Saturday, June 7, 2008

From Thomas Lee Elifritz

Photo by Mark Duerr, late 1980s.

I knew Robert Hicks. The last time I saw him was last winter, a particularly harsh one. I met Robert perusing the Steep ‘n Brew coffee selection with his mother at Woodman's East one day. I always called him by his given name Robert, and he always shed the Cosmo facade like it was another of his well worn jackets, shifting into the rational, polite Robert mode for me, the Robert I knew in middle school and high school. It was easy for him. I'm guessing most of you who only knew "Cosmo" never knew he could do that. His mother certainly knew it. I remarked on how it was a wonderful coincidence meeting him in the Steep and Brew aisle at Woodman's, and we thought we must be getting very old when that was the best we could do in the middle of what normally would have been an average winter for us on State Street in our alternative living room that was the Steep ‘n Brew back in those days, and before that, the glass bong shop. I thought it would be nice if we could set up a couch and table right there in the aisle and start brewing coffee. He seemed a little off to me at that time, and they were stocking up on food, so I had a suspicion that he wasn't as well as he used to be. It was very easy to see a mother's love.

Robert and I ran with an outcast intellectual crowd in a farming community high school servicing the "Hick" towns in northern Dane county and at the Columbia county border. In a world of jocks and hicks, he was ahead of the curve back then as well.

I didn't see him again until he was full on "Cosmo," after some jagged psychological discontinuity somewhere along the line, but it was clear to me that he could shift out of it at will, if only temporarily, often by having someone address him by his given name, and treating him with the respect that, at least in my world, he’d already earned. And true to form, he was always respectful enough of his old friends to at least take his persona off briefly, or in times of stress, momentarily. Cosmo was a gentleman.

For a few years there, during his 50's "hard ass" poetry phase, he was a star. This is how I remember him then.

I was greatly saddened to hear of his wonderful family's great loss.

Thomas Lee Elifritz
Madison, Wisconsin