(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is an ironic story, with a somewhat bitter bite, about a young black man named Rodney who, because of his middle-class background and education, has so thoroughly accepted the white man’s values that he must make a self-conscious effort to learn the ways of the streetwise black in order to be “in” with his “hip” and self-consciously liberal white friends.

The story begins with Rodney buying drinks for a down-and-out black man named Willie in return for being “educated” in the slang and musical knowledge of the urban “cat.” Willie instructs Rodney that one’s “bag” is where one keeps things one does best and that whatever is in one’s bag is one’s “thing” or “stick.” Willie also tells him about a large rock-and-roll memorial in Cleveland in which a famous singer, “Fatso Checkers” (a fictional name for Chubby Checkers), did not appear but was replaced by another singer, “Dirty Rivers” (a fictional name for Muddy Waters), who improvised a song onstage that made the “cats” go wild because they “dug” it so.

When Rodney leaves the bar, he worries about being in this particular area of the city; is suspicious that the neighborhood blacks, with their shifty eyes and broad black noses, are after his money; and is relieved to find that no one has broken into his car. When he hears some young boys singing an obscene but childish rhyme, he is repulsed at first but then thinks that it is clever and memorizes it. When the boys follow a black prostitute down the street, making obscene references to her genitals, he is only sorry that he did not bring his notebook. During all this activity, Rodney’s attitude is like that of a sociology student who is studying an exotic, foreign culture. He even tries to quiz a young man selling a Muslim newspaper about why he became a Muslim so that he can make such an experience intellectually his own.

Rodney’s middle-class “white” prudishness is revealed when he returns home to his black girlfriend and scolds...

(The entire section is 827 words.)