Monday, June 19, 2006

Back in Black

Aaaaaaand, I'm back. Back on solid concrete in New York. Scent of Koreatown on trash day, how I've missed you. Overpriced deli sandwiches housing a day's protein allowance in turkey slices, I've missed you, too. And trash trucks idling outside my window at 6 a.m. and making this "p-toooo!" sound every 15 seconds like clockwork? Don't think I've forgotten about you.

You might think I've waxed a little too poetic about the Midwest based on my last couple of posts. But that's going to change right now. Gather around, everyone. Get your mats and your bug juice and sit Indian-style in a circle. Newbie's gonna tell you a little story about why she left the Midwest:

On Friday night, while I was still in the Heartland, my middle sister, the big-shot working girl with her own office and file cabinet and three-hole punch, took me out to her favorite watering hole. (Clearly, it had to be Friday because she's too responsible to go out on a weekday.) It was a nice bar, and I say that unironically. Exposed-brick walls, new tile-and-stainless-steel bar, long tables for hanging with your crew (as it were), and an $8 all-you-can drink Coors Light special. As soon as the bartender told me that, I had a 10-spot on the table and a thirsty look in my eyes. He then set a giant white-plastic Coors pitcher/mug receptacle in front of me that was filled with beer. I looked around for someone to snicker about the mug with, but no one made eye contact. That's because it is not at all unusual to drink out of a giant white-plastic Coors pitcher/mug receptacle in the Midwest.

So drink it I did, and, similar to the visions people must have after consuming peyote, then saw written on the wall (well, more like a chalkboard) that it was karaoke night.

So I wowed the crowd with a little "Bette Davis Eyes" (yes, I'm bragging, but dammit, I'm good), and then I turned back to my second pitcher/mug receptacle of Coors Light. Only one other person had been singing karaoke that night: a large-ish man with a dark mustache and red T-shirt. He sang Metallica's "Turn the Page" first, but it sounded more like Bob Seger's version, and then he sang another lame country jam. (Natch; we are in the Midwest.) As I tried to enjoy my adult beverage and talk to my sister at the same time, Red Shirt Guy came up to me and said, "Are you going to sing another one?" "Ohhh, I don't know," I said, at this point far more interested in my pitcher/mug receptacle than anything else. Red Shirt Guy put his hands together in a mock prayer pose. "Please?" he said. "You have a great voice." I turned back to my Coors. After a few minutes, another pitcher/mug receptacle had been placed in front of me. I thought about doing another song, but the place's menu (songbook, for the uninitiated) sort of sucked. They didn't even have "Like a Prayer," for Pete's sake. Plus, for artists whose songs they should have had five or more of, like Journey, for example, they had one random tune that I had never heard of. I mean, what respectable karaoke establishment doesn't have "Don't Stop Believin'"?

As I contemplated singing another one, I thought of George Costanza in "Seinfeld." "Go out on a high note," my brain said. "They loved your first one. Don't do another one. You have to stay number one in their eyes!" It was at this point that I should have listened to my inner George. But the Coors felt differently. If the Coors had had its way completely, I would have hopped on the lap of the goateed post-college burnout sitting on the next barstool and asked him to take me to the nearest NASCAR race. But instead the Coors settled for me singing Christina Aguilera's "What a Girl Wants." Good song. Really. Unless you're in a Midwest bar with college students and a cut-rate karaoke machine.

I put in my request and went up shortly thereafter to sing my Xtina song. As I walked up, a gaggle of bleach-blond, straw-haired, tanorexic sorostitutes from the nearby community college all turned around simultaneously. "She's serious!" one of them said. No, you bitches, I was not "serious." I was walking up to a microphone to sing karaoke. If that makes me Dan Rather doing a wartime news bulletin, then maybe you should give daddy's Amex a rest and click on over to some CNN Headline News every now and again rather than watching reruns of "The Simple Life" all summer for tips on poise and diction.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the crappy karaoke machine. As my song began to play, I knew I was in trouble. This version of "What a Girl Wants" that was playing can only be best described as the "bossa nova" setting on early 1990s Casio keyboards. I had no idea how I was going to sing over this crap. As I strained unsuccessfully to keep up with the "oooooooohs" and "yeah, boys" of this inferior recording, I looked to my Red Shirted karaoke companion. Surely, he'd understand how a lame recording can affect one's voice. Mid-song, completely ignoring the fact that I was supposed to be singing, I bent down and motioned to my ear in Red Shirt Guy's direction: "Does this sound weird to you? Strange? It seems off." Red Shirt Guy said nothing. After 30 seconds more of the torture and strange looks, I left the microphone stand while the song was still playing. Finally, Red Shirt guy came up to me. I immediately said, "That recording was awful. I couldn't sing with it." He looked me straight in the eyes and said, "That's what you get for singing something you don't know," and then he cocked his eyebrow toward the ceiling and tried to buy me a shot, which I not-so-politely declined.

I think this story illustrates two points in New York's favor:

1. Sure, there are sorostitute bitches in every city, but at least in New York, they wouldn't be caught dead in the bars I frequent.
2. In New York's bars, I would say that roughly 80 percent of patrons are completely unaware that karaoke is even going on in their chosen place of debauchery. Of that 20 percent of people remaining, half of them are only marginally aware that there's a human singing instead of a recording, and the other 10 percent is made up of the following people:
a.) The karaoke DJ.
b.) Your friends.
c.) The guy at the bar who will most likely try and ask you out/buy you a drink/invite you home to sleep with him.
d.) People who are just damn glad not to be either at work or melting into a human ooze puddle on the overcrowded sidewalks.

People have a misconception about the Midwest. People are not nicer there. People just smile more. And then they say nasty, unnecessary, derogatory things to your face, as if the smile negates it somehow and makes it okay. New Yorkers are blunt and in your face, but they'd never put down a sister just trying to sing some late-'90s pop classics.

So, kids, that's why Newbie left the Midwest. And she's never going back.



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