PART TEN: AUGUST 1989
I have a small confession to make. I had to reconstruct some of the sequence of events of these upcoming chapters with the help of dates in Jonathan’s diary. I never realized before how handy it might be to have someone writing things down all the time. Honestly. Because thinking back on it later I would have gotten things all out of order and made them seem like they went slower than they did. Or faster. As it was, I had pretty much convinced myself that I had moped around at home for a month or two before we went to Mexico, but no, they’d actually whipped me down there pretty quick. And of course Ziggy’s Betty Ford stint was supposed to be a month long, but it felt like six months to me.
And Jonathan didn’t have notes on all the times I talked to Digger, or when Digger talked to Mills. I feel like everything in that quarter–with BNC, I mean–was sliding backwards that whole time. Or at least our momentum was stalled so it felt like we were going backwards. Of course we did. Our singer was in limbo. That meant we were all in limbo.
Time doesn’t pass in limbo. Or it goes too slow. Except when things are moving really fast, like with Jonathan’s agent and all that. Okay, I guess I should get to that. So let’s talk more about Mexico.
I had a really vivid dream the third or fourth night we were down there. In the dream I was playing bass in a Motown group, with these two lead singers who would trade off singing and dancing and doing James Brown kind of vocal riffs, and they really really needed a tight rhythm section because they would go off improvising and need something to anchor the beat. I didn’t know the drummer–I didn’t know any of them–and it’s unclear to me now how I got roped into the gig in the first place, given that I don’t even play bass. But there I am just faking my way through, thinking, wait, how did I end up here? The audience looked like they were having a great time, though, all dancing with each other, many of them with drinks in hand. I remember thinking, wait, if this is a dream, can I just put myself in the audience where it looks like a lot more fun?
And then I woke up thinking, what? Since when was it more fun to be in the audience than on the stage?
“I don’t even play the bass,” I said out loud.
Jonathan rolled over and looked at me. “What?”
“Nothing. Wacky dream.”
We could hear the waves on the sand through the open window. Breeze fluttered the white gauze curtains like something from a music video. I yawned and wondered what time it was. The sun was so bright, it always seemed like noon.
“What do you want to do today?” Jonathan asked.
“Well, that’s the beautiful thing, isn’t it? We don’t have to do anything. Well, except eat. We have to do that at some point.”
The day before, we’d gone into the town to see the sights. Carynne and Courtney had taken to the beach to sun themselves, and we’d gone wandering. We saw the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and walked along the beach to where the ruins of some arches were standing in the sand. My legs were tired by that time, but I didn’t really care about that.
It was the first time Jonathan and I had spent such a long time together. A week in New York but where every hour of the day was devoted to tour business really did not count. And that weekend we’d spent in Boston was nothing compared to this: no agenda, just be together, talk, and eat, and drink, and goof off, and look at buildings and art, and play random guitars being sold in the corners of shops here and there and everywhere. I get the feeling many of the guitars were meant as souvenirs, not serious instruments, but some of them sounded really nice, the humid air keeping the wood supple and the strings fat.
In Mexico there are guitars everywhere. I hadn’t known that when I’d suggested it.
It’s kind of hard to describe what doing nothing with Jonathan was like. I mean, the whole point is we weren’t doing anything important, so there isn’t a lot to say. He worked an hour or two on his novel every day while I either took a nap or played backgammon with Courtney or whatever. Carynne and Courtney seemed to be having a grand time together. Carynne was an only child and she later told me Court was like the little sister she always wanted. I think that was good for Court, too, since at some point she had started feeling like the little sister no one wanted, which I admit was at least one-third my fault while we were growing up.
Anyway, suffice to say, we had a good time in Mexico. J. and I had sex every day, sometimes twice a day, because why not? We ate a lot of mangos. We drank a lot of tequila. I jotted down a few song ideas but otherwise did not work on anything. My brain was very content to do nothing for a while.
Two nights before we were due to leave, we were all eating together in the hotel restaurant. This restaurant, by the way, had sand for a floor and no walls, kind of like there was no firm delineation where the hotel ended and the beach began. We were sipping margaritas and watching the moon set over Banderas Bay when a manager came looking for us to say there was an important phone call. My heart lodged in my throat as the first thing that came to mind was Ziggy.
But the call wasn’t for me. It was for Jonathan. He went to take the call, looking puzzled.
When he came back, he looked shell-shocked, and I wondered what terrible thing had happened. But when he sat back down, he said, “Um, should we get champagne?”
“Why, honeycakes?” Carynne asked.
“Because apparently my agent’s agent got a deal for my script treatment, and they want me to fly straight to LA to start working with a development team.”
“Does that mean you sold it?” I asked, a little confused.
“Uh, yeah, I’d say that means they sold it,” he said, sounding a little confused himself. “Hot damn.”
“Hot damn!” Carynne repeated, waving down a waiter and ordering a bottle. “That’s great, J.”
“Haha, yeah, kind of a big shock, though,” he said, though he looked up and smiled. “I just hope they don’t find out I don’t actually know how to write a screenplay.”
Thus ensued a raucous round of razzing him about it, and the champagne arrived and the waiter popped it, accidentally losing the cork when it shot out over the beach.
Later, though, when we were lying in bed, sweat cooling on the night breeze off the ocean, Jonathan told me he really didn’t know how to write a screenplay.
I tried to wrap my head around that. “Okay, so… is that like you’re writing a symphony and you know how to write a symphony… but now someone wants you to write a musical instead?”
“Hmmm.” He mulled it over a bit. “When you put it that way, yeah, I guess. That makes it sound not so hard.”
“Well, you tell me. Writing a novel already sounds impossible to me. Could a screenplay be harder?”
“With a novel you have more freedom, I guess. A screenplay has to be an exact length, for one thing. Sure, you hear stories all the time of directors who film a four hour movie and have to trim it down and all that. But those are the exceptions. You’re supposed to turn in exactly 60 pages, at two minutes per page, to make a two-hour movie. It has to be structured into three acts. The first act has to be a half hour long, the middle act is an hour long, and the third act is a half hour again.”
“Okay, that’s sounding pretty similar to a symphony.”
“Well, and now that I think about it, a novel is supposed to have three acts also, but I am not really sure if mine does. When I first started writing I thought it did, but it’s kind of strayed from the original plan…” He trailed off without going into what the novel was about. I hadn’t asked because I figured if he wanted to tell me about it, he would.
We lay there in silence a while and I thought maybe he had drifted off to sleep. But then he spoke again. “You’re right.”
“I’m right? What am I right about?”
“I should approach it like a symphony. It’s good that a screenplay has this kind of structure. It makes it clear what I have to do. I just have to get over being afraid that I’ll suck at doing it.”
“You’re not going to suck at doing it,” I said.
“Are you saying that because you really think that, or because you’re my boyfriend and you think you should make me feel better?”
“Both, Jonathan. Both, duh.”