Stood Up at Marylin’s

With the shadows of K street splayed across the sidewalk, and crusty vagrants glaring hungrily from bus stop benches, there was little hope for what I was doing. It was 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday and my friend, Ashley, had given me a summons to karaoke night at Marilyn’s. It wasn’t a thrilling idea to begin with, karaoke being my least favorite way to waste time, but feeling an eminent mugging in the works, I cursed under my breath. This had better be good.

Various reviews claimed Marilyn’s karaoke was the best in Sacramento. Not that it made any difference, Ashley went with her friends every Tuesday. It was their thing.

I was only riding on the coattails of the princess.

Approaching the venue, I was slightly relieved in avoiding the unwanted encounter with pan-handlers and shiesty street scallions along the way. There was a time when I would have enjoyed meeting the extreme misfortune of society, but this was not it. I could finally hear the music, and really just wanted to see my friend.

As I walked through the faux entrance of the building, I hesitated at the sight of a concrete staircase, and a winding walkway leading down to an open patio between two buildings. Various large tropical plants lined the way; palm fronds dipping low, the occasional bromeliad sending little shoots in many places, and a ripening bunch of bananas forming with the signature red flower dangling below. Apart from the unusual tropical landscaping, which made the patio feel like less of a side-alley than it really was, I met the gestures of many gratified smokers. No Ashley.

The doorman asked for ID. Given.

“How’s the night going?” I asked, in an attempt to break his hum-drum of idleness.

He appeared suddenly vitalized. “Actually, it’s hoppin’ in there tonight. Really, really good.”

With a half-nod I continued into the building. Inside I could see what the newspapers had been talking about, and what the doorman confirmed. It was quite the popular place on Tuesdays. The bartender was running around, the barback was sweating, and girls were dancing suggestively before the stage.

I looked around for Ashley and caught some askew glances from people peering back. It was mostly dark, so from necessity I moseyed around, looking like a lost tourist. I circulated twice before I realized she wasn’t there. I grabbed a seat at the bar and ordered a Sierra Nevada. Then the stage began to fill up. There was about to be a live performance.

I suddenly noticed the instruments on stage. Obviously no karaoke machine. When the band was fully assembled, they called out someone’s name and that person went up on the stage and began singing into the mic.

In seconds I forgot all about Ashley. Live band karaoke was unheard of! It sent me reeling against its functionality. How could these musicians know all of the songs people wanted to sing to? Was there a limited selection of songs, or were these guys absolute musical geniuses? I drank some beer and fell into the state of catharsis that comes from being presented with the unexpected.

My phone rang. Ashley. She’s not coming. What, why? Baking cookies! Lame. . .

“I’m sorry. Go find my friends. You’ll still have a good time,” she chirped.

Miffed, I countered, “Why don’t you tell your friends to find the one guy sitting at the bar alone drinking a beer and looking pathetically denied.”

She stifled a laugh. “Okay, bye.”

In less than a minute a high boisterous voice caught me off-guard as I was raising my glass to my face.

“Are you Chris?” questioned a sloshed curly blond.

She was so loud and drew so much attention that I had to hesitate and look away. There was a table of guys next to me who saw my expression and laughed. One of them, lured by the girl’s beauty, drunkenness, or both, offered, “I can be Chris if you want.”

She sneered at him with repugnance, and turned to address me. “I’m Ashley’s friend, Emily.”

Giving in, I shook her hand lightly. “Topher. Nice to meet you.”

“Topher?” She squeaked.

I was tired of explaining it. “It’s Irish for Christopher.”

After agreeing that it was messed up to be stranded there by Ashley, the energetic drunk girl took my hand and led me to a group of girls sitting in front of the stage. Introductions were made, and names were instantly forgotten.

There amongst a litter of drunken chippies, I watched several inebriated styles of dance, and a flux of different singers take the stage. Looking beyond the flailing arms and slashing kicks of Emily and the rest of her pride, I witnessed a batch of very talented singers at their personal best. The ranges of the songs were as dynamic as the people who took the stage. Gnarles Barkley gave way to Johnny Cash, which turned into The Doors, Foo Fighters, and so on.

It was after a succession of several songs when I realized the musicians were performing with prompts, the same as the singers. They each had a small video monitor in front of them, beaming the notes straight across their faces. As soon as this registered to me, the magical veneer was washed away. These people were not musical prodigies, they were just musicians who could sight-read. What an overestimation on my part.

Actually, I still had to tip my hat to the performers. Some of the songs they were asked to play probably held little interest to them, and had never been performed by them before. They were playing remarkably cohesively, given the circumstances. Being adept at sight-reading is a generous gift by itself, but to do it with so many nonsensical songs, they had apparently mastered the skill. During the next break, I had to talk to them.

Seeing they deserved credit, I asked them their names. It was Adam Donald on acoustic guitar and backup vocals, Scotty George on guitar, Gerry Pineda on bass, Larry Schiavone on drums and backup vocals, and David Van Dusen on keys and backup vocals. An amalgamation of abilities and skill, they were also really nice.

After they played a few more sets, I had sufficiently been indulged with enough pale ale and dancing drunk girls to fill my quota, the night leveled out. I watched one more soulful performance from a talented singer named Aiesha, followed by drunken Emily’s last-ditch effort to take the limelight. I closed out my tab, which was astoundingly less depressing than I had expected, and waved goodbye.

Stunned by the several factors that made my first time at Marilyn’s a memorable one, I strolled home with a grin from ear to ear, repeating the question, Did that just happen?

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