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On Time Travel, Youth, and the Passing of Big Black

I turned 30 last year.

If you’re around my age or — heaven help your poor, think-pieced-to-death-soul — consider yourself to be one of the obscurely labeled “Millennials”, then you probably already know: Christopher “Big Black” Boykin died on Tuesday at the too-early age of 45.

Boykin was for a time, as his name implies, a giant.

The MTV reality star was gifted with both an immense physicality and the far rarer kind of excess charisma that enabled him to become beloved by myself and an extensive group of my friends during our college years. Metaphorically and otherwise, he was enough of a presence that he pulled many of the pop culture obsessed into his orbit, a fascinating planet sent spinning out into the solar system by the reality TV big bang of the late ’90s.

In a sense, many of us grew up with Big Black — the co-conspirator on many of fellow star Rob Dyrdek’s weird, off-beat schemes — on the eponymous Rob & Big; an absurdly fun little half hour program that was seemingly never consumed at full concentration levels. The show, following best friends Dyrdek and Boykin as they seemingly lived out a life of luxurious leisure, replete with mini-horses, music video shoots from the toilet, and a general reckless joy, wasn’t the kind of offering that you needed to watch in order. Really, you didn’t even need to watch the whole episode.

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The show was packed with one-liners, spoken hashtags from back when the symbol was still called a “pound key” and that were often delivered in the signature baritone growl of Boykin or in the always-exclamatory, italicized excitement of Dyrdek, Whether we were shouting along with these two goofy bros or the TV was muted so we could listen to Pretty Ricky, it was the perfectly crafted background if you needed a momentary distraction from the distractions that were already distracting you at age 20.

In my sophomore year, Big Black was the perfect white noise.

He was an extra in many of my college years’ wildest scenes, beaming out in standard def glory on the other TV that wasn’t playing NCAA Football 2007 or gamely trying to lure a stray gaze away from the excitement of a game of speed quarters between a guy who had just finished runner-up in a Mullet contest and a dude we called “T-Bag”.

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In a time in my life were I was capable of forgetting whole nights, Big Black and his exuberant goofiness were something that I’ve somehow never forgotten. The crooked smile, the complete and utter willingness to be exactly who he was and how all of these strange ingredients blended together to form the perfect chaser to my wild college years at a state school in Kansas.

My favorite episode, the one that for some reason stands above the others for me even after all these years, is the episode where Rob and Big go to try to time travel. They have found some weird, potentially Canadian, dude who believes that he has created a time machine Rob, as he was wont to do, believes immediately and attempts to launch himself and Big Black into time using the “Hyper Dimensional Resonator” with the help of the Canadian hack named “Dr. Z” (*Author’s note: shoutout to Wikipedia for helping me with the finer points on this one).

Big, ever the skeptic, doesn’t believe in any of the clearly bogus theoretics behind the resonator but, as he was wont to do, immediately throws himself into the role of dutiful side kick by dressing for the 70’s, like the largest Soul Train background dancer in history and awaits his chance to get funky in an enormous afro wig.

When the machine, predictably, fails miserably the two friends make an agreement to let Big Black stomp the time machine. It was reality TV perfection. Here’s the scene of the stomp.

Sounds kind of dumb, right? It definitely was.

Sound memorable and funny and like something that a 20-year-old me would love while taking a break from Guitar Hero and ill-gotten Bud Light? By now, you know the answer.

I turned 30 last year.

My mortality isn’t something I think about with any kind of real regularity. But it is there, now, far more than it was when I was first watching Christopher Big Black Boykin and his best friend engage in 2007 insanity. It’s at the far edges of my periphery; a shadow’s shadow that rarely comes out of the closet, like the disquieting monster of a quarter past midnight when I was a quarter past 6 years old that it can sometimes be, but it’s more there now than a decade prior.

Seeing Big Black had died made me sad. I was saddened for him and his family and saddened at the realization that what seems like indelible ink at age 20 can, in reality, be smudged away.

But in the midst of that sadness, that oddly distant ache of a fan losing a celebrity, I felt something else.

It was the bittersweet pang of remembrance. Of hazy heydays and adventures, that we somehow felt a part of even from one thousand miles away. Of fleeting youth spent chasing something and of an adult life having found what I was looking for all at once.

Big Black may be gone, and he may have been a skeptic, but he just made me believe in time travel.

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