This is a sobering reminder of a friendship that I don’t understand how it remained in place for so long, yet, somehow did.
It was middle school and I can’t remember how long Mike and I had been friends at that point. It could have been the beginning or shortly thereafter, but not important. One of the magazines that Mike liked to read in addition to the Playboy magazines that I would by because I looked older than he was The Sharper Image catalog. A now defunct store that had lots of high-tech gadgets (for the time) at ridiculous prices and a real question of whether or not you needed it. The target customer seemed to be people that had enough disposable income to spend on radio controlled 1/8 scale submarines that were shipped in boxes complete with packing material that was consumable popcorn that would be fed to their pet peacocks.
Every once in a while, they would have a gadget or techno-gizmo that would make me salivate. Mike and I would gloss over the pages of The Sharper Image catalog in study hall pointing at the products and saying how cool it would be to have the money to buy them. One of the many things that we put on our list of “lottery purchases” was the Sony WM-701C. Touted as the smallest cassette Walkman at the time (it was literally about the size of a cassette and no more, weighed about the same too). It was sleek, sexy and about $300…many lawns would have to be mowed before I could have it.
Fast forward a couple of days and Mike comes in beaming from ear to ear. In those ears was a new set of headphones. Gone are the grey and yellow Sony Sports Walkman headphones, and in their place, a new set of sleek, black headphones. If these headphones were invited to a black tie event, they wouldn’t have to dress up. Mike plops down at the table and says, “Guess what I got?”
I knew and I knew he knew I knew.
But I had to be the bigger man, feigning excitement and said, “You got the Sony out of the Sharper Image catalog…”
“No, this is the more expensive version my Dad found in the city.”I never understood that with Mike. There was always a one-upmanship with who could spend more money on something. Not only did Mike’s new Walkman have the remote control and MegaBass setting but it also had an FM radio with a digital display. Hate to admit it but I was jealous, but not to the tune of $450 jealous.
“Cool,” I said and went back to my Sony Sports Walkman that, in size, looked like a hippopotamus compared to a meerkat.
A few days later…
Mike comes into study hall and plops down at the table. “You have got to listen to this. I found the tape in the hallway and it is weird. I think the guy’s singing about sex.”
One thing to know about Mike is that he is the gayest straight person I knew at the time. Had an unhealthy obsession with Debbie Gibson, Elton John and Tears For Fears. Clothes were always fresh and pressed. Shirts always had an alligator or a polo player on them and he smelled like he took a flea dip in Drakkar Noir. He claimed to have a love for the ladies but never seemed to have one on his arm.
I plugged my headphones into his Walkman and he pressed play:
…Cuz I’m the type of nigga that’s built to last
Fuck with me and I’ll put a foot in your ass…
That was all I heard. Mike started to laugh nervously and said, “I don’t like it, but I think it’s pretty funny.”
I didn’t feel the same way as he did. Maybe it was the MegaBass pumping the beats of NWA’s “Gangsta Gangsta” from Straight Outta Compton, or the fact that the little snippet resonated with my angsty teenage self. I don’t know. I had to hear more and asked him if I could borrow the tape, he said, “Here. Have it. It’s not my kind of thing.”
NWA was the first exposure I had to hip hop. I may have heard some other rap groups at the time, but this was the first one that made a real impression. While listening to NWA, I started to feel dirty, like I just found a porn stash in the woods. It felt wrong, but right at the same time.
I listened to that tape until it wore out and eventually broke. I didn’t tell anyone that I was listening to it. Not my parents, not my other friends at school. Not another living soul. I only listened to it with headphones. There were no public performances of this album in my vicinity. It was like having a secret diary that I would pull out when I knew I would be alone. I heard “8 Ball” and “Dopeman” so many times while pushing a lawn mower that getting through the day was made easier by humming along with the words.
After a while, I started to make a real connection with the album. I may not have understood exactly what it was like living in Compton at the time but the album played to me like it was a story. There were characters and stories that allowed me to escape for about an hour at a time.
|Straight Outta Compton||4:19|
|Fuck Tha Police||5:47|
|If It Ain't Ruff||3:35|
|Parental Discretion Iz Advised||5:16|
|8 Ball [Remix]||4:53|
|Something Like That||3:36|
|Compton's In The House [Remix]||5:21|
|I Ain't Tha 1||4:55|
|Quiet On Tha Set||4:00|
|Something 2 Dance 2||3:24|