I love karaoke. I fell into its seductive, ego-stroking grasp a few years back and I never wanted to be let go. And on Friday night, karaoke nearly beat the shit out of me. (I mean that semi-literally of course. The dude wanting to fight me at karaoke thing is literal, I’m not sure if he wanted to beat me up until he saw poo.) It made for an interesting night.
Let me start from the beginning. Saturday nights are usually karaoke nights for me and a gaggle of my friends. Normally, I finish up my Saturday afternoon radio show, get a steak n’ a pint from Bushwakker, do a set at The Comedy Grind and the end of the night is spent doing off-key renditions of pop hits at Sparky’s. Sparky’s is a restaurant/bar in Regina’s south known for its dank lighting, mixed bag clientele and weekend karaoke. My gang (Yates, Joel, Christi and a rotating cast of friends, the majority of us have “punch me faces”) have become semi-regulars there and we look forward to singing songs and making silly comments every week. We like to think we’ve built a reputation as the “fun table”. We clap for every singer, our songs are kept to a tasteful length and we like to smile and enjoy the ridiculousness of it all.
This week the Saturday schedule wasn’t going to happen. Joel was in Calgary for a wedding, Yates would be attending a wedding in town and The Comedy Grind was on hiatus for the week. This meant the Saturday schedule was a no go and we had to make alternate karaoke plans. Yates, Christi, Amy (another member of the karaoke gang) and I decided to switch our Saturday singing excursion with a Friday night out instead.
We started the night at Wonderland, Regina’s premier/only downtown arcade. We followed up with assorted sugar stuff at Dessart (Pic A Pops really are the You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory of nostalgic sodas) and snuck in a quick drink/nosh at Boston Pizza. The gameplan was to get to Sparky’s early and try to weasel in one more song than we normally do. The place was relatively empty. In front of us were a couple tables of loudmouth drunks and a row of much quieter drunks at the bar. The DJ hadn’t set up yet (we were early because we’re cool!), so we waited a bit before getting into the lounge area. Normally we only get two songs in, but tonight’s low attendance meant the potential for three or maybe four songs in the rotation. Sploosh!
We took our booth in the lounge and traded song ideas back and forth. 20somethings are supposed to be into sex and drugs and lying about David Foster Wallace on Friday nights, but we spent ours trying to find what 90s radio staple speaks to our feelings the best. (Sorry Blues Traveler, you’ll always be a bridesmaid.) There were only two other occupied tables in the lounge. One was the domain of a doughy guy in his early 30s with a predilection for Korn and Seether. He was by himself and wore a look of loneliness on his face. Sparky’s is filled with guys like this but they normally keep to the bar. The second table was made up of an alternating collection of very loud, very drunk men and women. Every little comment they made to each other could only be communicated in a guttural shout. (“Naw buddy! Fucking fuck that’s my salt you stupid fuck.”) They sat directly next to our table and we got a kick out of their obnoxiousness.
The first round of songs went well. The order for performance was established. Yates, Amy, Me. (Christi doesn’t sing, she comes to people watch.) Yates opened with blink 182’s “What’s My Age Again”, Amy knocked out Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers In A Dangerous Time” and I finally got to live out my dream of singing “Space Jam” by Quad City DJs. There is no reason for “Space Jam” to be a karaoke song. That’s why I felt I had to do it and I was proud of my performance too. I didn’t know something was going to top it right away.
A short, somewhat gremlin faced man came out of the Loud Booth and took the microphone. He looked back at his booth and asked for their attention. He didn’t get it. He started calling for his girlfriend to get out of the booth and “get her ass over here”. She didn’t get out, she kept talking (shouting) with the rest of her boothmates. The boyfriend started getting impatient and kept telling her to get out of the booth and get on the floor. She eventually pushed her way out of the booth to get her boyfriend to shut up. Then something happened. If I may borrow for Biz Markie, “I didn’t know I was in for such an event”. The boyfriend drunkenly wobbled to his back foot and dropped to one knee. He was proposing to his girlfriend. And I was seeing it happen. Everyone in my booth exchanged “say what?” glances and looked back at the proposal. She said yes, albeit with a bit of a delay. The boyfriend was elated and showed his elation by immediately singing a cued version of “November Rain” to his future wife. November Fucking Rain. The near nine minute Guns n’ Roses mega-ballad with the music video about a bride dying at a wedding and a dude jumping through the wedding cake.
It was pandemonium at our table. No loyalty to your marriage-having-ass friend was worth missing this, Joel. We went nuts. His table had minimal to no reaction to the proposal or the November Rain reveal. A man was singing “November Rain” to his newly minted fiance. Our table was now a collection of blown minds, dropped monocles and high fives. Christi went over and gave the bride-to-be a Ring Pop she won while playing the Candy Crane at Wonderland a couple hours earlier
We kept rolling through the rotation. Fiance wouldn’t sing again (presumably because he needs to propose to get mentally prepared) and we’d only see The Loner sing a pair of songs. There were no other singers so we nerds had the run of the place. We got to perform songs we liked, songs we always wanted to do or in Amy’s case, Broadway songs about dissolving marriages as a nod to Loud Booth (they didn’t notice). Even the DJ, who hasn’t always been crazy about us, performed Living Color’s “Cult Of Personality” as a nod to our shared love of CM Punk. Outside the venue there was a storm that knocked down trees and killed power for a lot of the city, but inside Sparky’s we were having the time of our life.
Loud Booth’s numbers thinned. The new engaged couple were gone, so were a bunch of their pals. All that was left at our neighboring booth were a couple and their pal who was decked out in a Craven Country Jamboree t-shirt. We no longer had The Loner. He sauntered out about an hour back. The Loud Booth managed to keep the same volume and they grew increasingly irritated. One half of the couple (let’s call him Skyler) eventually came out to put a song in. Turns out Loud Booth spilled beer all over their songbook and were subsequently banned from singing songs as punishment. They may have also been cut off from bar service. Their presence in the bar was no longer one of patronage. It was one of protest.
This led to a lot of angry yelling from Loud Booth. Craven and Skyler started screaming that they should be allowed to sing because, well they didn’t give a reason, they just kind of yelled at the DJ and explained how not letting them sing would somehow be bad for business. The DJ stood firm. Loud Booth would not tell their stories through song tonight. It was my turn so I got the post-argument singing slot. I said my song was in honour of White Trash and rapped my way through Purple Hills.
The feeling of hostility in the lounge was cranked up. Our table was all giggly and getting a kick out of how mad our neighboring table was. I leaned over Christi and wisecracked, “you think Breaking Bad is fucking awesome until you’re living it.” We managed to get five (five! that’s three more than two!) songs in and decided to put in one more before we split. Yates final song was a fantastic version of “Lump”. It’s sort of weird watching someone perform in an empty room that has a table of people rooting for them and another table with daggers for them in their beady eyes. When Yates finished he got the occasional shout of “boo!” and returned to the booth. Amy went up and performed Weird Al’s Star Wars themed parody of “American Pie”, called “The Saga Begins”. There was some light shouting from Loud Booth, mainly from the woman at the table. (Christi called her Teen Mom that night, so we’ll go with that.) Teen Mom shouted “why don’t cool people sing?” (zing!) and Amy got the occasional boo as well. “American Pie” is beloved by lots of people and it’s held in particularly high regard in the White Trash community (the “whiskey and rye” bit goes over a fucking storm) and I don’t know what they made of Amy’s song choice. Did they take it as a jab at their belief system? She did it in part to needle Loud Booth and I feel comfortable assuming they were sufficiently needled.
Okay, so Yates and Amy were done, it was time for the last song of the night. I walked to the mic and was ready to belt out Semisonic’s “Closing Time”. As I walked to get the mic, Skyler and Teen Mom started screaming at me.
Skyler: “You faggot! You fuckin’ faggot! You stupid cocksuckin’ faggot!”
Teen Mom: “Yeah, yer a fuckin’ faggot!”
(Craven sits in the booth looking somewhat embarrassed)
I picked up the microphone and elected to agitate. I didn’t give a shit if they called me a faggot. I’ve been called a faggot my entire life. I’m not gay but I’m the sort of person that gets called a faggot. I decided to have some fun with this.
Me: “Oh yeah, I’m a total faggot. I’m a big fucking faggot. Big cocksucking faggot. You wish you were as big a faggot as me.”
Skyler and Teen Mom were scared and baffled by this. Wasn’t I supposed to try and take a swing at them with a broken bottle of Labatt Wildcat? They were counting on me jumping in the booth and throwing punches. Instead I took the hardest insult in their repertoire and neutralized it. They kept shouting “faggot” at me. My backing music hit and I was going to sing my song. (I feel like Liza Minnelli saying that.)
I started singing “Closing Time”, but with improvised lyrics.
Sample lyric: “Closing Time, because you’re a homophobic prick.”
I kept building on that, changing the lyrics to be about how Skyler and Teen Mom (paraphrase alert) were self-loathing white trash that would die alone having led a life of emptiness and spite. I also may have made the occasional crack about meth. (Don’t quite remember for sure.) I spent years trying to be a competent battle rapper, but I found out I would be far better suited to going to pop songs for musical barbs. I’m not Nas, I’m Steely Dan.
Loud Booth was angry. Angry because I was (to them) a faggot, angry I wouldn’t fight them outside of song, angry because I was taunting them with a sense of rhythm and time I’ve never had before in music. I proceeded to escalate things. Escalation 1 was taunting Teen Mom by telling Skyler that’s she just jealous because I could suck a cock better than she could. Escalation 2 was when I made a crack about how Skyler will live and die in Saskatchewan and never leave for anything. This infuriated Sklyer.
Skyler (teeth grinding angry): “Is he from Saskatchewan?”
My Booth: “No.”
Skyler leapt out of the booth and reached back to punch me. Me, being a coward, backed up immediately. Skyler kept pulling back wanting to sock me in the face and prove whatever he need to prove and beat the shit out of me. He saw me backing up and saying I didn’t want to fight and took it as a victory.
Skyler: “That’s what I fucking thought. You ain’t gonna fucking fight me?”
Me: “No, I don’t want to fight you. Why would I want to fight you. I’m singing a song, you taunted me, I taunted back. No, I’m not going to fight you.”
My booth looked on in interest and wanting to get details so they could live-Tweet the preamble to me getting my ass kicked. Skyler kept walking toward me. He was furious that I wouldn’t fight him. I snuck in some light taunting but kept pushing my “no, I don’t want to fight agenda.” Teen Mom kept shouting from the booth. She was equally furious. I stood by the now empty DJ booth (thanks for backing me up DJ, whatever happened to the CM Punk bond?) and looked at Skyler. All five foot two inches of this guy wanted to slug it out, he needed to slug it out. I just assumed because I beat this guy verbally, he wouldn’t want to fight. Holy shit, I’m sheltered. I continued to try my taunt/peacemake technique. Nothing was really coming of it. Partially because whenever I addressed him or his booth, I was speaking into the microphone. I quickly realized I was operating in heckler control mode. He grabbed the mic from me and put it down. He kept screaming faggot and needed to fight.
The Eight Things Going Through My Head At This Point In Order Of Importance To Me At This Point
1) I don’t want to get punched in the face.
2) I don’t want to get punched in the face.
3) I don’t want injure my head. I’m shit at organizing recycling at my own pace, I couldn’t handle that in a higher pressure environment.
4) If anything happens I might not be able to follow through with moving to Toronto.
5) I don’t want to go to jail.
6) I don’t want to get punched in the face.
7) Is the McRib still available or has that promotion ended?
8) If I grab some of this equipment maybe I can bash him in the head and…man, I really don’t want him to punch me in the face.
Skyler kept stepping up in my face. Or chest. (I’m about six two. Even when I’m backing up.) In between screams of faggot, he informed “you don’t ever talk about someone’s mom or their old lady.” This point was important to Skyler. This was his golden rule: You don’t treat old ladies or moms like faggots. I kept trying to talk my way out of it.
I managed to get walk back to my booth (who are absolutely tickled pink by the ridiculousness in front of them). I stood at the edge of the table in a “can we go now?” fashion. I knew I was going to say something else that would lead to me escalating things further. I haven’t been in a fight since fourth grade and I’m not coming out of retirement at Sparky’s on the cusp of 2AM.
Teen Mom looked at me and continued screaming.
Teen Mom: “Yeah, you fucking fag! I’m a mom!” (dramatically waves her heavily bruised arms to point to herself) “I’m a mom! So shut your fucking mouth!”
Me: “I totally believe you’re mom. Trust me, I have no problem believing you have kids at home. I can totally picture you being a mom.”
Teen Mom eased up on the shouting a bit, mistaking my jabs for apologetic understanding. She doesn’t think it’s weird for a mom to be shouting slurs at a stranger during a bar’s closing time while her child’s at home. For her it’s par for the course.
My booth kept looking at what was going on and smirking at the insanity of it all. Yates referred to me as his “old lady” which cracked me up a bit. Tensions were cooling slightly. I thought for a second about asking the DJ if I could finish the song. Probably best to save it for another night. I managed to wrangle our booth into leaving. A couple weeks ago people liked us so much that we received a “please don’t go” chant while walking out the door. This time we walked out the door to a pair of hillbillies screaming “fucking walk away fucking faggots” while they sat in a bar they were semi-kicked out of about an hour earlier.
We went to Amy’s car. It was positively scenic when we first got in the venue. When we stepped out the Sparky’s entrance we saw that tree branches were strewn everywhere and homes were without electricity. While things were melting down inside, outside the storm made things look quasi-post-apocalyptic. We drove across town through intersections with no power talking about how Semisonic nearly led to a fistfight. The November Rain Proposal story was topped by the MacRae Nearly Got Beat Up At Karaoke story.
I’m going to do karaoke next week, but it’s going to probably be on the Saturday.