Chasing the Future, Part 2

Read this post from yesterday first to get the big picture.

Schnebley Hill Road

If my honesty is going to be questioned, my ethics suspected, my credentials challenged, I really would like it to be by someone I don’t like. And preferably by someone who’s wrong, too.

When it’s a family member, and more than one, it hurts. I’ve got feelings like anybody else.

This happens from time to time. People have accused me of all sorts of things after I’ve written columns, and, as Dorothy said about elements of Oz, some of them aren’t very nice.

But I wrote a column two weeks ago about a chance encounter with Chevy Chase and a missed meeting with Imogene Coca, and both my mother and my brother had a question, which essentially was, “Did you make that up?”

My own mother.

I can see where there’s room for doubt. Two famous people show up in a little dinner theater in Flagstaff, Arizona in the early 1980s on the same night? What are the odds?

Of course, if one (no one in particular, now) were to simply go to the Internet Movie Database and enter “Chevy Chase,” then pair him with Imogene Coca, the answer would pop up immediately.

“National Lampoon’s Vacation,” released in 1983. Click on “filming locations” and you find three sites in Northern Arizona, one of them the Grand Canyon and another Flagstaff.

But these are only statistics. There’s got to be a little trust, people.

Like anyone who’s reached my stage of life and finds that the names of his kids sometimes go missing and his keys are always somewhere else, my memory can be faulty. And from time to time I exaggerate a situation for a joke, or compress events to save room, but I do not make stuff up. OK, mom?

I actually went to IMDB to check this little experiment out, and I realized that the third filming location in Arizona for that movie was a story, too, and that my chasing Chevy episode had a little coda.

Schnebley Hill Road runs east-west, from downtown Sedona, Arizona to I-17. It has great vistas of red rock formations, but it’s unpaved and bumpy and has little car traffic. I’d guess it’d be ideal for filming, capturing a little Southwest color without a crowd.

In the Schnebley scene, the Clark Griswald family is traveling west toward Walley World when they discover that Grandma (Coca) in the backseat has ceased to exist, so to speak. Kicked the bucket. Shuffled off this mortal coil.

Brakes are slammed and the four viable Griswalds exit in a timely fashion. Push “pause” now. This is the exact spot, an insignificant mark in the middle of nowhere, on Schnebley Hill Road, where 20 years ago today I got married.

Honestly. I have pictures and everything.

By “today” I mean Wednesday, the day this paper is published. You may be reading this after the fact. You could still send a card or something. No problem.

We didn’t realize our wedding spot would be a part of cinematic history. We just thought it was pretty, and we had to get married somewhere.

We didn’t HAVE to get married. You know what I mean.

It was small, some friends and family. My father-in-law hung wind chimes on a tree branch and the breeze provided our music. It was a short wedding, perhaps because that part of the country is famous for midday summer storms and the clouds looked threatening; maybe the minister rushed it a little.

My brother and his family, driving up from Phoenix, actually missed the vows, so maybe this is why he questioned my Chevy story, I don’t know. Maybe he has doubts about whether I’m actually married.

I am.

I know a 25th anniversary is “silver,” and that a 50th is “gold.” I was told what the 20th is but I forgot. It would be nice if it was “cash” but that’s probably not the case.

I have no explanations for how we made it 20 years, other than by turning calendar pages and hanging on for dear life. Our road has occasionally been unpaved and bumpy, too, but there have also been some spectacular vistas. Births. Friends. Challenges. Laughter and music.

So we can sigh a little today, take a deep breath, and look at where we’ve been, and whom.

I have no insight into the future, but I remember the past all right. If 20 years have dimmed some details, I still know the important things. It was a Saturday, July 30, 1983. It was a day that started off sunny and then gradually grayed. It was a working day, with a show to do that night. It was a day we shared with my grandmother, marking her birthday.

It was the day we got married on the side of Schnebley Hill Road, simply and quietly, late in the morning, surrounded by people who loved us, exchanging inexpensive rings and serious words, finishing just minutes before it began to rain.

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Chasing the Future, Part 1

There are still stories I haven’t told, believe it or not. Especially when it comes to romance, and particularly when it comes to mine and hers.

And maybe someday I will. I can say that it was stressful, and sort of stop-and-go, and lots of backing off and keeping our distance, wondering if what we were considering – which seemed, and of course was, life changing – was just plain crazy or only a little crazy.

But for another day. Since I’m on the road, I’ll post these two oldies but maybe goodies from 2003, two columns I wrote over the course of three weeks…it’s pretty self explanatory. And old stuff for some of you. There are celebrities, though, and then red rocks and vows and 32 years. Might be a story there.


Chasing Chevy

We tend to think of humor as universal and constant; we’ve always laughed at the same sort of things, we think, from Shakespeare to Saturday Night Live, but this isn’t entirely true.

Humor is also evolutionary, topical and even transitional, changing with cultures and the way we think about our lives. Some things aren’t funny anymore, and we wonder how they ever were.

Same thing with comedians. We get used to them, get used to their timing and shtick, and we want something new. We can be fickle.

So it was a pleasure to see Sid Caesar on “Larry King” a few weeks ago. I laughed a lot, and I’m a hard laugh to get.

At 80, he looked decades younger and was as funny as ever. I’m actually not sure what was better, watching him improvise with Larry or seeing the clips from “Your Show of Shows,” fifty years earlier and recently restored.

It was before my time, but I’ve seen some of it and always found it funny, even after all these years. And why not? Talent surrounded Caesar, writing and performing: Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Neil Simon, and Mel Brooks, even Woody Allen for a time. When they call 1950s television The Golden Years, “Show of Shows” was a large reason why.

Then there was Imogene Coca. She passed away a year or so ago, and her career never quite matched her Caesar days, but Imogene Coca laid the groundwork for Carol Burnett and the ones who came later. Lucy was a bigger name, but Coca had more range. She was the perfect partner, just as quick and just as funny as Sid.

As I say, Sid Caesar and his company were of a different generation. I came of age with Robin Williams, John Belushi, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman, and to some extent George Carlin (he was an evolver, and bridged two eras). This was the age of conceptual humor, an outgrowth of the 60s, taunting convention and a lot of times really funny. Some of them will have legacies, and some won’t.

Thinking about this reminded me of something that happened 20 years or so ago, though, and about comedy and celebrity and mostly about how I stupid I can be.

My wife and I were working at a dinner theater in Northern Arizona over the summer. It was just tourist entertainment, songs and skits, but I made (I think) 50 bucks a night plus tips, and I wasn’t flipping burgers. I had a lot of fun.

One night, Chevy Chase came in for dinner. He’d been making a movie in the area, and he slipped in for a steak at the end of what I assume was a long day.

He didn’t come to see our show, but just sat in the dining room next door. I snuck around during breaks to try to get a glimpse, and I just hoped he had a leisurely dinner and would still be there after our final bows.

Our audiences were mostly visitors from the RV park next door, but they always seemed to enjoy the show. As we finished our final number that night, and I was eying the exit, hoping that Chevy was still eating, in the middle of the audience an elderly woman was standing up and hollering “Bravo!” People did this sometimes, and as cast members it was part of our job to mingle, thank them, etc.

So this was my chance, and I took it. Everyone headed for this nice old lady, and I snuck through the door, raced through the bathrooms, and still in costume I caught up with Chevy as he was heading out the door.

He was taller than I thought, wearing a baseball cap. He pretended to walk into a wall for the benefit of the few of us hanging around, and then he was out the door. My brush with greatness.

You could call Chevy Chase the Sid Caesar of his generation, I suppose, but you’d probably have to owe him money or be related to him. I don’t mean to be hypercritical, but his career, aside from a few hot spots, has been spotty and pretty mediocre. I wanted to see a famous comedian, though, and you never know when you’ll get a chance.

You never know.

Looking back now, I just shake my head. I’ve learned, I hope, to have a better appreciation of talent, and longevity and endurance. I’ve learned that the flash of the moment is sometimes just that, a flash, and that time will tell.

Seeing Sid Caesar the other night reminded me of that. It reminded me that people who make us laugh should be treasured, particularly when they’ve done it for a long time and are really good at it.

And it reminded me of the night 20 years ago, the night I chased after Chevy, too young and too dumb to imagine that a little old lady in the other room might have had an idea or two about comedy.

The night Imogene Coca gave us a standing ovation, and I missed it.

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Tick Tock

I’ve been a member of three counseling groups, all for treatment of alcoholism. The first was an outpatient program, when we met three times a week for about 90 minutes over the course of two months.

The second was follow-up care for the first, once a week for an hour.

The third was the big time, inpatient treatment, in which we met for twice a day for about an hour, for 21 straight days.

On all three occasions, and from the beginning – and this could be my peculiar self or a perfectly ordinary reaction, I have no idea – I was aware of the little game of human Tetris we were playing.

It wasn’t a class, with a set beginning and ending. It was an ongoing group with a determined length of stay, so some sessions we’d get new people and say goodbye to familiar faces that were leaving. Sometimes things stayed the same, but not for long.

In particular, during my inpatient time, I was acutely aware of what was about to happen as soon as I joined my group, already in session. I looked around at the other 8 guys, and I knew how this would work. I’d get to know some of them well, others pretty well. We’d become friends of a sort, making similar journeys with completely different stories and possible outcomes. We were a group.
And exactly three weeks from that first moment, I knew I’d sit in that same room and look around at eight different faces. Faces I hadn’t met yet.
It’s just time. Time can freak you out, especially if you’re vulnerable. It will always carry you to another place, regardless of what effort if any you put into the project.

When we moved into this house 27 summers ago, we had 10 neighbors (we had more, of course, up and down the street, but these were the houses adjacent to us), not counting a small child who made me a little crazy (I’m sure she’s a fine adult now). Five couples, three houses and two duplexes. We knew each other and got along, helped each other out and borrowed tools, etc.

Now two of them are left. The duplex couples were closer to our age and eventually bought their own houses for their expanding families. One neighbor died after being struck by a drunk driver; her husband passed away a few years later, but he never returned to their house, which stayed vacant for seven years.

Another neighbor took ill and then died about five years ago, and then 10 days ago we lost another.

This was bound to happen. Unlike the counseling groups, though, I never thought about it. It never even crossed my mind until this recent death, when I thought, “And now there are two,” as if we’re survivors. I guess we are. I guess we all are.
On the night we got married, my mother-in-law, happy and talkative, did a reasonably quick calculation. “Let’s see…when you two celebrate your 25th anniversary, I’ll be…”

She was trying to be optimistic, my mother-in-law. She had no way of knowing, having just met me the day before, not knowing my family or much of my history, probably a little worried that her daughter was having some sort of generational crisis at the age of 28. Or maybe she’d made a good choice.

She made a great choice. If you’re asking me.

I can’t remember what we did for our 25th anniversary. Probably something simple. We appreciate moments like this, days that slip off the calendar and into permanent storage, but we don’t go crazy. My mother-in-law sent a card.

She sent another one the other day. Tomorrow marks 32 years. We won human Tetris.

We’re heading out of town, down to Salem, Oregon, where Julie is teaching a workshop. We’ll spend our 32nd wedding anniversary in a Howard Johnson’s.

But we’ll hook up with my brother and his wife as they head north from southern Oregon to Portland, and I have a high school friend who lives in Salem; we’ll meet up at some point, if just to hug and say hi.

And then Friday we go back north to Portland, a short drive, where we’ll meet old and dear friends for a real anniversary dinner, staying at a real anniversary hotel.

But anywhere, with anybody: Doesn’t matter. I just know that 32 years ago, I wasn’t thinking this far ahead. Sometimes you won’t, and sometimes you can’t, but the nice part is that it’s surprise time from here on out.


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The Manual

I wrote a column last week in which, and not for the first time, I complained that we were shoved into this world without an instruction manual. Not even a FAQ.

There are plenty of baby books. A couple of them were really helpful when we first became parents. Milestones to watch for, explanations for certain bizarre toddler behavior, some health advice. What with these and grandparents and other people who had gone through early parenthood, we were fine. Parents have materials.


But we don’t. Our parents are too busy trying to feed us and keep us out of prison to have much time to carefully explain what stage of maturity we’ve reached, and so we’re essentially on our own, aside from maybe a lecture on flossing and some sort of discussion about basic sexuality when that awkward time comes (it stays awkward).

My point, as always, is that it would be nice. It would be useful. It would be handy, that’s all. Just to have a head’s up.

Oh, but we’re Americans. We’re all individuals as a birthright, rugged or not. We are snowflakes, each slightly different with our trajectories best explained, maybe, by quantum mechanics and waveforms of probability than a pamphlet that explains what’s likely to happen when you turn 50. Who knows?

Well. Only everybody who’s ever turned 50. They could tell you, but they’re too busy doing weird things with thinning hair and trying to pretend that 50 is the new not-50.

A lot of this has merit. I am now 57, and it’s not my father’s 57. Certainly not my grandfather’s. We age differently, or more slowly, or maybe we’re a culture of delayed maturity where middle-aged people shoot paintballs at each other and everyone pretends that it’s OK.

But some things don’t change, haven’t in millennia, and this is where the handy part comes in. And, maybe, me.

I’m not rugged at all, by the way. But I have had a slightly different lifestyle. Not a skydiving, rock-climbing, wild animal-hunting different. But different.

I began working at home when I was 30 years old, thereby missing out on important cues. I didn’t know how to behave, how to dress, how to deal socially with certain situations; I had no experience. I went to the grocery store. I took the trash out. I occasionally talked with other humans in certain situations, mostly church but sometimes as a Plus One for my wife, or my kids. I owned many pairs of sweat pants.

So I had to learn from observation. This wasn’t intended to help me progress in a career, to buck up my self esteem, to win the heart of someone who hasn’t been married to me for 32 years and has seen the sweat pants.

It was just self protection, a way of not looking foolish. You can be as young as you feel, as young as you want, as young as you can be, but you’re not young. Not at 57, or 53, or 50. No matter how fit and shredded and ripped you appear and how much hair dye you invest in. You’re still not young.

So I observe, and I see some pretty bad mistakes. Certain pastels, for example. Motorcycles are another (plenty disagree, although not trauma surgeons or ER personnel).

Belts are a huge issue, as are socks. Really, just paying attention saves a lot of embarrassment.

And still they do it, these guys my age. And I try not to.

But I still need the users manual, and I’ve decided I just might have to
write it.

There will be a whole chapter on pastels.


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Being You

I turned 57 yesterday, a milestone for which I couldn’t get particularly worked up, as much as I like birthdays. Just an odd number.

But it made me think of getting a haircut a few weeks ago, and when we were finished (doesn’t take long these days), I joked, “Now for the hair coloring.” My stylist laughed and suggested that yes, we could sort of smooth out the color, blend the little gray that’s there with the rest. And I pointed out that if gray hair bothered me, I’d shave. End of story. Not all that interested.

Nor should I be. We’ve all seen or known people who seem to defy the years, as long as we don’t get too close, but at this point the playing field starts to level. Some lives are harder than others, and some people look older than they are, but I suspect for most of us that by the time we hit our late 50s, close-ups or not, we’re not fooling anyone. No hair dye or beard dye or buffed bodies can hide 57 years of degeneration.

That’s what’s going on, you know. We’re degenerating. Slowly at this point, and in fact I’m feeling pretty good. Got the weight down into the 170s, walking a lot of elevation at a very brisk pace, lifting some weights, eating better, etc. Pretty good, I say.

But there’s no hiding the 57. No one said to me yesterday, “I can’t BELIEVE you’re 57.” They believed.

And aside from not being able to see or hear worth a damn, feeling cold when I really shouldn’t, and a slightly less powerful urinary stream (hey, this is biology we’re talking about), I’m good.

And maybe more than any birthday before, this is the one I thought, yup. Entering the final stage. Make it count.

So I’ll count it in this blog for the next year. Mostly trivial, but if I find answers you’ll be the first to know. Tomorrow you can start.XIJID9I8RV

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57 Things I Like

Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson

Frank Sinatra
Ghost peppers
Wonder Boys — Chabon book and film
Karen Amstrong
Harry Truman

On The Road
Peter Falk
Orson Welles
Elvis Costello
Roomful of Teeth
The Godfather

Patrick Stewart

  1. Chicken-garlic-Alfredo pizza from Sparta’s in Lynnwood, WA
  2. elfGroundhog_Day_(movie_poster)

Willie Nelson
Jeff Goldblum

Buffy, The Vampire Slayer

Robert Redford
The Office  (American version)

Kurt Vonnegut
Humphrey Bogart
Grilled salmon

Louie CK










Robert Downey, Jr.
Ian McKellan
Marc Maron
“The World According to Garp” — John Irving
Roseanne Cash

Holly Hunter
Holly Hunter

late for dinner





Robin Williams
Robin Williams




Leonard Bernstein
Molly Ivins
Mark Twain
Talenti sea salt-caramel gelato
Touch of Evil
Tokyo Story

“Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” — Anne Tyler

Henry Fonda
Dick Van Dyke
Bette Davis
Albert Brooks
Gregory Peck

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Quantumoff the map0008_TrackPhoto Apr 24, 6 49 42 PM

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Two years ago today I began filming Winning Dad. Facebook reminded me of a blog post I wrote on that day, but I knew the date was coming. Some things you remember.

It had only been a few weeks since our Kickstarter was funded and I finally figured out that, yes, we were going to at least film this thing. A year of wondering was over. Now I had other things to wonder about.

I throttled down my imagination; there was too much immediacy about any given day of filming to look ahead and wonder how this all would turn out. I certainly didn’t expect that it would be two years without an official release, even though I understand the strategy behind that. As I’ve said in the past, if it turned out to be a bad film, or a mediocre or even ordinary one, anyone who wanted to could have seen it by now. Enough people thought there was something special about it that a variety of avenues have been explored.

It’s a weird thing, complicated to explain, and pointless for me in a sense: I have no idea whether it’s any good. It seems to be, but I see nothing but behind-the-curtains stuff, covering my eyes when I don’t want to watch myself, remembering set-ups and problems, remembering, in fact, quite a lot.

If you’re a guy like me, who doesn’t really understand which end of the hammer to plug in, imagine spending a month with a construction crew, building a house. Assuming you don’t die stupidly or get banned for some drywall offense, you’ll learn a lot.

I learned something every day. Things about making feature films. Things about photography. Things, mostly, about myself. For the better part of a month, I spent a lot of time with young, passionate people who practiced their chosen craft and knew what they were doing. I tickled some engrams or something, woke up memories of pretending to be other people, having moments that felt more like déjà vu than anything else, but mostly I learned.

I must have dreamed of this as a 15-year-old, when I really, really wanted to be an actor. I must have daydreamed about making a movie; I’m positive I did.

And then 40 years passed. And then I made a movie.

I’m not very interested in that little odd symmetry, or whatever it was. I know how this worked out the way it did; I was there. It felt odd and a little absurd, but it was new and new, it seems to me, is good. And it was.
I didn’t make a movie. Arthur Allen did; I just helped, as did a bunch of other people. But it’s part of me now, that July and August of Winning Dad, and I guess it always will be. I learned, I collaborated, I laughed, I lost my voice once, and at the end I thought, This made me a better person. I don’t know why, or how I know, but I do, and it did.


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The Changes of Summer

I’m not a joiner. I don’t want to join a social club, or even a church committee, although I love being social and I do my little church stuff that I hope makes a difference. But just don’t join so much. I find writer groups absurd (I went to one once: I write for readers, not writers).

But I joined a Facebook project, a mutual keeping of the faith among a few of us, started by a friend with a goal to eat better. I have my own food faults to work on, and I tried it. It’s been fun, watching people navigate their way to their own comfort level with a goal in sight.

I’ve done well, considering I just wanted to lay off the ice cream and the predictable lead-up to that, and that’s been fine. Unfortunately, a combination of hot weather, concurrent loss of appetite, and overdoing the exercise some days resulted in some weariness and mood changes, so I make adjustments. There’s been some deflabbing; I’m pleased, and seeing the big picture at the same time. I can’t see landing exactly on 175 in 14 days, but I’ll be close enough. Clothes fit better, etc. I weigh 182 pounds, putting me toward the top end of normal statistically (grain of salt on “normal”).

The rest of my family apparently has fed off this, somehow, without conversation. My wife has unlearned a lifetime of eating based on a borderline hyperthyroid condition, sometimes struggling to reach 110 pounds for a lot of her adult life, then feeling great at 115. That jumped up around age 50, although still fine and less than average. She just wanted to make changes, imagine that, and feels better than in years.

My son, too, has switched out soda for water, and he too feels better than ever.

So as interesting as this summer might be – certainly mild and warm, possibly warmer than usual — including many other factors, we start it by making small changes. This is the secret to everything, in my opinion, and I may have let that slip around the dinner table. The family that slims together…

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How Long Can You Tread Water?

What’s interesting is that I think Woody Allen is probably innocent of the charges of molestation. I have no inside information; I just trust the opinion of a couple of insiders who have no particular affection for Mr. Allen but know some stuff.

The weird thing is that I don’t really care for Woody Allen. Or I’m ambivalent. Good memories of early films, particularly in the 1970s. After that, even though I’m assured there were gems every few years, I haven’t been interested. He strikes me as an odd man, possibly duplicitous and maybe a little creepy just in general. It should be easy to believe the worst, but somehow (so far) I don’t.

Bill Cosby? Rapist.

I also have no inside information, other than the just-released court documents that have Cosby admitting to buying and using drugs to ensure a more pliant sex partner. Since that’s the salient point of the many accusations that have surfaced…it’s easy to make a call, when it has nothing to do with me.

Except like a lot of kids in the 1960s who learned to love humor, we learned it at Cosby’s feet, multiple playing of the comedy records our parents bought. And then there was the remarkable stage persona, the casual way he’d sit down in front of an audience and ramble and talk with then, and slide into routines without anyone noticing exactly when. A marvel.

And we watched “The Cosby Show” at lot in the first years, starting back when my daughter was an embryo. It was different, and funny, and it was Cosby.

But something was slipping into my perception. First, there was the doctorate Cosby earned based on a dissertation he wrote on “Fat Albert” and its usefulness in teaching in elementary schools. Since he never finished his bachelor’s degree (it was awarded later on, from Temple, for “life work”), the whole thing struck me as bogus, as possibly the sign of someone who needed affirmation that didn’t come in the form of applause.

Then there was the title sequence in the first year of The Cosby Show, where he was listed as “Dr. William Cosby, Ph.D.” This is awkward and redundant nomenclature (one uses a title or a degree, usually, not both: It’s Rev. Julie K. Sigars or Julie K. Sigars, B.A., M.A., M.Div. For an example), and struck me as showy and sort of ignorant (fixed for later seasons). Just a hint, right there.

And then he just became arrogant, and mean. His “philosophy” on parenting became best-selling books, and then there were his aggressive lectures to the African-American community and so on. Bill Cosby has all the answers. Bill Cosby is not to be argued with, because he’s the smartest guy around. With that doctorate and all.

So my affection, dying anyway, disappeared. Didn’t care for him, found him annoying and out of time. But lots of people affect me that way. Not my circus, not my clowns.

But I think Bill Cosby, a pioneer in so many ways, an iconic figure in our culture for half a century, drugged and raped women. No pedestals get rebuilt here.

I could be wrong. But Quaaludes and Benadryl? And that was a while ago. Pharmacology has improved.

So many of us have demons, and sexual misbehavior isn’t shocking, from anyone. But rape is rape, assault is assault, while adultery and bad manners are crimes against personality, not other people so much. They define character, and some of us find it wanting, but then who is Bill Cosby? No relation to me.

And while I can grieve for the victims, mostly I’m curious about what comes next. Cosby can lawyer up and probably endure a rash of civil suits without diminishing his apparently vast resources, and the statute of limitations has long run out.

But he’ll be in his 80s soon, and as this plays out I suspect we’ll see the most remarkable destruction of a very long and established public presence in my lifetime. The Cosby Show will never hold its luster again, even as nostalgia. We will see the sweaters. We will imagine the drugs slipped into drinks. We’ll try not to think about the rest.

At the end, I suppose, he’ll be remembered for his early days, his confidence and brilliance on the stand-up stage, as a historical entry, but he’ll fade away and die eventually, no legacy to speak of that’s not stained by the fact that he’s a bad man who did bad things, and measuring his accomplishments on a scale against his transgressions, there’s no balance. Justice, even justice for rich people in America, will ultimately prevail in one way or another. Bill Cosby definitely won’t be remembered as the smartest guy in the room. His obituary will be rich reading, and not pleasant.

And he deserves it.


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