Cruising Through New Jersey with Ralph
It was the summer after the Cosby Show had ended. The walls of my new home in New Jersey were closing in on me and I paced the floors in a spiritless malaise. In an effort to fight the doldrums, I called my buddy Ralph and asked him if he wanted to go for a ride. Ralph and I met on the set of the Cosby Show. We were about the same age, seemed to have a lot in common, and became friends. That friendship continued after the show ended. Ralph had a great sense of humor and best of all, he was always down to hang out. I called him; he picked up the phone on the sixth number and told me he would be ready by the time I got to his home. I put the top down on my Corvette, picked him up, and Ralph and I cruised the streets of Newark, Montclair, and the Oranges.
Another thing I loved about Ralph was that he was a talker. He was filled with good stories and bits of backstage gossip from the show. Apparently, during his time on the Cosby Show, his eyes and ears were everywhere and he was often eager to share any dish that was particularly juicy.
That night, Ralph told me about his ex- girlfriend, a pretty redhead he had met at Astoria Studios. The woman had been visiting the studio as a guest of Mr. Cosby.
“She was a very good friend, of Mr. C’s.” Ralph said. “Her tuition at NYU, the rent to her apartment, the phone, gas, and electric bill. All that shit was paid for by Bill.”
Knowing of Bill’s philanthropy and interest in education, I thought this was a wonderfully generous. In fact, as Ralph spoke, I was thinking, How can I become a good friend of Bill’s? My sudden and severe unemployment had led me to consider going to law school. A little help with tuition would be great. My mortgage also needed to be paid. Hell, he could always toss me a few hundred to cover my gas and electric bills. Here I am Bill. Be my friend too.
As we cruised East Orange, the lamp posts lining our path, splashing pools of yellow light in the street, Ralph shared his story. In December, his girlfriend had flown home for the Christmas holidays and returned to New York before the New Year. Ralph had been eager to see her, so he picked her up from the airport and drove her back to her apartment in Greenwich village, where he was anticipating a bit of (a lot of) shall we say, holiday merriment. They settled in and began their love warm-up, when their romantic evening was interrupted by a phone call. The man on the other end of the line was none other than Bill Cosby. “It was always weird when he called,” Ralph said.
Turning to look at him I asked, “Why?”
Ralph laughed. “I always felt like the side dude. She was MY girlfriend, but whenever he called her, she acted weird like she was cheating with me.” This particular winter night, Ralph’s girlfriend took the phone call in another room. When she returned, she informed Ralph that Bill had asked her to come up to his upper east-side townhouse?
“I have to go,” she said.
“We just got here,” Ralph replied. “You’re just going to leave me after I picked you up from the airport?”
“He says he has a Christmas present for me.”
Like most men who drive out to the airport to pick up lady friends and plan romantic evenings would do, Ralph protested in earnest. “Can’t you pick it up later, like tomorrow?”
“He wants me to come now. I have to go. Look, I’ll just pick up the gift and then come back. Wait for me and then we can be together.”
Reluctantly, Ralph agreed.
Men are truly amazing. If sex is at the end of it, a man will endure almost anything. I imagined Ralph sitting on the sofa, in an empty apartment, weighing the prospect of going back out into the cold, snowy night, with the still possible – no matter how remote — chance of some holiday nookie. Nookie is undefeated and certainly won out that night. Ralph steeled himself to just be patient. He sat in her apartment for a couple hours watching television, waiting for her to come home.
When his girlfriend returned, Ralph said, “She was disoriented and had a glazed look in her eyes. I asked her, ‘Are you alright?”
“Yeah. I think,” she replied, as she stumbled into the apartment. “How did I get here?”
Ralph was confused. “What do you mean how did you get here? You took a cab.”
“I don’t remember getting in a cab, or paying for a cab.”
Ralph was concerned.
“The last thing I remember,” she said. “I remember that Bill offered me some wine and I don’t remember anything else after that.”
Ralph looked at me. I looked back at him. “What?” I asked. Clearly, I had missed the essential point of the story. I was waiting to hear about the sex.
“I think he drugged her.” Ralph’s voice was suddenly low and serious.
I’m not certain the look I gave him, but I’m sure it was something close to a look that said, “You are fucking crazy!”
Bill’s womanizing was well known both in the studio and throughout the larger entertainment community. Cheating on your wife is one thing, but drugging co-eds is something else altogether. There was just no possible way. I dismissed Ralph’s story as the fruit of a fantastical imagination, or the resulting constipation from being denied a Christmas release. Either that, or he was playing a practical joke – a bad practical joke. I was supposed to freak out and he would laugh later at my reaction.
“Boy, you should’ve seen your face!” He would say through tears of laughter.
Why would Bill Cosby — at that time, the biggest star on television — drug Ralph’s girlfriend for sex? I mean Ralph was a great guy — and I love red-heads — but there was just no way Ralph was pulling the kind of talent that would interest Bill Cosby. I wasn’t falling for it. I waved Ralph away and put the story out of my mind.
During the summer of 2014, Ralph’s story came back to me. Bill Cosby was all over the news because several women had leveled claims alleging that he had drugged and had sex with them. Ralph’s story tickled my memory, but again I dismissed it. These claims were decades old. There were lapses of logic in many of the stories, some were encounters that sounded very much like consenting relationships. A few of the stories had the ring of opportunism and frankly, the entire idea reeked of the hysterical. In the same way that I looked at Ralph as if he had lost his ever-loving mind, I looked at these claims as nothing more than an insane and cruel joke that had grown out of hand.
Rape – the crime with which Bill was accused – is a crime of violence and humiliation; it’s about power, not sex. THAT was not the man I knew, NOT the man I had worked with for three years, and it certainly was NOT the man I had idolized since boyhood. The Bill Cosby I knew and admired was smart, funny, and kind. The Bill Cosby I knew was down to earth and generous with his time and with his wisdom. The Bill Cosby I knew hired me, befriended me, and changed my life forever. THAT man was NOT a rapist and abuser of women!
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s the end of the story. Let me go back to the beginning…