My friend Maxley was Owen Wilson before there was Owen Wilson. In my little world at college, he was a rock star. Tall and thin, with a mop of red hair, a big nose, and a gangly walk, he was, nevertheless, a magnet for interesting guys and pretty girls--one of those charmed people for whom nothing ever seemed difficult and in whose path no obstacles ever seemed to be placed. I got to know him during our sophomore year when he decided--on a whim (which is how he decided everything) to get involved in theatre. Naturally, he was a natural, with a sense of ease and command on stage utterly unearned by training. We became friends later in that year, when I cast him in a play I had written. It was Maxley who taught me to sit on roofs.
I was thinking about Maxley last night on a flight home from Large, Unnamed Industrial City, where I had endured yet another of those vaguely unpleasant meetings where teachers gripe and snipe about how Impossible everything is and how it's All Our Fault. To get to this meeting the day before, I had woken up at 3:00 AM, taken a cold shower, and flown out at 5:00. This got me to Large, Unnamed Industrial City just in time for the meeting, which I managed to muddle through reasonably coherently. But after that, I collapsed. So on the flight home, I slept as much as I could, occasionally listening to music so as to drown out the intensely horrible, celebrity-gawking banalities coming from the teenage girls sitting behind me. One of the songs that came up on the IPod was "Up on a Roof."
I think it was the combination of that song and the East Coast, early autumn weather that set off the reverie. There's something about the beginnings of fall weather--the quality of the light, the hint of crispness in the air--that always triggers memory and nostalgia for me. Suddenly, listening to that particular song, I was back in Atlanta, sitting on a rooftop with Maxley and Chester and the other Large Personalities I knew back then. For Maxley, it was a way of getting away from it all and above it all (though from my point of view, he was always above it all). Get a different perspective, a different point of view. For Chester, it was just another place to indulge in public urination.
I remember a cast party where almost everyone got up on the roof. In fact, at one point, someone was choreographing a kick-line of some kind, with at least five or six people behind him, following his moves. I watched from the peak of the roof, from my usual Artistic Remove. It's where I spent a lot of my time--too much of my time: slightly removed from the action, watching, taking notes, turning it all into fiction. As the Wife likes to say, quoting a song, I was The Boy With The Beard In The Corner. Sometimes I even had the beard.
But being up on the roof also made me part of some exclusive club--part of the in-crowd. So I was both in and out. Did people realize, or sense, that I was tangential, that even within that crowd, I was the boy with beard in the corner? Probably not. It never occurred to me even to think about it at the time--for me, it was the first time in my life that I had ever been part of any in-crowd, however tangentially.
It was always quieter up on the roof. You were just high enough above the traffic and the party noise that you could have a conversation, or just sit in happy silence together, beer in hand, watching the world go by.
My last roof was the roof of my own house--the first house I owned, as part of my Starter Marriage. We hosted a New Year's Eve party, picking up the hosting duty from Maxley, who had left town that year. Somehow, without trying very hard, we attracted close to a hundred people--people who had been at all of Maxley's parties over the years, and lots of people I had never seen before. I found a couple of strangers in my attic, making out. I found a guy in a tuxedo in my kitchen, cooking black-eyed peas. Late in the evening, Starter Wife informed me that Chester and several other people were sitting on our roof, even though she had asked them very politely not to do so. Of course, asking Chester anything very politely was her first mistake. With Chester, a rolled up magazine whacked against his nose was always a better bet. I climbed out to talk to them about this infraction. And I stayed out there for an hour or more.
I should have known right then that I wasn't ready for marriage--or at least that marriage. Unfortunately, it would take another two years to figure it out.
Maxley is out in Los Angeles now, with his wife and two beautiful girls. I haven' t seen him in years, even though I'm now living much closer to the west coast. In fact, I've gone back and forth to LA at least ten times in the past year for work. We tried to get together once, but work stuff kept intruding and I had to cancel our dinner plans. We email each other very occasionally. More often, I see his face pop up on TV commercials--or someone else will email me to alert me to the fact that Maxley is on TV.
Now it's six o'clock, and the house is stirring. The Wife is up and about, and Things 1 and 2 will soon be awake. Almost time to make the boys breakfast. Almost time to get them dressed. Almost time to take them to a birthday party for their friends.
The past fades away, and the present takes over and makes its demands. As it should.