I'm in Flint, Michigan at the Super 8. They apologized when they told me that this is the place they were putting me up. They said, as if it were a shrug, "We got you reservations at The Super 8. Its not super classy, but its nearby." As if it were an apology. Like, "She's got an...um...GREAT personality..." But did they know? Did they know what a vortex of awesome they threw us into?
We were hungry. We asked. "Is there any place that will still serve us dinner at 10pm? We drove straight from Nashville. 9 hours. With a time change. We didn't eat." (well, that's not true: we stopped for a moment, or ...it was supposed to be a moment...at a Subway in Nashville, Indiana...yes, that's Nashville, Indiana...however, the moment was to be just that --a moment-- but the woman behind the Subway counter--perhaps, 19? 18? 25? Let's just say, her future in sandwich-making is suspect. It took her 30 minutes to make a 6" turkey-no-cheese-light-mayo-sub)
They said, 'well, at this hour, in FLINT, there's, um Applebee's (immediately, I remembered that everything there is fried and the veggie sides are always broccoli--FROZEN and then STEAMED--ick...watery and really really chewy...yick.)' I shake my head, 'Anything else?' They say, 'Oh! Next to the Super 8 is a Wally's, a family restaurant. Oh and connected to that is a bar/grill.' Thomm, who wants a beer, says 'perfect!'
We drive the 3.4 miles to the Super 8. We see the place. Wally's. Then, even better: The Firkin Fox. A kind of British Pub. Sort of. In Michigan. In Flint. Oh yeah. I want a glass of wine. Thomm wants a beer. I'm hungry.
Bonus: Its Karaoke night. We settle into this place, booths, but red velvet as if we're in Shropshire or London. But decorated by the ex-designer for TGIFriday's after they took the flair down. Seriously. Karaoke. Big screens. Loud. An MC Hostess. Some dude grabs the mic. The wireless mic. And dances his hip-hop-singing-Usher-pretending self over to some pretty lady at the bar and lays it on thick. THICK. With a really good voice. Seriously. Like, not totally in tune, but I'm sure with monitors and a bit less whiskey, the dude would sound great. Thomm and I watch, as if this is a 3-D movie and we are just there, like watching The Boy In The Plastic Bubble or one of those After School Specials where you sort-of relate, but sort-of are glad you don't live there... He's good. This Karaoke guy who I'm sure comes here every weekend. I sure hope if that's not his girlfriend he gets lucky tonight. He deserves it.
So to Karaoke and the subject of that. Thomm says, "What's your position on karaoke." And I say, definitively, "I don't do karaoke." End of the discussion.
Now, I love singing. Its my greatest joy. Second only to lying in bed with a lover and reading the New York Times Sunday edition, section by section, with nothing to do the rest of the day but just that, and cuddle and more, and make coffee and nap and watch football. But I digress....
I love singing. I don't love karaoke. I feel like an ass. The keys are always wrong. So I'm singing out of my range. And I don't dance. I play guitar for a reason. I like standing behind the guitar. I don't like dancing. I don't want to dance. I'm no good at dancing (well: that's patently untrue. I love dancing and in my fantasy-land uber-self I'm an excellent dancer. But I will never live up to my ideal of the greatest dancer in the world. Debbie from my college class. Cute Deb, who I remember for a time became one of those Doctors-Without-Borders-Saving-The-Planet and I thought....really Deb? really? You had to do THAT? You couldn't just rest on your "I'm the cutest girl who's non-threatenening and EVERYBODY likes me AND I stand in the center of the dance floor and you will stare in awe at my dance moves. Really, Deb? You had to go save the world and be perfect? Leave the rest of us something, ok?)
I once tried Karaoke. I was in Port Jervis, NY. Kal and Dana and Rob and I had gone to Port Jervis to tube down some river with beers in a cooler in its own tube. We drank a bit and decided to not drive home to Hoboken and instead, stay in Port Jervis, get a room or two, eat a good dinner and go to .... a local Karaoke bar. Good idea, right? Well, for Rob, yes. Because Rob is one of the smartest people I know. He's a scientist. He's a professor. He's good looking. He's tall. He's funny. He's ascerbic. And in his fantasy-version of his life, he's an actor. So he says, "YES! Karaoke! I'm doing "Thunder Road". I realize we're gonna be there for a while. (seriously? who does Thunder Road at Karaoke...?)
There's a guy there. Everyone watches him. He's in a 3 piece suit. Sears. Shiney greyish blue. With a red tie. Tall and skinny. Slick, black hair. He sings "Sweet Caroline" with 3 girls with enough Mousse between them to float the Parthenon, who sing the backup parts and dance in too-tight acid-washed jeans. Flourescent green shirts shirred at the bottom, showing just a touch too much belly around the button, if you know what I mean. The Karaoke King. He's there. He's always there. Rob's wife Dana pushed me out there, had signed me up for some Sheryl Crow song. I admit: I'd had a few tequila shots. I sang. I was out of tune. In my own head. But I was laughing and it was fun. All I wanna do....
So...afterwards, I excused myself to go to the ladies room. The 3 KK's backup singers were there, spraying their feathered bangs. I say hello. They start in on me. You've got a good voice...you can sing...you should do this...etc. At first I simply say thank you, while drying my hands, but then I feel like an imposter, so I confess. Say, "Oh this is what I do. I'm a singer." And they stop, mid-spray. Like as if in a movie. Look at each other. Smile fakely. "ooooooooooooooh" They say in a three part harmony arc of discovery "ooooooohhh". I smile and leave. Go to my friends. The Three Muses scurry out, scoot to the 3 Piece Suit. Whisper in his ear. His head whips to me. They point. I'm laughing with my friends. And then it happens:
I'm called out by the Karaoke King.
I sense a presence. A shadow. Stetson wafts over me. I look up. There he is in all his greasy glory. He taps me on the shoulder. I look up.
"So...I hear you're a ringer."
The Three Muses nod and twirl bits of their Ogilve perms.
"I've been told you're a professional."
"Singer?" I ask.
"Yes. Ringer. Singer. Yes. From New York." He threatens. His pointed Capezio toe taps, in exasperation.
His eyebrow raises. I try to not laugh. Or burp.
"Um...yeah...but .... really... I'm...well, I make NO money...I'm EMERGING...." I try to explain....
He is having none of this. And he looks at me with complete indifference.
"I'd better not see you in Wilkes-Barre next week for the $500 prize. You get that? You get it?" And then he leans in, finger wagging at my face: "Wilkes-Barre"
And so, ladies and gents, my story of having been threatened by the Karaoke King in Port Jervis, NY. And why I will never, ever, ever sing Karaoke. And that's why I sat and ate my Mushroom Swiss Burger and drank my house cabernet at the Firkin Fox in Flint, Michigan, listening to the good folks of the bar make their attempts at 20 year old songs like that bee girl song by that band I forget their name but it was really sad because the lead singer committed suicide and I never liked that song anyway but the video with the bee girl was hard to not love... or one of my favorite 90's songs by DeLaSoul or Arrested Development. And then I think, why doesn't someone bring back Arrested Development, because that album, that first album with "Tennessee" on it is, um, kind of relevant today. Isn't it? Or is just me being nostalgic.
In my show, I talk about getting off the major highways in order to find better food options than Cracker Barrel. But what I love is getting to go to a place like this tonight and check out the scene. And it may seem like I'm mocking. But I'm not. At all. I heard some amazing voices tonight. Seriously. And I heard old songs I miss. And there was a scene there. I can imagine those 4 guys who are good singers meet there every weekend to sing.
In high school I was in show choir. Oh yeah. I've got the photos of me in the red and white sweater with my name embroidered into the bust. Very Mickey-Mouse club. Or, now, Glee. Oh yeah. I was that girl in Glee. I wanted ALL the solos. I was pretty damn amazing at the jazz hands, step-ball-change. I sucked up to Mr. Gallup and Ms. Herrick to get the part of Maria in "West Side Story". I wanted to beat out Stephanie Sikora for that. It was my life's ambition. She was good. Stephanie was a great singer. I was kinda jealous of her. Seriously. And tall. And thin. And beautiful. And I was short and didn't feel pretty. I could sing. But I wanted to sing like Stephanie. So when I got Maria and she got Anita. I have to admit to a very petty feeling of superiority. Hell, its 25 years later, so I'll forgive myself, and I'm pretty sure, although I haven't seen Stephanie in 25 years and I don't know what her life is like (I hear she's a veternarian), she probably didn't care as much about that as I did. But yeah. I've seen a few episodes of "Glee" and saw myself in there. And I went to high school in a small, cloistered town. And I haven't really been back. And my 25 year reunion is in a few weeks and I doubt I'll go. Even though, I have to admit, I kind of want to...just to see....
The Karaoke King. At least he knows he's the King of something. Most of us are lying in wait to sit in confidence at our own royalty.