Sunday, February 13, 2011


Well, some people are characters.
And some people have character.
Some people who have character are not characters.
And some people are characters but don’t necessarily have character.
I find the most interesting people to be those who are characters,
and have character as well.

But if ‘character’ is something you aspire to, having character is a lot more important, in my opinion, than being a character.

There are lots of pretend characters. Really, it’s pretty easy to be a pretend character. The world’s full of them, especially since the advent of such advanced technology, giving birth to mediums that can put people in our faces in a matter of seconds, and keep them there until we’re sick to death of them. Pretend characters don’t have actual character, they’re all about perception, they are all about attention. One just needs to have a gimmick, an intentionally pronounced personality quirk, along with a style and appearance that is somewhat out of the ordinary. An unusual accent, inflection, a peculiar, and cultivated manner of speaking, or laughing, for instance. A bizarre affectation.
People can pretty easily establish themselves as some sort of character or another with a cherry-picked shtick and the click of a mouse.

But those people are not real characters, they are character wannabe’s, just-add-water- microwave concoctions.

True characters, however, tend to think differently than everybody else, and be a bit out of the ordinary, out of the mainstream, as it were. They don’t just test out the unconventional, they actually live there. The mainstream tends to wash most of the un-ordinariness out of a person. That’s why authentic characters have not spent much time swimming in that river.

When I was growing up in Southern California there was a man in Laguna Beach by the name of Eiler Larson. Eiler stood out on the corner all day, every day, rain or shine, and waved to the people driving through town on the Pacific Coast Highway. He became known as ‘The Greeter’. People depended on him. They depended on seeing him, and being greeted by him with a big smile, a wave, and a loud “Hello there”. The Greeter had a really big bushy gray beard, long hair, a ruddy complexion, wore a red coat, and carried a cane. He was there on the corner in front of the Hotel Laguna for years, many years, more years than I can even remember. He was always there. He was a permanent fixture, and sometimes my friends and I would drive to Laguna Beach just to see him. He said he used to be a gardener before he realized he didn’t have enough time to garden and greet the folks.

Eiler was not on the corner begging for change, or hoping to be discovered to parlay his notoriety into a big payday, or fifteen minutes of fame. He was there because he needed to be there, he needed to greet people, to make them smile, to make a difference in their day. He was on that corner for four decades, from 1934 until 1974.
Then one day he was not there, and Laguna Beach has never been the same.
Eiler Larson died in 1975. There is now a larger-than-life-sized statue standing alongside the road where he used to greet, with equal enthusiasm, those of us he knew,
and those he’d never met.

The Greeter was an authentic character.
And I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet my life on it that he had character too.