S is for San Francisco

Long before I ever went there, I loved San Francisco. From the Golden Gate Bridge to the cable cars, I adored the place.

It may have started in 1962, when I was nine. The San Francisco Giants, my favorite team in the National League was playing the New York Yankees, my favorite team in the American League; we’re talking Major League Baseball here, BTW. While my support for the Yankees was regional (I’d been to Yankee Stadium, e.g.), my love for the Giants was more emotional. I loved Orlando Cepeda at 1B – I love the way Danny Kaye sang “Or-lan-do Ce-pe-da” in a baseball song. I loved the Alou brothers, Matty and Felipe, who would one day be joined by brother Jesus; at least once, a few years later, all three patrolled the outfield at the same time. I loved Willie “Stretch” McCovey, who would eventually become the Hall of Fame 1B. P Juan Marchical! But most of all I loved CF Willie Mays, one of the three or four best players EVER, whose statue I had purchased at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY around that time, only to have a foot chomped off by our dog.

Then there was JEOPARDY!, the daytime quiz show hosted by Art Fleming, which I used to watch with my aunt at lunchtime almost every day. One sponsor was Rice-A-Roni, “the San Francisco treat”. I LIKED Rice-A-Roni when I was 11.

I listened to Bill Cosby a lot in those days, and this riff made me want to go there and see Lombard Street:
or here.

A few years later, it was Haight-Asbury. The Summer of Love may have ultimately been a failed social experiment, but to a 14-year old, it was just cool. From it came the music of the Jefferson Airplane, Rolling Stone magazine and other wondrous inventions.

So, I felt as though SF was my second hometown, even though I had never been west of the Mississippi until considerably later.

Therefore, the events of November 1978 felt terrible to me, as though it had happened in my own hometown of Binghamton, NY. First I saw the raw footage of Congressman Leo Ryan and his associates being attacked in Guyana. I remember an ashen Mayor George Moscone announce Rep. Ryan’s death. A couple days later, we learned of the Jonestown Massacre with Jim Jones leading the drinking of the Kool-Aid; most of the folks were from the Bay Area. Not two weeks later, I watched acting mayor Diane Feinstein weep as she announced the murders of Moscone and city council member Harvey Milk, almost certainly the most prominent gay politician of that time. Subsequently, I followed the trial of Dan White and his infamous “Twinkie defense”. Some feel the two events – Jonestown and the Moscone/Milk murders – were connected. In any case, it’s all created ambivalence about whether I want to go see the upcoming movie Milk with Sean Penn.

I finally got to actually go to San Francisco in 1987. I flew to San Diego, and then my sister, who lives there, and I flew to the Bay area. We went to the fish market, rode the cable cars, saw the Bridge, and yes, we found Lombard Street, which is as beautiful and curvy as Cosby described. Unfortunately, the San Francisco Giants were out of town, but we did see the Oakland A’s play.

San Francisco was everything I knew it would be.

ABC Wednesday.

ROG

Cos 70

Final JEOPARDY! for June 11, 2007:
Category: ENTERTAINERS OF THE ’60s
Answer: He won 3 straight Emmys for dramatic acting & a record 6 straight Grammys for comedy albums.
No, not William Shatner or Jackie Gleason, or even Bob Newhart.

I think I’ve given it away.

Yes, it was Bill Cosby. It’s hard to write about him, not because I can’t think of things to say, but because I could write forever about him.

I can’t recall whether it was in the TV show “I Spy” or listening to one of his comedy albums when I first became aware of him. It was a Big Deal when I Spy was on. Here was a black man on TV, a star of the show, not playing a servant or a buffoon. Every black person I knew was watching.

Then there were the albums. I own three of his Grammy-winning LPs, I Started Out As A Child, Why Is There Air? and Wonderfulness, awardees in 1964-1966. They were funny, but as the liner notes on one of them explained, it wasn’t just the content, it was the delivery that became so noteworthy that it was imitated by everyone from Richard Pryor to Jamie Foxx.

Beyond the humor, though, is that I learned a lot. That’s where I found out about Lombard Street, the curvy road in San Francisco, where they put flowers to note where “they bury the people who’ve killed themselves” traversing down it; it was funny the way he said it. I’ve had four wisdom teeth removed, so I know he was right that “Novocaine doesn’t deaden pain, it postpones it. Allows the little pain buddies to get together. ‘We’re going to hit that hole at five o’clock.'” He could make a line like: “And the pain…was tremendous” hysterically funny. “All the ice cream you can eat!” “900 cop cars.” “Smearing Jell-O all over the floor” so that the chicken heart on the radio wouldn’t get him. (I wonder if that routine led to him later being the spokesman for Jell-O pudding.)

The most important lesson, though was about The American Way of Death. Long before I had read Jessica Mitford, I heard Bill Cosby say, about people looking at people in open caskets, “He looks so natural,” to which Cosby retorted, “He looks dead.” He then suggested that a tape recorder could be hooked up. That way the deceased could “reply” to people as they went by. “Don’t I look like myself? It’s good to see you.” And for an additional fee, it could be personalized: “Hello, Bob. How’s the wife and kids? Don’t I look like myself?” This has had a profound impact on how I view burials, which is, at least on this mortal coil, once you’re dead, you’re dead.

I also have a couple of Cosby’s “music” albums. The first, “Silver Throat”, even had a #4 hit in 1967, “Little Old Man,” a musical swipe of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight.”
And I have a double album on Tetragrammation Records, 8:15/12:15, where he does the same comedy routine twice, with the latter a bit “bluer”. It’s a lesser album, but it DID address the issue of taking the Lord’s name in vain, which Cos said you shouldn’t do because He’s busy “stopping war and things, trying to make it not look like a miracle.” He notes, “I have a friend named Rudy. He ain’t doin’ nothin’. Call on him.” So when you’re hammering, you might hit your “Rudy-damned thumb.”

I watched that show when Cosby played a gym teacher. I watched both the Electric Company and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, though I was in college at the time. And, of course, I watched The Cosby Show, religiously for at least the first six seasons of its eight seasons. I related to those parents. I KNEW those parents; not so much mine, as parents of friends. And the infusion of the music, art and other aspects of black culture in a matter-of-fact way was phenomenal. Also, I loved how, in the first several seasons, that there were variations on the opening theme song. And yes, I probably owned one or two Cosby sweaters.

I felt awful when his son Ennis was murdered 10 years ago. I struggled to understand what he was saying about poor urban youth. No, I didn’t eat JELLO pudding pops. But Bill Cosby is a figure that has been huge in my life.

Happy three score and ten, Cos.
ROG

Fan Mail

I got an e-mail from one of my oldest friends who wrote:
“I don’t understand blogs. Are they to be viewed as online diaries?
“I can’t imagine anyone giving a s*** or taking the time to read about anything I had to say.
“I find it all hubristic.”

To which I wrote:
“You may be right.”

Actually, writing this blog has been very helpful to me already. It’s allowed me to focus better. Since I’m tired a lot, the blog has become, dare I say it, my daily meditation.

Oh, no! I had the ghost of 1970s Bill Cosby lurking in my head. “Be careful or you might learn something” he used to say on Fat Albert. I don’t want to be that parental about it, but I am trying to provide a site where if you’re not absolutely riveted by Lydia stories (but you WOULD be if you knew her- she’s also VERY charming), you can click on a hyperlink and find out a little about Mother’s Day, e.g.

Tomorrow: Hubris! Or as Jack Nicholson once said in a movie, “You want the hubris? You can’t handle the hubris!”