December 19, 2017
“Fuckin’ Bill Cosby,” Harvey Weinstein said. He said it in my dream, to be fair. But if you can’t trust your dream, you’re having a nightmare – and therefore it’s good odds you’re awake, anyway.
Matt Lauer agreed, in any case: “Fuckin’ Bill Cosby.”
“Well that hardly seems fair.” Garrison Keillor said that, and if you think he’s just here for comic relief – he’s not laughing.
“No,” said Charlie Rose, doing his best to fit in, a practice he may well master in the next five or six hundred years. “They’re right. This all started with him. Fucking. Bill. Cosby.”
“What do you know anyway, Keillor?” Weinstein demanded. “What the hell are you even in here for? You accidentally touched a fat cow’s blubber and didn’t wash your hands afterward?”
Keillor said nothing. The man was born into retirement.
“What kind of name is Garrison, anyway? Is your brother named Stockade? Your sister’s called Embargo? Did your dad think he could make a man of you by giving you a manly name?”
Still nothing. Start wilted, stay wilted.
“And what about you, Charlie Rose? Did you think prancing around like a homo in front of women means you’re not a fag?”
“Now that’s just not fair. No one has ever called my sexuality into question.”
Matt Lauer did nothing to hide his snort.
“Oh, shut up, pusswad. You’re not a predator. You’re a congenital fratboy on too long of a leash.”
And believe it or not, this was my show. In the dream, that is. For some reason, I was leading a therapy group at The Sex Addiction Clinic of Misfit Celebrities in breathtaking Scottsdale, Arizona. The name was right there on the wall, along with the clinic’s slogan: “You kissed. She told. Now what?”
My task, assigned by means I can’t quite put together, was to be chooser of the slain, or, rather, of the candy-caned: Who gets to go home early, in time for Christmas?
Me and the other three guys were chairbound around a table, but Harvey Weinstein is a stalker – like a pacer, but with longer strides and lots of upper-body menace. He stomped around the little room as best he could as he hurled his imprecations. “Everybody’s a player,” he said, “but nobody gets to be a gangster. Not anymore. Fuckin’ Bill Cosby…”
Lauer said, “You know what? To hell with you, Harvey Weinstein. Some gangster you are. The only girl who ever liked you was a potted plant.”
Rose giggled. “But then she left him for Louis C.K.”
“And say what you want about Bill Cosby,” Keillor added, “but at least his wife stood by him, stuck up for him.”
That stung the other three, Weinstein the worst. He might well have decked Keillor then and there, but there was a beefy, white-uniformed ‘therapy assistant’ posted in each corner of the room. Instead he said, “How does Garrison Keillor’s wife know for sure her husband is innocent? Lesbian bed death.”
That cracked Matt Lauer up, but Charlie Rose knows where he doesn’t want to fit in. “Is there really no room for contrition in this? No place for remorse?”
“In a room full of men who have lost everything they’ve worked a lifetime for,” Lauer asked, “what would you expect to find but remorse?”
“That’s a good question,” I said. “Is it the consensus of the room that you all deeply regret and abhor the cascade of revelations of sexual abuse that have come forward in response to the Bill Cosby trials?”
Weinstein said, “He told the schwarzers to pull up their pants and they killed his career for it. If he had kept his mouth shut, none of this happens.”
“And you think that’s the problem? Not what you did, just that you got caught doing it?”
“Got caught doing what?” Lauer demanded. “Trump wasn’t lying. When you’re a star, you get to grab ’em by the pussy. Any time you want.”
Garrison Keillor was horrified, which raised him a notch in my eyes. “No. You don’t. You don’t get to grope women. You don’t get to scream at your staff. You don’t get to cut the line. You’re famous – or you were. You’re not god.”
Charlie Rose said, “Maybe I can help. Which one of us had a rich social life in high school or college? I didn’t. I’ll bet you could have guessed that. What about you guys? What were you doing with your time when you were fifteen or seventeen? More social or more solitary?”
Lauer shrugged. “Solitary.”
Weinstein said, “Solitary, except with my folks.”
Keillor smirked. “What do you think?”
“And then suddenly there are women everywhere. You claw your way up in hungry solitude – you should see the dumps Matt Lauer’s worked in – and then, just like that, you’re surrounded by people and they all want to take a little piece of you home. When everyone’s telling you you’re great, but you know better – who do you end up listening to?”
“That would be Cosby’s conundrum,” Keillor said, rubbing at his chin. “They want to be near you, and they want what they think you can give them, and, inevitably, they’re disappointed afterward.” Everyone was looking at him with their jaws dropped. “Starving poets, not striving women. But it’s the same difference – except for the human resources department.”
“They want more than that,” Weinstein insisted. “They want to be wined and dined and squired around town for everyone to see. They know they’re not ‘the one,’ but they want to make believe they are.”
“They want to make their friends believe they are,” said Lauer.
“Damn straight. And they want to tell their friends all kinds of crazy shit, whether it’s true or not.”
“And then, decades later, there are the friends to insist it’s all true. First she was ravished. Later she was raped. Which is true? Which pays better?”
“So that’s excuse number two?” I asked. “First Bill Cosby did it, now the girls did it to themselves?”
Garrison Keillor chuckled, and I think that might be the most telling sound the man knows how to make.
“It still takes two to tango,” Weinstein said. “No bra ever unsnapped itself. If you don’t get slapped, you’re gonna get lucky.”
“To be fair,” Keillor offered, “my father used to say, ‘No woman was ever raped in an upper berth.’ You know, on a rail car.”
Matt Lauer shook his head slowly. “It’s pithy observations like that one that got you stuck in here with us. You know that, right?”
Keillor smiled weakly, but what could he say?
I looked to Rose. “God help me, we know everything there is to know about you. Your staff was laying for you.”
Matt Lauer said, “And not in the good way.”
Harvey Weinstein added, “More like Bob Barker’s TV dream dates. All tattle, no tail.”
I ignored the chatter but not the men. “You two, on the other hand? Do we know even one tenth of the stories that might be told about you? Mister Today Show thought coopted cooze was part of his pay plan. Mister Miramax wanted vengeance on every shiksa who had ever shunned him. Both of you thought you had found a broken candy machine – and you thought nothing about who might be getting hurt. Tell me you didn’t spin that crank as many times as you could. I know better.”
Neither spoke, though Weinstein’s clenched fists seemed eager to take the floor. Finally he said, “Who died and made you Batman?”
I burst out laughing, the delight of a perfect surprise. Pain along with it, too, but what are you going to do? “My wife used to say that to me.” Just for a second it was hard to speak, but I didn’t want to hear any jokes about it, so I said the words anyway: “She made me Batman officially just before she died.”
“Yeah, well,” Weinstein said, “who’s to say what’s right and wrong? Is it wrong to do bad things? Or is it wrong to get caught doing bad things?” I must have looked as disgusted as I felt, because he rushed in to head me off. “I’m not being an asshole,” he insisted, and even the ‘therapy assistants’ chuckled, “I’m just sayin’ – how many times have you done things you should have been punished for, but weren’t?”
Smiles – some shy, some sly – all around the room.
Harvey Weinstein shrugged, and that’s about as close as he ever gets to being human. “When the sign says ‘ring bell for service’ and no one comes, you ring that bell louder and louder. When you get away with something you shouldn’t have, the next time you come by – every time you come by – you grab a little more. Who wouldn’t?”
I wouldn’t. I hope you wouldn’t, either. But I said nothing about that. “So is that three excuses? Bill Cosby did it. They were asking for it. And it’s ‘the system’s’ fault for not catching you earlier. Could there be any room for hypocrisy in there?”
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. When you hear someone say – “Hypocrisy? You know… You’re right. I’m being a hypocrite.” – that’s when you’ll know you’re having your own dream. Even so, what makes me uniquely perfect for this job is simply this: I ask the questions no one else will.
“So, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer: What runs through your mind, when you’re putting the screws to some bozo for sexual harassment – knowing that you’ve done that much and worse? What do we call people who condemn their own flaws in other people – and yet persist in them anyway?”
Neither said anything, and Weinstein just looked disgusted. Finally, Lauer said, “Do you want the truth?”
“Always. What are the odds I’ll get it?”
He shrugged. “It’s kind of what Harvey said: No harm, no foul. If the ref blows the whistle, then there’s a penalty.”
I winced. “How many tears does it take to buy back a metaphor? How many nightmares? How many ruined relationships? How much of her trust does a young girl have to leave on the court before the referee calls a foul?”
Matt Lauer scoffed. “She’s not capable of evaluating the risks and making her own choices?”
“Who’s leading her to the wrong choice? And who’s old enough to know better? Both questions tell the whole tale: Ignoring coercion, ignoring perversion, ignoring potted plants, you were leading women who trusted you to the wrong choice because it was the wrong choice – because you knew it was the wrong choice…”
They said nothing, the cowards. Garrison Keillor was more spectator than participant, by now, and I had the feeling that he wanted to take notes.
“Just a broken candy machine. Turn the crank, out comes a ‘free’ gumball. Chew it up. Spit it out. Do it again. And again. And again. One broken girl after another, but – what the hell? – no harm, no foul.”
“What can you do?” Weinstein asked. “If it’s not me, it’s newsboy here. If it’s not him, it’s someone else.”
I shrugged. “What if it was your daughter? Your grand-daughter? What if it was your mom?” God help me if those ‘therapy assistants’ were union men, but I’ve taunted worse thugs than Harvey Weinstein.
Just then the door opened and in sauntered William Jefferson Blythe Clinton, former Bubba-in-Chief of the Onanist States of America. I smiled despite my anger. Bubba’s always been a gift to me.
He took Weinstein’s chair without worrying about who it might belong to, then he said, “Y’all have nothin’ to apologize for. Deny ’til you die. Shouldn’t nobody have to tell you that.”
I said, “I am so glad to see you.” He was astonished, and I get that: Many people are happiest when they see Bill Clinton’s departure. “These boys think it’s Bill Cosby who lit the fuse that blew up their lives, but I think it was you. You and your gropes and rapes – and all the bullshit excuses people made for you.”
Clinton smirked. “Now why do you suppose people might behave that way? Do you think it was like Trump? ‘He might be a monster, but at least he’s our monster.’ You think that’s how it was? You pointed it out once, Willieboy, how much power I have over that woman. Where do you think I got it?”
I had no answer for that. It’s a question that’s plagued me for coming on twenty years.
Bill Clinton looked at Garrison Keillor. “What are you doing here, farmboy? The last time you had a dirty thought, you wrote a book about it. Matt Lauer’s trying to get back at the jocks in his high school – and Harvey at the cheerleaders in his, right? You guys aren’t predators. You’re just parasites.”
“Oh, yeah? And you’re so much better?” Harvey Weinstein said that, and I’m not sure if he’s seen Bubba’s protection detail – but I have.
Bubba shrugged. “Better? Worse? Just differ’nt. Bill Cosby’s wife loves him, and she’s going up in flames for him. My wife fears me, so she smears shit on her forehead and goes out in public that way, ever’ time I tell her to. Somebody knows somethin’ halfway true about somethin’ I done? Hillary goes out and calls ’em a liar. Ruins reputations. Kills people to keep me out of trouble – at least that’s how the rumors go. You can call it satanism, if you like, or just plain old bayou voodoo. Thing is, once you’ve ordered a cheese pizza, there’s always some leftovers in the fridge, so, lately, I just think of it as fifty shades of Bubba.”
He was grinning, and who knows how much he means of what he says.
From the hallway, I could hear voices, one much louder than the others: “Bill Clinton is not the Predator-in-Chief. Donald Trump is the Predator-in-Chief. You ask anyone. They’ll tell you. Donald Trump has always been the biggest predator.”
Bubba chuckled. “Whose pussy do you have to grab to get some attention around here?”
I said, “I’ll deal with this. Matt, Charlie, Garrison – can you join me? Harvey, Mister President – sit tight.” At the door, I let the ever-louder, ever-fatter, ever-needier President Trump in and the four of us out. It suddenly got very loud inside the group therapy room, but I didn’t care.
To Garrison Keillor, I said, “If there’s anything twisted in you, I’ll eat my hat. And it’s a big old train engineer’s hat and I’ll probably choke on it – so don’t let me down.”
I shook my head slowly at Matt Lauer. Finally I said, “Dumbass. Bad boys get spanked. You’ve been getting away with shitty behavior your whole life, and the bill just came due, all at once. Dang. Suck it in, suck it up and move it on down the road. Have a quiet Christmas. Take the time to learn to do better. Then start the New Year a better man. If you go to jail, you go to jail. You can still come out with your head held high, if you want it that way.”
He nodded with a solemnity that gives me hope for him. Never write off the earnest. Given the will, they’ll always find a way.
And to Charlie Rose I said simply this: “Move to Paris, dude. You’ve never belonged here, and your kind of eccentricity looks normal there.” He smiled, but who knows if he meant it.
“Meanwhile, gents, go home. Those three are made for each other, each one the perfect target for the other two, and there’s no way I’m going back in there. If it’s my place to say you’re free – you’re free. Go forth and sin no more. And Merry Christmas!”