Like a Karaoke Virgin

My friend Kim's "bitch switch" was set abnormally high the night we hit the Red Lion Pub in Boca Raton for Thursday-night Frank-E-Oke. The event is named for the intense karaoke host, who discourages other people from taking things too seriously.

"I really dislike American Idol wannabes," Frank E (for Edwards) says. "We're here to drink to have fun."

It was a "serious about fun" attitude that seemed to work. Hardcore participants like Lisa and Gregory, who both download their own karaoke tracks and perform every week (usually in Broward), were in the right spirit — Lisa even had on a polyester, leopard-print jumpsuit.

"Have you considered an intervention?" I asked, incredulous of their enthusiasm for their "art."

They both laughed, and Gregory admitted, "We might need it."

But Kim, well, she seemed immune to the fun. She was stuck in Simon Cowell mode.

"I could stick the mic up against my ass and it would sound better than this shit," she criticized while the host kicked things off with "Play That Funky Music White Boy."

"Well, it's a cordless mic. You could actually go into the restroom and test that theory," I challenged between sips of my black and tan because I knew the truth — my friend, the karaoke virgin, didn't have the nerve to get on the mic.

I was no karaoke buff either, though I'd publicly humiliated myself on several occasions (it's sorta like smoking — participating helps make its ickiness more tolerable).

Despite my usual karaoke aversion, the night had been my idea — a way to include our pregnant and karaoke-loving friend Keely in the fun of a girls' night.

Tonight was Pimps & Hos '70s disco night (every third Thursday has a theme), which, along with a $50 prize for the best in show, added fuzzy pimp hats and multicolored beads to the British pub's décor.

"Women try to match the purse to the shoes," Frank said. "I try to match the hat to the song."

It also explained his outfit: a white, wide-collared cotton shirt and vintage blue-sequined disco pants with black platform boots. It was a look the bartender called "a cross between a musketeer and a pimp."

His gay flair with a street swagger made sense when I learned that Frank has a theater background that includes, as he put it, "everything from the front door to the back door."

"Really?" I laughed about his unintentional double-entendre — and this from the guy who created new vocabulary (words and definitions are listed in the front of the song menu books) such as aquaschmuck (n) someone who goes to karaoke and drinks only water, usually the biggest complainers about the rotation.

In the back booth, Kim was still giving her bad attitude a workout as Keely flipped through the songbook.

"Who invented karaoke? The tone deaf?" Kim harrumphed in the back booth as a poor soul performed "Dancing Queen" in an off-key squeak. The volume — not the tone or the griping — prompted me to stick my fingers in my ears.

"It's too loud," Keely confirmed.

"I'm not gonna tell him," I said, sure that I'd be ridiculed as an audiophool (n) someone who knows nothing about audio but always tells the KJ how to run the sound.

While Keely decided to risk scorn and ask for a sound adjustment, I decided to sweeten Kim's disposition with a second double rum and Coke.

Keely eventually tore into her rendition of "Chuck E's in Love," and Gregory and Lisa performed a duet of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart."

Halfway through her second drink, Kim's mood began to shift. But it was Carly Simon who sent her over the edge. During the opening strains of "You're So Vain," Kim grabbed the little red straw out of her drink, held it as if it were a microphone, and began belting out the lyrics.

God bless booze.

When the song was over, Kim excused herself to go outside and smoke (more of an excuse to get fresh air, since the bar permits smoking) as the karaoke choices ranged between disco and '70s rockers like Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull.

The place was rocking, but according to Frank, we were still waiting on FAU students who were performing in the school production of Oklahoma! and the nerds who were closing a comic book store.

Around 11, the place was packed, just as Frank predicted. A threesome of blond babes, all of whom worked for a nonprofit environmental group, sat at the table adjoining ours.

Toni, who was in costume by virtue of the little rhinestone by her right eye, claimed that they were responsible for the advent of the themed night: "We came out one night dressed in '80s clothes, and that's how themed nights started."

The craziest thing they'd ever seen at the Red Lion on karaoke night? Toni said it was when "a white nerdy guy did a perfect James Brown." I assumed she didn't mean a domestic violence charge that coupled a quintessential bitch slap with a death threat.

"Lore has it that people have danced on the bar, but I don't really know when it happened," Toni offered as she tossed back a two-dollar "pimp juice" shot.

When I spotted two attractive guys at the bar, I insinuated myself between them under the auspices of getting another drink.

Jared spoke to me, but Darrin just kept mouthing words and signing answers to everything.

When Darrin finally got his voice back (which he'd never actually lost), it was to extol the beauty of Kim, who'd recently joined us.

"Black guys seem to find me attractive even though my butt is kinda small," she commented.

I really wanted to deliver a sobering shoe to her shin, but I'm glad I didn't because the evening would have ended very differently.

When Kim spotted a 10-year old kid singing a Green Day song, she complained, "They're not even singing on the theme."

"We don't enforce the theme — we suggest it," Frank said.

Which is good news. That means that you can still wear your day clothes at Pajama Night in September and sing ballads at Punk-E-Oke in October.

It also means that Kim could garner the courage to pop her Cherr-E-Oke to "The Tide Is High." To her credit, even though she missed her cues and talked through portions of the song, it wasn't the worst performance I'd ever seen. Certainly better than anything she could have done with the mic held to her ass.

"I hit the high note!" she sang ecstatically when she was done.

And maybe it was a contact high, but the whole bar suddenly seemed to be as drunk as she was. Just as I decided it was a good time to call it quits, the evening took a turn for the surreal.

"Who do you think you are, Simon Cowell?" Frank asked over the mic. He was addressing not Kim but two guys in yellow and orange pimp hats who'd been sitting at the end of the bar.

"This is what happens to hecklers," Frank announced, forcing the two to take the microphones as the music to Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" began. Good sports, they did the bump as they sang and swayed. And then, true to legend, two women began to dance on top of the bar.

I wouldn't see how the final hours unfolded, the ultimate craziness that might ensue, because I'd seen enough. I'd witnessed a rum-inspired conversion culminate in a virgin sacrifice to a Blondie song — it felt religious, like a karaoke miracle.

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Marya Summers