I spent two very satisfying hours trolling the publishers’ booths, eavesdropping on conversations and thumbing through tedious books on subjects in which I had no interest. And when those meagre entertainments were exhausted I decided it was time to see what the town of Kalamazoo offered.
A few long blocks away from the campus of Western Michigan Univeristy, and I began to feel more comfortable. Scruffy buildings, post-industrial blight, and the generally depressive air of the residents made it seem like Bitterfeld, my aptly named hometown.
Ah, how well I know the signs and ways of failure, not merely personal, but civic and regional as well, and Kalamazoo fairly stunk of it. My friends who’ve been there more recently than I say it’s changed, it’s become a more pleasant city, but I doubt that. Cities like Kalamazoo and Bitterfeld never really have it so good, even in the best of times, which are always short and not so sweet. Then, when the prosperity dries up, it’s the long slide into irrelevance.
I walked on, cheered by this knowledge. And eventually, I found what I was looking for, a bar.
It was not easy. I had rejected as unsuitable three or four student bars, on the grounds that they would be filled with students, a species of human I cannot abide. Likewise, a little further on from campus, I would not go into a faux-Irish pub. The real Irish are bad enough. I will have no truck with the fake Irish.
At last, however, perserverance paid, and I found a workingman’s bar called the Tick-Tock. It was dark, smelled of cigarettes, and had a plastic sign that promised “Friday Night Karaoke”. It was early Friday evening, and I am devoted to the art of Karaoke, so I went in and sat down at the bar.
“What can I get you?” asked the bartendress, a comically buxom, middle-aged bottle blond in a tube-top.
“I would like a beer, please, a large beer. One of these.” I pointed to one of the taps. It had a good German name, Schlitz.
A few seconds later she put a large glass of a clear amber liquid in front of me, “Here ya go, Hon.”
“Where ya from?”
“I am from Germany.” I took a long gulp of the beer. It was very weak, but also cold, crisp, and exceedingly refreshing after the long walk.
Certainly, though, one of these beers was not enough, and so I had a second and then a third, and perhaps a four and a fifth, if not a sixth and a seventh. And then I dined like a king on the finest fare in the city, pickled eggs, bar-b-que potato chips, pickled sausages, and the most wonderful dish, a pickled trotter.
After that, it was Karaoke! Von Korncrake and Karaoke!
“Danke Schoen, darling Danke Schoen,” I sang in a smooth baritone, “Thank you for all the joy and pain.”
“Korny! Korny! Korny!” chanted my new close friends, the patrons of the Tick-Tock.
Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall continue this story.