*This isn’t real.
I’m in Chicago in a bar called McGuinty’s or some other Irish something. There’s karaoke here. The televisions are blasting some combination of Kings-Sharks and Knicks-Pacers and the smell of free popcorn is wafting in the air thick, hugging nostrils.
A large dude in black-grey jeans from a 90’s Eddie Bauer magazine with white socks and black, tuxedo shoes is in charge. He says his name Evan. Evan has a goatee and the goatee is on some Mike Woodson type ish. He sings Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” to kick things off proving, once and for all, that is the whitest song ever.
There’s a group of kids that look to be somewhere north of 25 but south of 30. Every dude in the group has a polo logo on their shirt. Some of them wear jeans. Others wear pants of a pastel variety. Half of them have spilled half of their drink on their shirts. The girls are wearing lots of pink and lots of stripes. All of them look wind blown and are sort of in a constant state of bounce. They bounce from the bar, to the popcorn machine, to one of their three tables, to the dance floor. When the fifteen or so of them stand in a group you could confuse them for an Easter egg basket in a wind tunnel.
There’s a guy named Steve here. I know his name is Steve because he keeps shouting, with great regularity, the name “STEEEVE” into the microphone throughout all of “Sweet Caroline”. He was singing “Sweet Caroline” because, when you’re wearing jeans, a red Reebok t-shirt, strappy sandals, and refuse to sit down your beer, there’s no way your karaoke song of choice isn’t “Sweet Caroline”.
This story, though, isn’t really about any of them. They’re bit players. Necessary parts of the story only in so much that they allow a scene to be set around them. They give you a visual, if I did an alright job describing the room. They set the mood. They fill the void.
In comes the main attraction.
In a booth neighboring the dance floor is an African American man. He’s in his 60’s I’d guess. He’s wearing a navy suit, white shirt, and tie. His hair is salted white and he looks on the room, his face affixed in a state of perpetual amusement. A constant (shakes head) “These kids” look about him. His mouth is resting somewhere between a smirk and a smile with his eyebrows slanted in toward the bridge of his nose like he’s questioning something he’s not quite sure of. He’s not funny to look at, he’s downright regal in some ways, but his reaction to the Pastels and STEEEVE is. He looks like he’s forever repeating over and over in his head: What is wrong with these people?
STEEEVE finally stops believing in Neverwood. The bar is smattered and splattered with alcoholic applause and all of a sudden the Smirk is on the move. He stands by the screen all the lyrics have been being displayed on with his hands folded in front of him and his feet a little more than shoulder width apart. Myself and the people I’m with could not be more thrilled about this. The first few notes of his song begin to trickle out of the speakers standing in front of Evan. It’s “The Way You Look Tonight”. Of course it is.
He sings like the pros do. Not to say he sings like a profesional singer, because there are some off notes in this performance, but he’s certainly singing like a professional karaoke singer. He doesn’t stand behind the screen. He doesn’t need to look at the lyrics. He knows the song. He knows every nook and cranny. Every run and every snap he rattles off and executes and the whole performance sounds exactly how we wanted it to. Hand motions and points and hips a’moving, the man sings and the dance floor fills up with the Pastels because even fake recognize real and everyone sways with whoever they’re trying to take home. The man held the room for those three-ish minutes. All of us completely captivated there, smack dab in the middle of the palm of his hand. The girls are swooning and the guys hoping they’ll turn into him one day. When the song ends he places the mic back in its holder and he drowns in high fives and applause.
He sits back down and watches the rest of the karaoke night take a dive after that. Some of the Pastels break out a very cold version of “If I Had A Million Dollars”. STEEEVE made an appearance again after handing Evan a twenty dollar bill to, I’m assuming, launch himself to the front of the line. I don’t remember the song because I was laughing very hard and focusing on how much my stomach hurt.
Old boy The Smirk, though, stayed through it all. He kept his top button buttoned, never loosened his tie, and made sure he had a beer in front of himself at all times.
Later in the night I go to get popcorn and walk past his table. We make eye contact but I keep it moving. On my way back through I tell him I really enjoyed his song. He smiles and says thank you. He calls me Big Fella. He says he does it because he loves it. At the end of the conversation I shake his hand and he tells me his name is Sam, Sam Jones. I said, jokingly, that I couldn’t believe I got to meet a real life Celtic, because why would the Sam Jones be here.
“Believe it, Big Fella,” he saiys.
I ask him straight up.
“Wait,” I say, “You’re the Sam Jones? From the Celtics.”
He smiles and pats the table in front of him.
“That I am, son,” he says, “But keep that between us if you could. I come here to relax.”
“Yes, sir,” I say, “Won’t say a word. It’s an honor to meet you.”
“Good to meet you too, son,” he says.
And that’s it. I’m not the type to pester and clearly he’s here to wind down so I keep my distance the rest of the night.
When I got up to leave he was standing up too, going to add his name to the list one more time. He’s a man of the people, doing for them exactly what they’d have him do: sing.
On the way out a girl in a dress with a braided belt is singing “The Final Countdown” and I look back at Jones one last time. He’s sitting there, half full glass of beer in front of him, smiling like he’s not quite sure what was going on. STEEEVE gives him a high five. I zip up my jacket and walk out into the Chicago night.