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.

*****

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!