My siblings and I used to frequent our local karaoke joint, La Hacienda, a lot when we were teens. We would assemble a group of our neighborhood friends and beg my mom to be our “chaperone” for the evening, as unaccompanied individuals under the age of 21 were not allowed in the bar area for karaoke. During the summer of 2001, we made karaoke a near-weekly occurrence.
The summer leading into the 2001-2002 school year was pretty great. My siblings and I spent as much time as we could with our friends in the neighborhood. Our friend Cherise lived to the left of our house, and Kathleen and Justine lived in the cul-de-sac parallel to ours. Elizabeth and Kirstin were the furthest away, but it was just a matter of a few blocks. Hell, they would take a shortcut through “the creek” to get to our house, cutting travel time in half.
We typically went to karaoke on Saturdays; mom had an adequate amount of time to rest after her work week and was more inclined to accompanying us as a result. We would pile into my mom’s robin’s egg blue Plymouth Voyager, drive for five minutes, and arrive just in time to order food before karaoke kicked off. Some nights were busier than others. We lived for those small nights, though. We could sing as much as we wanted with little wait. After a few weeks, we were considered “regulars.” It was the first time I had experienced this, and it was a wonderful feeling.
It was August, the week of my brother’s birthday. We all went to La Hacienda that Saturday, ready to sing the night away. We ordered the usuals: nachos, taquitos, and virgin piña coladas and/or strawberry daiquiris.
We binge-watched a lot of TV that summer, when we weren’t going to swim team practice, or swim meets, or out running around and having adventures at our friend’s houses. That summer was pretty memorable. Showtime or HBO was playing a shitty David Spade movie ad nauseam. I don’t quite remember how many times we actually watched it. While the entire movie was a load of crap, one scene stuck out to all of use: the scene in which David Spade lip-syncs to Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.” It was a fun scene, it was a great song, and it was probably the most enjoyable part of the movie.
Anyway, unbeknownst to the rest of us, that scene and song really stuck with my brother. We would hear him humming it on and off when he thought no one was listening. At the time, my brother wasn’t much of a singer. He would sing softly, almost inaudibly when he would sing at karaoke, a rarity in itself.
That night, that Saturday after his 14th birthday, was different. He was exuding a different energy and there was a determination in his voice. We saw him walk up to the emcee and hand him his song request on a slip of paper. We badgered my brother to find out what song he was planning on singing, but he wouldn’t budge. “You’ll see” was all he would say.
No one expected it.
I heard the opening piano and I knew. He was going to sing it. And he was going to sing his fucking heart out.
“Oh shit,” I said. My sister looked at me, I looked at her, wide eyed, bewildered, and shivering with antici…pation. My brother’s voice was strong and confident, which was very different from what we considered normal. Everyone at the table now took notice to the moment unfolding before them. The chatter stopped; we were all transfixed by the scene on stage.
We began screaming and cheering our fucking heads over, overcome by the awesomeness of the moment. Our hysteria caught on. Some of the other regulars caught on; Kwan had his table cheering and Nicholas the drunk Brit was dancing in his corner.
“BROTHERS!” My brother called out. Instinctively, our table chimed in with a “HALLELUJAH!”
“I SAID BROTHERS!” He shouted, with perhaps the biggest grin I have ever seen on him.
Again, we chimed in, “HALLE-HALLELUJAH.”
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was having fun, singing and dancing, clapping and cheering. What they didn’t know was that they were witnessing a legendary moment. They were witnessing the exact moment my brother realized he had a voice, and more than that, it was an incredibly confident voice. My sister, mother, and I witnessed something special, something we would continue to bring up over the course of the summer. It’s something my sister and I still remember and talk about. The most important thing about the moment was the satisfaction on my brother’s face. He knew, just as we all did, that he brought down the fucking house.