I was in Starbucks, or, as I call it, “damn the pusher man”. Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, Pizza Hut. Each make products that are so simple, you would think anyone could make them taste that way, but they can’t. There’s no explanation. Nobody knows why. It’s coffee. They’re donuts. It’s a pizza. Yet, nobody else makes coffee like Starbucks. Nobody else makes donuts like Krispy Kreme. Nobody could lay a hickey on your neck like Christine, the cocktail waitress.
There’s no explanation.
Nobody knows why.
There I was, in Starbucks. I stood, staring at a rack of CDs featuring Van Morrison covers of Billie Holiday songs, or as I call it, “come out, come out, whoever you are”. I waited behind two women I judged to be about my age, but who knows? They could have been younger, but worn out: older, but augmented. It was Mt. Lebanon. Who could tell? They were served, paid and parted ways. The woman wearing the sunglasses said to the other, as they stepped back into the world, “Well. Keep it real, Barbara.”
Keep it real what?
Keep it real hot? Keep it real black? Keep it real rich and tall? Are we talking coffee or something much more expensive?
Keep it real?
“Keep it real.”
“I’m just keepin’ it real.”
“Well. Keep it real, Barbara.”
I’d like to dedicate this column to Keep It Real, which died at approximately four this afternoon, there, in Starbucks, between the chocolate torte and the Indigo Girls Boxes boxed set. Keep It Real is dead. Cause of death? A middle-aged white person put her mouth all over it. When a middle-aged person, specifically a blonde with sunglasses, repeats any phrase once uttered by young people, the phrase immediately passes on to its next life. The young will no longer utter it. For them, it has passed. It is gone. Keep It Real is dead to youth.
Everyone can remember the first time Mom said something you’d been saying for, like, God, your whole life, okay? Right? One day, right there in the station wagon on the way to church, Mom said, “Fer Sure”. You vowed from the backseat to never again utter such a vile coupling of words. Fer sure was then, right there, dead to you.
So I say, “Long live Keep It Real!”
I may not understand what it means, but, believe me, I understand its death, man. Keep it real? You were once somebody. You were once the cool phrase. That was then. Your fifteen minutes are up.
Keep it real, Keep It Real.
I paid for the coffee and tried to not think about scab-covered hands touching the creamer pitcher earlier that day. As I headed out the door, I passed a person watching himself perform for his camera in a movie, playing on his laptop. For no reason whatsoever, I said to this stranger, “Keep it real, Barbara.”
It was fun.
The phrase was dead. And that, as any middle aged white person can tell you, makes it fair game. Anyone can now say, “Keep it real.” The woman in sunglasses. Me. Barbara. Your grandmother. Your grandmother’s doctor. That Chinese guy who lives down the street.
In addition, I estimate that within the next thirty days, a major product sold to middle-aged white people will adapt the phrase as its advertising slug line. Metamucil. Keep it real. State Farm. When you want to keep it real. Keep it real. Vagisil.
I haven’t been able to stop saying it. I think it’s because, as with most casual language, it means nothing. People seldom say what they mean in conversation, so why does Keep It Real have to have a meaning?
“How are you?”
No! No, you’re not. You’re not fine, at least not today. You’ve got a hemorrhoid. But you’re not going to share that information. That doesn’t need to be shared, just like you don’t want to say you’ve got a horrible job. You married a drunken whore. It seemed like it would be fun at first, but it’s not fun anymore. She’s drunk. She’s a whore. She’s old now. You’re old. And you’re married to an old, drunken whore. And you’ve got a hemorrhoid. But you don’t say that, not to the mailman, do you? No, because it’s casual conversation, which isn’t conversation at all. Most of it is memorized, rote noise. Don’t think; just tell the mailman you feel fine so he can get on with his route.
Keep it real.
Language is a weapon in the war of age. Children invent words as code to hide in plain sight from the rest of us. Adults have words of their own. They tell the kids not to use these words, or as I like to call it, “whatever you do, use these words, right now”.
In the mouth.
Mom, keeping it real.
I recognized this language war long ago. The young always win, but it doesn’t have to be like that forever. What we, the grownups, have forgotten is the great art of making words up. How many words did you make up today? None? Ask a nine year old. Bet he can give you a list.
You know what I call a kid like that?
You know why?
Me neither. I just made it up, just this minute. If I’m lucky, I can get some kids to start saying it and it’ll be selling shoes by this time next year.
I keep it real in my Bratwursts.
I’m keeping it real.
Keep it real.
Keep it real, Barbara.
Keep it real.