“I’m struggling. Please say something about Robin Williams. I know you could put into words what people want to hear.. local boy to local us.”
I wish I could tell you we were pals. That we hung out from time to time, or played poker every other Thursday. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the man. Like most people in The Bay Area, my contact with Robin was limited to a few random and minor encounters. However, those encounters made an impression.
The first was in 2006 – June or maybe July. I walked into The Roastery down on Chestnut, ordered a coffee, and sat down to read the paper. I soon discovered I was in one of those chairs with one leg shorter than the rest, and resolved to remedy the problem by jamming a folded-up coaster under the offending limb. I bent down, got the thing positioned properly, and managed to smack my head on the edge of the table on the way back up. Hard. The impact was noisy, and sent coffee slushing all over The Chronicle, which in turn lead to an “Ahh…shit!,” a little louder than I intended. A second later, a voice said, “No, I believe that’s coffee. Shit’s the stuff I see you crawling through every time I turn on the TV.”
I didn’t recognize the voice, but when I looked up, there was no mistaking the face. It belonged to Garp, Mork, Mrs. Doubtfire, and so many others. He was just standing there, smiling, waiting for me to say something pithy. I imagined him thinking, “Your move, chief.” But I had nothing. All I could think was “Holy crap – Robin Williams knows who I am!” Eventually, it got awkward, so he said, “Love the show, man,” and walked out.
There was another time a few years later at something called The “X” Prize. This was a very swanky affair at The Lucas Digital Arts Studio in May of 2010. How I got invited is a bit of a mystery, but I was, and I went. I saw Robin on the Red Carpet, chatting with some reporters. I caught his eye and nodded. He nodded back and told me I cleaned up pretty good. I told him he looked very pretty. He chuckled and moved on.
That’s it, I’m afraid.
It’s a curious thing isn’t it, to miss someone you didn’t really know? Maybe it has something to do with their entrance? In show biz, and life, a big entrance can leave a big impression, and Robin made a very big one. He crashed into our lives 36 years ago, and took up a kind of residence. Now that he’s left, maybe we miss more than the person? Maybe we miss the version of ourselves that was on hand during that first meeting. Does that make sense?
When I first saw Mork and Mindy, I was sixteen years old, and badly smitten with a girl named Heather. We watched the first episode together in her parents basement, and laughed like lunatics. Then we made out. When I heard about Robin yesterday, my first feeling was shock. Then, a kind of sadness, too shallow to call grief, but to too real to ignore. It wasn’t till later that I found myself wondering about Heather for the first time in years, and recalling my sixteen-year old self with a weird mix of nostalgia and melancholy.
Some people enter our lives and become benchmarks in ways we don’t realize. Then they exit, and we struggle. Sometimes, those people are high-school buddies, and sometimes, they’re strangers who somehow felt like friends. Either way, it sucks when they go.