Parenthood, especially when it's coupled with the energy-draining stressors of work responsibilities, and marriage, makes you do strange things—things that the single, childless version of you might have turned your nose up at. For me, it means that about once a week, my husband and I slip off to our local Applebee's for a drink or two.
Here's what usually happens: Sometime around mid-week, one of us texts the other, "wanna get a drink later?" It might be that we were particularly stressed out by parent-teacher conferences at the kids' school, it could be that long work hours meant we just hadn't seen each other much. So we get our younger kids, ages 7 and 8, bathed and tucked into bed and then sneak out, leaving our older kid (a 17-year-old high school senior) to make sure that the house doesn't burn down in our absence.
Side note: About three years ago we became one of those families who pack up from Baltimore City and head for the county (ugh, I know)—in our case to the low-key bizarro land that is White Marsh. What White Marsh has: an Ikea, a brand new branch of our local gym, a man who once strutted proudly past my neighborhood wearing nothing but a hot pink Speedo, our neighbor who took up residence outside of his house and in the yard for several weeks holding court on a red leather sofa, and an Applebee's.
So, we often end up in the recently-built Applebee's down the street from our house, eating perfectly acceptable wings and drinking perfectly acceptable drinks (a red apple sangria for me, thanks). This was all fine until one day a few weeks ago when we walked in to the sounds of 'It Wasn't Me' by Shaggy blasting at us at deafening levels, instead of the inoffensive, Top 40-esque background music that we usually hear.
In the far left corner of the bar, there was a DJ. On one of the screens that was usually broadcasting basketball or something similarly sporty, there were music videos playing. My husband and I looked at each other: Something was happening.
Here's the thing about bars—given the right mix of circumstances, they are some of the best places to witness pure, unadulterated foolishness. That is to say, they are the best places to get free entertainment and at least one good story for the next day. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly the right circumstances are. I know that they include alcohol, and people who are ready to come out of their box a little bit (a dark, quiet bar where everyone is looking to mind their own business is fine and necessary, too, but it won't work for these purposes). Someone playing 'It Wasn't Me' helps, something about the call-and-response nature of the chorus.
Anyway, the DJ got on his microphone and invited anyone—the people at the bar, the folks eating in the dining area, the staff—to come up and perform a song.
We initially thought this was a one-time thing, a burst of good fortune in the middle of our week, but it turns out that karaoke is now a regular thing, happening at this Applebee's every Wednesday night. The DJ, who shows up every week and brings his equipment in a big, white U-Haul van, is Sean Ramon Montague. He's a jovial brown-skinned man who looks like he maybe works an office job during the day, usually wearing a sweater vest and a button-down shirt underneath. He told me that this isn't the only chain restaurant where he regularly DJs karaoke. He runs a business, and has had gigs at chain restaurants across the city and state.
Montague has a personal preference for reggae (think: 'Murder She Wrote' by Chaka Demus). He also plays a lot of old-school rap like 'Rapper's Delight' from the Sugar Hill Gang, and plenty of R&B, which is great for me and the mostly black crowd that tends to congregate for karaoke.
And that's another thing: White Marsh is one of the…well…whiter parts of Baltimore County, so it's notable for us that we get to see lots of black people hanging out and having fun here. At the same time, plenty of white white people come in and have no problem grabbing a drink, too—although they tend to request, say, Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Here are some things that have happened since my husband and I began going to Applebee's for karaoke:
• The guy with glorious gold fronts who kept buying rounds of drinks for the whole bar and who couldn't handle a cover of Gerald Levert's 'I'd Give Anything,' sung by an older man wearing a fedora and sunglasses indoors. As the song played, he slumped over in his seat like a kid forced to sit in church, sipped his drink dejectedly, and even begged the manager to make it stop. Important note: I love that song and know all of the words, even the ad libs at the end.
• The very serious gentleman who solemnly paced and mumbled quietly to Desiigner's 'Tiimmy Turner' until the very end when he yelled "BRRRRRRRAPPPPP!" really loud.
• Finally, the time everyone at the bar, of all races, ages, and creeds, came together to help a young guy doing a horrifying cover of Whitney Houston's version of 'I Will Always Love You.' He somehow didn't know the words, even though they were right there on the screen. In that moment, in that corner of Baltimore County, hope and change and a fully-functioning system of support were possible in Trump's America.
Since karaoke started, my husband and I have stumbled out of Applebee's way later than we intended. This, too, is a departure from the days before we had kids. Who stumbles out of Applebee's? On the short drive home we try to decipher why this is fun, or at least way more fun than we should be having in a chain restaurant in the middle of the week. Have I mentioned that my husband has taken to calling it Crunk-A-Bee's?