Thanks to The Student for filling in—for what that was worth. (No offence to him, but I never quite intended for this behemoth to be as much about literature as all that. ...Granted, my M.A. is in Ranting in Literature, and I’ve talked about that quite a bit. No matter, though.)
As he mentioned, the Fiddler on the Roof rehearsals were amping up, and I was beginning to think that I’d entered into something I wasn’t quite perpared for. Not regarding the lines, or the music, or even the dancing (I was actually improving on that! Couldn’t quite understand how a person was supposed to be able to alternate what foot to lead with, but whatever). No, I was, for the first time, understanding just how out of my league these English were when it came to binge drinking.
See, The Student had warned me a bit. Since he’d been abroad to England before, he’d seen just how bad the English could be. However, my understanding was that he hung out in Coffee & Corks a lot more than chav bars, so I don’t think he quite understood. You see—and you probably already know this, but bear with me—there is a world of difference between the ways people drink in an urbane sort of place like C&C and the English equivalent to a club where the prevailing sound is the pumping of bass pouring out of speakers and raping your eardrums.
Which is, essentially, what I discovered the young people are into nowadays. You see, in terms of academic standing, I was the oldest person in the cast. (That of course doesn’t apply to time, where I was somewhere near the top, but not quite near the top, and it frankly doesn’t matter because I’m a sixty-year-old trapped in a twentysomething’s body and I’ll shut up now.) This meant that I’d been through the two and a half years of excessive killing-my-liver that was Freshman through half of Junior years of college, and was very much in the mindset that one did not have to pickle one’s brain in whiskey to have a good night.
However, this view was not particularly prevalent in Musical Theatre Society. Maybe it’s the venues they chose. It’s hard to relax and talk when the Black Eyed Peas are screeching about what a good night it’s going to be (not to mention randomly throwing in Hebrew into their songs, the schlubs), not to mention the difficulty of expressing oneself when one is being jostled every which way by people on insane and unhealthy amounts of drugs.
And thus, most times when rehearsals were done on Thursday or Friday nights, a portion of the cast would wander over to The Venue or Massive Mungo’s. (Massive Mungo’s was a, er, massive event that was the closest I’ve ever seen to a rave. I hated it. The beer was served in plastic cups—Guinness in plastic cups should be a crime—the people were whacked out of their minds, and no one could hear my awful jokes.
I did see The Drunkard around the crowd, though. He seemed to fit in quite well, but judging from the amount of times I saw him get slapped, I guess he wasn’t having a fun night.
Anyway, there was one thing that MST did that I could get behind: Karaoke nights.
(A brief digression:
When I was in high school, I had the extreme honor of being in the top ten percent of my graduating class. This meant that I did just enough homework to have a low A as my GPA. It further meant that I was able to go on a trip to Gatlinburg, paid for by the school.
Gatlinburg, and the nearby town of Pigeon Forge, for those who don’t know, is an awful place. It’s like the redneck Alps. Set rigth at the foot of the Smokey Mountains, the town is made to look like some bizarre hunting village. The illusion falls apart, though, when one sees the giant Ripley’s Believe It Or Not tourist trap right alongside the hundredth consecutive bauble vendor.
Pigeon Forge, though, is worse. There are three types of buildings in Pigeon Forge: 1) Go-Kart Tracks; 2) Fast food restaurants; 3) Big cubes that hold clothe stores and the like. They all look similar, and, after spending an hour in the town, one is tempted to rip out one’s own eyes.
Anyway, the reason I brought that up was because there happened to be a karaoke bar attached to one of the big cubes. My fellow nerds and I went to this karaoke place one afternoon. Others chose to sing songs that people knew—pop hits and the like. I, however, said “Nope,” and went with a string of Bob Dylan. I was not liked.)
The karaoke nights at the University of Kent were held in Rutherford Bar—in Rutherford College, it may surprise you to learn. A guy and his wife had a catalogue of karaoke tunes you could howl along to. Speakers were set up in one corner, and it was free to get in—which was a huge plus.
So, Tuesdays after rehearsals, the cast would go down to the bar and proceed to monopolize the whole thing. I’m fairly certain that everyone else who showed up, not expecting to see a horde of hyper glee-club types, hated the cast for filling the request queue with Elton John, Phantom of the Opera, and other musicals. And frankly, I could understand why. There were a few people who sang the same songs every week, and some weeks, twice in one night. They viewed it as their signature songs (I’m thinking of one odd guy who chose “Hallelujah” every week and, my friends, was not Leonard Cohen). Everyone else viewed the songs as the reasons why they couldn’t get up in front of their friends and sing a horrible-on-purpose rendition of “Don’t Stop Me Now.”
And this Tuesday was no different. I showed up a little later than everyone else, having to stop by the Gulb and get some post-dancing coffee and think about a few songs I’d try to sneak in between the society’s onslaught of Broadway songs. The society seemed to be already drunk—which I thought was amazing, considering rehearsals had been over for only half an hour—and I was greeted with several unintelligble shouts.
To my left was a portion of the cast, huddled around one person clutching a microphone for dear life. They all yelled lyrics to some song from some musical I’d never heard before. I looked over to my right and saw Dixie hanging around with somepeople I recognized from American Society, so, not really wanting to deal with the voices of a dozen drunk English students, I walked over to his group.
“Yo man,” I said.
Dixie turned around. I could tell he was quite drunk already. “Hey!” he shouted. Then he introduced me to the group of people surrounding him.
Turned out they were all Americans. It was strange, how Dixie seemed to be a cultural attache to American students studying at Kent. The Student hadn’t mentioned such a thing when he was here a couple years ago, so I assumed that it was a new position put up by the Student Union in conjunction with the American Society. Or not.
Anyway, the three people around him were Miles—from South Carolina, he looked a bit like Rivers Cuomo if he were taller—Jeff—a man who, I assumed, had followed The Dave Matthews Band around the States—and Flynn—looked a bit like Neil Patrick Harris. We drank, and discussed the many ways we preferred England to the States.
Now, it turned out that Flynn would be one of the founding members of the Man Squad, along with a man who—I believe—was directly descended from Thor himself. The Man Squad, you see, was a loose confederation of a few people who enjoyed video games and acting like jackasses. The founders of Man Squad determined that it would stand for the Fourfold Path: Coffee, Beer, Hockey, and Internship. Further, meetings of the Man Squad went about going down in pubs and over Risk.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. At that time, I’d just met the guy and was more trying to convince Dixie that him getting up and singing “Stand By Your Man” was a good idea. It didn’t work, sadly.
I was interrupted by Lucie, who demanded that we sing a song together. I said, “Yeah!” We decided on “(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles” by The Proclaimers, I went to get a Jack Daniel’s, and she disappeared.
“Well that’s odd,” I thought. I then went back to talking shit about the South with the Americans until having to go up to the mic and sing two parts in a two-person song. The good thing about the Proclaimers, you see, is that both of the singers sound exactly the same, so it might as well be one person.
 You remember them? No? Well, it has been a very long time since I mentioned them. Right. American Society were a bunch of Brits who, for whatever reason, had an odd fixation on American society and culture and decided to form a club around it.