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Me and Charlie Sheen

Me and Charlie Sheen

Barely a week has passed since Charlie Sheen's Krakatoa-style career meltdown and it's already hard to think of anything new to say about it. You've already got warlock pictures, expert rehab advice from Dr. Drew (who's already threatening to topple Dr. Phil as Most Annoyingly Omnipresent Medical TV Windbag) and rumors that he's shopping a tell-all book about his Two and a Half Men years entitled -- wait for it -- "The Day The Laughter Stopped."

Somewhere Jerry Lewis is about to release the hounds. For me, I think the laughter stopped the night the pilot episode of Two and a Half Men aired.

Sheen himself only compounds the problem, giving increasingly incoherent interviews that better writers than me would find it hard to top: He's an F-18? A Martian rock star? "Bi-winning?"

I don't have any particular insight into Sheen's behavior, or parallel experience which sheds some light on his demons. I can't even really relate to the guy who, even though he's only a few years older than I am, had such a radically different upbringing.

All I can tell you is that Charlie Sheen helped me become a man.

I should clarify. Sheen, or his movies anyway, were a constant companion during my adolescence. In Red Dawn, he helped give a face to the belief all boys of my generation held that one day we'd be forced to take up arms against Commie invaders. Platoon's Chris Taylor helped give rise to a new awareness of the Vietnam War, while Wall Street's Bud Fox provided a cautionary take on 1980s excess.

Then there was Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Everyone remembers the "Drugs?" scene at the police station. Or at least they should:

Kinda sad, really. But that particular look -- leather jacket, bad hair, dead eyes -- served me well in 1986, specifically the summer before my senior year of high school. Now, I wasn't consciously aping Sheen when I got dressed for the Honors Colloquium reception at UT. Truth be told, I didn't realize the thing was semiformal until I got there and realized that not only was I one of the only guys there not in a coat and tie, I was the only guy there in army pants and a leather jacket (reading the orientation literature must have slipped my mind).

I was lurking in a corner, idly wondering how to sneak a beer from behind the bar, when an actual girl approached me and struck up a conversation. We ended up hanging out for the rest of that weekend, even dating for a while in college, and we're friends to this day. Which is why I feel sort of bad for bringing up the reason she said she came to talk to me in the first place: because I reminded her of Sheen's Ferris Bueller character.

The rest, for Sheen at least, is fairly sordid history: increasingly questionable movie roles (Young Guns to Hot Shots! to The Three Musketeers to...Shadow Conspiracy), punctuated by unfortunate forays into 9-11 Truthism and, well, you know the rest of it.

It's hard not to identify, in some small way, with others of your generation who end up on such wildly divergent paths. Sheen didn't have to end up a woman-beating cokehead, just like Christopher McCandless -- another sad figure I inadvertently ended up empathizing with -- didn't have to end up dying in a bus in the wilds of Alaska. But there's no way to tell what bouillabaisse of external and internal factors led them there, and how things in our own lives might be different, but for an accident of birth or absentee parent.

Even as Sheen continues to make Mel Gibson look like Gregory Peck, I'll always have a soft spot for the asshole. Not just for indirectly getting me some action back in the day, but also because the guy has aged so, so very poorly. For crying out loud, Sheen's only three years older than me, and he looks like he's in his 50s.

Now I don't feel so bad about not dyeing my hair.


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