Here’s a story about that time I pushed Robin Williams’ son off a coin-operated horse. Written originally as a submission for Chicago’s Biggest Liar Contest (I didn’t get in). It’s bittersweet in the wake of his death, but beyond that I think it’s funny and a little ridiculous. Which I think he would have liked.
There are different types of lies. There are lies of omission, where you leave a small or large but definitely crucial part out of a story, creating something 70 or 80 or 90% accurate but really, 100% dishonest. There are the mutual lies, where one person is telling a lie and the other person is telling themselves they believe it: a mutual dishonesty. And there are the straight-up, simple lies, where you make something up that never happened.
There are ways that you can tell when someone’s telling a lie. Lack of eye contact. Poorly timed emotions. Hands touching the face, throat, and mouth. Unconsciously placing objects between themselves and the audience. Cameos from celebrities and their children, and actions that infer an aggressiveness and confidence not often displayed in adulthood.
Anyway. When I was five, I pushed Robin Williams’ son off a horse.
Not a real horse. It was the kind that moves when you put coins in it. Two quarters. The golden pony in question was located in an ice cream parlor on Clement Street. The inside of the ice cream parlor was a riot of color, plastic and rubber and wooden toys lining the turquoise walls from counter to ceiling. The horse bucked wildly amongst a thousand boats and ducks and Mickey Mouses, throwing me and Robin Williams’ son back and forth. The ice cream had made me thirsty. I felt the four Dixie cups of water I’d drunk slosh in my stomach. I had to pee, which made me more impatient than normal. I didn’t want to share the horse.
And so I pushed him off. I was three and he was five, but I was more aggressive, if not physically stronger. The horse’s name was Caramel, and for a moment that ride was all mine, until I felt my my mom’s death-grip on my arm, pulling me away.
Mom was mortified, forcing me to her side. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “Can I pay for another ride? Or get him an ice cream?” She fumbled in her bag for change.
Robin Williams looked bemused: “Lady, do I look like I don’t have money for horsey rides or ice creams?” He sounded like he meant it, and well, he probably did have enough money for both those things. “Don’t worry about it. Really.” He was nice.
He walked out with his son Zack, leaving my mom embarrassed with a sullen, sticky-faced blonde kid. I didn’t get it, or maybe a tiny part of me did, but didn’t care. He was taking too long. His turn was over.
A series of events had brought us to this point. My parents, East Coast born, had met in San Francisco, dated, lived together, married, had a kid. Dad had been a sound editor on Apocalypse Now. Mom had worked on Harvey Milk’s campaign. Dad worked for Sony now. Mom was an art teacher at a public school.
Robin Williams’ son was born to Robin Williams and Valerie Velardi. Robin Williams’ marriage didn’t last. My parents’ marriage didn’t last. Despite this, neither of our fathers had kids out of wedlock: to my knowledge, Zak, me, and our siblings were born within the bonds of matrimony. My parents lived in San Francisco. Robin Williams and his then-wife and son lived in San Francisco.
Our paths were bound to cross. It was fate. And this story is a lie — the straight-up, simple kind. The horse’s name was not Caramel. It was Butterscotch.