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My Brush with Greatness

By Mrs. Julien | Comment Diversions | June 29, 2013 |

By Mrs. Julien | Comment Diversions | June 29, 2013 |

Yes, we have done this before, we do it about once a year or so, but it’s always popular and fun, so I think it’s time for another pass: Please tell us about a time you met a famous person/someone who meant a lot to you.

NateMan’s comment on Why We Are The Way We Are: The Most Influential Stand-Up Routines Of Our Youth, with Maguita NYC’s encouragement, inspired this diversion, so here is his original comment in its entirety -

Well, I can tell it now that I’m home and my kid’s in bed and I have a few minutes, since you and Sotto were kind enough to ask… :)

So, I’ve mentioned before I work at a major University here in MA. (Hint: It starts with a U and ends with a Mass and is often referred to as a Zoo.) About 4 years ago I worked with their Physical Plant, and outside of my regular job I was a driver for bigwigs on campus. When the Chancellor or Provost or VC needed to get to or from the airport, or had an event to go to, they’d often have someone drive them. Sometimes it made sense, other times it seemed a waste of funds. But hey, I was earning OT so I didn’t mind. It was early spring, sugaring season to be precise, and the Provost - whose name I cannot for the life of me remember - was going to dinner at the Cosby residence and wanted a driver. So, being youngish and charming I got picked to do it.

Now, Mr. & Mrs. Cosby have had a house in Shelburne Falls for years. The town is very artsy and gets a good crowd of hippies, artists, and farmers, and is a pretty cool place. It’s where RDJ is filming The Judge, actually. It also happens to be right across the river (on one of the prettiest bridges you ever did see:… ) from the town where I grew up. So, cool. I’d drop her off, go visit my folks, and get paid good money to do it. And then pick her up and drive her home after.

A lot of people I know have worked for Mr. Cosby on one job or another. My uncle repainted the interior of his house a few years back. A contractor I know did a ton of work for him and even took him for a ride on his Harley back a couple decades ago. But I’d never met the man, though I’d driven by his place plenty of times. And let me tell you, it’s something to see. He owns a buttload of land, and at least 5 acres surrounding his house could be a golf course, the grounds are so immaculate. It’s also got a beautiful stone fence around it with a sign at the gate that reads: “If you aren’t invited, don’t come in.” Not something I can blame him for, though the locals don’t need to be told. We believe in privacy up here.

To make a long story slightly less long, I dropped off the Provost and went to visit my folks, and returned a couple hours later. I was waiting in the car, reading whatever the latest Jim Butcher book at the time was, when there was a knock on the window. It was Mr. Cosby’s assistant. He said, “Mr. Cosby would like to invite you inside.”

I was a little uncomfortable at the idea of meeting him - I’d always been a fan of his, but I didn’t want to disturb the man at home. He was a person to me, not a celebrity, probably because I’d grown up not 15 minutes away from his house. But I didn’t see a polite way to refuse, so I said thank you and went inside.

The house is stunning. A mix of Colonial and Victorian, basically, a large sprawling farmhouse with lots of stonework. The kitchen is insane, and one I’d sell my soul to own. Lots of copper and stone, thick butcher block counter tops if I remember correctly, the biggest stove/oven you’ve ever seen. Beautiful, but very simple too, which I appreciated.

I was standing in there when in walked Mr. Cosby with the Provost. He was dressed in traditional African garb, long flowing robes (and forgive me, because I can’t remember the proper name for them either). The first thing that struck me was how old and tired he looked. It was about 10PM, and he had clearly had a long day.He was in his early 70s at that point, remember, and he hadn’t been much on TV lately so I was still picturing him from the Cosby Show. One eye points off in entirely the wrong direction now, and he looked a bit, well, frail. But he walked right up to me, introduced himself, and shook my hand. His hand was dry and his grip firm, practiced but also very friendly. I fully admit to being a little starstruck, though I’m pleased to say I didn’t stutter when I said hello and introduced myself. We talked for a few minutes as the Provost got ready to go and he was light and joking the whole time. It was very clear that every one of his faculties was still fully intact. He asked if I was hungry and wanted something to eat for the road, and I told him no thank you, that I had eaten with my parents.

Mr. Cosby is apparently unwilling to hear the word “No,” and so the next thing I know he’s pressing a piece of homemade corn bread into my hands, and then a plate with a piece of lemon meringue pie. And I looked at him, and at the plate, and then back at him, and I swear to every God you can think of I had to bite the inside of my cheeks to stop from exploding into howls of laughter. Because, while growing up, my mother had always made lemon meringue pie out of Jello pudding mix. So here was Bill Cosby straight out of Jello commercial, wearing what looked an awful lot like a night-dress and forcing me to take a piece of pie. It was like the night crystallized into this perfect moment of dry, absurdist humor, and I will never, ever forget it. It took something mundane on many levels and just made it… Well, memorable. And I think he could tell I was trying not to laugh, because he had a certain gleam in his eye that told me he knew what I was thinking.

I drove the Provost home soon after and then went home to my then-fiance and now wife. She asked me how the night went, and I looked at her, and dissolved into the laughter that I’d been holding back for the last several hours. I laughed until my sides hurt and between bouts of uncontrollable giggling I told her what had happened, and why I was holding a piece of pie, covered over with tin foil.

It was damn good pie, too. That man knows how to hire a cook.

So, that’s my story, and I promise every word of it is true. It was absurd and spectacular, and a little sad to see him so old, but then just plain funny and warm as soon as he spoke. It really made me cognizant, in some ways, of how some celebrities, the good ones anyway, really are just plain ol’ people too. Mr. Cosby has been involved in controversies in the past, and he has his flaws the same as the rest of us. But he was nice to a 28yr old redneck with a shaved head and bushy beard, a guy he didn’t even have to say hello to, and went out of his way to make me feel welcome. That showed class and grace, two things I will always respect.He took himself from almost nothing to a King of Comedy, and hasn’t forgotten himself along the way. I will always, always appreciate that opportunity. I might not have gotten his autograph but I got a damn fine piece of pie and one hell of a memory, and that’s good enough for me.

OR, to keep things fresh, please tell us about your 15 minutes of fame.

I’ll contribute this one as my story about that time I saw Booger from Revenge of the Nerds at MOMA and didn’t actually speak to him is, as you have already surmised, a non-starter.

My friend and I went to see Aretha Franklin at Massey Hall in Toronto. We had balcony seats overlooking the stage. During one of the songs, Ms. Franklin waved back at us and then, this is where it gets better, they turned a spotlight on us while we were dancing to give expression to our joy. After the concert, this is the best part, some people stopped to ask us directions and the interrupted themselves to say, “Hey! We saw you dancing in the spotlight. You were good!”

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