OF BRIEF ENCOUNTERS…

I told you about the Prince and our brief encounter (which I will continue, perhaps tendentiously, to refer to the Charles’s only on-the-record “interview”) during a brief state visit to Boston.

A disgraced prince of the entertainment kingdom came within earshot of me once as well. I speak of Bill Cosby, comedian, actor, author — now serving prison time for aggravated indecent assault. He seemed — and still seems — a tragically unlikely person to have so deliberately committed the outrages of which he was convicted. But the evidence, being the testimony of several women, seemed irrefutable and damnable, not to mention shocking and disappointing.

But, during a very different period in his formerly brilliant show business career, he paid a visit to Boston — specifically East Boston — on a good will mission the nature or purpose of which I frankly don’t recall at the moment. But I do know I was assigned to cover the appearance. I’d estimate it was around 1997. I believe I was freelancing for WBZ-TV at the time.

It was another rainy day. Dignitaries including the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who in some fashion was also involved in the event and cause being advanced, were on hand to greet Cosby and share the stage with him. It all had something to do with the promotion of education, because the venue was a school. Cosby was known to support numerous philanthropic and educational causes, among them Keep a Child Alive, Jumpstart, Boys&Girls Clubs of American,etc.

And so, there I was with other reporters waiting in the rather dark hallway of an East Boston public school as Cosby, surrounded by his hosts, came toward us. I said, once he was in earshot, “Mr. Cosby, what are you doing in here today?”

“It’s raining,” he said, and kept walking amid great laughter. That was all he’d have to say to reporters that day, if memory serves me.

No serious criminal charges had been lodged against him at that point — for drugging and assaulting a number of women over a number of years. But there had been a woman somewhere in the country, not long before this event, who had publicly accused him of fathering her child. A legal battle had ensued.

That was the context for a lighthearted moment during the formal program in the school’s auditorium ( for presentation of a check or award or something). A woman in about the second rose to compliment Cosby for his work and also, for some reason ( I forget what reason) called attention to the fact that she had her small child with her that day. Cosby rose from his seat, walked to the edge of the stage, peered out at the child, barely visible above the tops of the seats, and quipped, “nope, not mine.”

Laughter rang out again, Ted Kennedy’s among the loudest.

It is so sad, thinking of that moment, that so funny and once so beloved and charitable a figure — a man who, for over a generation, shed so much light in the world — should have turned out to have such a dark side.

But, along with Prince Charles, I once occupied his consciousness for a fragment of a second. I pray for his victims, and for his soul.

And I’ll always remember the famous stand-up routine of a very young, new-to-the-scene Bill Cosby in which he pretends to be Noah in his arc during The Flood, cooped up with all those animals, bitterly complaining to God, “have you seen the bottom of that arc? Who’s going to clean up that mess?”

THE PRINCE AND ME

Once upon a time — on a “a dark and stormy night” — listen, call it a cliche’, the classic embodiment of “bad writing,” but I kind of like that old chestnut. It’s so — evocative.

Nonetheless, I’ll amend it to say that it was just a “dark night,” (and, of course what night isn’t dark unless you happen to be in the Antarctic?)

But I digress….though this will be, ultimately, about the weather.

So, once again, it was a dark – and rainy – night in Boston. Prince Charles was visiting the city. Yes, that Prince Charles! A big deal.

This was before Diana, or maybe after the marriage but before the car wreck and subsequent royal train wreck. Before Camilla -and all that rot. It was way before William and Catherine, and way before Harry and Meaghan, much less Louis and Archie. Charles was still a mighty august figure, pure, young, and generally grandly admired. That gray pall of scandal and decadence had yet to descend upon the empire.

I was working the night shift for Boston’s Channel 7, standing out of the rain in a gaggle of reporters and photographers corralled alongside the bright, red carpeted, canopied walkway leading in and out the Copley Plaza Hotel, waiting for the prince to emerge. He was in that elegant old hostelry for some kind of meeting with some kind of notable, just who — well, I forget.

Anyway, as we reporters waited, Channel 4’s Dan Rea, standing beside me with his photographer, suggested we put our heads together, figuratively speaking, and come up with something we could ask the heir to the British throne — on this dark and rainy night. Alas, we’d been told already that the prince would be giving NO public interviews. Of course that never stifled any reporter worth his or her salt from throwing something at the wall.

At long last, Charles, that boney, universally familiar escutcheon of the Anglosphere, strode out in all his magical royal splendor. Cameras flashed. TV cameras rolled. In seconds, in suit and tie and without raincoat, he was out in the darkness and a light drizzle, opening — or having opened for him — the door of his limousine. An obedient, unwonted, perhaps despairing silence reigned among us news people, seeing absolutely no chance to ask anything, however trivial, in hope of a royal reaction. Besides, we barely had time.

Yet I, a notorious shrinking violet when it came to breaching protocol, decided to seize the slippery moment and at least pass the time of day.

“Your Highness,” I yelled, “what do you think of the Boston weather? ” Charles, at that point — as noted — poised to climb into his limo, surprised me by looking my way quizzically and indulgently, apparently willing, on the humble behalf of a representative of all commoners everywhere, to breach the iron ground rules against public comments. He tilted one of his famously huge ears my way, indicating he wished me to repeat the question. Which I did, deliberately, pounding each banal word.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE BOSTON WEATHER?”

“Not much,” was the reply from Bonnie Prince Charlie, not without a touch of British drollery, after which he ducked into the limo and was gone.

But I’d gotten what I wanted — to my knowledge, the prince’s ONLY on-the-record interview during that long-ago state visit. It was slightly less substantive than my pre-performance press availability with Tony Bennett in a Symphony Hall back stairwell.

“Tony,” I asked, “have you ever left your heart in Boston?”

“No,” he said. “I still haven’t found it in San Francisco.”

The prince, by contrast, left two words. For me.

And, after all, what do Bostonians talk about when they want to break the ice with a stranger? Why, the weather, of course. Remind me to try it on Tony Bennett the next time I see him.

RIOTS

I gather Minneapolis is braced for a repeat of riotous devastation and flames if the mob doesn’t like the verdict handed down for the offending police officer. What juror cannot be aware of what might await them if they should fail, not just to convict, but to deliver the harshest of possible verdicts, even if the evidence doesn’t support it. Of course, it may or may not support it. I’m not there to judge. I just see a dynamic playing out that is poisonous to the American rule of law and the imperative of a fair trial and equality before the law. I see the incipient reign of intimidation and mob rule threatening our democracy. I am not alone, I’m sure.

I understand Minneapolis used to be a great place and that everyone of every race and creed pretty much got along.

In 1968, following the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, there were major episodes of political violence in Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Louisville, New York City, Pittsburgh, Trenton, Washington and Wilmington. These came on the heels of the long, hot summer that was the summer of 1967 in which 43 people died and more than 1000 were injured in Detroit riots. There were 26 killed in Newark. Atlanta, Birmingham, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cininnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York City. Rochester and Toledo also erupted. There were a total of 159 riots that summer. It is my sense that Dr. King’s gospel of non-violence and peaceful resistance, so seeming effective to that point, was rapidly losing g round to the radical voices in the minority community — and to violence.

(I was working for the National Parks in California that summer of 1967 between my junior and senior years in college in Boston. The closest I came to the riots was to see black and white newsreel footage of burning Detroit up on the screen of a Fresno drive-in theatre. In San Francisco that summer, it was the Summer of Love. It is so unfortunate that the Love didn’t get spread around. However, the previous summer in Hunter Point, San Francisco, there was a neighborhood insurrection after police shot a youth fleeing the scene of a stolen car.)

What do riots and racial unrest and civic destruction of fear do for a city? Well, Detroit has yet to recover. The median family income of black households in Detroit sank to the ground in the 1970s, and my reading suggests to me that that was not because of a normal dip or rise in the local economy and a consequent uptick in unemployment. Rather, it was because much of the black middle class left the city in the wake of the riots.

The story repeated itself in other American cities: the flight of a black middle class combined with rampant white flight leading to a sharp change in the racial composition of urban cores, low black employment and wages, high rates of black incarceration and, generally, worsening unemployment. And, of course, crime, violence and gangs.

Are the riots about poverty and police procedures? They can’t be entirely ruled out as factors. So, too, a sense of powerlessness among blacks. This, I submit, can’t be cured by legislation, more generous health insurance subsidies or by a duplicitous, Marxist movement with an agenda that would dismantle the nuclear family, and foist modern gender-related issues on us, regarding them equal to a call for an end to police violence against blacks. Matters might be marginally improved by more community-oriented policing and cop-community interpersonal relations ( the sorrowful recordings of a weeping, erratic, likely drug-addled George Floyd begging for understanding makes me wish some one of those cops had stopped the whole procedure and talked with the man, reassured him he was not a bad man — even if he was not, as we know, a man free of a criminal history. His story, and so much of the story of the inner city, is a story of drug addiction. Why else would a guy bother to pass a paltry fake $20 bill other than to feed his drug habit. What happened to him was unjust and damnable. I would love to see a remorseful cop on the stand, but whatever his attitude, he deserves a fair trial every bit as much as George Floyd deserved to live.)

Something I think, based on clear evidence, that would help: the shoring up of families, black and white, and the involvement of churches. The Civil Right Movement led by ML King was a religious movement. But Matthews gospel comes to mind –“since the time of John the Baptist, the Kingdom of God has been subject to violence, and the violent bear it away ( meaning, evil does triumph) — but not for ever. Not for the long haul.

So, will we see riots? Would they serve any purpose? Of course they would. A very bleak, evil and destructive purpose — which is the purpose of all anarchy — as our national divide gradually widens to becomes a Grand Canyon.

STONE SOUP

(Note: to readers of this blog. I plan — and fervidly hope — to update it every Monday without fail. By update, I mean, add a new entry. I am adding this one on a Thursday, but it will, for better or worse, live the life of a gypsy moth, (or, borrowing from the subject covered below, a Gloucester lobster), for it will be gone next Monday. So, read up! Sorry for the ramble. We’ll call it a — meditation.)

In October of 2020, Rolling Stone magazine interviewed the Dalai Lama. It’s a single page, seven questions and answers alongside a picture of His Holiness, displaying a smile I characterize as somewhere between serenely abashed and gently sardonic. It was as if he looked out and saw the manner of person who’d be seeing that picture, i.e., readers of Rolling Stone. Yes, quite a bunch, your Holiness. And not what you’d call a religious crowd. But some form of Buddhism seems regnant among them, in my experience.

Allow me, briefly, to digress — or go on digressing:

I once visited a Tibetan Buddhist manastery in Medford, Mass as part of a memorable story I’d done as a TV reporter about a grand gesture of animal compassion carried out by the monks of this Medford address, (actually a large Victorian in a quiet neighborhood.) They had traveled north to the port of Gloucester, laid out some $1000 and purchased dozens of Gloucester lobsters, removed the pegs that keep them from pinching their market handlers and released them in waters off the city to live another day or more.

The captain and jolly crew of a Gloucester lobster boat got word of this, found it very amusing and the next day, as they set out to sea, recorded themselves jokingly announcing their day’s agenda to be the “catching of Buddhist lobsters.” The crew member/ photographer, in a fateful misjudgement, decided the video was worth of posting on Youtube — where it went viral, enflaming the sensitivities of Buddhist adherents of varying degrees of orthodoxy or those who just thought these nautical wags were mocking someone’s religion.

Once embarked on the story over the ensuing furor, we found the poor boat captain sitting on a folding chair in his blacktop driveway in Nahant, Mass, farther down the coast. We were to be about his fourth TV interview. He was smiling and looking (here’s that word again) abashed, if exhausted — and I’ll add, grandly chastened — and full of multiple apologies. He seemed himself a gentle, inoffensive family man and product of hard-working fisherman stock who invited us to come back anytime for free lobsters and, of the Buddhist lobster hunt, said repeatedly, “we were just kidding around … we didn’t mean any harm. We love everybody — and those Buddhist love everybody, too. And we love them.”

And, of course, he knew but did not say what anybody with common sense knew — that those Buddhist-liberated lobsters were hardly distinguishable from the thousands upon thousands of their crustacian cousins on the sea floor and were merrily on their way far off the coast.

I guess what offended some pockets of the mass public was just the idea that the Buddhist’s tradition and universal practice of “life release” was being mocked, this being the prayerful ritual of saving the lives of animals that are destined for slaughter. How wonderful!h For my money, it seemed, though merely symbolic, far more venerable and worthy of respect than the antic annual ritual of pardoning a turkey on the White House lawn.

Prior to talking to the lobsterman, I first went to the Buddhist monastery where a few young monks relaxing on the wide front porch agreed to fetch the geshe, or chief monk, for me. How deeply — that word again — abashed (and sardonically amused) I was when this cheerful, bare-shouldered, orange saffron-clad man took one look at me and exclaimed, “ah, Greg Wayland.” Oh, how deeply gratifying it was to be recognized by a Buddhist geshe — and to know that they watch TV news in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. (Sure enough, I soon spotted their big old Sony Trinitron TV.)

I sat down with the geshe and his American, non-Tibetan assistant and they said they held no animosity toward the Gloucester fishermen, but only hoped they might come to understand — perhaps even embrace — this practice of letting living things, in this case destined to go into the broiler or head first into boiling water — live a little while longer, or perhaps forever. That, at least, is my recollection of our conversation in a serene downstairs room. (I suppose those fisherman could move inland and raise vegetables.)

Upshot: I love Buddhist, and Gloucester fishermen. (I never did go back for those free lobsters. That would have been — unethical. And, frankly, eating lobster, from my point of view (blue crabs are even worse) amounts to cutting your finger on sharp shards of lobster shell, squeezing a lemon on the wound in the process of squeezing it on the lobster, and, of course dipping the lobster flesh–extracted with great difficulty with assorted culinary tools — in melted butter in order to give it taste otherwise lacks.

Alright, maybe it’s not all that bad. Maybe upon occasions I have enjoyed lobster — but I’m still staring at that bug-eyed creature as I eat, knowing that only minutes before he had been crawling about in a tank with its buddies. ( Was it Whole Food that said they would not sell lobster anymore, because life crowded together in a tank was too streesful for them?) Now, I don’t here intend to anthropormorphicize (sp?) a crustacean that we mortals have been eating and enjoying for centuries. Perhaps I might, for the fun of it, like to read David Foster Wallace’s essay, “Consider the Lobster” to get that sensitive soul’s take on the practice of eating what is essentially a big bug but, perhaps, no less worthy of our consideration and respect– or at least as much as the human fetus, though we have not yet taken to eating those. (It was long ago brought to my attention that the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was very fond of the Greek delicacy breast of fetal lamb. I guess if I can’t stand the heat of our civilizational demise I should stay out of the kitchen.)

Now, back to His Holiness’s cameo in the pages of Rolling Stone. This was just prior to the November U.S. election. The last question put to him by Rolling Stone writer Alex Morris was, “if you were to meet Donald Trump, is there something you’d like to say?” (All journalistic roads, then and now, seem inevitably to lead back to Donald Trump.)

“Today,” answered the Dalai Lama, “my number-one commitment is, try to promote a sense of oneness of 7 billion human beings…(W)hen he became president, he mentioned ‘America First’ — with that I have some reservation.”

Well, so be it. So doesn’t the rest of the world, many thousands of whom seem intent on crossing borders and joining us here in our oneness.

Then, after talk of children playing together and having no sense of “their nation” or “my religion,” he again calls for oneness — and “warmheartedness.”

Who can’t like that? But, did you ever see warmhearted children fighting over toys, your Holiness? Or lobsters fighting with one another? (Did those furloughed Gloucester lobsters fold up their claws and thereafter abstain from all conflict in their eat–or-be- eaten ocean universe?)

Let me just end with this: Protecting innocent life, especially innocent human life at all stages — I wish we could all agree on that. Then, your Holiness, we can work on being vegetarian and strive to leave the lobsters at peace in their watery homes. Amen.