I wasn’t quite sure why my boss decided that Thursday-night karaoke would be a real moneymaker. Then again, Laura was prone to unusual decisions that worked better than anyone expected (see: serving pumpkin lattes year-round) or, if they failed, failed in a dramatic way that brought in a lot of customers anyway (see: the synchronized musical light display of last Christmas, which was cute until it literally exploded). With that track record, karaoke could go one of two ways, and the rest of us were all betting on the latter.

It wasn’t that we didn’t trust Laura, because we did – about as far as we could throw her, which was a sizable distance considering she was the smallest employee of the Greene Bean. It was just that we were all still recovering from the aforementioned exploding light display, and the last thing we needed was a repeat of that nightmare. Bernie, who did pastries and occasionally worked the cash register, still had burns on his hands from that incident, and was less than thrilled about the purchase of more electronic equipment. “You’re outa your mind,” he growled at the staff meeting during which this latest venture was announced. “It’ll last a damn week and we won’t make back the money we spent on it.”

“But we didn’t spend any money,” Laura countered, giving him one of her champion death glares. Despite being four-foot-nine and eighty-seven pounds, she could be utterly terrifying when she wanted to be. “All we need is a microphone, an amp, and a borrowed laptop, and I’ve already gotten all of those.”

“From whom?” we asked.

The answer, it turned out, was a university student named John who was working on his master’s in philosophy and needed a little extra cash. He turned up half an hour before the first karaoke night, looking disheveled in an oddly attractive sort of way while lugging a large speaker. “Where should I put this?” he asked, looking up at me.

“See that empty space over there?” I motioned to a corner of the shop, which Laura had cleared of its usual couches and end tables for the occasion. “Anywhere you want.”

“Thank you,” he muttered, dragging the questionable object to the intended space before beginning to set it up.

“Hey, you need any help?” I asked, stepping out from behind the counter. We weren’t particularly busy, and Ilene would be able to handle whatever came our way in the next few minutes. “An extension cord, maybe? A spare hand?”

“If you could move that lamp over there so I could have a little more access to the power strip….”

I did as instructed, trying not to break the offending piece of furniture. “That good?”


“Need anything else?”

“Moral support when the flock turns up, but obviously that’s not an immediate concern.”

“Gotcha. So… coffee when you start looking suicidal, then.”

By the appointed time, everything was hooked up appropriately and there was a list of people who wanted to sing. The first few were the usual types, teenage girls who did acceptable renditions of current pop songs, but the fifth person up was a middle-aged man who I’d never seen before and who apparently answered to Ed. He was roughly the size of a refrigerator and, adding insult to injury, broke into an alarmingly off-key version of Bruce Springsteen’s classic hit, Thunder Road. By the end, I was physically ill; the rest of the crowd, however, loved it.

Karaoke night, and the additional plague that was Ed, was a success.

It went on for weeks. Every Thursday night, John would show up looking more and more miserable, and every Thursday night, Ed would bring the house down with one of The Boss’s greatest hits. I had never known how easy it was to hate classic rock beforehand, but that passionate dislike became a key part of my persona, especially when we acquired a few other men of a certain age who would otherwise never have set foot in a coffee shop but enjoyed the excuse to belt their hearts out. It was a strange clientele, but they bought enough drinks to earn their acceptance, and brought in a crowd the likes of which we’d never seen before, so we were forced to put up with them.

On a Thursday in the middle of March, John turned up looking even worse than usual. “Espresso, please, straight-up.” In return for running the karaoke nights, he was entitled to whatever he wanted on the house, but he rarely took advantage of this privilege.

“There ya go,” I said, handing him a large cup of the stuff. It was enough to keep a normal person wired for a solid week, but John seemed to have more caffeine tolerance than anyone else I’d ever met. “You okay?”

“Bracing for the inevitable,” he muttered between gulps. “This isn’t worth the misery.”

“Tell that to Laura. It brings in money.”

“And idiots,” he countered. “C’mon, Claire. I know you agree with me.”

I did, but open war wasn’t quite my style. “What do you suppose we do?”

“Give them all an Ed performance they’ll never forget,” he decided. That was all I needed to know.

Half an hour later, braced for the inevitable, I stood by the speaker as Ed launched into his personal version of Blinded by The Light, a barely recognizable rendition of Manfred Mann’s chart-topping single. The very moment he hit the chorus, I pulled the plug, expecting chaos. What I got was something worse. Not only was he still audible, but half the audience joined in with him in a choral rendition in as many different keys as there were participants. It was the stuff of nightmares, but I seemed to be the only one who noticed.

Out of the blue, John reached out and grabbed my hand. “So much for that plan,” he whispered.

“Yeah. Guess we’re stuck with them.”

“Suppose so. Um… want to go out with me sometime?”

“Are you really asking me out right this second?” After a moment of silence, I leaned in and kissed the tip of his nose. “You are ridiculous, John.”

“Yeah, I know,” he shrugged, motioning to the crowd. “Where do you think I get it from?”