Cast of A Great Karaoke Bar, Part I

My favorite karaoke bar and favorite bar in general has been a place we'll call A Great Karaoke Bar.  We used to hit it on an almost weekly basis until parenthood stuck (and Halloween always keeps me busy in any case).  Dani and I have been hanging there for more than two years now, and the scary thing is that when you become a regular, you start to know the regulars you thought you'd never turn into.  You look around one day and go, oh, shit.  I'm Bukowski without a publishing history!

Walt.  The Lizard.
Signature song: "Man of Constant Sorrow" from the O'Brother sndtrk.

I have no idea what neurological condition makes you spontaneously stick your tongue out just before you speak, but Walt has that.  It's a bizarre affectation that makes him momentarily eject his tongue open-mouthed in a manner like that of a chameleon about to strike.  It's just plain creepy the first time you notice it, especially when he's singing (because then you can predict when it will happen; like it's Old Faithful).  But then you just start looking at it like any other regular feature.  It's weird but comforting, much like the country version of the Funky Chicken dance he goes into during the instrumental parts of any song he's singing.

Larry.  The Critic.
Signature song: "If You Like Pina Coladas" by Jimmy Buffet

It's rare that Larry gets up from his stool to sing anything.  He's too busy sitting at the bar critiquing everyone else.  It's also rare that Rhonda (the DJ) doesn't get along with anyone, but he just creeps her the fuck out.  She's got this intuition about people and doesn't always know where a feeling originates, but I see where she's coming from.  Always coming up to women and being sleazy.  Never pushy, and maybe that's why it's so creepy because women just wish he was overt enough that they'd feel justified to ask him to go away.

David.  That Hawaiian Guy.
Signature song: "Night and Day" by Frank Sinatra

Some people are just smooth and you can't imagine them in anything but a tux.  Not David.  He's probably three hundred-plus pounds.  He isn't the main act; he's the help.  Literally.  Many nights he'd come in from work at the country club in his chef's outfit (sans hat, of course).  But then he'd get up and totally nail an obscure Dean Martin cut like he was deboning a chicken, something he once told us he could do in five seconds.  Smooth, solid voice that hits every note perfectly.  This guy is America's Susan Boyle if anyone'd care to look for him.

Danielle.  The Flower Lady.
Doesn't sing.  Asks Rhonda to sing "Smooth Operator" every time she's there though.

I don't know where she comes from or where she goes, but the Flower Lady is like the Tooth Fairy of horticulture.  She's somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty (if not older), but she swings in toward the end of the night wearing one of those little black Ann Coulter dresses even Ann Coulter is too old for... with a basket of roses.  She makes the circuit of the bar and offers couples the opportunity to buy one (or more), then disappears again, presumably to another bar.  I can't imagine that with the cost of gas she can make any money doing this, which is why I assume she is indeed a fairy.

Dee.  The Autistic Cowboy.
Signature song: "Still the Same" by Bob Seger

I've never seen the top of his head beneath that black cowboy hat.  While he does sing some non-country songs, that's mostly what he's there to do.  He certainly isn't there for the conversation, seeing as how he almost never speaks to anyone.  Well, I did talk to him once.  He's obviously the bar's biggest fan, there most nights until midnight when he has to go to work.  (Doing what, I'm not sure.  Maybe he's a superhero?)  He even has a Great Notion windbreaker.  I have no idea where he got it from.  The one time I talked to him, I was looking for one of the karaoke songbooks.  I saw him flipping through a binder and I asked if he had the "song title" or "artist" book.  "It's mine," he said.  I was confused for a second, then I realized he had printed out his own copy edited down to just his favorites.  Ahhhh, I get it.  That's dedication.  Travis Bickle-scary kind of dedication.

Ed.  The Downer.
Signature song: "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond

Ed's pushing seventy, but that isn't unusual for the Notion.  What I love about the place is that you get everything from twenty-somethings to the geriatric crowd.  The problem I have with him is that he's like the white version of The Man in Black.  Sure, Johnny Cash talked his way through songs, but it was always with a clear, powerful voice.  Ed sort of mumbles his way over a melody.  "Sweet. [pause.]  Caroline."  Neil at least dwells on a note for a moment longer just to remind you he's singing.  Ed lets the air out of even the happiest song.

Richard.  The Party Guy.
Signature song: "You'll be a Dentist" from Little Shop of Horrors

Richard's the transporter-beam-accident-opposite of Ed.  I don't know if he drinks all the time, but every time I see Richard, it's like 12:30am on New Year's Eve.  He's introduced himself to Kristin three times like he's never seen her before.  He's having a great time, and he sort of sucks you into that.  He's fifty and yet still rocks like an overweight frat boy.  Yet he's not afraid to get up and do showtunes, which elevates him from frat guy (who would stick to whatever the current equivalent of Sugar Ray is) to Party Guy.  Because showtunes come from a universe where happiness = everyone sings.  And that's just perfect in a karaoke bar, the closest analog we have to a real-world musical in our hum-drum lives.

Stacy.  The World's Worst Bartender.
Doesn't sing.  (Maybe there is a god.)

I think it was Erin's birthday everyone went out for.  I was out of town visiting my parents that weekend.  When I got back, I heard independently from at least half the people who were there how much of a bitch Stacy was that night.  Erin's then-boyfriend Jason said she slammed his drink on the counter.  He took back the portion of what he was paying her that was intended to be a tip and told her so.  Later that night she flipped on the lights halfway through someone's turn at the karaoke mic and yelled Last Call.  Rhonda was pissed.  Everyone seems to hate her except the management who somehow don't realize how much business she's run off.  One night Shanna brought eight couples.  No one could get a drink from Stacy.  After an hour of bad service they collectively walked out.  Apparently one of the customers passed on news of this incident, and henceforth she's been required to work with a TABC-licensed waitress who can interface with a public Stacy so clearly despises.

TJ.  The Bar-Back.
Sings occasionally though not memorably.

Even if he sang regularly, nothing could top my favorite moment of TJ history when he decided to go after this one guy and challenge him to a fight... hours after the imagined infraction of having danced with his funny-shaped girlfriend.  This was made all the more humorous by the fact that the diminutive TJ is about a foot and a half shorter than the guy.  I'm standing a couple feet away from him when he takes off his gold chain, hands it to a woman (complete stranger, btw) and tells her to hold it, presumably so it won't break in the fight, and starts off toward the guy.  Someone immediately tells Stacy the bartender/his mom that he's about to get in a fight, and she's screaming, "TJ, git your ass back here now!"  Good times!

Fish.  The Hearthrob.
Signature song: "Lightning Crashes" by Live

He came from Florida and was originally only supposed to be here for just the summer, but stuck around a little longer than that.  Only in his early twenties, he was like a young Eddie Vedder without all the posturing self-aggrandizement.  Somehow he came across as genuine and likeable even when wearing a ponytail and a leather jacket in June.  Some girl told him he knocked her up and printed an ultrasound off the internet as "proof" to keep him around.  Took a few months before it was clear this was bullshit, and he went back Florida.  That bitch ruined everything for us because that dude could sing.

Jon.  Oh, That Guy.
Signature song: "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks (with revised lyrics)

We used to refer to him as Erin's boyfriend because he'd always come over and ask her what she wanted him to sing.  I think he could tell we never liked him.  I mean, he's friendly enough, but what always bugged me about him was that he'd find a table of twenty-something girls and go sit with them.  The easiest game of "which of these is not like the others" is when a slightly overweight guy in his early forties tries to smooze airheads like this.  They'd all think one of their friends invited him.  At the end of the night they'd all hug one another and say their goodbyes, and he'd be standing there waiting for his.  They'd avoid eye contact and head for the door.  I never saw any girl he approached come back to the bar after that.

Todd.  The Token Gay Guy.
Signature song: "Rubber Biscuit" by The Blues Brothers

Todd's not the only gay guy who frequents the place, but he's the most regular one.  Usually he's got a straight friend with him we all thought was gay, but one night he brought in a whole gang of gay guys.  They had the two tables next to the dj booth filled and a cake and a pink and silver mylar balloon shaped like a tiara that read "Happy Birthday Princess!"  There were only males at the table.  That was fucking awesome.

Eric.   One half of the Motor Cycle Twins
Signature song: "Baba O'Reiley" by The Who

Everyone knows that picture from the Guinness Book of World Records.  Those twins riding side by side on their motorcycles?  That's those guys, I'm sure of it.  They dress the part although, admittedly, they aren't nearly that fat.  But the bandanas, the beards, and the love of ZZ Top songs... man, it's like the McCrary twins are back from the grave.  And the older one (because I don't think they're really twins) also does this version of "On the Dark Side" from Eddie and the Cruisers with a voice that's equal parts Fats Domino and Roger Daltry.  That's the way it was meant to be sung.

Rhonda.  The World's Greatest Karaoke DJ.
Signature song: Varies, but "Hanky Spanky" by Madonna is a great one

My favorite person in the whole world.  I know people introduce their friends through superlatives like this, but, no, I mean it.  She's like a Little League coach for karaoke.  Nothing but encouragement, especially for those who really need it.  Someone gets up there and can't pin the melody on the tempo, she'll pick up a mic and quietly sing along until they pick it up.  She's always and selflessly looking to make every singer look (and sound) good.

Copyright 2010 Alexplorer.
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