Sunday, March 2, 2014

Outro, the Karaoke Novel, Chapter Twenty: Commencement Bay

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            The holiday party is a bigger deal than I expected. The company is a small chain of sporting goods stores, and the boss is much like Scrooge’s Fezziwig, willing to open up the pocketbook come Christmastime. Only this boss is much better-looking.
            I’m all set up at the Tacoma Museum of Glass, inside the “hot shop,” where the artisans conduct demonstrations of glassmaking. The furnaces are on a sort of staging area, readily viewable from a bank of stadium-style seats. In between are sturdy metal tables where the hot-shoppers perform their hazardous tricks. Every item in sight is shiny and metallic; it’s like being on the inside of a giant industrial refrigerator. The ceiling is remarkably high and conical, designed to funnel nasty vapors toward the ventilators at the top. I was expecting the height to suck out all my sound as well, but the Museum allowed me to plug into their beautiful PA, and the results are astounding.
            Our Fezziwig – Scott Jenalyn – has also procured access to the museum galleries. The main gallery is filled with brightly colored forms resembling sea creatures – a style inspired by the hometown hero, Dale Chihuly. The smaller exhibit gallery features the work of a young Russian woman who concocts statues of clear, colorless glass. The figures are dressed in everyday clothing – waitresses, cops, even a group of girls playing basketball – and the verisimilitude is downright unsettling. You feel like you could sit down and have a conversation with one of them, if not for the fear that they might answer back.
            The capper to the evening is the mode of transport. After a sumptuous dinner in Gig Harbor, the workers are boarding Uncle Scottie’s yacht, crossing the sound and arriving at a dock a hundred yards from the museum entrance. (I’m now considering a career in sporting goods.)
            From my DJ table, I can see Ruby, returning from a nervous stroll around the galleries. This seems like such a small gig, but it’s been a while since she’s had a real audience. I have utter faith that she will be a knockout. And if anything preposterous happens, I’m sure the outfit will more than make up for it. Were it an exhibit, I would title it No One Says No to Mrs. Claus: a red fur miniskirt trimmed in leather, a red sequin top that leaves as little to the imagination as possible, and black knee-high boots with stiletto heels. If ever there were an incentive to be on the Naughty List… I might even be worried about her, but I’m sure it’s all for show; underneath the brass, Ruby is just another boring monogamist.
            “The acoustics in this place really suck,” she says. She’s descending the wide steps next to the seats, being very careful with her boots. “And I mean that literally.”
            “Not to worry. I have tapped into the magic forces of the Museum. You just unleash that rapturous voice of yours, and Mama will take care of the rest.”
            Ruby smiles, like she’s putting up a brave front. “It’s been a while.”
            “Oh save it, sister. You know and I know that the music will start and you will click in like you always do. If you freeze up, just flash ‘em your tits. You’re already halfway there.”
            “Ha! Use ‘em if you got ‘em, I always say. Maybe I’ll feel better if I go outside and look for the ship. Or not.”
            She’s looking over my shoulder at a strapping middle-aged man, wearing a Santa suit that looks like it was tailored by Armani. Instead of the bushy white beard, his is a well-trimmed silver, to go with a moussed head of same, crow’s feet to die for, and eyes of the most oceanic blue. This is our Fezziwig.
            “Scott! Hi.”
            “Ho-ho-how are ya?” he declares, trotting the steps.
            “How was the crossing?”
            “Brrr! Froze off my mistletoes.”
            “Some Santa you are. And aren’t you supposed to be fat?”
            “Not sporting-goods Santa! Sporting-goods Santa likes to work out.” He gives Ruby an appreciative look. “And who is this? My fourth wife?”
            “Well!” I say. “You certainly dress alike. This is your holiday chanteuse, Ruby.”
            “Joyeux Noel,” says Ruby, and reaches for Scott’s hand.
            “Ah!” says he. “All the best Mrs. Clauses are Jewish.”
            “Oy!” says Ruby. “And here I thought I was fully assimilated.”
            “A Christian icon should never admit this, but I’ve always had a profound weakness for the Hebrew goddesses.” His eyes are threatening to twinkle. “In fact, I married three of them. And sent most of my… income to… three of them.”
            “Hmm,” says Ruby. “This could be the the Reverse-Shiksa Syndrome.”
            Scott lets out a Santa-like roar. “And that is why I love them: that rapid-fire wit. Channy promises me great things from you.”
            “Oh God – more pressure. Where’s the rest of your crew?”
            “I thought it best that they view the galleries first. I’m thinking egg nog and expensive glass art is a bad combination.”
            “That’s why you’re the boss,” I say.

            I’ve never done a DJ gig before, and it does present some interesting adjustments. In karaoke, the relationship is automatic: they order the song, I play it. DJ’ing involves much more judgement, gauging the mood of a party and picking the music to match.
            The employees drift in from the galleries, looking a little imprisoned by their suits and dresses. I’m keeping things on the down-low, a mix of mellow jazz and Christmas tunes. Then I look up to find seven young adults gathered at my table. Their ringleader is a tall, lean white guy with a military haircut.
            “You got any Black-Eyed Peas?”
            “Oh! Um, sure. I didn’t know you were ready to dance.”
            “We was born ready, f’shizzle!”
            The white kids shore talk funny these days, I think, and slap on “My Humps.” I notice, also, that they are apostles of the latest dancing trend, which focuses all movement on the region of the buttocks. I throw on some Outkast, the Gorillaz, Eminem. A half-hour later, I look up to find an older manager type, looking forlorn.
            “Could you play something slow? I’d like to dance with my wife.”
            “Oh! Um, sure. Very next song.”
            I play “Lady in Red,” a sneaky reference to Ruby’s outfit. And I play slow songs until someone asks for “The Cha-Cha Slide,” “The Hustle” and “YMCA,” complete with spelling-through-extremities dance moves. Then I insist on “White Christmas” (Bing Crosby being a Tacoma boy), and everybody looks at me like I’m insane.
            So with this crowd, at least, DJ’ing is just as much servitude as KJ’ing – but servitude with no clear instructions. It’s a relief when we arrive at Ruby’s portion of the evening. Scott gives a holiday greeting that’s marvelously light on ego and oratorio (I’m beginning to consider the advantages of a May-December relationship), then Ruby takes a crowd of feuding dancers and zaps them into a classroom of teacher’s pets. Her “Christmas Song” is a velvet dream, as pitch-perfect as Nat King. She takes a moment to explain how “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is actually a sad song – that Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis is actually singing about being forced to leave her beloved Missouri immediately after the holidays. What’s amazing is that no one’s even singing along. Even through a fog of nog, our sporting-goods employees seem to understand that what they’re watching is theater.
            During the applause, I hear the past whispering in my ear. It says, “That is one fine damn singer.” When I turn to face the past, it’s Kai, wearing a grin as white as the snow in Bing Crosby’s dreams. So I stand, and give him a huge hug.
            “Kai! It’s so good to see you! And the question would be, what the hell are you doing here?”
            “I work for Scott. He’s a great boss. Shouldn’t you have some music on?”
            “Oh. Duh!” I slip on a filler disc of Christmas tunes. Fortunately, the next item on the agenda is a hot-shop demonstration. Two burly men in aprons have extracted long rods from the furnace, capped with honey-like gobs of molten glass. We head upstairs to the lobby, gravitating to a glass Christmas tree that looks more like a bristlecone pine – barren, gnarled limbs hung with figurines in various military uniforms.
            “So how are you?” I say. “What’s the new job?”
            He looks at me and just laughs.
            “What? What’d I say?”
            “I’m working in the mountaineering department.”
            So I look at him and laugh. “Do you even have any experience?”
            “I’ll tell you what I told Scott during my interview. Wouldn’t you want to buy your climbing gear from a genuine Sherpa?”
            “Your pizza from a guy named Luigi? Your Guinness from a guy named O’Reilly? So yea, I played the race card. But I do have a sincere interest. First chance I get, I’m scaling Rainier. Take a picture at the top, send it to Mom and Dad. So you’re DJ’ing now?”
            “First time. I like it, though. And I like the money.”
            Kai dons a calculating expression. “How did you get here tonight?”
            “Ruby. She lives up the hill from here, but she was so amped up, she insisted on being my driver.
            “How much gear do you have?”
            “Just the stuff on the table – and a couple CD cases. What’s up?”
            He just smiles, takes my hand and says, “Let’s dance.”
            When we enter, the hot-shop guys are still at it, clamping and bending the glass into something resembling an agave cactus. On the remaining half of the stage, a handful of dancers are waltzing to “Silver Bells,” including Scott and Ruby (I imagine red paint on her shoes). Kai strikes a posture of invitation, and I notice that he is not imprisoned by his suit at all. I take his raised hand, feel his other hand at my waist, and we’re off into the crowd. And he can waltz. Of course he can waltz.

            As a suitabley ironic finale, I play “Get Ths Party Started,” then proceed directly to my packing, slotting my CDs into their plastic pockets. I’m joined by Kai and a couple of young cohorts.
            “Channy, this is Jeremy and Sasha. They will be loading your stuff on the company van and meeting us in Gig Harbor. You, meanwhile, will be joining us for a cruise – that is, if you’d like to.”
            “Of course!” I say. I direct them to all the proper equipment, then track down Ruby to tell her she can leave without me. Soon I’m descending the wide steps of the museum to the dock, where the Designated Clipper is motoring up. Soon enough, we’re pulling into Commencement Bay and past the Brown’s Point Lighthouse. Though it’s absolutely freezing, I can’t resist standing on deck, connecting the Seuratian dots of Tacoma’s skyline as they fall and shimmy on the dark Puget water. Kai joins me and uses the cold (as I hoped he would) as an excuse to stand close and wrap me with an arm. The moment seems about right.
            “Kai, I wanted to thank you for the Purple Heart. It means so much to me. It would have meant so much to Harvey.”
            “It’s not for Harvey,” he says, rather abruptly. “The victim of suicide is not the one who commits it, it’s the ones he leaves behind. I will miss him, Channy, but I will never forgive him – not for what he did to me, not for what he did to you.”
            There’s something about this statement that seems rehearsed. As if he has had these thoughts many times, and has chiseled them down to these exact words. He must have known that we would eventually run into one another, that I would thank him for the medal. But his tone is unexpectedly intense. It reminds me that Kai, despite his seeming innocence, has witnessed events that I could not possibly imagine.
            “Are you all right, Channy?”
            I’m not sure if he means at this moment, or generally speaking.
            “Yes. I’m fine. And you’re very sweet.”
            The dots of Tacoma disappear into his dark eyes, and his lips – the ones I have thought about more times than I would care to admit – are alighting upon mine. A chamber in the doorlock of my mind clicks in like the lift of a lyric set carefully into the pocket of a song.

Photo by MJV

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