Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Upon Losing a Force of Nature (Don't Be Afraid)

The heat from the day, such as it was in southern Maine in late September, lifted away as the ocean breeze lurched in and took over. It was 1991. My twenty-first year on this planet. I could have spent that entire year blitzed out of my head on cheap keg beer because that's what you did when you finally reached the legal drinking age in Maine; you stayed drunk. You stayed drunk from the end of summer to the beginning of the following spring. You stayed drunk because the ghosts loved to play amongst the trees, in the floorboards, in the attic, in your head, and you needed something to quiet the voices, to quiet their shrieks, to quiet the fear. Darkness came to stay for a few months like some unwanted house guest, and the only way to deal with it was to swallow your poison of choice until you could no longer recognize them.

Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. It's extremely unfair of me to allude that Maine is inhabited entirely by raging alcoholics. Everybody knows that it's only partially inhabited. The rest is made up of self righteous vegatarians (xoxo, Maine. Miss you..)

It's also unfair of me to allude to act of imbibing as the only way to stave off demons, or the boogey man, or the impending darkness that will swallow the world for the entire winter. But make no mistake, when that darkness does come, it will test your soul, and the best thing to do is to keep yourself occupied.

Some read books.
Some stock up on winter fuel.
Some get in at least one more round of golf.
Some get a head start on Holiday plans.
And yes, some drink. Some more than others...

Me? I found my own way to cope. It was good friends, good company and wholesome activities like going to the movies. All of these things were noted, remarked and reflected upon as we passed yet another spliff around the three of us as we loitered in a beat up Volvo waiting for a show to start.

"What do you want to see tonight?" We hadn't planned on anything. Some nights, you go just to go. Some nights, you get lucky and you're treated to a really good film. Other nights you get really lucky and stumble into a film is so bad that you get kicked out for laughing just a wee bit too hard and it really doesn't matter because you're stoned.

The question still hung in the air, lingering with the smoke. What were we going to see? No amount of pretending to look at your watch was going to change the fact that we all really wanted to see one movie: The Fisher King. I think what tipped us to that direction was that the three of us saw "Good Morning, Vietnam" when it came out on video and us remembering that we had a pretty good time watching it so, anything with Robin Williams in it was going to trump everything else. Especially if the only other choice that was showing at that hour was "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man".

"Okay then. That's answers that." One of us said as another one of us carefully put out the joint and stashed it for later. "And look at that, we're right on time."

All three of us de-vehicled...de-vehicled?...de-carred?... All three of us de-Volvoed, walking that walk that shows everybody that we are not under the influence of anything at anytime. The fact that we were weaving and bumping into each other had nothing to do with anything. We just had to make sure that our money was easily accessible, and our words were well rehearsed so as not to confuse and offend the ticket taker.

The guys I went with were both big guys. Which isn't saying much. I'm Hobbit-sized, so everyone is taller than me. But these guys were manly men. Geeky to the core, but manly men. Which is why I scrunched up my face when I saw these two manly men turn to absolute mush when this scene came around...

Follow this link to view the clip...
"What?" said one of the guys with tear-stained cheeks. "don't laugh, man," he added with a fist hitting my arm for emphasis. These guys were absolute wrecks, and I must admit, so was I.

To this day, this scene still kills, still has me reaching for a tissue box. To this day, the movie remains in my top ten most favorite films. To this day, this movie is one of a small and exclusive club films that divided the viewing audience; you either got it, or you didn't. From what I observed the one's who didn't get it were extremely practical people, the kinds that were good with numbers, but the one's who did were all poets, performers, artists, authors, the one's who couldn't balance a checkbook to save their life. I found my tribe with the latter.

I, like so many others, grew up in a world where the unstoppable genius of Robin Williams would never stop. He would always be there and we would always be regaled with his spirit, his mind and his humor. He would always be there to deliver a good night speech such that would make grown men crumble. And of course, he would always be there to bring down the house at the drop of a hat...

Yesterday, this force of nature finally left this world. Way before his time, I'm afraid. Battling the demons for your entire life would take a toll on anyone, but he did it with grace and style and great, great humor.

Make no mistake. When that darkness does come, it will test your soul.

There is a great hole that has been made in his absence. And it's not because he was a great comedian, and it's not because Aladdin was pretty cool for kids of all ages. No. This man was not a comedian; any schmuck could tell a joke. This man was not an actor either. No.

It would be more correct to say that this man was an Alchemist; One who could spin gold from absolutely nothing, and probably more to the point, the last of a mythical order.

It would be more correct to liken him to a jazz musician; One who could construct incredible compositions with a finite number of notes. One whose voice was unmistakable, indelible, timeless. One who will be responsible for spawning countless legions of imitators for generations to come.

I am a fan. I still am. From his early days as Mork from Ork to the album I wasn't supposed to listen to as a child, but ended up memorizing it anyway. From Popeye to cloud busting with Perry in the Fisher King. From Good Will Hunting to The Crazy Ones, I am a fan. I grew up in a world where he would go on forever.

The Darkness may come, and it may take the best of us. But it can't take away the influence that was left behind. Thank you, Mr. Williams, for teaching us to keep just a spark of madness, and to take chances with your craft. Your light may be gone, but that's the thing about being a force of nature.

It will always find a way to live on.

"Don't be afraid." Ever notice that in many interviews he's done and in some of his stand up, a certain refrain of his was always, "Don't be afraid"? He said it so much that it just had to be his own personal mantra. It was probably the only thing that kept him going through some darker stuff that we'd rather not think about.

Depression isn't a mood, it's a disease. Remember, there are people in this world who love you and care for you, but you have to reach out to them, not the other way around. Please, don't be afraid. If you are near the edge, and you need someone to pull you back, please don't hesitate to call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

Love to you all.