Thursday, July 14, 2011

M&M Karaoke (The Red Lion Roars for You)


    The Red Lion is not what Michelle would normally refer to as a happening place. Constructed in the early eighties, The Red Lion was, even then, what folks considered a throwback: wood and leather everything, dimly lit, and quaintly drab, like a pub for those without the slightest taste. Over the years, however (or so she had been informed by some of the establishment’s older clientele) some modern additions had been made, much to the chagrin of those same stubbornly fossilized patrons. Strands of red Christmas-style lights had been run along the edges of the ceiling and atop the bar proper, as if to enhance the mood, while tables and chairs alike had been removed to make way for a small area in which local jazz acts could set up camp to entertain the barflies. But this was Thursday night, which meant that musicians were nowhere to be seen, replaced by a karaoke machine, a microphone, and a slew of intoxicated dreamers singing their hearts out. Michelle isn’t one of them, though she enjoys the spectacle of it all from the comfort of a cushy stool at the bar, sipping her vodka tonic very, very slowly to extend the evening as necessary.

    She patiently, silently sits, studying her drink, her fingers, and the pack of Newports that sit beside an empty tin ashtray as an elderly gentleman croons the final lines of Don McLean’s American Pie accompanied by numerous intoxicated compatriots. Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye, singing... This’ll be the day that I die. The crowd, both young and old, applaud though Michelle abstains. She’s never much cared for the song herself, and the man she’s been watching off and on throughout the evening, the one sitting at a table with three others is shouting accolades, so she’s definitely not going to participate. His name is Rodger McCormack, and he’s a bastard of the highest order. At nearly forty years old, Rodger’s going bald, wearing a polo shirt, and though she can’t prove it, probably molesting Michelle’s fourteen year-old daughter, Sophia. More than probably, in fact, though her daughter says nothing and the bastard is effortlessly indignant. Aware of her presence at The Red Lion, Rodger nevertheless gleefully enjoys the evening’s karaoke debacle, thoroughly dismissive of Michelle’s glares.

    “Nice glasses,” a masculine voice comments from somewhere nearby to her right. Instinctively, Michelle shoots daggers toward this interloper because if there’s one thing that pisses her off, it’s people mocking her choice in eyewear; yet the look on the man’s face -attractively pudgy with an adorably bulbous nose- radiates a genuine interest and his eyes speak the language of kindness, so she relents and cautiously thanks him for the compliment. He asks if the seat beside her is taken, and it is, but by someone who’s about due for a karaoke performance all her own. Michelle tells him that it’s now his, and the man flashes her the biggest big-mouthed smile she’s been privy to in quite a while, to which she responds in kind, albeit in less gratuitous fashion. Brazenly, the man plops down on the stool, removes a cigarette from her pack, lights up, asks the bartender for two sloe gin fizzes, and then informs Michelle that her dress (a flimsy, sleeveless jet black number which barely covers her knees) is way too classy for a place like this. She chuckles. All things considered, this guy’s alright; and coupled with his black and white vertically-striped shirt, quite attractive. This is when the sound of synthesizers burst forth from the mammoth speakers of the karaoke machine and amidst the cheers and the clapping and the nods from the aging horde, Michelle spots Megan take the stage, microphone in hand. Decked out in an urban camouflage print tank top, charcoal cargo pants and, to state the painfully obvious, hair dyed blue, white and red, the woman is a sight to behold, and it’s one the crowd adores, for Megan’s nothing if not an animal of magnetism.

    “Now this place is bit too small for dancing,” Megan playfully hisses into the microphone, “but it sure is dark enough.” Some drunken old guy pushing sixty, sitting alone at a corner table roars in approval. This is when Michelle should pay less attention to the nice man beside her and more upon that fucking child molester at the table nearest to the karaoke machine but then again, Rodger is now Megan’s quarry, and thus the matter will take care of itself.

I get up in the evening, and I ain’t got nothing to say

    As Megan wows the enthralled battalion, the man seated beside Michelle introduces himself as Thomas with an accent which informs her that he’s not from the Midwest, let alone the United States proper, though due to the ruckus playing out it’s tough to ascertain just where he calls home. She’s enamored with exoticism, however, and the timbre of his voice is intriguing.

This gun’s for hire even if we’re just dancing in the dark

    Thomas continues the courtship by telling Michelle that he’s from Brighton. That he takes the time to clarify Brighton as a place in the United Kingdom somewhat perturbs her (as if she weren’t aware of the outside world!) but it’s understandable given the locale. She laughs, partially due to his superfluous comment, but also because Megan has her free arm wrapped around the neck of a inebriated retiree.

I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face!

    From what he’s offered thus far, Michelle’s convinced that Thomas, web developer extraordinaire, is a pretty nice guy, and if there’s one thing she needs these days, these nights, this place is someone who is straightforward and most of all, kind. Between verses, Michelle observes her patriotically-haired friend steal a shot of whiskey from Rodger’s table, much to everyone’s delight.

You sit around getting older - there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me

    Everyone’s getting older and Michelle knows it; but she’s not old yet and there’s still hope to be had, even at The Red Lion. Michelle lights a cigarette and laughs at her suitor’s quip about Americans and their taste in tasteless music, mostly because it’s funny but also because it’s true.

I need a love reaction, come on now baby give me just one look


    Thunderous, unadulterated applause ensues, with some onlookers standing in ovation following Megan’s sparkling performance of Springsteen’s hallowed hymn. Someone hands her a frosty mug of beer, which she gladly accepts just after setting a Marlboro Red ablaze, only to place the mug atop the karaoke machine, at which point the bar’s manager promptly responds by placing a coaster beneath the soon-to-be-sweating glass. The rabble is hers to command and they love it, for the power bestowed by popularity is far more spiritous than any firewater. “Everybody, please! Thank you, thank you,” she coos into the microphone, to which the crowd responds by screaming for an encore. “I’ve been told there’s a one song, one singer rule in play, but...” she trails off, shrugging to no one in particular, though it’s crystal clear that a burden has been placed upon the shoulders of the next person in line for control of microphone, a beefy man in his late forties, to relinquish his nonexistent control of the situation. The displaced contestant sighs in defeat, though he recognizes the gust of popular opinion and thus bows out with considerable grace. “You’re awesome, guy, you know that? Really. Okay, so let’s get another song rolling, and I’d like to keep things in the same, I don’t know, era or something.” Megan then whispers something to the manager, who is the man in charge of implementing the plan, and he changes songs accordingly.

    The swarm of attentive onlookers hoots, hollers, and claps heartily as an all-too-familiar acoustic prelude is pierced by an equally unmistakable electric lead-in. Megan drops her cigarette into the mug, only to then take a sip from it without a second thought. “Let’s do this,” she growls playfully, all while eyeing an especially fair-weather friend make short work of a sloe gin fizz at the bar.

Ooh, something’s got a hold of me now

    As she sings ebulliently, Megan has a flash of memory, as she often does, of this time she attended a self-defense class in high school. The instructor was a grizzled man in his late forties, creased by years of obviously hard living, who had a no-nonsense approach to women's safety. In the event of attempted rape, for example, he’d directed his students to pretend to go along with their attacker’s wishes by beckoning to them for a kiss, only for the purpose of tearing his upper lip off with their teeth as this would result in an immeasurable amount of bleeding and, subsequently, death. In the case of being assailed by a large dog, the instructor had informed them that the only surefire way to incapacitate the offending animal was to thrust one’s fist down the canine’s throat, thereby choking the beast. On more than one occasion, a student voiced uncertainty as to whether they were capable of doing such things, and the instructor’s response had been, somewhat predictably, that they should then be prepared to endure rape, mutilation, or worse. As one could guess, it was tremendously inspirational.

I think I’m in love and my life’s looking up. I think I’m in love ‘cause I can’t get enough. (No, no, no.) I think I’m in love... It’s gotta be love

    Megan gently plants the sole of her shoe upon the shoulder of the one recently identified as Rodger, who appears as enraptured by her performance as she is with the song itself. She winks at him immoderately while her open eye posits that his visage, bathed in the reddened light of the aptly-named Red Lion, resembles a bloodied turnip of sorts, which is something she quite fancies. For his part, the man known as Rodger beams, blissfully unaware of the thoughts which traverse her mind.

It controls me, makes me do all these things that I do for you

    She gingerly pours a shot of whiskey down Rodger’s throat with her free hand, much to the boisterous delight of everyone at the table and beyond. Between the song, shouts and swallows Megan picks up the distinct sound of Michelle’s sardonic sigh; yet the inherent cynicism of said exhalation merely accentuates this gloriously inglorious moment, and Megan revels in the abject absurdity of it all.

[Instrumental Interlude]

    Seducing the elderly, the enfeebled and the inebriated alike, each of whom crave a moment with the Bomb-Popped woman whose appearance belies her age, Megan makes ample use of the limited space available to ply her trade; slinking to and fro, she ensnares the crowd with her trademarked affectation of decidedly unabashed yet jubilantly social insouciance. Her thoughts, however, are of a German shepherd named Rathbone that was neither an assailant nor offensive. If nothing else, the dog was the beloved pet of a pair of easygoing retirees, yet there was a little boy who not once, twice, but thrice stuck his nose in a place it hadn’t belonged and by extension, alas, poor, rambunctious Rathbone...

Baby, how you do it. There must be something to it. Babe, I know it’s gotta be love

    ... But memories shall not discount what the rabble sees now, which is a slender nymph singing her heart out atop a creaky wooden chair amidst carmine lights and otherwise dreary sights. Waving and swinging her free hand, she beckons the crowd to join in the chorus, to which the mob responds with the utmost pride. And everyone chants

It’s gotta be love (love!) and my life’s looking up (love!)

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