Just another guy trying to be heard
“The late streets and their haunts gave youth’s darkness a depth.” – Pat Ament, poet, author and artist, 2004It’s karaoke night at the Bayou, and the dude howling “Welcome to the Jungle” across the stroke of midnight as I walk through the door reminds me that it’s best to arrive without expectations. You never know what you’ll find or do, or who you’ll meet or fight. “It’s the jungle, Baby …”The drums of Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People” kick up some aggression as I make my way to the bar.A friend named Zeb turns around and greets me with a smile and a fist pound. “Hey – wassup?! You wrote that stuff about me, but that’s OK, I forgive you … you’re cool, man …”He says this every time I see him, so he obviously hasn’t. Some readers might recall Zeb’s appearance as an inebriated hiker in one of my previous columns. I admit, it wasn’t a flattering context to introduce a good-spirited guy. But a story is how it is and facts are facts, and Zeb is a character too good to resist attempting to capture in words. He’s a guy I seem to run into at bars and parties, always smiling, happy to see everyone. I don’t think he thought too much of me at first. He treated me with friendly indifference, so I treated him in kind – in print.He’d taken it really well, eventually mustering the courage for a humble request.”Man, that’s fine, I understand. … But can you just make me look cool sometime in another column?”His typical party-animal confidence was whittled down to a genuine soul, and now I respect and appreciate Zeb like I probably never would have if such events had not come to pass.Honesty just seems to breed friendships.But I’ve had a long week, which isn’t even over. Plus I’ve got a woman on my mind and it’s making me nuts. So I smile back at Zeb when he asks again about the column – “Yeah, it’s comin’, I promise.” (I can give a good guy at least that much.) – and order a beer. I have steam to blow off before I explode tomorrow.I started piddling with karaoke when I was 17 at Buffalo Valley with my high school buddies. We would do ridiculous stunts, like singing “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” theme song, taking off a jacket, then shoes, as he did in the show’s intro, but continuing to strip until getting shooed off stage. (Ever wonder why that venue became 18-and-older?) However, even after hurling myself into the flames of that fear of being a public spectacle so many times, my heart still chokes a wee bit when my name is called up to the mic.My chapped lips taste like Pabst and adrenaline as I turn around to face the room full of my fellow freaks (the beautiful people).The Hendrix tune starts … too late to turn back … here it comes …”Purple haze all around …”I can’t tell if I’m going up or down, but I feel better already, and rip it louder.”… Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me.”Ahhhh, yeah. It feels good to get all the frustration, angst and simultaneous elation and pack it all into this electric funnel and shoot it out the door.”Help me … Help me …” If I had a guitar, I’d caress the frets and make love to it before smashing it to oblivion, because I wish I was a rock star with the freedom to be an irresponsible slave to my id.But I’m just a guy washed up on a strange island under the moon in Glenwood, trying to find some common ground with the rest of the inhabitants and maybe get a party started.We can’t pick our places in life, but we can pick our destinations. Or at least whatever song we feel like singin’ next …If you see Derek Franz bomb on stage, please be nice and save your criticism for an e-mail or voicemail directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or 384-9113.
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