No, I don’t mean, “the bends,” as in decompression sickness from coming up from a ridiculous depth on an undersea or outerspace adventure. I mean, “the Ben’s” as in “the Chad’s,” or “the Michael’s,” or “the Derrick’s.” Let me try this again.
For some reason, there are a lot of fellows named, “Ben” in my life. Not least of which is my own dear father. His name is not “Benjamin.” It never has been. It is simply, “Ben.” His mother was a bit of a purist.
And then, of course, there is the very popular “Ben Affleck” who hit the news hot and heavy yesterday with the announcement that he had been chosen for the role of Batman in the next Superman/Batman flick. It’s ironic, I think, that I’ve been organizing and contributing to this piece about “the Ben’s” in my life for at least three weeks. Interesting timing that this “Ben” news comes out the very weekend that I finish. Really, there is no correlation. Except perhaps to say that if Mr. Affleck follows the pattern for the other “Ben’s” in my life, for Heaven’s sake, GIVE THE GUY A CHANCE! He’ll probably rock the hell outta this role.
My point in noting the fact of the many “Ben’s” in my life, is that for all the many there are, not one of them is a sour apple—a dud—a bad person—a negative effect. Every “Ben” that I know or have ever known is quite an amazing person. It’s as though the very name “Ben” carries with it an incarnation of security. Can you even hear the name without thinking of “Gentle Ben,” the bear, or perhaps, “Big Ben,” the great London chroniker?
I mentioned my dad. And for all our sakes, I won’t go into the amazing man that is my father because I’d just get too dog-gone sentimental. And I know that you don’t want to hear a full five minutes worth of that sappy, crappy, sticky-sweet gunk. Right? I know I don’t. I go into sugar-shock just walking through the door of a Hallmark store.
So I’ll slide right on by to another “Ben” whom I will affectionately call, “The King.” With all of these Ben’s, I’ll give them pseudonyms to distinguish them from one another. The King does not receive his name because he is a royal magistrate in some way, or because he rules with an iron fist, or is even powerful in the typical ways you might think about power. Quite the contrary: The King is a humble teacher, trying to build his own business, provide for his family, serve in his church, and simply do the best he can with what he has. I call him The King because, well,… That’s his name.
I met The King at an audition a few years ago when he was still a student. He has this way of possessing a room when he walks in. He’s more on the quiet side as personalities go, though sociable enough; not shy. But something about him—his presence: all six feet five, 200 pounds of him—has a way of “calming the storm” sort to speak. He walks into a room and it’s as if a soft mist descends, bringing cool air and sunshine at the same time. His voice is low and smooth… comforting. He is a husband and a father, and I do hope his children appreciate the sound of that voice as he speaks their bedtime stories.
Every time I interact with The King, I come away having learned something new. Not because he has made any special effort to teach me something. Our encounters are usually few and far between and most often, happenstance. It’s simply because every time we cross paths, he is working on some aspect of his life to better himself. I think at one of our last encounters, he told me about this new “juicing” thing he was doing and referred me to the Netflix video, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead,” wa-a-a-a-ay before it took the internet—and the United States—by storm. He is an uplifting person. A good person whom I trust. And my life has been so enriched because I know him.
There is The John of “the Ben’s.” This man, I respect so much, I don’t even know where to start. My initial encounter with him was in a conservatory project in college where we developed a gender-reversed version of “Hamlet.” I was Laertes and he portrayed Hamlet’s mother (father), Gertrude. I still remember working through a scene where our objectives were so irrevocably at odds that it became a blocking problem. He would not back down from his objective—not for a moment—forcing me to find a way through mine more quickly and effectively to make the scene (and blocking) work. It was intensely challenging and after I got over my initial impulse of wanting to slap him soundly across the mouth, I was grateful—oh, so grateful—for that invaluable lesson. The whole experience was a fascinating endeavor which I will always cherish.
He went on to obtain his Master’s degree at the Old Globe Theatre program in San Diego. (Highly competitive and prestigious, as they only accept 7 students every year.) Somewhere along the way he married and began a family. The John is utterly, completely devoted to his beloved wife. Whenever he speaks of her, you can see it in his eyes. The love and regard he has for her is astounding. I have seen him on more than one occasion get misty-eyed when speaking, even in general terms, about his “better-half.”
The John is tremendously talented, devoted, creative, hard-working, and an all-around great guy. He teaches acting. How lucky are those students! I’ve had the opportunity to audition him from time-to-time, to hire him from time-to-time, and to even be coached by him for a monologue—once—which was a joy in a of itself. I cherish this friendship like you wouldn’t believe.
And, because this post is getting long, I’ll just add one more “Ben” to it—though there are plenty more from which to choose in this great whirlpool of friends and acquaintances. This Ben is “The Dan.”
There are some people in this world whose very existence gives one faith in the prospect that “all is not lost.” They are, by their natures, guileless and pure. I would say, “like a child,” but that’s far too simple. The Dan is not “gullible” as a child would be. He’s highly creative and intelligent. A “self-starter,” as they say. I believe if you stuck him on a deserted island by himself, he’d have a very respectable homestead built, furnished, and self-sustainable within six months. Of course, if you put his wife there with him, they’d probably be filing with the country over their jurisdiction for a township within a couple of years.
They sing, these two: Dan and his wife. My mother has said many, many times that she wants them to sing at her funeral. To which Dan always says, “We’d be happy to.” And when I say, “they sing,” I mean, “Oh boy howdy: DO they SING!” They’re both trained in MDT (Music, Dance, Theatre) and use it consistently in a wide variety of teaching and performance endeavors. Yeah, they sing… and dance… and act. A triple-threat times two.
The Dan is our go-to guy at work. He not only MDT’s, he juggles… work loads. Dan keeps the cogs of our office spinning with his steady, never-failing rhythm. He is the metronome, the percussive beat that bears up the chaos as it flutters all around. No matter how fast or furious the projects may fly, we know when the dust settles the steady pulse from Dan’s office will remain. Constant. Unassuming. Secure.
The Dan is one of my favorite “Ben’s.” I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without his influence in my life. Thank you, Dan, for all you have done and for all you do. You are a true gem.
So, to all the Ben’s in my life, may I paint a rock of sincere “THANKS” to throw through your proverbial window. No harm meant. It’s all about love, guys.
“The Ben” is earthy. Resolute. Something to stand on. It’s a comfort beneath one’s feet. It’s cool, ocean-washed sand on a hot day and warm, pungent soil—the kind you want to dig your hands into and fill your lungs with the smell of it as the sun beats down on your back.
“The Ben” is bedtime stories as you camp out by the fireplace in your favorite tattered sleeping-bag; the fire crackling-low, radiating a soft, muffled heat. It’s the oldest tree around: The kind you can climb and then spend the afternoon dangling comfortably from one of the branches. It’s your dog laying the weight of his head on your leg and blowing out a sigh as he waits upon your company.
“The Ben” is a negro-spiritual salted with blues and sweetened by jazz, with a hint of old-world folk-music for smoothness. It’s hot chocolate that isn’t too hot. It’s a feather-bed with clean sheets and no alarm clock. It’s giant snowflakes on your tongue, a pile of autumn leaves just waiting for that flying leap, and blossoms in the Spring so abundant they look like snow on the ground until you hold one on your fingertip and inhale.
“The Ben” is safety: a wall to hunker against when the wind howls too chill. It is a thick woolen coat in the midst of a storm. It is the orange-pink glow painting every façade as the sun bids the world another “G’day, mate,” before falling into bed.
Having “the Ben’s” is actually pretty cool.