Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chapter 17 Karaoke

By Gary O'Brien

Now I could sit here and write that nothing happened between myself and this gorgeous twenty-two year-old surfer girl who was overcome with lust after nearly losing her life in hurricane swell, half naked and so amped-out with emotion she bashed back the equivalent of four shots of rum without even stopping to twitch to show it stung.
I could write that, and expect you to believe it. And maybe you might. Maybe you might buy it for the sake of decorum. You might suggest that members of a marketing focus group at the publishing houses are listening, and they would rather we not get into the icky stuff, from the male point of view.
You’ve noticed these days; the sex in book stores is always from the female point of view? There’s always some two-dimensional, dumbass guy in a kilt with rock-hard abs and long flowing hair yada-yada. He’s always in the midst of some temper tantrum going on and on, about those in power who are hunting him down – and buddy, I don’t know why that is, only that you killed the friar, burned down a castle, and took a maul axe to six of the king’s rent collectors - and then in the midst of all his kvetching about all this oppression he's under, he just does the girl; does the hell out of her on an old wooden table, or up in the bell tower, or out in the barn while the king's men look high and low for our boy. And guess what? Hey Mikey, she likes it!
Hah, try that routine at a diversity conference these days!
But it’s all good, because, gals need to read that sort of thing every now and then, I suppose. They pour the bathwater, season it with rose petals, bring in some candles, and that special, little friend, the custom-made shower attachment. We men read something that actually excites our organs, a sex story told for the benefit of or from our point of view, and where are we? Right, we’re in that secret place with the door locked; dusty, musty, small; and someone is knocking on that door aren’t they, asking us what’s taking so long, and why the hell are we in there? And we’re not reading Highland Rogue or whatever, either, are we? What we’re reading has a caption, not a paragraph, because what we are reading is actually a photograph; something mommy really hates because the girl in the centerfold looks nothing like mommy. Who does she look like? She looks just like the girl in the tent with me at that moment.
So what happens next?
As my old catholic school priest Father Martin Coughlin, would say, I was in “the occasion of sin” "de okaaaaaaayshun of sin" so deeply now there were at least four thousand years of purgatorio already down on my account, compounding those years being clicked onto the meter for every second I didn’t give a shit, multiplied by some Catholic coefficient, created by bean-counting Angels and Saints, that I actually was getting off on the thought of it. Father Coughlin had a formula there somewhere that required a TI-30 calculator and a slide rule, but you could actually figure it out, how many years in Purgatory, at the gates of Hell, in the lowest rung of Hell, so on and so forth. And all sins were compounded like interest based on how many seconds, minutes and hours you remained, “in the occasion of sin” AKA getting dragged right along with the crowd and enjoying every minute of it.
She looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. She took the alcohol and the cotton, and began dabbing my scrapes with them. They stung hot at first so she blew on them, one after the other.
Her hurting me, ever so slightly, was seriously erotic. As we knelt in her tent she looked up at me with those soulful eyes; eyes red and teary, placed a hand to the side of my face, leaned in and kissed me, then kissed me again; with me taking and tasting just a bit more of her mouth this time, then once again.
She guided me back down onto her sleeping bag with her fingertips, and pulled my bathing suit down. She put a finger over her lips as if to say, “shhhhh, I don’t even want to hear it. Don’t you DARE!” My hands reached up for her. Her eyes rolled back and closed, her head rolled back, chin went up…
“Oh my God,” she said in surprise. “Oh my …God!” trembled a little.
We shifted stance. I could sense she knew what was coming and she wanted it.
I tried to ignore the languid arch of her back, the tan, mahogany runnel where the strong muscles connected to her spine. For another second or two, I shut out the image of the sparse dusting of blonde peach-fuzz, and sun freckles on her shoulders covered in strands of salty blonde hair, carelessly flung to one side revealing her neck muscles, her strong angular chin jutting proudly beneath that mouth, those eyes closed in sleepy concentration. I pretended for another second or two that I wasn’t excited by that tan-line above still-cool flesh, and the Navajo sand painting tattoo, all of it covered in a dusting of dried sea spray, all of it such an amazing offering..
I bent down kissing her back and neck, and whispered prayerfully into her ear but she looked back at me with her angry eyes as if to say: “That’s not what I am after and you know it!”
In the next instant we were making noises that surely could be heard at fifty paces, traversed the tent from one side to the other, and jammed ourselves into the rayon fabric of the wall and floor before letting go of it all. Sounds came up; bellowing like things of the forest gone mad. I had hunched and crunched so hard on the final go the hamstring on my left leg had seized up. I rolled out and flopped on the hard damp nylon floor and swore as I straightened the leg. She squished herself onto me then snuggled in close.
“Holy goddamn….shit!” she whispered.
I had gotten it right, apparently.
Like me, she was a connoisseur of fine swear words; religious icons said in conjunction with unseemly acts. Must be a recovering Catholic, I decided. The right thing in moments like these, I supposed. What else could you say? Blaspheming post sex had the effect of ejaculating the last of all those nasty thoughts like mini-exorcisms.
“Christ a fuckin’ mighty….that was good!” I added, to show her I approved and that I too could add eons to my damnation bar-tab without batting and eye.
“Houston, this is Tranquility Base; the Eagle has landed.”
“What?” she asked. The reference lost.
“Never mind,” I answered, and we drifted off to sleep.

When we woke the angle of the sun was low on the horizon. People in the neighboring tent gave me a sidelong glance as I peeked out then retreated. The list of sprained body parts included my left hamstring and my neck so I laid back down.
She poured a stinging rum and coke for each of us; warm heaven in a glass.
“Oh that’s good. The old body isn’t responding…plus all these damned sand-burns on my back.”
Trish handed me a little pill.
“Something like that. It’s a painkiller I use for a knee injury.”
“I got a little weed if you want some,” she added. All that seawater had actually scorched her voice, reminding me I had a date with a karaoke machine.
“I have to sing tonight. Can’t smoke anything before I sing, dear. Screws up the voice,” I said. “You want to come?”
“Karaoke contest. I sort of need the money. You should come and watch. It’ll be fun. I’ll sing to you. You’ll bring me luck.”
“Yeah, really. It’s the least I can do,” I said, brushing the wispy strands of blonde from her eyes. And they really were pretty, those eyes.
“I don’t know, having a guy sing to me. That’s soooo like we’re dating or something. Don’t take it wrong…”
“No need to explain,” I said with a smile. She had no idea how young and foolish she sounded. The intimacy of some old crooner singing to her was too much to stomach. Yet what we had just done….
“Oh look. Now I’ve made you all sad ‘n moopy. I’ve hurt your feelings.”
“No, no….It’s alright,” I said, pretending to be more “moopy” than I actually was. Christ, the word was moopy and she used it. Not only that, it worked in that context.
“Look, I’m sorry,” she whined. “Sure, hey, I’ll go…”
Then I let the cat out of the bag by pretending to actually cry.
“You’ve made me so moopy! All I want to do is stay here and moop!”
“Oh screw you, you bastard,” she said hitting me in the shoulder.
“Too late!”
“I can’t believe you.”

Yeah, the guilt. It came but I tried to ignore it.
In my defense I say I was in survival mode, the time when the three F’s are hammering your brain. Have you been through something like this? No? So pull the PC stick out of your ass and deal with it.
And there was more that I had to do to detract from the weight of my soul. Yes more. I rubbed my eyes and my temples. It had to be done quickly, before she looked.
While sweet, gorgeous, innocent little Trish was showering and brushing her teeth in the communal facilities, I did something horrible: I switched my Florida license plate for her Virginia plate on the back of her white Jeep Cherokee. Yes, for survival’s sake; for the sake of the progression of this story, so that I might escape to the latter reaches of this book before being incarcerated, I sprinted back to my campsite, used a Philips head screwdriver, removed the plate switched it with hers, and sprinted back to her tent. And I was reasonably sure she didn’t see me do it.
She wouldn’t know the first thing. That way, when the authorities asked her why she had given me her license plate, they would be greeted with genuine surprise. I wanted them to see the betrayal written in those blue eyes of hers. There would be no question that she hadn’t been the victim and not an accomplice. It struck me how good I was becoming at making such huge rationalizations.
The decision to take my van and not her car was risky. License plate or no, they were looking for that van. Dan had given me the signal. I should have packed my shit and moved on immediately. But I was dead in the water without more cash. I had $200 left, along with some bluefish and redfish filets. I would not complete my mission with the resources I had. The cooler went into the van, as did my notebook computer. I left my tent standing, though, satisfied there was no sign anyone was searching through the park just yet. I showered and changed.
Fortunately the bar was jam-packed. Cars, vans and trucks were everywhere. I only hoped the ruse worked and that the van was well hidden in plain sight.
Trish looked lovely. Although her voice had gone so horse at this point she could barely speak above a whisper. She was content with the plastic cup of beer I bought for her. She sat on a stool outside the bar on the deck and stared through the window as I made it to a table near the karaoke machine.
As I joined the line of hopefuls signing up, paying the $10 fee to enter the contest, I was amazed to see her actually spurning the advances of several good looking young men. She sat there and shook her head, like “no, no…not it. Go away.”
These guys would then look over at me as if realizing “Oh, there’s dad looking at her. No wonder.”
Dad. That’s who they thought I was.
The contest had rules. “Country or Southern Rock Only! No Repeat Songs! No Exceptions!”
Male and female winners would each receive $500 cash. There was a $250 runner up prize for both categories. A panel of five local judges included three professional singers from bands well known in the Carolinas, and a former Country music legend, all of whom I had never heard of.
Half the contestants would be eliminated on the first round, which would be winnowed down to ten, then five, then two. The remaining two would enter into a final round where the rules would be announced. This was very involved. I had never seen or heard of such a thing before. Apparently they had been at this for a number of years and knew what they were doing.
“NO EXCEPTIONS!” had the “this means you” ring to it obviously designed to keep everyone in line. Did they have dead cats or chickens they meant to fling at you if you broke into “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel? The way those rules were printed in red, they just might.
I took my place beside Trish with a karaoke songbook, desperately searching for songs by The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the like.
Trish watched me furiously leaf through the book and said with a laugh; “so, this is what you do in your spare time?”
“No. I’m a writer. I need money to get home again.”
“What about your credit cards. Certainly you have a few of those?”
“Everything’s maxed-out to hell. I’m screwed unless I win some money here.”
“Interesting,” she said with a smile.
“I mean, you don’t know any of these people. They’re all from around here or nearby and here you come, Mr. Florida, absolutely convinced you have a chance to win some of this money here. Like, no way in hell you can lose.”
“Yeah, I’m just a rebel, I guess. Always have been…”
“Well, you’re confident. Which is saying something. I couldn’t stand up in front of all these people,” she said, trailing off to a cough.
I stopped and stared at her. Was she being serious?
“I just watched you drop in on the biggest, nastiest, most bent-out-of-shape wave I think I have ever seen anyone attempt, and you’re saying you’d be terrified of what these people would say about your singing?”
“You got it. People scare me. This takes guts. I don’t know if you realize it or not, Gary, but these people are crazy. Some of them can be dangerous. And you’re talking about money involved here. I’d bet you there are a few of them here trying to win some make-it-home money too.”
I looked back down into the karaoke book.
“What makes a writer head off to North Carolina without enough money to get home to Florida again? What’s that about? It’s not a fight with you wife, either? C’mon, you can tell me. I went singing with you didn’t I? Did more ‘n that back in the tent.”
“Trish, honey, you don’t want to know. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”
“Try me.”
“I’m a writer yes, but I’m also a guy with problems with the law and a task to accomplish. I have issues, you see.”
There was a long pause as she stared at me, obviously trying to judge whether or not I was being serious.
“Issues, huh? Well I have issues too. One of them is assholes who con me into going on dates then won’t come clean with me. You’ve got one more shot at it here, Mr. Man.”
“Nice, sweetheart but…”
“Listen, if you don’t tell me, I’m gonna act like I’m your niece and tell all these nice southern folks you raped me. How would you like THEM apples?”
I set my beer down beside hers, held her little hands in mine and did my best. I told her what I could. It took about five minutes. She laughed in smiled in all the right places. For some reason this whole thing turned her on.
“See? That wasn’t so hard, was it Gary?”
I looked down at the karaoke book and tried to focus. Damn, she was making it hard to find my center and I really needed to if I expected to have a chance in Hell at….
“I thought it might be something like that. Don’t worry, Gary. I’m not going to turn in the man who saved my life.”
I looked up at her and she was actually hurt by my earlier evasiveness. She was further wounded by the fact I thought she might turn me in. Her emotions ran hot and cold in a flash. Maybe she had bumped her head after all.
“I’m sorry, Trish. I didn’t mean anything by it. Trusting people has been difficult lately. Please forgive me.”
“You should try talking to your wife like that more often,” she said, sipping her beer. “Probably work out for you.”
“Let me ask you something. Why did you want to make it with me? Why did we do that back there?”
“Because I was …I really wanted to and whether you know it or not, you’re kind of…”
“Kind of what?”
“You mean, I really have to say it?”
“Say what?”
“It’s like this. Some girls like older men. I’m one of them I guess. I never made it with an older man, until now. I’ve been turned on by the thought of doing it. It was something I wanted to do and so I did it.”
“Well, how was it?”
“It was interesting, to say the least.”
“I don’t usually do it like that. I’m usually gentler.”
“As you guessed I wasn’t really into a tender moment thing either. “
“Oh boy and howdy…”
“Besides, we always have later, after you’re done singing to me,” she said. “Maybe that’ll be interesting too.”
“I promise, I’ll try not to fall in love with you, Gary. If that’s what you’re worried about,” she said grabbing me around the neck suddenly and kissing me on the cheek.
And she was crying. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with her.
“Don’t ask. Cause I don’t know either; just hug me,” she said.
I got through the first round easy enough, singing that old Eagles standard Take it Easy, which seemed to please everyone and surprise a few people at the same time. It took an hour to winnow out those members of the crowd who had been drinking all afternoon and were doing this on a dare.
The women got through their end of the contest rather quickly as about half were eliminated from not reading the rules. All of them wanted to sing the same Shenia Twain song Feel Like a Woman; and put up a huge stink when the judges wouldn’t go for it. The rules were clearly printed, no repeats in the first rounds. Apparently this was the only song the women knew and that happens at Karaoke sometimes; the singer knows and specializes in one and only one song, which they sing badly after drinking and coaxing.
Three were thrown out of the bar and the parking lot. A Dare County Sheriff’s Deputy had to restore order. Five contestants remained, most of whom seemed so shocked at the near riot, they obviously didn’t know whether or not they wanted to continue.
Contest judges decided to bring back the good feeling by deciding on a winner among the women as soon as possible. So quickly, five women became three, who battled it out admirably through three songs and all were awarded $250. The judges decided not to enter the final round with the female contestants, as “the rules were different.”
The contestants seemed thrilled all the same.
So, ten of us guys remained. We stood there in line waiting for a word from the bar manager and the sponsor. Both of whom wanted assurances that we all understood the judges’ decisions were final, it was a game after all, and there was no call for the sort of behavior displayed by “some of the gals.”
We all shook our heads to the affirmative.
During the next round I was selected to sing last, based on alphabetical order, which, I could deal with and besides it gave me a chance to check out the competition. I came to the sad conclusion that all of these guys could really sing so I had to make it damned good if I wanted to remain in contention.
Well I chose an old standard from my repatroire back from Internet days, called The River by Garth Brooks. This was about the same time I was longing for my karaoke queen to come back into my life, after I had booted her out of, then invited her back, then booted her out, then, of course booted her out for good following the phone call to our cell while we wandered the mall.
It had been a shameful affair. More than a one-niter, for sure.
But she had introduced me to that song and it was a sure fire winner with southerners. It was just obscure enough that they went “oh, yeah, I remember this. This was a kick ass song.”
Good ole Garth Brooks did it. And for some reason I found his phrasing pleasing and somewhat easy to mimic.
As I was singing, I thought about the woman; about telling her she should get on with her life and not wait for anyone, especially not me, or that boyfriend of hers who couldn’t commit. It was what the song said. You don’t sit along the shoreline and say you’re satisfied.
I was doing a damned good job with the song when they came in, the law dogs. I had been dead-on, concerning Ms. Guzman. She was very pretty. Two other agents were with her. They weren’t hiding the fact they were law, even Feds. They ambled up to a table where some tourists just left and sat, then ordered a pitcher of beer. They looked frustrated. One wore the blue parka with the big FBI letters on the back.
It had obviously been a long day for them. I heard one of them say to one of the patrons; “Hey even we need to grab a drink every now and then.”
Ms. Guzman took out an envelope and started leafing through it as she spoke with her fellow agents. It was my dossier. She never once looked up to the stage so, for the moment, I was hidden in plain sight. I finished the song, everyone applauded and the announcer said “Good job, Larry,” and I wiped my brow. Thankfully, I left my middle name with the judges and not my first.
Trish smiled at me as they announced I had made it into the final round.
Several sheriff’s vehicles pulled into the parking lot. You could see large fire trucks and Eastern Carolina utility vehicles amassing out on Route 12. Apparently our watering hole was turning into a command center of some kind. But for what?
The announcement made it clear.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Dare County has asked me to advise everyone that a hurricane warning is now in effect for eastern Carolina, due to Claudine. A midnight curfew goes into affect and we should expect a mandatory evacuation order for the Outer Banks sometime around dawn. Sorry to have to break it to you. Let’s give a hand for our last contestants, we should be able to make this final round before they chase us out of here. At least we’ll get this thing done.”
Well, dangerous Dan had indeed been dead on target. He said it was coming, and now, here was the proof.
As it grew darker outside you could even see that the wind had picked up considerably. I looked over to the television set just above the bar and sure enough, there was a Doppler radar picture of the thing like a giant, multicolored pinwheel cookie churning toward the shore. The sound had been turned down but you could see the weatherman there with his pointer, walking back and forth in front of the camera making a swooping motion with his arms. He did it once, then, once more for effect. You didn’t need to hear to know what he was saying.
“Yep, here she comes. You can see that eye-wall forming and whoosh, all this upper level air, whoosh, is going to steer her right into the coast. So, you folks out along the banks, you need to be the first ones taking cover, getting your supplies together and getting off the islands because, Claudine is a big, big girl. And she’s not happy.”

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