(Make sure if you haven’t read Saturday’s post that you read it first…)
Thank heaven for the merciful angels in this business who save us from ourselves. No, really. Remember that time Belle gave me a bottle of cough medicine and then made me lie down on the couch in her office? She came to my rescue again this time, when I was thoroughly fried and frayed. Ziggy and Digger had gone off to some lunch meeting with someone movie-related and left me and Bart to deal with interviews.
Belle stole me away at one point and took me to her new, bigger, less cluttered office, and pointed at the new, bigger couch and I tore off my denim jacket to make it into a pillow and lie down before anyone else could say anything.
I think I slept about an hour. I felt much more human when I woke up. I had a little headache, but a couple of glasses of water fixed it. Digger was back. We went to a meeting with some merchandising company. And we met a promoter from England who’d wanted to talk. Or maybe it was Australia. I can’t even remember. I didn’t really need to be at these meetings but I think Digger wanted me to have the impression he was doing a lot and that he wasn’t hiding things from me. And then they whisked us to that in-store which turned out to be really great fun, where we did four songs and also Ziggy and I did it again. This time he asked the audience for song ideas and they shouted them out, and he took one from a girl right in front who I recognized as a fan club person. The topic was “armadillos.”
Armadillos made me think of Texas, so I started up a sort of twangy riff with a little Mexican feel, and I don’t remember the verses all that well since I couldn’t really hear them, but the chorus ended up going sort of hard rock with “Armadillo! Armor for your skin! Armadillo! Won’t you let me in!” and ending eventually with a big “Armadillo won’t you let me into your hearrrrrt!” It was hilarious and rocking at the same time. I think Bart almost broke something he laughed so hard.
And then it was time to go back to the hotel. Or wherever we wanted, basically. The in-store had been a right-after-work sort of thing, so it was not quite seven when we bugged out of there. Nearly everyone scattered to the winds. I needed to go back to the hotel to drop off the guitar, change clothes, and meet up with Jonathan before Matthew’s thing.
I’d decided to bring him. Did I mention that?
Anyway, the upshot is I ended up in a cab with Digger on the way back. And he was lit. I could smell it. “Did they have booze there and I missed it?” I said, trying to joke.
“At the store? Naw. I got tired of the crowds so I went around the corner to that bar.”
I knew if I asked “what bar?” he’d say that “that bar around the corner” so I didn’t bother. Whatever. He didn’t have to be anywhere tonight either, so far as I knew, so if he wanted to get wasted, that was his prerogative. Or so my thinking went.
“Listen,” he said, and he held up a finger when he said it like he wanted me to look as well as listen. “I’m never getting back together with your mother.”
Okay, that was 100% not the thing I would have ever guessed he was going to say. “Of course you’re not.”
He frowned, like that wasn’t what he was expecting ME to say. “That came out wrong.” He rubbed his eyes boozily. “Let me try again.”
“Try what again?”
“Shut up for a second, will you? I’m trying to tell you something important.”
Oh. It suddenly clicked. Remember when he had been drinking the other night and had been going on about Jonathan and Ziggy? That was a warmup for this. He’d been trying to work himself up to something. But what? I did what he said and kept my mouth shut, waiting. The cab was in stop-and-go traffic. I wondered if it would be fatal to try to jump out of the cab. Probably. I sat quiet.
“The first thing is, you don’t know what it was like when I met your mother.”
That was certainly true. They would’ve met, what, five or six years before I was born?
“Your mother was a fantastic actress, did you know that?”
A drama queen more like, I thought, but didn’t say.
“Unbelievable. And she would have had a shot in musicals, too, if she’d been just a little better with the singing. A great dancer. Gorgeous voice. But her pitch was off.”
“So’s Whitney Houston’s,” I said.
“Oh yeah?” He looked surprised. “Well, I’ll be damned. How d’you suppose she got so big then?”
“I dunno, Digger. All I can tell you is she’s flat.”
“Huh, what do you know. Your mother’s problem was when she was a kid she had an ear infection that left her partially deaf in one ear.”
“Mom was deaf in one ear?”
“Partially. Partially. This is getting to the point of what I was going to tell you. She hid it completely from most people, but you know, if she didn’t like what I was saying, she could act like she hadn’t heard a thing, you know?”
“Ahhh.” Yes, that sounded pretty much like my mother in a nutshell.
“So, here’s the thing. Your mother’s career was not my fault.”
“Wait, what?” I kept telling myself to shut up but I wasn’t listening to myself apparently.
“Your mother could’ve been something. Maybe not an A-list star. But something. She was doing pretty well when we met. Had casting agents all over her. Might have moved to L.A. She was tall, your mother was. Sta-tu-esque.” He said it carefully like he wanted to make sure he got the right word.
I’m pretty sure my mother was, and is, five foot eight. Not exactly an Amazon, but four inches taller than either him or me. Maybe to him that was statuesque.
“She could’ve been something,” he repeated, then looked at me like it was my turn to say something.
“If you say so, Dad.” I waited for him to correct me. He didn’t.
“Instead, she got knocked up with your sister, and I had to marry her toot suite.”
“You think I wanted to settle down in the suburbs? You think I wanted to take over her father’s business? Hell no. But I felt it was my duty. Remo and I were doing our time as reservists then. Good timing on that, you know? We were too late for Korea and too early for Viet Nam. Damn good thing, too. Remo was only twenty-one and so wet behind the ears he almost drown when we met. Same age as your mother when we got married, now that I think about it.”
“Hang on a second…” It had not occurred to me that I was now older than my mother had been when she’d gotten married and had her first kid. There are facts you know when you’re growing up, like I knew Digger had been born in 1933 and that Claire had been born in 1942, but I had never once thought about the difference in their ages. He was basically ten years older than she was.
“What I want you to understand,” he said, “is that your mother was my greatest weakness. There’s no nice way to put it, kiddo. If she spread her legs, I was there.”
“For fuck’s sake, Dad—”
“No, hear me out, this is important for God’s sake. Your mother used her feminine wiles—there, that’s a nice way to put it, isn’t it?—to reel me in and keep me for as long as she could.”
“Are you saying she wanted to have kids and live in the suburbs instead of a career in entertainment?”
“No, I don’t think she did.”
“So whose idea was it to get pregnant?”
“Nobody’s. These things just happen sometimes.”
“But you just said—”
“What matters is once she got pregnant, she wouldn’t hear of any other way. Wouldn’t even consider getting rid of it. I should’ve known then she would turn into a religious nut. Thing is, for a little while I really thought it might work out. Try the settling down thing. Woulda worked better if her old man hadn’t hated me. Did everything possible to cut me down. But when he had the heart attack, I had to take over the store. There was no one else.”
“Heart attack? What heart attack. Nobody ever said anything about a heart attack.”
“Same night Janine came down with scarlet fever. It never rains but it pours.”
“Okay, it may have been rubella. Or roseola. You kids were always getting sick with something like that. It was one of those fevers with a rash that kids get. You know.”
I didn’t know, but whatever.
“The point is, this is the thing. Your mother. Was. An absolute charmer. When she wanted to be. When she really wanted something from me. And then once she got what it was, she was an absolute bitch. But you know what? I stuck by her waiting for her to come around. And then I stuck by her waiting for her to want something. And you know what? Every time she rang the bell, I came running.” He paused for a second, and I realized he was tearing up. Shit. But he got himself together and went on. “I didn’t care if she treated me like shit three hundred and sixty four days a year. If on day three-sixty-five she called my name, it was all worth it. It was all worth it.”
He fell silent then and I wondered if that was it.
“I never saw day three-sixty-five though, Pop,” I said. “Far as I remember growing up, it was war between you 24-7.”
He chuckled then. “If it was, how’d we end up with four kids?”
I shook my head. No one ever wants to talk about sex with their own parents, but I kind of think maybe me talking with mine was worse than usual? Maybe I’m wrong, but I was basically hoping it was over. By this time we were stuck in traffic, too, so my only hope was a change of subject.
No such luck. “Anyway, your mother. Made herself out to be the most self-sacrificing person on the planet, but only the most self-centered person on the planet would ever think of themselves that way.”
“Remember what I said about 364 days of hell and one day of heaven. What I’m saying is… it isn’t worth it. I told myself it was, but it wasn’t. Don’t lie to yourself.”
“Okay, I won’t.” What else was I supposed to say?
“Ziggy is a lot like your mother,” he said then, and I nearly jumped out of the cab right there.
I mean… seriously.
“Is he.” I managed to get the words out without dying.
“He is. He plays people like they’re violins. He tries to play me all the time. But you can’t bullshit a bullshitter. It’s why we get along so great, actually. We both want the same thing.”
“For him to be insanely famous. I want him to be so famous his face is on salad dressing and tennis shoes and… and… and pizza parlors.” He gestured out the window where a Famous Ray’s pizza stood on the corner. For the record, I don’t think Ray was famous for anything but pizza shops, and most of the “Ray’s Pizza”s out there in the city were just calling themselves that. But whatever. I got his point.
“Okay, make Ziggy famous. Sure.”
“You still don’t get it, do you?”
“No, Digger, I don’t get it. What are you trying to say?”
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, his hands moving like he was taking some kind of mental inventory. When he opened them again he spoke. “So, Ziggy’s mother was a lot like your mother.”
Oh jeez. I was starting to wonder if this only made sense to him because he was drunk.
“Beautiful, talented, ambitious, but saddled with a kid. In her case though, no man, none of that. Sounds to me she could have whoever she wanted.”
“Ziggy told you this?”
“Yeah. Why, he tell you something different?”
“No. That’s pretty much it. She was a lounge singer, he said.”
“Yeah. That’s the one.” He nodded like he’d made an important point.
So Ziggy’s mother was like my mother. Ziggy was like my mother. And…?
“So I’ve got two things to say, really. Two things.” He held up two fingers as if to remind himself there were two. “One is… if your mother ever waltzes back into our lives, I’m in deep shit. So I need to know if she does, that you’ve got my back.”
“Uh, sure. What would having your back consist of?”
“You know. Don’t let me do anything stupid like give her money. Or sleep with her.”
“Um, okay.” I made a mental note to see if I could get Digger into rehab when we got home as well as Chris. “What’s the second thing?”
“The second thing is about Ziggy. Now, normally I would stay out of this sort of thing. You know it’s not my thing. But you know the thing I said about it not being worth it.”
“Yeah?” I really didn’t want to know where this was going, and yet I wanted to at least find out if there was a point to all this.
“The three-sixty-five thing? Not worth it.”
“I got that part.”
“I don’t think you do.”
The last thing in the world I wanted to be discussing with my father was my relationship with Ziggy. There, I said it, relationship, however you define that. I repeated something I had said the other night. “Me and Ziggy are getting along fine.”
He gave me a look. A skeptical look.
“No, really.” I was about to say something that sounded like it came out of a sitcom set in California, but so be it. I had to at least try and pretend to be open. “It’s taken me a while, but I’m in a pretty good place with him.”
Digger shook his head, looking down into his lap, like I’d just failed him somehow. For half a second I remembered what Jonathan had said, about him being in denial about how actually gay I was.
But that wasn’t it. I was about to find out why I hadn’t understood any of the conversation. I’d been operating under the assumption, wrongly, that all this talk about my mother, and Ziggy, had been some kind of fatherly concern for my happiness and well-being.
When Digger looked up, he looked sort of pissed off, sort of resentful. “I don’t know how you do it. Somehow you got everybody in the whole circus loving you. Everybody worships the ground you walk on. When you say jump they say how high. Remo’s the same. Maybe you got it from him.”
“Digger, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“Three-hundred and sixty four days a year and you’ll kill him, I’m telling you.”
“Ziggy. He thinks he can wait. He thinks he can wait you out. But he’s wrong. He’s too much of a nut. He’s not grounded enough for what you put him through. So throw him a bone, will ya?”
That was when I got out. When Digger started to chuckle over the offensive pun he’d made. That was when I got out of the cab and walked the rest of the way.