Sometimes you can’t appreciate what you have, until it’s gone.
Where Will the Next Jenny Lind Sing?
By Angela Rasch
I checked my make-up for the third time since pulling into the parking lot of the Nightingale bar. Self-conscious? I chuckled, and then giggled lightly as I remembered the hundreds of other nights I’d done the same thing, before going into what had become my home away from home. Eventually I made an entrance and found my usual table.
“Are you going to sing tonight, Angie?” Karin asked, as she set an eight-dollar raspberry lemonade on my table.
I hadn’t ordered the sweet concoction, and it wasn’t something Matt would ever drink. But I’m Angie; and Matt is nowhere to be found in my persona for the evening; and Karin always seems to know more about what I want then I do. “I don’t know. I haven’t been singing as much lately,” I said truthfully. “I might do something . . . something short, just to see if I still can do it.”
Karin smiled knowingly. Her office was equipped with a cot, a hot-plate and a shower. No one knew for sure if Karin had an actual home away from her bar. She was always there. She had to be, because she was as big a part of the Nightingale as the ubiquitous shades of mauve she’d used to decorate.
“You look tired,” I said, trying to keep any kind of judgmental tone out of my much too deep voice. If I do sing tonight I’ll have to do something light. I’m too butch today to carry off a torch song. I touched Karin’s hand to let her know I cared.
She sighed. “It gets tiresome. This place is barely making it, yet instead of being able to spend my time doing things that actually bring in some revenue I find myself constantly breaking up cat fights. But. . . ”
I looked around the softly lit bar at the ensemble of ladies waiting for their turn to take the stage. After over ten years I had become immune to the shock the average person on the street might feel when confronted by the exotic mixture of trans-women around me.
“Same old . . . same old?” I asked automatically. Karin had a picture of Jenny Lind on the wall of her office. It might have been my imagination, but as the years had slid by Karin had started to look more and more like her . . . a little sad, but still quite attractive.
Karin nodded. “Why does everyone who comes in here thinks she’s the perfect impresario? They all want to tell me who can perform on my stage. Damn it! All I originally wanted to do was create a bar where I could sing . . . and others like us could sing . . . away from the general public . . . so we wouldn’t have to feel so . . . different.”
Karin’s usually calm face looked tormented and distracted.
Four new patrons came in the door together. Karin rushed to make them feel at home. I knew them all by name, but since I hadn’t been in much lately I didn’t feel like I really knew them.
After dispensing a round of drinks for the newcomers, refreshing several others, and adjusting the height of the microphone at the front of the stage Karin returned to our conversation. “It wears me down. Outside of this bar everyone in here would be considered damaged goods, to some degree. Yet instead of embracing one another, and providing a respite from that constant crap, these women attack each other for not being like them.”
I’d heard it all before . . . seen it all before. “I remember when I first came here and got up to perform. All I wanted was for people to accept me. They didn’t have to tell me I was the greatest singer since Peggy Lee . . . even though that would have been nice had they compared me to her. I once saw her perform live. She owned the stage. Did I ever tell you that my father-in-law saw her sing in a small bar in Fargo, North Dakota, before she got discovered?” Karin was one of the only people in the world who would care about something like that.
“Sometimes I think I should have had people do their thing on stage, and then shove them out the backdoor, before they could hear what people have to say about them.” She laughed. “Or maybe I should’ve just had a trapdoor under them. They hit their last note and fall out of sight. Out of sight and out of mind.” Her merry face suddenly clouded. “I didn’t mean you . . . and most of the others . . . just some who ruin it for everyone. I should have had trapdoors under most of the tables, as well”
Why is she sounding so fatalistic?
A singer I knew only as Little Annie took the stage. She only knew one song and she did it about twice a week. Her stage prop, a huge lollipop was covered with lint. Her sweet little lilac, organza party dress stopped mid-thigh exposing an expanse of hairy legs.
You’d think she would shave those horrible things . . . and what’s with the Smart Wool athletic socks she’s wearing instead of anklets. Those size-thirteen Mary Janes had to have cost her plenty. Why would she ruin her outfit with those off-white sweat-socks when she could have cute little flowers embroidered on anklets? At least I’m not saying these things out loud.
Shirley Temple’s voice ricocheted around the bar as Little Annie sort of tap-danced. “On the good ship Lollipop. . . .”
“Honey,” the sweet young thing at the next table pseudo-whispered so everyone could hear, “. . .Lollipop would only be a good ship, if she’s an all-day sucker.”
I recognized the one who commented as a member of the “I hate lip-sync” club. No matter who was on stage, if they didn’t sing their own songs, that group had something snarky to say.
“Dress your age,” another voice shouted from the other side of the bar. “We’ll never be accepted by the general public as long as some of you continue to act so embarrassingly idiotic.”
“This place once was respectable,” a matronly woman announced loudly with a South Boston accent. “Then Karin started letting all those fetishers in; and things went horribly bad.”
Murmurs and outright shouts came from all corners of the bar.
I looked around for Karin. She normally stepped in at this stage and refereed. Over the years she had banned a number of troublemakers from her establishment and placed many others on probation.
Rather than stepping into the fray to calm the waters Karin plopped down into a chair at my table.
“I’ve sold the Nightingale,” she said with resignation. “They’re going to tear it down and put up an apartment building.”
“No. . . .” My mouth hung open.
“I’m moving to Mexico to live out my years in peace.”
I didn’t sing that night. I’ve never sung in public again. Nothing opened to take the place of the Nightingale. I don’t know what happened to the regulars, because I never saw them again.
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