Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Iced Coffee, Honey

I just became aware of the recent passing of Bob "Cosmo" Hicks. I knew him while working at Amy's Cafe in Madison from 1989-1991. Of the 500-plus shifts I worked I think there were only a few during which I did not see him. He occasionally worked there as well, doing the morning cleaning in exchange for food and coffee. I heard all the stories and talked to him during highs and lows and everything in between. I went to his place once, which was right across Gilman Street, and was amazed at how peaceful and tidy it was, in complete contrast to some of his scattershot personality bursts. My favorite times to talk to him was when he was completely lucid because at those times he could listen without ranting and it was such a pleasure because he was brilliant.

I don't think I've ever not thought of Bob when hearing the words “iced coffee” because I gave him hundreds of cups of it.

"Iced coffee, honey, and make it strong . . . ya hear me? Ya hear me, dontcha?"

Yeah, Cos, I hear ya. Rest in peace, my friend.

Duffy Johnson

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

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

From Andy Smith

I went to school at UW from '87-'91 and just stumbled across the Isthmus' Daily Page forum postings. Most of my Cosmo memories are like other people's, things like seeing him walking down the street saying in that signature voice: "Welcome to Gotham City, Batman! BA-HA-HA-HA!"

But I also remembered a story from a friend that is worth relating.

She worked at Steep 'n Brew in the late '80s, so of course she knew Cosmo well. She was a petite and strikingly beautiful woman and was working alone one night (I don't remember exactly why) right before closing time when a guy, whom she'd encountered before and gave her a very bad feeling, came in and parked himself in the upstairs portion of the cafe and made no sign of leaving. It has been years since she told me the story, so many of the exact details escape me, but I remember her explaining why she had a clear sense that this guy knew she was alone and meant her harm.

She was just about at the point of panic when Cosmo walked in. She said she was never so happy to see someone in her life. She said he immediately read the situation and her fear and stayed in the cafe until the creep left.

It's hard to say that Cosmo saved her, but he was certainly in the right place at the right time when she absolutely needed a friend.

That to me summed up Cosmo, and even though I saw him maybe once or twice in the few times I have been back to Madison in the past 17 years, it always made me so happy to see him still around.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

From Jody Mosher

Jody Mosher worked as manager at Steep 'n Brew in the early 1990s. Like me, she's been out of Madison for more than ten years now. She sent me a few memories of those days:
Since receiving the sad news about Cosmo, I've had a rush of memories, bizarre and wonderful, of interactions with him. Strangely, he provided safety for me many a night during closing time at the Brew when he stuck around to help me stack chairs and lock up. Of course it came with a request: "Honey, you got any milk for me tonight?" I'll never forget visiting him at his apartment: the arrangement of stuffed animals, trinkets, candles; the cupboards with canned food he was certain was poisoned and his bare refrigerator with the exception of empty milk cartons. He welcomed me in his way of welcoming.

It must have been difficult for you finding out such news at a distance. You always heard him... didn't you? He seemed to know you were his friend.

Jody and Cosmo at Steep 'n Brew, around 1992.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Otherwise

Some of the following are responses I got from my own family and friends, many of whom met Cosmo or knew him while studying in Madison. Since I assume these people didn’t send their comments to be posted on the blog--they were just responding to the sad news--I will leave the writers unidentified. I post a response to the last. --E.M.

* * *

That's rotten news. Well, goodbye Pumpkin.

I'll be moving back to Wisconsin this summer to take up a new post at U.W. Oshkosh. I'll have to make a side-trip to Rio to leave a fitting memorial at the Last Man's samadhi. --J.F.

* * *

I’m so sad to hear that Cosmo died. Do you remember the second time I went with you to his apartment? I was charmed at how he showed me his collection of what he deemed to be original works of art. He was such a unique person in so many ways. I know it must have been tough for you to hear of his passing.

As I think of his life, I can only believe it was a blessing for him to be living in Madison, where he could find joy and be appreciated by many different people. Most other places would not be accepting of him. Isn't that a sad thing to have to say about the world we live in? Madison gave him a place to experience joy and friendship.

I know Cosmo is in a very special place now because that's where he belongs. --M.M.

* * *

That's sad news. I remember meeting him for the first time. He said he had been in Bosnia, where a gas container or some such ripped open and injured him. --H.H.

* * *

Big shock for all of us. I was down on State St. a couple of days before Coz died. He looked a bit rough around the edges. He seemed to be playing with a rough crowd.

As I walked about it seemed there were gangster types controlling portions of the street. I wouldn't be too suprised to find out someone gave Coz a "Hot Shot" to get him out of the way. . . It's really a different place.

I know you and Coz spent a lot of time together. I on the other hand casually knew Bob since 1981. He helped me install the air conditioner in my Studio in 1984. I helped him move in 2000 or so. He had been homeless for 3 months. His social worker said he was too picky and he told me he couldn't live in the "dives" they showed him. When we were moving his stuff he offered to sell me his air conditioner. We agreed on $50.00. I carried the thing home and plugged it in to find it didn't even work. When next I visited State St. he came into S&B asking where his $150.00 was. That was a topic of contention for 5 years until I just paid him another $25.00.

Many people liked Coz. He always seemed to always have nice things to say. . . unless you bought an air conditioner from him. In that case it was the way he saw it and that was it. I actually started to tell him I was charging him storage.

He'll be missed by many people. --M.D.

* * *

I’ve just spent a good 45 minutes poring over the news of Cosmo di Madison. Shocking that his death seemed to result from malnourishment. Yes, he was divinely skinny.

As for your writings, it seems respectful, a matter of "getting him right," that you chose to approach his stories with absolute seriousness.

There really should be a film made about him. One whose message is the brilliance of one on the edge. I have read those who have responded to the Capital Times article. Some people are obviously aggravated by Cosmo being regarded as a novelty of sorts. Compelling mosh pit of disjointed opinions on how one who is seen as “flawed” or extra-ordinary should be memorialized. There are some parallels with Jesus here, aren’t there? --K.M.

Dear K.:

Of course many people would jump at the mention of Jesus, and say it was ridiculous. But I think it's legitimate to compare anyone to Jesus, especially any Christian who takes it upon him or herself to pass on the good news or to imitate Jesus in some way. One of the important devotional texts of the Middle Ages, after all, was Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ. However unorthodox in some of his statements, Cosmo was deeply pious and certainly spent a lot of his time preaching. So why not compare him to Jesus?

But I can see what you're getting at in comparing Cosmo and Jesus--you're specifically concerned mainly with the matter of the crowd’s reaction to each. And of each we may certainly say: he was a troublemaker. Or to clarify: he was off base; he was not to be ignored; he was a man with a sharp tongue; he had a giant heart. These descriptions apply to both.

(One longtime Madisonian who bought an air conditioner would beg to differ on the "giant heart" part, sure, but even so. . . .)

As for making a film of Cosmo’s life, it is, sadly, too late. There was a student film, a very short documentary, made when I was at Steep ‘n Brew, but that is now lost. One of the goals of the film was to capture Cosmo’s laugh, which was divine in its way. But you know what? Though the Man’s laugh echoed round Madison’s downtown on many an afternoon, the student who made the film never managed to capture it. And you know what else? Though I myself recorded him a handful of times, I never got his laugh on tape either. Cosmo’s laugh seemed to know when there were recording devices around, and would not let itself be pinned down.

So now I wonder--when people read Gospels from the Last Man, people, for instance, who never knew Cosmo, and they come to the Baaaahhhh-hhhhhaaaahh-hhhahhh-hhhaaaaahhhh! can they really imagine what is represented by those letters. I think they can’t.

Regarding the malnutrition issue, I just put up a post on the blog that tries to address some aspects of it. I don't know if I got it right or not. Also we don't know, really, what he died from. But I can guess, pretty well, what Cosmo would say he died from if we could communicate with his spirit, if we could, say, ring him up where he rests at present. I believe he’d say something like this:
They fuckin' got me, the bastards! They finally fuckin’ got me! . . . Kissinger's people, who do you fucking think? I had 'em covered, but I can't do everything. I mean it's one thing to keep al Qaeda and the Venezuelan mafia out of Madison--they don't even PAY me to do that--but now we got this BOZO in the White House who doesn't fucking listen to what I tell him and my boys are busy 24-7 and there must have been a slip-up because I had 27 fucking aneurisms in less than a minute and of course I fucking died. . . .

What? . . . Oh, it's not bad here. The music is kinda bad--I'm gonna have to talk to someone about that--but at least they don't fucking try to drug you every time you put something in your mouth. . . .

No, I don't really have a body here. It’s not a body, honey. It's more like a clatification of my former body, the estiff is different. . . Yeah, everyone’s like that here, we're all claffidated and waiting for the final dalphation. . . .

I miss you too, honey, but listen, if you're in Madison you better get your ass out of town because once word gets out what happened to me you're gonna have every fuckin' terrorist and drug king pin on the planet swarming around for a piece of the action. Psssh! I bet they already starting making pornography right on the street corner. 'C'mon, little girl, we'll make you famous, me and my friend here from Hollywood! C'mon, just do what we tell ya now.' Ya hear me? It's fucking sick! Ya hear me? Ya hear me, don't ya?. . .

No, I haven't met him yet. . . . No. . . . I don't know why because he should be here to meet me. . . . No, I think they put me in the wrong level. . . . Don't worry, doll. They'll get it straightened out. . . . No, everything's fine. . . . Only the music. . . . Yeah me, too, doll. . . .

Yeah, I know. Look, I gotta go. There's something I gotta take care of. . . . Yeah, I love you too, doll. I'll talk to you next time. Or when you get here--if you fucking get here. . . . No, I just mean you gotta keep it clean. You need to be a little more serious about things, Eric. Just keep it clean, no monkey business. . . Listen, I really gotta go. I got something they want me to take care of. . . . Yeah. Seeya. . . .
I’m not sure how close I got to the voice this time. In the past I almost always worked from notes; now I have to do my best to hear him through the spirit. But I think that’d be about what Cosmo would say.



Friday, April 18, 2008

Karma Good & Loud

I once ran into Cosmo in front of the Good & Loud Music Store on University Avenue, on what can only be described as a dreadful late February day. It was about 34 degrees, and an icy frozen rain was falling steadily.

I parked my car in front, and as I was walking in the door, Cos was walking out. He was barefoot, and the only clothes he had on was a pair of black leather jeans, tighter than Jim Morrison's. He had a Fender Stratocaster strapped over his shoulder, and he just started walking out to the street. I told him to duck back inside and I'd give him a lift after I was done picking up my guitar. He just shrugged and said, "Nah, man, I gotta go."

He walked out to the road in that miserable sleet, stuck out his thumb, and about the second car picked him up. When he opened the door, the driver said, "Cosmo, get in! Where ya goin'?"

To me it was just another example of Cosmo's karma.


Cosmo di Madison: Elementary School Photo