True To My Word

Windsor, Ontario
Thanksgiving Weekend
One ex ago

The Asian district looked like the China Town of any major North American city. Restaurant. Restaurant. Grocery store. Restaurant. Gift shop. Restaurant. We randomly selected a place for dinner and hoped for the best.

We were aiming for Chinese, familiar and safe. What we got was a Vietnamese Karaoke bar and restaurant. The owner’s daughter, one of the few women visible and the only person willing to attempt English, seated us at a table and handed us menus. Even if there had been any light, we still would not have been able to decipher our choices. I looked her in the eye and said, “Three courses. No heads. Surprise me”. She repeated my order. I smiled. The ex looked worried.

Ernest young men sang Vietnamese songs of love and loss. Some of their choices had English subtitles. The words and pictures flashed across a large screen that filled almost an entire wall. Dinner, most of it unrecognizable, was delightful. We appeared to be good sports, so they asked me to sing. I told them that I would sing Locomotive Breath from Jethro Tull. They offered Locomotion. I politely declined.

Why Locomotive Breath? Who knows? But for over ten years I have stuck to that offer. If Locomotive Breath would ever be an option, I would perform Karaoke. Needless to say, I have avoided public humiliation for years.

There have been close calls. The Beachwood Chamber of Commerce has sponsored a community pancake breakfast for years. Larry Weissman, the self-anointed Karaoke King, was one of our featured attractions. Knowing that as president I participated in everything, Larry approached me about performing. I promised, at a Board of Directors meeting, to sing. Luckily, he never added the song to his system.

I like Karaoke. Sally and I have been asked to judge competitions. I simply respect my audience too much to inflict my singing on them.

My streak ended Tuesday evening. Dreams Punta Cana has nightly entertainment. Tuesday’s was billed as “Dreams Got Talent”. This sounded like a perfectly harmless guest talent show. We figured that they had rounded up performers during the day much the way this had been organized on the cruise ship. Nope, it was Karaoke.

The first few singers had more moxie than talent. Then Evie took the stage. A polished performer who sang in French, her talents and ego were wasted on a show that had no judges or prizes. She wowed the crowd and chased away some of the more casual participants. The staff worked the audience looking for performers. They asked me if I would sing. I offered to look at the book, secure in the knowledge that my song wouldn’t be there and that I was still safe.

The book was HUGE. I could sense danger. There were over a half dozen Jethro Tull songs. Did I really want to sing Locomotive Breath? What about Cross-eyed Mary? Check and mate.

A day and a half in the sun, a couple of cigars, and G-d knows how many rum runners had already taken their toll on my voice. It was 10 PM and I was drinking coffee. It didn’t matter. If I didn’t do this, if I didn’t get up there on that stage in front of a couple hundred strangers and sing Locomotive Breath, then I had been lying for over ten years. I wrote my selection on the blue paper and handed my choice, and my dignity, to a young woman wearing a Super Girl costume.

There were no judges. There were no awards. I neither finished first nor last. The stage was massive. Tie lighting, intense. All I could see was the monitor in front of me. I grabbed the microphone and apologized to Ian Anderson.

Some of the performers were caught unawares as their songs started abruptly. I smiled as the album version, with its long piano introduction, began to play. I had enough time to gather myself.

The audience didn’t know the song. I was dressed conservatively. As the quiet piano played, they may have thought that I was about to sing another Sinatra-like song of the early 60’s. I thanked them for coming and joked as if I was about to leave the stage. As the intro switched tempo and grew in power, I ordered “louder” to the DJ. I couldn’t sing if I had wanted to. Instead, I growled a sing-song dramatic reading. Caught by surprise, the crowd gasped at the intensity. The MC made a point of thanking me as I returned to my seat after my performance.

What took the most courage this vacation? Was it swimming with nurse sharks and giant sting rays? Hell no. I had done that before. What took the most courage was to keep my word.