The Parentheses

by Adam Wilson


         Sunset over D’Agostino’s. Crosstown wind off the Hudson. Michael thinks he can still smell ash. Exiting shoppers cut like tailbacks toward the end zone of the subway entrance. Celery stalks blossom from the tops of brown bags; soup season is here. Michael stares at what may or may not be Wendy’s window. The way the sun hits the window makes it difficult to tell if lights are on in the apartment. Michael gives the horn another honk.

         It might be time to suck it up and buy a cellphone. Michael relies on his pager for mobile communication. He wore the pager in high school to sustain a rumor that he was a mid-level dealer with ties to the Russian mob. He sold dime bags and occasional pills swiped from his parents, who are not Russian; his paternal grandparents came over from Poland to escape the pogroms. Now the pager is a novelty, fawned over by friends who long for the innocence of an earlier era. That era, it’s been decided, ended last month.

         The pager is also a part of Michael’s hip-hop persona. M.C. Web M.D. busts rhymes in the beer stink of fraternity basements. His roommate, Broder, is Mix Master Mucinex. Pioneers, the duo hope to occupy terrain carved out by a recent wave of rappers who complement surface-level humor with serious pedagogy. Close reading reveals Michael’s true subjects as big pharma and the medical industrial complex, but the frat boys come out for Broder’s Dre-derived beats that liberally sample Sly Stone and early Parliament, plus Michael’s showmanship—he wears hospital scrubs and tests his stethoscope on willing members of the audience. He was once told by a therapist that in order for other people to take him seriously, he would first have to do so himself, and he doesn’t know if the attacks on the World Trade Center have anything to do with it, or whether pursuing Wendy has provided a new benchmark for maturity, but either way he feels ready to experiment with not wearing the stethoscope at his next show. The scrubs will stay, for the Strokes have their Converse, the White Stripes their color scheme; that is how the game is played.

To read the rest of "The Parentheses," purchase Assignment Issue #1 in print.