Ten months in, and up until a few days ago, I thought I had a vague sense that I was fooling everyone into being a “true” New Yorker. Mostly myself.
And then this happened:
“Are you ready?” my friend asked me calmly, quietly, from across the table. “A piece of your childhood just walked in the door.”
I squinted at her. I was feeling weird. We were at a bar in the Lower East Side (the first reason why I felt weird). I’d been in coffee shops most of the afternoon; I hadn’t really had any human communication with any people that day save for a friendly old stranger at a 29th Street Starbucks who became my please-watch-my-stuff-while-I-use-the-bathroom-and-buy-more-coffee buddy.
Adding to my disoriented nature was the something-something Bastard beer I was drinking, which was roughly 11% alcohol, but actually felt like 20% because we weren’t eating and I thought we would be. Which was why I chose a beer with such high alcohol content. (Don’t worry Mom & Dad, I drink responsibly–or at least try to.)
So when my friend said the thing about the person entering the bar being a part of my childhood I was truly confused. She pointed–well, she was much subtler than I was, so she probably nodded her head in his direction–and, less subtly, I turned around.
Standing a few feet away from us was a light-skinned black man, probably no taller than 5’5″, probably no older than his forties. He was surrounded by a smattering of pretty women who seemed like they were smart. For some reason, in my state, I specifically remember thinking that last part–that he was an attractive black man surrounded by attractive women of various different races, and all of them seemed like very respectable women. None of them seemed trashy or after his goods. I don’t know why I thought about that. Although I probably do.
Anyway, the light-skinned black man hugged someone who was already at the bar, turning just so, so that I could see his face and hear him say, by chance at that very exact time, that his name was Khalil.
And suddenly it clicked. I was in the same bar as Khalil Kain, the leader of the group of guys in Juice–the first one of the friends that Tupac kills once he starts power tripping.
I freakin’ flipped out. Suddenly I felt like I was five years old and had just seen Mickey Mouse at Disney World for the first time.
Why? Because once again, he was in Juice and the brother was and still is fine.
But what also made my freak out so legit was the fact that I literally just re-watched Juice two weekends ago–Mother’s Day weekend–on Netflix. It had been at least eight years since I last saw it; the New Jack Swing playlist that I’ve been listening to on repeat has propelled me back into the early nineties as of late. Once in my IMDb stupor that very much resembles a rabbit hole, I looked up Khalil Kain (because he is so fine, especially in Juice) and was reminded that he was also Jabari’s father on “Girlfriends” a few years ago.
I also remembered being amazed at the fact that Khalil Kain is fifty now and was twenty-eight when the movie was made, when Omar Epps was just barely nineteen. I was so amazed by his age that my older sister and I discussed how good he looks for fifty. Black don’t crack. You know.
So yes. I freaked out as I sat on my stool in the corner of the bar a few feet away from this man who had once been “shot” by Tupac…like, the real Tupac, before he himself was shot (too soon?).
My freak out went through many stages:
Stage 1: “Is that really him?” Look him up on IMdB. Look back at him. Look at his picture again. Confirmed.
Stage 2: “This is my first celebrity sighting! Eeeeee!” Ignore patronizing smiles from friends, one of which has seen Leonardo DiCaprio in the flesh, another of which has seen Jake Gyllenhaahl.
Stage 3: “Oh my God. This is so freaky. I literally just watched Juice like ten days ago…” Cover face, babble for two minutes about how the cosmos are so weird, this always happens, what is with my life…
Stage 4: “I need to text all the other people I know who might find this information relevant to their everyday lives.” I.e., black people, i.e., my older sister, with whom I’d chatted about Juice and how good of a movie it was. The second winner was another friend with whom I had already been texting. His response after sending him a screenshot of Khalil’s IMDb page? “Tell him that his performance in Snoop Dogg’s Bones was riveting.” (Yes, Evan, that was you, if you’re reading this.)
Stage 5: “I should totally go up and talk to him.” Come up with something clever to say! First thought? “What was it like to know Tupac?” Or, “My sister and I were talking the other day about how GOOD you look for fifty! So, can I take a picture with you?”No. Neither won’t do.
Stage 6: “…But no one else is going up to him. Does anyone else who isn’t black know who he is?” Give everybody The Eye because no one else is freaking out.
Stage 7: “Fuck it. I’m young. It’s to be expected. I can totally fan-girl right now.” Take big sip of beer. Prepare to get up.
Stage 8: “No…I don’t want to ruin his night. And those women are so intimidating.” Sulk.
Stage 9: “But he’s so close now! He’s at the bar! Now’s my chance. I should just hop off this stool…”
Stage 10: “…Oh, but this stool is so high, and my beer is so strong…”
Stage 11: Vacillate back and forth. Do you or don’t you?
After changing my mind a few times (How many celebrity sightings would I actually have, living and breathing and hanging out mostly in Brooklyn as I have been, lately? And not even in the gentrified parts, so no celebrities are probably going to cross my path there…But do I really want to be ‘that girl’?…But I just watched Juice LAST WEEK, this is a SIGN…But you’ll embarrass yourself…) we left, me feeling somewhat disappointed but also feeling relatively relieved. I had kept my cool in front of Khalil Kain, Jabari’s father, Tupac’s victim.
But I also did not have a picture with him. ‘Twas a bittersweet walk to dinner.
It took me a little while to get over it, but I did. It’s all good. I know, and the universe knows, that something very unique was happening in that half hour me and Khalil Kain were in the same building at the same time.
But I also know now that I have been fooling myself for the last ten months since I moved here. My freak out was totally unexpected to even me. I am still not 100% New Yorker yet, nor will I ever be. I’ve gotten okay at keeping to myself, even when I’m surrounded by a bunch of people. I might look up the moment the doors on a Manhattan-bound L-train shut at Bedford Avenue and the three dancers say “Ladies and gentleman!”; I might acknowledge these dancers briefly before going back to my book as they explain that they’re going to do a little performance for everyone but add, rather alarmingly, that since nobody is perfect you could get kicked in the face. I’ll probably even look up from my book every now and then during the performance to make sure that I am not, in fact, that unlucky girl on the subway who gets kicked in the face.
I’ve gotten the whole subway dancer thing down, but not the celebrity sighting thing, and I’m okay with that. Living in the city brings pleasant surprises every day. Like $13 tattoos on Friday the 13th, or random pigeon traditions on Brooklyn rooftops, or Khalil Kain in a Lower East Side bar. And I am looking forward to seeing just how much I don’t know about myself, this city, or celebrities…and what happens when all three of those things overlap.
(Now if Tupac had entered the bar, I’d probably be singing a different tune.)