ODD JOBS, CHAPTER 17
Posted December 2nd, 2018
The following is an excerpt from my book Odd Jobs. The book is a collection of stories about my experiences working odd jobs from singing telegram performer to professional basketball player.
You can read the previous excerpt from the book here.
Odd Job #17:
How I found the gig: TaskRabbit
Time worked: 4 hours (prep time) + 10 minutes (the performance)
I couldn’t tell whether Racquel was the coolest girlfriend in the world or the worst. These things are tough to determine when someone gives a gift that is both perfectly sappy and relentlessly embarrassing. You know, like when a guy has an eight-foot-tall teddy bear and giant bouquet of flowers delivered to his girlfriend’s office where everyone will see them.
For her part, Racquel was looking for a singer to serenade her beau with a boy-band song in a very public venue at 8 a.m. on Valentine’s Day.
The coolest girlfriend in the world or the worst? I’m not sure.
“Charlie,” Racquel explained over the phone, “is a huge One Direction fan.” For future generations who read this and don’t know the band One Direction, they were five young and attractive guys who, in the early 2010s, collectively spent what had to have been 50 hours a week styling their hair, then ten more cranking out generic songs with auto-tuned voices that seemed to double as mating calls for 13-year-old girls. In other words, it makes total sense that Charlie was single when Racquel met him.
“I want to surprise him with someone doing a silly version of the song ‘Kiss You,’” she continued. I assumed she meant someone doing a silly version of the song in person. Because the mission of doing a silly version of “Kiss You” had already been accomplished by One Direction themselves and uploaded to the World Wide Web. It is the kind of video that seamlessly blends guys rubbing each other’s nipples with guys doing the Macarena while skiing with guys doing prison dance numbers in some of the most fashionable inmate clothes you have ever seen. It is the kind of video that you hope isn’t the only example future archeologists will find of our society’s accomplishments.
“There's a parking lot a few minutes from Charlie's dorm,” she explained. I would be coming by car since I had volunteered the use of my sound system for this project. “If you can get there ten minutes early, that would be perfect.”
“I'm sorry, did you say dorm?” I asked.
“Yeah, we’re students at Harvard.”
“Which means we're doing this in his dorm room?” I hoped my phone was having reception problems and that what she’d really said was, “There’s a parking lot a few minutes from Charlie’s norm…al residence, which is a private home located in the middle of the woods.”
“No,” she said. Oh, thank God. “I’m picturing you’ll be outside on the quad with the speakers projecting your voice up to his room.” Never mind.
“Doesn’t that mean we might be waking kids up at 8 a.m. with the sound of me belting out One Direction?” I was beginning to regret having offered to bring speakers.
“I don't think anyone will mind getting up that early,” she said, thereby proving that she had never met a single college student in her life.
Before we ended the call, we covered a few last details, like what dance moves I planned to use (“The more sexually suggestive, the better,” she told me) and some ways I could alter the lyrics to include references to their relationship. (Apparently there was an incident where he had accidentally kicked her in her lady parts that she wanted me to include. Clearly, Charlie and Racquel had built something special in their time together.)
I spent the next week locked in my room, singing the song again and again. I pored over the words, looking for places to artfully plug in casual references to Charlie kicking his girlfriend in the nether regions. And, of course, perfecting my dance moves.
When Valentine’s Day finally arrived, I was ready.
“Charlie ended up spending the night at my apartment,” Racquel told me when we met up the morning of the big day.
“Which, unfortunately, means you’ll have to sing the song there and not in front of the entire dorm.”
I nodded, marveling at how different our definitions of the word “unfortunately” were. “I’m sorry to hear that,” I lied.
“Also, I told him you were a friend visiting from Chicago. Just to warn you, he’s a little sketched out that I’ve been acting evasive and now I’m meeting up with some guy at 7:30 in the morning, then bringing him to our apartment on Valentine's Day.” Oh good. I was worried this would be uncomfortable.
When we arrived, Charlie was waiting on the couch, clearly annoyed.
“This is my friend from Chicago,” she told him.
“Don't have much luggage,” he said, nodding at my sound system.
Ha, yes, well, you know, I uh, I mean I uh—“I travel light,” I said. He nodded skeptically. “I'm sorry to do this, but do you mind if I check something with my speakers? I’m worried one of them might be broken, and my band has a show tonight.”
Charlie gave me a look that seemed to say, “Why the hell not? You’re already making yourself at home in every other way possible.” I took this as him granting approval and began setting up.
I could feel my hands shaking as I plugged in my equipment. I tried some deep breathing to calm myself, but it was useless. Acting over the years had taught me that this would happen sometimes. I knew that once I got going, the nerves would disappear. But until then, there was nothing I could do.
I finished getting things ready, took one last deep breath, then flipped on the mic.
“Charlie,” I said, turning to face him and Racquel. “You’ve probably figured out that I'm not visiting from out of town. I’m here as a special guest at Racquel’s request. She knows how much you love One Direction, and she asked the band if they could perform for you today. They said they couldn’t be here, but they asked me to come in their place. So this is for you.”
I pressed play on the song as the opening chords started in the background. I could feel the butterflies disappearing as I slowly stopped being me and became the sixth member of One Direction. “Oh, I just wanna take you anywhere that you like,” I shouted into my microphone as the music kicked up a notch.
Did I mention that I’m a terrible singer? Like really terrible? The kind who clears the dance floor when he sings karaoke, then, when he gets back to his friends, hears one of them say, “Good for you. Most people who can’t sing are usually totally inhibited up there.”
I had warned Racquel about these limitations, but I’m guessing Charlie wasn’t expecting my voice to sound quite so much like a beached whale. “Baby, I’ll take you there, take you there. Baby, I’ll take you there, yeah,” I bellowed, the music flowing through me.
I glanced at Charlie to see if he had softened at all. Or if he had any feelings about this man in his girlfriend’s living room offering to take him there, take him there, yeah. But he wasn’t Charlie the grouch any more. He was Charlie the fan boy. A giant smile had spread across his face, and he and his girlfriend were bobbing up and down to the music.
My voice got better, sounding more like actual singing. Or at least, that’s what I told myself as the two of them and I got lost in the moment. “Oh tell me tell me tell me how to turn your love on. Is it by singing One di-re-eh-ehc-shon?” I said, throwing in my first deviation from the actual song. It was, admittedly, a bit uninspired.
“Baby just shout it out, shout it out, like a kid at God ca-a-a-mp, yeah.” (Apparently, Charlie went to religious camp as a child. Something Racquel had been teasing him about for years and now wanted a stranger to sing about in his living room. Again, coolest girlfriend or worst girlfriend? Who can say?)
“And if yoo-ooo-ooo, you want me too-ooo-ooo,” I pointed suggestively at Charlie as I held my ooo’s and flashed a flirtatious smile, “let’s make a moo-oove.”
And then came the chorus. The dance moves flew into high gear. Pelvic thrusts at moments not totally justified. Long, sexy stares into Racquel’s and Charlie’s eyes. And running of fingers down my body when describing the kind of ru-uh-ush I get every time we tou-uh-uch.
But I also pulled out some of the boy band classics. There was jumping up and down, bending all the way to the floor as I held notes, and that one where you hold the mic to the audience during the “yeah yeah yeah”s so they'll sing along. (It should be noted that “Kiss You” is 60 percent “yeah yeah yeah”s.)
As I performed, I became a rock star. The two of them went wild. They danced and jumped and sang right along with me. It was as though I was the actual band and they were my rabid fans.
(If you’re curious about how the crotch-kicking line got worked in, I changed the words from the original, “Oh I just wanna show you off to all of my friends/ making them drool down their chinny-chin-chins” to “Oh I just wanna kick you where the sun don’t shine/ like you did to Racquel that one time.” The line wasn’t great, but considering it was replacing “making them drool down their chinny-chin-chins,” which was apparently supposed to rhyme with the word “friends” on a track certified Gold by the RIAA, it’s tough to feel too bad about my lyrics.)
When I finished the song and took my bows, Racquel rushed over to thank me, clapping excitedly. I smiled, she slid me a tip, we enjoyed the moment and then…
It got awkward.
After all, what is there to say to a couple of strangers that you just debased yourself in front of for their pleasure? Packing up my sound system, I felt like the stripper picking her clothes off the floor at a bachelor party after the show was over.
Then we said our goodbyes, and I shuffled out the door.
I’ll always be a bit curious what the next five minutes were like. Was Charlie happy with his gift? Embarrassed? Would his reaction have been different if we had done it on the quad, my speakers waking up half the campus as my voice carried to his window? What was his answer to the Racquel question? Was she the coolest girlfriend in the world or the worst?
I guess, maybe, she could have been both.
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