Sunday, March 18, 2012
Oh, what a night!
We went to a club in Jomtein last night for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration that was advertized as a fundraiser for the Baan Jing Jai Orphanage.
I thought the waiters would be wearin’ the green, and that we were going to hear lots of Irish music, maybe some bad Irish jokes and, since this is Pattaya, someone was going to perform in drag.
Well, I got the part about the drag performer right. All the rest. . . . well. . . .it was more than I could - but, never would - have asked for or imagined.
Oh, it's not what you're thinking. It's not about debauchery or licentiousness. It was all "family" entertainment. Well, if you're from a dysfunctional family and, who isn't, really?
I don't even know how to describe what I experienced last night. I suppose it's what one might expect from a little community's attempt at "raising money for the orphans in honor of St. Patrick. Certainly not choral evensong with a Boy's Choir.
It was one part cabaret, one part drag show, and one part Really Bad Talent Show - sans the "talent" part - but "all for the children", which somehow served as penance for the really bad parts. That having been said, there were some good bits.
"Willy" was a Thai version of Hawai'i's "Don Ho". He sat at the key board and sang - crooned, actually - things like Willy Nelson's, "For all the girls I've loved before" and "Moon River". His English pronunciation and diction were near perfect and his playing was more than adequate.
Then, there was "Mandy" who was actually very good. She did a great job with Julie Andrew's "Jazz Hot" from Victor/Victoria, and a great rendition of Liza Minnelli's "Cabaret" - complete with fairly good choreography on a teeny-tiny stage. Again, her pronunciation and diction were near-perfect and she had a good voice.
Well, words fail.
As long as I live, I will never forget her (very badly) lip-synced version in Thai and English of "I Will Survive."
I'm not even sure where to begin, so perhaps I won't even start.
Except, I want you to know that she was 75 if she was a day. I would also like to say that she obviously has a following among the locals who clapped and cheered and she seemed to know just whom to jiggle her obvious falsies and which patron liked the deep shoulder action.
Oh, and those legs! The only thing to distract you from them were the many and varied tattoos (notice, please, the one just above her red 3/4 length glove) - and, the little red matching purse slung over her shoulder where she, no doubt, keeps her lipstick because, when you wear THAT much lipstick, you're bound to need a touch up every, oh, I don't know, three and a half seconds.
She was, as we say, a 'red hot mess'.
Oh, but the worst was yet to come.
"Phil" was his name. From the States. Upstate NY, as a matter of fact.
He was the MC of the show and the "inspiration" for this fundraiser. He's clearly devoted to the cause of the orphanage and raising money to tend to the children.
He told jokes.... very bad jokes .... which could have been humorous if the delivery had been better, and, after long, sometimes disjointed-when-not-almost incoherent ramblings, he would sing. Badly. Very, very badly.
I don't mean to be disrespectful or even unintentionally cruel because, clearly, this was a good man with a big heart who was trying to raise money for the orphanage, BUT, the experience was like a Bill Murray SNL skit of an over-the-hill wannabe cocktail lounge performer.
What was supposed to be funny wasn't and what wasn't supposed to be funny was hilarious.
About midway through the first set, he launched into one of what was intended to be memorable but better forgotten "monologues" before one of his "songs".
"As I was trying to put together the program for tonight," he said, sounding so serious and looking so somber you just knew we were going to get a "homilette", "I remembered the time, in 1991, when I was traveling home after my mother died."
At this point, I leaned over to my friend, Richard, and whispered, "Oh....no, no, no...he didn't just start to talk about his dead mother, did he?"
Richard drew in a breath, raised his eyebrows and shifted his weight. "In 1991," he pointed out.
Rob motioned that we take our leave. NOW. I shook my head, partly because I didn't want our leave-taking to be obvious but partly because I was morbidly curious to see where he was going with this line and to which song it would lead. You know, the way one can't really look away when one sees an accident happening
"There I was," the man continued, "at 40,000 feet in the air, and I was inconsolable with grief. It was then that my mother's voice came to me, singing the words of a song that have, ever since, been a comfort to me."
"I know there are those of you out there who have lost your mother. . . ." he intoned (as I thought 'Oh, Good Lord, he really IS going to do this. On St. Patrick's Day! Ah, the Irish sense of the morose!') ".....or, a loved one...and we all need comfort, so I hope this song brings some comfort to you."
Remember: this was a St. Paddy's Day celebration. I thought...what is he going to sing? "O, Danny Boy"? "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"? What?
At which point, he began to warble, "When you're weary / Feeling small / When tears are in your eyes / I will dry them all...."
Suddenly, I found myself in one of those moments when you feel six years old and you know you're not supposed to laugh, but you can't help yourself. Rob says my eyes got big, my lips were decidedly pursed, and my knuckles got white because I was gripping the arms of my chair.
"Phil" was not to be deterred. "Like a bridge over troubled water / I will lay me down.....". I was amazed at the way his voice could be both sharp and flat at the same time.
I thought my sides were going to explode from holding in the laughter, but I was mercifully distracted because I was also working hard on keeping my facial muscles and my mouth still so no one would see the expression of horror on it.
The song ended, mercifully, and we quickly distributed the raffle tickets we had purchased to some of the wait staff, paid our "check bin" and got the hell out of there as quickly as we could. Slipped out the back door, we did, getting on the street and bursting with laughter which completely incapacitated us for at least ten minutes.
We laughed all the way home on the songtheaw ("baht bus"), to the utter bewilderment of the other passengers who must have thought us drunk. Or stupid. Or, both. Well, we were stupid with laughter.
It was one of those time when you really had to be there to understand just how hilarious this was.
Actually, we had a grand time. It was so bad it couldn't have been better.
I've seen lots of things in my almost three weeks in Thailand. There are lots of things I still don't understand and probably never will. It's just as well. This is their home. I'm a guest here.
I keep hearing one of my mentors, Father Koumarianian in Lowell, MA, saying, "God is God and people is people."
It doesn't matter, really, where you are. People are people. And, God is God. Some people will do some real good while singing and performing badly. And, no matter where you are, good, sincere attempts at bad humor will always be hilarious.
Given what I know about Irish humor, I think St. Patrick would have been well pleased.