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A Man of Great Principles
By Todd Levin


Bill and his family came to dominate our lives for much of the school year. He was unquestionably a guy's guy -- a former member of an Arizona biker gang -- whom God decided to teach some hilarious cosmic lesson by banishing him to a house full of women, with no male heir. As such, Bill enjoyed the social company of other guys, and didn't seem to mind that my roommates and I barely filled this requirement. Bill also possessed an irrational belief that his family needed round-the-clock protection for his girls, and part of our arrangement as his tenants was an implicit understanding that we would serve as protectors of his wife and girls in Bill's absence. Though we never spoke of it, this was a task my roommates and I were absolutely not up to. I used to tell myself, if there is an intruder while Bill is away, I hope he's armed and I hope he kills me first so I don't have to explain my failure to Bill Cobb.

My self-assured incompetence as a guard dog hardly mattered, anyway, as Bill's wife was perfectly capable of protecting herself. Bill had bought her an assault rifle for their one-year wedding anniversary, explaining that this was the best possible weapon for a woman of her size and skill. She wasn't a great shot, Bill told us, but she didn't really need to be, as the gun had a 10-foot spray radius up to 25 feet. My father doesn't even know my mother's bathrobe size.

A single year of living below and behind Bill Cobb produced a wealth of evidence to establish his character but I think there are three Bill Cobb incidents that can do the job much more efficiently, should I ever be called upon to testify.

The Madonna Incident
Bill would frequently knock on the door between his home and our apartment to "hang" with us. It was usually late at night, during the week, and he was always drunk. When we heard his knocks, one of my roommates would grab the TV remote and change the channel from A&E or Lifetime or whatever we were watching, to MTV. Because MTV had girls on it, and girls have tits. And I once read a Masters & Johnson report that provided research indicating men often appreciate the presence of tits when grouped together socially. When Bill would spy the TV screen -- and it could have been Whitney Houston or Angie Dickinson or Barbara Bush -- he'd identify whichever woman was featured on it and deliver a variation on this signature line: "Hmmph…Madonna. I'd do her…AGAIN!"

The Treehouse Incident
Toward the end of the school year, I found Bill in his backyard in the middle of the night, tearing away a section of two-by-fours from his daughters' tree house. He was armed -- the handle of a police issue handgun peered above his waistband - for reasons I still cannot understand. I asked Bill what he was up to, and he told me he'd been meaning to make some improvements on it for a while. Specifically, he was making modifications to create a clear line of sight into the tree house from his bedroom.

He could see that I was puzzled by this, so he provided an unsolicited explanation. "Here's the deal. I want to be able to see what my kids are up to. My oldest, Rhiannon, has been hanging out with boys lately and you know how it is. She's at that age where she's getting an itchy snatch." Rhiannon was nine years old.

The Town Meeting Incident
It has probably already become obvious that Bill and his family were considered a scourge on our quiet, historically preserved college town. Bill came down to our place one night, clearly distraught. Earlier that evening, in front of a full town meeting, the mayor publicly referred to Bill as a second-class citizen. We all pretended shock, making sure to sprinkle in a ton of swear words, in another example of our constant effort to convince Bill we were supportive men, and not just the tremendous bunch of pussies we appeared to be by all outward appearances. "Why, that peckerhead!" I roared, dribbling some Seagram's Red Wine Cooler down the front of my Edie Brickell t-shirt. "What did you do when the mayor said that?"

And this is exactly what Bill did, in our kitchen: grabbing himself by the crotch of his jeans, he said, "I told him, 'second class citizen' this!"

Yes, Bill, that ought to show them.

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