I have a theory that most people’s B.S. detectors are accurate. I have come to the conclusion that there would be far less disappointment in the world if all of us trusted our noses around bullshit. I know for a fact there would have been less disappointment in mine had I trusted my sense of smell.
A few months following my conversation with Bill, I decided to take him up on his offer. “Who knows?” I thought, “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe his offer of help was sincere.”
After sitting around unemployed for a year and a half, I wanted out of show business. I was tired, frustrated and almost broke, so I decided to apply to law school. I thought it would be terrific to have Bill Cosby write me a letter of recommendation. Wasn’t Bill an advocate of education? Wasn’t Bill the one who had set the example by getting his P.H.D.? Didn’t Bill give Tempestt time off to go to college? Hadn’t Bill encouraged youth all over the country to further their educations? Hell, hadn’t he offered to pay Robin Givens’ way through medical school, (or so the myth goes)? I didn’t need Bill to pay my way, but a letter of recommendation would go a long way to help me get accepted into a good school. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he would be supportive and tremendously so. I dug up the number to Bill’s publicist and called, hoping to get in touch with Bill. His representatives told me that Bill would write a letter for me. Rather, he agreed to sign a letter that I wrote, which is actually not unusual. What I did find unusual was the cavalier attitude with which my letter was handled. The letter was supposed to come from the person recommending me, in a pre-addressed letter. The school had given me the pre-addressed envelope in which to mail the letter. I sent everything – the letter, the stamped envelope, and detailed instructions along to Bill’s office. The letter came back to me, rather than to the school. I was forced to open the envelope and place the letter in one properly addressed. I then noticed that the letter itself had also been misaddressed, thus rendering the entire letter useless. I called and my requests for them to redo the letter properly went unanswered.
Years later, my first book, He Talk Like a White Boy, was being published. Again, I contacted Bill through his representatives. I sent Bill a few of the essays and asked if he would be kind enough to give me a blurb for the cover. (A blurb is a sentence or two telling everyone how great the book is.) After a few weeks, I heard back from his representatives that Bill didn’t have time to read any of the essays, so he would be unable to write a blurb for me. To say I was perturbed is an understatement. He didn’t have five minutes to scan what I had sent him? Really? In order for him to write something that would sell some books, he had to read the essays I sent him? Really? He hadn’t read the letter of recommendation I had written–I am fairly certain he hadn’t even signed it! How about just signing off on some benign sentence or two that I had written, (which is also standard)?
A year or two after that disappointment, I was appointed to the State Board of Directors for the California African American Museum. As a director, one of my tasks was to increase support – financial and otherwise – for the museum. Bill has one of the largest collections of African American art in the country. Bill and his wife support the arts. While on the show, I had actually had a few conversations with Bill about art, so of course, one of the first things I did was to reach out to him and ask if he would be interested in supporting the museum. This time, I actually had the impression that I was interacting with Bill as opposed to some intern answering email. I heard back from his representative that Bill had a question. I rolled out a number of options, one of which was the purchase of and donation of works by Elisabeth Sunday. Sunday is the real-life photographer the character of Denise Huxtable accompanied to Africa, where she met her husband Lt. Martin Kendall. I was certain this was a slam dunk. Bill is a collector of Sunday’s work. (As am I) Why wouldn’t he want her to be part of a museum collection? The donation was tax deductible and the donation amount was only $12 thousand. I also proposed a less expensive option of his funding an arts council, which would have been about half of the Sunday donation. Another option, should he be so inclined, would be to make a rather sizable donation, for which we would name a wing of the museum after him. Or, if he just wanted to purchase a membership, that would be fine as well. I explained that I could go into more detail if we could perhaps speak over the phone. I never heard back. Subsequent attempts to follow up were ignored.
I thought back to that night so many years before: “If you ever need anything, anything at all…” I thought of the way he laughed when I told him that I didn’t have his number. Yep. I should learn to trust my BS detector; it’s pretty accurate.
Of course, Bill was never under any obligation to do anything for me. He was not required to take my calls, write anything, or donate, or listen to me, or to respond to my inquiries in any way. I knew that then, as I know it now. I also understood that my disappointment had more to do with what was happening inside my head than anything Bill did or did not do. My chagrin was really rooted in the fact that Bill had remained a hero to me and I wanted my hero to have an interest in me. Other than my Aunt, I have never had a real mentor. As much as I loved my father, our relationship was not one in which I went to him for advice. Bill was America’s father, but for me, he was a very real father figure. I couldn’t imagine anyone better to call on for advice and counsel. I had always heard about Bill offering to mentor young people. Hell, I was young. Maybe he would mentor me as well. In the back of my mind, someplace tucked away with my comic books and plastic army figures, was the hope that my short time on the show would result in that type of closeness with my hero, Bill Cosby. My disappointment was that Bill had not chosen me as worthy of his time or wisdom.
Next…Bill and the women