For You, The Stars
Chapter Five: Paid in Full
Cecilia did her best to comfort me. Neither of us understood why I’d gone to pieces like that. We chalked it up to the wine and the weed and the hot tub - you’re not supposed to mix them, after all - but I still felt shaky and unmanned by my sudden loss of control.
When I was back in the office I went to the repro room to make a personal call. More and more lately I’d been hanging out there, ostensibly to use the xerox machine or to sort mail, but really to hang out with the two young guys who made the bluelines.
Both of them were about my age and both had grown up right in San Francisco. Keith was a black guy, about my height, who was always teasing me. It took awhile for him to accept me as more than just an uptight college boy. Mike was this huge Samoan guy who was totally identified with African-American culture.
We sometimes shared the music we had going on our walkmans. Keith and Mike were almost strictly into rap. That was the first time I heard a song referred to as a “jam” without there being any jamming. I learned a lot of contemporary slang from those guys. “Don’t trip,” Mike would say if I overreacted to something, for example.
I found it amusing that words like jam and trip had made it from the hippie vocabulary over to the street. Keith always called me “homie,” another term I’d never heard before. He said it with a slight sardonic air, and I realized I didn’t really know what he meant by it when he up and asked me one day what did I think it meant.
“Does it mean ‘white guy’?” I asked him. He just laughed.
“Nah,” he said. “It means home boy.”
“Like someone from the ‘hood,” said Mike.
That made me feel cool, once I got over feeling stupid.
The three of us did share an interest in rap and other music. They tipped me off to cool stuff I’d never have encountered on my own, like Too $hort’s cassette-only releases straight out of Oakland, and I’d always be trying to find something from the classic rock world I thought would grab them.
We came together on Eric B. & Rakim. Those guys sort of exemplified the peak first wave of hip hop I’d been listening to in college, with its stripped down beats and straightforward rhymes: “fish/which is my favorite dish.” Twice a month we’d put on “Paid in Full” on the boombox in the repro room.
As the guys got more comfortable with me being around, and as I got a little shaggier and more inclined to hang out there, I started using their space to make my personal calls. There was less of a chance of someone coming by and interrupting me there. I still tended to call Cecilia from my desk because I needed to sit for long conversations like that, but for quickies, I could lean on the formica counter and use the phone there while they brought packages to the front window and handled requests for blueline reproductions.
I got Paulie on the phone. He was still the main guy I turned to with my most difficult problems. He just seemed wordly and matter-of-fact. He was willing to talk about anything. I remember one day in school, a couple of us were standing around on Washington Road chatting when he said, “Well, I’m going to go back to my room and jack off.”
Sure, he said it for effect, but I had no doubt he was telling the truth, and I admired his transparency. Paulie was also full of little aphorisms. If someone said “Feel free,” he’d reply. “No, feel expensive.”
Paulie was working now assistant managing some sort of industrial plant down in southern California. I got him on the phone and said, “Hey, Paulie. It’s Daniel. How you been? Have you got a minute?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
I told him about the hot tub incident. The weird way I’d burst out crying when Cecilia had said “Daddy.” I asked him if he had any ideas what that might be about.
“Sorry, man. Not really. But I wouldn’t worry about it. Emotions are good.”
“I know,” I said. “But I like to know where they’re coming from. Plus it didn’t feel very manly, crying in her arms like that.”
“She’s not going to think any less of you for it.”
That was true. She hadn’t even mentioned it the next day.
Paulie and I talked about some other stuff - a few common friends, how he was liking LA, and then I thanked him and let him get back to his work.
Keith asked me if I wanted to go smoke a doob during lunch and I said yes.