I used to work next to this pub. I used to sell cigarettes to the bar help who came into the Lantzville store on Saturday nights. The ones who would stand poised in their eye makeup, staring at the rows of cigarettes, occasionally wrenching a sports bra back into the correct position on their shoulder, hands full of folded two-dollar bills. “Pack of Player’s Light,” they would say through their absolute and blinding beauty — which, unbeknownst to me then, was fleeting and would move over them quickly, only to disappear years later, or at least become diluted in the gallons of Molson Canadian they poured. “Pack of Player’s Plain, pack of Benson and Hedges Gold, and two DuMaurier Special Mild. And put them on our tab.” I would stack them on the counter.
This was the first pub I visited when I finally said goodbye to vomiting on local beaches and could drink legally. And it’s the first pub I’ve visited since I’ve been home. Tonight is Tuesday night, Karaoke Night. There are four people present. The blonde hostess near the speakers holds up an oversized CD. She’s making eye contact. She’s telling a couple that if they want to sing while sitting in their chairs, well, then she can arrange that, definitely arrange that. The only other person is an older man in a logging cap, who sits in the darkness next to the pool table, twisting a cane in his palm. There’s a black lab at his feet.
The video screens above showed young women cavorting on beaches while the words “It’s just another Manic Monday” scroll overtop. On the table is the list of songs printed out by someone known as ‘The Town Rocker.’ A jar on the bar counter collects money to help rescue Lantzville’s feral cats. Someone’s deposited a golf ball.
The male half of the couple, a wide-shouldered man in grey jogging pants, finally stands up after much prodding from his wife and starts the meager karaoke evening in earnest, though he’s decided to speak-sing. “It’s not unusual,” he says as if instructing a first aid workshop, “to fall in love with anyone. It’s not unusual.” He looks across at his wife. “To see me cry.”
Wednesday is pasta night. Thursday rib night. While working at the store next to this pub, I sometimes haul garbage down the alleyway, past men urinating against the wall. This is a small town where everyone’s familiar, so they greeted me, and I said hello and stepped over the stream trickling along the concrete.
The older man has come in from the pool room and is now talking to the woman running the show. His dog remains curled by the chair.
“And what would you like to sing tonight?” the woman says in a friendly voice. “What would you like to rock to?” Her hands always seem to be holding one of those giant laser discs, turning it over, fondling it.
“I just want to make comments,” the man replies.
“What do you mean, you just want to make comments?”
“I can’t read, so I’m not going to be much good, am I? I just wanna…”
He makes a few slow circles with his hand.
“I just wanna talk along with a song.”
She puts a hand on her hip and cocks her head. The things you see on karaoke night, I think, for her. There are cotton cobwebs strung across the window. Two plastic skeletons wave from the doorway in preparation for the Halloween party on Saturday. “Well, all right then,” the woman chirps. “It’s your night. They’re your songs, after all.” She spins the giant disc on her finger and smiles at the console. “Would you mind if I sang along with you?” she asks. Her hands are busy with the eject.
“Not at all, darling.”
He sits there under the video screen, now showing highways, tumbleweeds, and men who look like Alan Jackson. He’s nodding his head, eyes closed, tapping his knees while his dog, who has waddled over, fiddles on the floor and tries to get his front leg in the correct position. She takes up a position beside the older man, performing the hips-back-and-forth dance movements of a seasoned karaokess. The song starts, and her timing is better than perfect. Even before the letters scroll, she’s singing On The Road Again with a jauntiness never imagined by Willie Nelson. “Just can’t wait to be on the road again.”
When her chorus ends, the beats bop on, and the first verse begins, his voice fills the room, overamplified, gravelly, and rough—no singer’s voice. “We’ll be back traveling again,” he says into the microphone as the song plays underneath. “Me and my black dog / We might hit the road up to Port Alberni at some point / We’ll be seeing you / Maybe.”
But the verse has ended, and before he can say anything else, she’s there, charging in with the chorus. The words scrawl across the monitor in white and turn blood red as their moment comes and goes.
“Your turn,” she says after the chorus is done. But he’s still got his head down, dropped into his chest, tapping his hands on his knees to the beat. “Your turn,” she says again, and her pinched face, her karaoke professionalism, starts to infringe on the moment. There’s still no one in the bar. The couple watches expectantly. The bopping rhythms of synthesized Willy play on mercilessly.
Finally, the older man lifts his head. His cap says Mac/Blo, and from the angle, I’m watching, I can see out beyond his profile to the streetlamp, the ocean. The words are still defiantly scrolling across the screen, but he can’t read them. “Your turn,” she says. His voice finally comes out of the speakers.
“We’ll all travel together / We’ll need some gas / We’ll have to stop for some food at some point / Perhaps we’ll stop at some sort of rest stop / Pick us up if you see us by the side of the road / I’m on the road again.”