Monday, April 26, 2010


Why did our parents try so hard to keep us from falling in with a bad crowd when all the serial killers are loners?

Like most of the things I wonder - like the world in general, I suppose - that question is more inviting at the extremes, where it's also completely pointless. If answers even exist, they're in the middle, in that murky, gray area where it's difficult enough to locate the truth that hardly anybody ever looks there anymore.

But any crowd is, as a rule, better than no crowd. That's easy enough for me to say. I really like the various crowds I've fallen in with, while, forced to spend enough time alone, I find my own self a little too talkative. That's vented easily enough through writing and art, but I still like other people a lot.

One of the best things about other people is that the good ones introduce you to still more people, who introduce you to more, and it grows and grows. It's like Amway without the brochures. (I'm not exactly sure what I mean by that, but it just feels right, doesn't it?) And once in a while, it gets so cool that just talking about your weekend can start to feel like you're name-dropping.

Like a couple of Mondays ago. I had barely gotten my fingers warmed back up from the Golden Gate swim, and Patty and I were in another friend's car (the great friends and their kindnesses from that weekend alone could fill a ream of college-ruled notebook paper) over to Berkeley to meet Chas and three new friends. If friendship is like Amway (I knew that would be useful eventually), Chas is one of the DeVoses. He knows everybody. He's one of the world's authorities on cartoon art and especially animation, which means he knows a lot of cartoonists I haven't met in my own 2-dimensional world. And that day, Patty and I were headed to Berkeley to have dinner with Chas, Chas' partner Scott, Pete's wife Amanda, and Pete. Pete is where it sounds like I'm name-dropping, which I probably am. That's Pete Docter, who directed two of the best movies I've ever seen, that anyone has ever seen, the Pixar films "Up" and "Monsters, Inc."

How cool is that? How terrifying? Well, it was very cool, and somehow not as terrifying as it should have been. Chas didn't seem worked up, and his calm is contagious. Between that and trying to navigate Marin County and Oakland without getting lost, I was either too comfortable or distracted to sweat. Or maybe I wasn't as warm after Sunday's swim as I thought. Nerves would have been wasted anyway. I was instantly at home, almost to my disadvantage. I very nearly forgot to gush like a fanboy. I honestly don't know how much I said about how much I've learned from him and his work, his attention to detail, his passion and ear for a good story, for his characters that not only move but live, his pure enthusiasm. It didn't seem like I was having dinner with an Oscar winner and personal hero. Just a new friend.

For contrast and humility, my thoughts go back 20 years to Flint, Mich. B.B. King was in town to play a couple of shows, and I was going to the nightclub to review the concert for the Flint Journal after a quick interview with the man. Again, here I was meeting a genius and hero. I remembered to get nervous that night, and for some reason I was obsessed with how to address him. Mr. King? B.B.? Mr. B? Blues (B.B., of course, stands for Blues Boy)? He didn't put me at ease like Pete and Amanda did, nor did his bodyguards put me at ease the way Chas and Scott did, and for some reason I settled on "Mr. P-P-Ping."

To this day, I can't listen to a B.B. King song without squirming a little. And not that I would anyway, but I doubt I'll ever be able to watch "Up" or "Monsters Inc." or whatever future masterpieces Pete has in the bag without popping out in happy goosebumps.

Hard to say what Pete thought, but I sure like the way my crowd has expanded.

Thank you, Chas. Should I get nervous enough, may I call you "Mr. Whee?"


veloben said...

One of the best things about other people is that the good ones introduce you to still more people, who introduce you to more, and it grows and grows.

So true. Joining the local bike club 12 years ago expanded my circles of movie, theater and drinking buddies exponentially. Odd that cyclist can have other interests.

Steve the triker said...

I'm not sure that we ever outgrow this tendency.I met James Galway at a friend's house some years ago and remember sweating the initial meeting...until he started talking to us like a normal human.As a kid we field tripped to the Senate(a friend had a father who was a Senator) and we met Vice President Hubert Humphrey. I recall my nervousness and his piercing blue eyes which drilled through me when he asked me a civics question. Cannot recall how I answered!UP is a superb film.