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Photo illustration by E. Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

In Search of Black Pearl

By Eric Carlson

"You have been warned. Like a warm tropical sea at night, the black pearl draws you in."

--Adler of Geneva

WHILE ATTENDING A DOG SHOW IN SAN JOSE, I was informed by a gentleman sitting next to a Welsh corgi of a musical group not to be missed: Black Pearl at Bay 101. Bay 101 offers refuge to gamblers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (Some maintain gambling attracts unsavory elements ... not compatible with the unsavory elements already established in San Jose: rent gougers, greedy developers and cell phone abusers.) An odd oyster for the Black Pearl.

Natural black pearls are rarer than hen's teeth, and the cultivated ones are none too common either. Five hundred years ago, Polynesian skin divers burbled 90 feet down to retrieve black-lipped oysters. After cracking open 20,000 of these bivalve suckers, one black pearl might emerge. Rare. As rare as elegant music in a world of MTV clanging and rapping.

As you walk into Bay 101, frenzied card players whir and chitter like insects. Shrieks and whoops erupt from crowded tables of Super Pan 9, Texas Hold 'Em, or Omaha High-Low Split. Sanctuary from this jocosity can be found in the Dolphin Café.

Black Pearl features the extremely glamorous Liz Lake and Howard (not quite as glamorous) Frederick; they perform every Friday night in the Dolphin Café. True blue fans arrive for each performance to dance and gamble into the night. Be it swing, samba, tango, waltz, country or other, 94-year-old Frank is always there ... dancing every dance, putting 50-year-olds to shame.

Liz Lake, the former Liz Pimentel, started crooning at age 3 and never stopped. Her professional career began at 16, and soon after, she would leave Petaluma (the egg basket of the world) to tour the country. She has a voice that delivers in loud or soft, and in varied stylings. When a song needs belting out, she belts. Songs requiring a gentler touch, such as "Unchained Melody," are delivered on moonbeams.

Howard Frederick, the other half of Black Pearl, does some admirable warbling of his own, while creating a complex output of sound on keyboard. Resembling a young Zero Mostel in black tux, his big voice complements the robust output of his partner. Together, they create the illusion of an ensemble.

    For some, black pearl evokes ripe fruit, simmering emotions,
    an island in the sun; for others something more disturbing,
    the dark side of the moon. (Adler of Geneva)

I sat with Lyle Lake, husband to Liz, as Black Pearl kicked off with "Key Largo." And suddenly the room filled with aquamarine lagoons, pink coral and, of course, pearl-bearing black-lipped mollusks. A cornucopia of song was to follow: "It Had to Be You," "The Tennessee Waltz," "Pretty Woman," "Paper Roses," "All of Me," "Crazy" and more.

Elizabeth Taylor owns a black pearl the size of a pigeon egg that has its own name: La Peregrina (The Incomparable). Philip II of Spain owned it in 1590. Mother of Pearl.

"Yes, I lost my little darling, the night they were playing ... the beautiful Tennessee Waltz." I do not recall beautiful music playing during my marital breakup. Looking out onto the dance floor, as Black Pearl crooned, the faces of the dancing partners--many nearly as old as Frank of 94 years--beamed with happiness and love and all that. I surmised that those staying together for 40 years or more, and who still go out dancing till midnight, probably have a chance.

Visit Black Pearl some Friday night--you don't have to be 94. And check out the frenzied gamblers on your way in.

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From the November 9-15, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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