Karaoke Night

This is Chapter 10 for my attempt at National Novel Writing Month. 10,000 more words, and then I will have reached the goal of the competition!

It was the first week of the spring semester at Wanetta State University, and there was an energy about the town despite it being January, hovering around near zero on most days, and becoming dark at around 4pm. The college students were back from their winter break, and snow-covered streets and frigid weather could not prevent them from going out to the bars.

The first week of the semester was also exciting but inconsequential for Collin and Raf, who were both teaching freshmen writing courses again. During the first week, instructors would try to scare off students who were not serious and see who remained after the add/drop period. You might assign an 800-word literacy narrative just to see which students could punctuate complex sentences correctly and format their papers according to MLA or APA guidelines.

Collin had just arrived at home after teaching his last class of the week. It was about 2pm, and there was still a little bit of light left in the rest of the day. Raf had finished teaching but had to drive to La Crosse to pick up his kids for the weekend. Since Collin spent the entire Christmas Break with his sons, he had arranged with Lyla (via email, of course) to allow the boys to spend the weekend with her so that they could catch up with their friends. 

Collin wondered if he should drive over to the liquor store and pick up a case of something for him and Raf. Maybe they’d invite Ana over to drink with them. Collin and her briefly talked in the hallway at work. Her winter break did not go well. Her mom and stepfather were separating, and her mother was not handling the situation very well. Then Collin’s phone buzzed. He answered.

“Hey, Big C! What’s shaking?” It was Sam from the summer program. Sam had a bubbly personality and liked to pepper her conversations with ironic uses of old slang.

“Not much, Sam.” Collin sat down at the kitchen. “Just finished the first week. Now deciding what to do the rest of the weekend.”

“Well, if you’re not busy tonight, me and some friends will be at Franky’s. It’s karaoke night. It’ll be swell time.” Franky’s was the neighborhood bar at the end of block. Even if there was a whiteout blizzard, Collin could feel his way to the bar.

“Yeah, that sounds like fun. I’ll see you there.” Collin answered. He wouldn’t sing karaoke but was happy to socialize and listen to music. 

“Perfect. See you later, kid!” Sam then hung up.

Hmm. Could be fun. Maybe Ana would want to come. Collin then sent a text message inviting her to the karaoke night.

– – – –

Ana came over to Raf and Collin’s home around 9pm. She was a trooper walking over in the snow and cold. Raf did not in fact have his children for the weekend. They had all come down with the flu, so he and his ex decided that it would be best for them to stay put at her place for the weekend. Raf was now free to enjoy his night and the weekend with Collin and Ana.

The trio were drinking a beer before heading over to Frankie’s, and Ana was updating Collin and Raf about her mother’s drama over the winter break.

“Police were called?” Raf asked.

“Yes,” Ana confirmed in an embarrassed manner. She took a slow sip of her beer. “I had to bail her out the next day.”

“God.” Collin said. “She doing ok now?”

“I suppose.” Ana added. “There was nothing my sister and I could do. My mother had been drinking all day. She was out of her mind. She was talk crazy and scaring us.”

“Your mother left your father for your stepfather. And now your stepfather is leaving your mother. Does she not see the poetic justice in that?” Collin asked.

Ana shook her and took another drink. “Try telling her that. She’d say that my father was a young man when she left him. He had the chance to start over. She’s an old woman now. Who’s going to want her?”

“That’s a sound argument.” Raf chuckled.

“I know.” Ana said, laughing as well. “I’m just glad to be away from the situation again. I feel bad for my little sister. Her mother and her father are divorcing, and she’s caugth between the two of them.” 

“That’s unfortunate.” Collin said thinking about his own boys.

Ana turned her attention to Collin, “I know we haven’t talked much over the break, but are you doing ok?”

“Yeah. Things went well with the boys. We spent a lot of time together. In fact, I spent the entire break with them.”

“Man, Collin. That’s wonderful.” Ana said in a heartfelt manner. “You don’t realize how important it is for children to see their father behaving in a healthy manner after a divorce, to know their father wants what’s best for them—”

“Ana,” Collin interrupted amusedly, “I kinda do. I am the child of a divorce and a father who went through a divorce. You have no argument. Besides, you’re trying to argue about something we agree about.” 

“Yeah,” Raf confirmed. “His ethos trumps any logos that you might attempt.”

“Ok, ok. I get it. I’m just speaking from my experience.” Ana conceded. Turning her attention back to Collin, “So, who’s going to be at karaoke tonight, facilitator?”

“Facilitator? Why I am a facilitator?” Collin questioned back.

“Because you’re good at making things happen. You move into Raf’s, you invite people over, you create opportunities: you’re a facilitator. That’s a good thing.”

“That’s somewhat true, but everything that I have done since this summer was an attempt to feel better. Good things happened for other people, but I was trying to make myself feel better.”

“But don’t you see Collin? You made things happen. It was you.”

“Ok,” Raf interrupted. “You two keep arguing about things that you are in agreement about. I’m cutting you both off. Let’s go.”

Collin and Ana laughed.

“I don’t know, Ana, who exactly will be there,” Collin resumed. “Sam and some other folk who work with international students. Grad students in the TESOL program.” 

The trio finished their beer and donned their coats, hats, and scarves.

– – – –

Frankie’s sat on the corner down the street from Raf’s house. It wasn’t a very far walk, and the night wasn’t too cold. Townies in their Arctic Fox jackets lingered outside the entrance of the bar smoking cigarettes. They looked Raf, Collin, and Ana over as they approached the bar. Raf said hello as he walked by. He was a townie too, but he just happened to work at the university like Collin and Ana. The three of them stomped the snow off of their boots before they entered the bar.

A draft of cold air shot into the bar. People near the door kept their jackets on. People further from the door placed their jackets on the backs of the chair. This was the best that you could do to regulate your temperature while drinking at a Minnesota bar during the winter.

Frankie’s was a neighborhood bar. It was festooned with memorabilia of the state’s sports teams. Mostly Viking and Twins adornments. Football and baseball games were what brought the locals to watch the game and drink beer. There were some Minnesota Wild and Timberwolves things too, but hockey and basketball games weren’t the primary interest of Frankie’s patrons.

The bar was basically one long room divided into two halves. In the front was the bar counter. It ran on the right side of the room. In the back this was the events room. It was larger and where the projection screen was located. This was also the venue for music events, like live music and karaoke night. As the Collin, Raf, and Ana entered the bar, you could hear the music to “Tiny Dancer,” and someone singing along to it.

Blue jean baby… L.A. lady…  seamstress for the band

Raf and Ana went to order drinks. Collin went to find Sam in the back.

Pretty eyed, pirate smile… you’ll marry a music man

“What do you want?” Raf shouted to Collin.

Ballerina, you must have seen her dancing in the sand

“Whatever you’re having.” Collin shouted back. He wanted to keep things simple.

And now she’s in me… always with me…  tiny dancer in my hand

Collin made his way to the back. The front bar wasn’t too crowded with townies. Karaoke night wasn’t a big draw for them. They mostly wanted to watch games and listen to music that they programmed into the jukebox.

As Collin entered the back, he could see a younger crowd. These weren’t freshmen or sophomores with their fake ideas, who had to go to bars where the bouncers wouldn’t scrutinize them. These were seniors or fifth year seniors, young people who still liked to have a good time but were over the frat bars and meat markets of the downtown bars.

But oh how it feels so real… Lying here with no one near… Only you and you can hear me… When I say softly, slowly

Collin saw Sam sitting with a group at a back table. She waved. 

“Big C,” Sam yelled as Collin got close. He made his way over. He said hi to all the people he did know, and Sam introduced him to the people he didn’t know.

There were 8 people at the table. Sam, of course. Collin knew Alexa and her boyfriend Ben. Alexa and Collin worked together in the summer program. There was Dave and Lin. Both of them were Chinese students in the TESOL graduate program. (Dave had been Collin’s student when he was an undergraduate.) These was Sam’s friend Amy who was visiting for the weekend. And, there were two other people that Collin didn’t know, Zoe and Lorenzo. Zoe was doing an internship with the international program, and Collin thought Lorenzo was her boyfriend because they were sitting pretty close (and with a name like Lorenzo, who wouldn’t want to date him?). Too bad, of the women who were single and wasn’t friend with Collin, Zoe was kind of cute.

People at the table were paging through binders of karaoke songs that were available to sing. 1661

Soon Raf and Ana appeared in the back room. Collin could see Ana singing along with the song, “Hold me closer, tiny dancer…Count the headlights on the highway…Lay me down in sheets of linen.” Collin waved to them, and they joined the table. Raf handed Collin a Summit Winter Ale, what he was drinking. Thanks.

Collin, Raf, and Ana were huddled at the end of a table. Ana asked the guys, “Should we be here?”

“Why?” Collin asked.

“Because there are a lot of a university students here.” She added sheepishly.

“There are a lot of university students everywhere. This is my neighborhood and my bar.” Raf said.

“What if we run into our students?” This was Ana’s first semester as a fixed-term instructor, so she was a little insecure about her standing in the department.

“If you live and work in a college town, it’s bound to happen.” Collin said. “David was a student of mine during my first year as a GA.” Collin pointed to David at the table.

“I took his class twice. Good teacher!” David said enthusiastically. His face was a little red from the beer that he had. Lin looked uncomfortable by this outburst.

“Just relax, Ana.” Raf said. “Stay with us, and if you see any students just try to avoid them.” 

This seemed to assuage Ana’s nerves. She took a drink of her beer and grabbed one of the song binders to look through. Someone was now singing an unfamiliar country song.

Yeah I’m chilling on a dirt road… Laid back swervin’ like I’m George Jones… Smoke rollin’ out the window… An ice cold beer sittin’ in the console

Collin was trying to talk with everyone at the table. Alexa and Ben spent part of the winter break in South Dakota visiting her family. David and Lin had traveled to Chicago during their time off between the semesters. Amy had graduate last year and was now working at the Mall of America in the Twin Cities where her family was from. 

However, Collin wasn’t able to talk with Zoe and Lorenzo. They were at the other end of the table, and it was too hard to talk with people at a distance over the din of the karaoke. Too bad, Collin was curious about their story. Also, there was something unusual about their interaction. They seemed to really enjoy each other’s company, not like the other couples. Ben was acting like he wanted to go home, and Lin became more uncomfortable when David finished his beer and ordered another one.

Another country song ended. People clapped politely. Then the MC said that he was taking a 10-minute break. People got up to order another beer or go outside and have a cigarette. The MC put on a song during the intermission. The synths kicked in. It was “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince. An apt song for the Minnesota bar. 

I’m not a woman… I’m not a man… I am something that you’ll never understand.

“Oh,” Collin heard Zoe exclaim, “Let’s dance, Renzo!” She and Renzo headed to the space in front of the karaoke stage. The floor was wet and dirty from the melted snow that everyone had tracked in with their boots, yet this didn’t bother the two as they partner danced. 

I’m not your lover… I’m not your friend…I am something that you’ll never comprehend.

Collin watched the way Zoe moved. She followed Renzo lead and moved easily despite dancing in boots on the slick floor. Then when the chorus kicked in, the two did the hand gestures along to the song.

You… They pointed to each other. I would… They pointed at themselves. die… They dragged their thumb across their neck. for… They held up four fingers. you… They pointed back to each other. …Darling if you want me to…You, I would die for you

Collin liked the way Zoe moved. He liked her energy. He liked how she was confident on the dance floor—something that Lyla was not. Collin liked to dance, but the only way he ever got Lyla on the dance floor was if he plied her with enough alcohol to forget her insecurities.

I’m not a human… I am a dove… I’m your conscious… I am love… All I really need is to know that…You believe.

Sam noticed Collin watching Zoe and Renzo. “Yeah, those two are in the university dance program. Zoe is majoring in TESOL and minoring in Dance.”

Collin nodded. Ah. The dynamic between Zoe and Renzo finally made sense. Collin knew why they seemed so familiar and comfortable with one another. He also had a strong hunch that they were not boyfriend and girlfriend, and that they would never be—unless Zoe wanted to make Renzo miserable.

I would die for you… I would die for you… You, I would die for you… You, I would die for you   

Zoe was glowing as she and Renzo went through the flurry of gestures to keep up with the ending chorus to the song. Collin was mesmerized by her performance, her rhythm, her body language. Then as the song came to an end, she did a pirouette in her winter boots. It was playful and silly. Renzo did a pirouette as well, but he slipped and fell into Zoe. They both laughed like a couple siblings. Collin was now almost certain that they were absolutely NOT boyfriend and girlfriend.

When Zoe came back, Collin was going to talk with her. 

“Raf, need another beer?” Collin asked. He made a thumbs up. “Ana?” 

“Screwdriver, please.” She ordered. “I’m going to sing after the intermission.”

“Got it.” Collin confirmed as he headed to the bar at the front. A new song started to play. Collin recognized the guitar chord. It was “Jessie’s Girl.” 

He heard Zoe squeal in recognition. She and Renzo started to dance and sing along.

Jessie is a friend, yeah…I know he’s been a good friend of mine… But lately something’s changed that ain’t hard to define… Jessie’s got himself a girl and I want to make her mine…

How was he going to this? He thought. What would you say to this young woman? Don’t get your hopes up man. Just be cool. 

‘Cause she’s watching him with those eyes… And she’s loving him with that body, I just know it… And he’s holding her in his arms late, late at night…

“Two winter ales. One screwdriver please.” Collin placed his order and turned to watch Zoe.

You know… I wish that I had Jessie’s girl… I wish that I had Jessie’s girl… Where can I find a woman like that…

The bartender was moving quickly, but she had suddenly been swamped by orders. Collin wanted to make it back to the table before the end of the song. It didn’t look like that was going to happen.

Where can I find a woman like that.. Like Jessie’s girl… I wish that I had Jessie’s girl

I want, I want Jessie’s girl…

Eventually, the bartender handed Collin his three drinks, and he paid cash for them, leaving the change on the counter as a tip. He then headed back to the table as another song started to play, it was a Rolling Stone song. 

I saw her today at the reception… A glass of wine in her hand…

Zoe and Renzo were heading back to the table. Zoe was singing along.

No, you can’t always get what you want… You can’t always get what you want…

Zoe and Renzo were in front of Collin. He watched her sashay along with the song. They headed to their seats and grabbed their jackets.

What? Collin thought. He headed to his end of the table and gave his friends their drinks. 

“We’re heading to house party.” Zoe informed the table. “Toodles!” The table bid Zoe and Renzo goodbye, and they left through the back door.

I went down to the Chelsea drugstore… To get your prescription filled… I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy… And man, did he look pretty ill…

Well, there went Collins chance. He took a sip of his beer and listened to Mick croon.

“Big C,” Sam asked, “What’s on your mind?”

Maybe not. 

“Sam, you’re friends with Zoe, right?” Collin inquired.

“Yes, I am. Why do you ask?” Sam replied.

“I would like to meet her. Would you give her my number and tell her I’m interested in getting to know her?”

“Why, Big C, soy-tan-lee!” She was doing her Harley Quinn impersonation.

“Make it so.” Collin was doing his Captain Picard impersonation. 

But if you try sometimes you just might find… You just might find… You get what you need, oh yeah…

Photo by Jorge Flores on Unsplash

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