Martin & Me
“How do you listen to this? There’s no rapping. Not even a hook to sing. What is this, Country-Western Lynching Music?” Martin said, giving Jay back his iPod, holding it outstretched by his fingertips like the music device was a used diaper. Annoyed, Jay snatched it from his brother with his free hand while taking a sip from his Angry Orchard. Martin, self-satisfied with his unkempt cornrows, Public Enemy t-shirt and denim skinny jeans, cracked open a Heineken bottle. “What’s wrong with Otis Taylor, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger?” Jay said. “It’s folk music. You’re supposed to listen to it – appreciate it — not grind on some woman’s ass to it for seven hours in the dark like you’re on the co-ed Amistad.”
“But what they saying, brah?” said Martin. “I can’t understand a word they saying. They mumbling! Like somebody stomped them in the nuts or something before they sang.” Jay replied in a flat, unaffected monotone like Ed Stein, “Oh. And people still listen to hip-hop for its insightful and thought-provoking messages, its gritty urban tales of despair and triumph over injustice. Yes, that’s exactly what comes to mind when I see LL Cool J rapping with Brad Paisley or Ludacris trying to play guitar with the Florida Georgia Line.”
They both swigged from their respective beverages and stared out toward Eastern Parkway with its never-ending stampede of vehicles. Jay shook his head in cynicism. At least he was out of the office, out of his tight-ass dress clothes and into a comfortable pair of old Timberland carpenters, looking like an out-of-work NYU professor. At least he was outside, sitting on his stoop of his apartment and having drinks with his self-proclaimed OG younger brother, the threat of gunshots or overzealous policemen popping up at random temporarily abated. He could at least tolerate Martin’s faux-gangsta persona – he grew up with it and despite his disaffection for it, it was far more bearable than generating small talk and phony urgency with clients at his sales job. Now, all he wanted to do was crawl into his Angry Orchard and sleep there for the rest of the week.
Martin double-taked at his brother. “Yooo… I just noticed: They made you cut your hair!” He broke down from such a spontaneous and uncontrollable fit of laughter, he had to drop his Heineken gently to keep from shattering it on the pavement. Jay didn’t. He used to have an afro the size of a garden shrub when they moved in from Chicago about six months ago. Now it was trimmed down to a military-like crew-cut, like his toupee was suddenly yanked off. “I decided to cut it,” he said, annoyed he had to convince himself of his rationale more than his brother. “It got too hard to pick after a while. I couldn’t reach the top of my head. I don’t know how Questlove does it.”
Jay and Martin’s attention was fixed on Eastern Parkway again until they happened to notice their cousin, Yasmine, walking from the Utica Ave. subway stop toward them. When she turned into the complex, they also noticed she had one of her friends from college with her, a clean-cut Caucasian transplant dressed like she had walked out of a J.Crew magazine. Martin was instantly smitten. Jay was noncommittal.
They both lifted their drinks in salutations.
“Hey Yaz,” they said in unison.
“Jay, do you have that Rosa Parks book Aunt Brenda gave you?” Yasmine asked.
“It’s in my room. I’m three-quarters of the way through it,” Jay said. “You need it for class?”
“Yeah, I’m trying to research notable women who aren’t feminists. It’s for my end-of-year paper.”
Martin scratched his head in confusion. “Aren’t all women feminists?”
All three turned toward Martin like he just fed a bear raw meat at the zoo.
“Who’s your friend, Yazzy?” Jay asked, breaking the awkward silence.
“Yeah, who the white girl? She got daddy issues?” Martin chimed in unnecessarily.
Holding out her hands like a self-conscious Vanna White, Yaz said, “This is Lindsay, guys. Lindsay, this is Martin and Jay. They moved here from Chicago last year.”
“Yeah, Chi-Town! Murda City Survivors right hurr!” Martin shouted with pride.
Nobody held out their hands for a handshake.
Only Jay noticed Lindsay’s apprehensive gawk. Martin was too fixated on her navy blue miniskirt and grey tank top, scrolling her up and down like she was a Word document.
“It’s a little strange to see black guys as something other than rappers or presidents, isn’t it?” Jay said in a poor attempt at creating small talk. Lindsay was still frozen like a deer in headlights, now twirling her long, newly shorn blonde hair in a nervous tic-like fashion. He returned to sipping on his Angry Orchard, staring dead-eyed at both Yaz and Lindsay, less about making eye contact with them and more attempting to suppress memories he wished had remained back in his hometown… or at work.
“What’s your major?” Jay asked.
Lindsay kept twirling her hair around her index finger while she spoke. “Well, I started out in creative writing but I didn’t like it because every time I tried to write something, it always sucked and then when I brought it in for class, everyone said it was the worst thing they ever read and that I wasn’t being true to myself, which sent me on a nervous breakdown because I couldn’t handle the rejection, so now I’m starting in anthropology and it’s been good so far. Really tough but I think I’m starting to like it.”
“It’s an adjustment, isn’t it?” Jay said, devoid of emotion.
“It is! It so is!” Lindsay exclaimed, apparently ecstatic over making a connection with someone over her academic plight. “Oh my God, the classes are so tough, and there’s so much homework, so much reading. But the professors are really nice and helpful and they know they’re stuff. They promised everyone would find a job in their field when they graduate, too. I feel so reassured now.”
Jay’s stare went from dead-eyed to repulsed faster than even he intended the entire time Lindsay spoke. He had met white girls like her before. He had dated them, fell in love with them, made love to them while he was in college. Somehow he came away feeling worse about himself after every experience. Now before him stood another reminder of those past failures.
Martin, on the other hand, was convinced he had met his soulmate. “You would so help my rap career. You could so be like, my agent!”
Lindsay’s eyes dilated. She hadn’t fully formed an opinion on either of Yasmine’s cousins yet but was starting to lean strongly toward Martin. His unkempt appearance suddenly held an immense amount of charm in her idealistic eyes.
“Yeah, what’s your rap name again, A$AP Jackass?” Jay said.
“Man, you always shooting down my dreams, Huey!” Martin yelled.
“I told you not to call me that,” Jay said.
“Jay, would you just get over it?” Yasmine said. Jay wasn’t in the mood for letting minor annoyances slide off his back before Yazzy showed up.
“Yeah, ain’t my fault you a dead ringer for the dude,” Martin said. “You know how many times I get called Jordan Peele? Who would you rather be, Jordan Peele or Huey Freeman?
“You look nothing like Jordan Peele. Who calls you that? I look more like Jordan Peele now,” Jay said.
“Who’s Huey? You mean, like, Huey from The Boondocks?” Lindsay chimed in. All three now turned to her in astonishment.
“You know The Boondocks?” Martin asked, struggling to suppress a huge smile.
“Yeah,” Lindsay said. “My brother and I used to watch it all the time. We’d stay up late to catch it on Adult Swim when we couldn’t sleep. It was freaking hilarious!”
Martin was sold: Lindsay was his wifey-to-be. “You want a beer?” he asked Lindsay.
“I’m eighteen,” Lindsay said, her shyness re-emerging.
Martin persisted. “It’s ok. You want a soda, some coffee? You want some fruit? I know we got some fruit upstairs.”
All Jay could do was glance at his brother in suppressed outrage, trying to hit on his cousin’s white, college-age friend that he just met. I’d be impressed if he still remembered her first name, he thought.
“We’re going to a party in Bushwick. We can’t stay too long,” Yasmine said.
“Ain’t ya’ll gonna be drinking there, though?” Martin asked. “Ya’ll don’t wanna pregame here at least?”
“You want me to get that book for you now or when you get back?” Jay asked.
“Is it all right if we can crash here after?” Yasmine asked, hesitantly. Jay smirked and rolled his eyes at figuring out the real reason they stopped by. Martin futilely fought back a fervent grin.
“Is it all right if they can crash here?” Martin asked Jay with far more eagerness. Jay finished his now-appropriate Angry Orchard and chucked it into a nearby plastic recycling bin.
“Your normal spot on the couch is good enough for you and your friend, right?” Jay said, standing up, offering a refresher course on his sleepover protocol. The couch was also a pullout bed; the question was less for Yasmine and more to remind Martin of his place. Yaz nodded her head; she remembered the drill from all the times she hid from her parents in his apartment in Chicago when she was in high school and he was struggling as an intern for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Senatorial campaign. If anything, Yazmine was most proud of her cousin not only for joining her on the East Coast but that the frantic, unforgiving pace of New York City hadn’t furthered hardened him further. He was still the same lovably reticent crank she remembered when she was little.
“It’ll be cramped but nothing offensive,” Yasmine said. “You cool with it?” she asked Lindsay.
“I shared a room with my younger brother,” Lindsay said. “When we were little, he’d have nightmares so bad he’d wet the bed then crawl into mine in the middle of the night.”
“I haven’t wet a bed since I was in a crib.” Yasmine said.
“Everybody slips up once in a while, though,” said Martin, suggestively butting in.
“Who hopes for someone to piss their bed?” Jay said. By this point, he and Yaz were both fed up with where his head was leading. Oddly enough, Lindsay was the only person who was amused. “Just text me when you guys are heading back here, ok?”
“Ya’ll need a cha-perone?” Martin said, butchering the pronunciation of the word spectacularly. “I love chap-eroning.”
“Martin, how come you haven’t made any friends yet?” Yazmine asked.
“He did. They’re just on Call of Duty multiplayer,” Jay said, annoyed. “This is the first time he’s been outside all day, ain’t it Martin?”
Martin glared back at his brother. He loved him, except for the times when he pissed him off, which were beginning to increase in frequency the longer they lived together. The anger at his brother dissipated momentarily when he turned back to Lindsay, who now sported the ear-to-ear smile.
“I love Call of Duty!” Lindsay yelled.
“No shit! You play multiplayer?” Martin said.
“Oh my god, I played you the other day!”
“I got you with the sniper rifle.”
“That was YOU?!”
“You’re not beating this bitch in Call of Duty!”
Jay and Yasmine were officially horrified. Pleased Martin had met a friend, just not at how or who that friend was.
“We gotta go,” Yasmine said, less because she wanted to or that they had to and more to break up this potential love connection starting to ferment before her very eyes. She wrapped up Lindsay’s left arm and started pulling her toward the gate. It felt like dragging a dead body through quicksand, Lindsay now smitten with her less-cultured cousin, eyes and smile frozen like she just caught a whiff of The Joker’s toxin. With her free hand, Lindsay motioned toward Martin in the signal of a headset, a 21st century way of saying “Call me.”
Martin’s smile widened toward each end of Eastern Parkway the farther away Lindsay was pulled from him and toward the train station. An overpowering emotion had infected him and he was basking in it. Hope. Connection. Happiness. Finally Getting Laid. It was in his grasp, circling his fingertips. He couldn’t wait to see her again tonight.
Antithetical to it all was Jay, who unlike his cousin, didn’t drag his brother back inside. Instead, he dragged himself. Martin could camp out all night in front of the building awaiting her return for all he cared. All he wanted now was another Angry Orchard and Netflix.