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Around 2 p.m. on a recent Sunday afternoon, the South Florida sky beating down on Lincoln Road has not yet taken up its mean-spirited game of scorch-drench-scorch-drench-scorch. And the pleasant weather has put the pedestrian mall's self-proclaimed "wordologist" and MC, Dr. Geek, in a good mood. Setting up an aluminum folding chair — his throne — the king of the South Beach street performers sits down to hold court.
He watches the stream of shoppers — a fine array of princesses, queens, and knights, and of course scheming gangs of cackling jesters. He smilingly calls to them one by one, pointing out their foibles and conceits through gentle, lighthearted rhymes. Geek (as in "geeked-up," or hyped-up, he says) is jovial. He is adored.
He is not, however, a diamond-studded king. He's much more concerned with the humble tools of his trade: a working microphone, a battery-operated mini-amp/speaker combo, a CD Walkman, and the folding chair. The Walkman is Geek's DJ of sorts, providing all the beats that suit his needs. These are old-school needs, slow and lo-fi. And when the Detroit native glides into his good-natured, humorous freestyle, it's impossible to ignore.
That's equally true for strolling shoppers as well as entertainment biz luminaries. In 1993, Geek says, the great Bo Diddley brought him onstage for a short jam, after meeting him in Los Angeles at the KFC Music Competition where Diddley was a celebrity judge. Bo reportedly said of grand-prize-winner Geek: "He's what I would call authentic.... And I never heard him use a cuss word."
More recently, a 2006 stint entertaining the throngs outside the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, California, garnered Geek an invitation inside, as guest MC for the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show. (Outside, he also met the indie rockers and critical darlings of The Hold Steady.) Locally, members of the avant-garde burlesque/cabaret troupe Circ X enlisted him to MC their Monday-night shows at club Dream in South Beach.
Corporate America has come knocking too. Survivors of Nineties late-night infomercials will recognize him, especially if he dons a pair of sunglasses: Geek is the "hip-hopper" who famously appeared in the decade's ubiquitous BluBlocker ads. A savvy exec for a direct-marketing sunglasses company saw Geek doing his thing in his native Venice Beach and promptly asked for a rap about the product. The resulting rhyming testimonial became the most popular segment of the infomercial. The giddy marketing man returned a few days later with the camera crew and gave Geek a free pair of BluBlockers. His thank-you was another freestyle, which also ended up in the commercials.
Geek began rhyming at age 18, when he landed a route with an ice-cream company. Ice-cream man Geek would get on the truck's crackly PA system, creating songs and raps encouraging kids to "cooperate with their parents and generally behave good," he says. Before long, young and old would demand a verse or two before making their purchases, he recalls with a grin.
Here Geek goes off on a little tangent, and a tangent from the wordologist (he prefers this term to rapper) is usually a treat — this time literally. "You know the Creamsicles you get nowadays? They ain't nothin' like the original. If you want that original flavor, you gotta getcha the, uh, the, uh, orange sherbet. And then add uh, uh, uh ... vanilla ice cream." The last word comes out like percussion — a short drum roll followed by the soft ding of a triangle.
Through his approachability and disarming charm, Geek sometimes out-teddy-bears even the Elton John-loving Biz Markie, whose flow his resembles. Add the easy-breezy manner of Slick Rick and the result makes Snoop Dogg sound like he's trying too hard. It allows Geek to drop extended rhymes on little kids at Lincoln Road Mall as their parents look on, only slightly nervous at the sight of their offspring dancing and twirling to 300-plus pounds of MC. Your dog doesn't dig the drum sample and barks at Dr. Geek? Expect Geek to bark back. When the primitive conversation is over, canine and wordologist will have come to an understanding.
As evening approaches, a stylish woman struts by. "Lady in purple! What's your name? Yeah, you."
"Carmen," comes the shy reply.
And it's on: "Elegant Carmen, oh so charmin'. You don't mind, can I call you darlin', Carmen?" By now seven people have stopped, bouncing, laughing, and shouting encouragement. Then a heavily bearded man in a black suit and fedora walks at a good clip into the picture.
"Orthodox Jew, comin' through," Geek breaks it down with his patented sense of economy. But it's friendly, and as usual, no feathers are ruffled, and King Geek continues addressing his domain. It's a land where pretty ladies, true gentlemen, children, dogs, ice cream, and the language of music rule. Geek is king, but also above all, a gracious host.