Just like pretty much everyone, I was all over this guy in the late ‘80s. The machismo oozing like a held note on a soundtrack saxophone. The steely-eyed ruggedness. The deep wrinkles already etched into his forehead as if to say, hell yes, I’ve been chopping wood for three days with nothing but a butter knife. The sort of offbeat sense of humor that gets lesser men quietly ushered out the side doors of convenient stores and libraries with their arms around their cardboard mats and bagged whiskey.
“What did one shepherd say to the other shepherd? Let’s get the flock out of here!” You know when Mel said it, it couldn’t have been funnier.
And don’t forget that lopsided smirk of the potentially deranged. And I mean deranged in a good way. Riggs deranged. Deranged like I’m-going-to-trick-this-suicidal-man-to-back-off-the-ledge-by-acting-crazier-than-he-is kind of brilliantly, methodically deranged. Oof! Color me Caramel Shimmer number 58 if these weren’t the good old days when Mel was a mixed bag of awesome and Lethal Weapon ruled. With my help.
Lethal Weapon I, then II, and by Bird on a Wire, I had grown spectacularly resplendent. I fluttered in the air of our collective importance, dusted his shoulders, nestled in his shirt collars, sheltered his eyes in a visor-like flip. They had wind machines on set just for me. Wind machines and Aquanet and a team on standby with all manner of hair pick. I was carefully crafted. Mel was carefully crafted. But then … you could see the cracks in the façade beginning to form. Well, if you were as close to the man as I was, anyway. I mean, didn’t you ever wonder why I’d begun to make my slow retreat after that? Maybe I was born in ’86, but I knew damn well what he was implying when he narrowed his gaze at the mirror and accused me of being Richard Lewisy.
So I left. Little by little. Sure, I could have peeled off all at once like an old band-aid from an ankle bone, but every time I’d resolved to be gone for good he’d lay it on thick with all the desperate primping and the Rogaine. I left like a shoplifter gathering courage in a Walmart dressing room – one stuffed pant leg after another until there was nothing left to skim past the detectors with on my final run but me and an egg-shaped wad of pantyhose. Piecemeal, baby, that’s how I did it. Home free. No second chances. No looking back. Then, just like pretty much everyone, I watched as cans of spray-on hair and collections of plugs tried to fill the void I’d made, as he refused to go the way of Bruce Willis and just embrace it, as the steely-eyed, rugged, deranged machismo of old began to sharpen itself into the steely-eyed, rugged, deranged machismo of grocery store tabloids.
This can’t be a coincidence, his nosedive into insane-with-anger territory and my withdrawal. I blame myself. I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, if only I’d stuck around, Mel and I could have kept it business in the front and party in the back and crazy locked away in the basement.