The time on my phone read 2:47 PM. I was late. 7 minutes, to be exact. However, he seemed like the type of person who would be understanding of outside factors, such as heavy traffic on the 5. After all, he made his living as an actor and was no stranger to the congested freeways of Los Angeles. Feeling a little more at ease, I entered through the burgundy door of the Fireside bar.
There wasn’t much happening inside of the bar. After all, it was almost 3 PM on a Tuesday afternoon. The bartender was fiddling with his phone. Off in a corner booth, an elderly couple dined on fish and chips. I could hear the faint sound of jazz music coming from the jukebox, mixed with the annoying hum of ceiling fans. At the far end of the bar, there he was: Michael Landon.
He looked away from the television long enough to notice me, then motioned for me to pull up a seat next to him. Michael was dressed like his character from Little House on the Prairie, Charles Ingalls: Brown slacks, a white button-up shirt, suspenders, and black boots. Everything looked like it had been tailored in the late 1800s, or at least by a reputable designer who specialized in period pieces. His hair was turning a light grey, with massive curls all over that fell just slightly above his shoulders. He was nursing a glass of bourbon. On the television, an episode of Little House was playing. I took a seat next to him.
“Man, what a great episode this turned out to be, am I right?” he asked. In the episode mentioned, Charles and his friend, Mr. Edwards, had just buried an old prospector who lost his life after his cottage caught fire. Charles had carved a headstone and placed it in the creek bed, directly next to a headstone the prospector had previously carved for his deceased wife. It was the finale of season 3. Michael put the glass to his lips and took a small drink, then let out a brief sigh. “What a time that was”, he said.
“It was a great episode. Definitely one of my favorites”, I said. Without asking, the bartender brought me a can of my usual: Old Milwaukee. I popped the can, stared at my beer, and wondered what was even going on. Michael Landon had died from cancer almost 30 years ago, yet here we were, sharing a drink at my local dive. I wondered if the bartender could see him, too.
“But you’re not here to talk Little House, are you?” he asked.
“No, I don’t think so, although I do love the show, for what it’s worth. Highway to Heaven, too”, I said.
Michael chuckled. “Ah, Highway. Victor and I had a hell of a lot of fun with that show. Surprised us with how many seasons we were able to get. I really wish we could have given it a proper send-off, but you know how networks are.” His smile faded to a worry, then he turned to face me.
“So, I’ve gotta ask”, he said with a pause. “Why do you want to die?”
There it was, the reason this meeting was taking place. A few weeks ago, I had reached a breaking point and began plotting out my suicide. I had written a will, picked a secluded place and stole my uncle’s antique Colt revolver. I was ready to go. In the process of planning, I fell asleep watching Little House. That’s when I dreamed about Michael Landon.
Everything was black. His back was turned to me, and like Charles Ingalls did many times, he was chopping a pile of wood. As I got closer, he stopped chopping and turned around. “2:40 PM, next Tuesday, at the Fireside. Sounds like you need somebody to talk to”, he said. Then, I woke up.
I tried my best to respond to his question. “Well, I guess I’m just tired of being in pain all the time”, I responded.
“Pain, huh?” he asked. For a moment, Michael seemed lost in thought. Having died from pancreatic cancer, he would know all about being in pain, albeit physically and not so much mentally. He swirled the alcohol around in his glass, then exhaled a deep sigh.
“So that’s it? Something bad happens, it sends you to a dark place, and you’re just ready to throw in the towel? Just like that?” he asked.
I stiffened up, feeling defensive at his response. “It’s a bit more complicated than that”, I said.
“Okay then, tell me”.
I looked up at the television. Another episode of Little House was playing. I hadn’t even touched my beer, which was getting warm. “Well”, I said, drumming my fingers on the bar, “It’s like this feeling of never being good enough. It’s also being heartbroken, and it’s also a deep loneliness, even when you have people in your life”, I told him.
“I feel like there’s more to it than that”, he said.
I felt my heartbeat increase. “You’re right, Michael Landon, you’re goddamn right there’s more to it than that!”, I said, raising my voice and slamming my open palm onto the bar. He put his hand on my shoulder to try and calm me down, then I began to cry.
The bartender made his way over, but I waved him away. After taking a few moments to get myself together, I took a swig of the lukewarm Old Milwaukee. It tasted like shit. The whole time, Michael kept his gentle hand on my shoulder. When I looked up to talk to him, he was gone.
The music on the jukebox was now playing a Nat King Cole song, “Love Me As Though There Were No Tomorrow”. The elderly couple had excused themselves from their meal to share a slow dance next to the jukebox. I watched them sway around like a scene from a black and white film.