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Hell Night in Fort Wayne, part 2
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
The following is an account of the middle portion of my recent excursion into Fort Wayne's seven circles of hell. The journey began at 8:00pm with dinner at Hooter's (part one), and ended seven hours later at a dive bar just south of downtown (part three.) This report follows the second, third, and fourth legs of my night, which began at 10:00pm and ended approximately three hours later.
I have always been amazed that while Japan catches holy hell for Pearl Harbor, Machiavellian trade policies, and pornimation, nobody says boo about karaoke. Karaoke began in Tokyo in the early 70's, spread like a virus to the U.S. and western countries by the 80's, and by the year 2000 had established a beachhead in virtually every country in the civilized world. In Fort Wayne today, on any given weekend, an intrepid vocalist has the pick of 20-30 places that regularly truck in karaoke machines. It is by no means coincidental that these are the same 20-30 places that I scrupulously avoid every weekend, which may give a clue to my general nature — I have always had a fantastically low threshold for public embarrassment, and nothing has caused me to avert my eyes or squirm in my seat more than an excruciating karaoke session. And I have discovered that the vocalists don't have to be bad, either; for some reason, I get more creeped out by the good karaoke singers than by the bad ones. The good ones always seem to unhealthily greedy for the spotlight, too into it, and I can't help but wonder how awful their week must be for this to be the highlight of it. But that's me, I guess, always looking for the existentialistic dread when I should just be drinking and having fun.
So it is with deep surprise that I must report that attending karaoke night at a northwest Fort Wayne bar turned out to be the highlight of my Hell Night. I'm not going to mention the name of the bar, because I don't want to imply any negative connotations towards it — it's a friendly, working class, neighborhood joint with pleasant bartenders and cheap drinks, and why does it deserve my opprobrium just because there's a karaoke machine in the front window? Plus, the patrons were cool. I engaged in conversation with one of the regulars, who looked exactly like the character actor (and biker patron saint) Sam Elliot. The guy was in full Harley regalia — leather jacket, leather chaps, with flowing gray hair and a moustache — yet there was nothing intimidating or confrontational in his demeanor. It was the end of the working week, after all, and he was there to celebrate and hang with friends. Nothing wrong with that.
I caught 10 songs while I was there, with three rotating vocalists, and I was pleased to discover that one of the songs performed was a terrific old rockabilly tune that I never heard before; it reminded me of the great Springsteen song "Open All Night" from Nebraska or that bitchy Replacement's tune "Waitress in the Sky." (I wrote down the name of the song afterward and downloaded it the next day. Conway Twitty, for those of you keeping score.) The rest of the songs were less obscure, contemporary country songs by artists I've always hated (Reba, the Judds, Toby Keith, Vince Gill.) The singers were good enough, I guess — earnest and nervous, nothing jarringly off-pitch, and they seemed to be having a good time without causing the audience to blush too much. I found myself rooting for them, oddly enough, hoping they'd do justice to these awful songs I knew I'd never willingly listen to again. I clapped hard after every song, occasionally shooting a "thumbs up" gesture to the singers as they passed by my booth.
I had two drinks at the karaoke bar, but left most of the second — it was going to be a long night and I had to pace myself. As any drinker in Fort Wayne knows, DUI's are a pretty big deal here, and I wanted to limit my hellish experiences to bars only, and not the county lock-up. Even with my 100% tip my karaoke trip only cost me $10. Total so far: $30.
11:15pm-1:10am: Zambucas, Piere's
Here's an ethical riddle for you — which is more reprehensible, a pick-up joint for horrible 40 year olds, or a pick-up joint for horrible 20 year olds? This was the moral dilemna I turned over in my mind for the next two hours, as I weaved my way through two of Fort Wayne's most notorious meat markets. I never came up with a satisfying answer, but I didn't feel too bad about that — a council made up of Plato, Solomon, Wittgenstein, and Descartes probably wouldn't have been able to adequately answer that puzzle either.
The other question plaguing me that night was more of a reproach — why in God's name hadn't I bought stock in Revlon, Con Air, or any other company that manufactures hair straighteners? "The look" for girls was unmistakable at Zambuca's and Piere's — straight blonde (bottled) hair, raccoon eye make-up, the requisite short top flashing the requisite flat stomach — in short, Nicole Richie. I probably tripped over a half dozen Simple Life clones at both places, and if that sounds unduly harsh, well, there you are. The guys were the usual pack of meatballs--too much cologne, buttoned-down shirts with three buttons unbuttoned, stubble, dark jeans, etc. In New York they're called "Guidos from Brooklyn." I'm generalizing, of course, and I realize I am being completely unfair, but too bad — after five minutes I was in such a foul mood that I felt wholly justified in giving full vent to my misanthropic thoughts. More than anything else it was the sound that put me on edge. Everytime I passed a gaggle of partiers I was assaulted by squeals and cackles and braying laughs. I remembered reading about an English vaudevillian who claimed that too-robust human laughter can be one of the most terrifying and hair-raising sounds on earth.
And the dancing, boy oh boy — I know I'm going to come across as hopelessly provincial here, but when exactly did public dancing go from being an individualistic, physical sensation to these clumping humpfests? The R&B singer Alicia Keys, wise beyond her years, said once that the whole of American society has become a soft-core porn industry, and after watching the dancers that night, I had to agree with her sentiment. I don't think I watched any illegal acts--at least I hope not--but what was most disturbing was how the humpees kept glancing back at the general public from the dance floor, making sure there were witnesses to how naughty they were being. One caught my eye and gave me a casual smirk, and I felt complicit and tacky.
If I had to make a distinction as to which place was less toxic--and believe me, we're splitting hairs here--I'd give the nod to Piere's, if only because the bartender honored my request and broke my $50 bill into six fives and twenty ones, which I immediately began creasing on the bar top. Shangri-La was the next stop on Hell Night, after all.
Total cost so far: $55, which left me $145 for the final stage of my night.