Drunks of a Different Color

And creed, and sexual orientation . . .

Photo by James BunoanThe heavy, mid-30s blonde was looking at me a bit suspiciously, and I don't blame her. Exactly what business did I have chatting up her dad, a fun NASCAR drunk in a Karaoke Fest hat and T-shirt?

I couldn't tell her I was just probing for info on Karaoke Fest 2003, held on the extravagant Queen Mary, so I wouldn't actually have to go inside the convention. I much prefer reporting from the art deco Observation Deck bar.

Had it been fun?

It was just like watching American Idols!

How many people were there?

He'd guess 1,200!

When the blonde and her brother arrived at the bar, it took only a few minutes and a few mentions of my boyfriend to settle her nerves.

Who had won the contest?

The white guy with the dreadlocks, singing "Welcome to the Jungle"! Fabulous.

Soon enough, we were happy (white) clams having a getting-to-know-you. (While karaoke, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, is a spectacularly integrated cult, we were sitting at one very pale table.)

When I mentioned that I'd moved from Hermosa to Long Beach because I couldn't stand the racists, I saw her ears perk up. When I said I lived in the ghetto, her voice dropped a notch, and she began asking the questions.

With blacks?

Yes indeed!

Did I ever have any problems?

Well, I go pretty crazy in the summertime, when everybody's fighting in the street.

Did my son have any problems?

No. None at all.

Her mom's boyfriend is black, she said, and they'd moved from the military town of Oceanside to Hawthorne when she was 17. "It was all blacks!" she said. "I didn't like it." I sympathized. When you're the only white person, you can definitely feel like a target. You are, I reminded her, very white. She nodded, but before I could type her as a budding Grand Wizardess, she said she lives in Cypress now. "It's mixed," she said. "I like it like that." That is a wonderful step! And if she could just remember to append the word people when talkin' 'bout blacks—you know, so black becomes a mere adjective rather than a noun?—she might become a happening sister. But the very best cure for casual racism? A little crosstown love.

This had been the conversation with my sister Sarah:


"Men, schmen!"

Then we went off to Montage with Beth to drink champagne and look at the ocean and try not to linger on heartbreak.

When we met up on Main Street four hours later, Robbie was remembering the exchange as just another example of the constant man-bashing under which he must labor (the grandmothers with whom he lives, it's true, are not big on the Y chromosome). And now he was yelling, because he's really, really loud, and we had taken him to a gay bar, and not only was it a gay bar, but it was pretty dead and he was drunk. (He and Sarah's husband, Pie, deny the 'keep at Main Streetcut them off, but that was what it looked like to me. Also, they made a solemn pact to drink only liquor that comes in green bottles until Labor Day, so that should tell you something right there.) "Robbie, we only said, 'Men, schmen,' okay? So, shut up. You're the one who always calls women 'bitches.'"

Amazingly, it kind of worked, and Robbie kind of shut up, but that had more to do with the fact that we said we'd leave Main Street (they probably didn't want us anyway) and head over to the Sandpiper, a.k.a. The Dirty Bird. Sarah and Pie had been there the night before, she said, and the Spinal Tapband was amazing! "They do the best Zeppelin set I've ever heard!" Pie confirmed.

Lucky for us, Orion was back on the stage Saturday night! And as a small fan blew the lead singer's locks back like he was Donna Dixon's Foxy Ladyin Wayne's World, the band played late-'90s Top 40, and then the lead singer said, "This one's by a band whose name means a demon trying to have sex with you while you sleep . . . Incubus!" And we got really, really happy, and we danced.

Orion was good, and they got even better once they started laying in "Mother's Little Helper" and Steve Miller's "The Joker." But then the singer, who looked like a long-haired freaky Michael J. Fox, said he'd take care of me and Sarah during the break. Ewww! Whatever you do, girls, don't tell anyone you're sisters. People get way too creepy when they hear that. A bunch of drunk girls started yelling for Bon Jovi, and then Whitesnake, so Orion complied as best they could with The Scorpions. The drummer is a really good whistler. Then I went home.

I stopped into Mr. LJ (in Placentia!) Friday night to weep at my girl Haley tending bar ("Bring a gun," she told me) and drink a couple of Blue Balls. (Haley stole the recipe for the Liquid Cocaine from Detroit, but switches it up with soda water instead of the too-sugary 7-UP. The hangover should be from the alcohol, she explains.) And Mr. LJ was everything she'd promised, and more! Everybody was warm and loud and there was one big, jovial guy who had an entire routine about his sad fatness. He wasn't all that fat to me.

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