(NOTE: I am back in Mpls, buried up to my scalp in work. Fifteen hour days. Mood: very, very twitchy with mild flashes of panic; I don't think there's an area of my life where I'm not overloaded and behind. Boo hoo, etc. Anyway. Here's installment three of the great Alaska voyage!)
NEXT DAY: SKAGWAY.
A less than evocative name, really: come here to learn the Way of the Skag. That’s what we called Skanks in my youth: Skags. Whadda skag. It doesn’t have the dank used-wet-towel-aroma connotation as skank, though. So this could be a good excursion.
Last night I was a mediator in the great War of the Karaoke Clan. We went back last night to the Carousel, and found for the third straight night – the same three kids caterwauling songs they had no idea how to sing. One of the kids was doing some sort of popping-and-locking dance which looked cute the first day, but after three nights you’re sick of the little exhibitionist. I should note that it was 23:30, and it was a bar, so the idea that the place shouldn’t become the exclusive domain of three boys who could not sing and spent the previous two nights proving that fact loudly wasn’t exactly high-handed. Or was it? After they sang some 60s song – and by sing I mean they shouted tuneness syllables into the microphone – one of our party told them they should sing something they knew, because they sounded horrible.
Wait a few minutes . . . wait . . . ah, here comes the overprotective grandmother, furious.
How dare you , she hissed. How dare you . She sailed off, followed by tall-blonde mom, who really lit into the critic for having crushed the boys’ spirit. I wanted to stand up and say well, mission accomplished, ma’am, because those little presumptuous brats of yours needed their spirits crushed. Here we thought they were running wild without parents who could take them aside and explain that the rest of the world did not find their artless yawps to be the ne plus ultra of entertainment, but it turns out they were doing so under the watchful eye of two generations of enabling women, eh? Well, at some point they’ll be free of you, as sure as the ship slips its moorings, and they’ll be out in the world amongst professional practicised soul-crushers, and they might remember this moment and conclude that no amount of mugging to “YMCA” – a song about anonymous sex, incidentally – is going to endear them to the world.
But instead I sighed and got up and stepped into the fray to mediate, whereupon grandma entered and lit into me. So picture short Jewish bubbe and tall shiksa mom coming down on your humble narrator. I explained. Kindly. I said I understood well their position. Here’s ours. Three nights. Three consecutive nights of hollering boys in the bar at 10:30.
IT’S KARAOKE! said mom. ANYONE CAN DO IT! SO YOU GET UP AND DO IT!
We have, I explained. In fact these two – and here I pointed to our own tall blonde wife in our party, as if to say we have one too, so don’t think you can outdo us on this account – have been here every night as well.
IT’S KARAOKE! Blonde mom peeled off, leaving me with bubbe, and she found me reasonable enough to accept that I was not Satan, and left to return to their side of the bar, now fully established as their territory. The mood thus darkened, we prevailed upon our team to sing, and they did so, angelically. Hah. There. Ball’s in your court, boys.
They retaliated with YMCA, as I knew they would.
Thankfully, a few more got up to sing. One drunk guy mumbled his way through a Garth Brooks song about a beer run; another lass who lives for these things did her best with some Shania Twain, a version that would have received a curt thankyou without further explication from Simon. Meanwhile our tall blonde was talking charity functions with bubbe, and they got along nicely. The boys – their tender spirits somehow magically reconstituted – did one more, then I strode into the fray and to belt out “Secret Agent Man,” praying it would be within my range. It was. I even swung the mike on the cord. Then we left.
They’ll be back tonight. So will we. Begun, the Karaoke Wars have.
Earlier that evening we’d seen a “Las Vegas” style magic act in the grand theater – a huge room, lushly appointed. The performer was Charles Bach, “magician, dancer, comedian.” He came out in a box. Then he turned the box around, opened the box – out popped his assistant! Wow! Then she got back in the box and he turned the box around and opened it again, and Wow! There was his assistant, scrambling to get out of the secret passage at the end of the box! First time I’ve ever seen a magic act begin with such a gross revelation, but he sailed on with gusto. What else could you do? He had bad jokes and a cheerful stage presence, and he’d designed his own routines – obviously. Lots of elaborate set-ups for indistinct payoffs. Meh, overall, but fun, if you were in the mood. And we were. Anyway, it's not like I could do one-hundredth of what he accomplished, and a few tricks I still cannot possibly explain. His site is here.
Wonderful. Best port yet. The weather was magnificent – actual sun, which had not revealed itself for the entire trip, and warm sun at that. The town had once held 20,000 souls eager to make their fortune in the gold fields – it’s since shrunk to 865, but the large downtown remains, and it’s not entirely a tourist trap. Here’s an old picture of the downtown from the heyday:
Down the street, a restored bar:
Inside, lonely sad mannikens. Or actual drinkers preserved in formaldehyde:
Old bottles. Rye! Ask for it by name.
One storefront served as a clearinghouse for tours and visitor information, and I saw this small photo in the back by the bathroom:
The 1904 Artic Brotherhood banquet. It reminded me of the old photos of Minnesota, of civilization dragged across the snow to an inhospitable place. Around the corner I found the room in the picture:
The Brotherhood probably disbanded long ago, but the ghosts no doubt hold regular meetings nevertheless.
Off the main drag I found this dilapidated building: old Alaska.
It was padlocked, but I could see things inside. Lockjaw City in there – piles of rusty sharp old stuff. I shot a picture through the door:
Who knows how old this hardware is – I’m sure you could find it in a Sears catalog from 1920.
Staggered back to the ship, looking for a beer. Bought one from a lass who was manning the Beer Cart, but had never actually sold one. The process seemed a mystery to her; she didn’t have an opener, and she thought a beer cost $13.95. Well, no. I took it outside and drank half of it, and realized I’ve lost my taste for beer. But it put me to sleep, as intended, and I laid down for a nice solid nap, satisfied. I decided I wasn’t going to post to buzz.mn the next day. Vacation, right? This is a vacation.