The old man in the karaoke bar’s parking lot insists that he doesn’t need any help as he hobbles toward the cab, leaning against his cane. “I’m what they call a partial quadriplegic,” he says as he eases into the front seat. “I got the paralysis in all four, but just a little bit.” He laughs, and directs me to his subsidized housing unit in North Portland. He compliments me for listening to KMHD, and begins excitedly naming the many songs he sang tonight, several as duets. The best was “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”—the Neil Diamond version. He’d never had much of an appreciation for the song until he heard Diamond do it.
The old man says he’s always been a singer. He couldn’t read notation if you held a gun to his head, but he’s always been able to carry a tune. “I’m kind of a Portland version of Tony Bennett that way,” he says. His professional career never really got off the ground; he always liked to drink, and that played a role. But he loves to sing and does it every chance he gets, even if he can’t stand too well anymore.
He pays with his card, and I hand him my copy of La Technique to bear down on. “Oh, you love to cook?” he asks, and I nod. “That’s good, just so long as you do it. That’s the secret: Do what you love, and be able to stand whatever it takes to pay the bills.”