Bart left us off at a pizza joint near Berklee and Ziggy’s apartment. I got myself a spinach pie that was too hot to eat without burning my fingers and Ziggy got a couple of slices of pizza that were too cold to let sit around for very long. When he was done inhaling them, though, he said “You know, for two guys who spend so much time together, I don’t think I know you very well.”
I was going to say ‘likewise’ but didn’t want to draw attention to any secretiveness there might have been on my own part, so I didn’t want to imply it on his. “What do you want to know?”
“I dunno, where you’re from, shit like that. You aren’t originally from Providence, are you?”
“Fuck no. It’s much worse. I’m from New Jersey.”
“Get out!” He laughed.
“No, really. Home of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi.” And Nomad. “You?”
He shrugged. “Traveled around a lot, lived everywhere from Baltimore to here. Your parents split?”
“Mine, too.” He stated it like a common fact of life, which I suppose it was. I didn’t bother to explain the exact circumstances of the two-bit con artist Digger and his estranged wife Claire, who by now was probably raising her daughters “in the proper manner” in some convent for all I knew. He didn’t ask anything more about them, told me he had a lot of brothers he didn’t see, either. “So you and Bart went to music school together.” He was eyeing some of the Berklee regulars in the place.
“Yeah. And quit together, too.”
“See, we wanted to start this band…” I smiled. “Actually, there was kind of a scandal with Bart and some high muckety-muck’s daughter, so they made him leave. And I went along. It was getting dull.”
“Bart? In a scandal?” His eyes were ablaze. “That is unbelievable.”
“He’s got very proper, stuffy, New England parents.”
“The summer house on Nantucket kind of people.”
“Martha’s Vineyard.” By now I knew where that was.
“Same thing.” He pointed at my spinach pie. “You better eat that before it congeals.”
I picked it open. Inside it was still steaming, but I started cutting it apart with a plastic knife and fork.
“So, tell me more about music school.”
“What’s to tell?” The pie was doughy and mushy, but as I swallowed it I realized how empty my stomach was.
“Like, how did you guys meet? Did you have classes together or what?”
I downed some more pie before I spoke. “Actually, he lived down the hall from me. In the dorm. The first semester I got there, I lived in the dorm. I didn’t know what was what then, I’d just left home for the first time, and I arrive there a day late, frazzled as all hell, and I walk into my room and put down my stuff and decide to set up my equipment.”
“I hadn’t even bought my classical guitar, yet. I’d had to travel with what I could carry and had to save my money for the guitar. I’d taken the bus from New Jersey and it took fucking forever. Then the bus broke down in New Haven and I decided to just hitchhike from there.”
“Yes.” That was a long time ago. “So I get there, late, and plug my guitar into my portable stereo figuring what the hell, I’ll relax and unwind by playing a little music.” I paused to eat more, chewing over the memory like I’d never really thought about it before. Maybe I hadn’t. Or maybe it’s just that I was seeing it through Ziggy’s eyes now. “Anyway, while I’m setting this up, the one bulb in the place, the overhead light, burns out. So I get out a flashlight and I’ve got it in my mouth while I feel around in the dark for stuff, and I bump the switch on the stereo and this screech comes out.” Even now I was trying to remember the cause–volume knobs all the way up or something. “I’m fumbling around trying to make it stop, and it does, and then there’s this knock on the door. I open it, and there’s Bart, looking at me like …”
“Half like I’m crazy and half like I’m the best thing he’s seen since sliced bread. I mean, there we were on a hall with a bunch of oboe players and what have you, and there I am with an electric guitar in my lap making an unholy noise and a flashlight in my mouth.”
He laughed. He laughed until I began to wonder if maybe he needed a drink or something. Then he said “You guys are music geeks.” He looked at the Berklee guys in the booth behind us. “But you’re good music geeks.”
“Thanks, I guess.” He had this way of looking at me sometimes; I enjoyed it in spite of myself. His face showed an odd mixture of admiration, contentment, and I’m not sure what else, some of his usually indecipherable smugness, of course.
He put a hand on the table, looking at the fingers. “What was your old singer like?”
“He was a tenor, too. Great range, but…”
“See? Music geek.”
“He was one of those, too.”
“But what was he like? Did he write?”
I winced. “Sort of. He was a disco queen.” I froze then, wondering how that sounded. “I mean…”
“You mean–” he completed the sentence with a dainty hand motion.
“Completely.” Somehow my voice came out quieter than I intended.
He shook his head a little, which could have meant just about anything, condemnation, pity, understanding, alienation, dismissal. He didn’t ask any more questions about Roger and I didn’t tell him any more for fear of incriminating myself. “You got roommates?” I blurted out then.
“One,” he said, and nothing more.
A sweaty guy in a stained white T-shirt shouted at us from behind the counter. “You guys still hungry or you gonna sit there all night or what?”
Ziggy gave me one of his patented sneers. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.” He tugged on my sleeve as he slid out of the booth. I followed. Out on the street everything seemed normal. I am normal, I thought, there’s nothing different about me. Except that I’m a music geek. I found myself smiling.
We walked toward the Victory Gardens in silence. The air was cooling down enough that our breath began to fog. As we reached the gates on Park Drive, Ziggy peeled off toward his place on Westland Ave. with a little salute and a “Catch you later.”
See, I told myself, normal. He suspects nothing because there’s nothing to suspect. Life is so much easier when you aren’t worrying every moment about where you’re going to stick your dick next. Tomorrow I was going to get up and go to my job, and mail out some more invites to our next show, and play some guitar in the privacy of my own headphones, and that would be that.