On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the production company where Jonathan was working had their “holiday” party. (I think technically it counted as Christmas and New Year’s, too.)
I didn’t think of Jonathan’s company as very large, but apparently they were part of a group of affiliated companies, and each one of those companies had various successful (and not so successful) shows and films to their credit, which meant that the party was large and had a lot of A-list and B-list types. I pictured it as if Charles River Records and all the other small record companies that BNC distributed got together to throw a party.
J. and I went together.
The party was being held at a big ballroom at a resort-y hotel. The ballroom itself had two levels, with balconies to overlook the dance floor, and wide arched doors onto an outdoor patio where there was a swimming pool. They had a forty-piece big band playing live. It being a Hollywood party, though, only a few people were dancing, while the rest were schmoozing, most of them by the pool where the music was quietest.
We got somewhat dressed up. That is, Jonathan put on a tie and tails, and he put me in a tuxedo shirt. It was a little ridiculous that black jeans, boots, and a leather jacket dressed up so much just from a change of shirt. But so be it. I even conditioned and blow-dried my hair, and put on a little eyeliner for the occasion.
First thing, J introduced me to a guy who was in music production for the company and we got off talking about advances in carbon fiber instruments and the guy was apparently ecstatic to have someone to talk to who knew what he was talking about. Then one of the guys I knew from the recording studios in Van Nuys came over and I introduced them. And then that guy introduced me to someone else… I didn’t even have to move. Caterers kept passing by with food on sticks and on trays, making us pause to take some and look around. And at some point a waiter came by with champagne in flutes on a tray, which was good since my first drink was long since empty.
Things went like that for I don’t know how long. I heard the band take a break and the music switched to a D.J. At the time I was talking to a guy who introduced himself to me and I wasn’t even sure who he was at first. Then I caught on to what he said. His name was David and he was some kind of regional muckety-muck at Tower. He looked kind of like he could be cast as one of Jesus’s apostoles in a movie, a skinny dude with kind of wild black hair. He was in a tux but had no tie, his top button undone fashion-model style.
“You know I used to work at Tower, right?” I said.
“Oh, yeah, it’s like, company lore now. Especially after that video. That was practically like a Tower promo piece.”
“You mean ‘Wonderland?'”
“Yeah. Well, there were those docu bits they put on MTV, too, but the video itself has those shots of you, the logo is everywhere.”
“I hardly even noticed.” That filming had happened so long ago I’d almost forgotten about it. When was that, March? April? “Hey, I just thought of something. Was that part of why Tower’s sales were so strong on 1989 when every other chain was shit?”
His eyes widened in surprise. “Your other chain sales were shit?”
“Yeah, yeah, you wouldn’t believe the load of bullshit they put on it, telling us there was too much genre confusion. Like no one knew where to shelve it, so buyers didn’t know where to find it.”
He frowned, got a canape, and then looked back at me. “More like if they didn’t know where to shelve it, maybe it never made it into the bins in some places at all, or more likely they didn’t order sufficient quantity.”
“True. That was what we were trying to say, that there was insufficient stock in the stores. It’s frustrating. If we sell out a 15,000 seat arena in a city, don’t you think the record stores in that city might take that as a sign, though?”
He spread his hands. “You’d think. Except the purchasing was done way in advance of you getting there and the purchasing office was in some other state. I know we stocked it and sold it well everywhere you went. You do know what’s happening here, don’t you?”
“It’s the alternative revolution. The chains like Sam Goody? When you think Sam Goody, do you think alternative? Do you think rock and roll? No. You think Captain and Tenille.”
“Okay, there’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.”
“Okay, okay, these days you think Debbie Gibson and Cher. You don’t think rock and roll. This is what no one in this entire industry seems to get. Alternative IS rock and roll! Rock and roll is rebellion and what your parents are afraid of and what they should be telling you to turn down. Tower is the only chain that has an alternative rather than mainstream image. Sam Goody may as well be Sears, man.”
“You make a lot of sense. Do I have your card?”
He handed me one and went on. “So that’s what I’m saying. It makes no sense that the real rock these days–punk, goth, new wave, speed metal, industrial–the stuff that is actually rock music and not some overproduced prepackaged bullshit, why is that stuff struggling an uphill battle in radio play and in big labels and in sales?”
“Because of The Man, Daron, of course!”
“Of course!” I may have had a little too much champagne. “Wait, who?”
“Not a man, THE man. The system. The entrenched companies don’t like change. They don’t want change. It’s much better for them if everything stays the same and the artists that are at the top stay at the top. Obviously, right?”
“Which means anything that actually challenges the status quo, they don’t like. But the purpose of actually rock and roll is to piss off parents and challenge the status quo.”
“You know, I think Ziggy said that in an interview on MuchMusic.”
“I bet he did. Hey, how is he doing, anyway?”
“Uh, actually, we haven’t heard from him since he got out of rehab and went to India.”
“India, huh? Finding himself?”
“Yeah, I guess.” I made a face. “Such a cliche, I know.”
He laughed. “Don’t worry. Some cliches you have to live with. Pick your battles with the status quo.”
“I will, man. I will,” I said while he patted me on the shoulder. “Hey, do you know Chernwick? He says stuff like that, too.”
“I do. He here?”
“Haven’t seen him but I wouldn’t be surprised. Probably wherever the blow is.”
“True, true. He never does too much, but he always does some.”
“Seems that way. Speaking of which…”
“Men’s room’s that way,” he said, pointing toward the far end of the ballroom.
“Thanks.” I shook his hand and made my way in that direction. Jonathan was nowhere in sight, but that wasn’t a surprise. He had a ton of co-workers to talk to.
The bathrooms were huge, with a large lounge-y area outside the entrances that was full of schmoozing people, too.
I had just finished recycling a bunch of the champagne I’d drunk and was washing my hands when I heard a voice I’d know anywhere.
And maybe it was that I had drunk too much or that champagne in particular makes me lose my head or that we were just talking about the stupid, stupid fact that the album didn’t sell. Or maybe it was just the fact that I had a lot of unprocessed aggression lately. But the sudden urge that seized me then was to turn around and belt him. I gripped the edge of the fancy sink basin instead, but I really want him to know, at that moment, what it was like to have someone you thought you knew knee you in the balls seemingly out of the blue.
Hey, that rhymes, someone you knew, out of the blue… write it down for a song later.
Rage like that physically hurts. I mean, it’s painful, like some kind of poison eating your veins from the inside. Or maybe I was gripping the edge of the sink way too hard.
I didn’t even take in a word he was saying. Didn’t matter, I guess, since it was schmoozing. Meaningless.
I forced myself to let go and turn around, still not sure what I was going to do or say, thinking maybe I would try to walk out and pretend I hadn’t seen him.
But when I turned around, he was right there, talking to a much bigger man, whose face I didn’t even see. I was too focused on Digger himself. My aggression bubble popped the second I took in how terrible he looked. His face was haggard and drawn, his skin waxy and yellow-green. It had been almost four months since I last saw him. Was that enough time for him to get hooked on smack and decline this much? I would have thought Digger would be a cocaine guy not a heroin guy, but this looked more like heroin to me.
Then again, what did I know.
What I didn’t know was what to do, standing there frozen.
But Digger knew. He gave me a crooked smile and a wave, like hey how you doin’, and then went on talking. I gave him the same wave back, like a time delay mirror, and then pushed my way out.
I made it back to the pool and sat down at a table on the far fringe of the action, where I could look at everybody and wait for my head to stop spinning. A caterer tried to give me more champagne and I asked if he could bring me some water. I was kind of amazed that he did.
I saw Chernwick’s hat on the far side of the pool but I didn’t get up. I was talked out.
It was a party. I thought, hey, if Jonathan was a girl, the thing to do would be to dance, which would require no talking to anyone, and would be fun. But I didn’t think it would go over so well for me to find him and drag him onto the dance floor. Can you imagine?
I felt very sorry for myself at that moment. It wasn’t that I didn’t deserve to be happy. It wasn’t that I even felt that it would take all that much. But knowing that even some simple things were impossible in the world I lived in, that was pretty depressing.
Jonathan found me some time later, still sitting there. He pulled up a chair and flopped down tiredly. “You don’t have to tell me now.”
“I don’t have to tell you what?”
“Why you’re sitting here with a Do Not Approach sign over your head. Had enough? Want to go home?”
“Here’s the valet ticket for the car. I’ll just say bye to one or two people and meet you out front.”
“Perfect. Thank you.” I took the ticket and squeezed his fingers a little.
I told him everything on the drive home. He drove while I talked. It took a lot less time to tell than it had taken to happen. I told him about the Tower guy, and about my sudden urge to do something violent to Digger in the men’s room.
“What the hell is wrong with me?” I finally asked.
“I think that’s a pretty normal reaction to encountering, especially without warning, someone you’ve got a lot of resentment and anger built up about,” he said.
“Oh.” It hadn’t occurred to me that suddenly wanting to beat someone’s face in could be considered normal. “And did I really have a Do Not Approach sign?”
“Well, you had some kind of ‘aura of brooding rockstar’ going on, which was why no one but caterers would approach you.”
“And here I thought it was that I was way out on the edge where no one wanted to go. Was that bad?”
“No, dear. A little rockstar mystique never hurt anyone. But anyway, about your dad. Hooked on smack, you think?”
“What else could it be? It was shocking how sick he looked.”
“Green, I thought. But you know, the lights in there, I don’t know. He definitely didn’t look well.”
“Call Sarah Rogue. Maybe she knows something.”
“Maybe I can convince her now to leave him, too.”
“Maybe.” He stretched and yawned as he drove. “You want to grab something to eat? Or did you get enough?”
“I had more than enough. You don’t realize how much you’re eating when they keep handing it to you one bite at a time.”
“I know. I think I ate enough of those coconut-crusted shrimp to last me a week. Home, then.”
The good thing about the company having a big holiday party on a weeknight was that they were closed the rest of the week. So we got in bed that night, put a Jean-Michel Jarre CD in, and Jonathan read a book, and I fell asleep curled up next to him. And we goofed off the whole next day and had a good day doing nothing in a way that’s hard to explain. Say what you will about what was wrong with our relationship, at the time I felt like having an angst-free day like that was worth the price of admission.