Calibrations

Lovin' a lounge singer

Well, the Calibrator has gone and done it now. He's fallen wildly in love with the married, 47-year-old lounge singer at the Grill Room in the Riverside Hotel in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Surely the news will hit Mrs. Calibrator like a ton of falling bricks. Mrs. C., as every man in Pittsburgh knows so intimately, is an exceptionally fine woman of superior breeding, but really, how much disappointment can she be expected to bear from someone as perpetually lustful and uncivilized as her lowly husband? What's to say? Blooming love knows not why it blooms; there is no logical justification for an unexpected eruption of wanton passion other than that we are all humans and our hearts are full of lasciviousness and sometimes plain, inexplicable evil. That's the C-man's excuse, anyhow.

But enough of this wimpish floundering -- some things between a sinful measuring tool and his wife should be kept private -- let's cut to the chase. Pamala Stanley is a strange, ravishing creature. And friends, let me tell ya, she's been there and definitely done that. Cue up Whitney's "The Greatest Love of All" and read on. But don't go gettin' any funny ideas… the Calibrator is a proprietary gauging device with a dangerous past. He once armed himself with a fully loaded Super Soaker and shot a skinny, crippled man in Reno just to watch him get really pissed off. Now then…

In 1978 a record producer caught my new love's act in a gay piano bar on West 46th Street in New York City and decided, as Stanley recalls, that "he wanted to make a white Donna Summer out of me." Stanley had no problem with the idea. Donna Summer was something special: rich, sexy, adored by millions. Stanley signed on for the ride. A year later she had her first hit on the disco charts with "This Is Hot." Sadly, "Disco Is Dead" headlines began to appear in news rags around the globe later that year. The Disco Sucks crowd rejoiced. Disco culture itself -- along with its many roundly ridiculed adherents -- oozed back into the seedy, drug-riddled underground urban asylums from whence it sprang a few years earlier. Ever the trooper, Stanley stuck around for disco's drawn-out demise.

"I have played every leather gay bar you can imagine," she recalls with sultry forthrightness, her smoldering hazel eyes eliciting nothing but tender sympathy from the Calibrator. "I've played every disco from Studio 54 to the Limelight in Atlanta. I've played on beer boxes in front of DJ booths. I've sang on plywood on top of pool tables. I've done it all."

She had three more dance hits in the early '80s. One of them, 1983's "Coming Out of Hiding," remains a gay anthem, at least among those gays who find themselves still wanting for an anthem. She appeared on Dance Fever a few times, performed overseas, and along the way, made a tidy pile of money. Photos from those years show a striking young kitten in various formfitting outfits, her hair always well spirited, her heavy makeup applied with the touch of da Vinci. The woman was a masterpiece of shallow self-indulgence. "From 1979 to 1989," she says with unabated pride, "I was a disco diva." The Calibrator begins to swell with his own modest pride… if you catch my drift.

And now, a decade later, Stanley finds herself behind a piano at the Grill Room. The restaurant is nearly full on a recent Saturday night with a decidedly privileged clientele. Mostly there are older folks who dress well, converse politely, and look like they haven't been properly laid since the fall of Saigon -- or perhaps the Roman Empire. The wait staff wears crimson servants' jackets, tuxedo shirts, and black bow ties. The maitre d', an affable fellow by the name of Monroe, is decked out splendidly in white. With perfect, professional gentility, Monroe shows the Calibrator to a large, round table next to Stanley and her piano.

Tonight she is wearing a sleeveless, silver-and-blue-sequined, floor-length party gown. Stanley calls it her "mermaid's dress." A bottle of Evian sits near her. Later she'll indulge in a little white wine. She laughs between songs and chats with diners, all of whom apparently adore her, though none of them so adamantly as the Calibrator, whose only wish at the moment is to spend the rest of his miserable life basking in the life-affirming glow of her radiance. A delicate, crystal tip jar sits atop the piano. Presently it's about half full of bills, and still the jar is undoubtedly more valuable than all the money in it. The lady is a class act all the way.

And let's be clear on this point: Pamala Stanley can sing like a freakin' bird of paradise. Listen, the Calibrator doesn't just fall for every warbling lounge babe he encounters. But in this golden-throated enchantress, he hears the voice of a pure and perfect angel, the very voice of heaven itself, he thinks. When she sings a cover of Shania Twain's "From This Moment On," the Calibrator senses salvation close at hand. When he requests "Downtown," the Petula Clark hit, and Stanley cuts right into a spotless rendition, he feels the sins of the world rising from his shoulders. And finally when a friend of hers -- some guy from England named David -- takes a guest turn on the 88s and Stanley climbs aboard the piano top to sing a soul-stirring version of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On"… well, there's really no earthly way to describe the Calibrator's sense of deep spiritual release.

All too soon the evening ends and Stanley returns to her husband, a sublimely fortunate fellow whom the Calibrator has never met but can only imagine is a god among men. For his part the Calibrator returns to his lonely abode in Hollywood, where the screaming loon across the street is just getting started and true love is nowhere to be found.

Pamala Stanley performs Thursday through Saturday, 8 to 11 p.m. at the Grill Room, Riverside Hotel, 620 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-467-0671.

Send junk to Calibrations, P.O. Box 14128, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33302 or e-mail to David_Pulizzi@newtimesbpb.com.

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