Ben Hur Hug

I’m going to switch things up a little and start off with the tangent and then finish with what I originally wanted to write about.  Just for kicks.

Back in the early nineties I was in college and taking a film history class and about half way through the quarter, the day came when we sat down and watched the 1959 movie Ben Hur, in its entirety and in one sitting.  This was something that had to happen because it was the only movie to ever win 11 academy awards and that was important for some reason.  Three and a half hours later I was lighting up a smoke and walking back to my car and a thought was growing in my mind that the academy awards might just be full of shit. Because really, apart from the chariot race sequence, it’s just not that great a movie.  1959 is the same year that Rio Bravo came out and that movie kicks Ben Hur’s ass up and down the street.  Six years later, my suspicions would be confirmed when Titanic became the second movie to win 11 academy awards.

Anyway there’s a scene in the movie where Ben Hur is adopted by Quintus Arrius.  This takes place after the two men have been in battle together and after Ben Hur has saved Arrius’ life.  The two of them have come to respect and love each other in a very father and son sort of way.  At the ceremony where Arrius makes the announcement of his adoption of Ben Hur, the two of them have an emotional moment, looking at each other intently and then embracing each other.

But here’s the thing:  It’s America in 1959 and two men can’t hug each other.  My God, that could lead to (*looks around to make sure no one’s listening*) kissing.  I mean its Charlton Heston for Christ’s sake.  So rather than have the two of them give each other a proper hug – the way a father and a son might do – Ben Hur and Arrius do this weird other thing that starts off with the two of them looking for just a second as if they’re trying to tackle one another and then instead they just grasp each other by the biceps and stare at each other, smiling, looking like two wrestlers posing for a portrait.  It’s comically awkward and it does not stand the test of time.  And, so, in 1991, when my classmates and I were watching the movie and this scene took place, the entire class (appropriately) erupted into laughter and disbelief.

That memory stayed in the back of my head, as memories do, and about five or so years later I’m with a group of friends at Michael J’s in La Verne and it’s late and we’re talking and talking and talking, as we do, and the conversation comes around to Ben Hur.  I relate the story of the Ben Hur Hug to everyone and it gets a good laugh.  A few hours later, we’re all standing in the parking lot, finishing that last smoke and saying goodbye and my friend, Rob Oostmeyer, turns to me and says, “Ben Hur Hug!” and rushes me.  Fortunately, I was quick enough to rush back and we grabbed each other’s biceps and laughed.  And then we stopped because it was 2am and we were in a parking lot and it felt kinda dodgy. But it was funny and it wound up being a thing that Rob and I would sometimes do – usually while drinking – off and on over the years.  That and the Gladiator Handshake.

This last Tuesday marked the sixth anniversary of Rob’s death.  He was playing basketball and fell down on the court and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital as I understand it…I wasn’t there, this is what I was told.  He apparently had a heart condition that he didn’t tell very many people about.  He was a year younger than I am now when he died.  I have a hard time with that.  I’m not even close to being done yet, and neither was he.  If he was here now, I’d give him a Ben Hur Hug…and probably a real one too.

I’m writing this now because I don’t think I was as good a friend to him as I could have been.  Not because of anything I did or didn’t do but because I took Rob for granted and I didn’t appreciate how important he was to me.  He was a complicated guy and could be a serious asshole when he was in the mood for it, but he was also as unique an individual as there ever has been on this planet (without, you know, piercing his fucking face a thousand times) and he permanently affected my life and is partially responsible for who I am today.  And his death was a big dose of (much needed) reality.  I’m an insanely lucky person.  I have a lot of friends.  And each one of those friendships is something to be appreciated and celebrated and taken care of.  And it took Rob dying to make me aware of that.

Six years later and it’s a rare thing when a week passes by without my thinking about him in one way or another.  I miss my friend.