Jonathan. I’m doing a terrible job of explaining what was going on between him and me because it so much easier to tell the dramatic stuff like getting assaulted by a drug-crazed supermodel.
It’s a lot more difficult to figure out what’s important to say about a relationship. Maybe that’s the problem. At the time I still didn’t know what a relationship was, and so a huge part of the development of our relationship was him schooling me on what a relationship was supposed to be.
Those words, “supposed to,” came up a lot–well, maybe they came up in my head more than out loud. How is a boyfriend supposed to act? For that matter, what is a boyfriend supposed to look like?
By the time Chris and Lacey visited, I thought I had figured out how a boyfriend was supposed to act. If I wasn’t stupid and didn’t, for example, stay out too late without warning after playing a session, everything was pretty smooth. If I waited until the weekend to ask for sex, we had some of our best sex ever. (It was still a luxury to me to have sex with the same person multiple times.) One really tricky puzzle was this: what was the right thing to do when neither of us could figure out what we wanted to eat? I quickly learned that if I let that get out of hand, a meltdown was imminent, so it was better not to let it get out of hand. I wrote a list of restaurants we liked onto the back of a business card and when I got desperate I would peek at it. I’d make suggestions hoping he would jump on one and that would solve it.
Eventually I figured out that sometimes what Jonathan really wanted was not tacos or falafel or Italian food. What he wanted was for me to decide what we were eating. Far as I was concerned, I would have just made us a schedule of places and we’d rotate through them, but somehow I knew that wouldn’t work. And then I figured out that Jonathan wanted me to decide what we were eating, but to make that decision by figuring out what we would actually both enjoy most.
I’m not so good at mind-reading, you know? When it came to actual relationship stuff, Jonathan was all for getting it out in the open and talking about it. I mean stuff like how we felt about each other and what boundaries we were going to set and sex. How come we could get that stuff worked out and yet somehow falafel versus tacos was a life or death decision? What’s a good boyfriend supposed to do?
Jonathan idolized the couple upstairs, Jerry and Robert. We got to know them a little, he better than me. Jonathan called them the Queens of West Hollywood, and at first I thought, okay, queens is a term and it’s okay for gay men to use it for each other. But as time went on I realized how appropriate a term it was. The two of them went around with their noses in the air as if they were some kind of benevolent monarchs, and they treated everyone else like subjects. Plus we saw them being treated like elder statesmen from time to time. They also went everywhere together. Jonathan often ran into them at the bookstore or the cafe when he would get up on weekend mornings to grab coffee and do some writing while I slept in. (A few times, with Jonathan’s blessing, I went out to shows after dinner when he went to bed. Generally speaking he always had to be up earlier than I did.) Overall I didn’t spend as much time in the neighborhood as J. did, between driving around to different studios to do sessions, and sometimes spending a day or two at Remo’s, I just wasn’t there as much. So it’s no wonder that J. got to know our upstairs neighbors much better than I did.
I’m saying a lot about them now but at the time I hadn’t given them that much thought. I didn’t interact with them all that often and wasn’t even sure which one was which. They were two fifty-something white guys who dressed alike and talked alike. One was slightly taller, but they both had the same amount of gray, similar haircuts, and they were always together. So I never heard one mentioned without the other, either, as if “Jerry and Robert” was their collective name.
One Saturday afternoon Jonathan and I had sex after lunch and then we were lying in bed listening to music.
“Let’s see a movie,” Jonathan said.
“What movie do you want to see?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen a movie at Mann’s, though, and I feel like I should.”
“Mann’s Chinese Theater?”
“Oh right.” There was a photo shoot of us standing in front of it from that long-ago time when we’d done that warmup tour for MNB. That was the day after Ziggy and me…. yeah. It was. “I think there are photos of the band there. Were you in that entourage?”
“I was,” Jonathan said.
I wondered if it felt as long ago to him as it did to me. Almost a year and a half. “So is seeing a movie there kind of like actually going up in the Statue of Liberty instead of just walking around it?”
“I guess. I just feel like here we are in movie-land and we’ve hardly seen any movies.”
“We’ve seen a ton of movies. Beetlejuice, Heathers, A Fish Called Wanda…”
“I mean in a theater, not video rental.” He gestured at the plain white ceiling above us. “On the big screen.”
He had perfected the mind-reading thing of knowing when I actually meant “okay, sure” and when I was saying that because I wanted to say no, but couldn’t actually think of a reasonable objection. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. It’s a great idea.”
“You’re all tense.”
I wasn’t about to tell him that it was because it reminded me of me and Ziggy’s first time. And I don’t even know if that was why I had tensed up. Maybe that wasn’t it. “Isn’t that kind of Paparazzi Central?”
“I thought you decided not to worry about that.”
“Me deciding to stop worrying and actually stopping are two different things.” I rolled onto my side to face him. We were buck naked still, and under just a sheet. “Although it has been pretty quiet.”
“I mean, not that it’s good that nobody gives a fuck about us–the band, I mean–but…”
“I know what you mean.” His hair was blonder than usual from all the sun he was getting. I played with the sex-tousled wisps of it. He’d let it grow a little. “Why would going to Mann’s be all that different from us seeing a show at the Whiskey?”
“Good question.” We had been out plenty of times to see shows and live music all over the area. “I think it’s two things. One, at a movie theater you’re trapped in one place whereas at a show you can move all over.”
“Well, that’s true, but in the actual theater it’s dark and no one’s going to be taking photos in there. What was the second thing?”
“Crap, I don’t remember. I guess you’re right, though.” I reminded myself most of the photos were from cocktail parties where we could walk around freely, and the fact that most of them were taking in the parking lots. “Would it be stupid to take separate cars?”
“This is really bothering you, isn’t it?”
“I guess so. I keep trying to talk myself out of it, and I keep thinking of other things.” I lay flat on my back and stared at the ceiling. “Am I being nuts?”
“I wasn’t trying to turn it into a whole big deal–”
“No, no, it’s okay, I mean, let me get over myself and then I’ll be fine.” I’m pretty sure that if there was a video game called Good Boyfriend that line just lost me half my points.
Jonathan was pretty smart, you know. He caressed a squiggle on my chest with his fingertip. “Is it because it’s a date? Going to a movie is really like a ‘date’ thing.”
I thought about it for a second. “That might be it. It seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it?” I sat up suddenly. “Wait. Wait-wait-wait. Did you suggest it because you want to have a date kind of thing?”
“No. It was more the movies equals Hollywood thing.”
“Are you sure? Because I’m sorry and I suck if that was what you wanted and here I am worrying about bullshit.”
“Daron, you know, a date would be nice, but seriously, that isn’t what this is about. If you want to romance me, a candlelight dinner works just as well. But seriously, I don’t need candles and flowers when you’re here with me every day.”
He pulled me down to snuggle with him side by side and I relaxed. He was warm and his skin smelled comfortingly familiar and that was worth something, you know?
But that was how a simple question like “what do you want to do tonight” could turn into a whole bout of relationship processing and introspection. I started to understand how Lacey could go down the rabbit hole of figuring out what was wrong with people. I don’t think you ever get to the bottom of it. At some point you have to decide you’ve gone deep enough and it’s time to stop.
We didn’t go to the movie. Does that mean I won?
(Okay, if you thought that Culture Club video ctan picked on Tuesday was weird, have you seen this one? Yes, that’s Robin Williams. -d.)