In April of 1990, I started working at Wayne State University (WSU) in Detroit, Michigan. I was the Director of a parenting project that conducted parenting classes in eight public health centers. I knew very little about parenting (I had no children, but I did have a set of parents). So I hired parenting experts and I took care of the planning, budgets and managing staff.
While at WSU, I became fast friends with a cartographer (map maker) whose real passion was art. Diana Gamerman painted and built sculptures from found objects. She was a white non-practicing Catholic and was married to a white non-practicing Jew. Floyd, my husband, and I were black non-practicing Protestants. During her spare time, Diana was a contest junkie. She was ALWAYS entering contests and frequently winning things like trips to events, dinners and small appliances.
During this phase of my life, I traveled quite a bit and accumulated frequent flyer points. Whenever I invited Diana to travel with me, she jumped at the chance to visit the art museums in other cities and just for us to spend time together because the trips always turned out to be an adventure.
One Spring, I was invited to make a presentation to a group of parenting professionals in Lexington Kentucky. I invited Diana to go with me. Floyd felt he could better spend his time working and making money than going with me to listen to a day of speeches or spend the day in the hotel waiting for me to return from the conference.
When Diana and I arrived in Lexington, we just happened to be staying in the hotel that was giving the pre-concert party for Hank Williams Jr. Our eyes perked up when we saw “FREE FOOD” and “CONTESTS” on the banner across the front of the hotel. We immediately planned to join the festivities that evening and get the free snacks and enter the contest to win a free steak dinner for two.
The presentation I made at the parenting conference was well received. Diana visited the art museum. We met back at the hotel for the “FREE FOOD”.
Before we left the room to join the party in the lobby, Diana’s cap on one of her teeth fell off. It was a tooth that would show when you smiled. We had to do something, but it was Friday night and no dentist would be open and besides that we would miss the FREE FOOD. So after after 30 second of hard thought, I said, “I have nail glue!!” Diana didn’t even miss a beat, “OK. Get it!” So, I used my nail glue to tack it back. I was very careful not to use too much glue or to drip any of it in her mouth and risk gluing some parts of Diana’s mouth together.
When we reached the lobby, it was packed with folks who had been partying and drinking since the announcement of “Bocephus is coming to town!” Well, we blended in as best we could. Diana may have looked a bit country but I was the only black in the room. The room was full of hillbillies in jeans, suspenders and wearing tee shirts with Hank’s larger than life photo on it.
We went right to the FREE FOOD.
The first contest was racing mice. Yeah, I said mice. Remember that these are sho-nuff country folk. The raceway was a long rectangle box with four long sections parallel to the long sides. The mice were each in a separate section. The contestants had to get their mouse from the rear to the front of the box by calling and pleading to the mice.
We decided I would enter the contest. Diana was a bit on the shy side and I had never known shy in my life.
My mouse was in the lead! I got so excited about winning that I screamed when my mouse was 10 inches from the finish line. The mouse heard my yell, looked up at me, eyeball to eyeball, THEN TURNED AROUND and ran in the opposite direction.
I was disgusted with myself. Diana kept reminding me of how close we had come to that steak dinner for two.
Next was the karaoke contest. I couldn’t persuade Diana to sing with me or even be a back-up singer. I had never heard her sing, so I don’t know if she couldn’t sing or it was mostly shyness.
I felt I had to enter in order to make up for my dismal performance with the mice. I could not sing; NEVER have been able to sing. When I was in college, in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, we often did “line dances” where the whole sorority would sing and dance before large crowds. However, the music director came to me early in my sorority career and asked me to just mouth the words and not let a sound come out of my mouth. That freed me from the pressure of “trying to sing” and probably brought relief to all my sorors, especially the ones who were trying to stay on key standing next to me.
So in order to psyche myself into this preposterous karaoke singing role, first, I figured that the liquor had dulled, some of the crowd’s hearing so I might not so sound toooooo bad. Second, if I was the first contestant, they would go easier on me because I would be setting the standard. If I couldn’t be first, I wouldn’t sing because if a half-way singer got up before me, I was doomed to be booed off the stage. Thirdly, if I picked a song that didn’t have too much harmonizing, maybe I would get away with it.
Well, I sat there trying to think of what song to sing that I knew and the hillbilly crowd would like. I knew no country songs. It had to be a song that I knew well enough to take my eyes off the monitor for brief periods of time. I figured I needed as much eye contact with the crowd as possible and dancing would help the performance greatly. What song? What artist? Definitely not anything slow in the vein of Johnny Mathis or The Four Tops. It had to be a cross-over artist, somebody that everybody knew and loved but the record had to be easy enough for me to know the tune and had been popular enough for me to have memorized the words by heart. Also it couldn’t be a beloved country artist that I would hack up the singing so bad that out of respect for the artist they would boo me off the stage. So that automatically eliminated Hank Williams Jr and his daddy (which I didn’t know any of their songs, except the opening line “Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?” on Monday nights). It also eliminated Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton.
As I thought and thought. The perfect song came to me!!
No sooner, than I had that brilliant idea, they announcer called for the first karaoke contestant to come to the stage. I shot up like a bolt of lightning. I knew the crowd thought that I thought I could sing because I stood up so quick. I also was aware that the crowd probably thought they were in for a treat — the only black in the crowd would grace them with some sho-nuff get-down, soul/country singing.
The last thoughts that went through my head as I walked toward the stage were:
“I don’t know any of these people. They don’t know me. And I’ll never see them again in my life!!”
I was now free from the shackles of reality and I entered my stage life.
I confidently strided my 5’2″ inch, size 10 frame to the stage. I flicked my long brown hair like I’d seen myself do a thousand times in my dreams. And, like a true performer, I waved to the crowd as I walked to the stage and ascended the steps.
They were wild with yelling and clapping. I LOVED MY MOMENT OF FAME.
The announcer handed me the mike and asked, “What are you singing?”
I firmly grabbed the mike, stomped my foot, looked to my adoring crowd and and shouted into the mike ”Aretha Franklin, Respect!!”
The whole room exploded and then pulsated with cheering and yelling and I was engulfed in their intoxicated love, adoration, and idolizing.
When the intro to the song began, I started moving across the stage. I threw in some of the Temptations hand movements and the Pips foot movements. When the words started, I had psyched myself up so much that, I COULD SING.
They kept yelling, I danced even harder. I made eye-contact, they rose to their feet. I pointed at individuals in the crowd, they danced at their tables.
I put my hands on my hips when I sung the lyrics, “Show me my propers when you get home!”, then slapped myself on the chest for emphasis.
It was a maddening crowd and I was even madder. I was insane. I was the singer I had dreamed of being long ago. I was the conductor of this revelry and I LOVED IT.
When I walked off the stage, they were still yelling for more. If I was at Carnegie Hall, I would have been forced to do at least two encores.
The other contestants could really sing, especailly the woman that sang “Two Doors Down, they’re laughing and drinkin’, and having a party” and the guy that sung “All my ex’s live in Texas, that’s why I hang my hat in Tennessee”. He even had the wide brim cowboy hat to wave around as he performed.
At the end, all the contestants were called back on stage. The announcer held his hand above each of our heads and the crowd chapped for the ones they liked best. The “ex’s in Texas” took First Place.
My performance won me SECOND PLACE!!
I was flying in seventh heaven all the way home on the airplane. Even-though I only won a baseball cap, my performance was all Diana and I could talk about.
When I arrived home, I was excited describing the event to Floyd, who couldn’t believe, first of all, that his “no singing” wife would even think of entering a singing contest and then win 2nd place.
Well, my evidence was the karaoke tape they gave me of my performance. I boldly walked over to the tape player and inserted the tape. This was also my first time hearing it.
When the Intro music started, I described my dancing on stage and he could hear the crowd yelling in response. THEN we heard my no-singing, screeching and mostly hollering:
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T take care, TCB, sock it to me, sock it to me sock it to me. Respect, just a little bit….Respect…….”
The evidence spoke for itself. I was worst than terrible. Aretha and her followers had enough evidence on that tape to sue me for defamation of character!!
Floyd, just covered his eyes and shook his head and said “They all had to be stone drunk!!”
If you would judge of the lawfulness or the unlawfulness of pleasure, then take this simple rule: Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, and takes off the relish of spiritual things – that to you is sin. Susannah Wesley
….be sure your sin will find you out. Numbers 32:23
WHAT’S YOUR REACTION TO THIS TRUE STORY??