Friday, November 13, 2009

The Karaoke Chronicles: An Evening with Grace

I've been to dozens of bars and lounges in my many years as a karaoke enthusiast, but I've never considered myself a "regular" at any of them . . . except the Kopa Room. Nestled in the 24 hour Linbrook Bowling Alley in Anaheim, California, the Kopa Room would probably be considered a "dive bar" by today's swanky standards, what with its dim lights, the arcade card and trivia games, the mirrored walls. Yet, I've grown to appreciate these bastions of nightlife, because if you want to get in deep, you have to dive.

I've dragged many karaoke accomplices to the Kopa Room over the years, beginning with my old friend Eric. For a strong several months, he and I went to the Kopa at least once a week, recognizing the regulars and witnessing some of the strangest performances I've ever seen to this day. Who can forget the deaf gentleman's stirring rendition of "Lean On Me?" Or the time the KJ brazenly and blatantly stole my song? My friend and coworker Konrad is the latest to accompany me to, and find himself enchanted by, the Kopa Room, regularly on Tuesdays of all nights. Too late to continue the frivolity of the previous weekend and too early to acknowledge the upcoming one, one might liken Tuesday to the friend that comes to the party without a six pack, but you'd be surprised. Isn't it always the quiet ones?

A few weeks ago, Konrad and I strolled into the Kopa Room as we had for several weeks, and the crowd seemed no more or less interesting: a few scattered couples occupying the tables, the regulars at the bar. We took a table, turned in some songs with our favorite KJ Bill, and infiltrated the rotation in no time. I probably sang "Tiny Dancer" or "Careless Whisper," one of the many ballads I reserve for quiet nights like that . . . surely not the kind of song that would've garnered attention from the beautiful Asian chick sitting at the table in front of us -- with her stoic boyfriend. Konrad and I had noticed them earlier, how she was much more affectionate than he was, how he ignored her advances with a silently inflated bravado. Despite his seemingly cold shoulder, I didn't expect the young lady to turn and talk to us, but . . .

"Do you guys rap?" she turned and asked us suddenly, almost accusingly.

"I can rap," I quickly retorted, as I'm never one to pass up a potential karaoke request.

"This room needs some rap," she concluded.

Truly, we had been challenged, if not personally, then socially, to breathe some life into an otherwise dismal evening. So, I turned in Vanilla Ice's classic "Ice Ice Baby." I've sung "Ice Ice Baby," more than once in the Kopa with Eric, in fact, but never at someone's behest, so I was eager to see the room's response. When Bill called my name, the young lady actually joined me onstage, but I warned her not to steal my spotlight. Oh, and I was serious. Sure, she had requested the song, but I'll be damned if someone uses me to enter the rotation prematurely. Fortunately, my dramatic interpretation of that Lyrical Poet with a Master Plan's masterpiece overshadowed her suggestive dancing, and I returned to my seat vindicated in the attempt to amuse the crowd.

Eventually, we were invited to the couple's table, along with another, much larger gentleman, who had also started the evening in the company of a female Asian friend who hastily exited after he dragged her onstage for a birthday song. Introductions went around the table: the large gentleman's name was Jeff, Mr. Strong-'n-Silent's name was Steve, and his girlfriend, the one that brought us all together, was Grace. Now, I frequently made steady eye contact with Steve to make sure he wasn't seething at our intrusion, but he warmed up to us quickly and even bought a round. Shortly, Konrad and I were more in Steve's pocket than Grace's pants, which was just fine with us.

When a group of rowdy Yankees fans burst into the room, the root of Steve's smoldering became apparent. See, the Yankees were playing our Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (long name . . . need to . . . catch . . . my breath) in the World Series, and apparently Steve was an Angels fan. To say he admonished the Yankees fans is being kind to the concept of admonishment, but despite his alcohol drenched rage, he kept his balled up fists to himself. Grace was a different story, though. At one point, she removed one of the fan's caps and placed it over a table's candle centerpiece, and it sat there long enough for me to think that Steve's athletic allegiance wasn't the only thing that could inflame the room. Thankfully, Bill quickly warned Grace that another move like that would get us kicked out. Alas, the Kopa Room had more in store for us that Tuesday night.

A group of Samoans stumbled into the room, obviously continuing a party from somewhere else, and their birthday girl, deliciously named Muffin, was quickly taken by Grace. Grace and I had made a motion for our group to dance, but Muffin cut in, and, as we had learned, Grace's hospitality knew no bounds. Before long, she and Muffin were onstage singing the Pussycat Dolls' "Don'cha," and Konrad, Jeff, and I verbosely wondered if "Muffin" was a nickname for the birthday gal's preferences in life. Don't get me wrong; Muffin sang incredibly, but she was also a party animal determined to have a great time. In the Kopa Room that night, that great time was Grace . . .

. . . who, after many drinks, hardly lived up to her name. By closing time, she was stumbling out of the bowling alley surrounded by Muffin's posse, and Steve-o wasn't pleased. I reckon all of the attention was more than he could take. Interestingly, he shook hands with his World Series rivals, but the Samoans' advances had crossed a line.

"Give me your keys!" he demanded of Grace. "I'm getting your car!"

Konrad, Jeff, and I were amused that he was getting her car, but the look in his eyes assured us that the time for joking around was over. Emboldened by her admirers, Grace was rebellious, which only fueled her boyfriend's fire. When he finally pulled up the car, he and Muffin played tug-o'-war with Grace, which was as awkward to watch as it must've been to experience. My friends and I were in the middle of an interesting and potentially dangerous predicament; if we attempted to mediate, we could've found ourselves in a fracas with practical strangers that might've cost us the chance to return to our favorite karaoke venue. If we didn't intervene with our sober objectivity, someone might've been seriously hurt, someone who had shown us strangers nothing but kindness otherwise. The situation was over before we could act either way, as Steve won the war, pulled Grace into the car, and squealed away. The Samoans barked their amusement before we parted ways, and Konrad and I shook Jeff's hand with the unspoken assurance that we'd see him the following Tuesday with the hopes that it would all happen again.

That singular experience betrays everything I love about karaoke as the ultimate social experiment. Consider: the boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic, the culture clash (Steve was a Hispanic dude with an Asian girlfriend who beckoned white guys like us to her table and attracted Samoans like Muffin on the dance floor), even the pop culture influence of the World Series. Push this motley crew of behavioral variables into a pool of booze and you have a Tuesday night with all of the excitement of a Friday night, and perhaps all of the regret of a Sunday morning. Finally, these variables would've never gathered around the edge of the same pool if they hadn't been invited by karaoke, the most hospitable host of all. Karaoke is the only phenomenon I know that can take any ol' boring evening . . . a give it a little grace.

This detail is from a larger drawing of October events, and I've been wanting to color it for naught, so at least I can put this piece up here to illustrate this karaoke misadventure's major players.


johnny_justice said...

You should have started a race riot!

Kat said...

holy geez, what a misadventure!