The Unshakable Kayfabe of Tommy Rage

by Andrea Gregovich

That was the night the heat war between Danny and Sergeant Smackdown culminated in a knockout barb from Smackdown. As Danny stood at the base of the ring, barking wicked old school chants through his hands in the form of a megaphone, Smackdown issued his knockout barb: “I should buy you a saddle for Christmas so you can ride my dick.” The poetics of the thing rendered us all speechless, blinking and mouths agape for a moment on the white plastic patio chairs as Smackdown stood in the ring in his tattered camo pants, basking in the yellowish glow of the crappy spotlights they had rigged up in there and the brilliance of the thing he’d said against the background of his death metal entrance music. I mean, who says a thing like that? Then Smackdown turned his mean pointing finger on me and Lucy. It took me a second to realize he was actually talking to us. He said we were “white trash whores” and that we needed to go back to the trailer park.

We feigned shock and giggled, congratulating each other that apparently we did have a presence in the strip mall garage space that housed the little upstart wrestling federation we’d been following every Friday night for the better part of a year. I was honored, but a little confused. Why the sudden heat for me and Lucy? We lavished these guys with insults, catcalls, boos and whistles, but all we usually got in return were disdainful sideways glances. Then the gangsta rap entrance music for Smackdown’s tag team partner drowned out all talk and the moment shifted, eclipsed by the arrival of Solitary, the small but formidable wrestler in an orange prison jumpsuit and a do-rag brandishing a bottle of Jack Daniels as he charged in and roused the small crowd with his deep, bluesy holler: “Make some damn noise!”

Then the familiar dance anthem struck its opening bars, “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.” The lights went out, and the black lights came on. Various people’s t-shirts and fingernails glowed shades of neon yellow, with a few odd polka-dots and lip gloss swaths of hot pink, and in bopped the neon shapes and shadows of Tommy Rage and the DJ. Then the spotlights glowed back on, and there stood Team Vegas, the club kid-themed tag team, getting funky with campy dance moves we all remembered from the late eighties – “The Running Man”, “The Garden Sprinkler”, “The Cabbage Patch”, and that one where you put one hand behind your head, hold your foot with your other hand, and jerk your one elbow and opposite knee back and forth, standing there on one leg. Solitary folded his arms with contempt and shook his head as Team Vegas stood on the turnbuckles and flexed their muscles. Smackdown ambushed Tommy Rage from behind with a clothesline, Tommy hit the mat, the music cut short, and somebody ding-ding-dinged the ring bell. The main event was underway.

This was the point in every one of these evenings where I was prone to getting all thoughtful about the sublime metaphor of this whole thing. For some reason it took the two skinny nineteen year old boys to make me understand why we all had such a visceral need to show up at this place every week – Tommy, a pretty boy with luscious long blond hair, far more beautiful than my own, who wore a fuzzy, cartoon-shaped purple top hat and neon green leopard print pants, and the DJ a toothpick in a shimmery club outfit and hair full of product who bounced around like he had springs in his shoes, both so earnest in their gimmick, such happy characters wanting nothing but girly love, and instead weathering brutal torrents of heel heat, white heat, so very far beyond your standard boo and hiss. This heat was deep, dark scorn for daring to present themselves as our entertainment, heat from both the hipster smarks like Danny and the backyard boys, scarred and limping from their own real backyard wrestling events. These were crazy vile barbs about what got done to Tommy’s mom last weekend and what the two boys did to each other in the locker room when nobody else was there.

Smackdown held Tommy Rage in a wristlock, cranked it tight, pounded his lower back, then bounced him off the ropes and clotheslined him to the floor. Tommy sold the move with a mouth twisted in pretend pain, ignoring the backyard boys hollering gay slurs through megaphones made out of rolled up posterboard. Smackdown beat on the pretty boy some more, then pulled him to his feet again and threw him to the corner of the ring, where Solitary choked him with a bandana from his pocket to the dismay of the nerdy, useless ref kid. The DJ protested helplessly in his corner while his partner gagged and struggled, but there was no reprieve for Tommy. This went on for a little while. Danny made a comment about Smackdown giving it to his girlfriend – by which he meant Tommy – and everybody laughed. Finally, the DJ lost patience, jumped down and ran over to yank Solitary off his ring corner, which earned him some choice words from the ref and a pounding when Solitary landed, but at least Tommy got a chance to catch his breath. Smackdown grabbed Tommy again and flung him against the ropes, but in that pass he managed to tag the DJ, who had broken free from Solitary’s clutches and scrambled back to his corner of the ring for a legal tag.

Just as the DJ climbed into the ring, Smackdown tagged in Solitary. Skinny DJ bravely locked up with the stocky guy who once told us that he didn’t pretend it hurt if it didn’t hurt, and that he made sure it hurt when it was himself doing the hurtin’. I think those were his exact words, in fact. Solitary stomped the DJ’s foot, then slapped the kid’s chest with a resonant SMACK! The crowd yelled out in unison, OHHH!, articulating the pain the DJ most surely felt. Again, SMACK! Then OHHH! Then Danny led the crowd in the ritual shouts for more — ONE MORE TIME! — hollered to the melody of the dance hit the DJ entered to when he wrestled solo. Another big hard smack, which must have left a mark, and the DJ was on the floor. Solitary hauled the DJ to his feet, “get off the goddamn floor, son!” then whipped him to the ropes. But the DJ somewhere, somehow found his strength and reversed the whip! Now it was Solitary being flung ropeward and catching an armful of the DJ’s cross-body block, which toppled him to the floor.

Solitary barely kicked out of the pin before the three count. He was mad as hell, but the DJ was suddenly in control of the match. The DJ knocked Solitary to the ground, then scrambled to the top turnbuckle and moonsaulted right on top of him, to the cheers of the folks in the crowd who appreciated that sort of thing. Then the DJ got down and cranked Solitary’s leg into a figure-four leglock, which caused Solitary to glare at the kid, then slowly work to flip the leglock over so that the DJ would feel it. Solitary dramatized the struggle, really drew out the maneuver as Danny and his brother led the chant again: Sol-i-tar-y! Sol-i-t-ar-y! Sol-i-tar-y! Sol-i-tar-y! Solitary turned over as the chant reached a crescendo, and he was able to reach out and tag Smackdown, who charged into the ring. The DJ scrambled back to his corner and tagged Tommy, who leaped in to slug Smackdown a few times. Smackdown was unfazed – he grabbed Tommy in a headlock and dragged him to a neutral corner, where he bashed his head on the turnbuckle as the crowd chanted the count of each bash – one, two three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, TEN! Smackdown tried to whip Tommy to his corner, but Tommy reversed the whip and sent Smackdown right to the Team Vegas corner, where the DJ choked him with the tag rope. Tommy faked like he was arguing something with the ref, then raced over to rake Smackdown’s eyes, and then chokeslammed him to the mat. Smackdown was still feisty, but as Tommy went for the pin, the DJ was hiding down on the floor, surreptitiously holding Smackdown’s boots so he couldn’t kick out!

The ref made the three count, the ring bell rang, and the dance anthem pounded its beat as the ref held up Tommy’s arm for the win. Smackdown leaped to his feet to ream the ref a new one, and Solitary was so pissed he was raging around on the floor, unseating folks and throwing their plastic lawn chairs into the ring. The ref pretended not to understand the problem while the DJ and Tommy gloated, standing on the ropes and flexing their muscles. Overall, it was a half decent match. I suspected this to be the beginning of an epic feud, so long as Solitary could stay out of trouble and the DJ’s mom would let him keep wrestling.

Afterward we hung around outside in the parking lot talking while most of the wrestlers walked past us in their street clothes, pretending we weren’t there. That didn’t hurt our egos, it was all part of their kayfabe, the wall they build between themselves and their self-like characters, and even at the garage level, these dudes were consummate professionals. We’d watched them bloody themselves the hard way, roll around in thumbtacks, shatter their ankles, willingly sustain concussions from intentional falls from ladders, all for the entertainment of a smattering of devotees who had found this place, which wasn’t well advertized. Never more than fifty people showed up for these things, and it was usually more like twenty – families and girlfriends, losers, hardened backyard wrestlers, fat men, closet wrestling fans like me, and always the strange and bedazzled older woman who brought her well-dressed Yorkshire terrier along in a baby carriage. Sometimes the crowd was almost aggressively bored by the show. Other times the formidable backyard boys, with their scarred faces and death metal t-shirts, hurled such vile insults at the garage wrestlers that the whole mood in the place went sour. And yet, no matter the weather, our wrestlers soldiered on, struck their poses, flexed their muscles, then walked past us after the show with their duffel bags, knowing we saw them, knowing we saw them see us, but still pretending we weren’t there.

The DJ gave us only a slight nod on his way past, and Tommy Rage walked to his car with his girlfriend, acting way too cool for us. Only Solitary crossed this threshold and talked to us, breaking kayfabe because Danny was his biggest fan, and Danny was the most coveted fan to have. Solitary told us a story about drinking bleach when he was incarcerated because he and some other guys had to pass a piss test, then he hung Danny’s little brother upside down by the ankles and told him to eat his vegetables. After that, Danny, Lucy, and Danny’s little brother took off early like they always did, because Danny had to stock merchandise at Costco at like five the next morning. I felt a little wrenched because Matt and Big Dave wanted a change of pace from the IHOP we usually hit, which was adjacent to the casino and karaoke lounge that was attached to the Golden Palm Hotel, renowned for its cockroaches, which meant my evening would not wrap up at a table crowded with syrups, upside down coffee cups, a big carafe and a bowl of little creamers, a ritual that since high school has meant for me the close of a successful evening and a wakeful forge into the technicolor energy of the desert in the wee hours. The guys felt like In-N-Out Burger instead, and I had no real choice but to join them unless I wanted to make the drive back out to my apartment in Henderson unquenched, before I had wrung every last drop of camaraderie from the evening, home, where I had little good to do besides pet my cats, and maybe watch some Buffy on the old VHS tapes I scored for almost nothing on Ebay until I finally somehow gave up on the night.

The three of us carpooled to In-N-Out in Big Dave’s minivan, me shotgun, Matt in the second row of seats. We took the zippy little frontage road that curved and wove parallel to I-15, backlit at different angles by the looming icons of the all-night: The Rio, a soothing black monolith twinkling its pink and purple pinstripes, the faux skyline of highrises that was New York, New York, Las Vegas, and The Luxor, beaming its bright white message of Egyptian pyramids and video poker into space and baffling the local bat population. We somehow popped out on Tropicana – I could never make sense of these shortcuts – among the smaller scale establishments, also decked out in gaudy neon: pawn shops, check cashing franchises, taquerias, the Adult Superstore. Then we cruised into the crowded parking lot of the In-N-Out, Dave’s glorious parking karma finding us a space right in front. But then I gasped with much melodrama.

“Oh dear God,” I said. “Tommy Rage is in there. Look, there he is!”

It wasn’t just Tommy but his entire entourage – his girlfriend, her little sister, a couple of fledgling wrestlers, and Mini Vegas, the early twenty-something aspiring midget wrestler who ended up having to have back surgery and could now only work as a manager. He usually managed Team Vegas, but had been “kidnapped” by veteran heel and my ex-boyfriend D-von Money last week and was sequestered from Tommy and the DJ while they built a feud storyline for future matches. He had appeared in D-von’s earlier match, led to the ring on a leash by D-von’s slutty, bad ass valet Taurus, which we all thought was a little over the top. D-von towered over all of them at six-foot-five, and his mike presence was perhaps the most intimidating in the whole place. His gimmick might best have been described as “big tough black guy with sad eyes,” and he was always in a mean black tank top and pants airbrushed all over with dollar signs and his name. Before I went out with D-von, Lucy and I used to ask each other, snide and rhetorical, when he entered the ring: where the heck does one go to get a pair of pants airbrushed? I would later bear witness to the process — you get it done at the indoor swap meet.

So the Tommy Rage contingent was parked and eating their burgers at most of a big table smack in the middle of the establishment, which was jam packed on a Friday night. It was so crowded in there that I suspected we would have to go squeeze in with them if we wanted to sit anywhere.

“Yeesh,” said Matt. “How is that gonna work?”

“Let’s go somewhere else,” I said. “We can’t go in there.”

“Sure we can,” Dave turned off the engine. “He’s a nice kid.”

“So you say,” I balked.

“I’ve talked to him. He’s nice. Come on,” Dave insisted, and got out of the car.

You have to understand, we were ruthless with Tommy Rage. We pointed and laughed at him, in and out of the ring. We mocked his hair, his pants, flamed him hard on our little internet forum whenever he had the nerve to throw in an offhand, dippy comment while we were waxing on with our critical theories about character, gimmick, and story arc. This was our job, our role in this whole thing – we made Tommy who he was by being mean to him, elevated his character to heights he couldn’t achieve by himself. And he, in turn, was the master of kayfabe. He had never spoken to any of us in person, barely made eye contact, even, except with Dave, apparently, who was one of those impossibly friendly people, and who liked to sidle his big self up to everybody and anybody to get their backstory.

It was Dave, in fact, who had wrangled me into their clique at the wrestling garage. I had been sitting in the corner for weeks, stewing in my social anxiety, wanting so badly to be a cool girl with Lucy and Dave and Matt’s coffee buddy, to laugh at Danny’s deadpan, hilarious barbs and chants, just not knowing if I was cool enough or whatever. Dave finally sat down beside me one night and said, “I have to know your story. You don’t just come here to look at cute boys,” he said. That’s what a most of the girls hanging the garage around were in it for. “I’ve seen you watching the matches. You understand the craft. You’re here for the wrestling.”

I nodded. I did appreciate the wrestling and all, but I felt a little dishonest when he said that. The truth was that I came to these shows because I was hooked, absolutely hooked on the garish spectacle: the carnival strong man muscle poses performed without irony, the melodramatic arrogance and pain in their faces as they sold their moves and holds, and the pants, oh the pants! The animal prints, the vinyls, velours, and lycra-spandexes, the hues spanning the full spectrum of neon and flourescence. And then there were the conflict metaphors that emerged in their match-ups – little man versus big man, the underdog versus the system, man versus mortality, and the complex jungle of modernity as it emerges in a hardcore match – this stuff cut to the core of everybody’s personal struggle, no longer just black and white but shades tinted gray in this post-modern era of professional wrestling. I couldn’t get enough, to the point where I was mildly concerned about my zealous craving for it. I didn’t go into detail with Dave that day, though, because Lucy broke the moment, yelling over from their corner, “For god’s sake, why don’t you just come sit with us?” So I did.

“So do we pretend we don’t see him, or what?” Matt asked us as we stared into the In-N-Out. Matt was a loner like me, and nerdy – read comic books, played online video games, worked in a call center. Dave had befriended him before I got there. He, like me, didn’t feel right about disregarding the wall of kayfabe. It was like touching the paintings in a museum or something. We’d both have felt much more comfortable offering Tommy Rage the same aloof disdain he always had for us.

“God, you guys. Just be nice.” Dave said. “It’s not that hard.”

Dave ordered ahead of us and went to sit at the Tommy Rage table. I ordered a milkshake – I was still a vegetarian back then – and waited for Matt to get his cheeseburger. The two of us walked all sheepish like a couple of dorks over to the table and seated ourselves at the end, Matt next to Mini Vegas and me next to Tommy Rage’s girlfriend, a hot little redhead with flushed cheeks who looked about sixteen. Dave was sitting at the other end of the table, talking about the most recent Hulk Hogan retread with the fledgling wrestlers, two Melvillian pimpled and awkward guys with overwrought monikers: “Jason Chainsaw” and “The Executioner”.

Matt and I quietly started our own little conversation about recent developments in the Buffyverse. Mini Vegas took interest in my musings about the ambiguity of good and evil in Spike’s character, then asked what we thought of the new season of The Sopranos. I didn’t watch that show, so while they went on that tangent I watched Tommy Rage making major kissy eyes across the table at his girlfriend, who was all over that action. The girlfriend’s sister, who must have been about nine, was next to the girlfriend, busily drawing a picture of a unicorn and a rainbow on a piece of lined notebook paper with colored pencils. Then the conversations all funneled toward Dave’s end of the table, where the wrestlers started discussing Danny’s sage wisdom about their gimmicks and storylines.

“I heard Danny said that Tommy and the DJ have been a tag team for too long. He thinks the DJ needs to turn heel and that Tommy and the Silver Streak should team up,” said Jason Chainsaw. Tommy Rage shrugged and sipped his soda, with a suggestive wink-wink for his girlfriend. The Silver Streak was a Lucha Libre-style masked wrestler with lightning bolts on his pants. We knew him to be a guy named Preston who had recently moved here from Omaha. He was a high flier like the DJ, but sturdier and scrappier, more formidable in a lock-up. I thought about a Tommy Rage/Silver Streak tag team, couldn’t really see what Danny was envisioning. But Danny grasped this stuff on a biochemical level. Or something like that. For me it was checkers, for him it was savant-level chess.

“He’s got a point,” Matt said to Tommy Rage. “You two had chemistry when you were working together in the Battle Royale last month. There was that thing where you went low and he went high and popped D-Von over the top rope. That was pretty cool. I don’t know if I’ve seen that one before.”

“Ah, Danny. The phantom booker,” said Dave. Danny liked to lurk around backstage at the garage before and after the show, offering his sage advice about which wrestlers had the best chemistry for a tag team, which storylines showed the most promise, which gimmicks were stupid beyond repair, and which were so stupid they were actually kind of brilliant. From what I heard, his feedback warmed the hearts of both the headlining wrestlers and the washed up old ex-wrestlers who ran the place and officially booked the matches. Danny was a genius, a master smart mark. He had the look of a Beastie Boy – hard-staring, dark eyes, a mop he liked to mousse into wild spikes, then shave bald when the mood struck. He was a deadpan kind of guy, though perfectly willing to lose his wits and holler at somebody, even start shit if he thought it was justly warranted. He could also grow damned respectable facial hair for a nineteen year old when he felt like it.

“What’s his story anyway?” Tommy asked. They all looked at me, because I was the only one who ever ran into Danny outside the wrestling garage. We were crossing paths at the university that semester while I was killing time between my modernism seminar and one of the world lit sections I was teaching – he had a sociology class that started right in the middle of my down time. He would come over before his class started to shoot the bull about the current state of WWE’s product, and would get so into what he was telling me that he sometimes missed half his class. “I don’t like going in there on time, anyway,” he would always brush it off like he meant to be late. “She always does these brainwash exercises at the beginning of class. It’s better I miss that crap. I just go in at the end ’cause I need to know what the assignment is.” I never told anybody this, but Danny stopping to talk to me was the highlight of my day. Danny was one of these millenials whose reckless cool confidence chilled me, gave me a smidge of hope for the future. An old school thinker, a guy who really got it. Everything makes sense when you talk to a guy like that; all of life is an ass-kicking metaphor.

I shrugged at Tommy Rage’s question, though, because Danny’s “story” was, really, as big a mystery to me. “He’s a sophomore. A film major. That’s all I know.”

“Sooo, what’s up with you and D-von?” Mini Vegas asked me. Everybody perked at the prospect of some sweet dish.

“Not a goddamn thing,” I said with a sad smile.

“You were going out, though, right?”

“Were, yes,” I said.

“She doesn’t like to talk about it,” said Dave. Dave liked to look out for me – he knew this was a tender spot. I guess it looked to everybody like I had dumped D-von, and that’s what D-von led them all to believe. But in fact, he was the one who broke it off. Thing was, I got too close, too quick, found my way far too deep into his sinkhole of fragility and discovered myself to be a dangerous threat to his kayfabe, which was for him an image that kept him afloat – it was armor, a hardening, not only against the indy wrestling scene but against this vampire of a city where he was all alone, no family to speak of, nothing solid, where he clung tentative to relationships with anyone who was a little nice to him, wasn’t scared of him, and where he was locked in a slow downward spiral, no sense of how to pull up or even level off at altitude. For D-von, kayfabe wasn’t so much about wrestling performance, it was a survival tool. So I kept my mouth shut about what had gone on between us. It seemed like the right thing to do.

“He’s a jerk anyway,” said The Executioner. I smiled politely.

“Rude,” said Dave.

“I’m just sayin’,” said The Executioner.

“’I’m just sayin’.’ You ever notice how people only ever say that after they say something rude?” said Matt.

“Speaking of jerks,” said Jason Chainsaw, “Juvie had a party and trashed their apartment, and then left town for a week, and Nick Q got in trouble for it. He had to get a cash advance on his Taco Bell paycheck to pay for a broken window or else they were gonna be evicted. I don’t know why Nick Q can’t find a better roommate.”

“Oh I know,” said Mini Vegas. “That guy destroys the lives of everyone in his path.” Juvie was a big guy from SoCal who hung around the wrestling garage and played the role of bouncer, sort of. He basically stood at the door and blocked the entry before the show while everybody lined up all annoyed and impatient, and then moved out of the way when the show was about to start so we could all stampede in. The seating on the plastic lawn chairs was limited, and Tommy always elbowed out the little kids and older folks to grab our section of seats along the back wall. Juvie also wrestled on occasion as “Mister Flawless”, but it was weird – he entered the ring in the same flannel shirt, dirty sweat pants and backwards baseball cap he always wore, and just wrestled as himself. The guy had no kayfabe whatsoever. He didn’t even make an effort. Oddly enough, though, Dave found out he had a degree in design from San Diego State. But Nick Q was as opposite Juvie as they come – a sweet, smallish guy with glasses who mostly sat quietly near the announcer’s table at the wrestling matches, jotting things in a spiral-bound notebook for later use in his enthusiastic, well-written commentary and match reports, which he then submitted to every wrestling website in the country. He wanted everybody to spell his name with a “Q”, he made a point of telling everybody his name was “Niq with a Q”, but that was too arcane so everybody just called him Nick Q. The pairing of Juvie and Nick Q was one of the many enigmas I puzzled over every week as I tried to understand these people with whom I had just about nothing in common, save our frantic passion for this strange form of pageantry.

“Remember when Juvie came to IHOP and ate food off our plates?” Dave said.

“What?” Mini Vegas was aghast.

“Oh yeah, and it was the leftovers, too!” I said. “Like, the rest of my scrambled eggs with ketchup all over and Dave’s waffle all soggy with syrup. He just got in there and asked if he could have it, and was like, sticking a fork in it before we even said okay.”

“That is just wrong. Really ghetto. Something’s seriously wrong with a guy like that,” Mini Vegas shook his head.

“Where did those guys go tonight?” Dave asked.

“They went to karaoke by the IHOP,” said Jason Chainsaw. “They go there a lot. Juvie picks out songs and makes Nick sing them. It’s pretty funny.”

And then the conversation fractured again. Little Vegas was making plans with Jason Chainsaw and The Executioner to camp out for WWE tickets, while Dave admired Tommy Rage’s girlfriend’s sister’s unicorn picture and Matt somehow had an exchange with the girlfriend about which shades of lip-gloss would nicely compliment her hair color. For a few seconds, Tommy Rage and I found ourselves the only ones with nobody to talk to. He was staring at me. “So what about you?” he said, when I finally made eye contact. “What’s your story?”

“I don’t know,” I said, kind of defensive, throwing it back at him. “What’s your story?”

He grinned, like he had beaten me at something. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” he said.

At that point, everyone was starting to stand up and get ready to leave. Tommy Rage was pretending I didn’t exist again, gathering up his burger wrappers and making going-home plans with his girlfriend. Tommy had me unsettled, but I pretended it was nothing. Matt, Dave and I said goodbye to everybody and Dave drove us back to our cars at the wrestling garage. We parted ways, but the evening still felt alive and chock-full of narrative goodness, and I couldn’t bring myself to head home. I drove down Tropicana a couple blocks to the Golden Palm karaoke lounge, where Juvie and Nick Q were slouching like dudes at a table, bottles of light beer before them, Juvie poring over the phonebook-sized karaoke catalog binder. I walked past the claw machine, resisting the siren song of the huge Scooby Doo I’d been trying to bag for weeks, past the enthusiastic cacophony of a row of poker machines cycling through their brainwash jingles, and into the karaoke area, which was tricked out with thick strips of floor to ceiling tinsel hanging from the stage and the walls, so you knew for sure you were in the right place for karaoke. Some guy in a crumpled suit was singing “Eyes Without a Face”.

“Hey yo, that chick is here,” Juvie said to Nick, then turned to me. “Where’s your crew, yo?”

“They all bailed,” I said. “I heard there were people over here.”

Nick was sitting there all sheepish and blushing like a goober. He never seemed to know what to do when a girl came around. Juvie was more the chatty type, though. “You missed it,” he said. “I made him do ‘The Real Slim Shady’. It was a good one. And ‘Mmm Bop’, that one was funny, he did it all high-pitched. But I’ll pick out a good one for you. He doesn’t even know which one I pick before he gets up there.”

Juvie scribbled something down on a scrap of paper and took it up to the guy who ran the karaoke machine. The crumpled suit guy was rocking out to the part in the song where the guitar really starts kicking and you can almost hear Billy Idol curl his lip as he belts it out: When you hear the music you make a dip into someone else’s pocket, then make a slip, steal a car and go to Las Vegas oh, the gigolo pool, hanging out by the state line, turning holy water into wine, drinkin’ it down, oh… I sat there kind of awkward. I didn’t know these guys very well. It was kind of a weird scene.

“So what’s up with D-von?” Juvie asked, making conversation.

“Nothing. We broke up,” I said.

“Hey, sorry I asked,” he said.

“No, it’s cool. Just a long story. You know. We’re still friends, though.”

“I won’t say anything else. You want a drink? The lady’s coming over. I don’t have any more money or I’d buy you one.”

I ordered an MGD – it was the least lame of the beer choices at that place – as the Billy Idol faded out and the smattering of folks half-ass clapped for the suit guy. “Next up, Nick with a Q!” piped the karaoke host, to more half-assed applause. Nick got up there, nodded knowingly at the karaoke monitor as the song started up, and spoke the song’s opening monologue in a perfect mall girl voice. Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt. It is so big. I’m slow on the uptake with karaoke and such, so it took me a minute to realize what was happening, what song was playing, and then the song broke loose and Nick Q with it in a truly stunning rendition of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”, fancy footwork shuffling around the stage and nailing every syllable:

I like big butts and I cannot lie
You other brothers can’t deny
That when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist
And a round thing in your face
You get sprung, wanna pull out your tough
‘Cause you notice that butt was stuffed
Deep in the jeans she’s wearing
I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring
Oh baby, I wanna get with you
And take your picture
My homeboys tried to warn me
But that butt you got makes me so horny!

“Look at him go, man. I love that guy,” Juvie shook his head as his roommate knocked his karaoke challenge out of the park. At that point I realized my night was finally complete.

Andrea Gregovich has been published in Pindeldyboz, New Geography and Liberty. Her translations have appeared in: Tin House, AGNI Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, 3:AM Magazine, BODY, Guernica, Cafe Ireal, and several anthologies. Gregovich’s translation of Mikhail Tarkovsky’s “Ice Flow” is forthcoming as the Russia story in Best European Fiction 2015 from Dalkey Archive Press.