Column: Ain’t no fun getting grammar lesson from Cosby

By SCOTT SAALMAN

Mom met Bill Cosby — the Bill Cosby.

Mr. Cosby was boarding his limo at a hotel across from Casino Aztar — the permanently docked Evansville gambling boat that has long represented the permanent end to my inheritance.

Aztar is called Tropicana now but for me it’ll always be Aztar, for that’s what has rolled lovingly off the tips of my parents’ tongues since it opened in 1995. I’ve heard them say “Aztar” more than my brother’s name. In fact, I have come to think of Aztar as family, an enchantingly named, foreign stepbrother adopted by my parents to fill the void of their empty nest.

Aztar gets all their attention (see “money”). Aztar this; Aztar that. It’s enough to make an eldest son jealous.

“What did you and mom do last night?”

“Aztar.”

“Where are you going tonight?”

“Aztar.”

“Who’s the current U.S. president?”

“Aztar.”

It’s that bad. What can I say? My parents are Boat People.

To call Aztar their “home away from home” is an understatement. They are there so much that the house they live in has technically become their new “home away from home,” the place they visit only when they need a rare break (see “bankruptcy”) from Aztar.

I’m surprised mom even noticed Mr. Cosby, for she was likely in her Aztar trance by then, on autopilot after descending the hotel elevator shaft, stepping out the front door and bee-lining toward the casino doors across the busy road. I always worry she will be oblivious to the traffic, so drawn is she to Aztar’s siren song, its ceaseless sounds and lights and colors, its overstimulation cocooning her with a sense of winning. I imagine dad running to her downed body, her face skyward as her eyes spin like slot machine reels, her irises changing from pineapples to lemons to oranges to apples to cherries, until there is no more spin in her soul, after which dad enters the casino with a purse strapped over his shoulder.

But she did notice Mr. Cosby, and before he could escape into his limo, mom said, “Are you who I think you are?”

As dad is wont to say, “Your mother knows no strangers.”

Mr. Cosby paused, looked down at her, and said, “Who do you think I am?”

“You’re Bill,” she said.

“Yes, I am,” the 76-year-old comedian said, smiling.

I suspect Mr. Cosby’s sudden smile was meant to be cautionary more than welcoming, like the snake’s rattle before the bite. He has likely encountered more than his fair share of public lunacy.

“What is your name?” he asked.

“Pat,” she said.

Mom has long been a Cosby fan. Being the awesome son I am, I once gifted her with his best-selling book, “Fatherhood.” Not long after that, she actually went to one of his shows, tickets courtesy of brother Aztar. Always outdoing me, that Aztar! Brother Aztar buys their meals and rooms a lot too (the suck-up). My boat people parents must be doing well to receive such attention.

Mr. Cosby was in town for another show. He asked mom if she planned to attend.

She replied, “I wanted to go but I couldn’t get no ticket.”

Hearing her, Mr. Cosby surprised mom with his trademark perplexed look.

I have read accounts of Mr. Cosby’s war on poor grammar, though his verbal assaults usually are aimed at Ebonics. Suddenly, though, he found himself confronting something more alarming. He had heard mom speak. Ebonics has nothing on Emomics.

Discombobulated, he repeated mom’s answer aloud. “I couldn’t get no ticket. I couldn’t get no ticket.” He made a big show of sounding out her words slowly, as if to untangle the twist of sentence structure coming from her strange southern Indiana tongue. He laughed each time he repeated her words.

“I bet he said it five times,” recalled mom. “Finally he said, ”˜If I’m hearing you right, then this means you do have a ticket.’”

I wonder if Mr. Cosby ever phoned Mick Jagger to straighten him out on the whole “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” line.

Mom can’t recall how their conversation ended — either because of being star-struck or being overcome with one-armed bandit withdrawal. As is the case for most of us who experience unexpected brushes with the rich and famous, the moment passes too quickly, a blur, really, the surrealism of it all discombobulating, and we are haunted by hindsight (what we should have said or done to make us better than what we were when in the presence of greatness).

I was hoping to hear her say he had given her tickets to the show in addition to the parking lot grammar lesson. He didn’t, but she didn’t mind. She was a bit worried their encounter might be part of his routine that night.

“Can you believe someone would correct you like that in public? It was kind of embarrassing,” she said, and then slyly added, “I ain’t going to buy no books of his anymore.”

I applaud you, Mom. At least you can claim to have made one of our funniest comedians laugh.

Scott would like to wish you a Merry Christmas. He is currently trying to find his parents at Aztar.




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