May 29 2006
Spring quarter of that year flew by. I couldn't believe that my first year in architecture school was over, and I was one of the people remaining in the program. Originally, around one hundred and sixty people had enrolled in my class but by the end of the year that number had been narrowed down to a little over ninety. That's some serious attrition. I'd had a rough go of it at the end of winter quarter--my final project didn't get the best reviews from the jury, but their critiques only served to steel my resolve to slug through the next quarter with my head held higher. But then, I've always been good at receiving serious critiques and learning from them.
Sadly, Glen and I were totally on the outs by the end of that year. He and I sent a couple of letters back and forth to each other discussing the state of our friendship, and in each new letter the tone towards the other person got progressively worse. I hated losing his friendship, and I especially hated not being able to talk with him anymore. But sometimes, folks, that's how the cookie crumbles. Glen had gotten me through some really rough times in my life, and I always figured that he'd be a steady part of it. What can you do? Like the song says, "Some good things never last."
I wasn't always able to keep up with the voice lessons that the club was paying for. By the end of the quarter I was only able to go twice a month, which still wasn't bad. It wouldn't be long before I was supposed to start working full-time at Rhett's, and I was fairly certain that I was ready to hit the stage. The organization of the group of singers had changed a lot by the time June rolled around. I guess the partners were trying different ways to present the singers to the patrons. For a while, each person would sing their entire set, with brief intermissions between singers. Then the partners decided to have each person sing only two or three songs at a time. The last change made was to rotate all of the singers so that they only sang one song at a time. I think the last was the best idea, because while this was a place where people were to be entertained on the weekends, it didn't make sense to make the patrons slog through an entire set of music that they didn't like in order to hear the next singer.
I'd been to Rhett's a number of times, not only to get more familiar with the place, but also to get more familiar with the other people who would be singing as well. It really reminded me of a club that my grandmother used to sing in back in the forties in East St. Louis, where most of the waitresses were singers, and not only served the customers drinks, but also provided the entertainment. On many occasions I'd bring Don along with me. Normally he would be working in Buckhead on the weekends, but every once in a while he'd get a night off. He liked the place so much that he applied for a security position there as well. The managers did the whole "we'll-keep-your-file-on-record, and call you if we need something" deal, so he wasn't hired immediately.
I'd been meeting with the guys in the band for several weekends to practice my set and work on the song arrangements. It was something that I'd never had the opportunity to do before, and I found it to be a very enjoyable experience. These guys were pros, too. At least I thought so. For some of the music, the bass player would put up his electric bass and switch to the bass fiddle - the kind that old jazz bands used to use. There was a piano player who could play any style of music you might want to hear, as well as being quite adept on the synthesizer. We had a couple of guitar players, and of course a drummer. It was a really nice little combo.
It was on a Saturday afternoon when I sang the songs for the partners' approval, and I was slated to start working the following Friday. Kylie, Jim and Rob thought that they were all good choices...except for one.
"Um...Paul," Jim said. "We liked the set, but...we're not too sure about the last song."
"Why?" I asked.
"Well...." he started to say.
"I'm just not so sure a song like that would work here," Rob finished.
"Why not? It's a good song."
"I'm sure it is," Kylie said, "but, eh...."
"Did it sound bad, or something?"
"No. No, you sang it really well. I'm not quite sure how you came up with that choice...," Jim said.
I felt a bit like I was in the twilight zone. We'd really worked hard on all of the material that I'd be singing for the first weekend or so, especially on this particular song. It wasn't the easiest to sing, with a total of three key changes in it, and the last note held for four to five bars. The partners were sounding odd, and yet they still wouldn't tell me what the problem was. "Can y'all throw me a bone or somethin'? I'm still not understanding... Look, I-I've spent a lot of time...working on this."
"It's just not what we're trying to...do here."
"But why...why are you--" I started.
"It's just not a very commercial song." Jim was looking uncomfortable.
"What is commercial, really?" The irritation was beginning to show in my voice.
"The people that have been coming here so far...they're not going to like it," Kylie chimed in.
"Well how...how do you know? It's a really good song."
"They're not going to like it," he repeated.
"Guys, come on," I let out an exasperated laugh, "we've worked really hard on it, and I still don't understand the problem with it."
They all looked at each other again and whispered a few things back and forth. Finally, Rob spoke up. "Can you change the word 'man' to 'girl'?"
"The word 'man'. Can you change it to 'girl'?" he repeated.
"Um...uhhh," I stammered.
"Or how about 'gal'? Something...female." Jim suggested.
I thought about the song and the lyrics for a second. "No. It would sound pretty stupid, if you did that."
"But it just...might...not go over too well, a guy singing a song like that..." Jim said.
"Guys, I don't know what to tell you. Rupert Holmes and Paul Williams wrote the song. They're both men, and they didn't have a problem with the lyric. What's the big deal?" As I was talking, a man I'd never met before came walking up out of the shadows from the back of the club. He was dressed in a pair of nice slacks and a golf shirt, but the air about him said "I've got a lot of money, though I'm only going to show you a little of it." He was a tall man with gray hair that was slicked back on his head. He walked around and turned his back to me, facing Jim, Rob and Kylie, then started speaking quietly to them. I turned and looked at the guys in the band, shaking my head in frustration and rolling my eyes. When I heard footsteps approach behind me, I looked back around.
"Paul," the man with the gray hair said, "I'm sorry, but we've never had the privilege of meeting. My name is Rhett Broussard."
"Nice to meet you, Rhett," I extended my hand. "Wait a minute. Rhett, as in...'Rhett's'?"
He face lit up in a warm smile and he nodded. "One in the same."
"But I thought that they were the partners who ran the place."
"Well," he said, still smiling, "I'm the 'silent' partner. And my name's on the door, so every once in a while I get to have the final say." He had an unmistakable gleam in his eye that told me I'd won. "Please, feel free to sing whatever you like. I really enjoyed the last song, and frankly, I think it's very ballsy for you to sing it."
"Well, I just thought it was a good song, that's all. And these guys," I gestured to the combo behind me, "well, they've been an absolute pleasure to sing with."
"Yes. They are a great group, aren't they." It was more of a statement than a question. "Well, I'll let you get back to your work, gentlemen," he said, looking between myself and the others. "Have a nice afternoon. I'm looking forward to Friday, Paul. Best of luck." He reached his hand out, and we shook hands again.
"Thank you, sir. And....thank you."
"You're more than welcome, son," and he winked, then turned and walked away.
* * * * *
Friday night came around and I was more than a little nervous. Having worked at a restaurant the previous summer, I at least had an idea how they were run. This was the first time I'd ever waited on anybody, though, and I knew that it would take a while to get to the point where I could memorize orders and not write them down. Luckily, there were a couple of really good waiter trainers. I was most freaking out, however, about singing for the first time. Sure I sang all the time to myself, in studio, under my breath around friends, but the idea of standing on a small stage with a spotlight on you and an extremely talented band behind you proved to be more than a little nerve wracking.
I'd invited both Don and Alan to the club for my first night. I'm not sure why, but it still amazed me how well the two got along with each other. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that they were both athletes, who knows. I was glad, though, because they were both pretty important people in my life. Now that school was out for the summer, I'd be able to see them a bit more than I had. Architecture school really can make you a recluse from your former life if you're not careful. Don was just...Don. We'd talk occasionally on the phone, and not a whole lot more. But we had become close again, and I was glad for that.
Alan and I had had some ups and downs, albeit minor ones, since his visit to my school back in March. Some days were good for me, and other days were really horrible. The horrible days I worked very hard to keep from him. There was never really a middle ground when it came to him. We almost never talked about Reed, which was probably good for the both of us. He had one year left of school and already was being scouted to play pro ball. It was hard for me to to think that the young man who was the favorite running back of so many people in Georgia, was the same nutty guy that I'd befriended and fell in love with in high school. He was definitely bigger and faster than he was back when we first met. Hell, you couldn't watch a Georgia Bulldogs game on television without hearing "Diesel" this or "Diesel" that from the announcers. It never really bothered me, not that it should, but to me he was always just Alan. Plain and simple.
Because of his popularity, and I'm sure partly because of his good looks, he got a lot of camera time on the field. It never really went to his head, though. He was always just a regular guy who happened to be extremely good at a particular sport. The few times that I'd been out with him lately, he would have several people, mostly guys, who'd come up and start shooting the shit about football, the Bulldogs, or sports in general. Watching the women approach him always got me to laughin'. I knew that he had absolutely no interest in them, but they'd show up, with their breasts pushed up around their necks like goiter, laughing and throwing their heads back, touching his arm, flipping their hair. The had no idea just how little his interest in them was.
Originally, he had intended on going to school for a B.B.A., but lately he'd had plans to continue his education and get his M.B.A. With four years left of my five-year architecture program, it still meant that I'd be in school one year longer than he would be. Since our long discussion in my dorm room three months before, we sort of let any talk about our futures settle down on the back burner. I might have had long-range goals, but I also knew that you couldn't predict the future, and I wouldn't get my hopes up. At the very least, regardless of whatever rough times we may face, I knew that our friendship was cemented stronger than ever.
Back to that Friday night at the bar. I had my six songs lined up, and here and there between filling drink and food orders, I'd run them through my head. At one point I became so damn nervous that I thought I was going to just say fuck it all, and leave without even performing. Whenever I'd think of that, I'd just look over at Don and Alan, and remember that they were there to support me. I knew I wasn't supposed to, but once or twice I'd belt back a Jack and Coke just to calm my nerves a bit. That only helped so much, though.
A few minutes before I was to go on stage for the first time, one of the other singer/waiters filled a drink order for me. I was shaking like a leaf and walked over to Don and Alan. "Hey guys, wish me luck," I said.
"You up now?" Don asked.
I just nodded.
"You nervous?" he asked.
I nodded again, more vigorously this time.
"You'll be fine," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder and squeezing it. I noticed that Alan quickly glanced at him then back at me.
"Yeah, man," Alan said, "go...break a leg, or whatever y'all do up there."
I smiled a bit, then headed toward the stage area of the club, which wasn't far from the bar and still viewable from there. Once I was introduced, I stepped up and walked over to the mike, amid polite applause from the audience. The stage was only a couple of steps off of the main floor, and wasn't very large. The combo took up about the back third of the stage, and the microphone was in the center, near the front. Even though I'd practiced at the club with the guys the week before, it was still hard to get used to having a bright light shining in my face. Walking up to the microphone seemed to take thirty minutes, and I knew that there was no turning back now. For a brief moment, I'd forgotten what songs I was going to sing, and a million thoughts raced through my mind. Would I sing in the right key? Would I remember the words? Would I remember the order? Wait, that didn't matter because I wasn't running the whole set at once. What if my legs locked up and I got dizzy and keeled over? Would I remember to bend my knees just slightly? Would I remember to smile when I needed to.....
Then the music started and the first strains of "Crazy Arms" began. Peter, the bass player, was using the bass fiddle, and John, the drummer, was tapping out what I always referred to as his groovy Calypso beat. Then Mark came in with the strings as well as the piano on his keyboards, and the key was locked into my head. As soon as that happened, I forgot all about the people in front of me as being scary. Instead, I glued a slight smile on my face and made it a point to make eye contact with as many people as I could. My head started moving slightly to the groove that John was sending out and I leaned into the microphone and did my best to have a good time.
When I sing, my arms have a tendency to move around a bit, much in the fashion that Patsy Cline's did when she sang, and this time was no exception. The boys in the combo played flawlessly, and I just concentrated on having a good time. When I finally finished singing, the applause was not exactly thunderous, but it was a helluva lot more than just polite. I was pumped! I couldn't wait until the next song, because now I had stage fever. I loved being up there in front of everyone, just singing and having a great time.
Dynamite couldn't have taken the smile off of my face as I went up to the bar and received high-fives from Don and Alan. They were so excited for me that they just laughed the whole time and clapped me on the back.
"I told you you could sing, you son of a bitch," Don said, still laughing.
"Yeah, well..." I said, still beaming. "That was pretty fun!" We all laughed again at that. Once our momentary high was over, I went back to taking drink orders for the people at my station in the bar area. One guy in particular was somewhat drunk, but seemed very happy to give me compliments. It was about fifteen minutes or so until I had to sing again, and my nervousness was completely gone as I approached the stage for the second time that night. Having six people singing five to six songs apiece meant that there was live entertainment for most of the night. There were a couple of breaks throughout the evening to give the guys playing in the combo a bit of a rest.
While I was slated to sing what the partners termed "torch songs", I made it a point to try and at least keep the song choices a little upbeat. As the evening went on I'd learned that the one drunk guy who kept giving me compliments was named Damon. I never really asked him his name, but somehow everyone around him seemed to know it. Damon had also moved over to the bar and was a few seats away from Alan, and every so often he'd look over towards Alan and Don and holler out, "Hey Diesel! Go Dawgs!" then he'd let out some horrible noise that was supposed to be dogs howling or barking. Alan would just politely tip his beer and nod.
It was finally time for me to sing my last song of the evening, and by now the adrenaline surge had passed, and I was feeling very comfortable singing in front of people. In the back of my mind I knew that the three partners still weren't thrilled about this song choice, but at least now I had the support of Rhett, the club's namesake.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome back to the stage, Paul Lyons!" There was a lot of applause from people who weren't quite drunk, but at this time of night were probably a bit more than just buzzed. I walked up to the stage and for some reason got an extreme case of nerves. The song is called "Everything," and began with Mark playing some chords to open it up. While he did that, I looked past the glare of the spotlight and smiled as I saw Alan and Don both leaning back against the bar. I couldn't have asked for better friends.
"I want to learn what life is for.
I don't want much, I just want more.
Ask what I want, and I will sing:
'I want everything, everything.'
I'd cure the cold and the traffic jam.
If there were floods, I'd give a damn.
I'd never sleep, I'd only sing:
'Let me do everything, everything.'
I'd like to plan a city and play the cello,
Play at Monte Carlo, play Othello,
Move into the White House, paint it yellow,
Speak Portuguese and Dutch,
And if it's not too much
I'd like to have the perfect twin.
One who'd go out as I came in.
I've got to grab the big brass ring!
So I'll have everything, everything.
I'm like a child who's set free at the funfair,
Every ride invites me, and it's unfair
Saying that I only get my one share,
Doesn't seem just. I could live as I must
If they'd give me the time to turn the tide.
Give me the truth, if once I lied.
Give me the man who's gonna bring
More of everything.
Then I'll have everything.
The applause started out as merely polite, yet as Don and Alan were both cheering and hollering loudly, the rest of the audience seemed to warm up to the song even more, and their applause grew very loud and very strong. I was just thrilled because I was able to get past all three key changes and hold the word "man" for its two bars and the final "thing" through its four bars without a problem. I was so glad that Rhett had convinced the other partners to let me sing the song, and the patrons seemed to really like it, too.
I stepped off the stage and heard a lot of the female patrons saying things like, "Nice goin' Paul," and "Loved it," among other things. I think that many of the guys were still a little reluctant to applaud for a guy who had just sung about wanting a man who'd bring him everything, but hell, a good song is a good song, regardless of who actually sings it and what it's actually about.
I got back to the bar area to talk to Don and Alan. I think they were more excited about the night than I was. At least, they acted it. I still had a hard time believing that people were applauding my singing, but that's just me.
"So," Alan said, "that's 'the song'." I'd told him about the initial reaction from the three partners, and how Rhett had stepped in and changed their minds for them.
"Yep. That's the one."
"Hmmm. I thought it was a good song," he said.
"Me too. That's why I sang it."
"What was the problem with the song?" Don asked.
"Well, I don't think they liked the part where I say 'give me the man who's gonna bring more of everything, then I'll have everything."
He just shrugged his shoulders and took a pull off of his beer. "Have anyone in mind?" he winked.
"Hey man, what the fuck was that about?" Drunken Damon had maneuvered his way next to Alan and seemed barely able to keep his eyes open.
I looked around to make sure he was talking to me. It was obvious he was. "What?" I asked, starting to get defensive.
"That...'I want a man' or whatever the fuck you said up there."
I rolled my eyes and turned to walk off. "Whatever," I mumbled, but then he caught me by the arm.
"No...seriushly...ain't that kinda 'hoo-hoo'?" he said, fluttering his hands at the wrist, indicating that it was gay.
I shrugged. "It is what it is." I started to walk off again, and he grabbed my arm again. "Get your fuckin' hand off of me." The guy was a lot bigger than I was, and while I knew I couldn't hold my own in a fight with this booze hound, in the back of my mind I knew that right now it paid to have Don and Alan as my allies.
" 'Get your fuckin' hand off me, princess,' " he mocked in a feminine voice. Behind him, in the distance, I could see one of the security guys walking our way.
"Fuck you, asshole," I said, and as I did, his arm came up as though he were going to take a swing at me. He was still next to Alan, who quickly grabbed the guy's arm and wrenched it behind his back.
"Why don't you take a seat and finish your beer, fuck face." Had a guy like Alan said that to me, I would've have immediately sat down and crapped my pants. But Damon was drunk and wasn't quite thinking clearly.
"What the fuck to you care, Diesel? This guy your fuckin' boyfriend, or somethin'? What a faggot...singing about wanting a man."
This was all looking like a scene from a bad movie, and somehow, I was at the center of it.
"What's the problem here?" It was Zack, the guy from security who'd finally made his way over to us. By now there was a small crowd of about ten people or so gawking at us all.
Alan let Damon go. "Nothing, man. Guy's got just a bit of the whiskey muscle talkin' tonight. He was just goin' back to his seat."
Zack eyed the situation, and stayed there while Damon shrugged his shirt back into place, muttered something, then headed back to his bar stool. When things seemed to settle down, Zack walked off, but remained closer to us than he originally was.
I started to say something to Don, but out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash from behind Alan. "Alan, get--" I shouted, but it was too late. That asshole Damon had taken his beer mug and swung it at the back of Alan's head who went down like a lead pipe, landing on his hands and knees. It all happened so fast and seemed so surreal. In an instant, Don grabbed Damon's arm, spun around and pulled him off of the stool. Then Don crouched down and flipped Damon over his head and onto the floor beside Alan, who was now leaning down and holding his face in his hands very close to the floor. The wind was knocked out of Damon and his eyes were wide with shock. As Zack ran over to us, I dropped down next to Alan.
"Alan! Holy fuck! Are you okay?"
He just rocked back and forth, holding his head and groaning. By pure, dumb luck, the mug didn't break on his head. Maybe that would've been better than being hit by the solid glass itself. Zack and I tried getting him up off of the floor, but I couldn't budge him. "Don, help me."
I felt my arm being pulled as Don got me away from Alan and then stepped in to help Zack pull him up. The drunken Damon was still lying on the floor, wheezing as his breath came back to him, and it took everything I had not to kick him in the head. Now there was a crowd around us and two of the other security guys came through to help calm the situation down. Don and Zack pulled Alan up and sat him at a stool. His eyes were closed as he held onto the place where the mug had hit him. He said that he didn't need an ambulance, but Don and I insisted that we take him to the hospital. He didn't want that either, but we didn't give him a choice. Don and Zack held him up a little bit, and I took Don's keys and ran out to get his car. When I pulled up at the door, the three of them were standing there, Alan looking unsteady on his feet.
After they got him in the car, I drove as fast as I could over to Piedmont Hospital. It was only about six blocks or so away, but it felt like an eternity getting there. Two hours later with a prescription for pain in his hand, Alan, Don and I left the hospital. Luckily, all he had was a huge goose egg on the back of his head. He kept making jokes about getting more hurt in a bar than on the football field. I was just glad that he was going to be okay.
"Dude," I said to Don, "where in the hell did you learn to move that quick?"
Don just shrugged as he drove back to Rhett's.
"What are you talking about?" Alan asked.
"Man," I laughed a bit, as the tension of the night died away, "after that guy hit you with the mug, Don jerked his arm , did something I couldn't see, then the guy was flipped over and landed on the floor."
"Hmm," Alan said. "A regular 'Charlie's Angels' move, huh?"
Don snorted out a laugh. "Yeah, you dick."
"Seriously," I said. "You should've seen it. It was fuckin' awesome."
"I told you he wanted you, Lyons." He grinned a little as he spoke.
"Shut the fuck up, Alan," Don said with a grin. "It was you I was defending."
Alan sat there, thinking for a second. "Oh. So you want both of us. I get it," he said with a shit-eating grin.
"I'm glad that you can crack such witty jokes, Alan," I groaned. He just smiled back.
"Yeah," Don said laughing, glancing back and reaching his hand back, "lean in and let me smack the other side of your head."
"Now, now boys, that's enough excitement for the evening, thank you very much," I said. It was obvious that we all were good friends, because only good friends could sit around cracking jokes when one of them has just gotten hit in the head with a beer mug.
Don pulled up to Alan's car, and Alan, who by now was feeling somewhat better, promised to call me when he got home. Don made sure that I was okay. I was fine, though a little shaken up, as I headed back into Rhett's. He left to go home and made me promise to let him know how things were with Alan.
Once I got back into the bar, Kylie came up to me with some bad news. It turns out that the drunken sot Damon was not arrested after all. Even though the police had been called, not a single person saw him actually throw the mug. I wasn't sure how that was possible, considering the small number of people around us during the original commotion. Unfortunately, there was nothing that I, or anyone else for that matter, could do.
It was the end of a very long night, and once I counted my tips and clocked out, I tipped the bus boys, then headed out. My car was near the back of the parking lot, and as I approached it I thought that it looked kind of odd; sort of sitting at a funny angle. When I got closer I realized why. The two tires on the driver's side were slashed. Not only that, but the windshield was smashed into a spiderweb. "Son of a bitch!" I hollered, and turned back to the bar to once again call the police to Rhett's.
* * * * *
"Everything" music and lyrics copyrighted 1976 by Rupert Holmes and Paul Williams.