I had figured we would go down to Houston–which, by the way, is pronounced How-stin, not like the city in Texas–and catch a cab, because that was what Antonio had been planning to do. But when we got to the corner, there happened to be a limo sitting there, the driver leaning against the door, crushing a cigarette out under his aggressively shined shoes.
Tony and I looked at each other and I knew what he was thinking and he knew what I was thinking. That was all it took for Tony to take charge. There was a quick sort of homeboy greeting between the two of them and pretty quickly the driver was opening the door for us to get in.
Once we were in the car, Jonathan asked, “Riding in style?”
Tony made his of course gesture, which always looked kind of like someone sticking a towel through a rack with both hands. “You do realize that it wouldn’t do for an A-list man like our man here to pull up in a yellow cab. Would not do. At. All.”
I snorted. “I’m not A-list.”
“I assure you, you are,” Tony said. “Leastways now that you’re playing the Garden.”
“I just thought it would be fun to pull up in a limo after all those years of being the jailbait outside, lining up and hoping to be picked to go in.”
“Did I ever pick you?” Tony asked.
“No. Some blond guy did once or twice. I think his name was Bruno?”
“Bruno. Aha.” Tony seemed to think that made sense and I didn’t ask why. Maybe I was Bruno’s type. I had been way too chicken back in the day to find out.
“I usually went to Limelight because it was easier to get in,” I said.
“Yeah, I could see that.”
“I’ve never been to the Palladium,” Jonathan piped up. “That’s the place with the Basquiat mural, right?”
“Art class is over,” I said. “Now I get to find out if you can dance.”
It being a weekend night after 10pm, we were expecting there to be a crowd outside. The line of hopefuls waiting to get in was sometimes as much fun as the crowd inside, honestly. There were nights when I didn’t get in but I didn’t care.
“You don’t strike me as the club type,” Antonio said, and I thought he was talking to Jonathan but then I realized he was talking to me.
“I’m not, really, but you know, when you’re young and fucked up nothing beats dancing with thousands of strangers you don’t have to talk to,” I said. It was worth getting out from behind the guitar for. It was something different from loitering around the Jersey shore.
I could probably count the times I’d gone there on my fingers and toes, but you know, it felt like something I used to do “all the time.” Maybe I didn’t have to do it hundreds of times to know what it was like.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” Tony said as the limo slowed when we were still a block or two away. “You want to stay in the car while I get the green light, then we’ll bring you in quick as we can? You want to go straight to the VIP room?”
“Shit, Tony, I’m happy just to get past the velvet rope.” I tried to see through the tinted window where we were. “It’s not like I’m going to be mobbed by fans and paparazzi.”
Tony nodded. “I should at least pass you by the boys so they’ll treat you right. Well, you I’m not that worried about boss, your face is famous enough. But writer-boy here, he needs eye contact.”
“Will they even notice me?” Jonathan asked.
“Memorizing faces is one of the most important parts of the job,” Tony said, quite seriously. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you.”
“We can take care of ourselves, Tony,” I insisted. “We’re probably not even going to stay that long. How much do we owe the driver, here?”
“On me, boss. I’m taking care of you tonight.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Here.” I dug what was probably close to a hundred dollars in cash out of my front jeans pocket and handed it to him. He tried not to take it but gave in when I wouldn’t stop holding it out. He took it while looking at the ceiling.
“None the less,” Tony continued, “you need anything inside, you make sure to ask for me.” He hopped out almost before the car came to a complete stop. I saw him leaning over to talk to the driver, and then he handed over some cash.
“I feel a little bit bad,” I said. “This was Tony’s night off and all of a sudden he’s working for me again.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” Jonathan said. “He’s clearly a man who loves his work. And he was coming down here to brag about working for you anyway, don’t you think? Now he gets to escort an A-lister into the place.”
“You make it sound like I’m doing him a favor.” I tried to see what was going on outside but the windows were really dark. It sounded kind of noisy. “I mean it. Once we’re inside, I’d rather disappear into the crowd–together–than be kow-towed to in some VIP room. We can take care of ourselves.”
The bulk of Tony loomed in the window then. Something was going on out there. I heard the pitch of the noise outside go up into the female excitement range.
Suddenly the door opened and someone fell into my lap. The door slammed behind him.
Ziggy. I should have been surprised, but part of me wasn’t. He was laughing his fool head off, which made me and Jonathan laugh, too.
“Daron! What on earth are you doing here!” He said when he rolled off my lap to lie on the carpeted floor of the limo. He took a deep breath.
“Gonna ask you the same thing.”
“My god. Good old Tony. It was getting a bit hairy out there. Get it? Hairy?” He made a gesture like his hair was growing upward from the top of his head. I took this to mean there were a lot of girls with big hair in line.
Ziggy cracked his knuckles, then climbed up onto the seat next to me. “Hi,” he said and then stuck his nose under the collar of my jacket. I yelped and started trying to push him away when he started licking me.
“Stop it! Ahhhh! That tickles!” I held him at arm’s length. “What are you on?”
“Does it matter?” His eyes were as big as saucers which meant his pupils were like extra large cups of coffee. Dark and deep. “I’m fine. I’m just… very very happy. And you taste fantastic by the way.”
“Um. Thanks.” I was going to suggest he go back to the hotel but that would only guarantee that he wouldn’t. I thought about it. Getting high and going to the Palladium was a thing people did. Most of them did not come to any harm from it. And Tony was probably going to watch him like a hawk. Especially if I told him to. I remembered Tony carrying Zig after the collapse in Chicago. He wouldn’t let anything happen to him.
“So much for waltzing in un-mobbed,” Jonathan said, an amused smile on his face.
“Yeah. Ziggy how long have you been here? Were you in line or what?”
“Oh, um.” Ziggy closed his eyes, then opened them. “I don’t think I’ve been here long. But my time sense is gone. God I feel good.”
Jonathan cracked the window then and Tony’s eyes appeared. “Okay. I got a posse here ready to rush you in. We were going to bring you around the back, but it’s just… Trust me, this’ll work. Once you’re inside, you know people will be cool. It’s just out here… you know. That’s why bouncers exist. Cool?”
“Cool,” I said. “And I changed my mind. Take us to the VIP room first.”
“Told you,” Tony said. “Okay, you ready?”
It was a lot like how they had rushed us into the building in Toronto, only with a much bigger, more muscular security team. We were inside in a flash. We went down a long hallway that was like something out of a science fiction movie, all chrome and mirrors and thousands of embedded light bulbs. The music was pumping loud and deep, the kind of bass that shook the whole building. Ziggy rode piggyback on Tony, his mouth hanging open. I realized that the hallway was probably much more impressive if you were high–and it was pretty impressive as it was.
We passed around the main dance floor through some other passageway I had never known was there, and in the end they took us to the VIP room upstairs, which was ever so slightly quieter. There were some other folks there but they didn’t pay us much mind at first.
Ziggy put his hands on Jonathan’s upper arms. “You need more fabulousness,” he said. He unwound a scarf from around his own neck and then draped it artfully over Jonathan’s shoulders. “Okay. Now you’ll pass.”
Tony introduced us to a bartender, and while Ziggy was saying something amusing but nonsensical to her, I said into Tony’s ear. “He’s high as a kite.”
“Sure is,” Tony said. “You want I should keep an eye on him?”
“Please. Look, Ton’, I know it’s your night off–”
“Don’t you think about that. Far as I’m concerned, you’re my job until next week.” He looked back at Ziggy who had climbed onto a barstool like a gargoyle. “I can’t babysit him every minute though. Or he’ll bolt. I’ll be cool about it, okay?”
Ziggy seemed to have attracted the attention of two women who were dressed like international supermodels. One was Asian and one was Scandinavian, and they sandwiched him in pretty effectively. Tony and I exchanged another glance. Looked like he was staying put for a while.
I grabbed J. by the edge of his sleeve and worked on finding my way back to the dance floor.
The dance floor had giant racks of televisions and bright green lasers and a few thousand dancing people. Which was what mattered. The song was a remix version of an early Duran Duran song and the accompanying video played on the screens overhead–sometimes on each individual screen, sometimes spread across all of them like a jigsaw puzzle.
If you’re not familiar with New York nightclub dancing what I can tell you is that nobody dances “with” anyone else. If you brought a date, maybe you make eye contact. But pretty much everyone dances on their own. Each person is the star of their own little show, and yet at the same time they’re dancing with everyone else in the entire room. I’m not explaining it well. It’s another one of those things that once you’re inside the music and the moment it’s hard to describe later.
The important thing is that I wasn’t dancing with Jonathan. Like don’t think that looking at us anyone was going to think anything. That isn’t how it works.
Jonathan was a subdued dancer, not a lot of moves, but you know, perfectly acceptable, blended right in.
The DJ was mixing live, throwing Prince and Kraftwerk and Madonna together and making it work. The televisions overhead moved and rotated. If you weren’t on drugs, it still felt like you might be.
We eventually made our way off the main floor to explore the balconies. I had forgotten how many nooks and crannies the place had. Or maybe I’d never been quite bold enough to explore them in the past.
Sex and drugs and rock and roll. Is it any wonder I felt incongruously safe and comfortable in a place where people were very definitely doing illegal things in the darkened corners and the thing they did out in the light was worship the beat?
We went back to the VIP room for drinks and then watched the crowd from the balcony up there. Ziggy was nowhere to be seen and I didn’t see Tony either.
Quite suddenly a riff from Grenadier ripped out of the speakers. The DJ was mixing it with some piece of techno I didn’t recognize and I realized that the lights in the room made a sweep past one of the raised platforms: Ziggy was out there dancing. The DJ had been known to mix in songs in homage to various celebrities and it was kind of awesome to realize Ziggy rated that treatment.
Tony had been right. New Yorkers inside the club weren’t going to mob us. They were too cool for that. Ziggy looked like he was having a good time. I was having a good time. Jonathan was having a good time.
I knocked back a large amount of water and then pulled him into a dark nook outside the VIP room and kissed him. I wasn’t on drugs, you know, but I was high on music and night and whatever. And so it was confusing as hell that he smelled like Ziggy but tasted like Jonathan. Then I remembered the scarf and nearly choked Jonathan with it trying to get it off him, except I wasn’t really thinking like a logical person and I ended up putting it on myself.
“Had enough?” J. asked in my ear.
“Yeah. I don’t want to leave Ziggy here though without checking in with Tony, though.”
The problem was we didn’t see him and the bartender didn’t know where he was. Talking to some other employees somehow ended up with us getting a tour of the DJ booth. They controlled the lights from up there, too.
“Okay, NOW I am in heaven,” I said. “You can keep your VIP room. This is the real VIP area.” I wondered what Louis would think of it. The lasers alone looked like they could take down a Russian nuke.
Tony did catch up to us there. “I think we’re going to go, but what about him?” I asked him. I didn’t have to say who “him” was.
“I’ll make sure he ends up back at the hotel.”
“It’s show day tomorrow–”
“I’ll make sure he ends up back at the hotel,” Tony repeated. “Boss, trust me. I’m a professional.”
“So what’s he on, then, in your professional opinion?”
“Looks like X to me. If it is, he’s going to have the mother of all hangovers tomorrow. And that’s the reason he’s not going home with one of those women, even if he was Velcroed to them earlier.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“X makes you cuddly like a cat, but you can’t get it up while you’re on it,” Tony said. “Shit, I took my eye off him.”
I looked out the window from the booth and didn’t see him either. “Let’s see if we can convince him to come back with us. I’d feel better about that.”
Fortunately for us, Ziggy made his way back to the barstool he’d been on earlier like a homing pigeon.
I put my arms around him from behind and said into his ear, “I want you to come back to the hotel with us.”
He turned his head so that he could answer me in kind. “Only if you’ll fuck me when we get there.”
I should have seen that coming, right? I nearly let go of him, but I didn’t. Instead I tried to reason with him, tried and failed. “You know it’s a terrible idea to push me like that.”
“Fuck, Daron, fuck. You don’t understand what this feels like.”
“I understand I’m not going to let you blackmail me into sleeping with you.” How did I even end up having this conversation?
“I’m not blackmailing you. I’m begging you. Please? Please please please please…”
Oh fuck. First of all, if I hadn’t mentioned it before, I was horny as fuck myself, and had been for quite some time. And to hear him begging was enough to crumble anyone’s resolve. Wasn’t it?
And I thought about the things going on in the dark out in the club and wondered how vulnerable to viruses a fucked up, desperate idiot like him could be. Over my dead body was I going to expose him to that possibility. What if Ziggy was too sneaky for Tony to handle? When Ziggy really wanted something, no one could stop him from getting what he wanted.
Did “no one” include me?
“Just this once? Just once?” he begged.
Bargaining with someone on drugs is probably not recommended. So take this as a cautionary tale. “How about this. You come back with us now and I’ll fuck you after we get off the road. Next week.” Maybe he won’t even remember this, I thought. Or maybe when he’s not on drugs I’ll be able to point out all the reasons the whole conversation was bogus and didn’t count.
He grabbed onto me tight then, practically strangling me, but when he let go he said, “Okay.”
Tony called a car for us. If it had just been Jonathan and me, we could’ve walked out a back door and caught a regular cab and no one would have cared. But with Ziggy it was too chancy, not just because he was high but because he was Ziggy and could incite a riot. I had to remember that.
Tony and his boys were pros. They got us into the car (outside a back entrance) and then Tony said goodnight and went back into the club, presumably to have some actual fun without having to babysit us, while the driver took us back to our home away from home.