When one is in elementary school, opportunities to express one’s individuality are few and far between.
The haircut I had that looked like a record melted on my head was not my individual decision as much as it was a fact that the bowl my mother used as a guide when cutting my hair happened to result in an unfortunate haircut that neither flattered nor mattered much to me. My clothes were whatever Sears had on sale at the time we decided to go clothes shopping, and my taste in music spanned from what my mother was playing at any given time all the way to what my father selected.
I had clothes on my back. They were clean. And I looked just as silly as everybody else did in the 1970s, from my deep-grooved corduroy pants to my butterfly-collared polyester shirts.
In an unrelated subject, there aren’t many photos of me during that time that are still around. Trash bin 1, continued humiliation over the years 0. Actually, now that I think about it, I can’t help but wonder if all of our parents weren’t taking part in some massive conspiracy to keep us down by ridiculing us through ...
But I digress.
Though children had a little less autonomy back then, we did have one avenue available to us which we could use to showcase a little bit of ourselves — the lunch box.
Oh, we felt glorious and in charge as we strutted to school with our lunch boxes. There were the classics, like “The Lone Ranger” and “I Love Lucy” on a few, as both those programs made a renaissance during that period through the wonders of syndication. And there were “Dukes of Hazzard” and “Happy Days” boxes to display the trendier programs of the day, along with the real rebels who sported rock bands, such as “Kiss,” as a means to hold their bologna sandwiches.
And, of course, there were the kids who had the brown paper bags, often decorated with doodles or the simplicity of the carrier’s name to express one’s self. I was often one of those kids — except we never really had the brown paper lunch bags around the house, so I usually had an enormous shopping bag from Giant that made me look like a bargain Santa Claus as I carried a sack larger than myself to house one peanut butter sandwich and three broken potato chips wrapped in a sock.
But 1979 was truly the year of Darin.
I clearly remember Travolta-strutting into school that first day with my lunch box gripped tightly in hand, knowing that all the boys were envious and the chicks were all looking past that Keith Partridge haircut and right at the “Mork & Mindy” artwork emblazoned across my sandwich-carrier.
Oh, I had it going on.
You see, “Mork & Mindy” was the “It” show at that point, and Robin Williams was the unquestioned star. He, and the character he portrayed, were in an episode of “Happy Days” a little while before the spinoff, so he was already known to a public that knew just about every show on television because there were only a few channels available.
And Williams was a bit different from everybody else at that time. He was frenetic and talented — able to make you roll off the couch laughing one minute, and maybe feel a tug of humanity for him the next. It was a gift he never let go of, as his apparent kindness seeped into every character he portrayed, even the ones he presented as himself on the late-night talk circuit.
As funny as Williams was, and he was ridiculously funny, it was the fact that he allowed all of us to see his soul and love at all times that endeared him to so many. He was all heart, emotion and openness, and you couldn’t help but feel as if you knew him because he so willingly shared all of himself with the people who adored him.
For as wild as Williams often appeared, there was just something about him that screamed kindness and sweetness. He was the child who never grew up to many of us — those innocent eyes taking in all around him and embracing everybody and everything around him.
And now the world seems a little out of step.
Williams was pronounced dead at his California home on Monday, Aug. 11, apparently from suicide. As soon as word began to make its way around the world that day, people began reacting. I received one text from a friend that said, “Please tell me this is another Internet hoax.”
I’m no psychotherapist, and I didn’t even stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I don’t dare analyze Williams’ mental health and try to explain what could have caused him to take his own life. I have been around loved ones who battle depression, and I can tell you that it is a dark mistress that takes no prisoners and can bring the strongest of people to their knees.
What I can tell you is I loved Robin Williams, as much as someone could love a complete stranger. I admired his humanitarian efforts, was touched by some of his more dramatic roles and would find myself forgetting everything else going on in the world and just diving into laughter when he would grab the spotlight.
He made life a little better for many of us, even as he was apparently battling unhappiness himself. He won’t be forgotten.
Editor’s Note: M. Patricia Titus also shared her insight and thoughts on Robin Williams on page A19.