What parallel courses did the rapper and the novelist follow that evening?
Starting united at a normal walking pace from the rapper’s recording studio, both reduced pace, bearing left, and followed Main Street, crossing the intersections of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Streets, respectively. The novelist was receiving the Nobel Prize in literature. The rapper was debating retirement.
What was the rapper wearing?
One costume consisting of an oversized novelty nose (brown), Groucho Marx glasses and moustache. One Native American headdress. One leopard-print miniskirt.
And the novelist?
What did the rapper call himself when he dressed in this fashion?
MC Humpty Hump.
And the novelist?
Had not yet chosen an alter-ego. Did not yet have a rap name.
What did the duo discuss during their itinerary?
Music, literature, the Bay Area, the Yiddish language, ghosts, retirement, Nobel prizes, Burger King bathrooms, and women. They asked questions such as the following:
The rapper to the novelist: Why do you write in a dying language?
People ask me often, “Why do you write in a dying language?” And I want to explain it in a few words.
Firstly, I like to write ghost stories and nothing fits a ghost better than a dying language. The deader the language the more alive is the ghost. Ghosts love Yiddish and as far as I know, they all speak it.
Secondly, not only do I believe in ghosts, but also in resurrection. I am sure that millions of Yiddish speaking corpses will rise from their graves one day and their first question will be: “Is there any new Yiddish book to read?” For them Yiddish will not be dead.
Thirdly, for 2000 years Hebrew was considered a dead language. Suddenly it became strangely alive. What happened to Hebrew may also happen to Yiddish one day.
The novelist to the rapper: What are your reasons for retiring from music?
My reasons for retiring are:
1. I get no satisfaction or fulfillment from it anymore. It doesn’t make me happy. On the contrary, it depresses me. Normally I’m not depressed, it’s only surrounding the studio. I’m happy when I’m away from the studio.
2. Can’t make a living at it. 90% of the studio work I’ve done in the last six years has all been either for free or for peanuts, and hasn’t generated any income since.
3. It drives me to do drugs, ’cause I HATE BEING IN THE STUDIO.
If they had numbered their answers, why would they have done so?
Because this was their temperament. Or to ward off ghosts.
Were the duo old friends?
To the onlooker, to passersby, it would have appeared so, in the way they walked step for step with each other, headdresses flowing behind them. And in the way they spoke with a familiarity not often achieved as quickly as they had achieved it, last night in the strip club.
Were they lonely?
What did the rapper say to elaborate on his reasons for his impending retirement?
Every man has the right to the pursuit of happiness and should first try a job that he might gain happiness and fulfillment from. This doesn’t make me happy anymore. It makes me miserable and a drug addict. I’m forty-two and have wants/needs/bills/responsibilities. So there it is, spread the word, I quit. I don’t make beats, I don’t do vocals, I don’t write vocals, NONE OF IT.
Did writing make the novelist happy?
It did, sometimes. He liked writing but nothing that went along with it. He hated book reviews and literary criticism and pompousness and self-doubt.
Did the novelist have any advice for his new friend?
Having met him only the night previous, having marveled both at his capacity for alcohol and at his hip-hop prowess, and having himself in earlier days also put too much pressure on himself and his work, the novelist felt he had no wisdom to offer his younger friend.
Was this a copout?
What act did the novelist make upon their arrival at their destination?
At the steps leading to the Nobel Banquet, he paused, then turned to glance at himself in the rounded mirror of an SUV parked in the street. He slicked back his eyebrows, adjusted his novelty glasses, headdress, and miniskirt, and invited the rapper to precede him through the entrance.
Where was the Nobel Banquet held?
In the multipurpose room of a local high school, following the girls’ junior varsity basketball practice.
Were there folding tables?
There were. This was a catered event to be preceded by a speech from the Superintendent. The ceiling of the multipurpose room was still adorned with prom decorations, which school officials felt lent the Nobel Banquet the formal and somber tone it deserved.
On which decorative choices did the novelist and the rapper agree?
On the contrasting effects of purple and yellow, on the sequins affixed to the Styrofoam letters spelling P-R-O-M.
At what moment did the rapper and the novelist recognize that their similar tastes might bring them into competition?
Upon catching each other gazing at a young woman fastening her hairnet.
And who was this young woman?
The dropout daughter of the Superintendent. Here ostensibly to make her dad proud via her new job with the catering company.
More likely, though?
To embarrass him. The rapper and the novelist listened in on a conversation she was having with another member of the catering crew. They heard her describe her displeasure with her father, with education, with jobs in the service industry. “What I really want to be,” she said, “is an actor.”
Who emerged as the prominent figure of her narration?
Stephanie, actor and caterer. Last year she delivered a stunning performance as herself during a school event called Ghost Out, designed to frighten students into avoiding drug use and drinking and driving. Stephanie had been so convincing in pantomiming her own heroin overdose and subsequent funeral, and had dropped out of high school so soon afterward, that many classmates and teachers believe that she is actually dead.
At what point did the novelist and the rapper part ways, the rapper securing a seat at the foremost table and the novelist obligated to shake hands with Swedish royalty and school board officials?
As Stephanie broke away from her coworker to place yellow and purple napkins on each of the folding tables, the rapper and the novelist moved quickly to these new positions, as if to disguise that their trajectories had been interrupted by eavesdropping.
What plans for after retirement did the rapper write on a yellow napkin as he sat awaiting his friend’s speech?
I most likely will try my hand at some of these:
- Regular jobs in service (like clubs, hotels, restaurants, who knows?)
Did the rapper look at the young actress/caterer as he wrote this list?
He did. He watched her walk toward and begin speaking to the novelist. The author shook her hand, then nodded, listening, as she whispered something into his ear.
What did Stephanie request of the novelist?
That he ask his friend, the rapper, for an autograph.
Had she read the novelist’s work?
She had, and found it terribly boring.
Did she tell him this?
What was the rapper’s opinion of the novelist’s work?
Having read and appreciated most of his stories in their original Yiddish, the rapper felt a vicarious pride in his friend’s award.
What prohibited the novelist from relaying Stephanie’s request for the rapper’s autograph?
Her father, the Superintendent, had begun his speech, warning children to finish their educations or else never find a good job. This speech was interrupted, though, by two things:
1st, Stephanie dropping a large box of confectioner’s sugar, which consumed her in a cloud of white.
2nd, Mrs. Hansford, the math teacher, screaming upon seeing Stephanie, who she believed to be dead from heroin.
What was Stephanie’s response?
“Ooooh … I’m a ghooost.” Waving her fingers and wavering her voice. Leaping onto a table and taking a bow.
Did her father then introduce the novelist?
He did, and the novelist began his speech: “Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen…”
Did he look at the rapper as he spoke?
Did he see Stephanie approach the rapper with a pen and autograph book?
He did, and he saw the rapper smile.
Smiling too, she bookmarked the rapper’s signature and took the empty seat next to him, calling friends on her cell phone, missing the best parts of the novelist’s speech.
Did her actions frustrate the novelist?
At first, but she made him remember something important.
How many reasons did the novelist have for why he began to write for children?
Five hundred, but to save time he would mention only ten of them.
Number 1) Children read books, not reviews. They don’t give a hoot about the critics.
Number 2) Children don’t read to find their identity.
Number 3) They don’t read to free themselves of guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion, or to get rid of alienation.
Number 4) They have no use for psychology.
Number 5) They detest sociology.
Number 6) They don’t try to understand Kafka or Finnegan’s Wake.
Number 7) They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff.
Number 8) They love interesting stories, not commentary, guides, or footnotes.
Number 9) When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority.
It was coming. He preceded it with a dramatic pause, and he motioned for the soundman to focus a spotlight on his friend in the front row.
Number 10) They don’t expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity. Young as they are, they know that it is not in his power. Only the adults have such childish illusions.
After the banquet, the award, and the handshaking, to where did the duo, now trio, proceed?
To a New Year’s Eve party at the home of the Superintendent and his dropout daughter. School board officials and Swedish nobility congregated upstairs around the vegetable dip, while Stephanie, the rapper, and the novelist, who was himself the guest of honor, retreated to the unfinished basement.
Was there a karaoke machine?
There was. The rapper and Stephanie sang “Rhinestone Cowboy” with pretend Swedish accents, and the novelist, in tribute to his new friend, recited “The Humpty Dance.”
Was the novelist given a rap name?
Was it midnight yet?
It was close.
Had the trio linked arms?
They had, bracing toward a future that was certainly coming.
In 3 … 2 … 1 ….
* This story incorporates elements from the letter that rapper Shock-G circulated to announce his retirement, and author Isaac Bashevis Singer’s 1978 Nobel Banquet speech.
Mickey Hess is Assistant Professor of English at Rider University, and the author of Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory, Icons of Hip Hop, and Is Hip Hop Dead? Mickey’s stories and essays have been published in Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: Best of McSweeney’s Humor Category, and such journals as McSweeney’s, Ninth Letter, Punk Planet, Fourteen Hills, Pear Noir, Opium Magazine, Quick Fiction, and The Foundling Review.
“My favorite front porch was in the Germantown neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, where I watched a neighbor tackled and arrested on his own front porch.”