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thought i was a donut, ya tried to glaze me

2.21.2008

enjoy it kids

Singing This Song For You
Fiction

I wrote this for my Sly Fox Writers'Group, and just made some changes based on their suggestions. Please leave only praise and admiration in the comments box.



I know it was just a coincidence that Uncle Buddy’s funeral fell on a Karaoke Saturday ,but I still like to think that he planned it. Like he set it all up to die Thursday morning and have the wake on Friday, so we’d all end up here, at the Belmont Steaks, just hours after we buried him, singing our hearts out for him. It’s messed up that I even think that a 44 year old would ever plan to die on a specific day; he was healthy, and the whole thing came out of nowhere. Just went to sleep one day and didn’t wake up the next day. But still--if it had to happen it was nice for it to work out that way.

Uncle Buddy was my favorite uncle, which wasn’t that much of a compliment if you knew my Uncle Jimmy. But he was funny, and called me “sweetie” and was always ready to give me money even when I didn’t ask. He was well liked by everyone in the neighborhood—people used to call him “The King of Glendale” because he knew everybody. He was younger than my parents by a decade, and the age difference always made him seem more like me than one of them. For most of his life he lived with my grandparents, but at 40 he finally moved out into an apartment around the corner. Buddy always hung around with the same group of guys—Smith, Tommy, O’Hara, Pulkoski; and when I was younger he had a rotating list of women—Diana, Mary, Diana again--that he’d bring around to family parties. He called them his “girl”, never girlfriend, and the idea of him ever calling anyone a wife seemed crazy to me. They brought me presents and signed my birthday card, just like if they were actually married. I thought Uncle Buddy was too happy with the life he had to ever change things. It made sense to me that he was a perennial bachelor, and the older I got the more I respected him for that; nothing ever seemed to drag him down. Why love only one person when there are so many people loving you?

Buddy’d been going to the Belmont Steaks his whole life (“even back when it wasn’t called that”, he used to say) and you could find him there almost every night at the bar. For the King, that place was his castle. But the one Saturday a month they hosted karaoke was his favorite day. I don’t know if it was his necessarily his lifelong wish to be a singer, or just a way to relax after laying bricks all day, but when he got on the mic—something I’d only ever seen him do in person a few times—he was a natural. He took it seriously, just like all the other Karaoke regulars did. His favorite singers were the soul guys-- Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway, Pendergrass. He loved the ballads, the slow jams, the real heart-wringing songs, and he was great at them because of his fervor and passion on the mic. He had a way of making it seem like he felt every word, like he wrote every line, like every song was his.


Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody
I've got some money 'cause I just got paid
Now, how I wish I had someone to talk to
I'm in an awful way


We were stuck in traffic for most of the ride back from St. Charles Cemetery. The entire family was squeezed in one limo--my parents and brother Joseph, my Aunt Janie and Uncle Jimmy, my cousins Peter, Chris, and Jen. I sat with my face leaned up against the limo window, as the trees on the curved roads of the Jackie Robinson went by me. It was just getting dark and I looked below at half of Queens lit up below me. There was too many people in that stupid limo, but my Aunt Janie didn’t want to get a second one, and insisted we couldn’t take our own cars, so by the time we reach Myrtle Avenue we were all relieved to get out.

“You all ready?” Peter said as we stood in front of the green and white building. He sighed, and we all sighed, too. I hadn’t been inside in years. The steaks were mediocre and the portions too small, and all of us kids were old enough now to not have to sneak into the bar for a few beers. We’d moved on bigger and better dive bars, and besides, the Belmont Steaks was always Uncle Buddy’s.

Inside was full of people we’d seen hours before at the funeral, still dressed in black, with a few ties loosened and suit jackets draped over drunk old ladies’ shoulders. There was Espo, big and fat with more hair on his chest than on his head. The top three buttons of his black silk shirt were unbuttoned, and his gold crucifix looked tangled in the hair. He had his arm around tan and bleach blonde Janice, even though she was not his wife. And she had her hand on his knee, even though I was pretty sure she was still married to the principal of my junior high school. But that’s just how it was.

“Look who finally made it!” Espo called out. “Isn’t it funny how it worked out like this? What better way to celebrate Buddy’s life, huh? Who needs drinks?”

I heard some people cheer from the other end of the bar; O’Hara, Tommy, Smith and this guy we used to call No Brain because of the way his forehead sloped in and because we were pretty sure he didn’t have one. They called us over and shook hands and gave hugs and said all the things you say when something like this happens.

“How ya doing, kid?” O’Hara asked me. I told him I was fine.

“Well you let me know if you’re ever not fine, ok?”

We sat at the largest table they had, in the back by the bathrooms. My mom and my aunt invited some of Buddy’s friends over to join us but they all told us we needed our time together as a family. As overprotective big sisters who always seemed to hate Buddy’s friends, they appreciated the respectful gesture. I wasn’t hungry but I ordered a steak and as I waited for it Joseph leaned into me.

“Carolyn?” he said, whispering.

“Yes?”

“Did you know Uncle Buddy’s real name before you saw it listed at the wake?”

I laughed. I laughed really loud. It was a ridiculous question, but the more I thought about it, the less I laughed. I got quiet. Shit. I don’t think I remembered his real name, but I didn’t want to look like an asshole in front of my younger brother so I lied.

“Of course I knew his name!”

“Well, I knew his name too, at some point. But I guess...I guess I’d forgotten about it until I saw it again.”

I paused.

“George.”

“What an ugly name.”

“No wonder they called him Buddy.”


Karaoke starts exactly at 9. There is an unspoken understanding that the regulars—now only Espo, Gina, Fat Tony, and Janice—sing first. By that time their requests are in and they all wait at the front for their songs to cue up. They invited our family to sit up front, and before the first song Fat Tony asked the crowd to be quiet.

“I just wanna say a few words before I start. As you all know, we buried a dear friend today. He was a regular right here at this very special section of the bar, and wowed us once a month with his amazing ability to sing some of the greatest songs of our time. Buddy Diefendorf was a real gem, a one-of-a-kind guy, and tonight we have his beloved family with us, who I’m sure will sing a few songs when we are finished here. But before we sing, I want us all to raise a glass, raise a Bud, to our dear one—“

“To Buddy!”

“Yeah, to Buddy!”

I lifted my Amaretto Sour in the air right as the opening bars of “Fly Me To The Moon” began. Fat Tony kept his sunglasses on at all times and used them as a prop as he sang—lifting them higher and lower on his face, taking them off and putting them back on.

“In other words, hold my haaand...in other words, kiss me...”

The first person to sing from my family was my mom, who was the drunkest I’d ever seen her. With a glass in one hand and the mic in the other she screamed her way through “We Are Family”, dedicating it to all of us sitting in front of her and to Buddy, who she said knew was watching over us. Espo sang after her, another song dedicated to Buddy. “Unchained Melody.” I hated the song so I got up to use the bathroom.

Both stalls were in use so I waited by the sink. I could still hear the faint lines from outside—I need your love, I need your love, God send your love to me—as I fixed my hair in front of the mirror. I could hear two women talking between the stalls; I could make out what they were saying, one side of the conversation in muffled sobs, the other in a calm, direct tone.

“I don’t know what to do.”

“Don’t blame yourself.”

“How can I not?”

“You did what you could, hun. It wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t change how he felt...”

“I could have changed how I felt...”

“Hun, come on, you can’t take back time. It was all in God’s plan, ok? Lets go back out, let’s clean you up, you need another drink?”


My back was turned away from them as both doors to the stalls swung open.

“Carolyn?”

She looked older than I remembered from the parties. Her mascara dripped down her cheeks and her voice sounded weak.

“Diana?” I said, surprised I could remember her name.

“You remembered! And you look so much older! You look beautiful! How old are you now?

“I’m 21.”

“Your uncle was so proud...”

She started crying again before she could even finish her sentence; tears coming down her face faster than she could wipe them off. I handed her some paper towels from the sink counter at the same time another woman came out of the other stall.

“Diana, stop.”

She kept saying, “I’m sorry”, and I looked at both of the women, confused.

“Don’t do this to her, D. She’s just a kid.”

“Are you ok?” I asked, which sounded stupid to ask her, right now, she stood in front of me sobbing. But something else seemed to be bothering her.

“If I could take things back, I would. If I could go back in time....”

“Diana, stop,” the woman said. “Come on, don’t do this now.”

“I never meant to hurt him. He was so happy most of the time, but then sometimes he’d get so lonely. I wanted to help him. I wanted to help him.”

All I could say was “ok.”

“I wish I could have loved him like he loved me.”

With that the other woman put her arm around Diana and whisked her out. She mouthed “I’m sorry” to me as she turned her head over her shoulder. I walked out of the bathroom with a paper towel in my hand. I’d forgotten to pee.

Joseph was on the mic when I came back. He drank more than he should have, which I knew would be a problem later, but it was worth it to see him slur his way through Jay-Z’s version of “Hard Knock Life”, with Peter on backing vocals. O’Hara and Pulkoski were now sitting at our table, slapping the faux-wood to better illustrate a story.

“Yo, yo,” Joseph yelled into the mic, as the track was finishing. “Big ups to Uncle Buddy!”

And the entire bar cheered, and laughed, and the old men and old women all pretended to know what big ups meant. Janice tenderly rubbed the back of Espo’s head. O’Hara reached across the table to squeeze my mother’s hand. And somewhere at the bar, Diana was getting another drink, maybe clapping and smiling and keeping it all together for my favorite Uncle.


“Hey Carolyn,” my brother said, handing me the mic. “You’re up.”

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I wonder if my writing has even improved?