Robyn’s post marking the anniversary of Patsy Cline’s death earlier this week sent me on a little trip down memory lane.
My roommate in graduate school was a poetry student. Unlike we historians, who spent hours in dusty archives (well, I was a modernist, so I usually got to just hang out in special collections), painstakingly analyzing fragments of the past, the poets would sit down with a bottle of wine and write a little poem. “All done!” they’d say and keep right on drinking. It just wasn’t right.
Don’t get me wrong—my roommate was an astoundingly good poet, and I’ve been keeping a lookout for her first published book, but still, I harbored a great deal of acrimonious resentment because she actually had a life as a grad student. This one particular evening, though, I got to experience that life, and after that, I never resented special collections again.
It was a November evening, and the first blizzard of the year raged outside (yes, it still snowed in those days). A bunch of the poets braved the elements to come over to our place to hang out and do what poets do. Innumerable bottles of red wine, not to mention glasses of single-malt, later we decided that we needed to get out of the house. In a blizzard. Ill-advised though it was, one of the poets got his car running. “There won’t be anyone on the road, anyway,” he slurred. “Besides, we’re just going down to Durgin’s. It’ll be fine.”
“We’re going to Durgin’s?” my roommate and I asked as we stumbled through the snow to the waiting car. Durgin’s was a nasty little watering hole frequented by the “locals” in our college town. Many of the locals sported gaping holes where teeth were supposed to be, and we suspected inbreeding in at least a few cases. Roommate and I exchanged dubious glances, but since we were both very compliant drunks, we sighed, shook our heads, and got in the car along with the other poets. “Hey, we’re a bunch of clowns!” someone said. “We should film this.”
Down, down, down the steep hill we slid in the storm. The driver was yelling a lot, but otherwise, he seemed to be in reasonable control. Giggling, roommate and I held our arms up like we were on a rollercoaster. “Weeeeeeee!” Two minutes later, the car parked somewhat precariously near the bar, we stumbled our way through the snow and into Durgin’s.
We weren’t prepared.
I looked to my left, and I saw Roy Orbison. He was holding a guitar and singing the theme from American Tale (“Somewhere out there! Beneath the pale moonlight…”) as a duet with a stringy-haired blonde woman. Fear coursed through Roommate and me, as clearly we had entered another, distinctly unpleasant, dimension. After the initial shock, we took comfort in the bewildered looks of the poets—if we were hallucinating, at least it was a collective vision. Our driver caught on first. “Ah,” he said, sagely nodding and wiping the snow off his feet, “It’s karaoke night.”
“Yeah, but is that Roy Orbison?” one of the poets asked.
“This is really weird,” Roommate and I said at the same time.
“It’ll be fine,” the driver said. "Let’s go grab a seat back here." We walked past Roy and stringy-haired lady as they were crooning about dreams coming true and headed around the bar to the tables in the back. Did I mention that everyone in the place was staring at us like we were the Huns?
We found an empty table behind a divider that effectively blocked the karaoke stage. This made us feel better, and we sat down. A waitress came over and took our orders for beers and various other concoctions. Although everything was still really strange, we took comfort in our libations and began to relax and chat drunkenly about life in general and the beauty of the snow falling outside in particular. We were very pleased to have gotten out of the house.
In our drunken revelry, it seems we forgot about the karaoke. The karaoke had not forgotten us. All of the sudden, the music for “Crazy” started playing and from around the divider separating us from the stage slinked a thing. This thing was a very tiny woman, probably not even four-eight, wearing a seafoam green sweatsuit and tube socks. Her eyes bugged out of her tiny head. Her hair was cinched up in a cock-eyed ponytail, but she sang like she was Pasty Cline at the Grand Ole Opry. And she twisted and moved and stared intently at us, beckoning us to join her in her world. It was the single most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.
“Oh my god!” shouted one of the poets! “What is that thing? Make it go away!”
I was grabbing the table. “What’s happening?” I whimpered to Roommate.
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
The woman kept doing her snaky dance and singing “Crazy.” She wouldn’t stop. How long can this song last? I thought nervously. I didn’t need to. Our driver grabbed Roommate’s hand and yelled, “Let’s get out of here!” to the rest of us. Drinks spilled in our wake as we dodged the beckoning singer. Everyone stared blankly after us as we ran out of the bar and into the blizzard. No one breathed until we’d wound our way back up the hill and arrived safely home. We were exhausted by the effort, but no one dared to sleep. We just kept asking ourselves what on Earth had just happened.
And after that, no one spoke of that evening again.