Sunday, April 13, 2008

Flying Saucers: Providing Cosmic Sustenance

Hi, Eric:

I'm so glad you've taken on the responsibility of master of ceremonies for this virtual memorial. Not sure if you remember me: I used to work at Amy's, around the same time you worked at Steep'n Brew. (I've attached a picture to jog your memory, but you'll mentally have to shave about 20 pounds off of this image to get to what I looked like back then.)

Anyhow, I first heard about Cos' phase change yesterday, as news travels slowly to Cleveland, OH. I received an email from my friend Otis who also worked at Amy's back then. Memories flooded back faster than I could track them.

Here is my brick for the monument:

I worked at Amy's Cafe from 1988-1995, first in the kitchen, then the bar. One of my primary job responsibilities was serving Coz "flying saucers" when owner Tom Paras was not around. The flying saucer consisted of 8-10 slices of "all the cheeses, pumpkin," about a quarter cup of Dusseldorf mustard, a handful of hot peppers and onions in a whole wheat pita, nuked for about 3 times the amount of time required to completely melt the cheese. For the ambitious host or hostess, a flying saucer is best served with a gallon of milk or 3 iced coffees. It is critical, however, that you not add poison to the coffee, as poisoned coffee has been shown to interfere with the digestion of the flying saucer.

After closing the kitchen at Amy's, I would often accept Coz' invitation back to his apartment across the street to jam. Sometimes I would accompany on guitar as Coz created Roscoe Mitchell-esque lines on the recorder. Sometimes, we would play guitar duets, but only after Coz had painstakingly detuned both guitars to perfection. His alternate tunings explored the nether regions of the microtone in a way that would make Schoenberg sound like Petula Clark by comparison. Often, however, we would just chainsmoke and take in the beauty of the original Picassos and Rembrandts that adorned the walls of Coz' apartment (who knew that such treasures could be found at Goodwill?) while listening to Iron Butterfly, on vinyl of course.

I was always charmed by how sweet and gentle Cosmo was when chatting with my mother on her occasional visits to Madison. He alone realized that she was in fact Queen Elizabeth (the second) and treated her with all due reverence. I was also intrigued by his family tree: it is not every day that one meets the lovechild of James Dean (who was actually Mahatma Gandhi) and Judy Garland. Imagine my surprise upon learning that these celebrated parents were murdered by Jimmy Carter, who is in fact a vampire. The story darkens further when one learns that Coz' psychiatrist is Henry Kissinger and that Dr. Kissinger has, for years, been attempting to poison him, sometimes with the help of John Mitchell.

But there were bright spots as well: Coz was fortunate enough to have his wives, Donna Shalala and Edie Brickell, keeping the home fires burning for him.

Of course I had my own secrets, often hidden even from myself. It took Coz' clarity to help me discover that I was the head of the Israeli underground. Coz was no fan of the policies of the Israeli government, but my position did not cause friction between us because he also helped me to remember that I was using my position to subvert the hostile policies of Israel towards the Palestinians. I was one of the "good Jews."

I have to stop myself now. It's been so easy for me to remember all the laughter and entertainment that Coz (always willingly and with that love of the spotlight) provided us. I remember equally well the intimidating first impression he made on so many. But he was, above all, a great friend and a skilled observer, with keen intuition about the emotional state of those close to him. He was an extraordinary judge of character (most of the time). The more time we spent together, the more accustomed I grew to the logic of his universe, couched as it was in his language which blended the tropes of politics, history, religion and rock 'n roll into a singular form of discourse that proved to be truly cohesive. Furthermore, it was apparent that, as with many entertainers, his own pain and adversity provided much of the fuel for his art and for the breadth of his often overlooked humanity.

Best wishes,

Dan Kamionkowski
Cleveland, OH


I remember you well, Dan, and Otis too. I much appreciate this brick you’ve added: there’s so much in it that is familiar. We knew the Man at the same time, after all, and heard him discourse on much the same range of issues.

But I appreciate your post for another reason too: it helps clarify a little about one of the Cosmic mysteries--namely, his super-subtle diet.

Considering that most of Cosmo’s current friends in Madison believe his death can be attributed to his low calorie intake, it may be that Amy’s was in fact crucial during those years for maintaining the Cosmic substance. The problem is not of course that Cosmo was malnourished through a lack of money or available food--or through neglect on the part of people watching out for him. It was rather that he was so incredibly particular about what he ate, and when he ate.

That Amy’s was right there across from his place on Gilman (the disguised ancient Phoenician building he lived in) meant that if he was in the mood to eat, he could just stop in and someone would be there who knew how to prepare what he was willing to eat. In other words: Who knows but that you guys at Amy’s, and at the other eateries around State, literally kept Cosmo alive during those years?

I myself only saw him eat on a couple occasions. One of those times was at Amy’s. I don’t know what it meant for him to have groceries in the house--how often he actually ate at home. I’d have to ask Annie McGuire more about this, as she was his case manager over recent years.

But it seems to me it was a tough case all around. You couldn’t simply force Cosmo to eat if he didn’t want to: he was a vegetarian, he had an unpredictable appetite, and most of the time the food around him was suspect--of having been poisoned, for example. You guys at Amy's were a godsend, I'd guess.

Thanks for the great post, Dan.


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