I’ll never forget the day I met Dee. I came home from playing ball, all set to grab a shower when two powerful smells collided in my nostrils. One was food. Good food, not old leftovers from the freezer. The second smell wasn’t pleasant but more a caustic blast of brain-stinging cologne. It was then I remembered Mom had said something about having company for dinner.
Company at our place meant Mom was getting serious about a guy. Meant she was about to make another bad decision in a long line of mistakes. And judging by the shellacking of paint thinner that suffused the living room, someone was trying hard to get on that list.
Mom peeked out from the kitchen. “Hey Jacob, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
Oh Joy. Before I could protest/fake river blindness/escape she was already marching over, all weird and giggly, escorting me to the living room. That’s when I saw what looked like a toxic spill sprawled out on the couch.
He was about fifty, wearing a hideous lime-green wind suit and a backwards ball cap. One hoop ear ring. Sportscenter was on TV and our guest had his bulky high-tops up on the table.
I glared back at Mom, “I really need a shower.”
“In a minute. Sit.”
I took the edge of the couch, so that that there was no way in a million years this guy could actually think that I wanted to talk to him. He reigned in the high-tops. To say it was awkward would be putting it lightly, especially when Mom disappeared back to the kitchen, leaving us basking in his fumes, staring at the TV and pretending to ignore the obvious.
Mom swept back into the room, handed her friend a beer, then plopped down between us. She picked up the remote and the TV went dark. We both turned to her like she was crazy.
“I was watching that,” I protested.
“Jacob,” Mom started, being goofy, looking from me to him, him to me. “This is Dee. Dee, Jacob.”
Dee nodded to me. I nodded back. Mom picked up the slack. In a big way, her eyes squinting with her smile when she said, “Dee was a rapper back in the day.”
There were all kinds of things Mom could have said to surprise me. Dee was an astronaut, or, Dee invented the color green, which he obviously liked being that he was draped in it. But, Dee used to be a rapper? And, back in the day? Hardly Mom-like.
Dee leaned back, stroking his silvery goatee. “That’s right.”
I turned again to Mom. Searched her face for signs of a prank. She wasn’t hip, not even close. The woman had Bette Midler on her Iphone. She thought “turn up” was a vegetable. She was treasurer of our local PTA. Sure, I knew she was going through some sort of spell, but still, Kool Dee?
I eyed him skeptically. “Like a real rapper?”
He clucked his tongue. “Hey, I ain’t faking.”
“Like had a record deal?”
I whipped my phone out, ready to research. Mom looked down and laughed. Dee grumbled, “Yep.”
Snapping my fingers, “Okay, give it up, what was like your, rapping name?”
I didn’t mean to laugh. Honesty. It just sort of happened. Cool Dee didn’t seem to mind. Mom slapped him on the knee and giggled, but I didn’t have time for their flirting. My jaw dropped. It was “Kool Dee”, with a K, and he had three albums. Four counting a compilation. The first two were well received but from what I gathered Kool Dee with a K sort of fell off in the nineties. Wikipedia listed his career from 1987 to present, which I’m guessing meant like presently he was still a rapper. A really old, really pungent, neon green wearing, mom-snatching, rapper.
Mom nudged me, “Told you.”
I looked up. “So, are you like, still rapping?”
And that was when Mom‘s new boyfriend—Mom’s new, old boyfriend I guess—began, um, rapping.
He leaped into action, causing me to fumble my phone as he launched into a high-impact, very acrobatic series of gestures. He grabbed his sides, straight jacket style, then, swishing and swooshing, he lunged. His rap style could best be categorized as aggressive. He hovered over me, barking about what he could do, who he could do it to, and how he could do what he was doing. Whatever that was.
Kool Dee used words like ill and cold, as in cold-crushing. After a while I could hardly keep up. I thought it was a joke, but I was mistaken. He specifically said, “I ain’t no joke,” so I took him at his word. It was real, no doubt, right there in our living room. This, man, with gray specks in his goatee, breathing so hard I could feel it on my arms, going on and on about his crew. For like five straight minutes.
Maybe five minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of time. But think about five straight minutes of being underwater, or stuck in a bathroom while your best friend is blowing it up, or in this case, watching your mom’s boyfriend stand up, chains jingling while he rapped. Then five minutes feels like half of your life.
Kool Dee was slamming—to purge a word from his performance. But I gotta tell you, right then, I would have rather him have been an astronaut. Not Mom though, she watched with stars in her eyes, further exacerbating the moment with her goofy dancing, even when Dee, in all his cold-flailing, knocked over that vase of polished stones from the shelf.
He nearly recovered, but when his sneaker hit those pebbles–smack, he went down like green lead. Something about his back. I watched, paralyzed in utter horror, as mom rushed to his side.He grimaced, moaning about an old breakdancing injury as Mom got him to stretch out flat. His green hat lay on the stones, like a snowman’s grave marker. Dee writhed in pain, the baseball-sized bald patch on the crown of his head catching the lamp light like a mirror.
I couldn’t form words. His forehead glistened. He was all out of breath, huffing like he’d just run around the block. One pant leg had come unzipped with all the movement, exposing a saggy blue church sock. Mom stroked his head, called him Derrick as she checked his vitals. But through it all he managed keep that sneer on me like I was nothing but a “sucker mc”.
At some point I snuck off for that shower. When I came down Kool Dee was upright again, hat on and sitting at the table. The marbles were back in the vase and dinner smelled delicious. I didn’t dare mention the rapping incident again, and Mom steered the conversation to lighter topics such as school and my upcoming basketball tryouts. Then she looked at Dee with eyes glowing and said,
“You know, back in the day, Dee here used to play basketball.”