The bow trembled like a moth, pale pink, on a crown of black hair.Below the trembling moth of a bow, her eyes were still for 20 seconds at a time, then they would shift incrementally. Her mouth was stationary, paused, open, in interrogative paralysis. The questions were coming to her 8 year old mind at light speed, and thus, as physics dictates, her mouth could never catch up. I suppose I should apologize to my friend Patty for ever telling her about my Saturday night gig at a bar on Hollywood Blvd., but I had told all of my friends in 3rd grade. I just never expected anyone to come.
By this time, well into my 8th year as a human being, singing at Thai Ice Cuisine was just part of the rhythm of life. It was what my dad and I did on weekends. When I lived with mom during the week, bedtime was 8:30, tucked in, soap-fresh. When I lived with Dad, Friday through Sunday, bedtime was midnight or 1, after many Shirley Temples with cherries, and smelling a little like perfume and smoke. Dichotomy, as a state of being was not a strange phase in my life, it was life. It is life.
So one day, possessed with my Jessica Rabbit fantasies, secure in my 4-song repertoire, I stood up during show-and-tell. My classmates looked up at me from 4 equally spaced round tables: 4 solar systems, starred and planeted with bitten pencils, rolled up sticker backings, spiral notebook pages, fruit-smelly markers, pink erasers flaking with graphite gray, wrinkly notes passed and passed back, stretchy hair-bands, cuss words etched microscopically on pencil box corners, pencil sharpeners stuffed with crayon wax, crayons mushed into undecipherable colors, and the tables’ unholy underside - a hell of rock-hard gum and fossilized boogers.
I stood up, and the consciousness lifted from the little scattered galaxies. I took a breath, and extended an invitation to come to my show:
“On Saturday and Sunday nights, I sing with my dad at a place called Thai Ice Cuisine. It’s in Hollywood. We start at 8. Thank you.” I sat down.
The teacher approved, the teacher’s assistant approved, and in the moments after, it was somewhat buzzworthy among the bowl-cuts and ponytails. Then the bell rang and the table galaxies went into violent upheaval - great collisions of pencil cases, Garfield folders, and the din of zippers zipping like a locust migration of biblical proportions. In this tornado, Mrs. Otto’s 3rd grade class vanished through the doors, and my 8 year old life continued as usual until the weekend.
Saturday night. 8:45pm. Dad had already sung one set of songs, while I sat in the front row, always in eye-shot, with a wrench he gave me (ostensibly for protection, but also easy access for tuning his conga drum). After dad’s last chord hung, and dropped, note by note from the air, the scattered applause arced and fell like a wino. I followed him over to the bar where Dolly was - goddess-red, draped, painted nails long as a Chinese dynasty, smiling through grenadine lips.
Dad, Dolly and others made grown-up talk, and I went to the bar corner to sort through the drink garnishes. After 30 minutes or so of yellow and red cherries and tiny swords, I could hear dad changing the tone of his voice to end a conversation, using phrases like “Whelp, ok.” and “I think it’s about time.” He used breathier tones to break conversation, like the sentence was heavy to lift.
Dad went through 1 or 2 songs, then lifted his head to give me the eyeball, beckoning me to sing. I hopped down, and started for the stage. I wasn’t two feet away from my stool, before the doorway caught my eye – what am I seeing? Time got blurry and muffled. I spotted a bow through the front door’s glass cut-outs. Time began to stretch. Beneath this bow was a bobbing head with black hair – what is that? The bow and the hair turned the corner and opened the front door – someone… came? As my first foot hit the stage, my classmate, Patty, and her parents walked into Thai Ice Cuisine. It was too late to run to the door. I was too far away to shout a hello, to put her at ease, so I just started singing.
Days before, when I stood in front of my class and told them about my weekly gig, I had done it out of pride, joy, confidence that I was doing something worthy of an audience – something fun. But as soon as Patty walked in the door with a bow in her hair, Patty in a multi-colored fancy dress, Patty in a dress she would wear for church or a birthday party, Patty in white tights, Patty in patent leather Mary Janes, Patty with a look of bewilderment brighter than the club marquee - I felt I’d done something wrong. In my blind excitement I’d invited confusion onto someone innocent. I released a sparrow into a dust storm. I’d possibly ruined the brain of a nice little Korean girl.
Patty and her parents sat down at a table near the doorway. A few times they talked to each other, and tried to talk to Patty, but she was unresponsive. She looked lost. Her expression was so sharply shocked, it imprinted on the air, and became a ghost unto itself. It was as if she was suddenly witness to everything in the world that would not make sense for years - and underneath the bow, her head was reaching max capacity. Patty was no sissy, she was a tom-boy at school, but even she was only 8.
I was a different kind of 8. I was a working 8, and I’d had time to adjust to the mysteries around me – things I didn’t understand were just part of the flow. This came to me as I finished my last song. As I took in her alienation, I felt my own. I shouldn’t have told anyone about this place. It was not simply wrong of me, but insincere. I was ashamed.
Patty and her parents made it through the set, granted, with more time spent eying the room then the performing act. Finally, my songs were done, and I walked through the tables to my friend. I felt a clash in my reality continuum as I neared her, as the two sides of my world were forced to touch. It was an un-danceable step, two irreconcilable rhythms. I wanted her to see me as I was in school, the same person. I needed that. I needed someone to affirm that I wasn’t actually living two lives, that it was my life that was splintered, not me – but her face had turned to stone, in the house of Gin and ashes, across from Dolly laughing with her snakes of braided hair.
I thanked Patty for coming. I don’t recall what she said, something cordial. I think her parents told me I did a good job, but their superlatives were obstructed by a gentleman reeling between them and the wall. In short order, the family turned, parental hands on the little girl’s back, and shuttered her out of the club. From the inside, I saw the pink bow making quick time down the street. I was glad she was the only one who came, and glad she left when she did. This was better done in secret, it was too much to explain. If anybody asked me, I would tell them not to go. This was no place for children, a child should know.