Walking into the private military club in the small town a half-hour north, my old middle-school friend, who said I would know her by the poppies on her shirt, jumped up to greet us. We’d reconnected after bumping into each other at the store a while ago and traded facebook handles. She’d invited me back then to make it up to the place for karaoke night.
She had family members holding the tables for us; when we got there, the relatives were relegated back into the corner, where they drank soda pop and ate popcorn. They faded out and at some point I looked back and they were all gone. She herself never touched alcohol all night.
The place has karaoke 2 Fridays a month. The setup is an older lady sits with small boxes of CDs. The song books have thousands of selections, each with a number. The upcoming karaokier chooses a song and fills out a slip of paper with their name, the song name, and the number of the song. These slips are handed to the older lady, who then, in expert fashion, finds the proper disk in the assemblage of small boxes. She is 3 or 4 songs ahead and so is not under any rush to find them.
There is a younger man, maybe in his late 20’s or early 30’s who acts as the DJ and the MC. He calls the singers up, cracks jokes, adjusts the volume of the music and the singers to make it sound good. The older woman and the younger man exchange several significant prolonged glances with each other. I ask my friend if there is something going on between them, and she blithely states, “He is her surrogate son. They are very close.” As the night goes on, DJ/MC and Older Woman take to the dance floor for several close, cheek to cheek dances. Not like any mother and son dance I’ve seen before.
At other times, DJ/MC says, “Papa is going to sing.” The first time he said it, my friend leaned over and said, “Older lady’s husband passed away about 3 years ago. Before he passed, he recorded some songs. She likes to play them to keep his memory alive.” His voice is the best one so far.
A younger woman gets up who is pretty and lively. She belts out the tunes like Barbra Streisand. She does a duet with a young girl of about 12 years old. The place, which is a bar, is full of kids until around 9, when they legally have to go. This 12 year old grabs the mike like Steven Tyler in the 70’s. She and Barbra do it up like they are singing to a packed house at The Forum.
One of the people I came to the place with finally gets his turn. He is Mr. Cool Breeze and immediately wins over the crowd. His chest is puffed out with pride, memories floating out of his ears like the zzzzzzs in a Nyquil commercial. From earlier conversations, I learned that traveling the karaoke circuit was his forte in years gone by.
My friend, also his date, was half hammered when we got to the place, as she willingly anaesthetized herself over worry about her daughter and daughter’s family who are trapped in FL. My friend, who is normally extremely quiet and reserved, started dancing in her seat and pulling her sweater off and laughing when a dance song came on. Her date, usually fairly sociable, gave me “the look” and said, “Don’t encourage her.”
All during the evening, my middle school friend, who I haven’t sat down and talked with for a good 45+ years, kept talking to me in a low voice, so low as to be unintelligible, about things as if we’d been daily friends since way back when. I had to keep saying, “What?” and turning towards her, not being able to give the steady stream of singers attention. I’m asking myself why are you telling me about your grandson’s friend who has decided to “transition” and that I needed to be sure to watch the Netflix documentary of what trans people have to go through to make it happen. There is an assumption that I’m uneducated on the topic, and even when I say, “Yes, I’m at least somewhat aware of the processes,” she continues on with her insistence I see the movie. She tells me her husband left to walk home a couple of miles away because he didn’t want us smelling the “old man smell” on his shirt. She studies my hair, my jewelry, wants to know where I met my friends. I’m wondering why. Is she undercover? Lonely? Or insane? She starts telling off-color jokes about toy monkeys humping arms. She goes and gets membership application forms for me, my friend, and my friend’s date. She starts talking about volunteering for fundraising dinners. Everybody is intimately bonded with everybody in the place. She wants us to become part of the family. I get a flashback to the first time I watched, “From Dusk Till Dawn.” I make sure we get out of there well before midnight.