Night at the Rendezvous

            I was kissing a girl in Dolores Park before I met back up with my friend Malcolm, so I was already in a pretty good mood.  We headed to the Tenderloin.  All Malcolm’s favorite places were closed so we went to Club Rendezvous, the last hustler bar left on Polk Street, once the gay center of the city.

            It was karaoke night, that’s why we were there.  It was pretty dead.  The ringer KJ, an older, well-dressed black man, was giving some newish soul ballad his brilliant treatment.  Malcolm ordered us drinks while I went over the song book.  They didn’t have the Hall and Oates song I’d had in my head so I went with “Hello” by Lionel Richie, an old stand-by of mine.

            I smelled beautiful chili dogs on the mezzanine and by the time the bartender told me they’re free my name is called to sing.  Malcolm went up to make us chili dogs.  I climbed the tiny stage and I was at my perfect height of awareness-I’m ready to sing the shit out of this song.

            And I did.  I amazed myself with how perfect my voice sounded and how my body moved to this ballad that has always meant a lot to me.  It was my first karaoke song years ago and the crowd filled me in when I struck momentary ignorance of the verses’ melody.   I was watching the amazing video for this song in the sixth grade when my older sister started crying and ran to her bedroom.  I never found out why.  I just guessed it was her crush at the time-Cimarron Grubb.  I felt the tiny crowd, earlier not even paying attention, start to give me a chance.

            Not even through the first verse all this yelling started at the front of the bar.  I saw a man step out of the meager crowd agro with a hatchet in his hand.  The situation didn’t really hit me.  I felt as if I was watching a movie.  I kept singing.  Not every line but choice ones like “Is it me you’re looking for” felt especially poignant.  Everyone scattered and the guy was alone, yelling and chopping at a table then more quick chops at the bar.  The hatchet man circled around screaming stuff at the bartender that I couldn’t hear because I was singing.  He wildly threw the hatchet at the bartender and missed.  The whole bar’s palpable sighs of relief were shattered when the guy pulled out a scalpel type knife from his jacket ready to throw.

            The bartender shrilly yelled “Please stop singing, he’s got a knife.”  I jumped off the stage and join Malcolm on the balcony where we shared delicious chili dogs while watching the guy throw his knife, hesitate and pull out another one.  The cops came in with guns drawn.  After a brief stand off the guy dropped his knife and was handcuffed.  Everyone upstairs relaxed and went down to solidify their story before they go off and tell it to others.  “Go easy on him, he just had surgery” someone said to the cops as they dragged him out. 

            “Great job, very Fassbinder,” Malcolm said to me.  Everybody comes by me and comments.  The KJ says “Good job, very professional” and shakes my hand.  A girl said, “Bye, awesome Lionel Richie guy.”  I went out to flirt with her but she rides off on bikes with her obvious boyfriend. 

            Meanwhile, the hatchet man was sitting cuffed against the wall outside of the bar.  He was talking freely in an Irish accent to the cops.  He fully intended to kill the bartender who had been giving him shit nonstop for over a year.  He had five knives with him.  His hunting knife got taken away the week before when he threatened to kill his neighbor.  Malcolm later found out that he had been banned from the bar after he tried to kill himself there.  He hasn’t done drugs in ten days. “That’s his problem right there”, Malcolm said as we left the closing bar to find somewhere else to tell our story.  Maybe we can get free drinks.

            Something about this fight made everybody feel so alive.  That so many terrible things could happen, but they were distant and we could conquer them with our well planned phrases. We went to other bars dripping our tale everywhere.  We met a gay sailor who hated the Navy.  We met some great lesbians who gave us a ride home.  I couldn’t wait to tell it to my roommate Curt.  He has the greatest laugh.    


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