OCTOBER 15, 1998
by Valerie Shertzman

October 15, 1998, would have been a beautiful even if the weather hadn't been perfect. After weeks of plans and changes in plans I was driving from my quiet, almost rural, little town, to the bustle of Los Angeles. I was meeting someone special, but I didn't know how very special, at the time. My ideas of why he was special were soon to be called into question too.

The appointment was for 2:00 I was 7 minutes early and was slowly gathering the things I had brought; the book, the flowers, my camera, etc., when I noticed a male figure, in black slacks, walking from the house, towards my car. I did not see the face till I stood up and he was right next to me. Then he said "hello", even if I hadn't recognized the face, the voice would have been a dead give away. Warm and deep it washed over me, as it had from the first time I'd heard it, 26 years ago. I was standing face to face with Leonard Cohen, so I started handing him things, the flowers, the book, my camera...no, wait a minute he can have the book and flowers I'll carry something. My composure was slipping, a little, he helped me pick that up and escorted me up to the offices.

The offices are on the second floor of an old house and are simple and beautiful. The hardwood floors are bare, except for the Oriental rugs placed here and there, the furnishings are natural pine, very simple. It suited him and my tastes tend in the same direction so I was immediately comfortable (well less uncomfortable). He introduced me to Joan Lynch and later Kelley then took me to his office. It overlooks the back yard and is very quiet and peaceful. The book we gave him was put on the desk and he rushed off to the kitchen to find a vase for the flowers, then went to show them to Joan. I was very touched by his obvious pleasure in this simple gift. We then looked over the book, his pure joy with the outpouring of gifts and messages was fun to see. The poem with Sandy's painting was first; our mutual sorrow at the loss of such talent was discussed. St. Jane's etching brought up the remark that she had sent him another, the calligraphy by almost ex Mrs. TomD and the picture of Dick in front of Mr. Cohen's, Mother's house were noted. The cards and pages of greetings will be savored later.

He is such a humble man his humility surprised me. Here he was in an office where the people work for him and he got up to fix us both a drink, mine with his without. He confessed to a bit of illness due to what he had consumed the night before. His need to accommodate me and make me feel welcome was refreshing to say the least. I've been married so long, with friends that are all married, to have a man show that kind of hospitality was almost unimaginable.

He asked if I was hungry I wasn't, but he was, so we went out to the kitchen and talked as I watched him make a sandwich. Something in me felt the need to do it for him, being a mom will do that to you. He offered me half; this scene repeated it self later. I really wasn't hungry, my stomach was still having trouble adjusting. I would be siting there talking to this person who felt like an old friend I hadn't seen in years, then I would realize "Oh, my God, this is Leonard Cohen" bingo stomach in a knot again. No, his shoes came out fine, I didn't embarrass myself. After a while the old friend thing won out.

I was with him for two and a half hours and saw a man who has found some relief from the demons of his past. He seemed (dare I say it?) happy, well at least content. We talked about how Zen works, allowing its members to maintain their family religions also. I asked if he changed the meeting place because of the negative remarks made in Pico's article, he laughed and said it was because he had to be in LA for another reason, he was not disturbed by the article. I get the feeling he sees he and Roshi as co-conspirators in a game that brings him some peace.

We talked about drug use our youth, we both shared an appreciation for one type of drug. We talked about our kids he is an amazingly concerned and proud father. When he speaks of his two children there is so much respect and love in his voice it warmed me. He wears the title father with much honor. Then there is the secret we both know, after you reach 50, you no longer feel you have to live up to anyone's expectations but your own, the freedom that brings is awesome.

I asked about his country days and he told me he liked Kris Kristofferson, his lyrics especially, also the admiration for the causes he works on. Then Judy Collins, he showed me the new book she had sent him and we talked about her life and how I felt a parallel with her. The suicide of her son came up and brought to his mind the fact that Sandy's son had done the same. He and I sat as two parents and mourned for other parent's losses.

He gave me two of the books he had written and inscribed them, and if I looked interested in another one, I got that one too. I received a CD of Morente doing Lorca and Cohen, incredible. I went in wearing a pin signifying that I was a member of the Order of the Unified Heart. I received this pin from Snow who had won it in one of Jarkko's contests. There is a new pin being sent to our friend GeoffREY courtesy of Mr. Cohen. He affirmed that he has read A Course in Miracles. He was interested in how many people there were in the group, I estimated about 30 regulars and some who seldom or never post but are there nonetheless. I mentioned Judith Fitzgerald and he recognized her; we spoke of some others, he is going to talk to his sister about her "stalker", AKA Geoff Gompers.

We were going to see, his daughter, Lorca but the time was wearing on, and he was weary, as was I. That might happen another time. Kelley took pictures of us, Mr. Cohen clowned a bit for the camera. He was worried I might not be up to the drive home after two drinks, and offered to make up a place for me to rest, I declined. I truly found a friend Thursday, one who is funny, kind, concerned, and feels a great deal of affection for my other friends. I sent him a thank you card, and would like to thank him again here, as well as Kelley & Joan Lynch, Jarkko, and all of you for a truly memorable day.


His voice like
A whiskered chin
Moving along nerves
As along skin.
He held my hand through the speakers
And his voice could be heard
On that wire by the bird
As he spread his wings
To spread the word....

His voice like a light in the fog
Repeating the Captain's log
A voice that enfolds you with freedom and pain
Cause there's nothing left to lose
In this famous blue rain
The music like
A soothing hand
That softly follows
Where the chin has been.

Skewered heart meat
Women in heat
All of us dancing
To the same beat.

Lift us high
Into the sky
Give us our freedom!
Let us know why!
He pulls us together
Lifting us high
Giving us freedom
Telling us why.

Why do we feel
Your sensual appeal?
Stand here, naked!
Serve us our meal!

We must play
This song again
Or some other
The voice is the same.

We losers came so far
As beautiful as we are
To bring our love
To the mountain above.

He should know for ever
There are those who never
Forget a single line
From his poems divine.

He takes our hearts
With outstanding words
We've got no other choice
Than to celebrate his voice.

Past all concern for matter
Our ghost haunts us with her silver style
And tonight will be fine, will be fine

Will be fine
For awhile...
And he's still working
We're all still working
For those smiles.

Valerie Shertzman compiled the birthday book
using contributions from readers of The Leonard
Cohen Newsgroup. Sandy Merriman's painting (above)
was used on the title page.

Birthday poem by Sandy Merriman, Judith Fitzgerald,
Tom Dukovcic, Henning Franz

Photos by Kelley Lynch. A couple of other photos
are shown on Patrice Clos's French Leonard Cohen site.