It's Empty Orchestra Time.

カラオケ or Karaoke (pronounced Kah-rah-oh-kay not Kah-ri-oh-key!) is a portmanteau word that blends two different phonemes, 空 (kara, short for karano, meaning empty) and オーケ-ストラ (oke-sutora or orchestra). In other parts of the world, "karioki" is often on a large scale, where one person gets up in front of a crowded bar and sings along to a machine while reading lyrics from a TV screen. I once won a pair of Mets tickets singing in a little bar in Connecticut and often bellowed out different Sinatra-esque tunes while playing trivia in bars in the Toronto area.

Once I arrived in Japan, I discovered that it is a completely different experience. You and your friends are shut away in a private little (or big) room where you warble your tunes in a more intimate environment. My first experience was with the Hell House crowd (them again!) when about a dozen of us went out after drinking till midnight. The booze flowed freely and everyone else were veterans of the trade. When "New York, New York" came up and I motioned the microphone over to me, a few groans were perceived from the crowd. They continued chatting until I got rolling and after drowning them all out, I was seen with a new found respect.

Last Saturday night, Mark, Andy, Anne, her petite friend, Helena and I went out for more brews in Shibuya after the hanami gig and then ended up singing for 2 hours. The ladies had to stay up until the first train to wind their way to Narita to fly out, so we opted to stay up with them.

I've got a great story about Andy's Sayonara party 3 1/2 years ago. His replacement was drinking with us and my boss unwisely had his Farewell and the new guy's Welcome party on the same night. Now, this new guy, James/Sammy seemed like a nice enough guy. I was looking forward to working with him and had graciously allowed him to stay in my apartment while I went back to Canada for two weeks, while he got accustomed to the school. In a story I like to call, "My Way or the Highway", I had entered in "My Way" with the expectation of substituting the word "My" with "His" and singing it as a tribute to Andy. Unfortunately, Sammy also entered the song and we both started singing the song together. I sang "My Way" my way with "His Way" and he sang "My Way" his way with "My Way". Andy stepped in and asked the guy to let me finish the song and wouldn't you know it, the tune only entered onto the machine once, so it looked as though I had stolen the song. Time goes by (not the tune, actual time) and this guy was getting more and more peeved and at one point picked a fight with me (he is 6'6", I am 5'6"). The next morning, he left a note on my boss's desk stating that he could never work with that asshole Mike and quit. My boss had to wrangle a new teacher and did in a few days, but in the meantime, I had to teach a few of my classes (I was still formally on vacation). It turns out that Sammy had no intention of working there anyway for he was already in the country illegally having accepted a ticket back to NZ and was looking for an excuse. For breaking a contract, he won't be coming back to Japan now.

This story has an interesting coda to it, for one of my students had quit effective that evening on the expectation that I wouldn't be there. Over the last 2 years, she had fallen in love with me and could no longer be with me without being with me. We had an affair for about 2 months after that and then she became a pseudo-stalker of mine...but that's another story for another day...

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