Fiction by Wayne Scheer
A surprisingly shapely leg peeked through the slit in her blue silk evening gown. Sequins on her dress reflected the light in the room, flashing like paparazzi bulbs. Although the woman's age hovered somewhere between old and elderly, she flitted from table to table, microphone in hand, doing something resembling singing. She had already treated us to "Walkin to New Orleans" and the Dixie Chicks version of "Iko." Now she warbled her way through, "You Light Up My Life," while running her fingers through men's thinning hair and nuzzling their necks. Thinking herself Whitney Houston's Caucasian cousin, she demonstrated her ability to hit two notes—high and higher still—without concern for the original melody.
Although unaccustomed to prayer, I found myself mumbling, "Dear God, please don't let her come to this table."
But my fear of an unjust universe prevailed. The aging screech owl with legs I reluctantly admit to leering at perched on my lap. Worse, she wanted me to sing along with her.
She persisted until I monotoned, "You light up my… life," and hit a note so inappropriate she looked at me as if I had passed gas, kissed my receding hairline and sauntered off to her next victim.
I eyed my father-in-law, almost unconscious with laughter, pounding the table and pointing at me. My first inclination was to adjust his oxygen tube, which hung from one nostril like a trapeze artist teasing an audience. I reconsidered. He had gotten me into this, let him fix his own damn oxygen.
With that, he wiped his nose with the back of his hand, reinserting the tube, and shouted, "Isn't she a pistol?"
I muttered, "I wish I had one," but my wife kicked me under the table. Dutifully, I replied, "Yeah, she's something, all right."
We were at the Shady Grove Assisted Living Center's annual, Mardi Gras Entertainment Extravaganza, "featuring the song stylings of Miss Lala La Vine." I had already experienced a three sisters' dance act, performed by a trio of octogenarians, and a comic who began his routine with, "I just flew in from New Orleans and boy are my arms tired." Really, he opened with that.
But I hadn't seen Mike, my father-in-law, so happy in years, and before we left the house Bonnie had promised me something special if I was a good boy and avoided sarcasm for the whole night. So I took a deep breath, gave him a thumbs up and returned to Miss La Vine, who now sat on a stool, center stage, crossing and uncrossing her alarmingly shapely legs, promising us her own, very special rendition of "My Way." I closed my eyes and prayed again, this time for the strength to remain sarcasm-free.
She'll probably end with this, I thought. It can't be much longer. I imagined half the audience asleep—at least I hoped they were sleeping—and the other half caretakers, adjusting oxygen tanks and wiping drool. The truth is, as I looked around the converted dining hall decorated with purple, green and gold tinsel, masks and beads, I saw an audience laughing and singing along. Their energy made me feel like I was the old man.
After a rousing finish, with Lala holding the last note of "My Waaaaaaaaaay" long enough to render Kenny G. unconscious, she called the other performers to the stage for a final bow and an audience sing-along of, "There's No Business Like Show Business." I had no idea what that had to do with Mardi Gras, but I was grateful they didn't end with "Jambalaya on the Bayou."
Despite my inhibition, I found myself mouthing at least some of the words, amazed at how many residents of Shady Grove knew all the lyrics. Mike not only knew the words, he was doing Ethel Merman's rendition at full volume. It was good hearing him so alive.
The lights came on and I swear I could see molecules in motion. People were still singing; a woman in a wheelchair displayed happy feet. Even Mr. Riconda, Mike's poker partner, a man who hadn't uttered a positive word since Eisenhower's second term, turned his lips upwards in what resembled a smile.
"See?" Mike was saying to us. "I told you they do a bang-up job." He turned to me. "I bet you're sorry now you missed their Winter Shindig."
Bonnie glared in my direction, but she didn't need to worry. I had caught the spirit. "I can't wait for this summer's Beach Party," I said.
Strangely enough, I meant it. After all, there was a chance I'd see Lala again, this time in a bathing suit.