Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Can you hear applause in heaven?


The funny thing about being 12 years old is that you spend so much time on distorted self-reflection you fail to see practically everyone else around you is suffering from the same afflictions. I was a painfully awkward 7th grader when Mork from Ork bounded into my life.

I don't recall whether Fonzie had already jumped the shark, but even I could see that Happy Days was sliding off the rails when a zany alien transported his frenetic zest for Earth life to Milwaukee. He certainly got my attention. While I was trying to hide my weirdness and ineptitude behind a facade of confidence, Mork, who was certainly weird and inept, owned his strangeness and wore it like a pair of red shoes and rainbow suspenders. It took decades before I could finally own my oddities, but during those years in Junior High I wasn't alone with them. Soon I ditched Richie, couldn’t care less about Joanie loving Chachi, and started wearing my hair in funky Mindy-style half-side ponytails.

Flashforward a few years and I was a lonely newlywed living overseas and suffering from complete culture shock. No malls, no telephones, no pizza delivery. Heck, no TV shows in English. I couldn’t even spit out a simple “Konnichiwa” to my Japanese neighbors without feeling verbally lost. I worked at a video store catering to American expats and spent free moments with my favorite funny man. Until then I only knew Robin Williams as Mork. In Moscow on the Hudson, he is Vladimir, a Russian sax player who defects to New York. In one scene Vladimir is sent to a big box grocery store with a short list of items to purchase. The expanse of shelves, overflowing with products, overwhelms him and he passes out. Talk about culture shock. 

We all have our Robin Williams moments. For T it was Dead Poet’s Society, and he was none too pleased with Apple commandeered the infamous “What will your verse be?” monologue to sell their brand. While others got chills from the brilliant marketing, we were appalled at the sellout. (Did Williams profit from that commercial? I don't know. I hope someone other than a CEO or shareholder did. Those are not words I want to associate with a frigging IPad. How sad that it takes Williams’ death for the public to seize the meaning from the clutches of a corporation.)

There is purity in Robin Williams performances, even when things got bawdy and even when Apple borrowed them. As crazy and frenzied as he could be, his characters were authentic, fragile, and strung together with an understanding of common man. He brought many of us comfort, even while he struggled with his own pain. And now, we all hope, he has found peace. 

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