The compelling story of Todd, a young rapper who is determined to seek out Reginald Vel Johnson, the man who played Carl Winslow in the hit TV show Family Matters. Aided by several bags of cheese puffs and his mathematician-historian friend Edgar, Todd travels to Wichita in hopes that he can discover his true father and, in doing so, compose a rap song that will haunt history for all of eternity.
If one must live in New Mexico, Todd thought, one must have ample mouthfuls of onion rings. Fumbling in the greasy yellow carton, he pulled out five enormous, breaded onion rings, and stuffed all of them into his mouth at once. He poured more root beer into his mouth and nearly choked on the mess. Coughing heartily, he spat the masticated slop onto the sidewalk, and then reached for another handful.
Blue skies. Burning heat. Cacti and plains as far as the human eye can possibly see. Todd had lived in New Mexico for eighteen years and still marveled at the stark, barren life that he lived. Gallup was no true home for one of the world’s most talented rappers, he’d told himself, his parents, his friends, coworkers, and – on at least five occasions in the past month alone – begging hobos.
He beamed proudly as he remembered Frank, the homeless gentleman that he’d now spoken to three times. Frank was everything a father should be: open, warm, receptive. “Good rapper, good rapper,” he’d repeated to himself earnestly as Todd pressed three dimes and a crumpled dollar bill into his dirty hand. Todd had resisted the urge to hug the grizzled bum only because of the raunchy, eye-watering smell wafting from his dirty red coat.
Todd proudly strutted down the street, smiling broadly, tossing the used fast food carton to the sidewalk. He laughed loudly to show how unconcerned he was, tossed his hair (though, having a crew cut, he appeared to passers-by to be avoiding an angry bee that had flown near his ear), and marched on, arms held stiffly at his sides as he bobbed up and down. Now deep in thought, he worked on his latest opus: a rap song about the prodigious efforts it took to maintain a steady reputation at the Cracker Barrel, the deadly pains of not having any sort of girlfriend, the uncertainty of who his birth parents really were.
Todd choked back a cry as he thought about it. It was far too much for a man as young as he to endure. It was heart-breaking, and he shouldn’t have to deal with it. A tear dripped down his cheek in a startling display of self-pity.
“All that and I still have to work the evening shift at the Cracker Barrel,” he mused furiously. “Always doing time at the Cracker Barrel… What rhymes with barrel?” he thought, and then smiled. His mind was a steel trap, always looking for his next amazing rhyme. He’d been inspired to write four stanzas of a new opus, “Fronting with the Cracker Barrel Crew,” and was working daily on the fifth verse.
And, in deep thought, he continued his steady pace. He ran his greasy hands through his hair, trying to simultaneously wipe them clean and give himself an impressive sheen. He stopped and dumped the last of the root beer on the street. He stood nervously before the Cracker Barrel; one of the biggest attractions in the city, it loomed over the milling citizens like a squat southern woman dolefully partitioning out handfuls of biscuits and salt pork. The hideous facility where Todd worked for slave-labor wages. Was he really set for the day? He reached into his pockets and felt around: a slim wallet with a picture of Batman, a tube of lip balm, a little baggie full of Honey Nut Cheerios, his pocket notebook, an ink pen. Yes, Todd was definitely set.
Sighing heavily, he walked in, grabbed his apron, and cinched it around his waist. He yawned. It looked to be a long, tiring day. There were already five customers in the dining area, and no doubt they would all probably want some sort of delicious meal. How would he balance their drink refills with the careful attention that his rap opus so greatly deserved? He shrugged and grabbed a pad to write down orders. He was readying himself to greet the first set of customers when a large, hairy hand clapped down on his shoulder.
“Sanders,” barked his ineffable supervisor, Mr. Jacobs. Mr. Jacobs was forty years old but still worked a job just a step above minimum wage. He also wore polo shirts at least two sizes too small. “Do you know how late you are today?”