Last saturday evening (not the saturday evening that just went by, but the one before it) I was in Front Royal, VA visiting family. Two of my cousins and a bunch of friends decided to go to a swing dance. My cousins had been to one before, at the same place, and said it was a lot of fun: live orchestra, lots of young people and (best part for them) guys who knew how to dance and would ask the girls to dance. This is, apparently, a rarity. Guys wander into ballroom, dragged by their girlfriends, dance an obligatory dance and then, shocked at the sight of people spinning and swinging around the room, wander off to a shadowy corner to stand awkwardly with their hands behind their backs. The two gentlemen who actually know how to dance then have their pick of the bevy of ladies standing in a line along the walls staring wistfully out onto the floor.
Drawn by the promise of dozens (and dozens) of graceful young Fred Astaires, my cousins were able to get a party of five ladies together. Drawn by the fact that these five ladies were going, myself and one other guy decided to go as well.
Unfortunately that was a bit of a disappointment. The half hour lesson at the beginning of the evening taught us exactly three moves, all of which I already knew, and none of which were adequate to maintaining a dance for more than one song. Three moves runs out pretty quickly, and after that Mark Twain’s dictum becomes your only life-line, “Just move your feet and keep the conversation good.” Although I imagine that worked out better for Mark Twain than it does for the average joe.
Then there was the band. The band itself wasn’t so bad. The singer was. If you cast your eye over this photograph to the left, you will see a pink, sparkly creature with a really bad blonde hairdo. She looked and sounded exactly like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Lena Lamont, which got on my nerves after about the first two seconds. Rather a pity, as their selections were great. I like big band music, but what this poor lady did to the music was heartbreaking. Obviously at some point in her life someone told her that she could sing and she started singing with a band. I can imagine the looks the musicians must have given each other, the whispers, “Who is this doll?” “I don’t know. She sounds awful, though.” “You should probably go tell her that.” “Why don’t you go tell her? Why do I have to be the bad guy?” “I’m not telling her.” “Let’s just let her keep going for a bit, maybe she’ll get better.” And here it is, years and years later, and she is still going and apparently hasn’t gotten much better. Or (frightening thought) she has gotten better.
The dancers outside our group were mostly old folks, 60+ years old. Let me tell you, some of them knew their business, especially the men. I plotted a direct correlation between the presence of suspenders and spats and the level of dancing ability. A guy in just slacks and a button up oxford shirt might know a move or two, but most likely he was just fudging his way around the floor. Throw on a bow tie and his skills were likely to improve by about 22%, both in number of moves known, and smoothness of execution. If he was wearing suspenders you could expect moves, smoothness and a little sway in the hips, a touch of spring in the step, some sprightliness in the way he grasped his fair partner’s hand. But if he was wearing spats!? Wow. Between dances I stood to one side in my cargo khakis and black polo shirt, and stared in awe at these masteres of style. Someday, when I am sixty and have a totally sweet salt and pepper moustache, I too will wear spats and suspenders and unleash the swing dancing magic!
Unfortunately for the ladies in our party a good number of these fabulous gentlemen were a bit snobby about it, sprinkling cool, condescending compliments or saying things like, “Come on, you can do better than that.” My friends were, unfortunately ignorant of the honor being bestowed upon them by such notice, so they decided to leave. And we didn’t get our $20 back.
However, it being still early in the evening we had to find another activity. It made no sense to have driven an hour and a half out there for less than an hour of dancing and then turn around and drive back. So a vote was taken and we decided to find a karaoke bar. One of the ladies with a phone that can do things when you talk to it found us a karaoke bar fifteen minutes away that would allow patrons under 21 years old, so we loaded up in the vehicles and headed out. the lady with the intelligent phone was leading the way, but she couldn’t find the place. Her phone dropped us right in the middle of a little Korea Town.
As I looked around I thought, “I wonder if this is a noray bong.” (That is a really bad transliteration of the Korean word for karaoke, which literally means “Song room”.) I looked around the plaza, and sure enough there was a building with the words “Noray Bong” on it in Korean (I took Korean for six months in the Q course). We drove past it once, and the girls got sketched out. We drove past it a second time and they got sketched out even more. One of the girls said, “Wow, this place looks like a really cheap, sleazy strip-joint.” And it did.
There was a neon light over the front, and through the windows we could see a counter/bar and a deserted table area. From the front area a psychadelically blue-lit passage led back into a shadowy back area with little doors leading off on either side into individual rooms. The rooms had padded leather benches and mirrors all around the sides, with a table in the center. Oh, and the rooms were rented by the hour. So yes, it did have some resemblance to the sleazy underworld establishments you see on movies and whatnot. The group was about to decide to give it up and find somewhere else to go but I said, “Whoah, guys, this is Korean karaoke. It isn’t like American karaoke. In America there is just one karaoke machine in the bar and one person at a time goes up and inflicts his voice upon everyone else. In Korean karaoke the group rents out the room and they go in and sing to each other for as long as they like without bothering or being bothered by anyone else. Plus you can order food and drinks. At least let’s go in ask how much it is for an hour.” So we did. (The clerks eyes went almost round when I asked him in Korean how much it was an hour.)
It was only fifty dollars an hour, which is not that much divided between seven people. We had some kimbap (kind of like Korean sushi) and some non-alcoholic beverages, and had a good time goofing around with each other. Karaoke is always more fun when you’re all friends and everyone can sing pretty well. Although I must say, the group-impromptu-choral arrangement of Bohemian Rhapsody could have been better. It was a good laugh for everyone though. And no alcohol was involved. So a night that looked like it was going to be awesome turned out to be aweseome, but in a way that no one at all had expected.
The moral of this story is that we all sing better than the sequined lady, but she gets paid for it and we don’t. But we have more fun with it, I bet, so all in all I would rather be us. Wouldn’t you?