I posted a story a few months ago when claims of sexual assault started pouring in against Bill Cosby.
At the time, I didn’t want to believe these stories and I told my own as a way of respectfully dissecting what I was hearing. When I posted it, I got tons of responses I hadn’t expected. Outside perspectives on my strange experience that made me see there might have been more going on than I wanted to admit.
So I took another look at my story and was a little more honest this time. I took away the filter of “I’m going to be respectful here” and replaced it with what I recall was actually going on inside my head at the time. Removing my projected ideal of Bill Cosby created a very different story after all, and it left me realizing just how much we dismiss victims of crimes and even worse – just how vulnerable we all are to people we fear and respect.
So here’s the story again – this time being more respectful of the alarms that went off in my own head, than his reputation. And, like so many of readers pointed out, it’s creepy for sure. I obviously wasn’t his type, but I can’t help but feel even more sympathetic for his victims – and like I dodged a bullet:
Bill Cosby didn’t rape me.
I realize this defies the daily claims pouring in, but it’s the truth.
I do however, have a Bill Cosby story that has nagged at me for over a decade.
I was raised on “Fat Albert,” “The Cosby Show,” and Jell-O Pudding. My own dreams of being a stand-up comedian were fueled by watching Bill Cosby riff on how he fed his kids cake for breakfast, and they loved him for it. And I loved him for it too.
When I met Mr. Cosby (everyone called him Mr. Cosby. Anything else would have been rudely familiar), I was an agent representing children’s books at William Morris. It was the 90’s. My boss asked me to work with him on his “Little Bill” children’s book series and I was psyched. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
We were in the conference room at Scholastic where we sat down at a large table and Mr. Cosby told them how they were going to publish these books. Whether or not they wanted them wasn’t even discussed. Of course they’d want to work with Bill Cosby.
After the meeting my boss told me he had to go to another meeting and suggested I ask Mr. Cosby to lunch. The events that followed went something like this:
“Mr. Cosby, would you like to have lunch?”
I suggested a restaurant but as we drove uptown he said “We’ll have lunch at my house. I’ll call my chef .”
“Uh. Okay.” Wow! This was FABULOUS!!!!!!
We got in our car and headed uptown to his town house.Mr. Cosby tapped the driver, “Pull over here.” We pulled up to a very small, very exclusive shoe store on Madison Avenue, Tanino Crisci.
He told me, “I have dinner with the Lakers tonight and need to get some shoes.”
“Uh. Okay.” I said, very aware I sounded like an idiot. I got out of the car and we walked into the store. He was greeted like royalty. He points at me and says to the sales guy “Let her try on anything she wants.”
Normally I wouldn’t think twice about trying on shoes. I love shoes. But I felt like if I tried anything on I would be obliged to buy a pair. And at $600/pair (and that was in the 90’s) I wasn’t buying anything there.
“Thank you, Mr. Cosby. But, I’m good.”
“Go on!” He said.
“No really. I’m fine.”
“Don’t insult me. Try something on you like.”
“I’m not really comfortable…”
He gave me a stern look – the kind of look my grandfather gave me when he was displeased. I did not want to see him displeased – especially since the head of my department had entrusted me with one of his biggest clients for lunch.
Okay. I could be cool about this. But I was definitely not buying shoes.
He pointed out a pair of women’s shoes to the salesman and said “She’ll try those.”
The salesman brought me the shoes and placed the beautiful little suede jewels at my feet.
I put them on. “Oh, they’re very pretty. Wow. That’s a comfy shoe. Okay. I’m done. Thank you.” I started to take them off.
“We’ll take them.” He said.
“What?!?! “Mr. Cosby….” I said shaking my head. “I can’t accept this. My mom would kill me. My boss could kill me. That’s very generous of you but I can’t. Really.”
“Don’t insult me, Sarah. Take the shoes.”
Then it dawned on me. This was a dream! Of course! Duh. I mean, if I were to tell a friend “I had the weirdest dream last night! I was shoe shopping on Madison Avenue with Bill Cosby.” Wouldn’t you laugh? I would. Because it’s impossible. It’s like Angelina Jolie showing up on your doorstep to braid your hair. It’s that strange.
So I said to him, “Can I make a phone call?” I thought if I got up to make a phone call I would wake up. I don’t know why. I was in my 20’s. People in their 20’s are stupid.
The salesman pointed to a phone in the back of the store.
I called my (then) boyfriend (who would later be my ex-husband). “You’ll never believe where I am.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in a very expensive store on Madison Avenue with Bill Cosby and he wants to buy me shoes.” I whispered.
I know! This is a dream, right?! It’s SO WEIRD!!!! I pinched myself and mouthed “Ow!” My arm was turning black and blue from all of the pinching.
“WHAT DO I DO??!!!?!”
“Let him buy them!” he said. I should have figured. My future ex-husband loved a freebie.
“They’re like $600 bucks!”
“I know! I can’t take $600 shoes from Bill Cosby!”
“Sure you can!”
“I can’t! And I’m going to get fired.”
“You’re not going to get fired.”
“I’m totally going to be fired.”
“You’re not. He wants to buy you the shoes. If you don’t take them you’ll piss him off. THEN you’ll get fired. It’s not like $600 even means anything to him.”
“I’m very uncomfortable with this.”
“Take the shoes. Be uncomfortable in $600 shoes.”
“I’m going to vomit.” And I hung up.
And then I accepted the shoes. Mr. Cosby smiled. “Enjoy them.”
“Thank you, Mr. Cosby. This is really…”
He put his hand up to stop me. “Stop.”
“Kay.” Obviously, my mother had not prepared me for the proper response in this scenario. And I have to admit, as uncomfortable as the whole thing was,
a little part of me was kind of psyched about the shoes.
We got back into our waiting car and we drove to his townhouse where he had a delicious lunch, alone in his dining room, made by his chef.
And we sat at his dining room table together, drank wine and ate lunch. He grilled me about my boyfriend and asked why he hadn’t proposed to me yet.
I don’t remember the rest of our lunch very well. Just that I was careful to avoid any really personal talk and I was awed by the fact I was having lunch with Bill Cosby in his own home. I followed his instructions to enjoy my glass of wine (which was JUST a glass of wine), lunch and new shoes.
I went back to the office and dreaded the conversation I knew I had to have. I had to tell my boss that Bill Cosby bought me shoes. I was embarrassed and uncomfortable.
I was actually afraid my boss would fire me presuming I had coaxed Bill Cosby – one of our biggest clients – into buying the shoes for me. No matter how it had really gone down, I was sure he would think I had encouraged Mr. Cosby – when in fact, I felt like I had no choice.
I told my boss what happened. Luckily, he believed me.
“Should I return them?” I asked.
“No. Don’t worry about it.”
I never wore the shoes. They were uncomfortable. And wearing them made me feel awkward.
I’m not trying to turn this story to turn it into a bigger deal than it was. The stories told by Bill Cosby’s alleged victims are horrific. At the most, mine is slightly awkward. It was essentially a young agent shoe shopping with a big client. In Hollywood that’s called “Tuesday.”
But I do feel my strange experience with Mr. Cosby gives me an ever-so-slight glimpse into the embarrassment and humiliation these women must have felt, and empathy for why they kept their stories to themselves for so many years.
Intimidation is a powerful thing. So is embarrassment. And I won’t judge them.
No one should. Not unless they’ve walked in their shoes.