Sunday, July 24, 2011

You know, there was this crazy guy who lived in downtown Madison. I suppose "crazy" is the wrong word for him, but disturbed certainly fits. Anxious. Weird. Troubled. Unique. Any of those would fit actually. He would go into the coffeeshop on State Street and get free iced coffees, he had a bent nose that looked like it had been broken when he was younger, he was tall and loud and frightening sometimes, he could be up in your face with his booming voice and asking you about your shirt, or showing off his bike, or asking you for a light. He was this tall, gangly giant who I was actually a little scared of. But he was actually very gentle, and his voice could become a whisper and when he knew he had frightened someone you would see his shoulders hunch in embarrassment and a mumbled "Sorry" would emanate from him followed by some appropriate term of endearment. He called women "babies" and he called men "brothers"

To describe him like this doesn't do his personality justice. He was a force of nature, whose words would sometimes spill out incoherently, and whose energy could spark off onto everybody in a room around them causing them to hop about with their own wild verve of commotion, and whose relaxed abandon could soothe and calm anybody who approached whatever chair he made into his throne for the moment.

His name was Cosmo, and nothing I can say will be able to describe quite what it was like to be in his presence. I didn't know him well, I probably spoke less than a hundred words to him over the years, but I knew him, as everybody knew him.

"Who is that crazy guy?"
"Oh, that's Cosmo."

When he died I cried uncontrollably after hearing the news. It was heartbreaking. It felt like a moment of history had ended, it felt like the world had truly lost something of value, though I never knew the man and could only tell you stories that I had witnessed, or that other had witnessed and explained to me. His life as well as his death touched every person who came into contact with him. In a way you could say I loved Cosmo, because he was as much a part of the city of Madison that I grew up with as any other memory I could recall.

You could say I loved Vincent Price too. He was a part of my childhood, and one of the main reasons I focused on horror movies at such a young age. I remember the first time I learned his name, while watching 'The Pit & the Pendulum' and I followed his character closely. Every time I saw the name Vincent Price attached to a film, I would make time for it. I spent many hours of my life tracking his films, watching them, and loving them.

When he died I was a little sad. Inwardly I said "Oh, that's too bad. I wish I could have met him at least once." and I made a mental note to watch one of his films in celebration of his life. His life might have touched mine, but to me he was just a shadow. An echo from the past, whose voice called out from a void. The memories I had of him were static things that could be easily recalled with the viewing of a film or the turning of a vinyl record.

Neither Cosmo or Vincent Price will ever touch my life again. When I think of Vincent Price, his death was a cursory moment, almost forgotten in the torrent of facts I know about the man. When I think of Cosmo, I feel a pang of hurt in my chest, my eyes might water and I miss not just the man that he was, but the moments that I shared with him and witnessed of him. He was a one of a kind.

This is the difference between caring about people and caring about celebrity. Celebrities are not your friends, they're not your family, they afford you no special memories, no experiences that are yours alone, and no relationship that is unique. The same shadowplay you see of them is the same that everybody else sees of them, except for their friends, their family, and their neighbors.

And if you're the sort of person who is greatly affected emotionally by the death of a celebrity, then I suggest you get out of the house more and make some new friends. Make friends with a crazy person. You could use it.