I paid to see a rapist once, only I didn’t know it at the time.
To be more specific, my parents paid for the excursion and came with me.
I had to come to grips with that this morning when I got the “Bill Cosby told a woman ‘you have to be careful about drinking around me’” story in my CNN feed.
Cosby is still packing shows across the continent with his “I’m Far From Finished” comedy tour. He’s also packing parking lots and sidewalks with protestors who won’t let him forget that they haven’t forgotten about the rape allegations leveled against him.
I’ve dodged the Cos issue a lot in my writing and in my mind because knowing something and believing something aren’t the same as resigning yourself to something.
I was about 13 when my parents offered me anything I wanted for my “eighth-grade graduation” present. I had my eye on a shiny Cleveland Indians Starter Jacket and some cool baseball equipment, but I chose tickets to see Bill Cosby without any reservation. He was coming to Milwaukee’s Marcus Amphitheater that June as part of the Bear Aid charity event and mom and dad took me out there.
I had loved Bill Cosby since I was about 8 and I heard his “Himself” routine on cassette. I played the thing over and over and over until my Walkman ate it.
At an estate sale a year or so later, I found a treasure trove of his classic records: “Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Man. RIGHT!” “Why is there Air?” “Revenge!” “I Started Out as a Child.” They all came home with me and I played them on the old record player in our computer room, filling in the gaps in his routines with my own thoughts when the scratches obscured his words.
Every time we went on a trip of an extended length, I was allowed one new tape and one book. I always bought a Bill Cosby tape, adding “Wonderfulness” and “To My Brother Russell Who I Slept With” to my mix. After my parents listened to it and made sure it was OK, they allowed me to buy the “Bill Cosby: For Adults Only” tape. Turns out, you get more “filthy” stuff on TV these days when compared to Cosby’s foray into the late-night show comedy.
The show was my chance to see the master in living color.
June in Wisconsin is a variable time for weather and the amphitheater was an outdoor venue. The temperature dropped to near freezing and we bundled up in coats and hats and gloves to see the man, as they refused to cancel the show.
As we were looking for our gate, my dad (ever the joker) said to me, “Hey there goes Bill Cosby!” I figured he was pointing at some random black guy just to punk me, but when I scoffed, Dad yelled out, “Hey, Mr. Cosby!”
The man turned to us. It was really The Man.
He was clad in only a thin suit and was smoking a cigar. Without removing the lit tobacco product from his mouth, he called back in a semi-muffled voice, “How you doin’ there, sir?” He then walked on.
I don’t remember much about that night other than when he walked on the stage he was bundled up in what I can only assume to be something an intern was forced to go find for him. He wore a lined, satin Milwaukee Bucks jacket, Bucks stocking cap and thick gloves. He still had his suit pants and dress shoes on. His opening lines were about how he got off a plane less than 24 hours ago and how the hell did the weather change this much in that amount of time?
I laughed at that line and anything else he said for the next three hours.
I can’t think about that event now and even think about laughing.
I saw a rapist that day. I have finally come to grips with that. And although I’m sure my pain is nothing compared to the pain of his victims, this final resignation still hurts.
I know defenders of Cosby, like Felicia Rashad, will argue that this is really just an overarching attempt to tear down the man’s legacy.
I know people still think he’s a funny man and that whatever comes of this set of allegations (or the next set or the set after that) can’t diminish his role as a break-through African-American entertainer and living legend.
I know that in this country we are all innocent until proven guilty by a jury of our peers and that none of this is likely to ever see a courtroom so we will never truly “prove” what we hear every day from protestors and accusers alike.
But I also know what I learned from A so many years ago when she was covering the sex scandals of the Catholic church.
I once asked her, “How do you KNOW when an allegation is true and when it’s not? I mean, when you publish an accusation, obviously there will be push back, but how do you know who’s right?”
I use her answer as an example in every class I teach about reporting:
“When you publish a fair and balanced story about an allegation, if nothing else happens, it might not be 100 percent perfect or the priest might not be the guy. However, when you publish a fair and balanced story and the allegation is true, you know it because these guys never do it once and they almost always do it the same way.”
She told me how stories of kids being offered baseball tickets in exchange for molestation and stories of how kids were given ridiculously specific rules for seeing the priest and why the kid should never speak of it. In each case, when one person cracked the shell of silence, more virtually identical stories came flooding in.
Cosby’s accusers are telling the same stories. They vary enough to know the people aren’t copying notes, but the stories mirror one another in a way that should leave almost no doubt in the minds of anyone who is paying attention to this.
I paid to see a rapist once. I don’t think I’ll ever be OK with that.
I just wonder how people can continue to pay for that “privilege.”