In 1997, a number of significant things happened to me. In June of that year, I graduated from high school. And, in August, I started my first semester at the University of Maryland, College Park. Also that year, my mother’s father – my beloved Grandfather – was diagnosed with cancer. It was a shock, but we were dealing with it. Grandpa was the oldest boy in a family of 14 children. So, when the word came down that he was sick, all his siblings decided to travel to DC and celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. That was the last year my Grandpa was strong enough to put his special touch on our 20 lb turkey, but nobody else felt much like preparing anything for our big dinner. So, the responsibility fell to me at 18 years old and to my 16 year old cousin. We made everything else, including desserts – food enough to feed 30 people. By the time I helped to clean up the kitchen and chitty-chatted with my family members, my cousins and I decided to take a ride around DC to relax.
That night, Usher was having a party at Republic Gardens, but my younger cousin wouldn’t be able to get into the party since she was under 18. So, instead, we decided to cruise around in my car for a few hours. After we had driven all the way downtown and made it back to the DC/Silver Spring border, we decided that we were hungry. Everything was closed. It was Thanksgiving afterall. But, one place was still open – the Tastee Diner, a rinky-dink greasy spoon establishment with hot coffee and hot food. (“Hot” doesn’t necessarily equal “good”!) We called my BFF who lived a few blocks away from the diner and asked if she wanted to come out. She took a pass since she was feeling slugging from the tryptophan (sp).
We pulled into the diner and ordered our food. I don’t remember what I ordered, but I remember what happened next like it was yesterday. The day after Thanksgiving, my younger cousin, BFF and I were planning to attend the Puff Daddy concert. Now, Biggie had died earlier that year and it was sort of a big deal to see Puffy at this point. (Those of you who are aware of my Diddy obsession are giggling just a little right about now.) Plus, I had recently fallen in love with Diddy’s protégé, Ma$e, a slow-talking rapper from Harlem – as if you didn’t already know that! My crush on Ma$e was public knowledge on Maryland’s campus. In fact, a male friend of mine had copped a life-sized poster of Ma$e from a record store that was closing nearby and it was hanging on the wall in my dorm room.
Anyway, my cousins and I were discussing the concert that was to happen the next day and as we were discussing, a dude with dreads walked in and sat at the counter. With his back facing us, I was able to see that the black leather jacket he was wearing had “Bad Boy Entertainment” stitched in white. My cousin snickered. “How pressed,” she said.
“I know! What a bama!” I giggled. “You would have to be really pressed to walk around in a jacket like that unless you worked for them or something.”
Just then, the door to the diner opens again and a bald-headed chubby dude with slanted eyes walks in and sits at the counter next to the guy in the Bad Boy jacket. My cousin looked up from her plate and says, “I know that guy. He’s from this group called The Lox.” (This was Jadakiss, in case you didn’t guess that by now.)
“Oh, I guess that guy does work for Bad Boy, then.” Hmmmm…
We go back to eating, but never in all my years would I have been prepared for what happened next. My back was facing the door, so I wasn’t able to see who was walking in until they came around to the other side of my table. My younger cousin was facing the door. She picked up the bottle of ketchup and started pouring some on her onion rings. All of a sudden, her mouth dropped and, from behind me, I hear someone say in a slow drawl, “Why are you putting so much ketchup on your onion rings?” My cousin squealed.
I look back and it’s… MA$E. Yes, that’s right. M-A-dollar sign-E was standing right next to our table. All at once I feel the need to sneeze, cough, burp, hiccup… the first sob hit me and it was more like a shudder, and then…. Tears?! OMG! I am SUCH a bama. I finally got a chance to meet Ma$e, the man who’s picture I awakened to each morning. Who’s crooked grin encouraged me as I made my way out of my dorm room onto class. And, there was that grin – in the flesh – and what do I do? I cry. I could not get control of myself. I was a mess. He walked to the booth behind ours and sat down. I hurried to the bathroom and cried a little more, washed my face, dried it and then gave myself a pep talk before heading back out to the dining area.
When I got back to the table, he was standing by my cousins and chatting them up, like he had known them for years.
“You ok?” he asked me.
I stare stupidly, but cannot find my voice! Tears welled up again, but I fought them off. You are such a loser, I am thinking to myself. I had met a few celebs before and had never been starstruck. But this time, I just couldn’t help myself. I had dreamed of this man. Oh the things I promised myself I would do if I ran into this man in person and all I could manage were a few strangled sobs?
My cousins asked him for an autograph and I just stared, my food sitting forgotten on my plate due to a sudden loss of appetite. Finally, I was able to speak.
“Can I get one, too?” I say softly.
“She speaks!” he laughs. That grin. I feel dizzy. He grabs my napkin and asks me my name. I tell him and he writes “MA$E Loves [Lovely Brown Girl]”. I swoon. He orders pancakes. Their driver comes in and they begin to argue. He says “Ok, if you don’t do it, I’ll just call Puff and you’ll be fired. No question.” The driver storms out. I am thinking, Wow. He can call Puffy RIGHT NOW if he wants to. I am so impressed.
Ma$e gets his pancakes and starts chowing down. By this time, other members of his entourage have joined him, including (apparently) a few backup dancers… or jumpoffs… or, jumpoffs that serve as backup dancers. Whatever. One of them looks at Ma$e eating and says, “You sure are eating those pancakes sloppy” and he says “That’s not the only thing I eat sloppy.” And he winks. I feel sick.
He continues to chat with my cousins (since I have become mute) and the other people in the diner. Countless swear words pepper his speech, which also included numerous sexual innuendos. His security guard (married) also tried to get my cousin to come back to their hotel room (she was 16, remember? And she had told him that. Repeatedly. He was undeterred.)
By the end of the encounter, my infatuation with Ma$e had seriously diminished. He wasn’t nearly as charming or witty as I thought he’d be. He was, however, much cuter in person.
At any rate, I attended the concert that next day and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The person who stood out to me that night was Puff, not Ma$e. And a new celebrity crush was born. BFF was so upset she chose to stay home that night. Spotting Ma$e in Downtown Silver Spring in 1997 was kind of a big deal... But, I assured her she didn't miss much. Anyway, when I returned to school after my Thanksgiving break was over, I was over Ma$e.
But the poster stayed on the wall. As immature, obnoxious, and unimpressive as he was, that lopsided grin was still worth the wall space…