By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/26/2020
Occurred: 5/19/2007
Topics/Keywords: #WesternCaribbean #Cruise #CarnivalLegend Page Views: 3319
Our final day in the Western Carribean.
The daily shipboard paper had my name in it.

I awoke to the ringing of the phone and the burning of the entire left side of my head. My ear was killing me. I had hoped to sleep in, but Michael wasn't moving. I stumbled out of bed, held the phone to my good ear, and mumbled something I hoped resembled "Good morning."

It was Karen. "Dad! Did you see the Carnival Capers last night? Your name is in it!"

I hadn't seen it the night before when it was placed on our freshly turned-down beds, but today's Carnival Capers newsletter did, indeed, have my name in it, for my upcoming appearance that night in the Carnival Legends show.

I got a minute or two additional rest after taking a couple of Advil and putting in the ear drops I bought yesterday. I knew that, once they kicked in, the pain would likely be reduced to something bearable. But, right now, I couldn't even think straight.

Nevertheless, I would have to memorize the words I would be singing that evening. I planned to do this during our "Fun Day At Sea" while the others in our group swam or relaxed.

I dragged myself up for breakfast, where Zachary reminded me I had promised to take him to the video arcade. I agreed to honor my word, and offered to take Cailey as well. I figured, how long would it take to burn through ten dollars in tokens?

Not long, as it turned out. Most of the video games in the ship's video arcade take four tokens for a single play. So, after no more than a half hour, we were ready to go; and I was free to practice.

By now Karen was in the casino (where she "came out even", she says), Michael was attending the Hairy Chest Contest (as a member of the audience), Dottie, Cailey and Frank were resting and Joe and Kathy were relaxing. I'm not sure where Mary and Zach ran off to; but it left me free to sit in my cabin playing "Jailhouse Rock" over and over again on Michael's laptop (since Sonya the Karaoke Lady's MP3 player didn't work out).

"Jailhouse Rock" is not a simple song. Here are the lyrics to the first verse:

The warden threw a party in the county jail.
The prison band was there and they began to wail.
The band was jumping and the joint began to swing;
You shoulda heard those knocked-out jailbirds sing!

These are actually complex lyrics to sing, especially quickly. The third line is especially treacherous, with its two "J" sounds. And because the words must be sung quickly and there's no time between them, if you miss a syllable it's basically impossible to catch up.

I have memorized songs before. When my kids were little, they tell me, they thought I knew all the words to every song in the world, because I could sing along with everything they played on the radio. (They didn't realize I chose stations that tended to play songs I knew.) It's normally not that hard. But for some reason, I just could not keep those lyrics in my head. The chorus was no problem:

Let's rock.
Everybody let's rock.
Everybody in the whole cell block
Was dancin' to the Jailhouse Rock.

But that was because I knew them already. The lyrics that were new to me, that is the two verses I was supposed to sing, just wouldn't stick. I sang each verse ten times with the recording; I sang the whole song ten times. But nearly every time I would stumble on at least one line.

Finally, it was 12:30 and I had to meet Sonya and the other singers for our one dress rehearsal.

The Carnival Legend performers do the Legends show every week, each week with a new set of karaoke singer/passengers in the lead roles. The orchestra, professional singers, and dancers, know their roles well and do not need any rehearsal. The dress rehearsal is for us, to show us our marks and give us one chance to sing with the live orchestra before the actual performance. Each of us is assigned a dancer who walks us to our positions, so, really, the only thing we actually have to do is memorize our words.

But I couldn't even find my way to the appointed meeting place. I had seen it several times—we were meeting outside the Poker Room—but now I couldn't remember. Was it on the second deck? The third? By the time I stumbled on it, I was five minutes late.

I was assigned to a lovely dancer named Lydia, who, in the minutes before I was to go onstage to rehearse, showed me some Elvis-type dance moves she recommended I do while singing. I practiced them while mentally singing, during the others' rehearsals. At least, now, I seemed to have all the words…if I wasn't actually trying to say them. Actually, I did try to mouth them; but that just made my ear hurt worse; and, since that pain was now making its way to my throat, I decided to save it for the show.

Several of the singers were astonishingly good. The two best ones were Matt Polvinace, who sang James Brown's "I Feel Good" even better than James Brown ever did it, and Andrew Belcher, who not only sang "Friends in Low Places" sounding like Garth Brooks, but who looked like Brooks as well. A fellow named Doug didn't sing as well as those two, but did a killer Elton John impression.

I was scheduled to go on next to last. Lydia explained where I would be sitting before going on, and what she'd be wearing when she came to get me (a blonde wig), and where we would stand, and how far out onto the stage I would walk. The musical cue began, she walked me out, and I opened my mouth…

And nothing came out. I knew the first line had something to do with a warden, but by the time I recalled that I had missed the cue, the music for the second line had started, and without finishing the first line I couldn't remember how the second line went. We'd been told that if we forgot the words, not to worry; a cue speaker would come up with the singer singing until we could catch up. This speaker could not be heard by the audience. And it did come up…but I still couldn't catch up. The orchestra in the pit in front of me was loud and very present; the lights glaring in my eyes were far brighter than they were in the karaoke lounge. And the orchestra never stopped playing or even slowed down, leaving me with my mouth open and a deer-in-the-headlights look.

When it was over, Lydia took my arm as if nothing had happened and led me off-stage.

"I knew every word when I came in here!" I told her.

"Don't worry about it," she said, patting my arm. "The orchestra and lights throw a lot of people the first time. But you'll get it perfectly tonight."

"I'd really like another shot at it," I suggested.

Lydia shook her head. "There's no time," she said. "This whole thing is timed down to the minute. But don't worry. You'll do great tonight."

The costumer fitted us for costumes. They had several sizes of each. Mine was the "Old Elvis" size, something Elvis might have worn the day he died…or the day after. White satin with gold trim, a white silk scarf and heavy gold chain, a black, wavy-haired wig with sideburns, and "Elvis glasses". They did not provide footwear. White shoes (or blue suede) would have been perfect but of course I had no such thing with me. My choices were Tiva sandals, sneakers, or tan suede business shoes. I decided on the latter, even though they really hurt my feet.

When they released us, I returned to our stateroom and resumed practicing. This was supposed to be a "fun day at sea" according to the Carnival Capers; yet I was working as hard as I ever had to get those words right. As I sang them, I tried to imagine the lights and orchestra looming up against me. I also struggled to work the knee gyrations and hip swings Lydia had shown me into the mix. But the throbbing of my ear and pressure against my throat was not making it easy to concentrate. I took a handful more of Advil, and poured as much Swimmers' Ear Solution into my ear as would fit.

As the ear drops soaked in, I came to a conclusion. I would have to cheat. I typed up the lyrics that were giving me a problem, went to the Internet Café, and printed them up in a small font, then cut them out so that they would fit on my (or, rather, Elvis') sleeve.

No one likes a wet blanket on a vacation and everyone's concern for Mary after her accident was, I felt, about all the pity available for one trip. So I pretended I wasn't sick with an earache, smiled at dinner and tried to join the enthusiasm everyone else was feeling for the show that night. I may have mentioned my earache ten or twenty times, but other than Michael's saying, "Oh, do you have an ear ache?" (he'd been with me when I bought the Swimmer's Ear Solution at the infirmary the day before), no one seemed to react to my discomfort. And I didn't really want them to. But I kind of did.

True, earlier in the day, Dottie had suggested I tell Joe and Kathy I was in pain, explaining that they had all kinds of pain medicine for Joe's hip. Joe's had a number of hip operations, due to a hip replacement that went horribly awry (they dropped him on the floor during surgery) and is in constant pain. So I didn't really want to make out like my crummy little earache was in any way in the same league as Joe's hip. So I didn't mention it to them.

After dinner, Michael and Zachary joined me in the stateroom to help me rehearse. We spent 1½ hours singing that damned song, over and over. I intentionally didn't use the cheat sheet I had made; yet I began to get the song right all the way through, at least, sometimes. And then more often. Just before I had to leave to meet the other members of the cast, I sang it right three times in a row. So we thought I was ready. I put on my torture shoes and limped to where we were to meet…

Which still wasn't where I thought it was. So I was late again. But, finally, we were led backstage, costumed, and placed in our strategically-located chairs behind the stage, where we could (in theory) watch the show on a TV monitor while waiting to go on. I had taped my cheat sheet to my sleeve, where it blended right in with the white satin. Hopefully I wouldn't need it; but if I did, there it was, right where it would be visible to me as I held the microphone.

Doug remarked that this was just a lark, we'd never see any of these people again, and we should just have fun. His words would have carried more weight if he hadn't been so nervous he was trembling like a leaf while he uttered them. I again went over the lyrics: The warden threw a party in the county jail…The warden threw a party in the county jail… I knew if I could get the first line out, the rest would follow. While rehearsing, I had noticed that when I started singing The band was jumping and… even though I couldn't remember ahead to the last words of that line, my mouth would automatically continue the joint began to swing… So, if I could just get started on time, I'd probably be fine.

Matt went out and did his James Brown impression brilliantly. The Britney Spears impersonator (a church worker who was now having second thoughts of the repercussions of what she was doing) did fine. Doug did "Crocodile Rock" far better than he had in rehearsal, as did the Ricky Martin impersonator. Andrew sang "Low Places" wonderfully. Finally, it was my turn; Lydia led me to my mark; the orchestra played the musical cue—Dah dum…Dah dum.. She escorted me to my place at center stage and I struck an Elvis stance; I could hear people in the audience gasp with delight. Dah dum…Dah dum.

I was completely blank. I couldn't even remember the warden any more. Something about a party?

The music for the second line began. I tried to read my cheat sheet, but my arm was too close to my face and I couldn't focus. Besides, it would take time to find my place in the words; and by then the orchestra would have begun the next line.

I began to mumble something, anything, in tune and to the beat of the music:

Ba ba ba ba ba dah dah ba da dum de dum dah…

Finally we got to the chorus, which I knew and sang. But while I sung I tried to recall ahead to the second verse, in which a prisoner named Spider something did something to a tenor saxophone. "Played" it? "Was playing" it? The number of syllables had to be perfect or it wouldn't work. I ended up dum-dumming that verse, too.

There was a break between "Jailhouse Rock" and the second song in the medley, "You Ain't Nothin' But A Hound Dog" during which the dancers were supposed to surround me and do the Twist. I was encouraged to join them. But now my torture shoes reminded me why I never wear them. Every time I tried to pivot my left leg, it felt like a hot screw was being driven into the knuckle of my big toe. Karen later said it looked like I was surprised the dancers were there, but actually I was surprised to find my left foot in an S&M device more suited to the Marquis de Sade than to Elvis Presley.

Fortunately the words to "Hound Dog" were less challenging and I managed to get them out—now thinking that Elvis wasn't known for his excellent diction and maybe the audience might have thought I was mumbling rather than that I'd forgotten the words, except now they wouldn't because the lyrics to "Hound Dog" were perfectly understandable.

The applause was noticeably restrained when I was done. I imagine a sizable portion of the audience was simply in shock, wondering why a mental defective was the best they could get to fill Elvis' costume, and that certainly they could have done better.

After I got home to Arizona and my ear infection had been resolved, I was suddenly inspired to check the Internet. It turns out that studies with gifted children have shown that ear infections affect one's ability to do rote memorization! I'd probably have been fine with a song I already knew; but with the infection I couldn't learn a new one. Apparently, the balancing mechanism in that ear was affected, which was also why I had no sense of direction, losing my way on a ship I knew perfectly well.

The cast of the Carnival Legends Show. I'm in the back row, fifth from the left.

The cast was led off-stage and into one of the ship's lounges where our photo was taken. For appearing in the show, we got that photo for free and also a DVD of the show, which I couldn't imagine ever wanting to watch.

But Zachary, when he bounced along with Michael to find me, seemed to be no less impressed with my performance now that I'd blown the lyrics as he was before the show. I'd been on stage! With a real orchestra! He was very excited and told me I'd been wonderful.

What could I say, but "Thank ya! Thank ya ver' much!"