Academic Starf*$er

Cornel West in The Matrix Reloaded

Cornel West in The Matrix Reloaded

We do the post-Irene tour about town. First, the library. A sign on the door promises goodies: “We’ve got power! We’ve got coffee! We’ve got internet!” We run into the decidedly unwashed masses there (most people have been out of power a good 48 hours by now). They are standing and sitting, some squatting, their laptops and iPhones or crackberries plugged in and charging. Among the unwashed, The Scientist, clean (bli ayin hara–we have been blessed with power!). He is as surprised as we are; he had come to work, not play. The kids, on the other hand, are thrilled, and we all hang out together until The Scientist announces he is going, in his words, “somewhere you are not.” We say our goodbyes, and the kids and I continue our tour.

We are surveying trees down, stores closed and open, branches in the act of being cleared, and I, ever the peppy tour guide, am narrating our journey (“Oooh, look, that man is stepping over those fallen branches, see that?”) . . . and then the kids begin:

“I’m huuuuuuuuuuuuuungry.”

“I’m tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiired.”

“I’m thiiiiiiiiiiiiiirsty.”

And finally:

“I. NEED!! TO!!! POO!!!!!!!!”

Time to go home.

But Cool J refuses. From the depths of his bowels–forgive the pun–he cries, “I have to poo RIGHT NOW!!!!!!”

So we grace Starbucks with our presence. As has, it turns out, Cornel West.

Now, I would hate to be called a Starfucker. I have gone out of my way in the past to not seem like a starfucker at all. Like that time I saw Meg Ryan in Washington Square Park and I followed her and took pictures of her until the security guard came over to me to give me a warning–well, I totally didn’t try to talk her up and say something stupid like, “OMG MEG RYAN!! Like, When Harry Met Sally is one of my fave movies EVER!!” I was cool and casual, apart from the picture-taking/stalking, and that was my first month in NYC! Or when I was at Bond St back when it opened, and Cameron Diaz was there and these embarrassing dorky guys we picked up kept asking her to take pictures with them, saying it was their friends’ birthday, and I didn’t dare pull the same schtick. Instead, I got to exchange a great eye-rolling with my pal Cam. Very cool. Very caj.

But Cornel West made me turn awkward. I might have blushed. I might have giggled randomly. I might have pretended to look in every direction but his. And no, it was not because of his cameos in The Matrix II & III. It was his mind! His genius!

I quickly planned out our conversation:

“Good job!”

“Pardon me, young lady?”

“I mean, you did a really good job on that article the other day in The New York Times! It was very thoughtful and engaging, and I particularly appreciated your invoking Rabbi Heschel in your discussion of Martin Luther King Jr. You were talking about our failure to realize King’s dream, but by using Heschel, you implicitly reminded us of the incredible possibilities inherent in that oh so important relationship between blacks and Jews (possibilities still, alas; they too, unrealized).”

“Why, thank you. It is lovely to meet you, Miss–“


“Miss Princess.”

We shake hands. We part (he has brilliant books to write, presidents to hang out with, inspiring music to record; I have to go home and scrub Cool J’s whole body raw since he just pooed in a grody public bathroom).

MLK Jr and R. Heschel at The Selma Civil Rights March (1965)

How it really went down was like this: We walk toward Cornel West’s table. I am starstruck, and time moves slowly. We are now at his table. He looks up. Cool J screams: “MAMA, HURRY UP!!!!! I AM ABOUT TO POO IN MY PANTS!!!!!!!!!”

So much for the brief but deep conversation between CW and PP.

*              *                     *                   *                  *                     *

The chance arises once more, however, on our departure. Cornel West is leaving as we are. Cool J runs ahead as I maneuver  the doublestroller through the thick Starbucks crowd, while LL is singing Super Mario songs obliviously banging into me and the stroller and strangers. Cornel West patiently walks behind us. Cool J gets to the door first, and he struggles to get it and hold it open. LL walks through first. Then Baby MoFo in the stroller, and me pushing him along. Finally, Cornel West–who pauses, smiles and nods at Cool J, and says: “Good job.”



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