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   karaoke freakshow
Friday, March 3 2006
Gretchen and I went out to dinner in Uptown Kingston with our friends from Tillson, Mr. & Ms. Tillson (formerly known as Mr. and Ms. Meatlocker). The setting was that Chinese restaurant with the huge words "CHOP SUEY" over the door, though I think it actually thinks of itself more as a tea garden, albeit of the indoor, sunless, climate-controlled variety. The food there is nothing special but it satisfies your standard Chinese food itch, not that I ever have much of one these days. (If I had had my way we would have gone out for sushi, something few of in my circle eat much of.)
After dinner we killed time at Snapper McGee's (the unassuming hipster sports bar in Uptown) waiting for 10pm, when karaoke would begin at the bar across the street. While Snapper McGee's is known for its loud eclectic jukebox and heavily-tattooed staff, this other bar is more famous for its brightly-lit checkerboard tablecloths and clientel of anonymous alcoholics. The first thing you notice on entering the door is the smell of out-of-order bathroom, as hidden behind a transparent cloak of dollar store scented disinfectant. Any place smelling that bad is by definition a dive bar. But wait, there's more. Tonight was karaoke night.
A fat woman with stir-fried bleached hair was the Mistress of Ceremonies of a decidedly low-rent karaoke production. She had the monitors and even wireless microphones, but the CD collection had a high concentration of bad songs presented in a disorganized fashion in well-thumbed greasy plastic-laminated pages held together in loose-leaf binders.
I never did get used to the smell of that place, and a beer held to my lips was always just a little too much like cheap disinfectant (perhaps contaminated with a thin squirt of an alcoholic's diarrhea).
After awhile the mistress of ceremonies broke up the canned music by doing a respectable karaoke version of "These Boots Were Made for Walking." By now we'd been joined by a couple unphotogenic white women, one of whom who had a double chin the size and shape of her forehead. She'd done her hair up in an approximation of what black women can do with African hair, but (like everything else about her appearance) it didn't seem to be working. The two did a cover of a soulful boyband tune (one unfamiliar to those, like us, who haven't been paying attention to radio pop for the past five years). Given how ugly the women were, I half-expected them to have beautiful voices. But no, they didn't. There performance was a freak show, but a fairly unremarkable one.
Then Mr. and Ms. Tillson did a duet of of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe." But then something really creepy happened. A few lines into a version of "There's No Business Like Show Business" we saw that there was an older gentleman actually doing karaoke to it. He was standing in front of a monitor and reading the lyrics in a deep, toneless voice, a half second or so out of time. This particular version had a lavish layer of backing vocals, all of them cheerily gushing about the glories of performance, and here was this guy droning on and on beneath it all, the closest thing to a performing corpse I'll ever see. As Gretchen pointed out, it was a like a bad acid trip (something she can imagine, though she's never actually had one.)
At some point Gretchen went to arranged a place for me in the queue for a performance of an REO Speedwagon tune, and the mistress of ceremonies proceeded to tell her all about her lifelong struggle with diabetes, and how a doctor once starved her so badly that she ate a whole tube of toothpaste. It was one of those situations where the only escape is to nod slowly and back away.
I never did get to sing my tune. The mistress of ceremonies wasn't in any hurry to go through the queue, choosing to play non-karaoke songs and then give us a dreadful performance of "What A Feeling," the theme from Flashdance. We all had to have a group hug out in the bitter cold on the sidewalk outside, with Gretchen making us vow to never cross that bar's threshhold again. It was an extension of something Gretchen had been feeling since the alienation of the freakshow got under way. "I feel really close to you guys!" she'd said one point.
As bad as the experience was, it wasn't the sort of thing that could ever happen in New York City. It was so over-the-top David Lynchian that it made me want to go back some day and record another karaoke night using a hidden camera.

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