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.
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.
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.
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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