When your lawyer calls on the Saturday of a holiday weekend, it’s rarely a good thing.
I took the call sitting on the overstuffed leather couch in Remo’s living room with the cordless phone tucked on my shoulder.
Carynne and Feinbaum were on the line together. I wasn’t sure if they were in the same office on different extensions or if it was some kind of three-way call. I didn’t ask. I had other things to worry about.
“I’ll give it to you in total layman’s terms,” Feinbaum said. “Fortunately it’s real simple. It boils down to BNC is not budging, not an inch, not on anything.”
“We’re rapidly coming to the point where the only action left to take is to start lobbing lawsuits their way, and the problem with them being so aggressive is that they may try to pre-emptively file against us first.”
“Do not, under any circumstances, use your stage name. Don’t even walk into a record store and introduce yourself. If you play a gig for some reason–I don’t care what, coffee shop, opening act, whatever–do not have them put ‘of Moondog Three’ on the flyers. Don’t even put it on a handwritten sign if you play on the sidewalk, you got that?”
“I got it, but it’s okay because–”
“What name have you been working under?”
“My real one. That’s what I was about to say. I’ve been using nothing but my real name for months.”
“Okay. That should be okay. If they decide that ‘Daron Marks’ infringes on ‘Daron Moondog,’ just to be dickish, that’s a case we can win. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s precedent. Good move.” He cleared his throat. “They may send some nastygrams to some of the other record companies about it.”
“To be dicks. Honestly, I know the biz is full of slimewads on one end and corporate incompetence at the other, but I’ve never had to deal with a more assholish bunch of people than I have for your case.”
“I feel special.”
“Don’t take it personally. I can’t imagine it actually has anything to do with you.”
“Or our former manager?”
Carynne cut in. “You think Digger fucked us over somehow?”
“I wouldn’t put it past him. Car’, I haven’t had a chance to catch you up on this weekend’s news.”
“Wait, what news?”
“Digger showed up here uninvited, got in a drunken fight with Remo, then collapsed from liver failure.”
“But let’s not talk about that right now. Feinbaum, what do we do next?”
“Lie low. We still need to run the audit.”
Carynne jumped in again. “We’re going to wait until the end of January to do it, so we can get the full fiscal year’s reports. I think it’s fucking insane Mills slapped us with the unrecoupable tag before the Christmas retail numbers. That’s bad faith.”
Feinbaum huffed. “But not actionable bad faith. You heard from your singer?”
“No. I take it that means you haven’t either.”
“Not a peep,” Carynne confirmed.
Feinbaum: “Make sure he’s not using his stage name either. He just went by ‘Ziggy Moondog?'”
“Yeah, when he bothered to have a last name.” Hell, I hadn’t even known his real name until he signed his band contract with me.
“Ziggy’s his real first name?”
“Far as I know.”
“You better check with his manager, make sure the word gets passed–”
“That would be the asshole with the liver failure,” Carynne explained. “Daron, I’ll call you back later to get the gory details.”
“Okay. I’m here until around dinnertime, then I’m heading back to West Hollywood, but I don’t know if I’ll be available by phone.”
“Call you in a bit.” She hung up.
Remo reappeared when I went to put the phone back in the charging cradle. “What’s up?”
“You know it’s bad when even your lawyer uses the terms dick and asshole.”
“That bad, huh?”
“That bad.” It was starting to sink in, for the first time since that day Mills had dropped the bomb, that Moondog Three might actually be dead in the water. I’d really felt that firing Digger had been a huge step in the right direction, but was it too late? And I’d really felt that Feinbaum going to bat for us was going to shake something loose. Now I wasn’t so sure.
The feeling I had then was just plain awful. I can’t even describe it. I felt ill, almost like sick to my stomach, except it wasn’t only my stomach, it was like an all over ill that only intensified when I thought about people like Watt, who had worked so hard to get the band off the ground, and Carynne, who could have had a much better career with someone else if I hadn’t dragged her along with us. I didn’t want to cry. I wanted to… turn back time.
And that only deepened the feeling I’d been having, ever since arriving here from Mexico–no, ever since the last show in New York–that something had happened that night that sent us into the Twilight Zone. So many times I’d felt, with Jonathan, with L.A., with gigs, with Lacey’s drama, like it wasn’t real. Like I was merely going through the motions of a rehearsal of some kind. Because I was waiting for my real life to start again.
Maybe it wasn’t going to start again. Maybe Moondog Three had been the dream, and now I was awake and this was reality.
“You want to sit down?” Remo asked.
Apparently I had been standing by the phone for quite some time, staring into space like I was shell-shocked. “Um.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
I looked at him. “You’ve already done everything I can imagine.”
“Reem. What if I never get my band back?”
His face was grave, but his words were sensible. “Then you’ll move on to the next thing.”
“Like a so-called nomad,” I said, too serious for a pun.
“Really, Daron, don’t think it’s all downhill from here. Moondog Three’s only the beginning, not the peak.”
“And if it isn’t?”
“Then it isn’t. Thank god you can work.”
“True. True.” I took a few deep breaths, trying to dispel the feeling I didn’t know how to process. I looked at him again. “I need to go home.”
“You want a ride? Or you want to call Jon–”
“I mean home home. To Allston and the guys.” I counted Carynne among the “guys.”
“Yeah, okay. That’s too far for me to drive. But I’ll drop you in West Hollywood. I think we should swing by the hospital, too.”
“So you can find out the medical details on your old man.”
“Seeing him’s the last thing I want to do.”
“So don’t see him. Talk to the nurse, maybe a resident, at least.”
“No. I’ll call on the phone maybe, but I’m not showing up there. You know he only listed me as next of kin so I’d be in line to pay for the funeral if there was one, right?”
“Or the medical bills,” Remo deadpanned. “Yeah, I know.”
I picked up the phone. “What’s the number of the hospital?”
He told me and I transferred around departments a bunch, almost got transferred to speaking to Digger himself at one point I think, but I finally got across that I was trying to get an update on his condition from an actual medical professional not from the patient, at which point they put me on hold.
And then Carynne came through on call waiting. I clicked over to her, told her I was on hold with the hospital and didn’t have time to give her the rundown on Digger’s hate-filled tirade at the moment, then went back in time to hear someone hanging up. Dammit. I went through the hospital phone tree again, this time got to the right person a bit more quickly, told them we got “cut off,” and finally they put me through to a doctor of some kind. The kind of doctor who works on holiday weekends, I guess.
The conversation went something like this: “Mr. Marks, it would appear that your father is a very lucky man.”
“You mean lucky to be alive?”
“And lucky that he’s being treated at an early stage in his liver damage. The cirrhosis is minimal for a man who drinks as heavily as it would appear he does, and if he never touches another drop, chances are high his liver will recover. Are you who we should speak to about getting him into a treatment program?”
I started to laugh. First Christian, then Ziggy, now it was Digger’s turn to detox? Jeez. I sobered up to try to explain. “I’m actually estranged. If my father wants to get into a treatment program he’s on his own.”
“Let me make sure you have the phone number of his secretary, though, in L.A.”
After that I called Carynne back, but got her machine. I left her the same gist the doctor had given me, and then I told Remo I would take that ride into town if he was still offering. We had lunch on the way, to fortify me before my big talk with Jonathan, which I knew was coming.
I went inside braced to launch right in. But he wasn’t there. I looked everywhere to make sure he wasn’t doing what I might have done, i.e. hide in the shower. Or the closet. Yeah, that would be really literal-metaphorical, wouldn’t it? He must have gone out shopping or walking or drinking.
I tried the thought on for size that maybe he was already out cruising for someone else, but it didn’t fit. More likely he was in the coffee shop writing a journal entry about everything.
I searched the house again, this time to mentally catalog my stuff, in preparation for moving out. I didn’t have a lot. I hadn’t accumulated anything while I’d been living there and I hadn’t brought much with me. Two guitars and some clothes.
I sat down and tried to figure out if it made sense to pack up and get out and just leave him an “I’m sorry” note.
It took some staring at the ceiling, but I eventually came to this conclusion: It made sense if my goal was to get the hell out. It made no sense if my goal was not to rip his heart to shreds on my way out the door.
Was how little I’d brought to the apartment a sign of how little I’d brought to the relationship?
I contemplated how different this was from my sudden exit from Providence. Was it? It was difficult to even compare. Living with Roger hadn’t been anything like this. Well except that it really did seem like I was barely camping out in both places. And the whole waiting and hoping for the other person who lived there to show some interest in sex because otherwise there wasn’t any.
That was the point where I nearly started to cry and Jonathan wasn’t even there. Was that really what the fuck was going on here? Was I re-living some kind of fucked up pattern I got programmed into while I was too fucked-up to know better? At a basic emotional level, I wasn’t even thinking about it that sophisticatedly, though. I was just thinking: I’m doomed. It was as if it didn’t matter whether I was with someone like Roger, who acted like he could barely stand me, or Jonathan, who loved me and wanted the best for me, the end result was the same: I was like the hungry orphan in Charles Dickens, except instead of an empty bowl I had my dick in my hand, begging for scraps.
Roger used me. I knew that by then. I wouldn’t say he abused me, because I think it would be disrespectful to people who have been abused to compare Roger’s push-me-pull-you shenanigans to that. I was never threatened with violence. I always felt I could walk out if I had the balls. And that’s what I did, without looking back. I assume he didn’t even miss me and maybe even felt relieved to be rid of me.
I wondered what Roger was doing, then.
I wondered if Roger was even alive. Probably. He was so paranoid about sex that he sometimes put a glove on just to jerk me off. We never had penetrative sex.
Something clicked. Duh. I had known almost nothing about HIV when Roger and I had moved in together. Granted, most people knew almost nothing then. But gay men had been in the know. Somehow I’d made the assumption early on that Roger wouldn’t fuck me because he didn’t care enough about me. But maybe he was just paranoid…?
No, examined in the light of what I then knew about safe sex and Roger’s habits, I decided it was still the case that Roger didn’t care about me. I’d felt remarkably little guilt walking out on him, effectively firing him as lead singer and leaving him in need of a roommate who didn’t mind living on a fold-out couch. Because there was no “relationship” there. By mutual denial of there being any such thing.
My palms were sweating from thinking about it. Four years ago. Four years ago I would have punched you in the face if you’d said I was gay. Four years ago my idea of “good” sex was my roommate quelling my protests long enough to rub his dick against my spine until he came. See, this is why it wasn’t abuse. I didn’t lie there in the dark at night praying he wouldn’t do that to me. I would pray for> him to.
Was Ziggy Roger all over again? I admit–now–that I jerked Roger around musically. He was a good singer and had good presence, but he couldn’t write to save his life. I guess there was a weird way in which I needed someone like him and he needed someone like me, both sexually and musically. But it was too dysfunctional to last. “It.” There was no “it.” It wasn’t just that Roger didn’t care about me. I didn’t care about him, either.
Ziggy once accused me of caring about staying in the closet more than I cared about him. He didn’t use those exact words, but thinking about it now, yeah, that’s what he was saying.
Well, you know what, Zig? You know what I was afraid of? It’s happened. Band dead, contract in dispute, persona non grata to the record company, career over. And you know and I know that “homophobia” doesn’t actually explain low album sales, but that doesn’t make it not the cause of all the destruction and ruination.
It’s happened. It’s happened. Does that mean I should have tried harder to stay hidden or that I should have said fuck it, it’s going to happen anyway?
If it meant you stayed, if it meant I got to tell you that you were more important to me than the closet, I would have thrown caution to the wind. Because hindsight is 20/20.
These were the thoughts I was having while Jonathan was on his way home. So by the time he got there, I was tear-streaked and on my knees in the living room, with my face in the couch.