Who are you?
I’m Malik Anderson Kaplan, but only my mother uses my middle name. Ask anyone on Chicago’s south side about the Kaplan family, they will tell you what that means. Every Kaplan who attended Farrington High School dominated sports, controlled the halls, commanded respect, and bore the unofficial title of Badass. That includes my brother, uncle, granddad, cousin, and even a couple of my aunts. This is my year. I’ll lead the basketball team to victory and earn my spot in history. A trophy bearing my name will go up on the school’s Wall of Fame. My older brother Perry lettered all four years and is up there twice for being captain of the undefeated football team his junior and senior years. I’ve never matched his brilliance, never made a room light up just by entering the way he did. He strutted around like he owned every brick, every street, and sure enough every girl. He was the ultimate badass, right until the day he died.
Now there’s just me. Now I have to be bad enough for two.
I’m not Perry, but I am trying.
The title of the book is Being God. Do you think you are…
I’m not crazy, of course not. Look, I’m the black, teenaged son of a Catholic mother and a Hebrew Israelite father. I swear, Dad only had the Bar Mitzvah because Mom insisted on a First Communion. I was almost six before I really understood there was a difference between Mom lighting up a Christmas tree and singing hymns, and Dad lighting candles and chanting prayers. Neither one of them is all that heavy into religion—what did they expect? The truth is, no matter what God I pray to, he’s super selective about which of my prayers he answers, and most of the time the answer is no.
What was your childhood like?
Before the Kaplan auto body shops had “Six Chicagoland Locations,” my family had nothing. I was always the last kid picked up from kindergarten because Mom took all the overtime she could at the restaurant. Dad was a mechanic who kept being laid off when the workload went down. I got sick once and tried to hide it because sickness meant money and even at five I knew we didn’t have any. We had debts and payments and creditors. I went to bed hungry and dreamed of food and warmth and safety and other things I could not have. Then Dad took Mom’s settlement money to start his own business. While I watched Mom suffer, things changed. Suddenly I looked around and we had enough. More than enough. Only I didn’t believe enough would last. So I ate and stuffed and horded and waited for the return of emptiness. I became the fat boy even my brother despised.
Do you have a hero?
My cousin, John Henley. He’s a Henley, not a Kaplan, because Uncle Leon, Dad’s older brother, enlisted in the army rather than marry his mother. John is twenty-three, a month younger than my brother would have been if he were still alive. They went to high school together and led the football team, Perry as quarterback and John as offensive tackle.
John is the most religious member of our family. You never see him without a kipah on his head, and he’s at Temple Beth Shalom with many of Chicago’s most devout Hebrew Israelites almost every Sabbath. He even got the hospital where he works as a nursing assistant to set up a schedule that lets him leave before sundown on Fridays. He also gets Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and most of Passover off. When he told me about his modified schedule, he laughed and said, “Probably just means I’m at the bottom of the ladder, so no one cares when I’m not at work.”
I don’t think so. I think he’s something special. I bet the guys he works for think so too.
What is your problem in Being God?
People seem to think I have a problem with drinking. Okay, maybe I do drink a little too much. But hey, alcohol is natural. It’s in the Torah and the Bible. Uncle Leon can down half a dozen drinks before he even begins to act drunk. Cousin John has two, maybe three, no problem. Granddad can handle as much booze as you throw at him. Even Mom has a little wine once in a while, and nothing ever happens with her. Only my dad acts like alcohol is all seven deadly sins wrapped together.
What is your goal, what do you want for your life?
Once I had this idea. I know I could be the best engineer in Chicago, in the entire state, maybe the country. That’s my dream, the one no one wants to hear. My older brother used to say I didn’t have a future. Mom says become the lawyer Dad couldn’t. Dad just tells me to stay out of the shop.
Why do you think he says that?
I don’t know. His dark brown eyes are constantly measuring, evaluating, rejecting. I just want him to see me; to forget my brother and think that maybe I’m the son he always wanted, instead of the second stringer he’s forced to make do with. I want him to respect me.
Not that he’s all that worthy of respect. Even his own father and brother laughs at him and calls him a jellyfish. Dad made a Kaplan And Son sign for the business when my brother started his senior year, so it would be ready for the graduation that never happened. He took a hammer to the sign the day after Perry’s funeral. I guess “and Son” was never meant to be me.
How did your brother die?
Do you want the cover story, the lie that he was poisoned by rivals? Or the truth about the drugs he overdosed on?
If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you rather be stranded with, a man or a woman?
Are you crazy? I’m an eighteen year old boy. I’d want to be stranded with Barney.
With Barney? Who is Barney?
I remember the first time I saw her, standing in the school cafeteria, looking all tall and cool and delicious. Even though her wide-eyed stare marked her as a freshman, I thought about making her one of my girls. When I walked over to her, something in her face changed; like she’d been lost on Lake Michigan in a storm and I held a life preserver. No girl ever looked at me that way, not before and not since. She’s not the normal girl who fits in my arms and makes me feel stronger. But when I put her in the chair next to me that first day, I felt like a superman.
Is she your girlfriend?
No, no way. I go with the sexiest girl in school. Barney is six feet tall, big and curved, one of the school brains, with no place inside my circle. She is not now, and never has been—well, almost never—one of my ladies. When you’re the badass, only hot girls need apply. Not too-smart, big-hipped freshmen whose faces aren’t beautiful. Just…interesting.
But Barney is the one that got away, and my nads still tighten with regret when I see her.
Sounds like this girl is a big “what if” haunting you. Is there anything else in your past that haunts you?
I’m not haunted, but, even after six years, my brother’s death still bothers me. I’m supposed to worship good old Perry, but the truth is, I feared him. Of all the things Perry said about me, the truest was coward. I didn’t just hook up with Cesare because of the bullies inside the school. I needed help with the bully in my own home. Here, take a look at my neck, see the scar? Four stitches, and the doctor said I was lucky the blade didn’t hit an artery. I was ten. I came home bleeding, and when Mom saw the cut she screamed at Dad that we had to move and escape the bullies trying to hurt her son. I never told her the bully responsible sat at the dinner table with us and slept in the bedroom across the hall from mine.
Are you saying your brother did that?
You catch on fast. Perry was a bully, but he was my brother and I wanted to love him and be like him. Even after my dog disappeared, even when I found her collar in his room. Even when he hit me, and kept hitting me to teach me to man-up, I tried to love him.
Let’s move on to something gentler. What is your favorite music?
My favorite singer is Horst, lead for Enemies of Blood and Flesh. Horst is an awesome rapper, but when he gets soulful he makes girls melt. Most of his stuff is a little rough, but my favorite song is You and Me and The Night. Let me sing it for you.
We alone tonight.
You and me, tonight.
Nothing stops us babe, no one home.
You know what we feel.
It’s all good, so real.
You know what comes next, we’re alone.
My girl and I both know what comes next. At least I thought she did, until she told me she hated the words. It was too late by then, anyway. She was already pregnant.
Who is your true love?
Don’t ask me that. I’m beginning to think it might be Barney. If so, I found her too late. Because my girlfriend is having my kid. And no matter what anyone says, I’m going to do the right thing by her. I had a father. Maybe not the best father in the world, but he is there. My kid deserves the same.
Where can we learn more about Being God?
Being God a YA contemporary romance released Feb 1, 2013 from AllTheColorsOfLove press (http://althecolorsoflove.com). It is available in paperback and eBook form Amazon.com – http://www.amazon.com/Being-God-B-A-Binns/dp/0988182114
Being God is the sequel to the award-winning novel Pull, also available on Amazon.com – http://www.amazon.com/Pull-B-A-Binns/dp/0988182106/
February 10, 2013 at 2:48 pm
Wow, awesome interview. Thanks, Malik, for your honesty. I didn’t like you in PULL but can’t wait to read your side in BEING GOD.