My cousin Sarah, a Florida native, has lived in New York City for 9 years.
I trust her judgement.
So after a rousing Mexican feast at Blockhead’s on the upper west side, she suggested that we hit a local dive bar and I readily agreed.
“It’s kind of a weird mix of locals, travelers, and Columbia University students,” she said. “And it’s just around the corner.”
After two super-cheap margaritas, I was an easy sell. Plus, I’m a fan of the dive bar. We walked across the street to Suite, a nondescript little place that I probably wouldn’t have noticed on my own. Sarah pushed open the door and a welcome burst of warm air rushed into our faces, a relief from the icy cold January night.
Then we heard it. A song, rising to its crescendo.
“…Sometimes you wanna GO where everyBODY knows your NA-A-AME.”
We froze. It felt as if the music was scripted, preparing for our entrance. People actually caught our eyes, smiled, and gave head nods of welcome.
“And they’re AL-ways glad you CA-A-AME.”
It was karaoke night. Sarah, Jared, and I glanced at each other, shrugged, and started shout-singing along with the crowd.
“You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows YOUR NAME.”
Disclaimer: This is not the worst karaoke song ever. It is potentially one of the best.
We shed our coats, ordered drinks, and took up a place along the wall, right in front of the stage.
It seemed that every person who was singing was male, extremely flamboyant, and a serious contender for American Idol. Sarah and I cheered, singing loudly to Jewel and Adele, *NSYNC and Cher.
To my right, Jared was chatting to one of the regulars. After a few minutes, the guy politely exited the conversation.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I think he was sussing out the story with you girls. Wanted to hit on you or something, but seemed uninterested once I said we were engaged.”
Sarah and I said nothing, and waited for the other shoe to drop. It did, several minutes later.
“Wait a minute,” Jared said, looking around, clarity dawning. “I think that guy was hitting on me!”
It was the friendliest, most encouraging bar crowd I’d been a part of in a long time. Obviously, Sarah and I were going to sing.
I’m not a first-timer to karaoke, especially after spending two years in Asia. But there was something refreshing about returning to the US-style of karaoke, in front of strangers, standing onstage under a spotlight.
Sarah and I had recently been discussing Destiny’s Child, and our long-lost love for their earlier songs: “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Bootylicious,” and “Survivor.”
But we didn’t choose any of those songs. Oh no.
Egos firing full throttle, we chose “Say My Name.”
“I love that song,” you’re saying, especially if you were a female teenager in the early 2000s.
I know you do. I thought I loved it, too.
The agreement was that I would sing as Sarah performed the freeze-frame moves that Beyoncé and Co. so successfully executed back in 1999.
The results were not as we’d hoped.
There were three things we’d forgotten about “Say My Name.”
Three crucial things.
1. The chorus is the best part of the song
2. The chorus is the shortest part of the song.
3. Neither of us is named Beyoncé.
Also, that song is fast. Too fast. Especially this part:
I know you say that I am assuming things
Something’s going down thats the way it seems
Shouldn’t be the reason why you’re acting strange
If nobody’s holding you back from me
Imagine reciting that asfastasyoucanwithoutbreathing. That’s what we’re talking about here.
Combine that with actually-not-that-interesting lyrics, and you’ve got a dud on your hands. A major dud.
Even Sarah’s enthusiastic moves couldn’t salvage our performance. There may have been applause, but I’m fairly sure it came from Jared. And maybe the guy next to Jared who thought he was single.
“Fail,” Sarah said, as we slinked off the stage.
“Epic fail,” I said, as I handed back the microphone without making eye contact with the deejay.
I learned an important lesson that day: Some names just shouldn’t be said on the karaoke stage, even at a friendly semi-gay dive bar in New York City.
Unless, I suppose, your name is Beyoncé.