As a high school sophomore, I was no Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire, so I had no plans to try out for East Newton's first musical, Cole Porter's Anything Goes.
It was the spring of 1972, and my world, and the world of many of those at East Newton had been transformed by the new speech and drama teacher, Janice Matthews, a vivacious redhead in her early 40s.
I took speech from her and one English class and she was bound and determined that I was going to be in this play,
I did not want to disappoint her, so I showed up for the tryouts, which consisted of an acting tryout and a singing tryout.
I had no problems with the script reading, but the singing was something else. I only sang one line when the music teacher, who was co-directing, announced to everyone. "This boy will not sing in this play."
Nevertheless, when the list was posted on the bulletin board the next morning, I was surprised to see I had been cast as Moonface Martin, public enemy number 13, the musical's comedy relief. Though I had three or four songs, the music teacher insisted that I talk my way through them. I learned later that Mrs. Matthews had fought for me to get the part.
Another one of the lead characters in the play was the stuffy, aristocratic Sir. Evelyn Oakleigh, the leading man's chief competition for the leading lady. He spoke slowly, with a tinge of an English accent.
In the weeks that you practice for a high school play, you grow close to the people who are working with you. and one of the people I had a chance to get to know during that time was the actor who played Evelyn Oakleigh, a senior named Mike Camerer.
I don't recall Mike ever telling me if he, too, had been persuaded by Mrs. Matthews to try out for Anything Goes, but over the next four decades I had a number of memorable conversations with him.
I was exposed many times to his droll sense of humor and learned his thoughts on many subjects, including the various scandals that were taking place in Newton County, the latest adventures of our common friends, and of course, politics. He could always get me laughing about almost any subject, and once you heard Mike laugh, you never forgot it.
Mike had thoughts of a political career at one point, involving himself in Newton County Democratic politics and even running for county treasurer at one point. Unfortunately, by the time Mike threw his hat in the ring, Newton County voters were no longer electing Democrats. He ran a solid campaign, but it was not enough in a county that had become rock-ribbed Republican.
A few years back, during one of my signings at Books N Java on the Neosho Square, Mike told me that he had run into some health problems involving his heart, though he was only in his early 50s at the time. Despite his setback, he seemed upbeat.
Of course, you never really know.
That was one of the last times I had the pleasure of talking with Mike, who died Thursday at age 62.
When I first introduced to him 42 years ago, he, or at least Sir Evelyn Oakleigh, was stuffy and a bit overbearing, nothing like the Mike Camerer I grew to know over the years.
I will miss those conversations.
(Mike Camerer's obituary can be found at this link.)