Thursday, February 3, 2011

Play Some Manilow



This morning on the way to work, my memory was jarred back to a bar at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe. It was the late 80s and I was there with friends, drunk and looking for authentic, unaware kitschy entertainment. At this time there were still leftover entertainers from the late 60s and 70s, peddling hipster Vegas schlock for the old people who appreciated “quality entertainment.” I was looking for someone who closed their eyes while singing Manilow.

In the corner of the casino, a half-sphere bar formed a moat around a stage. On stage, an attractive woman in her 30s, with an ankle length evening gown and shoulder length feathered hair was singing a Phil Collins song. A few feet behind her and to the right, an on older guy with a mustache played bass. Behind him was a stack of rack mount effects that covered all of the other instrumentation. Their roles in the band were obvious: singer and the guy that did everything else. If I were really drunk, they could’ve been The Captain and Tennille.

We sat down at the bar and ordered beers. We were already drunk and acting a little braver and louder than normal. Since it was a casino, nobody seemed to notice or we weren’t at the point where guys in solid colored blazers and ear pieces looked our way.

My demise started when the singer politely asked, “What do you want to hear?” My eyes widened like saucers and I screamed, “Manilow! Play some Manilow!” It didn’t stop there. Nearly jumping out of my seat, I listed every Manilow song I knew: “Mandy, Weekend in New England, I Write the Songs.” That was all I knew and I kept on repeating them until she acknowledged me. Everybody sitting around the bar, about 10 of us were aware that I wanted to hear some Manilow…in a bad way!!

Without looking at me, she politely addressed my suggestions:

“Wow, I thought the kids were into Guns and Roses these days.” Her hand gently caressed the mic. She glanced over my way and smiled. I was sassed.

I exploded, throwing my hands up, indignant that she thought I/we liked Guns and Roses. By our dress, I figured it was obvious that we were into indie rock, or college rock as it used to be called. They launched into Sailing by Christopher Cross. I closed my eyes and mouthed the words. My indignation calmed with the first chorus. Order was restored. I looked around and there were no blazers near.

We settled in and the music became secondary to our drunken conversations. As with most drunks, we made plans that wouldn’t happen and enjoyed the moment, aware of only ourselves.

During an instrumental interlude, the singer sashayed toward the center of the bar. I ended our conversation, concentrating on what was taking place. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw a man hand the bartender a folded note. The bartender gave it to the singer; she looked at it and nodded, acknowledging the guy. This was all too much for me to handle. I exploded again, screaming, “What does it say? What does it say?” I turned to my friends, who didn’t witness the transaction and said, “Man, that dude gave her his hotel key,” knowing quite well that he handed her a slip of paper. I continued screaming, “What does it say? What does it say?,” interspersed with looks of astonishment to who would look my way – as if to say, “Can you believe what is happening?” Of course, this innocuous transaction - he probably was friend – was all fabricated in my drunken state.

Eventually, she had to recognize me and my concerns. She turned, and in her ever-so polite manner said, “It says that the young man at the bar with long hair and black clothing (me) is an ex-convict.” The 10 people or so at the bar, and the bartender broke into laughter, along with my friends. Once again, she sassed me. Touché. Being mostly a friendly drunk and one who enjoys a fair amount of ribbing, I climbed on the bar and waved to the crowd, bowing in respect - my dirty, size 11 leopard print converse leaving prints where they balanced on the wet bar top.

After everyone had some sort of verbal shot at me, I climbed back down, expecting to resume my night. From behind, 2 men in blazers approached and said, “That’s it, Buddy.” I’d been looking at them all night and now they were right behind me grabbing my shoulders.

As they led me away, my friends laughed along with the handful of drinkers. I waved and smirked at the singer. She nodded and said, “Back to prison.”

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