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 row 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.

I am sad recalling that moment; sad 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’m pleased that I once occupied his consciousness for a fragment of a second, standing in that hallway, calling out to him, just another reporter. I think of it as a particle of fellowship after which I can now pray for his soul and, more importantly, pray for his victims.

And as I review this at a later date, I’m aware that he is now, for however long, out of prison while a judge reviews appeals related to the conduct of his trial. He may or may not ever go back to his earthly prison, but will never escape, as none of us will, God’s judgement on our earthly deeds, thoughts and intentions.

Meanwhile, I can’t escape the happy memory of the famous comic stand-up routine of a very young, new-to-the-scene Bill Cosby in which he pretends to be the Biblical Noah, ordered to build his are and gather up the animals in anticipation of The Flood. Soon, cooped up with scores of animals, he bitterly complaining to God, “have you seen the bottom of that arc? Who’s going to clean up that mess?”

Cosby’s Noah remained aggressively skeptical of God’s power and judgement, and of the notion that there could ever be such a cataclysmic, world ending flood in which it will rain for forty days and forty nights. He scoff at his Maker, hilariously suggesting that He save water by having it rain for only twenty days and twenty nights and just let the sewers back up.

But Noah’s skepticism abruptly vanishes when rain drops begin to pelt his face. “You and me, God,” he says in newborn faith, and we laugh and the routine is over.

But now, come to think of it, one has to pray that Bill Cosby is feeling those raindrops of remorse before the onset of God’s judgement.

Head for the arc, Bill. Come clean.

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