricky... but they really didn't miss a beat. The audience absolutely loved it. I could tell Adelphia really brought out the best in her students. Like I knew she would.

So what was I concerned with?

Hanging out with everyone who performed and attended this play. I had to take Adelphia -- the bigshot director -- to the school early, and then just wait. As the families shuffled in to watch the show, I was expected to make some friendly chit-chat and be on my best behavior. Great. A foul-mouthed east-coast curmudgeon mixed with California conservative wealthy family-values types. Talk about a fish outta friggin' water.

I suppose I should’ve been impressed with the parents -- a director of a recent box office hit, successful TV producer, a well-known local news anchor, top executive of a major car rental company, the Mayor of Los Angeles...

But I didn't know what to think. They were all perfectly nice, but I wasn’t familiar with the school, the families, the kids, or even the play Oklahoma! itself. So I’d introduce myself to a mom and dad and they’d say, “Hi, we’re the Carlsons,” expecting recognition to wash over my face. After a moment, they’d add: “Caitlin’s parents...?” Sorry, still nothing. “Y’know, Aunt Eller.” Uh, is that the farmer or the cowman?

And afterwards, Adelphia had to attend the students' cast party. Of course I was happy to celebrate; I was really proud of her. And relieved she was relieved it was over. But this meant going to a house ten times bigger than my apartment and either trying to make conversation with Ma & Pa Mature (mortgages? Montessori? middle school matriculation? huh?) or gossiping with Generation Xbox (Abercrombie & Fitch? H + M? Emo & Wii? Wha?). Adelphia assured me we wouldn't have to stay long, just make an appearance.

But what did I see walking through the big backyard? Some students were gathered around a table dealing cards and poker chips... Waitaminute! "Are you guys playing hold 'em?" The kids looked up at me nervously -- yeah, but they weren't doing it for money, they insisted, the chips didn't count and-- "Oh, I don't care," I said. "Deal me in!"

And I'll tell ya, those whippersnappers knew their game. They wiped me out in no time. Okay, fine. Just 'cause they were kids, didn't mean I was gonna treat them with kid gloves. I modified my strategy for the next game. Since it wasn't for money, some of 'em bet big every time, no matter how awful their cards. So I just held out for a good hand. But they didn't need to perfect their unwrinkled poker faces -- if I had two pair, they'd have three of a kind. I got three aces, punks caught an inside straight.

"Dammit!" I'd say, and Adelphia would warn me -- with these kids and their parents, I had to watch my language. "I thought I did," I said. Whenever these squirts scored with a full boat, I wanted to swear like a sailor.

I think the kids were a bit intrigued with their teacher's boyfriend. One of them came over and quietly asked "Hey, are you that totally awesome dude?" and when I said yeah he said "Awright!" and high-fived me. Plus I was the only person at the party old enough to vote, drink and even gamble legally, but had no problem getting taken to the cleaners by the teenyboppers.

Actually, it was a lot of fun. I'm not around people this age often, and I was fascinated with their charming personalities. The excitable boy who'd shout "all in!" without even seeing his cards. The friendly girl who played for the first time and was thrilled ("Ooh, I love poker! I'm having such a good time!") winning or not (though usually raking in the chips). And the girl who showed genuine talent on stage and even more at the poker table. ("Maybe I am bluffing, but it'll cost you five blue chips to find out.")

Well after midnight Adelphia had to drag me outta there. I told the kids they did a great job in the play, and in playing poker. In fact, I said, I sit in a couple of regular weekly games and not only would these thespians kick ass-- I mean, butt-- against the serious gamblers, they were easily more entertaining. Hell-- I mean, heck-- after experiencing Oklahoma!, the weekend's second biggest highlight was the hilarity of hold 'em with the hooligans.


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