“Kanye West: ‘…When I’m working, when I’m creating my gifts for the world, I want it to be good. I’m like the guy in The Aviator. They already made a movie about my life story.’
Karen Valby: ‘But Howard Hughes ended up crazy and alone.’
Kanye West: ‘Well, I hope I can avoid that part.’ ”
-Taken from an article titled “The Ego Has Landed” in Entertainment Weekly, Issue #861, February 3, 2006
Today, his reclining bed is a glorified bear-trap covered in moldy sheets that the nurses come around to change twice weekly. Complementary air plants hang between the lime green tiles in the ceiling. A dust-and-cobweb-covered Grammy serves as a paperweight for a stack of bills and receipts on the sink overlooking the bedpan in his bathroom. Adjacent lies a Soul Train award on the floor, holding its position as a doorstop.
Before moving here, he had sold all his keyboards and drum machines in the wake of a few bad sample clearances and a testimony of trademark infringement put forth by Evel Knievel. After that, the estates of other recording artists jumped on the bandwagon. Under the weight of juggling so many lawsuits at once, Kanye couldn’t keep up with all the lawyer’s fees, and was forced to sell everything he had. His wife-turned-baby-mama left after that, pissed off that she couldn’t get anything of value from the pre-nupt.
Some days Kanye thinks, “Thirty years ago, I could’ve bought this place,” and he’s right, unaware that it looks pretty much the same now as it did then.
“I should’ve looked more into real estate.”
Even though photographs of his son’s family decorate the bedpost in platinum and white gold frames, they never come to see him except on Christmas and Easter. Between his own parents’ deaths decades earlier and the constant news of old friends dying, Kanye’s loneliness provokes him to make phone calls and send e-mails asking why no one bothers visiting him. It hasn’t registered that his grandchildren, son, and daughter-in-law only show up out of a sense of moral obligation. To every one else, he’s a cantankerous, washed-up curmudgeon who’s only still a celebrity in his own dwindling mind.
His roommates come and go in a revolving door of circumstance, either through the futility of their demise or because they eventually move on to other departments. First there was Murphy, who fought in Iraq and wet the bed as a result of his post-war syndrome. Then there was Bruce, a failed stockbroker who lost his fiancé in a car crash. Then there was Cole Summers, whose wife lived down the hall. Then there was Carlos, who died in his sleep, leaving Kanye to wake up one day to a stretcher exiting the room covered in a blue wool sheet.
Carlos was the only one of his roommates who ever listened to Hip-Hop, so he and Kanye got along. It was good to have someone to talk to, even though Carlos hated everything Kanye ever did.
He’d say, “No offense, but when it comes to sampling, you’re no RJD2.”
Kanye could only pretend he knew what he was talking about.
This week, Kanye’s roommate is Greg Baker, a white rapper originally from Vermont who never made it big on account of being a white rapper originally from Vermont. It’s been three months, and the largest conversation they have had has been as follows:
“You look familiar.”
“I swear I’ve seen your face before. What’d you say your name was again?”
“It’s Kanye. Trust me, you haven’t. I’m going to play bingo.”
On bad days Kanye snaps, rising from his wheelchair in the middle of the hallway. His legs shake under his own weight like a newborn foal trying to stand up as he yells, “I don’t belong here! I’m Kanye West! I have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! I’m a prophet, you hear me? A motherfucking prophet!”
Of the nurses, Carrie is Kanye’s biggest fan. Although Kanye hates everyone, Carrie sees past that and always puts on a smile. She finds it an honor to serve a musical legend, pushing him into the dining hall and spoon-feeding him mouthfuls of applesauce.
Carrie is white, and most likely because of this, quick to forgive.
When Carrie escorts Kanye or wipes away the fallen remains of food he has difficulty chewing, he explodes: “Get your hands off me, you white bitch! All you white motherfuckers want to take my money!”
Loretta rolls her eyes every time she hears this. A nurse on the 6AM-to-noon shift, she’s takes night classes at a local college, majoring in Journalism and Rap History. She knows Kanye was born in Atlanta to a photographer-turned-marriage counselor and an English Professor, before moving to Chicago with his mother after his parents’ divorce and spending a year in China at age 10. She also knows Mr. “George-Bush-Doesn’t-Care -About-Black-People” is presently the only African American resident in the most expensive retirement home in three states, due in part to the funds from album sales that he gave his son when he still had money to squander.
Loretta is black, and still bitter about the parts of Kanye’s fortune that he used to buy Bentleys instead of flying down private jets to volunteer in New Orleans. When Loretta was a child, she watched his speech on television in Myrtle Beach. Later she would find comfort in the thought of Kanye falling into bankruptcy like M.C. Hammer before him.
Her grandmother and great-aunt died in Katrina. When the body of Loretta’s grandmother had been identified, it had been two months since she had been reported missing. Her body supposedly had been found littered with flies, pieces of flesh torn off by stray dogs. Loretta remembers flying down for the wake and capping off a pair of funerals by taking a hammer to her copy of The College Dropout.
When Loretta arrives in his room, announcing, “Here’s your breakfast Mister West,” Kanye calls her a “sell-out” and an “Uncle Tom,” unaware that she’s already spat in his oatmeal.
These days, where there was once champagne and hard liquor, there are now only prune supplements. Nights out on South Beach or Milan have given way to Metamucil and meatloaf on Thursdays. Kanye spends his afternoons staring out of windows, watching the more limber residents play ping pong and shuffleboard, inching his feet at the base of his wheelchair taking in his final years one hallucination at a time. He never thought hot bowls of potato chowder on Tuesdays could seem so exciting.
The nurses don’t allow residents to drink, but Greg from Vermont has a dealer who comes up from the kitchen, and at night before going to sleep, Kanye steals from the cookie tin on his roommate’s lamp-stand and lights up in the bathroom. The stash is usually a notch above ragweed, but for once Kanye keeps his complaints to himself, knowing the days of smoking hydro in the studio are long since over.
The closest he’s ever gotten to extracurricular activity is when Carrie stops by to give him his sponge bath. Otherwise, he’s bellowing at the white nurses to help him fix his iPod, a now obsolete quarter-century-old artifact.
If there's any irony in a once defiant, photogenic, egocentric, would-be social-political rapper/producer slowly dying in obscurity, completely dependent on the procedures of a largely Caucasian staff tending to his every need, Kanye is certainly the last to notice. Likewise, he’s oblivious to any distress inflicted upon Loretta as well as Marcus, Syrena, Steve and Tony, the other black nurses who make their living breaking up fights and wiping his ass in addition to those of retired attorneys, congressmen, corporate pawns, and land developers.
He once participated in discussions with a youth group that came in from a local church to read and study scripture with the residents. At the same time, a film student had done some research and decided to make a documentary on Kanye’s life with some friends. Kanye was all too happy to provide interviews and be acknowledged once again by the camera. It made him feel important, like one of those old Blues players living on the Mississippi Delta.
The nurses stopped taking Kanye to the monthly meetings after he started telling the teenagers to look him up in the text, mixing up names and references in the Bible, and telling everyone within listening range that they were going to Hell. The camera crew left shortly thereafter.
There’s an old saying that to be drunk is to be sophisticated and be the only one who knows it. This might best describe the sense of self-importance Kanye possesses between the blackouts that have nothing to do with the ganja he secretly smokes.
On some occasions, Kanye finds himself “waking up,” not knowing where he is between gaps in time, recalling memories both fond and traumatic. Kanye remembers flashes in the studio or onstage at concerts or accepting trophies. Sometimes he’s making love on yachts or watching his friend John Legend on The Surreal Life in the privacy of his mansion. Other times, he’s reliving the car accident, getting punched in the face by a poet from Florida backstage at Def Poetry Jam, or shutting down factories that make attire for his clothing label at the protest of The ACLU.
Mostly, Kanye sits in a rocking chair on the back porch at sunset surveying the butterfly garden, closes his eyes and tries not to dream, fighting back the onset of the same nightmares that have plagued him in his bed for months.
Too proud to alert the nurses when he wakes up in a deluge of tears and sweat, Kanye spends early mornings shaking on his mattress with his knees tucked tight against his chest in the aftermath of witnessing the same visions. Sometimes, he’s at the bottom of an open grave watching Ray Charles and Luther Vandross shovel dirt on top of him. Other times, he’s running in circles on a giant turntable attempting to get away from a record needle that’s perpetually trying to impale him from above.
But most nights, it’s the one where he walks out of a stretch limo and onto a red carpet. Cameras flash everywhere and microphones charge his face for an interview, until he realizes that he’s covered head-to-toe in blood dripping from the diamonds in his earrings, necklace, and bracelet. Kanye peers down at a red puddle leaking from the soles of his Nikes. Looking up, he gazes beyond the front rows of the crowd to see a scene composed of people he knew when he was younger.
Jay-Z. John Legend. Miri Ben-Ari. Alicia Keys. Common. John Mayer. Hype Williams. Melissa Ford. Pamela Anderson. Adam Levine. Rhymefest. Pharrell Williams.
Emcees. Producers. Actors. Comedians. Pretty faces from music videos. Groupies. Friends and family. His mother. His father. His son, Kanye Jr. His ex-wife. His mistress. His white girl. Ludacris. Bono. Jacob The Jeweler. Mike Myers. Twista. Jamie Foxx. Carlos. The nurses. Everyone he’s ever known.
The front rows are made up of strangers of all ages, but somehow Kanye knows who they are – sweatshop workers, diamond miners, and families ravaged by the hurricane. Between the shreds of their clothes, their brown and yellow skin is blotched by dirt and scars.
As soon as Kanye identifies them, streams of blood trickle down the eyes of everyone around as the view spins and the mob turns into a horde of laughing skeletons. Hands raise and fingers point in Kanye’s direction as the chain around his neck begins to tighten. Kanye hears a voice tell him, “Speak up boy.”
Kanye tries begging for mercy from the grasp of his makeshift noose, commanding the overwhelming army of thousands to stop laughing, but all that comes out of his throat is a high-pitched squeal, like a voice on a recording sped up beyond recognition.
Still gasping from lack of oxygen, a part of his necklace coils in front of him until it’s at eye level, staring him down like a cobra in defense. Specks of blood drip in all directions with the movement of the chain as Kanye peers at the pendent, the face of Jesus made entirely out of diamonds. More blood descends from its yellow canary crown of thorns and down its white cheeks as drops collect and fall from its chin. Its eyes are the color of nuclear fire, the kind of blue that isn’t found in all of nature.
Still choking, Kanye winces at the light that reflects off the icon the size of a tennis ball as the pendent begins to talk to him, its mouth moving moments before Kanye wakes up. As crowd and carpet give way to inferno, the pendent reiterates, “I said, ‘Speak up boy.’ Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?”