Traveling home on a late Saturday night subway bound for East New York, our train was besieged by The World’s Greatest Entertainer and his incredible posse of hype-men. (Translation: a young, skinny black guy of indeterminate sexual orientation boarded the train with a few pals, and proceeded to annoy all of the passengers.)
The posse was dressed similarly, in matching yellow t-shirts with the word “SECURITY” across the back, but the WGE wasn’t having that at all. He was dressed one-of-a-kind stylishly, in off-the-ass skinny jeans with a jeweled (and essentially useless) belt, crisp Nike Dunks, and a suit vest buttoned over one of those bedazzled Don Ed Hardy shirts that have become this year’s “embarrassing-on-white-people but weirdly-cool-on-black-people” must-have fashion.
The first thing the WGE did was approach three young black girls who were sitting together. He began telling them which famous people they looked like–”Girl look like Jennifer Hudson!”–and each time he did this, his posse would burst out in uproarious laughter. Sometimes, when laughter wasn’t enough, the WGE would demand a kind of call-and-response, where he would say, “heyyyyy!” and his posse would respond with something like “Whoop de whoop what what huh!!” It was pretty impressive, if maybe a little noisome.
He called a sort of feminine-looking black man in oversized Cazals “Spike Lee,” even though he looked a little more like a member of The Specials. It didn’t matter if he was 100% accurate though, because he was the only one doing it and everyone was entertained until he told them they looked like Lionel Richie or “The O.C.” He also took tremendous liberties with passengers, after gaining their bewildered trust. At one point, I saw him standing over Jennifer Hudson, reaching for a pendant that hung between her breasts. Maybe she wasn’t especially threatened by his androgynous sexuality, or maybe she was just too shocked by his forthrightness to hit him with her Sidekick.
While the WGE made his rounds, stalking passengers to grant each individual a few minutes of loud and embarrassing undivided attention, I started to obsess over what he’d say to me. Lisa was with me and could see I was preoccupied (she has become an expert at reading my expressions) so I told her, “I’ll bet he’s going to say I look like Osama Bin Laden.” I’ve heard this before, from an aggressive and drunk UNC student on the street in Chapel Hill. I look nothing like Osama Bin Laden, but it’s still an easy go-to because I have a beard. I am weirdly sensitive to it. I would rather be called “Lionel Richie without a beard” because when someone calls me Osama Bin Laden there’s a part of me that thinks, “oh great, now everyone’s going to hate me.” As if just the suggestion is enough to convince others I’m probably up to some seriously anti-American hijinks.
After a few minutes sweating my inevitable roasting, I remembered that I am also a brilliant entertainer and wouldn’t it be great if he did dance around me and call me Osama Bin Laden while his posse “whoop de what what”-ed around the train and then I turned it on him and shut him right down with an even hotter burn? No…the HOTTEST BURN OF ALL TIME. I started fantasizing about this moment, where I pulled the rug out from beneath his gleeful reign of Friars’ Club terror, and then I actually began wishing he’d say something to me. I was trying to think of ways to make myself look more Bin Laden-y. Should I frown extra hard? Is there some way I could hold the subway pole the way Bin Laden holds a microphone, fingers extended and wrist limp?
Of course, the WGE never did make his way to me. Despite his velocity of delivery, his act quickly became repetitious, and the weaker moments began to stack up higher than the flashes of brilliance. Even his posse grew kind of tired of hyping him, and broke off into a couple of smaller posses, enjoying private conversations. So, to my disappointment (which, minutes earlier would have been my great relief), we never had our conversation. He never got a chance to tell me I look like Osama Bin Laden and I never got a chance to tell him he looked like “Usher’s broke cousin, Cashier“–The Burn Of The Century. (Sometimes, when I’m alone, I think of this line and high-five my memory.)