The completely ridiculous story of how I met Robin Williams in my comic book store

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Aug 12, 2014, 1:32 PM EDT (Updated)

By now, you've probably read plenty of obituaries hashing out Robin Williams' long career and lamenting his loss. Or you've sat on Twitter just watching every single person you follow process their grief. And you've probably been processing a lot of your own.

I wanted to offer you something a little different. A moment in time that captures the parts of Robin Williams I want to remember right now -- his humor and his nerdiness.

I worked at Forbidden Planet in Union Square, New York, for two years. The place is considered by many to be a comic-book institution. For even more, it's just a place to buy your funny books and talk comics a while. And for a lucky few of us, it can feel like home. Robin Williams was a semi-regular at the store (he even said Forbidden was his favorite place in NYC, apparently), so I'd like to believe that it felt a little like home to him, too.

Most of us who worked at FP have at least one oddball Robin story. My own brief brush with him came late one night (he usually turned up just as we were winding things down). I was closing up the manga section upstairs and, just as I was putting up the chain to keep people out, I heard a man's voice asking if he could nip up real quick for a look. I was tired and about to say no, when I looked up, and there he was: Robin Williams.

I couldn't believe it. I mean, I knew he'd been in the shop plenty of times before, but I'd never actually been lucky enough to meet him. I don't even remember if I said anything. The chain dropped before I'd realized I'd done anything and suddenly there we were, upstairs in the manga section -- me and Robin Williams.

He was looking in one of the glass cases at some models. He wasn't just browsing, mind you, he was a man on a mission. He asked me if we still had this thing in stock. He'd seen it maybe a month or two back. "It's a rocket. It's big and red," he said, "and looks kind of like a weird, Japanese dildo." He smiled.

Brushes with greatness sometimes take odd turns.

Sadly, we'd actually sold the dildo model about a week earlier. But that was okay. Robin scoped stuff out for a while. He had a buddy with him, and he was just enjoying pointing out all the things he recognized and was into. Which was to say everything, basically.

And then he was gone. Couldn't have been more than 15 or 20 minutes of my life, but I'll never forget it. Or him. Even in person, he has this incredible energy that could wake up even the most tired and beleaguered comic-book clerk.

What I realized that night and the thing I'm trying to remember now isn't that Robin Williams was a great comedian or a powerful, dramatic actor or an icon to millions -- it's that he was one of us. He loved comic books and action figures. He was moved by the same stories and characters we are. 

And one time he tried to buy a model rocket from me that looked like a red, Japanese marital aid, which is hilarious. Sometimes it's those little, bizarre but human moments that help pull us from the most dangerous edge of grief. They help us get to the next breath.

It's the one thing that helped me, anyway. I hope it does the same for you. And if you've got a fun Robin story of your own, I hope you'll share it.