Throughout my childhood in Livonia, Mich., there was a bar and restaurant three miles from my house that had the world’s greatest chicken fingers. By the time I had reached middle school, the restaurant was about to go under and had started instituting ridiculous marketing schemes to draw in patrons. As regular customers, my family and I had happened to reap the benefits of many “Deal Days” toward the end of the establishment’s life, and I was convinced that I had found heaven in those free bowls of ice cream and plates of french fries.

One night, to my disappointment, we discovered that the restaurant had stopped the free food specials in lieu of a weekly karaoke night. Understandably, I was pretty bitter about the news. When the waitress came to our table and asked if anyone wanted to sign up to sing, I resentfully slumped in my seat. While I was trying my best to appear upset about the lack of free, fattening menu items, my younger sister (a talented singer and fearlessly outgoing individual) quickly volunteered.

In retrospect, the karaoke session that followed was an allegory for life, depicting its increasingly depressing stages through (for the most part) terribly interpreted song.

The evening began adorably with two children with lisps singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The entire restaurant watched intently and smiled at the innocent way the kids sang the wrong words and giggled throughout. After completing the one and only verse they knew, the children blushed, returned to their smiling parents and enjoyed plates of chicken fingers without a care in the world.

Next up was my sister, who left our booth grinning and grabbed the microphone confidently, knowing that she was about to tear the house down. Over the next few minutes, she captivated the customers and restaurant staff by ripping through Alicia Keys’s “If I Ain’t Got You,” and by belting out notes like the tiny, white Aretha Franklin she was. When my sister finished, she was greeted by roaring applause, and I could do nothing but devour my chicken fingers in a jealous rage as adults approached our table to meet the young phenom that sat next to me. It was the most recognition she had ever received for singing and, sadly (since losing her 10-year-old cuteness to puberty, hormones and high school), the most she will probably ever receive.

The remainder of the night was a very bleak affair.

A 20-something woman followed my sister’s performance, completely wasted and seemingly dared to sing by friends who were laughing more at her than with her. The woman stumbled her way through Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5,” searching for laughs from the audience and receiving nothing but the mocking guffaws of her table. She’s probably a lost soul, I mused with chicken finger in hand, stuck somewhere between college graduation and real life, and on a mission to find herself through brief side ventures as an obnoxious, tone-deaf drunk.

The next act was an ugly, nerdy-looking, middle-aged couple that I had seen kissing and playing footsie underneath the table throughout the night. The imaginative cynic in me created a backstory to explain their affection (they were clearly two divorcées that had met on eHarmony through their mutual interest in “Star Trek,” and were enjoying a very successful first date while ignoring the inevitable deterioration of love), but part of me still wanted to believe that true love existed, and I was willing to accept the possibility that they were a repulsively devoted and married couple. Regardless, the pair took the stage and performed a horrendous duet of Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” making sure that every last person in the restaurant had lost their appetite before returning the mic.

In the closing minutes of the night, an 80-year-old man left his table for one and took the stage. Up until that day, I was convinced that the most depressing thing in the world was an elderly person eating by his or herself at a restaurant, but I now know that an elderly person eating by him or herself at a restaurant who then volunteers to sing karaoke is an infinitely more heartbreaking sight. The man had a surprisingly booming voice, unveiled with a passionate rendition of Sinatra’s “What Is This Thing Called Love.” His vocals were deep and sorrowful and, contrary to the title of the song, he looked like he had known love well, but had lost it somewhere along the winding road of life. A tear slipped down the side of my face, and I wiped it quickly as I had not yet accepted my identity as a helplessly emotional romantic.

By the time our bill came, I was in a dismal state. I was upset that I had finished my chicken fingers too quickly, and I craved a free bowl of ice cream that I knew would never come. I was envious of my talented sister and the recognition she had received that night. Most of all, I was distraught at the thought of imminent and embarrassing drunken nights and an inescapable life of lost love.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.