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Karaoke? In Japanese it means weird

Dave and MitchNAGANO, Japan  I got picked up in a bar.

No, not THAT kind of picked up. I mean I got actually, physically picked up, into the air. By a Latvian politician. This was after I saw a guy bend spoons by magic, but before I sang with two guys who won medals in the luge.

The common element linking these events, as you have no doubt already gathered, was karaoke. "Karaoke" comes from the Japanese words "kara," meaning "people," and "oke," meaning "who could not carry a tune in a bucket." Karaoke was invented in Japan, and it remains very popular here. The three basic elements are: 1. A microphone. 2. Beer. 3. A whole lot more beer.

A group of us professional journalists found these elements at a place called "Police 90," which has become the Official Karaoke Bar For Westerners Looking For A Karaoke Bar of the Winter Olympic Games. The way you get there is, you ride around in a taxi until the driver gives up, and then you get out and listen for the muted but unmistakable sound of Westerners passing out face-forward on the sidewalk, and you walk to that sound.

We sat at a table and started looking through the book of karaoke songs, which were listed in both Japanese and some language that was not exactly English. For example, the band "Los Lobos" was listed, I swear, as "Ros Rovos."

While we were selecting some songs, the owner of Police 90, Yoshio Matsuzaki, came over and entertained us with amazing feats of magic. He'd pick up a spoon, and make us feel it, to see how sturdy it was. Then he'd hold the spoon loosely in his hand for a second and -- Presto! -- it was bent like a pretzel. Then he'd hand the spoon back, and we'd try to straighten it, and we couldn't, and then he'd take it back and -- Presto! -- it was straight again! Spoon healing!

He also, without touching it, caused a wristwatch to stop and then start again, and he made a pack of cigarettes scoot toward him on the table.

"The Force!" he said. "Duke Skywalker!"

As the magic act was going on, a lean, intense-looking man came over to watch, then started talking to Matsuzaki. The next thing we knew, Matsuzaki was doing something to the man's back, and the man was saying "Warm ...warm ...WARM! WARM! WARM!" We were concerned that the man was going to become bent, or burst into flames, but he seemed to be pleased.

Afterward I asked him what was going on. He pointed at Matsuzaki and said, "He is strong! He is giving me energy!"

He said his name is Peteris Strubergs, and that he's the secretary of the board of an important political party in Latvia, which is a nation. He also said that he's 53, and that he used to be a boxer.

"I am strong!" he said, and, as I was writing that in my notebook, he picked me up. This is something that never happens when I am interviewing American politicians such as Lamar Alexander.

After he set me down, we shook hands and he said, "I am having a big pleasure to have meeting you," and invited me to look him up if I am ever in Latvia, which I will surely do, although I will keep my distance.

Shortly thereafter, we were joined by two American athletes, Gordy Sheer and Brian Martin, who won medals in luge. We congratulated them, and Sheer let us admire his silver medal, which I would describe as "round." Then, to celebrate, we all patriotically sang the closest song they had to "The Star-Spangled Banner," which was "The Red River Valley."

A bit later, Free Press columnist Mitch Albom and I performed what I would describe, in all modesty, as a brilliant rendition of a song that truly epitomizes the Olympic ideal: "Johnny Get Angry." There was hardly a dry set of underpants in the house when we belted out the chorus: "Johnny get angry, Johnny get mad! Give me the biggest lecture I ever had! I want a BRAVE man! I want a CAVE man!" etc.

After that for some reason they took the microphone away from us, and it fell into the hands of members of what I believe was the Austrian bobsled team, who were clearly not going to give it up until they had consumed all the beer in Japan. So we left. But it was an Olympic experience that I will not forget. At least not until this headache goes away.

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