It was OK, I guess.
It was OK, I guess.
My parents married because of music.
They met at a mah-jongg party in Berkeley in 1967. Having come from Taiwan to study, my father was pursuing a PhD in molecular biology while my mother had just finished her Master’s in accounting.
At the mah-jongg party, they chatted and felt a spark, my mother’s liveliness a good contrast to my father’s more serious nature. But he didn’t ask her out. Nor at the next mah-jongg party, nor the next. Nor at a barbecue on campus.
“Are you sure he’s interested?” my mother asked the friend who hosted the original mah-jongg party.
“Yes!” her friend insisted. “My husband says he talks about you all the time. It’s Ai Li this, and Ai Li that. He’s just shy.”
Sometimes at get-togethers my father played the guitar. Finally, one time my mother asked, “How does that thing work anyway?”
My father brightened. “I can show you,” he said. He had been waiting for an excuse to spend more time with her. But, one thing: “Do you have your own guitar?”
She shook her head.
“You’ll have to get one,” he said. His, apparently, was too high quality for a novice.
She took out a precious $50 and bought a used acoustic. After they got married, she gave the instrument away.
To say they fell in love is a stretch. Maybe my father did. “The first time I met your mom,” he’d tell us, “I knew right away she was my match.” My mother would shrug.
While she was in grad school, she knew a young man interested in dating her. He was from Taiwan and nice enough, but he was studying to be a social worker.
“A social worker!” my mother cried, appalled. “What kind of money could he make doing that?” She hadn’t come to the States to be poor like they were in Taiwan, a family of seven surviving on her father’s meager teaching salary.
My father’s career choice seemed stable, if not highly lucrative. Plus he was tall. Surely they’d have a lanky kid or two.
They married in 1969, two days after Christmas. To save money my mother borrowed her friend’s dress and they held the reception in a church basement. There was no music, but there was lots of food.
* * *
When I was a kid in New Jersey, my father would still play his guitar once in a while. It was the same one from California, only now with the edges held together with masking tape.
“I left it in the window during a hurricane,” he’d tell us woefully. “So stupid.”
He always played the same song, “Spanish Romance.” To this day whenever I hear it, I think of my dad.
My brother and I learned the piano. For years we banged our way through Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, till our parents were positively sick of whatever we were playing. They liked to watch musical variety shows: Lawrence Welk, Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie, The Barbara Mandrell Show. I admired the Mandrell sisters because they could sing and play so many instruments – acoustic and electric guitar, lap slide guitar, the fiddle – except for the youngest who could only play drums.
None of us could carry a tune. I wasn’t bad in music class, but failed as a soloist, despite my wanting more than anything to be able to sing like the girls in Annie. My parents sometimes warbled Chinese songs as they did housework, but mostly kept their operatic pursuits to themselves.
* * *
The first fight I ever witnessed between my parents was when I was four. Hearing yelling, I came into the kitchen and found my father eating alone, every dish of food upended on the floor.
“Where’s Mommy?” I asked.
“In the bathroom,” my father said, continuing to eat. (Why was he so insistent on finishing his meal? Was he that hungry, or just a creature of habit?) “Be good and watch TV.”
Later, unable to keep away, I tiptoed up to my parents’ room. It was dark and the bathroom door was shut. I heard my mother crying and my father whispering to her.
I don’t even know what the fight was about. My mother could be overly sensitive and prone to silent grudges, followed by explosive rants. My father could be stubborn and impatient.
Another fight is known as the Chicken Argument because my mother threw, in anger, a whole raw chicken at my father. Horrified, I promptly burst into tears.
Inevitably they fought at the mah-jongg table. Back then it was their main activity. They’d play almost every Saturday, well into the night. My mother was one of those annoyingly skillful players who didn’t care about winning, while my father played nervous and lost hand after hand. Needless to say, Mom liked mah-jongg while Dad didn’t.
Again, what they fought about, they only know. I only remember how embarrassed and uncomfortable I was, overhearing them and their playing partners trying to get my mother to calm down and my father to stop baiting her.
At that time, a commercial for a divorce lawyer often played on TV. At the end, the gray-haired man would say, “Isn’t it time for a change?”
“Maybe it’s time for a change,” my mother would intone darkly.
“No!” I’d cry. I had read It’s Not the End of the World and The Divorce Express. I didn’t want to be like those kids.
My father would remain silent, either having not heard, or choosing not to.
Much of his frustration was silent then. Once during an argument with my mother, he punched at the air three times, he who’d never raised a hand to anyone.
* * *
This isn’t to say my parents never got along. Sometimes they did, too well. Once I was woken in the middle of the night by a high piercing call. I was only twelve, but I’d seen enough Cinemax movies to know what it was, and lay there trying to fall back asleep as wave after wave of horror washed over me.
But it wasn’t over. At dinner the next day, my brother, who was nine, asked, “What was the matter with you last night, Mom? Did you have a stomach ache or something?”
Faces burning, my parents stared down into their rice bowls. I held my head in fresh dismay while my brother (the poor kid) pinked, realizing his mistake.
* * *
The worst fight my parents ever had was after a mah-jongg party. I was in college and had a friend over. We were sleeping when my mother started screaming.
I couldn’t understand her, except for curses like asshole (si pi yan) and prick (hun dan). She shrieked them over and over.
“What is that?” my friend asked from her sleeping bag.
“My parents are fighting,” I said hollowly. I was eight years old again, and my mother was throwing a raw chicken.
“Oh, that’s all,” my friend said, and went back to sleep.
To her it wasn’t a big deal, but to me it was like the end of the world.
The next morning I found out why they had been fighting. While they were playing, my mother began to sing along with the stereo. Soon, one of the other players, a man, joined her. Together they sang, his better voice masking hers. As they finished, my father said, in front of everyone, “Ai Li, you really shouldn’t flirt with him.”
Dead silence. Even the music on the stereo had stopped playing. Thankfully, the round ended and they had to mix the tiles, the roar drowning out everyone’s embarrassment.
For the rest of the evening, my mother didn’t speak to my father. He tried to joke with her, but she’d only murmur a response.
Afterward, in car rides home or that very morning, I’m sure people gossiped about what happened, the way they, and my parents, did whenever any drama ensued. Like the time a woman threw her chips at my mother, after losing yet another hand, or when another woman, rumored to have mental illness, accused someone of making eyes at her husband, then called her a cunt.
“He was just jealous,” I told my mother.
“That’s what he said,” she said, red-eyed. “He still shouldn’t have said that.”
Things seemed to worsen after my brother and I left for college. I couldn’t put my finger on it – an air of unhappiness, of tension. My father began staying home while my mother went to play. He’d mow the lawn, work on his paintings, or read. He’d play his guitar, “Spanish Romance,” again and again.
* * *
My last year in college, my parents started singing karaoke. “Give it a try,” their friends said one weekend. They had their own machine.
My mother did, badly yet unembarrassed. Then my father, more hesitant but better.
“You’re pretty good!” the friends said. “And you didn’t even practice.”
My father was pleased, gaining confidence as each person gave the mike a whirl, some not bad but most just awful.
“I still say you were the best,” the friend told my dad.
After the evening was over and my parents were driving home, my father turned to my mother and said, “Maybe we should get our own machine.”
“Maybe,” she said. She had seen him brimming with confidence, had noticed he was more open and talkative afterward. “I’m sure we can find an inexpensive one.”
After they had their own set-up, my father became a karaoke aficionado. They joined two clubs, and he took his practicing seriously. He sang a little every day while my mother waited till the last minute and rehearsed just hours before the get-together. My father liked both Chinese and American singers. His favorites were Bette Midler (“The Wind Beneath My Wings,” “The Rose”), The Carpenters (“Close to You,” “We’ve Only Just Begun”), and Sarah MacLachlan (“Angel”). Occasionally he sang a duet with my mother (“Endless Love”).
“I know I’m not the best,” he liked to say. “But I work hard.”
He was indeed one of the better singers. He didn’t overdo it with impossible-to-reach Celine Dion notes, or undero it by mumbling into the mike. He stayed within his range, sang modestly, and with feeling.
“Who’s that?” a childhood friend asked during a Christmas party at my parents’. “He’s pretty good.”
“That’s my dad!” I cried, beet-red, more embarrassed than proud.
How good, or bad, you were didn’t matter, only that you had tried. People would always cheer, and in that way, everyone was a winner.
* * *
My parents aren’t perfect. They still bicker occasionally; once in a while, my mother still explodes at some invisible slight.
But they’re better. They’re balanced. They both have something they’re good at.
Sometimes my father still sits out of mah-jongg, but often the parties have both mah-jongg and karaoke. He likes being the DJ, changing discs and adjusting volume and frequency as people take their turns. Sometimes they ask his advice.
He discusses voice techniques with my mother, who mostly nods, the way she did when he was teaching her guitar. Maybe she’s only pretending to listen, but it doesn’t matter. The music is still holding them together.
I had that dream again last night, the one where I’m floating on my back and looking up at the sky. Surrounding me is the weight of saturated white linen. It tickles my arms and the tops of my thighs as I breathe. The border of the halo of water around my face sparkles as it creeps. There are no clouds—only the intensity of an indifferent sun. The sky at the edges is so blue it produces an ache in a place inside of me that I can only describe as my soul.
I am waiting for something.
Once in a zoo in Copenhagen, I stood before a massive elephant locked behind giant iron bars. His trunk and legs were worn from a rhythmic and persistent rubbing against his cage. He was an old elephant, with long wiry hairs poking through his thick gray skin in a pattern that challenged any claim to divine design, or at least to a divine lack of humor. In the cell next to his, a baby elephant had recently been born and shadowed her mother as the crowds of people watched and pointed. The baby nervously looked from face to face, trying to understand this new life of hers as her mother tried to herd her baby back away from the bars. After a while, I turned back to the old elephant, methodically rubbing at his confines, and tried to meet his eye. But he would not see me. He had stopped looking.
Soon after, I returned to Vienna where we were living for a brief period of our lives. My sister-in-law lives there half of the year and took me out one night. In the dark, we walked past the looming Stefansdom and through the JudenPlatz, the old Jewish section of the city before 65,000 of its inhabitants were slaughtered by Nazi soldiers. We ended up in a small pub where we sang karaoke on the bar with a houseful of Austrians. Neunundneunzig Luftballons. Together we sent 99 red balloons into the sky over Jewish Vienna. And then we went home.
In the place between waking and sleeping, there is a separate existence as illusive as it is real. The moon overhead illuminates the mesh network within and pulls at the tide of unformed dreams lapping at the banks of the mind. Memories of a kind.
On my back, weightless in the water, I am aware of an encroaching cloud of red. It billows around me and I cry out as I am forced upright. Looking into the depths, I see it rising then, its bluish skin covered in white patches. I reach for him against the current and lift him to my breast.
Against the blue screen with my newborn pressed to me, I watch the elephant trapped in its corner of the sky as 99 red balloons drift past in the wind.
It’s odd to grow accustomed to rickshaw travel: the fresh air, the cruising under the night sky just a little buzzed after a stop at Shantou’s finest wine bar where elbows were rubbed against those of the budding bourgeois. Sometimes I think of the rickshaw as a time machine, transporting me back to a moment when the triangular straw hats and tattered short pants of the driver were no less obsolete than… rickshaws. Despite the allure, I think I’m witnessing the last days of rickshaw culture here in Shantou. Traffic is getting a little too car oriented and I can’t imagine this mode of travel making it very long in such a fast growing city. There are other bits of local culture in Shantou, however, that seem perfectly safe for the forseeable future, and one of those was exactly what I set out to explore on the back of my rickshaw last Saturday night.
All my local friends have assured me that KTV, or karaoke, is the best time to be had in Shantou. In my mind a karaoke bar is a big open room where people get sloppy drunk and sing their favorite Credence, their least favorite Fine Young Canibals or their hopeless renditions of Queen (which always begins seriously but quickly, upon coming to the realization that nobody can really sing those high notes, become hopeless), as friends berate their lack of vocal prowess, and at the end of the night everyone’s that much more certain of the fact that they made the right choice in giving up their operatic aspirations and going back to whatever tone deaf, sobriety laden occupation keeps them busy on weekdays.
But that is not this karaoke bar. ‘Bar’ is really not the applicable term. It’s a palace, reminiscent of the home of a Suadi Prince who fell in love with a Vegas based interior decorator. It’s divided into hundreds of private rooms like a hotel. These private rooms line the neon and mirror filled mazes of hallways on floor after floor of closed doors, the gentle whiff of John Denver or the Carpenters slipping from under the threshold.
I wanted in. KTV is supposedly a Shantou delicacy (though that seems to be the claim no matter where you go in Southeast Asia), and I wanted a big fat bite of some local culture that wasn’t coated in MSG (I love my MSG, but too much is too much). Alas, we, myself and three other Americans, were led down one of the long magical hallways and into our own private room. The room was ours for the night at 300RMB (about 50 USD) and came complete with 30 cans of Budweiser. There was even a bathroom in our room, which meant that for the next six hours or so, we had no reason to exit our private salon.
We turned on the machine to look through the song list. Chinese… Chinese… Chinese… Chinese… What’s this here “three little Indians.” In case you don’t recall your primary education in the days of zero cultural sensitivity that is the song that goes a little something like, “one little, two little, three little Indians, four little, five little, six little Indians, seven little, eight little, nine little Indians, ten little Indian boys.” Over and over again. And that was it. That was our English selection. Well, that and a couple of Avril tunes.
It was just as the confusion of the one-English-song karaoke machine was wearing off that the tray of six assorted varieties of chicken feet was brought in, and we were all forced to acknowledge that the next three hours, or however long it was going to take us to finish those 30 beers and six trays of feet, and we were determined to finish them, were going to be very long hours. Not so much because of the short song supply, or even the chicken feet, but mostly because we were going to be stuck with each other in a confined space with little to no odds of meeting new friends, girls, practicing Chinese… In short, all of the reasons that I go to a bar were locked away in identical, tantalizingly closed-off worlds, spread around this massive karaoke palace as if it were the honey-comb universe of Quantum Leap and I was Scott Bakula.
Ultimately, we were forced to breach the force field of the vigilant hallway security team by doing a sort of, ‘I’m just standing in the hall whistling and leaning… doing some fresh air… taken a break from the little Indian song…’ charade, and darting into random rooms as soon as security’s heads were turned. No one was fooled except perhaps us in assuming that they cared if we entered random rooms, but too much Budweiser mixed with the giddiness of four quasi-grown men thrown into what felt like grade school sleepover conditions, led to a little bit of make-believing. To us, these forays into the unfamiliar rooms were bona fide adventures.
Once inside, we were greeted with more Budweiser and chicken feet, and Chinese songs being calmly, sweetly sung amongst mostly sober friends who were caught just a little off guard by the beer filled, socially starved Americans who had sabotaged their gathering.
By chance, on one of our clandestine missions into unknown territories we stumbled upon a couple of Chinese friends from work, and they came back to our room to get a little taste of what American karaoke was like. They told us that the spicy bird feet were good luck. I picked one up and asked if you were supposed to rub it, like a rabbits foot, our eat it for luck, but they didn’t seem to follow. I ate it, but then decided to name it Rub to be sure I was respecting both of our traditions.
It was time for Avril, and lets just say the gods of rock would have been pleased with the show we put on… The Chinese fan of karaoke on the other hand…
There was some fundamental misunderstanding here about the meaning of Karaoke, and beyond that about the meaning of going out. While it seemed that the patrons were fully attempting to create a barrier between their own group of friends and the outside world, that idea was the height of undesirable to my mind. I was going ‘out,’ after all, not staying ‘in.’ And yet, here I’d gone ‘out,’ just to end up being locked ‘in,’ and I’d ended up acting like my friends parents had gone to sleep and we had to sneak out of his room, and down to the pantry to steal more Poptarts.
I am not intending to make any judgments about who was wrong and who was right here. Actually, I’m pretty sure that if I were to make any they would not be in my favor. Among other things, I realized that my sense of social is completely distorted. I don’t claim to speak for Americans by any means, but I think that I have witnessed in many Americans (or maybe I’m projecting) a fear of intimacy that precludes the kind of deep friendship that most of us crave. Mostly, I spent a night being extremely immature, sneaking about like an interdemensional hopper from a crap sci-fi program, and shotgunning cans of beer like I haven’t since the last time I was in Indiana (long story), because the idea of being in a quiet room with three friends and no distractions (chicken feet and children’s songs excluded) made me quite anxious. But, I’m not going to be too hard on me. It was a pretty good time.
But, it’s true that intimacy is something other than what it used to be (or at least what I used to think it was supposed to be), no? We (I) are more self-absorbed in all the best and worst ways than I thought we (I) were. We don’t think of relationships in terms of self-sacrifice for the preservation of tradition, family, etc…, which as far as I can tell are still very much a part of Chinese society. For better or worse, I think I see relationships almost like the various rooms in this karaoke palace; we spend a lifetime wandering from one to another, learning the lyrics to Raffi, Green Day, Johnny Cash, Nina Simone and finally, morbidly humming the tune to some Requiem all alone, watching for the door handle to jiggle when the white gloved waiter walks in with the bill.
I’m thinking of friends who’ve said to me after particularly hard break-ups, “well, I guess you two had learned what you needed from one another.” After which I nod my head in agreement. On to the next room. Even serious relationships (and I am including friendships) lack intimacy when you expect them to end, when you remove the possibility of their being, for lack of a better word, eternal.
And, maybe, this makes relationships potentially stonger, more realistic, someohow more intimate in the acceptance of the joint limitedness of their partakers. But, usually it just taps into our insecurities and makes us avert our eyes, maybe drink faster, wish that Rickshaws didn’t have to go out of style instead of listening to the person who is sitting next to us in one, pretend that you are in an episode of Quantum Leap instead of taking advantage of some time with friends… Maybe it’s just me.
On the way out of the karaoke palace, we were all just a little bit wobbly, and in quick need of a rickshaw back home, potentially making a stop for some barbeque to reconcile the Budweiser and bird feet churning in our stomachs. There were, however, no rickshaws to be found. The rickshaw drivers, it would seem, had gone on strike at some point between 10pm and 3am. Maybe we would be seeing the end of that relic sooner than I thought. It looked like rather than cruising home pretending to be on the back of a very lo-fi time machine, we would be walking down the long road that passed Wu’s sweater shop. But atleast we were finally ‘out.’
A very U.E.S. (Upper East Side) Night for me was August 5, 2008.
I broke my third power cord for my apple laptop. I managed to post a note on facebook asking if anyone had an extra before draining the reserve battery power playing boggle on facebook (known as Scramble.) Frustrated, I cut in half two old power cords that had broken in different places and tried to join them while everything was plugged in. This created a fizzing sound and crackling sparks. With no internet I napped most of the evening.
I woke up at around 10pm feeling energized. Perhaps tonight I would finally check out karaoke at Dorrian’s Red Hand. For the last few months I had been receiving weekly invites on facebook to Tuesday night karaoke from a barely-known friendly acquaintance. Having previously only heard of Dorrian’s in connection with the Preppy Murder, I was surprised to see that it was still a popular bar attended by people with no ironic intentions whatsoever. I had maintained a strong morbid curiosity about the place from researching Upper East Side crimes and watching the Law and Order episode based on it.
I happened to be home the last few Tuesdays but had been too lazy or intimidated to venture over there. Nights when I stay uptown are meant for cleaning my room and watching TV. If I were to go out I would go downtown where my friends are. But feeling kind of lame and shut in from my nap I was eager to get out of the house. This was the night.
Packing my phone into my purse I saw I had a message. My friend David had replied to my facebook post- not only did he have an extra power cord he was about to throw away but he was once again staying in the 70’s between Madison and Fifth. I called and arranged to pick up the cord in 30 minutes.
I walked down 5th Ave listening to Jawbreaker on my mp3 player. Mostly people walking their dogs, waiting limo drivers, one person sitting alone in the middle of the steps of the Met. I kind of wanted to go sit and talk to him or her – too far to tell. I saw a group of 7 or 8 kids sitting on the steps of some sort of embassy. I had a nostalgic feeling of being on vacation somewhere with my family and seeing the cool local kids hanging out, and wanting to meet them and be included. Or maybe I was just thinking of the Simpsons episode where that happens to Lisa.
There were three girls sitting on a bench on 5th Ave. talking and smoking. They probably all left their parents’ houses nearby to meet up and had to hide their smoking habits. I wanted to photograph the kids on the steps and the girls on the bench but I felt like I had lost my gumption for approaching strangers. I thought I should get a little drunk before the next time I walked around with a camera.
I had a sense that the people one sees on Fifth and Madison on week nights are unique to other areas. The characters are like me- people that decided to stay in, have a mellow night, but then decided to get some air, sit outside and think. No one is in a rush to meet people. Maybe a few are going to stay at someone’s house in the neighborhood and have a backpack with a change of clothes, or they’re getting off work from a fancy restaurant and headed home.
Got to David’s building- one of the few like mine where the doorman is also the elevator man. The door/elevator-man left me on a lobby bench to go up in what I assume was a manually operated elevator to retrieve my friend. The lobby had two mirrors facing each other creating an infinite reflection like in my lobby.
David handed over the power cord saying he’d come out for a cigarette but I easily roped him into walking over to Dorrian’s. What else are you going to do on a Tuesday night when you’re living off Madison Avenue?
Tuesday is big garbage night in the neighborhood. We passed one trash grouping containing an amateur bust.
And another pile with two vacuum cleaners placed in front of a large fan. David noted the juxtaposition of sucking and blowing.
Further along the walk I spotted a license plate, definitely customized but I didn’t know what it meant. I explained to David that I have to photograph all vanity plates I see. I have since started a separate blog just about vanity plates to justify this obsession. David asked if anyone had ever harassed me for photographing their plates. I answered that it never happened since the owners were never standing there.
The car was parked tightly between two others right in front of the entrance to a building. A doorman stood outside talking to another guy. I squeezed between the cars and held my camera close to the plate. As I took the picture the not-doorman guy demanded “Why are you taking a picture of my license plate?” Nervous but laughing I answered, “I photograph license plates for fun, it’s just a personal project. What does it mean?” “It’s Albanian” he said. I had recently photographed a plate that said “Albania 1” so now it’s an official category in my collection.
Continuing our walk, we accidentally missed Dorrian’s because I had thought it was on the West side of 2nd avenue. Second Avenue in this area is also known as Restaurant Row. A waitress in Mustang Grill and Tequila Lounge sent us back South. Turned around, we spotted an anxious crowd standing outside an establishment, caddy corner from us. Is it actually hard to get into this place? We crossed over and stood outside, a little embarrassed. A young man wearing khakis and a navy blazer, gold buttons and all, lingered in conversation with some smokers. Four college-age guys probably home for the summer were trying to go in but were being kept at bay by the bouncer who casually informed us that we would have to wait a few minutes for people to leave.
Another barely-known friendly acquaintance/recent facebook friend arrived. He gave me a kiss hello and then ignoring our plight of waiting in line, he waltzed passed us and shook the bouncer’s hand as he walked inside. But the bouncer had been truthful – a few minutes later we were all allowed to enter.
Why is it so satisfying when our stereotypes are realized? We had to push through countless young men wearing pastel colored polo shirts, khakis, and white baseball caps and girls with blow-dried died blond hair and short dresses. We made our way to the bar and I saw that Peter, the friendly acquaintance who had invited me was actually tending bar. However, both bartenders would have been indistinguishable from the rest of the guests had they been standing on the other side of the bar. I suppose it makes sense- bartenders on the lower east side have tattoos and wear black but I guess I had assumed that uptown bartenders wore uniforms. The fact that Dorrian’s bartenders were dressed like the clientele and actually seemed to be peers of the clientele, which I knew was true at least in Peter’s case, gave me the impression that it was a friendly, tight-knit, fraternal establishment, outwardly and inwardly.
Once we got our drinks we made our way through the chaotic sea of pastel toward the corner which seemed to be generating the waves of excitement. Lost in the crowd it was easy to regain my friend who stuck out like a sore thumb for being the only man dressed in black. Reunited, he recounted overhearing the following: “You play lacrosse, bro?” “Naw, bro, water polo.”
Karaoke was being performed (I cannot recall which song!) by several blond ladies, each with a microphone and occasionally helped by a karaoke MC off to the side. Several tables had been pushed against the back wall to make a clearing on the floor.
David and I watched, entertained by the spectacle and our own musings. He said it would be interesting to map out the carbon footprint of the combined hair drying spent that day on every girl at Dorrian’s. He also noted that he had never before seen people really dancing to karaoke. It was true- someone chose to sing Twist and Shout and the entire crowd danced along, getting down on the floor during the quiet part even more enthusiastically than the crowd at Beatrice where that song has oddly become a staple.
But they danced to any and every song and occasionally members of the crowd, including myself later on in the night, would grab one of the extra tambourines and accompany the singers.
Songs I saw performed include “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Lovin’ is What I Got” by Sublime, a Bon Jovi ballad (I forget which) and I participated in a group rendition of “Whatta Man” by Salt n Pepa. After a few drinks I felt ready and signed up for “Reminiscing” which I only knew (and loved) because a friend had burned it for me off an Easy Listening compilation. I can’t remember if the Karaoke song book listed songs by title or if I just stumbled across it because I had never before heard of the group who sang it, The Little River Band, until I saw it in the book that night.
When I handed my selection over to the MC he did a double take, asked me if I was the one who chose “Reminiscing” and then gave me some sort of “Niiice” or thumbs up. That greatly reassured me since he could at least help out with the melody if I got lost or take over completely if I froze.
Me and the MC:
There were a few repeat performers who seemed comfortably seasoned at the sport and who acted as good samaritans joining in on one of the many available microphones if a singer was lost. One such person was a large Italian-looking fellow with a friendly face and a pink short-sleeved polo shirt who helped me out on two songs without trying to steal the show. Another regular was a tiny young man in a suit who seemed to know everyone.
Several times toward the end of the night, songs were dedicated to the bartenders or the bartenders were each given microphones and sung between pouring drinks.
In the bathroom I heard one girl plead to her friend, “Just stay a little longer!” and another girl in a slight wine, “You know this isn’t my scene. I don’t belong here.”
The novelty of the place did not wear off and we ended up staying ‘till close. A few guys lingered about the sidelines, looking determined or desperate to accomplish one more thing before ending their night. I had just signed up for “Crazy Train” by Ozzy when the MC called out last song and another melody began. I went up to him and said “No time for ‘Crazy Train?’” He answered no. But when the supposed final song ended he called me up anyway and I performed “Crazy Train” with the large man in pink.
Happily drunk and my curiosity filled yet even more piqued, I walked out with David onto Second Avenue to see scattered stragglers hailing cabs. We walked back to Madison Avenue which was by contrast completely deserted, and parted ways to walk the avenue in opposite directions. Who knew such fun could be had without leaving the neighborhood? I’m not sure what to think about these “preppies” who are called such even in magazine articles hung on the walls inside Dorrian’s. It’s not quite the same world as the one in which I grew up although I did spot one Dalton classmate whom I’ve never spoken to as far as I can remember. Further investigation is needed.