There are stories everywhere, all around us—not just in Guatemala City or in a foreign country. When you slow down and pause, you’re able to catch them as they occur. Case in point: karaoke night at your neighborhood bar.
I don’t understand karaoke as an art form; what’s enjoyable about hearing people who cannot sing, especially as a musician? When I lived in England, I worked at a bar, and my favorite part was people watching—it’s almost as good as people watching at an airport—every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. So, as a writer and a people-watcher, I go to karaoke. The other week, I was slowed down enough to catch a story that most of the people there missed. Here it is.
It was the second set of the night (there are usually three) and the awful singing had hit full-force. Maybe it was that people had had enough drinks, perhaps it was that the better singers had sung already, or maybe it was just that the regulars who can’t sing had begun their performances. One that was particularly painful was two men who were (retired?) military: their song was unrecognizable and they held the mics too far from their mouths for even Phil to remedy with his magic soundboard skills.
They did make a pair though—a tall skinny white guy who awkwardly (but clearly with enjoyment) danced and a shorter, heavier guy who looked like he came from a Pacific Island sort of background. The shorter guy was wearing short sleeves and the tattoos up and down his arms were a story in themselves. Mercifully, the song finished, and they sat down, after a garbled shoutout about the Taliban.
Two or three songs later, a woman with brown hair and a pea coat came up to sing: her hair was long and straight, her hands stuffed into her coat pockets. Her song was announced, “What Love Really Means” JJ Heller. Her name was Sherri? Terri? I couldn’t hear over the crowd. She stood, with trepidation, eyes on the MacBook and then she opened her mouth and sang. She sang with clarity, and in that moment, I stopped people watching. She mesmerized me and several of those around me. She let the song and her voice speak, rather than performing in a “look at me, I’m singing” sense; her performance was understated and the entire song, she’d glance over at her boyfriend or partner or husband–the man from before with tattoos up and down his arms–who was standing right beside the stage. Her soul spoke in the song: the chorus, “Who will love me for me, not for what I have done or what I will become” was all I could gather and latch onto. I was transfixed, and I wanted everyone around to shut up and see the magic in front of us.
The song finished and she walked off stage; as she did, the man went up to the mic and he spoke. This, is his story, in his words.
“I was a Ranger in the army and I had 5 tours overseas. After my last tour, I spent two months in a coma and I died twice. The military said I was no good after that, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. This woman, here, she showed me that there was more out there than fighting. I love you.”
Okay- stop. Go back and reread those last two paragraphs. That’s a STORY. It’s a transformative story–one that changed me, and I never even met them. I only watched and listened.
What are some of the stories you’ve seen?