In Praise of Gangsta Rap During Christmas

Nicholas Powers Dec 25, 2009

My face feels like a cold rubber mask. I trot down the street to Pequena, a Mexican restaurant of colored lights and puppets dangling from the ceiling, where enchiladas come in blankets of cooked cheese, where it’s warm and I can be alone. It’s the day before the day before Christmas. I’ve rushed through stores getting gifts, sunk feet in mounds of snow while hoisting shopping bags.
An hour ago, while waiting for a train I wanted to drop everything and abandon Christmas. Maybe leave my keys and wallet. Maybe strip naked, fold the clothes into a neat square on the bench and walk away but I’d be seen so I decided to hold my breath and to disappear limb by limb until only my smile was left to fly through the city.
The train whooshed by and I exhaled. Inside the car, everyone had shopping bags cradled like newborns or held between their knees like exercise weights. The crowd pushed in; squeezed tight, face atop face, hot breath fogged glasses and at each stop one or two people squirmed out as if from a cage. In Brooklyn I got out, jogged the steps to the outside where people crossed the street, bags swinging by their sides.
After that traveling, I flap my arms to loosen my body, see the restaurant, go in and music blasts the cold off my face. Two waitresses, one tall with sharp glasses, one short with loose hair, dance to the hip heavy beats of Eminem’s club anthem “Shake That”. It’s as if they’re taking a shower in his words. I stand paralyzed as the tall one asks if I’d like a table but doesn’t stop dancing which is a minor and delicious act of courage. My paralysis fades to penitence. Am I not a man of the Left? Under our intimidating theory, don’t we simply want people to stop working and dance in the streets? Well here in an empty Mexican restaurant, two waitresses bored in the vacuum between orders began to dance. I should pray to this evidence of the hoped for world, where I’m not playing the Customer and she’s not playing the Waitress. Instead she is free to ride a song’s rhythm as if an invisible horse was galloping under her. I blink a few times and feel the beat throbbing in my joints, massage my head. Shrugging theatrically, I let go of my bags, spin and shimmy and take a shower in his words.

“Looking for a couple bitches with some double d’s
Pop a little champagne and a couple E’s
Slip it in her bubbly, we finna finna have a party”

After dancing a bit, I sit down, breath and feel eerily calm. Eminem flushed out the syrupy mandated intimacy of Christmas. Head swaying like a bell between the beats, I realize how hypnotized I’ve been by the lights and family propaganda. In the past weeks we’ve been given our capitalist marching orders to cuddle with a lover, buy shit, call our parents, buy shit, sing to Jesus, buy shit, eat buttery mounds of meat, buy shit, suck on tooth acid candy, buy shit, wrap up gifts and give to family, buy more shit. Hearing the nasty, loveless, jubilantly cruel, crotch-grabbing narcissism of Gangsta rap is so anti-Christmas it heals false-consciousness.

“I want a bitch that sit at the crib with no panties on
Knows that she can but she won’t say no
Now look at this lady all in front of me, sexy as can be
Tonight I want a slut, will you be mine?
I heard you was freaky from a friend of mine”

“He is nasty,” she said.
“Thank God,” I say. “Gangsta rap cured me of Christmas.” The tall waitress laughs. “The song’s from Curtain Call I think. He did write one nice song about his wife.”
“He did?”
“Yep, they have so much drama and he turns that drama into songs about her. He owes her his career.”
I slap the table, laughing. The shorter waitress with the loose hair takes my order but I wonder how far we can go with this moment. If Eminem was turned up loud, if we danced for more than an obligatory nod to freedom but danced until the windows steamed and the Mexican staff came out of the kitchen and danced as hungry people walked in and realized no food would be served because tonight we made this restaurant the place where the glory began. They would forget their hunger and text their friends who text their friends and a crowd would push in, writhing and sweating and lighting their shopping bags on fire as the sprinklers spouted umbrellas of water but then my dinner came and I swallowed the fantasy down with the food.
The waitress and I banter about Hip Hop. What will it be like when we’re at retirement age and our caretakers play the songs of our youth, will we hear Eminem again? Will he still be alive and rapping about a death he never thought he’d live to see? Will we be cursing along with the song? What will the youth think of us then?
“God if our music is like this what will their music be like,” she asked playfully.
I gobbled a bite, “Hopefully they’ll be meditating to windmills.”
Soon I leaned back, my belly full like a water-balloon. I thanked them for inspiring me with Gangsta rap and said goodbye. Walking home, past the well-lit Fort Green I feel icy wind numb my hands. I tuck them into my pockets but quickly take them out. They’re empty. No bags, just lifelines permanently tangled. I keep going home.

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