I’m standing outside a bar in the East Village and Hank Shocklee is making fun of my T-shirt and all I can think is, damn man, you’ve put on serious weight. I mean, I’m overeating here too and it’s destroying my stomach and I need to run to the loo every few minutes but you’ve acclimatised to a lot of burgers or something, dude. I mean, you were in The Bomb Squad.
He’s staring at me, pausing, and suddenly, I clock… Hank Shocklee, one of Public Enemy’s seminal Bomb Squad producers is still big in the hip hop game. There’s no way he’s now a fat bouncer in an East Village bar. Is he?
Moments earlier, Matt, his girlfriend Rachel Anne, their friend Kathleen and I had arrived at Bar None in the East Village with the hilarious idea of finding a frat bar to play beer pong in (beer pong is where you line up beers on a ping pong table and throw ping pong balls into the cups. For every cup you sink a ball into, the other person has to down it). Google tells us this is the place. We stand outside Bar None retrieving our IDs because much as we all circle 30, the four of us look quite youthful. The bouncer, a fat monolith of a man, checks my Public Enemy ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ album cover T-shirt out of the corner of his eye and says, ‘What’choo know about that album man?’
‘It’s one of my favourites,’ I reply, earnestly and Britishly. I can’t tell if he’s trying to check if I’m a poser or I’m somehow barred from liking it. ‘One of the best albums ever made,’ I reiterate.
‘I worked on that album’ he says and turns to inspect Matt’s ID. I’m dumbfounded.
‘You worked on this album? What did you do?’ I ask, my voice rising to the high pitch of the fanboy.
‘I’m Hank Shocklee,’ he smirks.
‘YOU’RE HANK SHOCKLEE?’ I ask. I’m starstruck. I don’t know what else to say, this is a dear diary moment. Public Enemy are one of the best so I repeat, a little louder, more high pitched… ‘YOU’RE HANK SHOCKLEE???’
He smirks again. I ask if he’s being serious and he doesn’t reply, ushering us into the venue. I ask again. I have so many questions. Where are those noise samples from? Did they use real sirens? What’s Flava Flav like? Does he want me to recite the entire lyrics to ‘Bring the Noise’ for him? So I ask again if he’s being serious and he gives the slightest shake of his head, one that if you weren’t fanboy-eyeballing him you wouldn’t notice.
He bursts into a knowing grin and says, ‘Welcome to America, man.’
As we walk in, we all think he’s now admitted he isn’t Hank, but we’re not quite sure. Luckily, Google is our friend and iPhones are many in New York City, so a quick search reveals him to be a heavier impersonator. I’m disappointed.
Then a man simulates a lapdance for a screaming woman and I wonder if searching for beer pong was such a good idea if it led you to places like this, where people dry-hump and impersonate your musical heroes.
Hours earlier we were in McSorleys, allegedly the oldest pub in New York, a spit and sawdust place, hounded by tourists and after-workers, where the two menu choices are ‘light’ and ‘dark’ for your beers, and the men’s toilet had a strip of transparent panelling in the door.
Before that, we were in Kenka, in the East Village, one of the most delicious and insane Japanese restaurants I have ever been to. The garish, intense menu was a series of pictures of food with three word decriptions of what they were, presented as a Godzilla comic. Old 70s and 80s Japanese posters adorn the wall, and the chef is cooking on a makeshift barbecue. The food is quick and delicious, and the beer, at $1.50 a half pint of Kirin, is the cheapest everywhere, let alone New York. With miso rice balls, barbecued chicken skewers, udon noodles, aubergine and pork, it is all mouth-wateringly good. The restaurant around us has a thick turnover of patrons and always has a cue. As we leave, we are presented with three tiny paper bowls of banana-smelling powder and someone points to a candy floss machine just outside the door. Our desert is a complimentary banana-flavoured candy floss stick.
The East Village is today my new favourite part of New York.
The photo above is what Hank Shocklee actually looks like.