I got as far as unzipping my bags and pulling some of the stuff out onto the floor of my room so I could sort it into laundry loads, but before I actually got it sorted, Colin came in. He asked if I wanted to see some new computer music program he’d gotten with his tour money. He had started showing me some stuff before we’d left–playing with some programs like Jam Factory and “M”–but this, he said, was something real. Turned out it was a thing I’d used once in an electronic composition class at school, a program called Performer. The new version was much fancier than the one I’d used. It basically turned the computer into a multi-track recording studio for MIDI instruments.
I think maybe I glossed over what MIDI is earlier and I’ll gloss it over again here: it’s basically an electronic control language for synthesizers and other electronic instruments. Instead of recording the actual sound waves that come out of a synth, which would take up a ton of digital space and still probably sound terrible, MIDI notates each note’s pitch, length, and loudness. It was more like making a digital player-piano roll than like sound recording. A MIDI file wouldn’t be that large but it would contain all the playback info.
Colin got a spare Mac from a friend who had upgraded. We spent an evening setting it up. We put it in the basement with my Yamaha DX-7 II and taught them to speak to each other. By “spent an evening” I meant we didn’t come upstairs until dawn.
Ziggy was still on my mind. But there was no news other than the continued news that there would be no news. His doctor even called me at one point to say to expect radio silence because isolation was part of the therapy. I took that to mean contact with me (or whoever) might have been what drove him to drugs so I suppose I could see the logic. Knowing there was no chance to speak to him, that he was completely out of my reach, actually calmed me down a little. It didn’t make me want to talk to Ziggy any less, and it didn’t make me feel any less sliced open whenever I wished he could (or would) call me, but I felt less on edge.
I asked her if she could see me, too. She said it probably wasn’t a good idea for her to have both of us as clients, but she gave me the number of someone else to call.
I didn’t call.
The next day Colin and I added a modem and he set me up with email. Jonathan had been going on and on about email and newsgroups: I figured I better try it. He was the first person I sent a message to. It went like this:
Haha, guess who has email? Me. Don’t be concerned about the “STD” in my address. They assure me it stands for Software Tool & Die. Colin’s got his email there, too. He’s already warned me not to forward you any chain letters.
J. wrote me back a few hours later, and I happened to check shortly after he did, so I wrote him back. I was still logged in, reading what came from a mailing list Colin had suggested I get on if I wanted to talk electronic music with other people, when another reply came. At that point I figured I should just call Jonathan on the phone, but to be sure, I emailed him back and said so. The phone rang a few seconds later.
He said, in a fake robot monotone, “Wel-come To The Com-Pu-Ter Age.”
That made me laugh. “Yeah, well, I haven’t had much use for one until now. But it’s fun and totally absorbing. I was up all night playing with it last night.” Not to mention well on the way to doing it again.
“Seemed like the norm for CS students to pull all nighters,” Jonathan said. “I think it’s something about the glowing screen being mesmerizing. You don’t even realize time’s passing.”
“Could be. I fussed with a song fragment I wrote back in school and eight hours later I’m thinking… wait… did I eat?”
He laughed. He knew it was business as usual for me to forget to eat, but, you know. This was one more excuse.
“So how’s everybody?” he asked, leaving it up to me whether I wanted to bring up Ziggy or not.
“Pretty good. Colin’s temp agency actually called him for a change and asked if he’d go to a site tomorrow, Chris and Lacey leave tomorrow for Paris. Courtney’s around. Um. Nothing new from the West Coast, really. His doctor said not to expect to hear from him. I guess cutting him off from bad influences is part of the treatment.”
A beat of silence went by, before Jonathan said, “Don’t take it personally. That doesn’t mean they think you’re bad for him.”
“Do you actually think that or are you saying that to make me feel better?”
“Both, Daron, both.”
“Okay. So what’s the celebrity gossip? Who else is at Betty Ford right now?”
“Don’t do this to yourself, D.”
“Don’t try to imagine what life is like there and who he’s meeting. It’s not like some country club for rich people. He’s probably in a lot of emotional pain right now and being forced to go through more.”
“That wasn’t what I was asking for.” I hadn’t even thought far enough ahead to imagine who he might be hooking up with. And of course now I couldn’t get the thought out of my head.
Jonathan kept up the distraction. “What’s Bart up to?”
“He and Michelle are doing some kind of bike trip. Bart thinks he’ll lose the weight he put on while we were on tour. He asked me if I wanted them to stick around town, but I said no, go on your trip. I’m a big boy. I can take care of myself.”
“Does that mean you don’t want me to come up and visit?”
“Hang on. I didn’t know a visit from you was on the table.”
“On the table and in the realm of possibility, if I can get this article turned in within a day or two. Or, you know, we could meet in Providence, or Provincetown. Or the Jersey Shore.”
“Where you can live on fried dough and clams on the half shell…” I considered it. “Hey. I thought we were going to London?”
“I didn’t think you’d want to be that far away until Zig was in the clear.”
Part of me said he was already three thousand miles away, what was another ocean in between? But he was right. I’d spend the whole time fretting and that would be a terrible way to break my promise to pay attention to Jonathan. “You know me too well.” I got a sudden idea then. “Hey, what about Mexico, though?”
“Hmm. Tijuana is right over the border from San Diego,” he suggested brightly.
“Hey, didn’t the Love Boat sail out of Los Angeles? What was the name of that place they always stopped? Puerto Vallarta. Was that a real place or did they just make it up for the TV show?”
“Far as I know, it’s a real place.”
“This is going to sound stupid, but because of that show, I’ve always wanted to go there.”
“It’s not stupid at all. Why not?”
“Okay, but let’s not just talk about it. Let’s actually do it. When’s this deadline of yours?”
“I’m working on an article that needs to be in tomorrow, but realistically I need — and am going to talk my way into — 24 more hours. After that, the only thing I have pending is this thing my agent wants me to write for a film agent.”
“Your agent isn’t a film agent?”
“Technically, no. Well, okay, she’s a literary agent, and she could theoretically sell film rights, but since that’s not the majority of what she does, she subcontracts to a film agent who has better contacts in that world. Same with foreign rights. You get the idea. Didn’t I tell you all this when I introduced them to you?”
“Um, maybe.” I had a vague memory that J. had introduced me to some people at one of the many many parties in New York, but honestly, I’d met what, two hundred people last week? I couldn’t have picked his agent out of a lineup.
“Well, the thing is,” J. was saying, “she can’t really represent this novel for me until I finish writing it, since I’m unpublished, so I have to finish it to get anywhere, but meanwhile I introduced the film agent to Digger, and that got a dialogue going between her and me, and now she wants to see a treatment. And the thing is, if she can interest a studio in it, then we can probably get the manuscript sold to a bigger publisher for decent money because they’ll be able to say ‘now a major motion picture.'” He coughed and cleared his throat. “It’s all a terrible case of counting the chickens before they’re hatched, of course, but they’ll never hatch at all if I don’t write this treatment.”
“Okay, but isn’t it a thing people do? Go to the beach and work on their screenplay?”
“Oh, maybe wannabes and dilettantes. I need the computer.”
“Well, I didn’t assume it necessarily meant work ON the beach so much as in a peaceful bungalow with cabana boys bringing you food and drink.”
“Hm. You are tempting me.”
“I might have just convinced myself, too.” I cleared my throat. “But seriously, we probably can’t leave in under a week anyway, not for any reasonable plane fare, so why don’t you finish the article AND the treatment and let’s go at the end of next week? Assuming no Ziggy changes.”
“Absolutely. Why don’t I research the tickets…”
“No, no. You write your thing. I’ll have Carynne research the tickets.”
“Do you think she’d want to go, too? Not that I want to suggest anything that might distract us from each other. But you know, if she and your sister come along, we’ll have camouflage.”
“Wow,” I said.
“That doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you’d think of.”
“That’s because I never dated anyone in the closet before,” Jonathan said, matter of factly. “I’m learning.”
“I guess I am still in the closet, technically.”
“I’d say you’ve left the door open for anyone who wants to look in, but you’re still in there, yeah. What do you think? Carynne deserves a vacation, too. And your sister’s a hoot. She and I get along great.”
“Okay, you know, I am liking this idea. I’ll run it by Carynne and call you back.”
“Sounds great, love. I’ll go bang out another couple hundred words on this thing. Ciao.”
So I called Carynne next, and got her machine, but she called me back quickly enough.
Carynne is always a solid reality check. “Tell me if this is crazy,” I said. “I’m a wreck about Ziggy but hanging around the house chewing my nails for a month is seeming less and less like a good idea. What do you think about a trip to Mexico?”
She was no dummy. “Mexico would put you even closer, you know.”
“I know, that’s where the idea came from.”
“You wouldn’t spend the entire time in Mexico chewing your nails about him?”
“Not if you and Courtney and Jonathan are there to distract me. Well, Jonathan mostly but we thought you might want to come, too.”
“Sounds to me like you’d be bringing your support system with you.”
“Is that bad?”
“No. In fact, it’s an outstanding idea. What’s the catch?”
I played innocent. “Who said there’s a catch?”
“Come on, Daron. I can hear it in your voice, you’re working up to asking me something.”
“Okay, fine. The catch is you have to book the flights and the hotel.”
“Psssht. Piece of cake. What’s my budget?”
“I don’t know. You’re the manager, you’re in charge of that.”
“Good. I’ll bargain hunt but I won’t skimp. And yes, I’ll pick a place where Digger can reach us if anything should go wrong.”
“Oh, right, can you look in Puerto Vallarta? I’ve always wanted to go to Puerto Vallarta.”
“Why do I know that name?”
“It’s where the Love Boat used to stop.”
“Oh god. I can’t believe you remember that. Is that why you want to go there.”
“You are such a cornball.”
“Is that bad?”
“No, dear. It’s fantastic. I’d much rather manage a cornball than a… a…”
So, eight days later we were on our way to Mexico. Ziggy was still maintaining radio silence, so was Mills, and the three people who loved me most kept me from going stir crazy. They even kept me from getting sunburned… mostly.
Was it hard to forget Ziggy? Yeah, it was impossible. I never forgot. In fact, I think he wanted to be sure I didn’t. When I finally dumped all my laundry out to wash it before we left on the trip, you want to know what I found tucked inside one of my bags? Ziggy’s lyric book. The same notebook I’d peeked into at Cleveland. At first I thought I had emptied one of his bags by accident, but no, I checked. The only person who could have put that notebook into my clothes was Ziggy himself. It wasn’t quite like leaving a suicide note, but you know he didn’t stick it into my bag by accident.
So, no, I didn’t forget him while I sat on the beach in Mexico and played the guitar in the moonlight while people around me drank beer and tequila and hung out. But I kept my longing for him and my heartache locked away in a box, rattling around inside me. It’d be time to open that box again soon enough.