This short story just appeared in Number One Fan, Kris Rothstein & Sam Macklin’s collection of smart essays and fictional forays on the theme of fandom. The book not only walks the tricky line between analysis and enthusiasm, but it’s also a beautiful object: each one is a hand-made, one-of-a-kind hardcover that the pictures don’t do justice to. (Scanners don’t pick up iridescent fabric very well.)
I knew this guy? We worked together. He was the dishpig at this kind of upscale-but-still-keepin-it-real restaurant I worked at, Yellowbellies. You guys remember it? More of a breakfast place. Closed a couple of years ago, more or less imploded because the owner couldn’t keep his dick in his pants.
But anyway, this guy, the dishpig. His term, not mine. He was a punk rocker guy, real into music and shit, every time I’d mention a band he’d just smile. Kind of a smirk, really. But then he’d feel bad about being such a snob and it would kind of dissolve and he’d turn on the hot water hose and then ask me a normal question about the band. Like, I was totally into Eminem, that first album, but all he had heard was the single? So he was like, “What, that Weird Al Yankovic guy?” So it became my mission in life to educate Sean, that was the guy’s name, to thoroughly school Sean on the brilliance that was that first album. The first album, mind you, I’m talking about the first album.
The thing that always pissed me off about Sean was that he thought he knew so fucking much about music, and he never played a fucking note in his life. I mean, the guy would be listening to his favorite album at the time, and not even bob his head. The most he would do is stop and listen. Go all intense and broody and stare into the dishwater. The first time I saw him do it I was like, dude, did you drop a ring in there or something? And I just glance over at his hand, and that’s when I saw it for the first time.
Back to Eminem, let me finish that part. So. All we had in the kitchen was this shitty boombox that took up way too much room for only having a fucking tape player. Of course I bought the album on CD, so I had to ask my sister to use her stereo which is always a big fucking drama — long story short I spilled some shit on it once and she’ll never let me forget it. She’s all like “I thought my stereo was so shitty you’d never want to use it again anyway,” and I’m all like “Listen I got to school this fool at work” and she’s like “Just put on the radio that bullshit is on all the time” and I’m like “The piece of shit at work’s radio doesn’t work and besides the wickedest tracks they can’t play on the radio” and she’s like “fine, but you blah blah blah” trying to cut some deal like it’s the UN peace negotiations. I swear, I would have paid for her to go away to university but she’s such a fucking nerd. Who stays home for university?
But anyway, I get it done and bring it to work, and Sean has some other mopey shit in there. I pull it out and shove in the EMINEMASTERPIECE! Tape I’d made. I’m all like, “might as well just through this tape in the garbage ’cause this is all you’ll be wanting to hear” and making like I’m gonna drop it in, but he grins and wipes his hands off on the apron and snatches his tape back — that’s when I see it again, on the back of his hand, but then fucking Ricardo starts screaming “fry cook! Fry cook!” and I got distracted. It took Ricardo like a year or something to remember my goddamn name, fuckin’ senile prick.
So all shift I’m like comin’ in when E is laying down the phat rhymes, and kind of say them along, you know what it’s like when you hear an album for the first time, you don’t really hear it all, a lot of the best lines get lost in the flow, so it was kind of like a guided tour I was giving him. I would bop in there between orders, kind of walk dancing. Most of the time he was kind of smiling, kind of ignoring me. One time, he cackled, called me a crazy motherfucker. He had these fucking skinny little teeth, probably why he never smiled with them. I’d never seen him laugh like that.before.
I guess I was pretty lonely then. I’d ditched school months ago and all the fools I used to hang out with were all down on me, about it and I didn’t want to hear their bullshit. Sean was actually the person I ended up hanging out with the most, and while he wasn’t a barrel of laughs he was pretty cool.
A week or two later I had him into it, though he never wanted to hear it more that once a shift. One time it was on when Ricardo was showing the new waitress the patio and stuff, and she looked at the boombox like it just farted. It was that song Dear Kim, when Emininem’s rapping about shooting his baby’s mother and shit, it’s kinda harsh but c’mon get over it it’s fantasy, right? But this new waitress is looking at us over her glasses with this “who are these jokers?” Sean dried his hand and shook hers, and I give her the crazy billy bob look, hoping that maybe she’d turn the job down.
“Sean washes the dishes, he is the fry cook,” Ricardo said to her on their way through the kitchen to the patio, and I realized the petrified shithead hadn’t even learned my fucking name yet. Three months I been here. Every day. He remembered the waitresses names?
Anyway she didn’t start for a week, enough for me to get my hopes up that she flaked out. She had this annoying way when she was talking to customers of looking at them over her glasses, as if they were sexy or something and not just these nerdy old librarian glasses. It was pretty busy, so I just ignored her and did my work. At the end of the night, I scraped down the grill and figured I’d go see if Sean was done. We took the subway home sometimes. He wasn’t by the sink, but I heard voices from the patio and immediately I felt something in me sink a little. It was like ESP.
I moved a little closer to the patio and listened. I heard her annoying laugh. “Well what was I supposed to think when the first time I meet you both you’re listening to that crap –” she was saying.
I didn’t really even think about what I was doing, I just grabbed a grey dishbin and walked out past them, trying not to cough from their stupid cigarettes.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll make you a tape of some stuff that I like,” Sean was saying. I put the bin down, back to them, started piling stuff in.
“What’s up with that mark on your hand, anyway,” she asked, flicking her ash.
I started putting the dishes in gentler, so I could hear Sean’s quiet voice.
“It’s — well — it’s a tattoo that’s supposed to look like a show stamp.”
I moved the bin to a table so I could see them. She was giving him this annoying, tired smile.
“Y’know when you go to a show and they stamp your hand so you can get back in?”
“I know what a show stamp is, yeah, but –”
“When I was young and stupid, like 18, I was going to a lot of shows and I thought it would be funny to get a generic blurry show stamp on my hand.”
“That’s fucking hilarious,” she said, barely smiling and staring at him. He shrugged.
I’d heard enough. My bin was full. I carried it to the door and stopped by them, looking just at Sean. “So ya want a hand with these? The last subway?” I said, implying quit the fucking chit-chat.
“Just leave that in the sink, I’ll finish up. Thanks, man. I’ll probably walk home tonight.”
I threw them in the sink and took off my apron, stuffed it away under the counter. I picked up one of Sean’s tapes. There were, like, eight of them all labelled in his tiny spiky handwriting. I heard them talking outside and thought about how that prick would never make me a mixtape. I thought about how fucking long a subway ride I had, when Mr. Cool Downtown guy could hang out all night, that is if they didn’t go home and fuck each other’s brains out, which they could very well do judging on how the conversation was going. I thought about how I’d never had a girlfriend in my life, not even kissed a girl and I was already 17. I didn’t even know a girl who liked Eminem. I couldn’t read the stupid tape of Sean’s ’cause my eyes were blurring up I was feeling so shitty, so I just threw it on the pile and grabbed EMINEMASTERPIECE! instead.
I’d find a girl who liked it. I’d find a girl who liked it and maybe even me and I’d give her the tape.