In which our intrepid hero visits an obscure karaoke bar.

Last night, Dan M and a friend of Mim K/W were supposed to join us for dinner. Sadly, Mim’s friend couldn’t make it, so we postponed, instead stopping in briefly at one of Mim’s favourite karaoke joints in the city.

One of the regulars there is deaf. I’d heard stories about him before (such as him slagging off venues for their poor sound quality), but I’d never actually heard him sing. Sure, he was off-key, but I think there was also a processing delay with his hearing aid; he was always a bit behind the tune.

What came out was an eerie not-quite-harmony with the backing track. It was strange, like the first time you hear Tuvan throat-singing.

As I heard him sing, parts of my brain lit up that haven’t seen action since I overdosed on cough syrup whilst down with a high fever and bronchitis at uni.

The whole weirdness of it jogged a long-forgotten memory from my subconscious. Back in 2002, I wrote a “rumor” for the Unknown Armies RPG, and posted it both to the official site and to the mailing list. It was called “Legends”:

I hate karaoke.

Still, I was going out with Karen back then, and she loved to sing. It’s about 3am on a Saturday morning, and we’d just been out with Matt and the rest of ’em drinking. Everyone else went home, but I told Karen that I wanted to stay out.

She umms and aahs a little, but doesn’t want to take her eye off me. I’m the kind of guy that people just pick fights with at that time of night. Crowds wander the sidewalks then, drunk and pissed off that they have to wait for a cab after the three o’clock shift change, so I s’pose she thinks that I’ll get hammered if she’s not around to look out for me.

Somehow, we find our way down to the quiet end of the city, with all those windy, narrow streets, just on the edge of Chinatown. That time of night, these streets are mostly deserted; the only noise you hear sometimes is the clack of mah jongg tiles and drunk laughter in Cantonese.

We round a corner, and there they are: a bunch of Anglos in suits, staring at the ground, speechless, waiting to enter a club. I guess that it’s probably a strip joint, but Karen’s curious and wants to check it out.

We join the line and file up the stairs. Inside, there’s your usual late-night pub, smoke-hazy and sticky-carpeted. We find a table pretty quickly and sit down. Karen goes off to the toilets and I sit looking at the bar, trying to work out what they have on tap.

When Karen comes out, she sees the stage immediately. I get up to order a beer and a rum-and-coke and Karen wanders off to see what songs they have on the karaoke machine. I come back, drinks in hand, find a couple of coasters (marked “Legends”—there wasn’t a sign above the door when we walked in) and Karen hums the first few bars of “Islands in the Stream”. She tries to get me to sing, but I tell her (as usual) that they don’t have anything in my register.

So, she goes up, gets them to program her song in and comes back to the table to drink and wait for her turn.

The sound system fires up with a thud and the first singer gets up on stage, a little guy, again, Anglo, in a dark suit and tie. He starts to sing “Fernando”.

As soon as he hits the chorus, he disappears. No, I mean it, he disappears—there one second, gone the next. The mike hits the floor with a pop and a squeal. I look over to Karen to see if she just saw what I did, or if I was just drunk outta my tree, but she stares off into space, trying to remember the lyrics to her song.

I shrug, and look back to the stage. Another guy, much like the first gets up, picks up the mike and starts off “Wind Beneath My Wings”. Thirty seconds in, the same thing happens—he disappears.

Again, the mike hits the floor, but this time Karen notices. It’s her turn next. I’m sure that I’m not tripping, so I tell her not to get up. I try to explain it to her—that two guys just disappeared off stage—but she thinks that I’m crazy. We yell at each other, and she weaves her way towards he stage as I storm back out onto the street.

The next I hear from her is a phone call from her mother on the Monday. She wants to know what I did to Karen. I ask her what she’s talking about. That’s when she tells me that Karen is doped up on thorazine in some hospital ward, sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth, singing that Kasey Chambers song:

“… Don’t I make you laugh?
Should I try it harder?
Why do you see right through me?”

I showed it to Mim when we got home, and I think it gave her the creeps. Yay, me!