Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday Memory: in memory of randy landry

He was a liar, a cheater, a poseur. He was a drunk and a thief. He was offensive, amoral, and conniving.

And he was my friend.

He was brilliant and funny and sweet. He was a good listener and smelled of Paco Rabanne. He was witty and bold, artistic and promising.

I met Randy Landry during freshmen weekend at college. He had followed a girl to college, a girl he'd met at church camp. He wore an argyle sweater and shiny penny loafers. (He would deny, later, ever having worn such things, but I have pictures and a very good memory.) The girl lived across the hall from me, and we became friends. It soon became clear that she was not interested in him. Still he followed her around, courteous and devoted. He was going to be a youth minister and marry her. (He would deny this, too, later. Both parts.) She brushed him off like a shoulder full of dandruff.

And then he was my friend, not hers, and a better friend than the girl he followed. Soon we were a group of six or so, spending all our time together. Late nights studying, roaming around campus, wildly enthusiastic, we all were, about discovering everything new, on our own.

He was, more than anything, sharp-witted and funny. He was always in the middle of all the action, always ready to have fun. Clearly, he drank too much; we learned that within the first few months of college. But he was my friend, and he would have done anything for me. Mostly, he listened. I can hear his voice, still. A bit of a munchkin sound to it. He couldn't carry a tune, and like most people who can't hear a note, he didn't know it.

Girls liked him. Some girls. I never knew why: he was short and barrel-chested with skinny legs. But he had a nice smile and beautiful eyes, and he could be charming and very, very funny. And sometimes, before he started drinking too too much, he smelled good.

Sophomore year I fell in love with his roommate (who would ultimately become my husband). The next years become fuzzy, but randy is always there. In nearly every scene in my memory, he is there, somewhere. Whatever the state of my heart: broken or ecstatic, he was there to cheer me on or let me cry. He was always reassuring me in some way, although he had demons knocking his own door down. He had fallen hopelessly, helplessly in love with one of our entourage, the beautiful Debby. He followed her around everywhere, helped her write papers, and soon became known as "Quiet Desperation" by some of the snickering upperclassmen.

I liked him less and less each year, although I loved him. He seemed to shrink each year, eyes red-rimmed and face scruffy. His black trenchcoat and shabby shoes. He was the black sheep of the family, walking right along the edge of the cliff, barely hanging on. A photograph comes to mind: on vacation one summer, we visit Niagara Falls. He decides, suddenly to climb over the iron fence. I snapped a picture of him hanging by one hand above Niagara Falls, cigarette dangling from his mouth. I could have stomped on his hand and set him free to slide down the falls.

He had a penchant for badly masked plagiarism. Once he gave me a pile of poems to read. I scanned each one; all sounded familiar. Then this one jumped out at me: "Not even the snow has such fragile wrists," the last line read. "Randy," I said. "This is e.e. cummings! This is "Somewhere I have travelled, gladly beyond!" I cried in disbelief at his blatant copy. Totally seriously he looked at me and said, "I've never read e.e. cummings." It was at this same time that he began signing his name as "randy landry."

He drove us all crazy, but we loved him and cared for him, even as our disgust mounted at times. He was often rude and mocking, then penitent and kind. Clearly he was brilliant. He didn't need to copy Vonnegut or cummings; he was a graceful writer on his own. Ultimately he found his calling in the theatre department. Our college hired a new theatre professor, and randy adored him. Under Dick's tutelage, randy started focusing. He was a gifted director. Could have been Something. Could have been Someone. But.

Although we came in as freshmen together, somehow randy didn't graduate with me. I'm not sure what happened; perhaps he simply stopped going to classes. He became sloppy. But he was devoted now to theatre, and he spend that summer after my graduation working at the Barter Theatre. One weekend we went to see a play and visit him. At his tiny room we opened his refrigerator for a snack—nothing but beer. Still, you can justify that when you're just a summer intern.

We moved on. Randy was one of the groomsmen in our wedding; he showed up with the stale smell of alcohol seeping from his pores. I cringed to watch him walk my mother up the aisle, with his eyes red-rimmed and his arm shaky. We moved on again, into a life of graduate school and babies. We lost touch for the most part, talking on the phone once or twice each year.

A decade later, we visit him in Marion, Illinois. He has gone back to his home state, always on the cusp of getting something going: a new theatre company, a directing position, anything but what he really was: a waiter in a sleazy restaurant in a sad little town in the midwest. His apartment was filthy and decrepit. I fought the urge to run, find a hotel room to sleep. He gave us his bed. All night long he passed through the bedroom on his way to the kitchen, one beer can popping open after another. I was tormented by my disgust. This mumbling, stumbling drunk had once been my confidante, and all I wanted to do was get far, far away from him.

Every Christmas Day for 15 years he called me, no matter where I was living, no matter where he was living. One year the calls stopped, and I didn't think about it. I didn't think about him much at all anymore. And then one day Robert sent an email with a link to his obituary.

Randy Landry, age 40. Died at home after a short illness.

And that is all we know. Three years ago he died, and somehow it is this year—the year of my 20th class reunion— that it all comes back to me. I remember the soft feathering of his hair and his scuffed Docksiders. I remember his thin army jacket and the way his smile curled up slowly on one side. The way he'd burst out laughing. How he always had faith that my Randy and I would end up together, in spite of all the drama. The scrawl of his poems on notebook paper.

And so, for randy:

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond

by e. e. cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Rest in peace, my friend.


  1. Really good piece about Randy. He was a person I always wondered about... never really knew him other than as an acquaintance by association. Seemed like a fun guy, seemed to have friends. A bit mysterious to me, perhaps. I always picture him wearing some sort of trench coat, army jacket or denim jacket. I remember that he was not very tall, but I don't recall anyone ever making fun of him for that. He lived in Pardee, so he must have been cool. :) It's sad how the story ended.

  2. Sarah, how could anyone add to this. It is absolutely perfect. I cried for Randy today. Thank you for taking the time to remember our friend in such an honest way. He would've loved this.

  3. Beautifully written. Sad that there must be so many stories so similar.

    Is that Mike Murphy in that firt group photo?

  4. Wow... what a touching, tragic, well-written essay. It's beautiful. I'd say publishable.

  5. Wow...that is so powerful and well-written...I feel like I knew Randy...thank you for sharing!
    -Sandy Toes

  6. Sarah,

    As always, you are both poignant and eloquent! Your homage to Randy moves me. I wish I had known him more. We moved in overlapping circles. I came to theatre in the later part of my time at Milligan and so I didn't really know him well. Although, I do remember my roommate coming home one night a little freaked out because Randy had been bold enough to steal a kiss from her and that even then, he had smelled of alcohol. I remember respecting his work on stage both as an actor and a director. I remember him as being sort of dark and mysterious, but also reckless and wild. Like if you got too close, you might get burned or pulled into his crazy whirling dervish of a life.

  7. Chambers
    Today at 10:22am
    I see Randy everyday. His picture hangs to my left, on the wall next to my desk in my office at work. The picture was taken in 1987 when we were in Children of a Lesser God. He played James and I played Orin. In the picture, we are looking at each other. Randy is on the right, leaning in and speaking, and I'm on the left, looking at him closely, listening intently. In some respects, that picture captures the way our friendship worked. He spoke and I listened.

    From Richmond to Carbondale, and from upstate New York to Bowling Green, Randy's image has always been nearby, always hanging on the wall next to the place where I do my work. Because it hangs outside of my direct sight line, I sometimes go weeks and months without really looking at the picture. But I see it still. The image of Randy and me hangs there always.

    I've always hung the picture near my desk because it reminds me of how I became a professor of theatre. Without risk of hyperbole I can say that acting in Children of a Lesser God at Milligan changed my life. I wouldn't be doing what I've been doing for the last 20 years had I not had that experience. And Randy was a key part of that experience. I remember staying up late with him, following rehearsals, working on lines and practicing sign language. I remember that the seriousness of purpose Randy brought to that show was infectious. I remember him encouraging everyone in the cast to believe what Dick was telling us -- that we could do something special. I remember him loving the craft of acting, and wanting to know more and more about it. Above and beyond that, I remember that Randy's love of theatre, and his commitment to pursue it as a profession, suddenly made me consider that as a possibility for my own life. “Why not theatre?,” I began to ask myself.

    Randy and I met in the fall of 1984, soon after I arrived at Milligan. I can’t remember how we met exactly, but it wasn’t too long before our little cluster of friends had taken shape. I remember that he lived in Webb Hall that first year. And I remember going over to his room on a few occasions. Although he might deny this now (just as he denied other things), I remember that he had some really awful music at that time. Wham! and Night Ranger come immediately to mind. I remember Sarah and I making fun of his Wham! cassette. I remember Sarah telling him he needed to listen to The Doors. (I have to admit, Sarah also told ME that I needed to listen to The Doors). He laughed with us. I also remember that as that first year moved on he seemed to change. But we all were changing.

    As our time at Milligan passed, Randy was always there: sledding on cafeteria trays next to Seager, ordering pitchers of $1.50 Meister Brau at the Pub Out Back, acting together in Story Theatre, and him always wanting to borrow my car. But, similar to Sarah’s experience, he also seemed more and more on the periphery. He became more of a loner. He didn’t just drink, he drank a lot. He smoked incessantly. I remember him going through a period where he rolled his own cigarettes. I thought that was so cool. During my junior year I remember him reading a lot of Beckett, Pinter and other so-called “Absurdists,” something that I knew next to nothing about at the time. And he seemed kind of angry if not a little sad.

    After Milligan Randy and I worked together at the Barter. He had already been working there, on and off, for a year. So, when the artistic director, Rex Partington, first called to offer me an intern position, Randy followed with his own call 10 minutes later to congratulate me. After I arrived at the Barter, we hung out a lot. By that point he was obsessed with a new woman. She had just graduated from Vanderbilt and was thinking of returning to Nashville. Randy was thinking of going too. As was often the case, she liked him, but not in the way he wanted. We had a lot of conversations about that.

    Near the end of the summer we had a day off. Randy I made the short drive from Abington to Johnson City to go to a party. He was drunk and high before we left. At the party he drank more and more. When we finally left I had to pour him into my car.

    And then the summer ended.

    A few years later, when I was in graduate school, I went out to eat at a restaurant in Marion, Illinois. Across the restaurant I saw a waiter that looked like Randy. I kept saying to the people I was with, “I think I know that guy.” Finally, he walked by my table and I said, “Randy?” He stopped, and that huge smile we all know came across his face. He dove into the booth where I was sitting (knocking my pregnant wife out of the way) and gave me a huge bear hug. He talked non-stop for about ten-minutes until his manager told him to get back to work. We exchanged contact information, and then he was gone. I think he left a message on my machine one time a few months later. I think I did the same. I never heard from him again.

    The picture of Randy and me still hangs above my desk. It reminds me that he was central to one of the most important experiences in my life. And it also reminds me that I once had a friend named Randy.
    -- Jonathan

  8. Wow. I'm sitting here at my desk with tears streaming down my face. I'm remembering a friend who was also an enemy. Someone I could trust with the deepest darkest secret I held but couldn't trust to pay back 50 cents. I too remember "both" Randys.....the first guy with leather Reeboks who wanted to play tennis with me AND the guy with the Salvation Army overcoat and the bottle of MadDog 20/20 in the pocket. I remember listening to the Floyd and trying to bear the stench of cigarette smoke (sometimes cloves) in his room he shared with Randy and John Smith (I still think that was an alias)....I remember Adam and Robert being the sensible ones when Randy and I would fight over what I labeled his "wasted potential".....and I remember silly things....snowball fights, trips to the cottage for pizza, him making me listen to Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young instead of only 80s metal. I remember long conversations about Karen and Debbie and everything else as we lay there trapped by the needle as we sold plasma to pay for that cottage pizza or for the dates we would discuss later. I remember being jealous of his smile and hair and his supreme confidence. But I also remember the beginning of the "slide" and our last fight which really ended our friendship (after a GREAT party at Joel and Lauren's)......of course it was over a girl and his drinkng and his negative influence and my jealousy and my naivety and self-righteousness (very much in the Milligan Tradition).

    I remember a summer trip to Chicago. Just Adam Thornton, Randy and myself. We had a ball. We did the tourist stuff and ate some pie and even drove out to see Deanne Taylor for a few minutes. Even then as we rode the elevator to the top of the Sears building the summer after our freshman year I could sense a change brewing and somehow I knew that come next year the three of us wouldn't be as close as we had been. Maybe I made it a self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe we all just drifted apart. We still remained friends and still hung out but I began to see a darker side and to be honest I was yearning for acceptance from the upper-classmen who were shunning "Q.D." A moniker I believe Sarah's own brother dreamed up, or maybe it was Darak Weaver. I don't know. Sadly, it doesn't matter now. It was prophetic.

    Lastly I remember him leaving campus. I'm not sure if he graduated or not. We never talked again, that I can recall. I'd gladly put up with the smell of clove cigarettes and Paul Sebastian or Grey Flannel (he had quite the cologne collection) to have just one more deep philosophic bullshit session with him. Is it possible to miss someone you rarely think about and didn't always get along with? He sharpened my wits and broadened my horizons and made me laugh. Until he made me cry.
    --Rich Hall

  9. This is a tragic, and yet very touching, post for me. I have a very similar story to tell myself, of my dearest college friend who is also dead at age 42. She was the neatest person, and alcohol killed her, too. Maybe I will post a memory post about my dear friend, Diane, some day, as soon as I figure out what to write about her. Your post is incredibly articulate about a difficult subject.

  10. I finally read this. Sorry it took me such a long time. Very poignant.

    Randy came to MC (probably) my senior year. I remember him spending time with all sorts of people. . .but seeing him with you guys brought a lot of it back to my memory.

    This is beautiful.

  11. Sarah Smiles.... whenever Randy comes to mind it's that infectious laugh, the sarcastic wit, and those puppy-dog eyes. Our year with him following Karen and then her roommate Debbie... he was comedy and tragedy rolled into one in my opinion... your tribute to him is wonderful. Bravo!! bravo...

  12. I am the girl Randy met at Barter Theatre who had just graduated from Vanderbilt. We had a fun summer together. It ended with me trying to tame the beast and losing that battle. (I wanted him to stop smoking pot. I thought pot was the problem. I never realized drinking was also an issue. Was he hiding it or was I really naive?)

    By the end of the summer I began to feel sorry for him. Never having a pot to piss in.

    You just can't be in love with someone you feel sorry for, you know? I was able to get him a job with the Nebraska Theatre Caravan (where I was working following that summer). He toured with a different caravan, than I was performing in, as a tech I believe.

    I was drawn to him as it seems all of you were, for his mysterious intellect and exquisite dry humor.

    He came to see me in Nashville when the Caravan tours were over. One night and then never saw or heard from him again. He was driving something like a white 1955 Ford Fairlane that made one wonder how it made it anywhere, much less on a road trip.

    I was leaving on a week long cruise the next day. Don't even remember saying goodbye but I do remember thinking I would never see him again and also thinking that may very well be a good thing.

    Never knew of any family. Did he have family? I have been retired from acting for a while and have been seeking out my old theatre pals so I could give them some photos I took of them. (I used to love to take pictures and I was prolific in my feeble photography attempts).

    I have found so many of my theatre buds and sent out some great memories over the past few weeks. When searching for Randy, this website is what I found.

    My heart aches for such brilliance to have been so sadly wasted.

    Now, what to do with the photos? Family? Friends? Who would care for them? Please contact me if you know with whom they should reside. Someone should cherish these photographic memories, but I am not the one.

    I knew him for only 3 months or so. I enjoyed his bright smile and fun spirit. He took me on a helicoper ride over Abingdon Virginia that summer. Some of the photos I have are from that day.

    Oh, hell, this just sucks. I don't know what else to say. After all these years. Someone I barely knew. Heartache sometimes comes from the strangest of places when you least expect it.

    Randy took me to meet some of his friends at one point that summer and I have pictures of them as well. I wonder if any of you are the folks in the pictures. I would love to send them to you.

    You can find me on Facebook.

    in loving memory,

    Georgeanne Franke Shirling

  13. Wow. I'm stunned. I must admit I haven't thought about Randy for a while, but I never imagined. Very sad, man.
    I first met Randy at Milligan when I was dating Debbie for awhile. He always seemed to be hanging around, trying to impress. He desperately needed to be cool and impressive.
    I reconnected with him when we were at the Barter together, his first year there ('88?). He and I always seemed to end up playing the comic relief in the shows we were in. We made a good team and became buddies. He was a few years younger, so I guess I was the older, more sensible brother. During those months he definitely felt like family. I enjoyed performing with him and hanging out with him, but he definitely didn't seem to have any roots at all. Don't remember any mention of family.
    My last memory was driving him back to Johnson City after our season at the Barter was over. We talked of our "Grand Alliance" and how that was now over. I was headed back to Chicago and he to ?
    It was the last time I saw him. Yeah, he drank and smoked, but it didn't seem to consume him at that point.
    I can't believe he'd end like this. This news sucks. I'm sorry Randy.

    John Hall

  14. I new Randy from high school theater. I too ran across him in Marion by chance in 2005. We chatted and now years later, I am researching the internet for my 30th high school reunion and came across your story.. Thank you Sarah doe sharing such a beautiful story. It will be shared with my classmates of 1993 Bradley Bourbonnais High School. He will be someone I will remember.

    Mary T.D.


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