Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Zen 14

Gather 'round, children, and let me tell you a tale. Let us take time on this Thanksgiving eve, let us set aside our butter churns and our sugaring of marigolds, let us loosen our corsets and unbuckle our hats that have big brass buckles on them for no apparent reason and let us hearken back to a simpler time. So hunker down with a mug of mulled cider or fermented honey wine and allow me to regale to you a yarn of a story that has made me the girl I am today, the girl who has gained the reputation as "Vroman's Bookstore's Offical Company Christmas Party Mood Killer."

After nearly three weeks of consecutive employment at Pasadena's favorite (and oldest) independent bookstore, I was enjoying that short lived, but wonderful title of "the new girl." Being the new kid at school/work/your chosen city of residence means so many things. It's a wonderful opportunity to start a new chapter of your life. To do things right. To eat healthier, dress smarter, wear cleaner socks and be more patriotic...Go America! (that was just for you Regan, since you just finished reading AHWOSG :) )

But there is only so much time you have to take advantage of being unknown. Some people manage to maintain an elusive air indefinitely, but even they become, inevitably, known as that person in the break room who only eats cold Tun-ana casseroles, or the guy who never washes his hands but insists on eating from the communal peanut bowl. In my tragic case, I will become known as the girl who killed the company Christmas Party.

As with all tales where the narrator invites you to share in the pain of their lamentable demise, I will tell you that my intentions were always good...noble even. My goal, at my first social event with my new co workers...was not just to fit in, but to make a mark. I guess, in retrospect, my goal was achieved.

There's a high standard of "coolness" that has been set by generations of free-spirited booksellers employed by independent bookstores like Vroman's. There's the quirky bohemian lifestyle that I long to be a part of that seems always just beyond my reach. I don't have horn rimmed glasses, I don't have that starved waif look, I've never dyed my hair, I don't carry a pocket volume written by Kafka/Proust/Kant/Machiavelli/Sartre in my back pocket at all times, I've never lived in my car, I've haven't had anything tatooed (yet) and I usually bathe a few times a week. So I have to fit in… in other ways.

The Christmas party was at a Restaurant in South Pasadena called the Firelfly Bistro (they had some of THE BEST yams I've had in my entire life) and the party was pretty standard company Christmas party fare from there on out. Dinner, drinks...karaoke.... It's the Karaoke that did me in....oh, karaoke. I noticed something strange at the beginning of the evening. As people got up and made goofs of themselves singing poorly to songs that are awful to listen to on the first place, the crowd was eating it up! The singers made mistakes and danced around and sang in different keys and the more they did this, the more the crowd cheered. I hate singing karaoke...mainly because I'm pretty awful at it...but here it seemed like that was a good thing. I picked my karaoke partners carefully. There's Mr. Steve....the children's story hour host at Vromans who is a little bit older than me and delightfully quirky in a Science Fiction fan kind of way. Then there is Kris, the ridiculously adorable manager of the children's book department who offered (OFFERED!) to be a sign language interpreter as Mr. Steve and I sang Paradise by the dashboard light (in my experience, a foolproof crowd least at McGranaghan family weddings) by Meatloaf.

I figured the plan was foolproof. Imagine it if you can: The new girl convinces a Vroman's Icon who is known only as Mr. Steve to sing a rock ballad with her as the the bright/eyed-sweet/spirited children's book manager interprets the classic Meatloaf song for the hearing impared (of which, to be honest, there were none in the audience) and these things add up to: Genius! Right?

So there I was on the precipice of coolness. Years of failures had lead up to this point...bad haircuts, a habit of sticking my foot in my mouth, braces, smelly tennis shoes, an addiction to yellow mustard...and suddenly there I was: In a room full of quirky people who love to read and talk about books and ready to cheer on (!) awful Karaoke with a quirky comic book fan and a sign language interpreter just five songs away from a smash performance of one of the world's most beloved rock ballads.

Four songs away...

Three songs away...

and what's this? Are people filtering out? Are people LEAVING as I'm about to curtsey onto the stage, eschewing my scaley snakeskin lifetime of insecurities and late blooming?

Two songs away...

The night is young people! Stick it out, wait for it...this is going to be WORTH it!

One song away...This is my moment.

DJ: And now we're going to take a little dance break. Who knows how to SALSA!?!

NOOOOOoooooooo........! Okay fine, let's dance.

So I danced. We all and what was left of the group of the bohemian elite who still...but only for a short while longer...knew me as the new girl. We were fierce, but the crowd continued to dwindle with every salsa we salsa-ed...down to a quarter of the original number. Then I turned around and Kris was picking up her purse and keys. She'd had a long day and gotten up early to sign for two church services that morning. She said she was sorry to go before we got to karaoke, but we'd do it some other time. I hugged her and watched her go. Kris walked out the door (the It factor of our would-be history-making moment) and the song ended and I turned around and the DJ called my name.

gah! Did I have enough time to run outside and grab Kris and convince her to stay for just a few more minutes!? no...probably not.

You don't realize how sketchy the lyrics of that song can be until you're standing in the corner of a restaurant singing it with perfect stranger with twenty drunk and tired coworkers staring at you like you're a pile of day old bread pudding that just put on a pair of sunglasses.

Really. Mr. Steve and I sang about being seventeen year olds in the backseat of a car. I didn't even have any real life experience to pull from here...never having seen the backseat of a guy's car as a seventeen year old...

The DJ didn't even bother calling anyone else up to sing after we walked away in awkward silence. He just put on some more music the crowd could salsa to and forget what just happened. It would have been SO much better (ie, funny) if Kris had stayed just a few more minutes...but as it was...I just became the new girl who sang about making out in the back seat of a car with Mr. Steve...

People danced, but the party was over. Everyone felt dirty and awkward. We’re perfect strangers for goodness’ sake! The new girl’s a hussy. Nobody made eye contact with me on the way out ...I couldn't blame them.

It's like those times when you go weeks, maybe months without looking at your hands, really looking at them, and then one day you look down while they're resting on your lap, and you realize they're a lot smaller and weaker than you remembered and that the nails grow in a little funny, especially the one on your right hand where the writing callus from your pen has gotten really deep and has made that part of the nail flat.

Okay, maybe this experience wasn't anything like the hand thing, but that did happen to me the other day...being surprised by my hands. Thought that was weird.

Anyway...I went home, felt a little awkward and tried to forget about it...I wanted to hope that everyone was too drunk to remember anything from the party. But I was wrong. It's all I've heard about. Even from people who weren't there.

So, here's what I've decided: I'm swearing off karaoke forever. Also, I might go sit in on story time with Mr. Steve on Saturday mornings at ten...I like it when he wears his Spiderman Shirt.

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