The Lexical Funk (a short story)


Etymology is the science of coolness, you dig? But you can only master its power through Jazz. Mastering the etymological sciences was a “Pan-stylistic rhythmic bebop, with a side of bacon, you dig, man?” I blurted out one day in English class. That’s how I got the reputation for being the “Freaky deaky white boy” at my school, after I had had the reputation of being just the “crazy white boy” at my school.

Mr. Davis, my fourth period English teacher told me that language changed over time, and that you could trace the history of words. Miles Davis was an improvisational genius. Mr. Davis was a teacher in a twenty-dollar suit, but he had soul, man. Words like music, words inspired by muses. I was on a one-way train to improvisationsville, and the Davises had given me both the beat and the feet.

Until then, all I knew was that language changed. I wanted to know the origins of all words. I wanted to know history, because history explained the context of language, then I needed to explain the historical context of language, so I needed historical theory to explain the historical context that was supposed to explain language. I spent a lot of time away from home in the library, away from my whore mother and her pimp boyfriend, Johnny. Johnny, the b-movie boyfriend. Johnny, James Dean in a time warp. Johnny, Fonzy with a beer-belly.

Yes, the library. My vacation from b-movie, beer belly, James Dean in a time warp, “Ayyyyye, you’re not so cool anymore” Fonzarelli. Just me and the words. And the words that described words.

But maybe I was just bored, because it turned out etymology just didn’t do it for me. So instead, I decided I would become a Jazz aficionado. I met this girl Ashonte Brown one day when I was punching the walls outside a library. My hands were bleeding. They were cool red. She said to me, “Hey, you’re that crazy white boy in my French class.” She took pity on me and said she’d be my friend and help me if I would help her pass French. I told her she didn’t need my help because nobody learns French in French class—everyone just sits around and talks, makes out, makes crude comments, and pretends they’re cool. She called me a “crazy white boy” but showed me all of the old classics at the library: Coltrane, Monk, Miles Davis, and I even liked Ahmad Jamal. It wouldn’t be until my sophomore year that I started getting into the underground stuff.

Still, for that first year I was something of a dilettante. I didn’t have anything better to do, and the girl I had spent all my time looking at still didn’t look at me in biology, even though I knew the origins of the word “weird”—assuming the form “wyrd” in Beowulf. And I knew that the words “Eugenics” “Euthanasia” “Euthenic” all came from the same Greek root “eu” which means good. If she knew this, she would like me.

My eyes grow bad from reading too much and I’m black from all the Jazz I listen to. My Afro is still growing in, but my skin is already dark brown. I’m “funky,” I’m “hip,” and I can explain the origins of both these words, and I know the other black kids can see it because they don’t pick on me as much. They’re scared of me because of what I know. And soon they’ll be scared of me for what I can do, with the help of muses in snappy suits, and the two Davises.

I dream of being the snapper in a Jazz band. Some funky cat in a black suit with a look that kills, right next to the bassist, snapping away some rhythm. And then, when I get really good, I do solos, and lead—and the horns, the piano, the base, they revolve around me. Me. And then Amy will notice me, and I won’t get picked on. “You hip?” I ask the bassist.

“Not as hip as you, Charlie Brown.”

Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown. Ashonte called me that once. When she calls me my name, I ask her to call me that instead.

“You crazy white boy. I never called you no Charlie Brown.”

My eyes are worn thin and my mom won’t send me to get my prescription changed because our insurance doesn’t cover optical care anymore. She says if it’s important I can get a job as soon as I’m sixteen and work for it. I have no car, and I know I’ll have to ride my bike to work. I ask for Coltrane for Christmas—CDs are expensive, but I may get one anyway. It’s all “eu”, a euphony of euphometically phrased eulogical “eu”-rhythms, you dig. It’s all “eu” because the local library has lots of Jazz. And I can ride my bike that far with no problem. I just don’t want people staring at my afro.

A black kid slaps me on the back of the head and calls me “cracker.” I tell him to watch it or else my Afro won’t grow in. He calls me a “fucking cracker” and then a “crazy white boy,” but he doesn’t pick on me anymore. He senses that my fingers could snap him into oblivion, and my oh so sweet lexicality could send him to an un-“eu” funk so deep, the longest run-on sentence in the history of sentences running on to oblivion couldn’t save him if that run-on sentence were rope made out of hair from an afro oh so black but full of the knowledge of a kid who wanted to know etymology so he would be cool enough to win the heart of that princess Amy, euphometically speaking that is.

I’m cool with my pimp suit and my pimp books. I know this, like Ahmad Jamal knows April in Paris, and I know that Amy has taste because I saw her with that T-shirt that had Einstein on the front—his gray hair curving around the sides of her breasts. Einstein could have been president of Israel, and in another time I could have snapped my way through solos into her heart. I know I could have. But Einstein is probably happy that he has settled as the only colonist on the curves of Amy’s breasts. But I know, my etymologically endowed brother, there is room for two, you dig?

“Why you all dirty, white boy?”

“I slept out on the lawn yesterday. Things got bad with b-movie Johnny yesterday. I got angry and called him a motherfucker. My mom slapped me good and told me I could sleep on the lawn.”

“Don’t you know better than to call your mom’s boyfriend a ‘motherfucker’?”

“That’s what he is though. I could have meant it in a good way or a neutral way.”

“You are crazy, white boy.”

During French I begin writing down words: EuMotherfucker (good motherfucker). Malemotherfucker (bad motherfucker). My mother’s sperm donor. Charlie Brown. Crazy white boy. Crazy White Boy.

I tear up the piece of paper and run out of French crying, embarrassed at my lack of lexicality. I want to kill Johnny. I want to kill Johnny. Instead I go to the library and listen to some Jazz and spend some time with an older copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. “Mama can’t dance, mama can’t rock and roll,” Chick Corea says over sweet melodies. I pull out another piece of paper. I write: Amy, Einstein, Ahmad Jamal, Crazy White Boy….and then it comes, like a blast from the trumpet of Mr. Armstrong. That Freaky Deaky Caucasian.

I smile. That Freaky Deaky Caucasian.

“Mama can’t dance, mama can’t rock and roll.”

My mother’s fucker, I write. My mother’s pimp. Matrasexual fishmonger, with extra tadpoles, you dig? Oxford English Dictionary: my guide to pan-stylistic rhythmic orality. I cross out “orality” and write “bebop” instead.

My bassist smiles and turns to me. “You going to say something or you just going to go on snapping your fingers?” he says. “You got something to say to that special lady out there in that there audience?”

“You know it,” I say back.

“Baby, I’m coming to climb the mountains to Einstein’s Israel. You and me going to settle down in jivesville, make it “eu”jivesville, away from all the matrasexual fishmongers. I’ll be that freaky deaky Caucasian you always needed in your life, and I’m going to pleasure you with my orality. I’m going to put my tongue on your heartstrings, and I’m going to play the sweetest of beats on your eardrums. Oh girl, you’ll love me. Oh girl, girl, you’ll love me, with my pan-stylistic rhythmic bebop. Oh girl. Oh girl.”

“Man, that some sweet jive, white boy. What you call that?”

“I call it my Lexical Funk. Ain’t for no lexical punk. I’m that freaky deaky white boy, uh, Caucasian with the pan-stylistic rhythm, you dig?”

“I can dig,” he says. And I snap my fingers into a cool, funky “eu”blivion.

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