During my freshman year of college, my friend Eric casually asked me if I had any interest in visiting his church.
I had no interest in visiting his church.
When we were sophomores, he asked me again. Before I could say no, he added “M.C. Hammer is going to be a guest speaker next Sunday.”
I was interested in visiting his church.
When I was 10 and 11 years old, I really liked this Atlanta radio station called Power 99. They played a lot of M.C. Hammer. By default, I became an M.C. Hammer fan. I liked “U Can’t Touch This”. I liked the song he did for The Addams Family movie. I even watched his cartoon a couple times.
While M.C. Hammer spent most of the 90s wasting his fortune on gaudy mansions, blinged-out cars, and race horses, Power 99 became 99X. My taste in music progressed with the new alternative radio format, and my teen years brought cynicism to the M.C. Hammer persona and parachute pants. The idea of seeing him in person, though, excited the kid in me. I couldn’t wait for church. Then I got sick.
I first felt the lump in the back of my throat on Thursday morning. By that evening I had a runny nose and bad cough. I barely made it through my Friday classes, and on Saturday I spent the whole day in bed battling what turned out to be a nasty case of the flu. A small part of me considered not going. The rest of me was more than determined to see things through.
I didn’t sleep at all the night before church. I knew if I did, I wouldn’t make it. I took pills and drank fluids to mask how I felt. By the time the sun finally brought the morning, I felt out of body.
The phone rang around 8:30. Eric wanted to know if I could drive us both to the service. He had a car and knew I was sick. I still don’t know why he asked and I agreed.
We were in my car and exiting campus. I asked Eric for directions to his church. “Make your way to the Interstate,” he said. “Once we cross town and get on it, it’s about a forty minute drive.”
I thought he was joking.
My hands trembling and grasping the steering wheel, we finally pulled into the church parking lot. I was sure M.C. Hammer was responsible for the lack of available spots. We parked far from the building. Once we made it inside, well-dressed young folk were standing around the lobby. Seizing the opportunity, Eric and I bypassed the crowd and made our way into the sanctuary. The room was spacious, filled with row after row of wooden pews. A slightly elevated stage anchored the front, and a theater-like black curtain hung from the ceiling. We grabbed third-row seats. As people filed in, I said something to the effect of, “I’ve been looking forward to this all week. I’ve been so sick.”
I’m sure Eric heard what I said, but it wasn’t for him.
The service began. A man in his 40s who I figured was the regular pastor approached the podium perched on the right of the stage. In a boisterous tone he wished everyone a good morning and launched into some general announcements. Not caring what he was saying, I glanced around the room to see if I could spot M.C. Hammer anywhere in the wings or in the front row. I had no luck.
The man finished his remarks that were brief but felt too long. After he gathered his notes and walked off stage, the overhead lights suddenly went out. Multicolored lasers cut through the darkness. M.C. Hammer’s song “Pray” started playing over the sanctuary’s speakers, and four high school girls dressed in black tights ran out through the center of the curtains. The crowd started clapping. I started clapping. The girls smiled and started dancing poorly.
“Ladies and gentleman!” An enthusiastic voice roared over the music. “It’s time to give a big welcome to…. M.C. Hammer!”
I want to say that everybody rose to their feet. I want to say that the crowd went wild as M.C. Hammer triumphantly made his way onto the stage, raised his arms, and soaked in the crowd. I really, really wish I could say all of that happened. Instead, everybody remained in their seats as a little boy who couldn’t have been older than eight busted through the curtains. He was wearing an M.C. Hammer outfit with chains and sunglasses. He did a couple of dance moves. He pointed to the air and for some reason let out a Michael Jackson yell.
Everyone in the pews started laughing like it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. Some guy sitting a few spots to the left of me actually keeled over.
The sanctuary lights went back up. The little boy ran over to the girls and gave each of them a high five, and as they ran off stage, the speakers blared like the voice of God, “Ladies and gentleman, Little M.C. Hammer!”
I turned to Eric. I wanted to start cursing but instead started coughing. He immediately began apologizing and thought M.C. Hammer was actually going to be there.
I continued coughing.