The spirits spew forth from a seemingly endless fountain into frosty frothy mugs as conversations grow bolder and more foolish. The air is stale with the familiar scent of disappointment and time lost that can never be bought back. Men and women past their prime attempt to mingle with a far younger crowd that can barely utter an audible or coherent sentence. Above the cacophonous clutter of feet, the spilling of beverages and behavior that would be deemed embarrassing in the hours that bare witness to the harsh light of day is the box. To the untrained eye this particular box seems to be nothing special at all; an older model that any average family or thrifty college student might be in possession of to watch their favorite program or pastime sporting event. What is different about this television set is that not only do you watch it, it watches you. It watches and it commands; it holds the puppet strings that make women and men alike turn into clownish caricatures of themselves, as it laughs all the while. A cruel demigod that turns years of repressed emotion and pain into a few fleeting moments of melody. After the novices stumble their way through a few rounds of one predictable refrain after another, the inevitable moment has come, Stan takes the stage. The younger crowd continues their unabashed binging as if nothing about the current atmosphere had changed at all. The seasoned veterans of the tavern on the other hand, dial their conversing down to a whispered hush and turn their attention towards the main event.
Stan is a very standard life form; if he were a household item, he’d probably come wholesale at CostCo. He stands with a less than subtle paunch at an unremarkable 6 feet 3.9 inches, though he often hunches when he is amidst large crowds such as these. The same dark leather jacket has been neatly adorned upon his person for almost ten years, but it looks as if it were less than a year old. His hairline is a train that starts at the base of his neck but runs out of steam near the top of his crown. His brow is tempered with a drop or two of perspiration and his upper lip barely holds onto what can not quite be categorized as a mustache. An average looking fellow is Stan, and he is easily absorbed into the masses of the pub; but then he picks up the microphone and the tawdry music begins to play.
The accompaniment is akin to a one man cover band with an electric keyboard. The box glares down at Stan, his most formidable challenger yet. Stan takes his breath on cue, a routine that is subconscious, and exhales a smooth ballad. The beginners of the bar quiet their discussions and tilt their heads, as if perking their ears will truly provide answers to the mystery of who this dull wonder is. The regulars sit back in proud satisfaction, with a look on their faces that resembles opening up a Christmas present and getting exactly what they wanted. Stan bellows one mighty rhapsody after another, surprising the crowd with his melodious bravado. Finally the pace is slowed down from a high-octane roller coaster to the calm movements of a Ferris wheel. Stan finishes the evening channeling Sinatra telling the crowd that he had indeed done it “My Way.”
The crowd applauds hoots and hollers for the local hero, who passes the microphone off to the next victim of the box who has been anxiously waiting in the wings. Stan walks away from the stage and congeals into the crowd once again. He pulls up a stool at the bar and gets another drink from the bartender who has been serving him for a few years now, but whose name still escapes Stan. The bartender congratulates Stan on a job well-done, as he does every week. Across the bar stands a pale woman who gives off an understated elegance, her name is Caroline. Stan takes a glance that is inappropriately long for a standard glance. The bartender gives a chuckle and asks Stan why he doesn’t simply go over and talk to the woman he’s been so in love with for so long. Stan doesn’t answer. He finishes his drink, nods at the bartender and walks towards the exit of his weekly haunt. Why doesn’t he simply talk to her? Because he just doesn’t have the words; the karaoke box does.