This story first appeared in the 2013 Autograph University Yearbook. Get your free copy.
Staten Island, New York
We stepped off the Staten Island ferry at St. George’s Terminal beneath a crystal clear blue sky. My mother unfolded a map and navigated us south on foot along Bay Street until the scent of sea water vanished, overtaken by the odor of car exhaust and asphalt. I was in heaven.
Upon my insistence we arrived just as the shop opened and I pushed through the front door like I had a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory. But Wu Wear was more walk-in closet than wonderland. A lone employee stood behind a counter only steps from the entrance. Off to the left a handful of wall racks held brightly-colored t-shirts, hoodies and skully caps emblazoned with the Wu logo. Conspicuously missing were the iconic black and yellow styles the group wore in the videos. Is this all they had? The clerk frowned and nodded. I settled on a nearly neon red and blue winter hat, paid my money and turned to leave. As I reached the door I noticed a flyer taped to one of the shelves advertising an appearance by Raekwon—my favorite Wu member—the following Saturday. Just my luck, I said to my mom.
“You know, Method Man is coming here today,” said the clerk.
What did you say?
“Method Man is doing a signing from twelve to two if you want to come back.”
Just my luck! I pointed to a poster of the group behind the counter and asked if I was guaranteed to get it signed. She said yes and I handed over ten dollars much more enthusiastically than in my last transaction.
With two hours to kill we walked across the street to Wu Nails, a salon affiliated with the Clan through its owner Patricia Diggs, sister of RZA, the group’s mastermind and primary producer. After snapping a photo of the storefront and picking up a souvenir bottle of Grenada Green nail polish we were down to an hour and fifty-six minutes until show time. I trekked back across the street to start the line—a line of one—by the entrance of Wu Wear while my mom sat down on the sidewalk in front of the salon and cracked a book.
An hour passed before the line doubled. Then as midday approached momentum built as fans descended upon the Wu Wear store from every direction. Each surrounding street was an artery pumping people onto the crowded sidewalk. A Hot 97 promotional van pulled up just before noon blaring hip-hop and brought with it a heightened sense of anticipation for Method Man’s impending arrival. What was once a line behind me became a swarm of people spilling out onto Victory Boulevard. We grew restless watching one o’clock—then two—tick by uneventfully. The mob continued to grow in size as word spread throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. I stretched on tiptoes and strained my neck to see my mother. She sat calmly eating a granola bar and waved to me, hiding her concern behind a warm smile.
The cry rolled over the crowd like a wave and we turned at once to see the rapper running full bore toward us down St. Pauls Avenue, his hands tugging up his baggy jeans which fell again and again with each stride. He reached the van and pulled himself to the roof, caught a microphone tossed from below and whipped the mob into a frenzy. (Later I would learn my mother was in the middle of it all snapping photos.) Method Man hopped down and bounded up the steps, disappearing into the store. By now more than a hundred people stood between me and the signing which should have already been over had he arrived on time. At this point there was no way of knowing how long he’d stay.
The throng surged forward—any semblance of a line faded hours ago—and I clung tightly to my poster, trying to keep it from being bent, sweated on or otherwise damaged (as my body had already been). I was exhausted and losing hope. Then Method Man reemerged, leapt back onto the van and the crowd roared.
“Aight, I’m signing only for the babies. Only for the babies, aight? Nobody else.”
What followed blew my mind. People rushed forward with children in their arms. Not young fans. Infants and toddlers. In every case the sea parted to let them through, pushing me further away. And not only were they running toward the store, they were scurrying home to grab a child to bring back along with a piece of tattered notebook paper. A diapered baby became a VIP pass to get in the club.
I was furious. I am the one supporting the music. I am the only one here who actually has merchandise to get signed. I was first in line!
I weaved my way forward trying to get within earshot of the bouncer at the front door of the shop. Upon reaching him I pleaded my case, waving my poster in front of him and retelling the guarantee I received from the clerk nearly six hours earlier. I came all the way from Massachusetts, I shouted over Hot 97’s jams. And I was first in line! He said there is nothing he can do and I persisted. He shot a glance inside the store and shook his head and I asked him to do the right thing. He sighed and puffed out his cheeks and looks out over the crowd and I crane forward over someone’s shoulders because I just want to get in to meet one of my heroes and get the autograph I was promised when I handed over my money for this fucking poster.
“Ok, you’re the last one in,” he said, hurrying me in and slamming the door behind me.
Inside it was eerily quiet, a stark contrast to the roaring animal outside. To my right a handful of black Sharpies sat on a table in front of an empty chair. There were about a dozen people in line and I took my place at the rear. A moment later a fist in my back.
“Move, black,” said a husky voice.
I spun my head but he was already by me. Method Man, heading toward the table in the front of the store. Finally, I was only moments away from a happy ending. Then I heard the ding of the door swinging open and through the glass I saw the crowd erupt again as the rapper ascended the van a third time. His message was incomprehensible from inside but the meaning of what he did next was clear as the bright blue sky. He turned toward the street and dropped down behind the van, reappearing several seconds later sprinting up St. Pauls Avenue while fans ran alongside him like a scene from Pamplona. Smaller and smaller he became until he was just a dark speck on the horizon, then nothing.
I crossed Victory defeated, head low while my poster skipped against the ground. My mother rose to her feet and put her arms around me. We turned and headed back toward the terminal without a word. And then the sky turned black as if the sun was flicked off. The rain came down all at once, soaking us through. We ran. We needed to get out of this place.