67 days ago, I underwent heart surgery to repair a leaky mitral valve. It was the first surgery of any kind that my body had ever been subjected to. This is the story of my experience on the operating table; during my ensuing stay in the hospital; and during my recuperation after I was sent home — a recuperation that’s still ongoing. For background covering the time period from the diagnosis that I needed the surgery, through the initial pre-operative procedures that I underwent, go here, here, and here.
Prelude: my heart catheterization and the night before the operation
The catheterization: not as bad as I’d feared?
On Wednesday, September 9, I arrived at the hospital for my final pre-operative procedure: the heart catheterization, alternatively referred to as a coronary angiogram. This procedure consisted of a doctor inserting a tube into my wrist and running that tube through my radial artery, and adjoining arteries, all the way to my heart. A thinner tube, the catheter, was then run through the initial tube; attached to the catheter was a tiny video camera. At some point, a special dye was also injected into me to assist the doctor with the imaging of my arteries. The purpose of all of this was to check for arterial blockages.
As the catheterization was getting underway, when a painful needle (separate from the IV port that was already affixed to me by then) was being inserted into my wrist to forge a pathway for the tubes, I sang “My Favorite Things” (from the film The Sound of Music) in an attempt to overcome the pain. 🙂
The procedure was performed under sedation, with the sedative agent being fed into me via the IV port. I’d previously been informed that being sedated would feel “like twilight”; but I experienced no sensation out of the ordinary while the catheterization was ongoing. Any effect that the sedative may have had on me was very subtle; I was able to engage in a conversation with the doctor during the entire procedure.
As I’ve previously written, I’d been reluctant to agree to the catheterization and had to be talked into it by the surgeon; I feared that the tube could accidentally puncture one of my arteries while passing through it, causing me to bleed to death in 30 seconds. Fortunately, that worst-case scenario didn’t materialize. The catheterization didn’t kill me. 🙂
Still, I wonder how essential it was. Not surprisingly in light of my relatively young age for a heart surgery patient, the catheterization didn’t find any blockages. I could have told the doctor he wouldn’t find any; we could have just skipped the whole thing and gone straight to my surgery. 🙂
Following the procedure, I was taken to a recovery room where I was started on an intravenous drip to help wash out the imaging dye from my body. I was also told that due to the trauma to the point in my artery (at my wrist) where the catheter had been inserted, for the following three days I would be required to avoid bending my wrist excessively. No one told me what would happen if I did engage in such bending, but I suspect the answer probably would have involved dangerous amounts of blood gushing out of my wrist.
Me in the recovery room after my heart catheterization.
On the eve of my operation
Before all the dye had been flushed from my system, I was removed from the recovery room, admitted to the hospital as an inpatient, and brought to a regular hospital room. Continue reading →
What with my heart surgery scheduled for next Thursday, today I went in to the hospital for some “pre-admission” procedures and consultations in anticipation of that upcoming operation. The more minor of the procedures that I experienced today included a chest X-ray; an EKG (electrocardiogram); and bloodwork. Although I normally hate having blood taken, and although my heart sank when I saw how many vials the nurse was going to fill (which would mean that the needle would be in for a relatively long time), this morning’s bloodwork barely hurt at all. So that was an unexpected bonus.
My consultation regarding the anesthesia
It probably helped that I was distracted while the blood was being extracted from my vein; because while that was going on, a nurse was simultaneously briefing me on some details regarding the anesthesia that I’ll be given at the outset of my surgery. That hospital is nothing if not efficient. 🙂 Anyway, I did have a lot of questions for the nurse, in light of the fact that I’ve never been under general anesthesia before. She also gave me some instructions to help prepare my body for the anesthesia. (In addition to the standard requirement of fasting from midnight the night before the surgery, an example of those instructions was that from now until after the surgery, I shouldn’t taken any anti-inflammatory pain medications, commonly referred to as NSAIDs, which is an abbreviation for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. In the United States, among the popular painkillers that are classified as NSAIDs are Advil and Motrin.)
Also during my colloquy with the nurse, I mentioned that I’m a singer and that I therefore hoped the anesthesiologists would go easy with the breathing tube that will be jammed down my throat during the surgery, in order to avoid damaging my vocal cords. (Yes, I told the nurse about my World Karaoke Tour. :)) Relatedly, we discussed how, as is standard in heart surgery, I’ll still be “intubated” (that is, the breathing tube will still be inserted down my throat) when I wake up in the operating room. While my surgeon believes in “extubating” (removing the tube) very quickly after the patient regains consciousness, I expressed concern that until the extubation occurs, I may feel like I’m choking. The nurse offered that if I want to minimize the risk of harm to my vocal cords, I should refrain from struggling with the breathing tube before it’s removed. Sound advice, I’m sure; but how will I have the presence of mind to remember it when I’ve just been knocked out for four hours and I’m feeling groggy and disoriented?
My CT-scan and a missed photographic opportunity
After all of that was finished, I had to walk several blocks to another of the hospital’s buildings, where I underwent a computed tomography scan, usually abbreviated as a CT-scan. My CT-scan involved the following steps:
• I drank several cups of water.
• An intravenous (IV) tube was attached to one of my veins.
• While lying on my back, I was slid into a cool machine with the appearance of a vertical donut. Via some blasts of radiation, images were taken of my chest, abdomen, and pelvis areas.
• A “contrast dye” was then injected into me through the intravenous tube, and more images were taken inside the donut-esque machine. You may have heard that when such a dye is pumped into a patient’s vein, the patient experiences a warm, tingly feeling throughout his body for a couple of minutes. That proved to be the case with me.
Here I am with the IV tube attached to my arm immediately after the completion of the CT-scan.
Friends, as you know, I found out in April that I need open heart surgery to repair a leaking valve. That surgery has now been scheduled. It’s happening on the morning of Thursday, September 10. And it won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve chosen the less invasive, robotically assisted version of the surgery, as a result of which the surgeons won’t have to fracture my sternum to access my heart. So I should recover swiftly, once I get through it.
Once I get through it.
I’m still apprehensive about becoming a cardiothoracic surgery patient, for the reasons I enumerated in my previous post. But since the condition of my heart is only worsening over time, there was no benefit to be gained from putting off the surgery. So I took the plunge and called the surgeon’s office to get placed on the calendar. The result: shortly after Labor Day weekend, at a time when millions of Americans are looking forward to the season premieres of their favourite television shows, I’ll be checking into the hospital for some pretty major stuff.
As the operation approaches, as is common with surgeries, I’ll have to undergo some preoperative procedures. When I signed up for my surgery, I was told that I should plan on experiencing the following procedures in advance of my actual operation: Continue reading →
I was supposed to be in China today. Since last summer, I’d been planning a trip to China and Taiwan (which was probably also going to include Mongolia), for which I was going to depart this past Saturday. By now I probably would have already walked along the Great Wall, and today I was to fly to Xi’an to see the famed terra cotta warriors. But I’m not in China now; I canceled that trip. Instead of that geographical journey, I’ve embarked on a medical journey. This is the story of an unanticipated medical diagnosis that I received this spring; the life-saving surgery that I’ll need in light of that diagnosis; and how I’m adjusting to what lies ahead.
Last month, my world was turned upside down. For the first 45-plus years of my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to have never required an overnight hospital stay — let alone a surgical procedure performed in an operating room. I’ve never been under general anesthesia. Never have I even been hooked up to an intravenous tube. Part of the reason that I’ve been able to travel so frequently during the past few years is that I’ve enjoyed robust health.
But a little more than one month ago, on a Friday afternoon in a cardiologist’s office here in my home city of New York, everything changed. On that Black Friday, I learned that I need to undergo open heart surgery.
What necessitates my surgery is a leaky mitral valve, which can develop from mitral valve prolapse (MVP). The mitral valve, so named because it resembles a mitre (a hat worn by bishops), connects the heart’s left atrium to its left ventricle; MVP occurs when that valve doesn’t close properly. MVP is actually relatively common, and according to the Mayo Clinic, “In most people, mitral valve prolapse isn’t life-threatening and doesn’t require treatment or changes in lifestyle.”
Less than two weeks from today, I’ll be auditioning for the quiz show “Jeopardy!” That audition will take place in Washington, D.C. Of course, Washington is just a hop, a skip, and a jump from my home base of New York City, compared to some of the destinations to which my adventures have taken me.
For example, today’s featured image comes from Aswan, Egypt, about 433 miles south of Cairo but nearly 6,000 miles from Manhattan. Standing on the east bank of the Nile in Aswan is the The Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan hotel. Before it was a Sofitel property, when it was simply the Old Cataract, this was the hostelry in which Agatha Christie, sitting on the terrace of her guestroom, penned her novel Death on the Nile. The hotel’s ballroom also appeared in the 1978 film based on that novel.
The Old Cataract was built in 1889, and in addition to Ms. Christie, its roster of distinguished guests through the years has included the likes of Tsar Nicholas II; Winston Churchill; Howard Carter (the guy who discovered King Tut’s tomb); Margaret Thatcher; Princess Diana; and Jimmy Carter. The hotel was expanded over the years, and was extensively renovated and restored from 2008 through 2011. This photo of it was taken during my visit to Egypt in September 2012. I did not, myself, lodge in this 5-star property; I was on a cruise down the Nile, during which I slept aboard the boat.
Do you like staying in historic hotels?
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During the past week, I participated in a personality interview via Skype which served as the third round of the audition process for a nationally televised quiz show. I’ll let you know if things go any further with that. (And yes, during that interview, I name-checked this blog, as well as mentioning my World Karaoke Tour.) 🙂
Anyway, this week’s featured image comes from my recent visit to the Angkor archaeological site near Siem Reap, Cambodia — and, specifically, from the Angkor Wat temple that is so identified with Cambodia that it appears on the national flag. The temple’s towers — one central tower, rising to a height of 213 feet, surrounded by four shorter towers — form a distinctive and recognizable profile. Visitors enjoy documenting their pilgrimages to the site:
(And yes, I realize that the photos being taken as depicted above aren’t true “selfies,” as they’re being taken by persons other than the subjects. But I did see plenty of people using the now-ubiquitous selfie sticks in front of the temple.)
The temple was built in the 12th century. The city of Angkor of which it was a part was the capital of the Khmer empire and at its peak may have boasted more than a million inhabitants; indeed, it is claimed that Angkor was the largest city in the world prior to the Industrial Revolution. Today, that former megalopolis, and the copious ruins that it contains, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Is Angkor Wat on your bucket list?
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My rib injury continues to heal, leaving in doubt whether I’ll be in condition to embark on my already-delayed trip to Rome in mid-February. In the meantime, I’d like to reminisce about my recently-concluded jaunt to southeast Asia. One place I got to in that region was Ta Prohm, a temple complex in Angkor, Cambodia. Celebrated for having trees bursting through the temple buildings, Ta Prohm is a case study in what happens when you abandon a site of human settlement for 400 or so years. (The complex was abandoned in the 17th century.)
Ta Prohm is a poster child for the “life after people” effect: nature gradually takes over and reasserts her primacy over the works of us puny humans.
And here’s a bonus image showing another of my favourite scenes from Ta Prohm. In the foreground, you can see the destruction wrought by the tree as its roots worked their way through the structure.
All of the Angkor archaeological region, which is best-known for the Angkor Wat Temple, is collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Do you like visiting the ruins of once-great structures?
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I’ve been singing under the sobriquet “H-Bomb” since 1992; the story of how I acquired that nickname can be found here. It’s rare to find another karaoke singer who uses any stage name, let alone mine. But occasionally I’m alerted to the presence of another H-Bomb in the karaoke world. When that occurs, I feel compelled to meet my namesake.
This is the story of how a world traveler like me ended up in the unlikely locations of Poughkeepsie, New York and Murfreesboro, Tennessee — and how establishments in those places, as well as in the larger Tennessee city of Nashville, became some of the most rewarding additions to my World Karaoke Tour.
April 2009: Poughkeepsie, New York
The town of Poughkeepsie in upstate New York is best known as the home of Vassar College, an elite liberal arts institution that was once known as one of the “Seven Sisters.” In 2009, that town landed on my radar screen for a reason that had nothing to do with higher education. A friend who lives nearby had driven by a local establishment called Planet Wings, and she reported that its marquee sign was advertising a “KARAOKE . . . BY H BOMB” show on Thursday nights.
The marquee sign outside Planet Wings in Poughkeepsie, in April 2009.
So, on Thursday night, April 2, 2009, after work, I took a commuter train from Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal to Poughkeepsie. Continue reading →
As 2012 drew to a close, I jetted off from New York to make my first-ever visit to Istanbul. The city that was founded as Byzantium in the 7th century B.C. certainly lived up to my expectations of it as an exotic destination that can be appreciated on many levels. Of equal interest for this blog, less than 24 hours after I stepped off the plane at Atatürk Airport, Istanbul became the latest stop on my World Karaoke Tour!
Klub Karaoke: The tour rolls on
It happened at a venue called Klub Karaoke. That particular “Klub” is located just off Istikal Street, a pedestrian-only thoroughfare that’s known for its abundance of nightlife. I’d found Klub Karaoke’s website via a google search while planning my trip; and I was particularly impressed that the bar makes its songlist available for perusal online. That was a big plus for me, since it enabled me to confirm in advance that I would find my desired songs there.
Istikal Street, late on a Friday night.
Most of the bars, nightclubs, and restaurants that draw revelers to the Istikal Street area are actually found on side streets that intersect Istikal rather than on Istikal itself, and that was true of Klub Karaoke. Here’s what Klub Karaoke looks like on the outside: Continue reading →
As regular readers of this website know, my travels have sometimes exposed me to danger. For example, there was the time when I went on safari in South Africa and wandered around the grounds of my lodge late at night, unaware that a deadly leopard was lurking on the premises. Or the time when I boarded a Greek ferry with the knowledge that there might be a bomb aboard. And who can forget the night in Mexico City when my taxi driver robbed me and and then dropped me off in the middle of nowhere? But none of those episodes terrified me more than an incident that went down just a few blocks from my apartment as I was making my way home from karaoke on a Saturday night in 2009.
The karaoke bar from which I was returning on that occasion was Second on Second, in the East Village. Second on Second is one of my favourite places in New York City to sing; it invariably draws a sizable and enthusiastic crowd on weekends, and it’s located in a vibrant area, not far from the colourful three-block stretch of Eighth Street known as St. Marks Place.
I went singing at Second on Second last night. Nothing particularly exciting happened to me during this most recent visit to that location; the most notable occurrence of the evening was the remarkable display of social cluelessness by one of the bar’s patrons. Upon grabbing the mic, he felt compelled to address the audience before his song began. This is what he said: “No offense to y’all, but some of your songs suck.” Then he added, “I’m going to sing some Pink Floyd. So shut the f*** up and enjoy it.” (The particular Pink Floyd tune that he chose was “Wish You Were Here.”) Yes, this individual, who I’m pretty sure has never read Dale Carnegie’s worldwide bestseller, apparently believed that insulting his audience was a viable way to get them on his side.
I didn’t stay till the end of the song, notwithstanding that I’d been instructed to “enjoy” this loser’s crooning. I’d been entertaining thoughts of heading home anyway; and after hearing his opening remarks, I decided that now was as good a time as any to skedaddle.
Last night I arrived safely home without incident. But in the early hours of Sunday morning, October 11, 2009, my journey home from Second on Second was more eventful.
A scary case of mistaken identity
On that prior Sunday morning, to get to Manhattan’s Upper East Side (where I live) from the East Village, I took the number 6 subway line. At about 3:00 a.m., while I was walking towards my apartment from the 77th Street subway station, a 4-door sedan with four men in it pulled up to the curb next to me. Continue reading →
In my last post, published on February 8, I wrote that although I had been sick, “I seem to be on the mend, so I’m hoping to be posting again soon here at H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke.” That was over three and a half months ago. Naturally, after I dispatched those words of optimism into the blogosphere, my health problems proceeded to get much worse. I won’t go into the details here, because this isn’t that kind of blog; but suffice it to say that I have been very uncomfortable at times. I’ve been lucky that — so far — I haven’t been hospitalized or had to undergo surgery, although I’ve made innumerable doctor’s visits. In that respect, I’ve been lucky; one of the revelations for me of the past few months is that, at any given time, an awful lot of people are in various states of physical suffering.
I want you to know that I’m not one of those people who starts a blog and then stops writing due to a loss of interest — and that I had a good reason for my temporary withdrawal from posting on this site. I was debilitated. Indeed, as a result of my condition and its effect on my life, nearly three months passed without an H-Bomb karaoke appearance anywhere — not even in my home city of New York. As you know, such a lengthy drought is very unusual for me; during the past ten years or so before these recent events, I normally sang at least one night per week. Not surprisingly, my international travel has also been on indefinite hiatus; my trip to Egypt that was supposed to happen in February 2012 was postponed to September, and my long weekend in Istanbul that had been scheduled for this weekend was put off to New Year’s weekend 2013. So the World Karaoke Tour — the impetus for this blog, and the defining mission for my life — was placed on hold, and there were times when I doubted whether I would even sing again, let alone travel. I also missed significant time at work, although I’m back to working full-time now.
I’m not fully recovered yet, and there’s still no timetable for my return to perfect health. In the meantime, on the home front, I’ve slowly begun an attempted karaoke comeback. In early April, at my regular venue in Manhattan, I sang for the first time since late January. Such appearances have continued on a weekly basis, although I’m still not staying out very late at night, and, as per doctor’s orders, I’m avoiding alcohol.
And it’s about time I got back to blogging! The medical professionals tell me that getting back to doing the things that I love will give me the best chance of pushing my body to recover physically. H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke, and my passions that provide the subject matter for this blog (karaoke and travel), are high on the list of things that bring me joy. So here I am again — finally. I hope that this time I’ll be able to keep up the posting. To my followers: I thank you for sticking around and not giving up on me. Let’s have some fun again! And I very much hope that my World Karaoke Tour will soon resume, and that you’ll be able to keep track of it right here — just like before. My next substantive blog post will appear in the next few days, as I continue to recapitulate my travels to date — and to look forward to more adventures around the globe. I have every intention of experiencing my next adventures in Egypt this September. I cannot state with certainty that I will feel up to making that journey, but I have a strong desire to follow through with it. To that end, the Vacation Countdown on this site has finally been updated.
Dear Readers: I’ve been under the weather lately. I seem to be on the mend, so I’m hoping to be posting again soon here at H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke. In the meantime, thank you for your patience and continued loyalty. I hope to be providing new content real soon! On a related note, my trip to Egypt (originally scheduled to start this coming weekend) has been deferred — NOT because of the violence, but because I need to recuperate and just catch up on some rest. It is likely that my tour of the Nile (including one or more karaoke appearances in Cairo) will be rescheduled for September or October. As my revised travel plans fall into place, I’ll provide full updates. This is just a bump in the road, and we’ll be back on track soon enough, touring the world with microphone in hand!
Yesterday was the annual event known as Santacon in New York City. Thousands and thousands of people clad in Santa suits, as well as other seasonally appropriate costumes (Buddy the Elf is a perennial favorite, and for those of the Jewish persuasion, some human dreidels can always be counted on to show up), cavort throughout the city. And sometimes the outfits bear no discernible relation to this time of year. For example, one of my favorite participants yesterday was the person dressed as a giant Chiquita banana. So the sea of red was interrupted by a giant yellow fruit.
The movements of the thousands of Santas are not random. A mysterious behind-the-scenes leader periodically tweets instructions indicating where in the city the throng should next assemble (an example of an actual tweet from yesterday is “Santa’s on the move! Point your sleigh toward the red steps at Times Square.”). In between those official check-ins, the Santaconners file into bars that are near the previous meeting point. Sometimes the organizer tweets suggestions as to where the Santas should imbibe. Said imbibing begins as early as 10:00 a.m., and is, of course, a major part of the day’s activities. However, Santacon is so much more than a mere pub crawl.
As with a more conventional pub crawl, the actual getting around involves a considerable amount of walking. Sometimes, however, the distance to be traversed is just too great, and the Santas must descend underground to ride the subway. Chants such as “Santa rides the 6!” (a reference to the number 6 subway line that serves the East side of Manhattan) are not uncommon in that situation. Hordes of Santas pour into the subway trains, much to the befuddlement of the non-Santacon-affiliated passengers on board; and the rides tend to be punctuated with (often dissonant) caroling.
The greatness that is Santacon is not confined to the Big Apple, although New York City’s version of this festival of debauchery is by far the biggest (I have not yet seen any attendance figures for yesterday’s iteration of the New York City Santacon; but I’ve heard that in 2010 the turnout was estimated at 10,000). While other cities cannot match New York for sheer volume of participation, Santacons are now held in 32 countries around the world. According to the offical website, even denizens of McMurdo Station in Antarctica participate in one (yes, McMurdo Station is the same place to which I aspire to travel to make Antarctica the seventh continent on my World Karoke Tour. And yes, the good people down there are really on the wrong pole to be hosting a Kris Kringle-oriented event).
This was my fourth consecutive year taking part in Santacon. Even so, I’m an upstart compared to my friend Laney, who was Santaconning for the seventh time. I’m also known for my stubborn refusal to attend in costume: I wear a Santa hat, and that’s it. I always justify my costumelessness by saying that I’m along to shoot photos and videos that I will then upload to flickr and Facebook (and now I post them on my blog too!). So I still add value to the event. 🙂
For the 2011 edition of Santacon, the day began at two different starting locations: one at a marina on the Hudson in lower Manhattan, and the other in Brooklyn Bridge Park. I chose the location in downtown Manhattan, since it would be somewhat easier to get to from my Upper East Side apartment. I joined a sizable contingent of Santas at Marina Cove, a pleasant waterfront area on the Hudson River, behind the World Financial Center. Eventually (after some time spent in various watering holes near the Marina Cove), it was time for all the Santas to move on. The word went out over Twitter that all the Santas were to converge on the South Street Seaport. So thousands of red-costumed revelers, together with their assorted sidekicks, made their way through the tangled warren of streets in lower Manhattan. Meanwhile, the Santacon cohort that had started in Brooklyn Bridge Park trekked across the Brooklyn Bridge to also end up at the South Street Seaport. I kind of regretted not beginning in Brooklyn myself (even though to do so would have required me to awaken at a ridiculously early hour), as it would have been nice to see all the Santas marching across the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe next year . . .
Incidentally, one of my all-time favorite Santacon moments occurred during the stroll over to the South Street Seaport. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Santas were walking down the street. A young kid, maybe eight years old, was standing in front of a building and watching the procession of Santas. The kid yelled out, “Are you the real one?”
Anyhoo, after a long interlude at the Seaport and some of its many bars and restaurants, the Santas moved on to occupy City Hall Park. Or at least they occupied it until the NYPD arrived on the scene and announced that the park was being closed. Then the scene shifted to Grand Central Terminal. The concourse at Grand Central is famously crowded; indeed, the very name of the station has become synonymous with huddled masses of humanity. But even during rush hour, you will rarely see the cavernous room packed as tightly it was yesterday afternoon. And amid the profusion of Santaconners, a brass band was present to to provide live entertainment to whoever was lucky enough to be on hand:
Following Grand Central, the next announced stop on the itinerary was the steps of the nearby New York Public Library. Those stairs are famously flanked by the twin marble lions, Patience and Fortitude. Sadly, by the time I had arrived in front of the library, the Santas were gone from the steps. In their place were some of New York’s finest, standing watch. It appeared that what had occurred in City Hall Park had happened again. There was only one thing to do: repair to a nearby bar for some much-needed libations.
From that pitstop, it was on to the red TKTS steps at Times Square (the subject of the tweet quoted above). Here again, the Santas had already been banished from the steps by the time my friends and I showed up. This was becoming a recurring theme. So we boarded the subway and headed to the final official checkpoint of the day: Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.
Despite the repeated appearances by the police, there were few incidents of the type that would put Santacon in a bad light; and none of the evacuations directed by the NYPD resulted in any confrontations or violence. For a humongous aggregation of drunken and exuberant Santas, Santacon tends to be remarkably devoid of misbehavior. Sure, there’s the occasional Bad Santa; but most people who participate are just trying to spread holiday cheer, and remain well-behaved. The worst offense that most Santaconners are likely to commit is a violation of the open container law (I may or may not have committed that offense myself). 🙂 I want to stress, though, that I understand where the police were coming from in their efforts to maintain order. I have a great deal of respect for the NYPD, which has done so much to keep this city safe — especially in light of the threats we’ve faced from would-be terrorists in recent years; and I’m sure the NYPD would rather not have to deal with the headache of the potential for undesirable outcomes that is inherent in a sizable flash-mob such as Santacon. And the important thing is that Santacon went on, and a good time was had by all.
Naturally, given the subject matter of my blog, my day of Santacon would somehow have to culminate in karaoke. So, I eschewed the “official” Santacon afterparty, a ticketed event in Brooklyn that I strongly suspected would be too hipsterish a scene for me. Instead, after making an appearance in Tompkins Square Park, I remained in the East Village. I hit two bars in that area. The first was just some random pub, where I had a nice enough time and met some interesting people. The second was Sing Sing, a popular karaoke establishment on St. Marks Place (Sing Sing has an additional location nearby on Avenue A).
So, during karaoke, some guy started singing the Blink-182 song, “All the Small Things.” Suddenly, an admittedly attractive young woman just grabbed the microphone from his hands, carried it to the other end of the bar, and started singing the song herself. She hijacked his song! Eventually the original singer reclaimed the mic and finished singing. He then approached the woman and asked her why she had committed her brazen act of microhpone-thievery. “I’m better than you,” she responded. She may have had a point (although, curiously, she didn’t submit any songs of her own to sing).
Given that I was trying to make a good impression on strangers, my own set-list at Sing Sing included three
H-Bomb standards: “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel; “La Bamba” (the Los Lobos version from the soundtrack of the 1987 movie); and “True” by Spandau Ballet. No one dispossessed me of the mic while I was singing.
Below are some additional photos that depict a few of the highlights from the latest NYC Santacon:
Santas processing through lower Manhattan, near Bowling Green Park.
Santacon's answer to the Three Musketeers.
The Abonminable Snowman.
Gingerbread men (and women) are frequently seen at Santacon.
A Christmas tree finds comfort among his own kind, but is besieged by the evil Grinch.
This hombre, who was rocking a giant sombrero in place of St. Nick's usual headgear, called himself "Santa Fe." : )
This woman dressed as a fireplace. She even used an iPad to provide continuous video of the Yule log!
The youngest Santa!
Some of the get-ups are quite irreverent. The birthday boy can always be counted on to make an appearance.
Some of the Santaconners who ended up at karaoke. Is that a Viking Santa on the right?
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“I call architecture frozen music.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe I agree with Goethe’s sentiment. I’m a huge architecture buff; anyone who has seen the collection of miniature buildings on display in my office can attest to that.
But in November 2011, a different kind of frozen music was created in New York City’s Bryant Park. In a promotion sponsored by Columbia Sportswear, visitors had the chance to sing karaoke inside a giant freezer, dubbed the “Omni-Freezer.” As can be seen here, the Omni-Freezer was located inside a tent-like structure, near the ice skating pond that is installed in Bryant Park during this time of year. I understand that the Omni-Freezer has actually gone on tour through a number of American cities. Given the response it has elicited, I would not be surprised to see it make some more appearances in the future.
I’d been to an “ice bar” before, in Las Vegas, where the ambient temperature was maintained at a constant 23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5 degrees Celsius). But the conditions in the Omni-Freezer were quite a bit more frigid than that. The temperature inside the 7-foot-high chamber hovered between minus 10 and minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit (a range of roughly minus 23 to minus 26 degrees Celsius). Nevertheless, I eagerly volunteered for the opportunity to participate. It didn’t hurt that there was no charge to sing. An additional incentive was that Columbia would provide me with a video and photos of my icebox jam session, also free of charge.
The song list was quite limited. I’m accustomed to karaoke bars that feature 10,000 or more titles in the songbook; here only 12 songs were offered, all of which contained words like “ice” or “hot” in their titles. The complete catalog (such as it was) is shown at left. I get why they did that, but a little more variety would have been appreciated. Would
“I Melt With You” by Modern English have been too much to ask for? And the “Heat Miser” song would have been a nice addition, too. : ) Needless to say, none of my usual
A-list songs was among the listed tunes. Given the choices available, I opted for Katy Perry’s “Hot n Cold.” I had actually sung that one before, so at least I was more familiar with it than with any of the other 11 songs that were being offered. Plus, for a song by a female artist, “Hot n Cold” is not in a very high key, so it’s at least in the vicinity of my vocal range.
While awaiting my turn, I donned a Columbia jacket (or perhaps “parka” or “anorak” would be the correct term for the garment. I wouldn’t know for sure; I’m no fashionisto. And no, that last word is not a typo. “Fashionisto,” ending with an “o,” is the little-used term for a male equivalent to a fashionista. I just learned that while writing this post. But it’s confirmed by that bastion of scholarly authority, the Urban Dictionary).
I monitored the digital temperature readout next to the freezer door, and wondered how I would cope with the Arctic conditions without gloves or ear-grips to protect my extremities (Those accessories were not provided by the organizers. Although, in fairness, I can’t really blame them. Would you want to wear gloves that dozens of people’s hands had been in?). Still, the singers who preceded me did not appear to be suffering from frostbite when they emerged from the freezer.
One pastime that was not possible while I stood in line was to watch the singers who were performing ahead of me. It soon became apparent that contrary to what I had expected would be the case, the singers in the Omni-Freezer could not be heard outside the freezer. The audio was not piped to any external speakers.
Eventually, the time arrived for me to step into the icebox. Once inside, negative 10 degrees didn’t feel as bitterly cold as I had anticipated. I think that the lack of wind made a huge difference. The song terminated, thereby ending my session, after only about a minute and a half; but even though I was constantly shivering, I definitely felt like I could have remained in the freezer for at least a few minutes longer.
Overall, the Omni-Freezer was a unique, albeit brief, experience. In one respect, though, it was a disappointment. For me, karaoke is a performing art that necessitates an audience. Indeed, the best karaoke experiences for me are interactive and involve the listeners responding to the song. I thrive on the energy generated by an enthusiastic crowd. Here, as mentioned, that crucial dimension was missing as the sounds of the singers were not shared with anyone outside the freezer. So in that sense, the Omni-Freezer was really more a recording studio than the activity that I think of as karaoke. Don’t get me wrong, I still had fun; and I can’t really complain about the chance to do some singing in a public place for free. The karaoke freezer also scores major points just for the sheer novelty of the concept. Plus, while I enjoy traveling the world to sing, it’s always a nice bonus when I find new karaoke adventures right here in my home city of New York.
If Columbia takes the Omni-Freezer on the road again, I would recommend that the song list be expanded, and that the singers be given an audience that can listen to them.
You can check out a video of my Omni-Freezer karaoke session here. And below is a still photo from that session. I freely admit that this particular song was not my best work, but I would ask you to consider the conditions that I was operating under. : )
And when you look at the photo and video, you can’t help but notice that they’ve been heavily processed (the form in which you see them here is the only form in which they were made available to me). I think that the special effects that were added are unfortunate. I’m a little creeped out by the sight of a disembodied head singing, even if the head is my own. This is not the way that I wanted to evoke the hallowed memory of Walt Disney . . .
Shown here is my most recent international singing experience, in Mexico City in May 2011. The scene depicted in this photo occurred at a bar called “Pedro Infante no ha Muerto.” The name of the bar means “Pedro Infante hasn’t died.” In case you’re wondering who Pedro Infante is, Wikipedia states that “José Pedro Infante Cruz . . ., better known as Pedro Infante, is the most famous actor and singer of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.” Wikipedia also tells us that notwithstanding the optimistic outlook of the bar’s proprietors, Señor Infante departed this world in 1957. Anyway, I think that “Pedro Infante no ha Muerto” is a pretty cool name for a watering hole. What wasn’t cool was how, when I was trying to get back to my hotel at the end of the night, my cabdriver robbed me, forced me to get out of the taxi, and left me in the middle of nowhere. But that’s a story for another time.
Hello and welcome to H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke! This site was created to document my ongoing World Karaoke Tour. I have sung karaoke in 23 countries on six continents, plus Easter Island; and within the United States I’ve performed at karaoke venues in 12 states plus the District of Columbia. You may have noticed that I mentioned six continents, one fewer than the total number that the Earth has. The missing continent — for now — is Antarctica, but I will get there eventually.
Yes, there’s a place to sing in Antarctica. Gallagher’s, a bar located on the scientific research base McMurdo Station, offers weekly karaoke nights. It’s not easy to get there; most tourists who visit Antarctica arrive by sea, and McMurdo is on the opposite side of the Antarctic continent from the place where you would alight if you arrived on a cruise ship from South America. So transportation is a challenge, to say the least. And it’s no easier to find lodging for such an extreme destination. There are no hotels on Antarctica — let alone at McMurdo Station — that you can book through a site like Expedia or Orbitz. Well, to be more accurate, there are no hotels at all. But despite such daunting obstacles, singing on the seventh continent is absolutely a bucket list item for me. I will find a way to make it happen.
I sing karaoke under the stage name “H-Bomb.” I’ve been performing under that nom de guerre since the fall of 1992. Back then — in the mists of time, when the United States was the only country in which I had ever done karaoke — I was a first-year law student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. On Thursday nights I would sometimes go out for karaoke at an establishment called the Jennifer Street pub, in the Dupont Circle neighborhood where I was living. My actual name is Harvey, and so naturally I would write that name on the song slips that I handed to the KJ. On one such Thursday evening, the KJ didn’t care for my singing. Each time that it was my turn to sing, when he would call me up to the stage, instead of calling me by the name I’d written down, he would summon me as “H-Bomb.” He meant it as an insult. But I immediately saw the possibilities of becoming a weapon of mass destruction. Despite the origins of the sobriquet, I readily embraced it, and I’ve been singing as the H-Bomb ever since. My identity as the H-Bomb has permeated my life; my handles on internet message boards usually begin with those letters, and even at work, it is not unusual for colleagues to refer to me as the H-Bomb.
I said that I’ve been singing as the H-Bomb since 1992. And that is mostly true. But there is one exception: In 2008, when I visited Japan, I thought that to sing under the name of an atomic bomb might not show sufficient respect for cultural sensitivities. : ) So, at those Tokyo karaoke bars, I sang as “Godzilla” instead.
My next scheduled international trip will take me to Lisbon, Portugal for New Year’s weekend 2012. I also am scheduled to travel to Egypt in February 2012 for a cruise on the Nile (I was originally supposed to go to Egypt in February 2011, but as you probably know, a revolution erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the early part of that month. Egypt’s version of the Arab Spring resulted in the cancellation of my tour, and I went to Morocco instead, while rebooking the Nile cruise for one year later. As my delayed Egyptian vacation approaches, the political situation in Egypt continues to be unstable, and I am monitoring it closely). I hope to fit in some singing during both of those upcoming excursions. As I add additional locations to my World Karaoke Tour, I will post updates on this site — with photographs and videos!
And the updates will not only be about my singing. My karaoke wanderlust is about satisfying two of my great passions: karaoke and travel. So when I am on the road, I will blog about the sights that I’m exploring during the daylight hours, as well as the venues where I grab a mic in the evening.
Between trips, I will use this site to report on my karaoke adventures on the home front; and in the beginning while we’re getting caught up, I will reminisce about my international karaoke experiences to date. Much has happened since the magical night in June 1993 when an outing to the Duke of Argyll pub in London made the United Kingdom the first foreign country on my World Karaoke Tour. : ) I will also blog about my general thoughts on all things karaoke.
I envision this blog being interactive. I’m generally very good at finding karaoke spots in my travel destinations — usually well in advance of my departure. But sometimes, especially in non-English-speaking countries, finding a singing venue is quite challenging for me. I look forward to a time when my readers in far-flung locales will advise me — and each other — on where to sing in every corner of the globe. Maybe I’m being unduly optimistic, but that’s the way I roll.
Last week, I visited the Louis Armstrong house in the Corona section of Queens, New York. This unassuming brick edifice (seen in the photo on the left) is the actual home in which the great Satchmo lived with his wife, Lucille, for the final 28 or so years of his life (Lucille was actually his fourth wife, but by all accounts she was the great love of his life). You can see the rooms of the house, preserved as they were several decades ago when Mr. Armstrong was in residence. It was a fascinating tour. So, the tour guide was mentioning how Mr. Armstrong was the first musician who traveled all over the world to perform. That tidbit has provided further inspiration to me as I continue with my own, much more humble musical wanderings. And another thing: the guide claimed that Mr. Armstrong appeared on “every continent.” However, I strongly suspect that he never made it to Antarctica. So if I can make it down there, I have an opportunity to do something that even the legendary Louis Armstrong was unable to achieve. : )
Well, that should suffice for an introduction. Thanks for your visit, and I hope to see you back here soon! And I apologize for kicking things off with one of those cliched “hello, world!” posts. I promise that some exciting new content is coming soon. This is only the beginning!
Hello there! I'm an attorney and worldwide karaoke singer who's based in New York City. So far I've sung karaoke in 67 countries around the globe, plus Easter Island - as well as all 50 U.S. states! This website chronicles my World Karaoke Tour as well as my general travel adventures. Learn more