A song for you

“Are you going to write about this on your blog?”  Bennett asked, then hesitated: “Huh, I’ve never asked you that before.”   We were standing on the subway platform a few minutes after being asked to leave Karaoke Toto by the cops who were raiding it. I told Bennett that I felt like I probably had to.

It had taken us a few minutes to realize that the raid was happening.  You know that awkward moment when someone pokes his head in the door of your private karaoke room and it’s usually the front desk attendant telling you that your allotted time is up, or seeing if you need more beer?  This was like that, except slightly more awkward because instead of the guy who’d ushered us into the room it was a thin blond cop with dorky glasses.  He wasn’t unattractive.  I had the fleeting thought that he was a cop-themed stripper and had wandered into the wrong room, but it was 7:30 on a Tuesday, not exactly bachelorette party time.  “Did a guy come through here? Is anyone hiding under the couches?” he asked, and we were like “Noooo” and then he left and then a different cop came back a minute later.  We had decided to carry on as though everything was normal, so we were singing a duet of “Brilliant Disguise” by Bruce Springsteen, and it took a minute to find the pause button on the big videogame-handset style remote control.  The second cop was beefier and more standard-issue; his nameplate said “O’Flanagan” or something.   He reassured us that we were not in trouble, took down our names and birthdates from our driver’s licenses (he did not wish me a belated happy birthday but I could sense him contemplating it) and then asked how we had known to bring our own beer.  “Well, I’ve been here before, it’s always been BYOB, a lot of these places are,”  Bennett said.  The cop left again and we debated unpausing the song.   We had just gotten to the verse about “something tucked in shame underneath your pillow,” which has always struck me as mysterious and gross.

Then a businesslike blonde lady, not in uniform but clearly a cop-related person, came in and took photos — “Not of you, don’t worry” — and after that the first cop came back and told us we would have to leave.  We were excited about not having to pay and we tried to ask the cops why the bar was being raided and they said vague things about “illegal activities,” which sounded interesting, but then a different cop than before (there were like seven cops all standing around in a circle) asked again how we’d known to bring our own beer, and Bennett reiterated that this was standard practice at lots of Koreatown places, and one of the cops asked if he would give a list of these places and even pulled out a notepad.  I murmured something that I didn’t expect anyone to actually acknowledge about “There’s a rhyme I can’t remember about snitches,” and one of the cops said “Snitches get stitches.”

So clearly they were also kind of having fun.

I asked permission to use the bathroom before we left and Bennett waited outside in the hallway while I did and then we took the elevator back down to 32nd street, abuzz with adrenaline from our brush with the law as well as our normal karaoke high.   I thought, I should go across the street to H Mart, get some dumplings and little plastic containers of ban chan and go home and go to bed early and have a productive day tomorrow, but then Bennett suggested going to Baby Grand and just singing one song so of course that’s what we did, except the part about just singing one song.

Much later on the way home I thought about the inevitability of writing about what had happened, the possibility or expectation built into anything explicitly interesting that happens in my life, not to mention all the minor things that happen constantly.  My favorite person, the person who gives me the best advice (which I take an unfortunately low percentage of the time, like maybe around 55% of the time) told me a while ago that I should save all my thoughts and experiences and put them in a novel instead of parceling them out piecemeal on the internet without filtering them through layers of time, experience, reflection, analysis, and editing.  This is great advice but following it still just sometimes makes me feel so terrible.

Something happens and there are two options. One: deposit the thing in the rag bag of experiences, thinking maybe I will take it out again later and stitch it onto some larger quilt.  Two: immediately embroider its edges and display it as some kind of little useless doily.  The first option is obviously better: nice warm quilt, interesting coherent pattern.  But what if I never end up using the scrap and it just sits at the bottom of the bag?  Also what if the quilt turns out to be hideous or is never finished?  What if the quilt contracts bedbugs?  I think this would be a better metaphor if I knew how to make a quilt (or, for that matter, a novel).

At Baby Grand Bennett and I met an amazing person in a pinstriped skirt suit who had not always been a woman.  “I always sing boy songs,” she said as she stepped to the stage to sing A Song for You.  I’d never heard this cabaret chestnut before, and while the arrangement was cheesy and saxophoney — it was the Michael Buble version — the lyrics were still very affecting.  “I know your image of me is what I hope to be,” she sang, and, “And when my life is over, remember when we were together, we were alone and I was singing this song for you.”  Later she showed us photos on her iPhone of her eleven cats.   I don’t know, sometimes it seems like reporting things might be enough.

15 comments to A song for you

  • Regina

    For some reason I am thinking of that children’s song The Magic Penny: “It’s just like a magic penny / Hold it tight any you won’t have any. / Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many / They’ll roll all over the floor.” Lots of great writers of long, complex, full-length works also kept daily diaries, they just weren’t on the internet. And I think there’s something about that regular act of translating the world into writing that… enriches your internal/creative life in a way that will only add to your work in the long run. By making the doilies you keep your fingers nimble for the quilt? Something like that.

  • There’s nothing at all with recycling, in fact, it is the lifeblood of every artful endeavor.

    Thus are re-purposed and embellished every tuneful ditty and social faux pas and casual brushstroke, often many times and through multiple forms until reaching an apotheosis.

    So I wouldn’t fret that you are cheating posterity by writing about your adventures in the hot wet heat of the moment. (No writing is wasted!) Eventually these mathoms will compost along with other found tidbits and fragments, forming a rich, fragrant potpourri from which you can craft your magnum opus.

    And along the way…you nourish us, too. Not every meal has to be a feast!

  • Lol…the foregoing comment should read, “There’s nothing at all WRONG with recycling.”


  • lindsay

    Of topic, but speaking of those places and bedbugs, those places are where bedbugs COME FROM. (Sorry I’m a broken record on this, Em, but I really think it’s true!)

  • Hannah

    Man, I relate to that quilt metaphor.

    But I feel like not only can you do both, you have, and are. Your book strung together your stories. They existed on their own and were coherent as separate entities. That’s a quilt.

    I don’t think this experience needed time to fester. And I’m glad. Don’t hide your doileys.

  • JMc

    That cabaret chestnut is old Leon Russell. You might also like the song “Bluebird,” both real gems.

  • i mean, of course i am saying this, but the final paragraph made my heart do a tiny little fistpump.

  • Rebecca

    I’m so glad we don’t have to wait for a quilt!

  • I am imagining a derelict on a bench just covered in doilies. Happy birthday.

  • If you live your life to its daily maximum, there will be enough experiences for both. Although, sometimes the max might be just a little bit, and that’s okay.

  • Emily

    (Commenting here because I don’t have a tumblr). Regarding the foregone sandwich longing on TIATIL, a word you probably know because you are a word lady, but I feel none-the-less compelled to share because it is a good one:

    Saudade (singular) or saudades (plural) (pronounced [sɐ.uˈdaðɨ] or [sawˈdaðɨ] in European Portuguese,[1] [sa.uˈdad(ʒ)ɪ] or [sawˈdad(ʒ)ɪ] in Brazilian Portuguese[2] and [sawˈdade] in Galician) is a Portuguese and Galician word difficult to translate adequately, which describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is lost. It often carries a fatalist tone and a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might really never return.

    Saudade has been described as a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist … a turning towards the past or towards the future”.[3] .

  • TFJ

    What would really spice this story up: Police brutality, evil African necromancers and rats…lots and lots of rats.

  • TFJ

    Oops – I forgot that Emily doesn’t write witch books anymore.

  • Anne Schwartz

    Keep making those great doilies, Emily. You can always make a quilt later if you decide to learn how to! Speaking of your sense of humor (the other night)…it certainly came right out in the middle of that “raid.” Snitch! Snitch! A good thing that cop had a sense of humor too! You’ll have to explain to me about this Karaoke thing in Koreatown. I have a Korean friend whose daughter is always doing Karaoke. Is it a particularly Korean craze?

  • Svet

    I like the relateability of the iPhone/cat phone photos. We’ve all been there.

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