Ugly American: In Memory of MCA of The Beastie Boys: A True Story

Licensed to Ill by the Beastie Boys

UGLY AMERICAN: IN MEMORY OF MCA OF THE BEASTIE BOYS

A TRUE STORY

A memory inspired by the passing of MCA.

True Story: I once pissed off every one of my French neighbors in an apartment complex.

A year after it was released, I discovered Licensed To Ill. In the summer of 1987, I was fourteen years old and an American abroad. My family had moved to the suburbs of Paris, France a year prior. I had survived seventh and eighth grade but ninth grade loomed on the horizon that summer. I was nervous about navigating another culture where my ability to speak the language did not match my comprehension, a comprehension founded on French classes at my school and watching reruns of a dubbed version of The A-Team. Stuck in the awkward teenage phase, I avoided dressing like a tourist, of being judged yet another ugly American.

You would see them on the subway sporting fanny packs, shorts, and white sneakers, with a camera and a guidebook. But really, you heard them before you saw them. They were loud. They made direct eye-contact. They broke the rules. Trying to adapt to this new culture, my friends and I stood as far away as possible. We’d turn our jean-jacketed backs to them. We made it very clear: we were most definitely NOT TOURISTS.

I feel it is necessary to point out that there was no Internet back then. (Tragic, I know.) French Radio left much to be desired, since I had zero desire to sing about some taxi driver named Joe. My only option was to buy cassettes on a monthly trip to an American military base in Belgium. But what great luck that I chose this album based on the cover art of a fighter jet because the Beastie Boys’ music blew the top of my head off!

Thanks to MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D, I embraced my true inner ugly American. After rewinding seconds of tape over and over until I had sussed out all the words to “She’s Crafty”, I made the leap. I threw open the windows to my bedroom and blasted “Fight For Your Right” out into the apartment complex, as loud as my boombox would play, subjecting all of my French neighbors to some radical American rap. The Beastie Boys were so rad. Like totally raaad. And all five multi-story apartment buildings heard the entire album.

Today, while the world mourns the passing of MCA, an incredibly talented rapper, I remember him in my own way. I remember him in that moment when I threw open the windows to the same world, a strange world, and owned my American culture.

Because it was time for me to “Drrrrr-op!”

R.I.P. MCA.

*****

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Nicole Wolverton

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Nicole Wolverton, author of Feast Of All Fools

*****

*****

“No more than five minutes after she’d retrieved her car, Varda spotted Anthony Carluccio’s ludicrous monstrosity of a vehicle – a hint of mint green paint swimming among the rusted body of a Buick Centurion – in her rearview mirror. The high-pitched humming of I-95 under tires grew louder as she passed over the double-decker bridge. She maneuvered toward the agreed-upon meeting place — a quiet enclave amid the gray, industrial buildings off the Broad Street exit perfect for clandestine business meetings and body drops — not appreciating the likely armed guard.”

*****

Think of South Philadelphia, and chances are you picture Rocky Balboa running through the streets. Or if you’re from Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Mummer’s* might come to mind. For me, I think of food and the mob, which is why South Philly is the setting for a novel I wrote this year titled Feast of All Fools, which plays off the world of underground dinner clubs.

However, it’s more than just eating and the mafia – as you can see from the excerpt, there are very industrial, lonely parts to South Philly, but there are also parks and trees as well as concrete enclaves of brick row homes. You might see an entire container garden of flowers and vegetables butted up against an apartment building shoved in next to a home that grows generations-old grape vines or fig trees.

I lived in South Philly for many years – the possibility of running into a Varda Adler (my main character) or an Anthony Carluccio (the villain) in the neighborhood is, well, large. Yes, South Philly is a great area for food — home to the great cheesesteak wars (I’m a Pat’s Steaks girl myself); the fantastic Italian Market, where you can buy nearly any vegetable, spice, meat, seafood, cooking utensil, or ingredient you want; and a sizable collection of Italian restaurants as well as newer additions of nearly any ethnic cuisine you can think of. It fits the novel. But so do the people.

All the characters in Feast of All Fools are partially inspired, either by looks, mannerisms, or accent, by old neighbors or acquaintances of mine. Anthony – oh, sorry: Ant’ney – is a combination of an old landlord and a guy who lived next door to me for a while. Flora Morelli (Varda’s boyfriend’s mother) is the woman who ran the corner store. Nana, Flora’s mother, is the frail old lady who sat on a chair in her front window and watched the small street I lived on like a hawk. Renee, Varda’s best friend, is a good friend of mine who lives in the cutest row house in the city.

South Philly is traditionally very Irish/Italian and Catholic, but over the last few decades or so it’s really developed a rich cultural and ethnic history. Because of this, the neighborhood (which is really a large area made up of at least three or four – or more— smaller neighborhoods) is an ideal option when you need a setting with flavor. There’s a very stereotypical patois to the local language, which also happens to be true – youse instead of you, warter instead of water. And yet you can easily find Cambodian accents, accentless yuppies, and emo artists.

Feast of All Fools isn’t published as of yet. I’m exploring my options and hoping to come up with a great home for the novel. I have to say that knowing South Philly so well and have a real passion for the neighborhood – in all its diversity – makes it easier to speak about the novel with enthusiasm. I have a real fondness for all the characters, in part because of their South Philly-ness.

*The Mummer’s Parade is a uniquely Philadelphia experience that takes place on New Year’s Day and features plumbers, construction workers, and plenty of other blue collar workers fancied up in sequins and feathers to march down Broad Street. There are different divisions: string bands, fancy brigades, comics, and fancies. Many of the clubs are headquartered in South Philly.

*****

A big thank you to Nicole Wolverton from Philadelphia, author of Feast Of All Fools for sharing this guest blog about the use of setting. To find out more about Nicole and her writing, visit her website www.nicolewolverton.com.

Flash Fiction: The Tower

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write 100 words or less referring to one of five words. I chose “tower.” And here is my tale:

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They each thought I knew nothing. That I was naught but an innocent girl, whistling sweetly from my innocent perch. I saw him below, lurking about in the garden day after day. The Prince was there one morning when Mother called out to let down my hair. So when he called out, I knew what came next for hadn’t my mother warned me time and time again? And come he did.

I got what I wanted. Now my children and I roam, free from them both; stalker and witch.

*****

Porsche Camping: A True Story

PORSCHE CAMPING

A TRUE STORY

All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

To sharpen my writing skills, I have tasked myself with developing a new skillset: the ability to tell new, true, and on occasion, funny stories. This is where I nail down actual details instead of making stuff up. Heh!

True Story: My father used to take my brother and I camping in a Porsche.

My father loved his Porsche 924s. He loved them so much he leased a new one every year. He’d pick us up for his weekend on a Friday evening and there’d be a new one in white, silver, or gold.

One weekend he decided to take my brother and I on a little trip. Having sold the green truck with the camper shell from the 70s, he made do. We were Porsche camping!

Picture this: my mother, a model of restraint, standing on the stairs of our split level home as she watched her ex load our overnight bags into the trunk of a white Porsche 924.

Ever seen the inside trunk area of this fine vehicle? There’s really not one to speak of. It was a minor indentation of maybe twelve inches under the slim hatchback window. In our stuff went, next to the sleeping bags and groceries, all of which were flattened in hopes that my father would be able to see out the back window.

We left early on Saturday morning. That began with a fight for “the Hump.” To any adult, the elongated arm rest which continues into the backseat between the generously named “bucket seats” might go unremarked. But in the seat-belt optional days of the ’80s Stone Age, “the Hump” was the place for kids to sit and worth any manner of physical violence, wheedling, or whining. It provided the optimal view of traffic and scenery from inside the Porsche. It was better than the driver’s view.

I lost. I sat in the passenger seat, which was really more like sliding down the leather. I don’t remember if my father put in the cassette for LIPPS, Neil Diamond, or his favorite, “Donna Summer’s Greatest Hits,” but we listened to something good on our way to a campsite a few hours from Seattle, a destination located somewhere in the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula.

The trip went something like this: super major highway, state highway, side roads, and at last, a fire trail of mud and gravel. The road was a mess. It was one car wide and full of enormous potholes the size of meteor craters. They were of such significant size, you would most assuredly not want to drive into one because you would not be driving out. My father slowed way down. He took care to drive around them. Sometimes the Porsche went off road a bit into the wet ferns. As a career truck driver known for backing semi trailers down impossibly narrow piers on the waterfront, jobs which other truck drivers refused, he was the man to navigate a Porsche down this road.

We crept along at five miles per hour. This seemed to go on forever. We were used to shooting down I-5 singing along to the Bee Gees at the top of our lungs. Who knew the Porsche could go so slow? And then we heard it.

SCCCCRAPE.

My father continued driving forward.

SCCCCCCCCRAPE.

He stopped. He stared at the road ahead. He got out. He looked down the road. He got back in.

That was when my brother and I found ourselves walking behind the Porsche. My father hoped that in removing the combined weight of two kids in elementary school, say 150 lbs, the Porsche might not have anything important scraped clean off the underside. I will always remember stepping between the lakes of potholes as the tail lights on the Porsche flashed on and off.

SCCCRAPE.

We finally made it to the camp site. It was little more than a pull off. My father set up the orange tent on an elevated outcrop of rock while my brother and I goofed off. After we tired of chasing each other around, we sat down next to my father at the campfire. He made a big deal of heating up food from a can over a sterno stove. As we ate, he told us stories. Stories about what it was like when he grew up. Most involved fireworks and explosions. 

Gradually, it grew dark. There were so many mosquitoes at dusk, the storytelling gave way to a competition. We got twenty points for each mosquito annihilated. You had to look toward the campfire to see them in the darkness. With bruised hands and thousand point scores, we went to sleep in the tent on the rock.

Not long after, my father got remarried and a new baby arrived. One day we went into the garage to get in the car, and in the place where the Porsche slept was an ugly brown stationwagon. My brother and I were dumbfounded. How do you go from a Porsche 924 to a stationwagon?

There’s one more memory I have about that trip. At some point during the night, my father tried to sleep in the Porsche 924. As a man of six feet with the shoulders of a defensive lineman, I’m not sure he actually slept. We teased him about it the whole ride back.

And that, my friends, is Porsche camping!

Flash Fiction: He Asked For A Unicorn

Drawing by Emily Tupper, Age 8

Flash Fiction

A challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com

A unicorn walked into the bar. All eyes followed him as he sidled up to the bar, which is to say the bartender and I stared.

It was a little early for a stranger to show up, it being two o’clock on a scorching afternoon in the desert, miles from civilization, on a road to nowhere. And yet a unicorn walked into the bar.

He sat down on a barstool. As he turned his head toward the bartender, his horn dragged across a stray light dangling on a bare cord. There was a faint clinking sound. The thing bowed its head to the bartender as if in shame but Larry didn’t care much. His place was older than time and these things happened. It’d been pulled down a few years ago when some monkey decided to hang from the ceiling and Larry never got around to fixing it. That’s how things were around here. A sliding life of decline.

“Three glasses of cold beer, please.” Its voice was surprising. Much higher and squeakier than you’d expect, like some kind of overgrown chipmunk. I suppose it had as much choice in the pitch of its voice as it did in choosing the golden horn upon its head. At least, I assume it was golden. Hard to tell with the layers of dirt and grime. The horse part didn’t look much better. Its leather jacket did nothing to hide the fresh bruises on once-white legs. It looked like it’d been rode hard and put up wet.

I feigned disinterest when a lady warthog joined him. I say “lady” as she wore a pink satin ribbon in her hair. The ribbon was clean unlike the crusty goggles around her neck. These critters must be traveling together.

Larry slid the glasses down to the unicorn who set one in front of the lady and took the other two for itself. They had themselves a drink and a little conversation. Larry kept busy wiping dust off the glasses while staying within earshot. You could tell how good something was by watching how close Larry stood to the strangers. He kept finding excuses to move closer.

The unicorn and the warthog did a good job of keeping their business to themselves up until they left. It was then that they argued as the unicorn licked the spilled beer from its beard. The unicorn himself said something that sounded an awfully lot like “but he asked for a unicorn,” except who in his right mind would ask for a unicorn? I suppose the answer was a terrible one. Even in a spot this remote, we’d heard the verdict. Unicorns could no longer be captured by Virgins. If a unicorn healed someone, it was from their own free will. Penalty of death was no joke in the desert, which made me stop for a moment, thinking. Alas, the only healing I received came from the bottom of an empty glass.

The lady must have said something the unicorn didn’t like because the unicorn got up so fast, it knocked its bar stool over. Then it ran out of the bar. The warthog threw a couple of wadded up bills on the bar and followed out the door yelling, “This would be the last one! One last score, baby!”

In unison, Larry and I moved to the window. The story wasn’t done yet.

The unicorn climbed onto its hog, a big black motorcycle that had also seen better days. The warthog flipped its goggles up and got on too. With a roar, the beasts rode into the distance, headed West.

Larry and I made eye contact, his eyes bulging out from dark green amphibious skin. He gave a short croak and hopped back behind the bar to wait. There was no telling who would walk into the bar next.

Flash Fiction: If Wishes Were Butterflies

Flash Fiction

A challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com

If wishes were butterflies, Jenna would run headlong into the meadow where the spiky yellow flowers grow. She would bide her time until a butterfly of such size and strength floated by that when its wings flapped, the air would beat in punctuation against her skin. She’d know then. That would be the one. With a burst, she would stand and swing her white net through the air to capture it. Then she would run.

And run she would. Orange butterfly in hand, bedroom door papered in celebrity posters locked, Jenna safely made her wish.

Isn’t that what we tried to prevent? Didn’t we, the Council, after generations of education, having funded and coaxed and whispered football fields, nay, entire stadiums of clichés and dross captured in song and books and movies to mislead the people, to lead them astray, didn’t we do our best?  It’s Love, you want Love, we whispered. When they questioned this we broadcast a reality tv show… or dozens. Scattershot, we presented Death, Babies, the Illusion of Health, and drew upon the classic Grimm’s Fairy Tales to reinvent Fantasy at every turn, rebooting stories of action heroes, wizards, or fashion dolls. It seemed to work.

And still. There was Jenna.

She heard the lies, the tricks, the disinformation. Yet somehow she stumbled across the truth.

And when she went to the field that day, Jenna Warbley, age 14, with tangled brown hair and no boyfriend, caught the Butterfly and made a wish. We were wrong. The wish was of no import. It wasn’t the wish. It was the Butterfly.

The Sun went out. The lights went mere days after. The Council gathered one final time.

There were recriminations. There was shouting. If only we’d… the arguments began. In the starry day-long night, it was comical to try to prioritize what was more important; the light or the heat? In the end, it mattered not. The Butterfly who powered life as we knew it was caught and killed. With that tiny act perpetuated by a mere teenager, life as we knew ended.

If wishes were butterflies. All I wanted to know was, where did she hear it?

TwitFic

Have you heard of TwitFic? I hadn’t until last night when a post of this amazing art form scrolled by on Twitter. It consists of a using a tweet, which has a limitation of 140 characters, to tell a story.

@DianaTrees, also known as Diana Trees, author of Divine Wine and several other books, writes TwitFic. One of her posts scrolled by and it was so funny I laughed out loud. I promptly retweeted it to my followers. Here’s what it said:

“We all knew that @drewiscrazy but had no idea as to his zombie sympathies until it was late, and the gate was flung wide.”

I hate it when that happens!

Notice that Diana has taken the significant restraints of tweeting and upped the ante by adding another one – using a twitter name as part of the text of the tweet.

To my surprise – and delight! – five minutes after I retweeted her message, she wrote one with my name:

“When the local rep tried to sell @amytupper ware, he had no idea Amy was a Zombie. Now Amy has cool plastic to store bite-sized human bits.”

 My hat is off to @DianaTrees! You can find more of her witty TwitFics here: dianatrees.blogspot.com/