Anita Mechler: The Disputed King of Karaoke

The snow was falling on the branches outside my bedroom window at the Elk’s lodge. The branches were straining against the weight, groaning and crackling, on the verge of snapping but regaining and bouncing back with an increasingly weakened resistance. I set up my desk and typewriter against this window as a way to motivate myself into telling Henry’s story and getting it all down on paper like he requested.

I first met Henry, “Seattle’s Best Karaoke Host”, drunk and attempting suicide by lunging himself at people and trying to get thrown off of the Space Needle’s observation deck. He reeked of impotence; surrounded by Japanese tourists avoiding him like an anti-social cat avoids a well-intentioned petter and security personnel too bored to look his way. People shrunk away from his stench of cheap beer and even cheaper cigarettes.

Instead of typing, I picked up the phone and shouted, “Where the fuck is my fucking rum and coke? I ordered it 15 minutes ago, ya numbnuts. Why can’t you follow instructions that are so easy even an idiot could do them?” I slammed down the receiver and it made a satisfying startled bell tone. I glanced at my perfect red manicure, breathed deeply through my nostrils, tasting the acrid remnants of my last 5 rum and cokes, and stared out the window at Mount Rainier.

Henry said that he wanted to see Mount Rainier as the last thing he did before he died, which he could have done on any clear day in the Seattle-Tacoma area but I didn’t belabor the point with him in his fragile state. As if seeing that majestic mountain would make up for all of the failures of his life. Perhaps its stratovolcanic state was like his, albeit with less power than he might exert on the innocent around him.

He was almost blind drunk the day I met him and so hoarse that you could barely understand his normally squeaky voice. I imagine that he cut a much more interesting figure, however short-legged, in the smoky, colored-light interiors of the best karaoke bars in the city. In the daylight, his cheap polyester suit showed its age and wear with a dull waxy sheen. His disheveled black hair resembled the same coating as his suit.

Out on the observation deck, I tucked myself into a corner so that I could enjoy a cigarette away from the crowd of enthusiastic tourists and hand-holding lovers. Instead, I contemplated the lives of the people below. It was a slow time of the year for me, having just completed the 10th Annual Ladies’ Mud Wrestling Competition in Las Vegas and having lost every round but one. I had vague hopes of competing in the World Mud Wrestling in Haikou, Hainan, although, I heard that you had to be Chinese in order to enter. Henry rounded the corner and spotted me with his half- crazed eyes which softened a little while resting on my face. He paused, his body rambling to catch up with the sudden change in inertia.

“Hey sugar. You got an extra one of those for me?” He motioned to my tanned hand clutching a pack of menthols.

“Sure,” I said out of the side of my mouth, eyeing him cautiously as I opened the pack for him and gave him the lighter with my other hand. He struggled for what seemed like half an hour trying to light the damned thing.

“What a fucking day, eh? I plan to jump off this thing looking at ole Rainier back there on my way down and the clouds just keep getting thicker and thicker blocking my fucking view.”

I grunted in sympathy. We let the silence grow between us as we both took a moment.

“That bastard del Rosario cheated me from everything I built and this fucking town has no room for a king of karaoke like me,” he said, interrupting the silence.

I raised my eyebrow in earnest. He caught my expression and stumbled a little in my direction.

“What do you say, I buy you a drink and I’ll postpone my death until another day?”

I shrugged and nodded in agreement as his hand hovered over me, guiding me past the interior doors and onto the elevator. We barely looked at each other in the crowded elevator as people tittered around us about the possibility of rain. I rolled my eyes at them and heard Henry chuckle slightly or perhaps it was just drunk gurgling.

I hailed a cab, extending my long pink acrylic nails, a luxury I treated myself to every time I finished a mud wrestling competition; long nails were prohibited, especially if you were topless while fighting. I took a break from the daily tanning during my training because it made my skin rough to the touch, and grew increasingly so at my age. Even though it had only been a few days since I left Vegas, my skin lessened in its contrast to my matching shade of lipstick.

We settled into the cab and Henry sloppily grabbed my leg as he slid in beside me. I glanced down and then looked up to face the back of the cabbie’s head, “You better buy me as many drinks as I want if you’re going to come at me like that.” Henry turned his head in my direction, nodded, and greedily tightened his grip on my thigh.

“Just no karaoke places!” he squeaked.

“Fine,” I said tersely, “Take us to Shorty’s on 2nd.” The cabbie nodded as he headed toward Belltown. The clouds begin to emit a small drizzle as the city began to speed up around us.

“Nothing like God spitting on us in our time of need, eh?” Henry spoke to the window, his hand journeying up past the edge of my skirt. I said nothing.

Because it was a dull Wednesday afternoon, Shorty’s wasn’t very crowded and we found two seats at the bar.

“Two whiskey neats and keep them coming,” I said and Henry raised his eyebrows this time. “So, tell me about this del Rosario character.”

I finally took my time with Henry’s face. I noticed his pockmarked forehead, the ears too large for his head, his dark brown eyes surprisingly laced by thick eyelashes, the deep under- eye pockets resting on his cheeks, jowls with a hint of double-chin, and the blood vessels broken along his nose. I had certainly bedded better looking men in my heyday and Lord only knows, I’ve bedded worse.

At del Rosario’s name, Henry tensed and I saw something flash behind his bloodshot eyes. He twitched slightly and began to fidget with his fingers.

“del Rosario,” he hoarsely whispered, “That fucking bastard.” He took a sip of his whiskey. Henry looked to the back of the bar, to the front door, and out the window before he cleared his throat and continued.

“I was stationed in the Philippines back in 1972. I used to frequent this bar near the base. del Rosario used to come to this bar as well and bring with him his ‘mistress of the month’, is what I liked to call them. At the time, I was working as a radio technician for the Air Force. One night we struck up a conversation while his mistress was putting on makeup in the bathroom.

“He turns to me and says, ‘I hate this jukebox, playing the same old songs over and over.’ Odd that he would say that because I had been knocking around the idea of a jukebox that people could sing along to, maybe even sing on-stage and I told him so.

“‘Hmmmm’ is the only thing he was able to say to me before his date comes back to the bar.

“A few weeks later, he’s back at the bar without a date and he orders himself a drink and asks what I’m drinking. ‘A rum and coke,’ I say. Before I even get my drink, he’s laying into me about this jukebox…a jukebox that would only play popular songs without any of the words.

“After many drinks and several cocktail napkins later, we made a plan for me to visit his studio the next time I had leave from base. I snuck out some of the radio equipment and we would tinker together on a solution. We made plans to sell our invention to the local bars that were in search of some kind of new entertainment and maybe even take our invention internationally.

“As time went on, we kept hitting obstacles. We were always missing some part that I had to steal from my work equipment. del Rosario promised to pay me back for all of my labor. On top of it all, my commanding officer was starting to get suspicious of some of the inconsistencies in the shop’s inventory.

“After a year or so, Rosario starts standing me up for our sessions more and more and claims that he’s trying to appease a very demanding mistress.

“Finally, after working on this device with him for over a year and half, I show up to his studio one day and find it completely abandoned. I call all of his numbers and they’ve been disconnected. That fucking bastard left with an almost completed product.

“I never heard from him again. I come to find out that he becomes known around the world as the sole inventor of the ‘Karaoke Sing Along System’ in 1975. That rat bastard makes money off of our invention and I never see a dime.

“I traveled up to Seattle because I heard that he was going to attend a convention and I had plans to kill him, but he is nowhere to be found. I’ve ended up living here for about 5 years, going from karaoke bar to karaoke bar looking for him and somehow became one of the most sought after karaoke hosts in the city. I can’t sing for shit, but I have quite the personality.

“But I never forgot my hatred for del Rosario but I never did find him neither. So, I decided that I’m going to end it all right here and jump off the Space Needle looking at Mount Rainier,” Henry pauses, “I’ve always had a thing for mountains.”

“What do you say we get out of here,” I say suddenly. Henry looks shocked out of his reverie.

“But you haven’t told me anything about yourself.”

“There’s nothing you need to know about me. Settle up that tab and let’s get out of here.”

At the present time, in front of this typewriter, there is no need to recount the rest of that night. We both satisfied some of our basic needs in a dirty motel after leaving Shorty’s. There was something about the desperation of Henry’s “lovemaking”. When he finally got his wish for death a few months later, I vowed to record his story and set the historical record straight. So here I sit, staring out at that old bastard Rainier, getting drunk, fingers poised over the keys, waiting for the world to explode.

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