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2007-12-09 - 10:02 p.m.

So I'm writing about this kid who I went to middle school with. This was the late eighties, during the time of that first great wave of really popular rappers. The way I remember it, Run DMC knocked on the doors of white people, the Beastie Boys opened it up, and then all these guys knocked it down: Kid 'n Play, Young MC, MC Hammer, Naughty By Nature, NWA, and Public Enemy. Does that sound about right? I think it does. Anyway, I'm writing about this kid named James York. He was one of the handful of black kids in my school, and he lived in a rough section of projects called the Fort Cumberland Homes. James, though, wanted to be called "The Hammer." As in, James "The Hammer" York. He had the word shaved into his head, but I'm pretty sure he had it spelled like this: "The Hamer."

In thinking about that, I thought of something that happened later, when I was in high school. I was in the bleachers for a basketball game. My school, a public school, was playing the only Catholic school in the county, Bishop Walsh. And they were the catch-all school for all the private-school kids, since it is a pretty rural part of the world. That is, any parents who didn't want their kids to go to the three or four public schools around sent them to Bishop Walsh. There were a few Jewish kids there, for example. Anyway, they were mostly the rich kids, and my school was a totally average public school, definitely on the blue-collar side. So they're playing the game and I don't know who was winning, but the kids from my school start chanting something to the other bleachers, and then the Bishop Walsh kids start pointing at us and chanting, "Hooked on Phonics."

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