It seemed like a good restaurant. I was as hungry as a low-carb dieter. There’s nothing like filling your belly over a nice, quiet meal. However, my pipe dream soon became a nightmare. Suddenly, the lights dimmed. Maybe the local power plant was overloaded; after all, this is California. No such luck. Before I knew it, a hip, young man appeared on a small stage about the size of a kitty litter box. Holding a microphone, he shouted four words that froze my body and sent my eye into twitching convulsions. “Welcome to karaoke night!”
My mind began to race. I thought to myself, should I run? Is there a place to hide? What about… suicide? I can’t. I’m Catholic, not enough time to convert. Besides, I just ordered my flank steak, so departing would be disrespectful to the steer who was kind enough to be slaughtered in order to appease my palate.
First up to bat was a chubby girl who had obviously jumped from her roof to get into her blue jeans. The eager look on her face seemed to imply she had most likely been waiting at the restaurant since it opened that morning so she could get her song request in early. The tune she chose was “I Will Survive.” The question now was, will I? I ordered a Stoli vodka. It was going to be long haul.
When I heard the shrieks I assumed everyone felt like me and was dashing toward the door. Not to be; it was just the singer bellowing her number. The wailing superstar finished on a high note. (The high note being that she was finished.) Yes, the fat lady had sung, but the night was far from over. In no time, she was followed by a short Japanese fellow. Surprisingly, the song he opted to tackle was the country hit “Friends In Low Places.” I must be one of his friends, ‘cause this place can’t get any lower. Fortunately, his choppy English was a distraction to the sour notes. I kept asking myself, “What’s a row place?” This guy put William Hung to shame. Judging by the number he did on that number, I’ll bet his day job is a butcher. Another Stoli, please.
An African-American took the stage next. Forget the stereotypes, this guy had no rhythm. To make things worse, he chose a rap song. I’m sorry, it’s not my cup of tea. I’m just a simple cracker who enjoys sappy music with lyrics I can grasp. The words I could make out were somewhat romantic. Hey, I can’t tell you the times I’ve lied awake in bed wishing I could meet a nice ho in the hood, although personally, I think he could’ve represented his peeps better with a Motown hit. Where the hell is my flank steak? Yo dawg, I’ll have another drink-gizzle with no fa-zizzle.
Just when I thought the night couldn’t get any worse, a Sinatra wannabe strutted up to the microphone. He was a dead ringer for the crooner except for the blond hair and buckteeth— well, tooth. “New York, New York” kicked in and I wanted to kick the bucket…or the singer. It was a shame it was off-key, but he wanted to do it, his way. Where’s the mob when you need them? Somebody whack this guy! Well, no record deal here, but hey, how ‘bout another round?
Next came a duet. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” I wonder what this peachy pair has in store. Whadda ya know, “Summer Nights” from Grease… or was it Xanadu? I always get those Cannes film winners mixed up. It was amazing. He sounded just like Olivia Newton John. She sounded like a john flushing. Slap me for not allowing waxy build-up in my ear canals. Maybe it would stop the bleeding. At least they were trying, I’ll give ‘em that. And waitress, while I give ‘em that, you give me another goblet of the good stuff.
I was starting to feel pretty good. I made it through the teenage gang of divas screaming “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and was now weathering a gay man chirping, “I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me,” which was, so far, the best of the night. I guess the DJ didn’t have “Y.M.C.A.” Anyhow, the important thing was that I was now feeling no pain. That, my friends, would arrive in the morning.
Whenever you drink, perception is altered, sometimes even dismantled. Through the alcohol haze I thought to myself, “Hey, maybe I could sing a song.” Well, why not? I sing in my car. I sing in my shower. I even sang at church…that time I went…on Christmas. Besides, nobody knows me. I’ll never see these untalented people again—not unless I go on an American Idol audition. How hard can it be? “Waitress, hit me! And hit me hard! I’m gonna be a star.”
I staggered up to the tiny stage, falling only once. The song I chose was “What’s New, Pussy Cat.” It was one of my favorites that I knew from beginning to end—that is, until the music started, scaring me into blankness. Luckily, the words appear in front of you, and you finally realize these lyrics are quite different from the ones you typically sing. I started out in a muffled whisper that gradually grew into a soft mumble. Then, from the audience, I heard signs of encouragement. Cheers and screams, egging me to release that inner, inhibited beast.
Before I knew it, I be jamming. I had the confidence of a Donald Trump firing one of those 15- minutes-of-fame peons. My voice was now strong. I could tell by the way the DJ turned the vocal level down. A cocky Sammy Davis Jr. head bob had replaced my look of terror. I hit every note with only a smattering of crackling. My feet were a dancing machine as my hips gyrated in Prince fashion. (Or, you know, that formerly known artist who is now a symbol.) Hey Britney, you want some of this! Boy, it felt good. I was as happy as Michael Jackson on a school bus.
When the song ended I stood there, breath heaving, sucking up the accolades. Maybe I didn’t do it exactly like Tom Jones—I mean no woman threw panties at me—but I was unbelievable and the audience knew it. Sure, they’ve been clapping after every performer tonight, but down deep I knew I had something special. I was quickly brushed off-stage by the next entertainer. I had given my all, and there was nothing left to do but sit down, order a cocktail and put in another song request. “I don’t know if we’ll have time for you to do another song,” the DJ continued. “There’s probably 40 to 50 people in front of you.” I only counted ten people in the room. No matter, I smiled and winked, “That’s alright ‘cause I’ll be back tomorrow. You can bet on that.” After all, it’s what the people want.
by Jeff Charlebois