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The Rhyme

An excerpt from Besskepp's new collection of short stories, Up The Street Around The Corner.

The Rhyme

We’d rock-paper-scissor for shotgun in Mike Gill’s parent’s van.  We were teenagers about to roll out.  We called the van The Ambulance because of its looks.  It was a siren and a red light away from being allowed to speed.  Wide with a shortage of seat belts, The Ambulance had overwhelming space, a few windows, and an eight track player.  The 8-track player was its claim to fame.  We’d dig up our Pops eight-tracks and tote them in The Ambulance like artifacts; sacrificing hip hop.

Mike Gill was the coolest Caucasian in the nation.   He went to schools that had names like Cesar Chavez Middle School and Martin Luther King Elementary.   In fact, I met him there in 3rd grade.   He played basketball, so he was long.  He watched Yo MTV Raps, so he was cool.  He drove The Ambulance, so he was more mobile than any of us.

Brian talked about people’s mamas for no reason. He had no boundaries when it came to jokes.  He spent his free time studying the game of football.  We all knew he’d be a great coach someday.  He could be militant too.  He once tried to write raps which resulted in him sounding like the poor-man’s version of Chuck D.  We never took him seriously when he said Ahsah Lahmah Lake Um, because he never said it correctly. 

Roland always had pretty girlfriends because he was considered tall for an Asian.  He was Filipino and thought he had more rhythm then he actually did.  He was the best athlete up until the 8th grade, and gained popularity because he could touch the rim.  All of the sudden, he stopped jumping, stopped growing, and stopped running fast.  He didn’t gain weight, he didn’t do drugs, which left us all wondering; what the hell happened?

JB was an only child.  His presence saved me from being the shortest of the crew. He was a soft-spoken fast runner who always had the latest Nikes.  I always admired him because of his shag.  Not because he had one, but when people told him to cut it off, he ignored them, and kept rockin’ it like it was still in style.  

We’d stand outside Lou’s Liquor until someone of age agreed to by us alcohol.   Strawberry Hill was the popular drink.  Mickey’s was a close second.  There was always the one person brave enough to buy Mad Dog 20/20.  He’d be the first to vomit, make a fool of himself, or try to start a fight.  Every one of us played that particular role at least once, so it wasn’t a big deal.  The Mad Dog person would usually get a call from each of us reminding him of the stupid things he did the night before. Usually the Mad Dog person was too hung-over to respond, or even question the damage done.

We sat sardined in The Ambulance, shoulders touching. As big as the van was, seats were minimum.  Intoxicated and happy, we’d talk about each other’s mommas, say you-so-poor jokes to one another.  You so poor you use an ice-chest for a refrigerator!   Your family is so poor, when someone told yall it was chili outside, yall went outside with bowls! 

We talked about the females that came up, and the ones that fell off. We were proud of our crew as we knew we were tighter than other crews.  The Ambulance! we would yell, they don’t know about The Ambulance!  

Eventually someone would have me do That Rhyme prior to reaching our destination.  Although I had rhymes, That Rhyme was the rhyme they liked.  We all had our buzz on; bout to go to a party, and it was time to spit That Rhyme.  I realized years prior that I loved to perform, so I had no problem kicking it to my boys on a Friday night in the ambulance while buzzed off Strawberry Hill.   

Mike turned the 8 track down.  The ambulance got quiet:

Electricity cut off in a middle of a movie

Putting in applications, but employees don’t want to use me

Is it my nappy head or my lack of education?
I’m tired of being rejected, I’m tired of applications!

No food in my house I’m looking at my neighbors’ poodle
31 ways to cook top ramen noodles

Electric people tripping, gas, water too
When your bill’s fluorescent green, you know your bill is overdue

So what am I to do with the problems I endure?
Mom’s quit her job because the welfare pays her more

$5.25 don’t even pay the rent
$5.25 don’t make any sense!

Sometimes I want to go out and snatch myself a purse
Every single month I’m looking forward to the first

I can’t remember the time when I had something new
So tell me what the hell I am supposed to do!
Tell me what the hell am I supposed to do!
Tell me what the hell
Tell me what the hell
Tell me what the hell am I supposed to do!

None of the homies ever made an attempt to confirm if that rhyme was my story.  We made jokes about people on welfare, looked down on people who robbed and stole, and would have countless you- so- poor . . . sessions.  According to That Rhyme, I was all of that and then some. 

That Rhyme reflected a situation too personal to talk about.  It explained why I was the best at those you- so- poor jokes.  I was merely reflecting.  It set me free every weekend. We would step out of The Ambulance, heads held high, buzz on, swagger in tact, knowing at least someone in our crew has been through it already, and lived to rhyme about it. 

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