I knelt down to survey my opponent under the guise of adjusting my spats. He was a large, angry youth, and his three friends stood behind him glaring at me. In a few seconds I would rise and the battle would begin. I had to keep my wits about me. But I couldn't help thinking about the events from earlier today, a sentence which leads to this convenient flashback.
My editor, a large German man by the name of Dypshyth von Bueren called me into his office on Monday and threw a copy of Vibe at me. I managed to catch it only after it fell to the floor, a feat for which my editor gave me some credit.
"Nice catch, Butterfingers."
"Thank you, Dipshit. How's the wife?" I replied with complete sincerity. I sensed he had a big story for me, so I ignored the fact that he got my name wrong. It's Butterfinger, singular, a common mistake. But it was due to my peculiar name that I made such an effort to remember the details of other people, a trait in which I took great pride.
"I've told you before, it's pronounced 'dipe shithe', and I don't have a wife."
"Oh, my condolences." I replied, making a mental note.
"I've never had a wife."
"Ah ha!" I said dramatically, hoping to confuse him and buy some time while I crossed out the previous mental note and wrote a new one. Judging from his expression, it must have worked.
"Do you know what they have in that issue?" He asked after a few seconds.
"Words?" I ventured a guess, knowing that the odds of a magazine published entirely without words was slim to none.
"They've done a story on the urban culture of our city." He said, ignoring my answer although I now know it to be correct. "Why don't we have this kind of 'urban' story?" he asked, using quote fingers.
The answer was that it was illegal to take someone else's story and put it in our newspaper without permission, but I sensed he didn't want to hear that, so I simply said "I don't know."
"Well, I'll pay you two hundred dollars for this story, Butterfingers. Go downtown and find out what the street culture is into. I want to know what they're doing and where they're going. What do they do with their free time? What's the hot new club? Where do they hang out? What are you doing with my coffee mug?"
It was fairly obvious that I was drinking out of it, but I guess that's why he's the editor and I'm the reporter. I get paid to notice these little details and put them all together to create a coherent narrative. For some reason, as I stood there drinking his coffee I could see him getting more frustrated by the second. It was time to beat a hasty retreat. Hopefully I could cover my exit with a well timed joke.
"You're coffee tastes like crap." I said as I scurried out the door. It was funny because it was true.
If I was to fit in with these 'urban' youths, I would have to dress the part. My first stop was the desk of our fashion editor, Lily. It was going to be tricky getting the info from her, she already had a grudge against me, and a court order. But it's not entirely her fault, I've always been very awkward around the female sex and it was possible some of my comments may have come off the wrong way. I would have to be careful.
As I approached Lily I tried to think of a nice opening line. Think, dammit, think, what should I compliment her on? I didn't know her that well. It had to be something generic to women, yet specific to her. Maybe something about how skinny she is.
"You're vagina's looking good today, Lily. I'd love to stick my penis in there, if it'll fit." Perfect. Without actually saying it, I had inferred that she had a slim vagina. I must have put the wrong inflection on a word, because if looks could kill, Lily's look would have killed me.
"Butterfinger, you were specifically told to stay away from me."
"I just have one question and then I'll go. What do 'urban' youths dress like?" I attempted the quote fingers I had seen from my editor but I couldn't remember which fingers to use so at the last minute I pretended to scratch my cheeks with both hands.
"Just dress like it's the 80s." She said.
"Thanks, Lily. You're a real bitch." It was intended as a compliment- I love dogs, and female dogs always seem friendlier than male dogs- but I guess Lily really hates dogs because she screamed at me to get out. I beat my second hasty retreat of the day.
As I stepped out of the cab I instantly realized that I was not dressed the part. For one, I was the only one wearing a full Victorian era suit with a cravat and a powdered whig. For two, well, really it was just the one. The youths outside the liquor store stared at me, and I stared back at their track pants and ripped jeans. Apparently Lily had meant the 1980s rather than the 1880s. I wish she had been more specific, for I had assumed that anyone dressed in the style of a mere 20 years ago would seem hopelessly out of date, rather than the stylishly deliberate throwback to the Victorian garb I had chosen. I walked towards the store attempting to feign confidence.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, the smallest man I have ever seen ran up to me and stopped. He could not have been more than two feet high and he did not appear fully developed. I froze and we stared at each other. Was this a gesture of friendship? Or should I prepare to strike him down with the novelty sword that accompanied my costume? Deciding that prudence was the best course, I leaned down and spoke to him.
"Good evening, sir. I wish to accompany you to your mates." The tiny man stared up at me with wide eyes. From this distance I could see the remains of some sort of food smeared across his lips as well as an unsightly bulge running the width of his trousers. I was on the verge of repeating my request louder and slower when a woman, regular sized, ran out of the liquor store yelling at the tiny man.
"Lee Marvin, get your self back here." She said.
The small man turned and clumsily ran back to the woman. She grabbed his hand and hauled him away uttering a steady stream of curses. I don't remember the exact words, I was a bit shaken up by the recent events, but it had something to do with the tiny man having to just wait for someone called 'Daddy' to get home. I filed it away in my mind for a future story, now I had to make contact with the youths in front of the store. For the second time in a day, I racked my brain for a good opening line. Perhaps these youths would appreciate observational humor.
"Good afternoon, black men. I am white." They ignored my comment.
The leader said, "What the hell are you wearing? Are you retarded or something?"
"Of course not. Could a retard do this?" I quickly grabbed for my sword but missed and snagged my pants. The buttons of the cheap costume flew off and my pants piled down around my ankles while my sword flew away. I shuffled towards my sword, got tripped up in my pants and fell to the ground. For some reason, the youths laughed at my folly. I made my way to my feet and held the front of my pants up. Drawing myself up to my full height I bellowed:
"I am a newspaper man. I am here to study you."
The leader looked back at the other three men. "You're what?"
"I'm here to study you and go with you on your snapping battles." I said, struggling to remember what I had gleaned from MTV.
"Snapping fights. You know, like you're mother's so fat and that kind of thing."
"Man, get the fuck out of here." They turned to go inside, I had to salvage my story.
"Wait." I said. "I can pay you."
That got their attention. They turned back and the leader spoke.
"Uh, fifty dollars cash. To see your snapping fights." I figured I'd go with the most sensationalist angle for my story. I could explain to my editor later why I opted to drop the style and culture angle and just stick to fighting.
The youths conferred with each other, then turned back to me.
"Okay, for fifty bucks each, we can have a 'snapping fight' right here." He said using those damn quote fingers. My God, suddenly I had become the story. Who would have thought that I could have ever gotten into a rapping battle with a black youth? Especially one so adept at quote fingers, a skill I had yet to master.
I knelt down on the pretext of adjusting my spats. This was where the story started, remember? I took a deep breath, which is hard to do while kneeling, so I stood and took another deep breath.
"I'll go first." I said, hoping one quick blow could finish this fight.
"Sure, whatever." Said the leader.
I looked him straight in the eye and said, "Your mother is so fat that when she sits around the house, she really weighs well over 250 pounds."
The youths looked at me in awe, or quizzically, I get those two expressions confused sometimes. I decided to press my advantage. "You're mother's so ugly that no one will have sexual intercourse with her."
Again, I was met with silence. They must be reeling now. One more ought to do it. I started "You're mother's so dumb..." and stopped. I couldn't think of an apt metaphor. Time was ticking by. Suddenly, I realized I had said all that needed to be said and there was no need to quantify it further. I nodded my head vigorously to drive this point home.
That must be it. They were beaten. Done for. As if to prove my suspicions, the leader looked at me and asked "That's great, you win. Give us our money now."
I had done it! I had proven my mettle in a snapping battle with street youths. I handed them their money and thanked them for being so sportsmanlike.
As I waddled home, still holding my ripped pants together, I thought back on the extraordinary turn of events. Hours before I had been sent out to do a run of the mill 'urban' youth story, and instead I brought back no less than a tale of a clash of civilizations with me emerging as a snapping master. My editor would be surprised, and he would be more surprised that I was able to accomplish all this using only my wits and several hundred dollars, including cab fare and costume rental. And he would be most surprised when he realized that I had stolen his coffee mug. Yes, America truly is the land of opportunity.