I will never forget my last conversation with Bill; it was the last time I saw him. Over the years, I have thought about that brief interaction. I wish it had come sooner. I wish it had played out in a more significant way and had ended in an invite to the townhouse.
An invitation to Bill’s townhouse was a big deal – not everyone received one. I came close during my first year, but my big mouth and an ill timed joke ruined it. Bill and I were back stage talking when I said something witty. Bill laughed loudly and then commented that he was going to have to have me come up to the townhouse. I tried not to betray my excitement, but I was jumping up and down inside. Not satisfied with success, I immediately made some silly comment about feminist or something. Bill just shook his head and smiled. “No,” he said. “You’re not ready. Mrs. Cosby would toss you out on your ear.” That was the last I heard about the townhouse.
I do, however, wish that I had managed a deeper relationship with Bill. Although I wanted to, I never got to really know him and he didn’t know very much about me. Not much of a relationship at all, which is why I was a bit surprised at the offer Bill extended to me soon after the show ended.
This was about eight months after The Cosby Show ended, at a taping of Malcolm’s spinoff show. I can’t recall why I was there, or who invited me. I had called Kerri, a woman I had seen a few times earlier in the year, and asked her to come with me to the taping. We headed to Astoria Studios. I was pining away for the redhead, who was trying to decide if she would date me again. Although we were talking on the phone regularly, she hadn’t committed to coming back to me. So, I called Kerri because, well, as shallow as it sounds (and is), she had a big butt, was a terrific kisser, and a big butt and juicy lips can sometimes do wonders to lift a man’s spirits. The problem was that I didn’t really like Kerri very much. There was nothing wrong with her. She wasn’t loud, didn’t smell; she wasn’t rude or obnoxious. She was extremely pretty. We simply didn’t match. And to her credit, though she clearly did like me, she had a suspicion that I was just dating her for her big butt and juicy lips, which meant that she engaged in a lot of “come hither. No. Go away,” which irritated the hell out of me and in an odd way ensured that I would only like her for her assets. At any rate, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to go out and if things went well, maybe a little kissy face might lead to something better.
It was odd being back at the studio after so many months. Because I hadn’t been at the final taping, it had been more than a year since I had stepped foot in the studio. I had mixed emotions walking through the halls. I was a bit melancholy and there remained some bitterness for the way my tenure had ended. However, I was also a bit nostalgic. After all, my time there had not been all bad. I’d had a lot of fun, laughed quite a bit, and made a few friends.
All of the old Cosby Show signs were gone. It was the same studio, but it was a different show, a different time, a different feel. The change in energy was certainly to be expected. While there were a lot of familiar faces, there were also some new ones. And Malcolm’s show wasn’t exactly The Cosby Show. Success does wonders for the morale on a set. Malcolm’s show wasn’t doing well and their was a palpable lag in the company spirits. Still, it was nice to be treated as a VIP. When you have a pretty girl on your arm, it’s always good to be treated like a VIP; dates tend to be impressed by that sort of thing, even if they don’t admit it.
Kerri and I were escorted to the soundstage. I hadn’t intended to stay long, so we took a couple of seats along the side of the stage by the stage manager’s desk, so we could make an exit without disturbing anyone. Kerri was in one of her “Come hither. No. Go away” moods, so I was ignoring her, talking to old friends and waving to the women in the stands who were trying to get my attention. Dates tend not to be impressed by that type of boorish behavior and Kerri was no exception. She folded her arms, pouted and scooted an inch or two away from me.
At one point Kerri whispered to me, “I’m hungry.”
I gave her a soft look and replied, “So am I.”
Kerri rolled her eyes and said, “I’m not on the menu.”
If you haven’t already guessed, my evening was not going well. By the time we left the studio, her jaw was very tight and I was uninterested. Needless to say, that was our last date, which I think was okay with both of us.
The taping was running very long and there weren’t a lot of laughs. Kerri was perturbed, and I was bored and hungry, which always affected my moods. The gray lady was sneaking up on me. I wasn’t going to be grabbing Keri’s big beautiful butt or kissing her lips, so it was time to call it an evening. That was when Bill leaned over and began talking to me. He wanted to know what I was up to, how life was treating me. I was happy, but I was also pretty surprised. Bill had never taken this much of an interest in me when I was on the show. I shared with him that a friend and I had just finished a script and were trying to sell it. Bill then suggested I contact the guy who had been his assistant during the final season.
“Larry wrote a script. You should get in touch with him.”
There was a glint in his eyes and I became suspicious. When Susan dumped me, she began dating Larry. Bill was certainly aware of this. I suspect very little company dish got passed him. So, Bill was teasing me. Of course, it didn’t strike me as very funny and I didn’t laugh. That was when he leaned over and flicked the ashes from his cigar onto my suede shoes. I looked at him like he had lost his ever-loving mind.
It’s a tricky thing looking at your boss/idol like he’s F-ING CRAZY. Somehow, I guess I managed to strike the right balance of respect and incredulity because he laughed and said, “Don’t worry, it brushes right off.” At which point, he leaned over and brushed the ashes off my shoe. And he was right, they fell right off.
After brushing my shoes, Bill prepared to leave. Just as he was getting ready to stand, he stopped, looked me in the eye and said, “Joe, If you ever need anything – anything at all – you just call me.”
I looked at him and smiled; it was really terrific to hear. My evening suddenly got better.
He continued: “I know how you are and you don’t really feel comfortable doing stuff like that, but I’m serious.”
My B.S. detector suddenly began buzzing like crazy. I looked Bill dead in the eye and said, “I don’t have your number.”
Bill let out a huge laugh. I let him know that I knew he was full of shit. He laughed because he knew that I knew and now I knew that he knew that I knew…or something like that. In other words, he was busted. There was a twinkle in his eye. “You can always reach me here,” he smiled.
Hmmnn. “Here” was Astoria Studios. Yeah. Okay. I thanked him. We shook hands and he left. I’ve not seen him since that night.
Next…Bill Strikes out