I was watching Lost In Translation not long ago. Great movie, and I’ve mentioned before my fondness for Bill Murray. I do believe he’s one of the premier actors of our generation, and if you don’t believe me, I’ve got two words for you: Day, and Groundhog.

Only not in that order.

There’s a scene in the film where Bill’s character, Bob – a past-his-prime American actor spending time in Tokyo to film a whiskey commercial – is in a bar and ends up singing karaoke in order to impress a girl (Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson, who is much younger, feeling neglected by her husband, and with that face and body certainly worth the trouble of impressing).  He steps up to the microphone and belts out Roxy Music’s “More Than This.”

Quite poorly, I might add.

But the thing about this performance is – it actually makes karaoke look fun. And when I think of karaoke, “fun” is not the word that comes to mind. “Terrifying,” maybe. Or “I’d have to be pretty damn drunk to ever consider making a fool of myself in public,” perhaps. But most certainly not “fun.”

Then again, I’m sort of scarred for life. I had a bad karaoke experience once, and I wasn’t even the one singing.

There was this girl, you see.

(And isn’t that always the case)?

Actually, “girl” is being charitable. She was an older woman, an honest-to-goodness what the kids call cougar. And she had the hots for me. I was very freshly divorced at the time (actually, separated – the divorce was still a few weeks away from being final, but the ex and I had split months earlier and were already living in separate condos), and eager to dip my toes into the dating pool again. Or maybe not my toes per se, but whatever. The point is, I wanted to have some fun, and this woman – whom I had worked with at a previous job – was down for that. She wasn’t at all my type, but you know that axiom about not looking for Ms. Right but being perfectly content with Ms. Right Now? That was my attitude in 2006.

Sorry, mom. I know you’re reading this. Gulp.

Anyway, she came over for a date, and while I was perfectly content to stay in, she wanted to go out and do something after we’d eaten pizza. I was thinking a movie might be fun, but then she suggested karaoke.

Err. Umm.

“Come on, it’ll be fun!” she said, and I groaned because there was somebody else using an adjective to describe karaoke that I would never in a million years select myself. But I figured I owed her that much, considering we weren’t planning on parting ways for another fourteen hours or so. Go ahead and read between the lines. So I acquiesced, and we drove into Portland.

I should have known the night was going to go from good to not-so-good when Ms. Right Now not only had a particular karaoke spot in mind, but informed me as we pulled into the parking lot that she was “a regular.” Sure enough, the minute we walked through the door, the crowd greeted her by name. This reminded me of “Norm!!” from Cheers. Everybody really did know her name.

We squeezed into a booth, where we were joined by Ms. Right Now’s daughter and boyfriend. I was more attracted to the daughter than I was to her. Maybe because we were closer in age.

OK, I exaggerate. But she was cuter.

Ms. Right Now handed me what I assumed was a menu, only instead of containing things like cheeseburgers and chicken wings, this one listed songs. Thousands and thousands of songs. You’d place your order, and when it was ready, they’d call you up to the mic. My eyes glazed over as I skimmed through the myriad choices. You could sing basically anything that had ever been recorded in the past half-century, ranging from AC/DC to Zeppelin, Led. Again, I had no desire whatsoever to take the stage of what was a glorified honky-tonk bar and belt out a song badly.

“I’m not hungry,” I croaked.

My date that night did NOT look like this.

Ms. Right Now was too busy preparing for her moment in the spotlight to pay me much heed. Suddenly, it was her turn to take the stage. The lights dimmed, the music blared, and she launched into “Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears. Oh, god. She writhed around the stage, shaking her hips suggestively, pouty lips and all. The crowd ate it up, cheering her every move. I, on the other hand, wanted to duck under the table. Or make a mad dash for the door, but I thought that would be considered poor decorum.

I’m glad she was having fun, but she looked absolutely ridiculous. She had twenty years and a dozen wrinkles on Ms. Spears. I’m only thankful that she wasn’t wearing the naughty schoolgirl outfit Britney sported in the video, though there were props in her performance. Like pompoms, which she shook much too rigorously for my tastes. There was nothing sexy or alluring or even remotely attractive about that rendition. And yet, the audience loved her.

The audience knew her. She was a regular. That has to explain the incessant applause and catcalls that were rained down on her.

I escaped from there without having to take the stage myself, fortunately. And when we got back to my place that night, I faked an illness. True story. I’m not proud of this, but I was much too turned off to be turned on. The next morning I was up early, watching TV while she slept in my bed. Ever since that night, the women I have dated have all been younger than me.

And none of them have suggested we go out for a night of karaoke.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

20 thoughts on “Kara-not-oke

  1. Do I still have to comment even though I’ve read this story before? LOL

    I’m happy to say my first karoke dating experience was way better than yours. Even though it was with a 48 year old, 350lb biker dude, he could sing the shit out of Audioslave!

    And I promise to never, ever, ever, EVER drag you to karoke. Ever!


    1. Whew. What a relief, babe! I don’t know if I can ever set foot in a karaoke place again, even if I’ve downed 5 bloody marys.

      OK, maybe if I downed 5 bloody marys…

      If by some chance I ever did sing karaoke, I’d do “Light My FIre” by The Doors. 45 seconds of singing in a 7 1/2-minute song? THAT I could probably handle.


  2. HAHAHAHA!! OH my GOD! That’s hilarious, I can picture the terrible scene in my head Mark. I’ve been to Karaoke before and I have to say, it’s always a lot more fun being a spectator. I admit I got up there ONCE, with 2 friends, in high school…but that’s where KARAOKE should end. Adults and Karaoke don’t mix….unless you’re Japanese.


    1. Maybe if I was in Tokyo and had consumed several bottles of sake I *might* consider it. But here in America? Notachanceinhell!!

      I wish I could say I never saw Ms. Right Now again, but we did get together once a year later. Fortunately, no karaoke was involved. Nor was anything else.


  3. Oh my…this brought back some memories of when I was a bartender who just happened to work on the night we had Karaoke. It was even on a Tuesday night for crying out loud! Oy…some of the singers…well…let’s just say my hearing has never been the same.

    Mind you, we had some pretty awesome singers too. One was a girl named April who could belt out Faith Hill’s ‘Breathe’ and the other was Katherine who could belt out anything but my favorite was always ‘Call and Answer.’

    The hostess of said Karaoke was a woman by the name of Linda and she would, weekly, murder ‘I Touch Myself.’ Good thing I wasn’t much of a drinker back then…I would have had a couple of shots just to get through that one song…LOL

    Woohoo….8 more days!!!


    1. If done properly…meaning, by the right woman…”I Touch Myself” could be a very sexy karaoke song.

      I shudder to think how Ms. Right Now would have sucked all the sexual allure right out of it, however….

      So, karaoke next time we’re up in Bothell?


  4. First, I have to share your love of the movie, Lost in Translation. It’s a faaaaaaaabulous film!

    Bill Murray is pure genius.

    Second, I LOVE your blog post title. Faaaaaaabulous too!

    OMG…I’m reading this hilarious post and could FEEL how imbarrassed “I” would have been watching her too!!! Reminded me of that scene in the movie, “My Best Friends Wedding”, when Cameron Diaz gets up to sing karaoke!

    While living in Japan for a summer, I discovered how much the Japanese LOVE karaoke. And even being a singer myself, I could NOT muster up the courage to get up there and do it!

    Have a grrrreat weekend, buddy!


    1. You’re right – I remember that karaoke scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding!! Which, umm, I only saw because my ex-wife bought the damn movie. Funny stuff, though.

      Bill Murray is a god in my book.


  5. This is a fun post, Mark! Frankly, I would rather be shot that do karaoke. I wouldn’t want to sing or be in the audience. And, I swear to God, my voice is so bad, were I to sing everyone would beg me to stop. Yikes!


    1. I guess the key is to get really drunk first. And hope that the audience is really drunk. Sadly, Ms. Right Now was NOT the least bit drunk when she took the stage – she just genuinely believed she was all that.

      Trust me when I say, she was NONE of that.


  6. I have a girlfriend who used to sing Karaoke & she was very good at 2 songs. I would go to watch her & she would often try to get me up to sing – no way! Torture! I think, unless you have a really good voice, you should only sing Karaoke at 2 a.m. when you & everyone else is pretty well sloshed.


  7. Henceforth, I reserve the right to refer to you as “Cougar Bait.”

    So anyhow, Cougar Bait, funny post. I kinda feel like I need a shower after reading it — but that’s not so bad, right? Cleanliness is next to godliness and all that, after all. Right?

    I’ve done karaoke once. Lots of alcohol was involved, and I was in my early 20s singing with my two best friends — who remarkably are still my best friends today. I think the experience bonded us for life…it was mortifying!


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