Saturday, August 16, 2014

Robin Williams and the Mystery of Township Day

I almost met Robin Williams.
                It wasn’t one of those situations where he showed up at an open mic night that I was supposed to attend but didn’t because I thought one of my cats was sick but it turned out to just be a fur ball, either.
                No, this incident occurred during Township Day in my hometown about ten years ago. If you’ve not familiar, Township Day is basically a yearly picnic with games and music and clowns and so forth.
                I was probably about 16 or 17 at that point and I was halfway through my first ever summer job: a counselor for a local day camp. I’m still not the best person to have around your kids, but at that time, I was almost certainly about as low as you can get on that list without having done – or desiring to do – something illegal.
                You see, I was a bit of a weirdo. I still am, but I was moreso then. I showed up for my paying camp job with my nails painted black, anarchy logos scribbled on my “Staff” t-shirt. One day at camp, all the kids were getting their faces painted, so naturally I decided to paint mine up like Brandon Lee in “The Crow.
                The amazing thing was the kids loved me.
                I worked with two giant, fun-loving high school football players and for whatever reason the kids often seemed to gravitate away from them and towards me. That face-painting day? After I painted my face, all of the kids began to request The Crow look. The lady actually doing the face painting gave in and did it, but she refused to get too close to the kids’ eyes with the black, so it ended up looking more like they have parentheses on top of bottom of their eyes than eye liner.
                In addition to working at the camp five days a week for like two months or so over the summer, I was also required to work at the annual Township Day festivities. I was assigned to run some of the game booths and let me tell you something, I ran the poop out of those game booths.
                I was cracking wise, I was helping kids win prizes they didn’t really deserve. In short, I was doing my part to spread among the younger generation the local government equivalent of extreme nationalism with nothing more than some dime store prizes.
One township, united against outsiders, rising above, vanquishing all rivals.      
At a certain point, someone made an announcement over the loudspeakers that a special guest had joined the festivities. Then I heard it:
I’d never seen that movie and I still haven’t, but I knew who was in it and more importantly, I knew that voice.
Robin f’n Williams.
In my mind, Robin Williams was nothing short of a god. Forgive me for infringing on Buzzfeed’s turf, but if you were raised in the 90s, there is no way Robin Williams gets left off your acting Mount Rushmore.
Even if you manage to completely discount all of the amazing stuff he did before 90s kids roamed the Earth, that man, that legend was Patch Adams. He was Mrs. Doubtfire. He was Aladdin’s Genie for crying out loud.
I remember nothing else that was said over the loudspeaker, probably because I had entered into full-on swoon mode at that point. I was probably just handing out prizes at that point, without even making kids attempt to knock over the milk bottles first. And then I saw him.
A legend walking among us mere township-dwelling mortals.
I watched him for a little bit, smiling, laughing, shaking hands, joking around, repeating one-liners to the delight of the assembled masses. It seemed like he should have been surrounded by secret service agents, but there he was, a man of the people.
Somehow, I summoned up all my courage, completely abandoned my game booth (the kids were just helping themselves to prizes anyway) and approached him.
I’ll never forget what I said to him: “I loved you in ‘One Hour Photo.’” Yeah, I know. Remember, I told you I was an even bigger weirdo at that point. Whatever, it’s still a really good movie.  
Robin Williams made psycho eyes at me and said: “I really liked playing a crazy guy!”
I’m not a mathematician, but I can only assume that cloud ten comes after cloud nine and that one – the tenth one – is where I was. I couldn’t have been happier. I wandered away and told one of my co-workers about my encounter. I assume at this point, my game booth had been looted beyond recognition by children.
My co-worker’s response? “Yeah, he really looks like him, huh?”
I asked for more information.
“That’s just a lookalike.”
I distinctly remember when I found out Santa Claus wasn’t real and by that same token: the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Great Pumpkin, because after all, Santa is the most believable one on that list.
Even though I was in like the fourth grade when I finally realized the truth about Claus, I didn’t feel as sad or embarrassed then as I did on Township Day. I really, really wanted to believe Robin Williams was there. That I’d gotten a chance to pay a complement – even one as forgettable as “I loved you in ‘One Hour Photo’” – to a guy who meant so much to me.
                Part of me didn’t believe it. Even after I realized the person who’d shouted “Good Morning Vietnam” over the loudspeaker had actually been Robin Williams, only in the form of an audio clip. They played it a few more times that day even when the lookalike was nowhere near a mic.
                And despite that, and this is how gullible I am, I still thought maybe, possibly he was the real deal. I even went up to the guy a second time and asked for an autograph. He politely declined. He was a pro, and he didn’t want to get caught forging signatures, a surefire career-killer for impersonators, I’m sure.
                Yeah, I know. It’s a horrible story.
                When Robin Williams, the real one, died this week, I was devastated. I won’t turn this into a eulogy because countless better writers have already shared more moving, poetic tributes than I could ever hope to. But I will never forget the time I almost met the man who meant so much to me as a child and who still does.
Robin Williams did nothing but make our lives brighter and happier and we will never be able to repay him for all that he gave us. The best we can do is hope that he is at peace.
He will be missed.

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