At 8 am, I open my eyes and look at my watch. I decide to sleep until my wakeup call at 8:45 am. At 8:15 am, I look at my watch again. This time I decide to get up. I am awake. If I am tired, I can take a nap after the meeting.
Mornings, these days, are strange. In the morning, I am no longer hung-over. I no longer hope that I can put a solid in my stomach before I puke. Everything from the night before, I can remember. Now, I do not need to apologize to anyone for peeing on their carpet or doing anything else fantastically inappropriate. I need to remember this. I cannot forget this. Absolutely, I never need a hangover again.
Even last year, at this time back in Oklahoma for the summer after my first year as a college professor in New York, I remember laying on various couches after nights of drinking, laying and waiting, hoping and knowing that the queasiness would pass after I had Taco Bueno, Sonic, Arbys, The Hungry Frog. I do not miss those hangovers.
Last summer was my last summer of drinking. I drank and I drank. Last summer I was going through a half of a bottle of vodka a night with no problem. Something had to give. I sometimes think that I do not even know that person who occupied my body and drank so much. That person was not the most self-destructive person you will ever meet but he was self-destructive enough to drink every night until he passed out. What was I thinking? Was I trying to kill some sort of pain? Soothe some sort of inner turmoil? Out drink the legends of Capote, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald?
I get into the shower. The hotel has those nice plush 5 star hotel towels. There is a soap dispenser and shampoo dispenser on the wall of the shower. Marble tiles cover the bathroom. Yes, I am staying in a 5 star hotel.
After I get out of the shower, I put water in the electric kettle for an instant nestles cappuccino. The water boils. I pour the water into a cup and empty the packet into the cup. The phone rings. The operator is telling me it is 8:45 this is my wake up call. I say thank you. She repeats what she just told me. I realize I am listening to a recording.
Last night, I took the Karl Lagerfeld white mock tuxedo shirt out of my Delsey bay and hung it up. I put on my pinstripe Club Monaco slacks and the Karl Lagerfeld shirt. At five ‘til 9, I head downstairs to have breakfast.
Although I am sober these days, I am still in a bit of a fog in the mornings. When I walk into the coffee shop, I walk right past the hostess. She comes up to me and asks for my complimentary breakfast coupon. I hand it to her. I see a two top. I ask her if I can sit there. She pulls the chair out for me and asks if I would like tea or coffee. I tell her coffee. I look around unsure what I am to do next.
I realize breakfast is buffet style. After my coffee is poured, I get up, grab a plate and start scooping food onto it. This is a very nice buffet. Immediately, I am interested in the cheese area which is stationed in the middle of the restaurant. From there, I head over to the side and start putting bacon, waffles, crescents, pastries, anything from the West on my plate. A chef is in the corner making omelets to order. I could eat lots. It seems like it has been awhile since I have eaten lots. Perhaps, at the Hungry Frog on Penn was the last place where I was truly full. Today, I do not eat lots. I do not have the omelet. I want to be sharp for this interview. At 9:20, I decide to head back upstairs to brush my teeth. Ten minutes is enough time to take the elevator up, brush my teeth and come back down…if I hurry. After all, I am the star.
The elevator arrives fairly quickly. I get in; I press 6; I head to my floor; no problem. By this time, I have mastered the key card. I open the door. I pull my toothbrush out of my bag. I rip the complimentary toothpaste out of the wax paper pouch which it is in. I squeeze. Nothing comes out. The tip is aluminum. I need to puncture the top with a pin or something sharp. The clock is ticking. I do not want to be late. I try to remember where I put my own dangerously close to empty tube of toothpaste. I see it in the mesh part of the bag. I dig it out. I brush my teeth quickly and head back to the elevator.
Two men and three women – all of them have luggage, the women (of course) have the most- are waiting for the elevator as well. All of a sudden, there are no elevators. Beside each elevator the number is lit where the elevator is currently parked. The elevators are all in the 19 to 22 floor range. Not to mention, one of the six elevators seems to be out of service. There is no number lit beside it.
Finally an elevator makes its way down to us. It stops. It opens to reveal itself as already being somewhat full. The women get in with there eight or nine bags of luggage. Now the elevator is full. The men and I have to wait for the next one.
The two remaining guys and I look at each other and roll our eyes. They say something in Chinese. I nod my head.
My phone rings. Allen is on the line. He wants to know if I am nearly ready to come down. I tell him I have been waiting for the elevator. I ask if I should take the stairs. He tells me no. He will see me shortly. Finally, the elevator arrives. The two men waiting with me, motion for me to enter first. I say ‘xie xie’ and enter.
In front of the coffee shop, Allen is waiting. He tells me the general manager is meeting us at the bar off of the lobby. I tell him I am really sorry I am late. I did not know it would take so long to get an elevator. He tells me to not worry. He does not seem worried. I am paranoid he will think I am late everywhere, the Axl Rose of lounge singers.
I follow Allen to the bar. The bar looks over the lobby. Two circular staircases lead up to it which lend to its grandeur. A grand piano sits midway across the bar near the back wall. Coming up the circular stairs, on the left side is the actual bar which runs the length of the balcony. Informally dressed men at a table in the center of the room are the only patrons at this time of the morning in the bar. I do not know if they are drinking.
Allen and I sit down. The general manager walks up. She introduces herself. Her name is June Chen. For a moment, we sit there. None of us seem to know what to say. Allen starts talking. I realize his English is much better than June’s English. He tells me that they are happy with the current band but they do not know what will happen in September when the time comes to renew the contract. He tells me the current band have a pianist. He asks me if I play piano and he motions to the grand piano. I tell him no. He asks me what kind of songs I play. I tell him I play my own songs mainly but I play Beatles songs too. He tells me that the people of Ningbo are not as educated as the people in Shanghai. He says as a way to say that I might not be right for the job. I get the point. They are happier to hear the songs that the Phillipino band plays than songs with which they are not familiar.
At this point, I start to wonder why I am at the interview. At this point, a family sits down a few tables a way from us. And, at this point, Madame Chen asks if I teach business English. I tell her I have taught English to international college students. I would be able to teach business English quite easily. For some strange reason, Chinese women in power intimidate me. I feel as if I say the wrong thing I could get my head lopped off by a samurai sword. And within five minutes, my body and head would be removed from the premises. A crew would clean up the blood. The family who sat down next to us is really associates of June Chen, Ningbo Dragon Lady. I try to be as forthcoming as possible during the interview. I would like to not have my head lopped off.
Allen explains the set up. The lobby bar opens early and closes early. The bar on the 5th floor opens later and stays open late. Allen tells me that they possibly will hire two groups to play at the hotel. They are now toying with that possibility. A man subleases the upstairs bar from the hotel and he would be the one that would be interested in me. He has another bar, an Irish pub, downtown where he needs performers as well. That, too, may be a possibility for me.
He then asks me about my job. I tell him and Dragon Lady what I make and how many hours a week I work. I do not work many hours. In that way, I am very fortunate. That is one of the fantastic perks about my job. I do not work many hours a day.
The Dragon Lady says “Two or three hours a day, average.”
Somehow when they put it this way, I begin to like the job I have more than I did a few seconds ago. Again, I ask myself “Why am I here? Do I want to sing in a hotel? Is that what I want to do?”
Allen then says that it sounds like my current situation is a good one. I tell him yes it is. He then suggests that I work during the week teaching and playing the hotel on the weekend. I could take the train up on the weekend to the hotel. I tell him that could possibly work.
Allen then asks me if I could do a song for the guy that he could tape. He could then make a DVD for the guy. I tell him yes. He tells me to go get my guitar and he will meet me back down at the bar. He tells me to take my time.
As I walk to the elevator, get in the elevator, depart from the elevator, and walk to my room; I wonder what in the hell I am doing. I am auditioning as a lounge singer at a five star hotel. At first, this sounded very glamorous. Now it just sounds like Tony Orlando’s nadir.
In my room, I remove my guitar from the gig bag and strum a few chords. Oh well, I am here. I might as well go through with it. I do a run through of ‘From Me to You.’ I mess up all over the place. I get angry with myself. I am not concentrating. I must concentrate. I try it again. I play it better this time. Near the end of the song the low e string pops. I laugh because I am really not that surprised. Maybe my guardian angel is trying to tell me this is not the path I am to take. Popping an e string is a pretty strong hint.