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Monday, August 11, 2014


Goodbye, Garp

At thirteen, I was fat. I was awkward. I didn't feel like I fit in with most everybody else at my middle school in rural Northeast Ohio. We'd just moved from the school district where I'd gone to elementary school to a smaller district. My classmates had been together (mostly) for six years. I was the new kid. The fat, anxious, awkward new kid.

I did not have an easy time of it. I had tried sports in elementary school and I was not good at them. I had no interest in cars. I was an utterly late bloomer who would be completely unappealing to girls for another five years.

I got depressed from time to time.

Comedy was my life line. Weird Al Yankovich, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor and George Carlin were what I listened to instead of music. I would never be a musician; I knew that, even at a young age. But I could be funny.

My hero, my absolute hero, was Robin Williams. I'd seen An Evening with Robin Williams a year or two earlier, when we lived in a town big enough to have cable. (This would have had to have been late night, after my parents had gone to sleep.) I'd been a fan since even earlier, when he jumped from Happy Days to his own starring vehicle, Mork & Mindy, which became a staple of my young viewing schedule.

A Night at the Met was one of the first cassettes I bought after I made the switch from vinyl. I listened to it on my shitty little battery-powered tape recorder. I have a very clear memory of driving the little tractor we used at my grandparents' campground (where we were living after leaving town) and sitting the tape recorder on my lap so I could listen to Night at the Met.

"How do you like the play, Mr. Lincoln? Duck!" "Cocaine, is our little gift to the white man for what you did to us." "You wake up, he's been awake for an hour. 'Morning! Time for jumping ja-a-acks!'" "They say your 'friend has come to town.' Bullshit! What kind of friend makes you want to stand on the roof with a machine gun going, 'Get in the house! Get in the fucking house!'" "Mickey Mouse to a three-year-old is a six-foot fucking rat!" If I sat here longer, I could probably remember almost every single joke on that tape.

I know that, in the years since, his rapid-fire routines have grown stale. We've all seen his mile-a-minute, pseudo-stream-of-consciousness thing many, many times since then, in movies, in interviews, in cartoons, in places it didn't always seem to be necessary.

But, at the time, he was utterly unique and I loved him so much. I wanted to do what he did. I wanted to be just like him. I saw that there was a path out of the sucky middle school place I was stuck.

I'm not a stand-up. That's not his fault, though. I gave it a shot and found out one night at The Robin Hood in Kent that I had no real taste for bombing in front of a hostile crowd. Plus, I discovered that I was more suited to sketch. I still loved Robin Williams, though. Even when I no longer wanted to be him.

He let me down sometimes (even a hick teenager could tell that Club Paradise was a giant, steaming turd.) But he also validated my worship. The World According to Garp was the first adult novel that I read and really loved. The movie version is not a great film, but Williams captured everything about the character that I'd seen in the book. For better or worse, Garp was kind of an ideal for me. A writer who takes care of his kids? That has always sounded awesome, right?

I lost touch, over time, with the thirteen-year-old who adored Robin Williams to that degree. But I felt it tonight. I knew that he'd been struggling with his addiction after a long, long time sober. So whatever demons drove him to self-medicate obviously overcame him and now he's gone.

I've got friends who have decried public mourning on social media. But, I have to say, seeing how profoundly this loss has affected so many people made me feel better tonight.

I know how I will spend my time tomorrow: listening to A Night at the Met and watching The World According to Garp. Rest in peace, Mr. Williams.

Beautifully said. Thank you.
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