A Few Words about Bill Cosby

(I wrote and posted this in November of 2014 when the rape stories started to get my attention)

I want to put Bill Cosby in a box, into a spreadsheet, I want to break him into component columns so I can understand what is going on. I want to codify and understand what he is today.

In one box Cosby was a hero, a story telling role model, one of the great monologists not just of the 20th century but of all time. I listened to his routines over and over, learning how to spin a yarn that was funny and yet might also reflect the real world in a deeper way. Bill Cosby taught me and trained me by his example.

In another box he was an icon, not a great black man, just a great man, a man that broke down color barriers by highlighting the common ground we all lived and worked on. His successes are legendary. We listened to his records, one of his six television series raised the bar on television humor. I remember watching the first season of the Cosby show and knowing I was watching something new and powerful coming to life that would not only entertain but change things.

Those successes were the reason we all grieved with Bill when his son was murdered, because he was our Bill Cosby, our national, paternal figurehead.

Now we stand with our mouths hanging open, at what seems to be crawling out of the darkness.

Because Bill Cosby seems also to fit into the box of monster. If one reads the accounts coming out now, it is hard to dispute that Bill Cosby is a sick man, a man who forced himself sexually on an uncounted number of woman. And how does the father of women live with himself?

I’m so angry at him. I’m angry about his evil abuse of other human beings but I’m more deeply hurt about the lie. The way he presented himself, the way he represented a kind of standard. What he stood for remains real and important. I cannot let go of what was good because something bad is attached to it. It is my job to use what I can and leave the rest.

Are his stories still wonderful? Yes. Is he still a master story teller? Absolutely, the crushing thing is that his greatest story appears to be the lie he lived all this time. To some degree it is my fault. I should be smart enough to know that the great works of fiction are complex, never simple.

Bill Cosby was a comedian, he made me laugh. His timing, his phrasing, his subject matter all combined to draw out of me a vast array of smiles and rollicking cackles, I cannot let this awfulness take that out of my life. Those moments are eternal.

It is easy to sit here in judgment. Bill Cosby continues to teach me even now, but the lessons I take from all that his life means today will take me a long time to process. To get beyond judgment beyond black and white is my first goal.

He cannot fit in a single box, he is too complex for that. I strive for a simple, distilled version of him, but that cannot be created. Our greatest human gems have giant flaws. Our heroes, real heroes are just like us. No one is just a father, or mother, no one is just a hero or an icon, and no one is just a criminal or a monster.

No one fits in a box.

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I Was Spock

Today, I’m reflecting on something big that is suddenly gone.

Like so many I got into Star Trek when it went into syndication. Sometime around the summer of ’70 or ’71, one of our three TV channel pipelines to the world began running it at 6:00. I started watching it every day. I’d seen episodes of the third season when it ran on prime time but in reruns I was captured forever. From that run I watched every episode many times and many times since. I’ve viewed and enjoyed the other Trek offerings, but Trek classic, the original series, is hosted in me today. I know that of the 79 episodes only a handful are really good. But I still watch the beautifully remastered reruns on Saturday nights now. Yes, I know the episode titles, who wrote many of them and how they have been surgically damaged, editing “disposable” scenes and lines in order to cram in a few more ads for siding and car insurance.

Yesterday, Feb 27th 2015, Leonard Nimoy passed away. Mr. Nimoy was many things. He was an actor, poet, director, photographer, husband, father, but mainly to me he was Mr. Spock.

Mr. Spock. I don’t have to tell anybody who that is. That is a testament to the cultural footprint of Star Trek. The details on Mr. Spock can get foggy for some. We know the pointy ears, a smaller but still quite large contingent know he was the alien who claimed to have no emotions but in reality he managed the same ones we all have.

I so admired his mind, the cool, cerebral approach to things. I don’t know how Spock would have been developed by another actor because Mr. Nimoy was the artist granted the privilege of breathing life into the fiction. Spock has taken his place alongside all the great characters of human stories. In my eyes he changed the world with his portrayal. Well, my world.

My world. In my RIP message on Facebook I thanked Mr. Nimoy for Mr. Spock, because that is what I felt: gratitude. While the character was a gift to the world of fiction, it was also something special that he gave to me, that I could cling to growing up, trying to find my way. I loved when he would calculate quickly when presented with a need to know the percentages on some issue facing the crew of the Enterprise. I quickly learned I could not do that. When the weekly crisis presented itself he met it with a raised eyebrow and a refusal to just react without thought. He insisted on engaging his mind in stressful situations. I have managed over the years to get better at that. His relationship with Kirk was my relationship with my own emerging personality traits, my ego, my temper my emotional side, the 360 degrees of my humanity. I was very emotional growing up, crying “too much,” or raging around. I had only a few good friends in my grade school and middle school years. On some level when I was an angry or hormonal young man I used Mr. Spock as an approach to manage my emotions and reactions to the world. I used my vocabulary and brain to build a place I could survive like a primitive might use a cave. Before I found my own place in most interactions I used Mr. Spock as a way to cope with being different on a ship full of humans. Spock helped me deal with my alien side. I now know that we are all aliens in some way, that all of us feel like an outsider at times regardless of who loves us or how good a life we have.

So, thank you again Mr. Nimoy for Mr. Spock. Like so many things I did not realize how big you were until you were missing.

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Another Glowing Bruce Springsteen Review

In November of 2012 on a Thursday night I watched Bruce perform during his “Wrecking Ball” tour. I never posted the review. So, a half year later…

Another Glowing, Awe Struck Bruce Springsteen Review

Yeah, the world needs another one of these, but Hell, it’s my blog so here goes:

Was it my last Bruce Springsteen concert? I wondered that going into the arena because both the Boss and I are continuing our advancing time lines (better than the sudden stop, but the Hover Round waits patiently for all of us). Well, if the extravaganza I watched is any indication, Bruce and I may just live forever. To some degree any ticket to any show is a contract. Buy the ticket, get a show. You go hoping it’s worth the money, but how seriously the actors/players/perfomers take the contract is always a gamble.  Bruce clearly takes his end of the contract very, very seriously. He told us so, stating that he wanted our hands to hurt, our feet to hurt, and our sexual organs stimulated. He does not coast, he never phones it in. Many stories have been written about how Springsteen always performs like it’s the last show he will ever do. It is true. He comes on that stage and labors joyfully, bringing an intensity that is almost always spellbinding. I’ve seen him eleven times and have never left the show feeling less than totally spent and completely full at the same time. Last night he played 26 songs for 3 hours and six minutes, about average for this leg of a tour that started in April. Bruce’s average would be most performers’ best night ever.

Last Thursday I watched a 63 year old man work a crowd of 12,000 people into an ecstatic mob. He did it with a set of tools any entertainer should study like his/her career depended on it. Bruce has a razor sharp band of dedicated professionals backing, him, a catalog of profoundly powerful work going back 40 years, a breathtaking breadth of live performing experience across the globe which has allowed him to hone his own audience manipulation skills to some kind of Jedi-black belt level. Anybody who knows anything about working an audience could tell you, last night was a master’s class in mass hypnosis, performed by the Sorcerer Supreme.

The show this tour is a kind of delicious Jambalaya of previous shows, taking home run moments from the past for the entertainment equivalent of what would be a lethal set of combinations in boxing.  He jumped into the audience multiple times, singing, and walking, high-fiving and allowing hands to tap and brush him. At one point he trusted that dancing mob to carry him as he literally surfed the audience in the pit and they carefully, and kind of reluctantly returned him to the stage. He led the audience in multiple sing-alongs often letting the masses sing whole choruses of his songs. He engaged children, complimenting one ten-year old boy for requesting “Badlands” and assuring him that tune was coming, not to fall asleep and granting the boy the day off from school, “You don’t gotta go to school tomorrow, tell ‘em the Boss says so.”

He sweetly (and smartly) brought  a little girl out of the audience to sing “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” with him at one point carrying her on his shoulders and then tenderly with an avuncular kiss returning her to the pit. Bruce also responds to handwritten signs to take requests. He brought a woman on stage to dance with his drummer in response to her written appeal and likewise inviting up an Australian man who wanted to dance with Bruce. One wish was a very nicely done poster board note asking for, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which Bruce granted while wearing the Santa hat that came with the sign. Because he was in the state of Nebraska he played six songs from his _Nebraska_ album once again displaying an attention to detail most artists don’t pursue.

Yet for all those practiced, spontaneous moments he keeps it legitimately fresh too. In his last tour the band played 192 different songs. Last night debuted four songs from that aforementioned vast catalog unplayed so far this tour.  He has added new talent to replace departed players and addresses their absence head-on with solemn reverence that binds him to us, because he misses them as much as we do, but, “what’s a poor boy to do but keep singing his song”? One of the things that struck me was the range of his work on display. Swing, boogie woogie, jazz, zydeco, rock, Irish folk, gospel, country, in the moment it propels the listener ahead, in retrospect it is jaw dropping.

He reads his listeners with an accuracy that is deeply impressive, giving them, himself and the band breaks to regroup, winding everyone up then bringing us back down, then ascending again until that last 30 minute stretch where the house lights are up and you can’t even hear the man because the house is shouting his lyrics back at him in a deafening, hoarse frenzy of pumping arms and rocking bodies.

Moments I can’t get out of my mind:

A chilling, blacklit “State Trooper” that he wailed with a soulful voice and electric guitar. “Mr. state trooper, please don’t stop me, please don’t stop me, please don’t stop me.”

The version of “Highway Patrolman” was brilliant, showing the grey world that he evokes so masterfully so dependably. What is right and wrong? Does the officer pursue his murdering brother because that’s his job? No, he pulls over and watches the tail lights fade into the Canadian border. “Man that turns his back on family, that man he ain’t no good.”

I shrieked like a man celebrating a game ending touchdown when I heard the piano intro to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and whooped with Pentecostal fervor as the band pumped into the big band swing version of “Open all Night.”

At the end of the night I husked out a, “thank you!” or two. Indeed, my voice was gone, my ears were ringing, my hands hurt and I had a good sweat going. I’d have loved if he came back out, but knew that he’d more than fulfilled the contract we made when I bought that ticket after running in the rain back in August.

If last night was my last Bruce show, it was a great exit.

But let’s see what the next tour brings. The Boss can always “rise up,” if he does his part, I’ll do mine.

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The Window

It is Saturday morning. My wife and oldest son are out shopping for school clothes, my youngest son is fed, dressed with chores done waiting on a Scooby Doo marathon to begin. I got the laundry moving and the trash and dishes handled. I’m skipping my breakfast.

This is my window. It is a morning spot where I can write. I write best in the mornings. A friend recently suggested that I write more off-the-cuff, less editing and revision, so we’ll see how that works. Apologies for grammatical snafus and word eras the computer doesn’t catch. The writer is winking at you.

What to work on? I have several manuscripts friends have asked me to look at, I owe letters to people but this is a selfish time, for the next hour or so I can focus on just fiction, creative lies. I’m going to work on my stuff. I have two Fan Fiction pieces that I’m working on. The one is old and has folks asking about it, the other is new and is pretty grim. Only the few fans of my writing that I’ve accumulated are waiting on that one. It’s well written, but oddly sloppier than some of my more controlled, revised, edited efforts. It also scares me. I’m killing two popular characters in the future and examining the lives of their children. I’m spring boarding from another writer’s works into my own fiction. I think that’s what all writers do to some degree. They take what they read by others and go off in their own direction. It’s fun and scary.

This is my blog, I’ve started an essay on today being August 11th the anniversary of my first girlfriend going away to college and all the truths that showed me. That essay needs a lot of work. I’ve been chewing around the idea of James Bond. This year is his 50th anniversary in film. (My son shouts from the living room that Scooby is on and I think about my own youth and the fun I had on Saturday mornings—my fun is different now, but maybe not so much because even then, I watched those shows and then went off and made up my own stories. I’m still doing that today.)

Oh yeah, Bond. I have watched a LOT of Bond over the years, both my wife and I love them, particularly the older Connery and Moore installments. I know the films are fantasy, but how does he juggle all the women? Not the logistics of conquest, heck I understand how to do that. The writer is winking at you. No, how does he handle the conclusion of those relationships? He makes busloads of women fall in love with him over the course of his film adventures, but in every film there are new ones. Doesn’t he get midnight calls from old lovers? Isn’t he stalked? I suppose that license to kill thing might dial down the heat on that angle a bit, but still. Relationships are complicated and relationships that involve sex are more so by an order of magnitude (one of the truths I learned that long ago August 11th).

I have some thoughts on why we write, also,  what drives people to the page when we could just play with our kids, do our chores, sink into the visual hum of the cable signal? Something makes me have to write. I’m pretty sure it isn’t a noble drive, either. I think I write to get attention. Laurence Olivier once explained (my son just raced up concerned that only Scooby and Shaggy are in this episode. Where are the others? He is perplexed seeking answers. Just like all of us I suppose). Oh, yes, Laurence Olivier was asked why people choose the theatre and acting. His answer? He looked right into the enquiring face of Dustin Hoffman who was asking and said, “Why do people choose acting and the theater? Lookatme,lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme.”

Was his response. I think many artists, whether one is strumming a guitar, telling a joke, or making up a story want attention. I do what I do for attention, I want to connect with others. It is human but (four year old has come up to ask questions about the Scooby Doo episode, I explain what little I know from the synopsis in the guide. He is scared of werewolves but buttresses his courage with, “it’s not real” I remind him that Batman will always help if he is needed. Son looks perplexed, states, “But he’s not real,” I feign shock, tearful disappointment, son smiles and reassures me that things will be all right. He goes back to watching Scooby Doo).

Our sprinkler system comes on. There is something wrong with the timer. This needs my attention.

The window is starting to close.

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I Might Have Killed Us All

Almost everyone on the planet is responding to the horror in Colorado. That’s good, because it should be responded to. I’m not referring to raging hatred at the perpetrator, I understand that reaction I just don’t think it has a lot of value.

What’s on my mind is oddly selfish. A common reaction we have is: it could have been me that was in that theatre that night, I get that. That’s partly where all reactions come from: how did it impact me? How do I relate to this event? It could have been me or someone I know or love in that cineplex. That impact is spiderwebbing out and people are becoming aware of how they were touched by one man’s sickness.

No, my reaction came about from my recognition of my own obnoxious behavior patterns. My wife was telling me what she had read about the murderer’s apartment and I realized with shock like a cigarette burn that I might have died that night had I lived in his building. I might have killed everyone in the building because I can be an overbearing jerk.

Let me briefly explain. The murderer wired his apartment stereo to go off SUPER LOUD at approximately the time he was at the theatre indulging his sickness. Residents of the apartment responded by calling the police, knocking on his door, the usual, acceptable responses to obnoxious behavior in a shared space.

My history is such that I might have tried to get into the apartment. I do outrageous, dumb stuff like that. Once when a stereo was playing too loud in my old neighborhood I walked down the street turned the speaker that was facing outside back into the house so the noise was not blasting out to the world. Understandably the owner took exception to this violation of his space and the two of us almost got in a fistfight.

Stupid. Stupid from a lot of angles.

I’m the guy that might climb out on the balcony to see if the patio door is open so I can go in and shut the stereo down. I’d try to figure out a way to get into that apartment to turn off the noise. I wouldn’t break down doors, but my mind looks for an angle to exploit, a backdoor. That outlook makes me a good problem solver.  I might very well have looked for some way into that apartment that night.

I’m told Colorado murderer had his apartment wired to blow. Right now they think there’s enough explosives in that apartment to take out the building and beyond. If I had acted in my own ass-hat over-the-top manner I might have tripped one of these explosives and killed everyone in that building.

And stupid would be my legacy, not problem solver, not good dad or whatever label I might have earned when I’m gone. Worse there would be another spiderwebbing of grief out amongst a larger roster of victims. That’s what I’m thinking about today.

The world is a complicated, dangerous place.

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Job Opportunity

This week I was asked if I would be available to teach some sections of World Lit or Rhetoric and Composition. It wasn’t an offer of a job, but could my name be put in a hat with others when the work becomes a reality (funding approved).

I have a full-time job so I would be doing this in an adjunct capacity. I’ve done it before and I really love it. I love it for reasons that are good and bad. The good is, I think I’m qualified, and I do an above average job. I usually get back solid evaluations and some students remember the class as having been beneficial (or so they tell me).I haven’t employed more scientific methods of measuring my success so it is possible that I suck. The less noble or bad reason I teach is that it is kind of an ego trip. I like standing in front of a room and running my mouth. I try to make sure that the lesson is at the forefront and the student comes away having been given a quality product in the academy. I am careful to be sure that I’m not simply hosting the _The J. Show_ but I would not be honest if I denied the ego massaging portion of it all. Maybe someday I will out grow that part.

But I’m not putting my name in the hat. While my family could use the extra income, the hours one must put in teaching even three credit hours are substantial. Preparing lectures, assignments, reading papers, responding to students fairly and wisely, coaching and grading, all the things that teachers do take a lot of time to do it right let alone doing it well.

Time. As I mature (okay, get older) the scarcity of time is an ever more obvious theme. My day job demands my full attention, my home has a wife and children that need me to participate and contribute. To be present and effective in those endeavors takes time.

If I add the teaching component I end up too divided and not contributing fully and robustely to any of my commitments. The students in my class are cheated by half-assed instruction, my boss gets half-assed management of his staff and projects, my wife suffers a half-assed husband-partner, and my children endure half-assed parenting.

All of which is uncool.

The right thing to do is easy to see, but hard to do.

 

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Secret Identity

I’ve been writing fan fiction for the last year and change. As I work to revive my writing habits and ambitions it has been instrumental in getting me motivated and inspired. My problem is that I’m writing under an assumed name. As such I’ve been living a kind of dual life. I write as J. D. Rummel, my published works are under that name, I give public readings under that name. When I write under the fanfcition name I am oddly liberated. Any baggage is dropped and I can write stuff that J. D. Rummel can’t get away with.

More later, oldest boy has to get tucked in.

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Gladware?

Today I advised Amy that I was going to re-org the Gladware so the space was better used and that the total volume of Gladware was reduced substantially.

Wow. If I suggested I throwing out the children I’m not sure I could have gotten a more rigorous response.

Married people fight. I don’t think that’s a secret. I’m a married man and I’m on vacation. When I’m on vacation all I really wanna do is stuff I wanna do. I’m not attempting to justify or defend it here. I’m sure many viewpoints will differ. That’s cool.

We just fought about Gladware. I’m calling it Gladware but it’s various brands, really. You know the stuff, the plastic containers that we use to keep leftovers for storage or travel.  We have too much Gladware. We have two shelves worth in our kitchen. We use maybe a quarter of it.  I do the overwhelming majority of the dishes at the house. That is by mutual agreement with my wife. So I’m the guy that has to wash and re-stock the Gladware.

I’m making a stand, dammit.

 

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It’s Sunday mo…

It’s Sunday morning, July 1st, the second week of vacation begins. My days are incredibly short. I have a lot of things that nibble on my time, like piranha they swarm and take lots of tiny bites. Some are just stupid distractions: e-mail, Facebook, ego trip detours. Others are more real and substantive. I have a wife and two young sons, all of whom expect and require my participation in their lives. 

And it begins early today. Farewell.

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July 1, 2012 · 9:19 AM

Getting Started

Working on being a blogger. I need something that will keep me writing in a disciplined manner. This might be it.

 

NOTE: The contents of House of J. are copyright 2012 by J. D. Rummel. Use of any material contained therein is expressly forbidden without the written permission of the author.

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