Tread and I seemed to be hitting it off and he asked me to ride in the bus with him part of the way north. He played guitar, too, and we spent a couple hours of the trip jamming back and forth with blues and other stuff, until our fingers were sore. He had long straight black hair and at one point I asked him how he kept it from getting caught under his shoulder strap all the time. He handed me a loop of elastic.
“Ponytails,” he said, “they’re not just for yuppies, anymore.”
I gathered my hair up into the loop; the last time I’d tried something like that it hadn’t been long enough to do so without looking stupid. When was the last time I had it cut? When I lived in Providence?
Tread had other little bits of wisdom, too, which was funny when you consider that he was only about two years older than me and probably only had a few months more touring experience. But he seemed to like this big brother role thing, and talking with him was a better way to pass the time than sitting in our own bus with Ziggy while trying to pretend he wasn’t there.
“I always pack a pair of clean socks and underwear into my bass case,” he said. “If my regular luggage gets lost, at least there’s a better chance this’ll turn up.”
“What about a shirt?” I asked.
“I can always get one from concessions.”
The lead singer, Jay, the one with the blond dreadlocks who’d spent the night with Carmen in LA, came down the aisle and asked us if we wanted to smoke. “Weed, that is.” he said. “Driver says it’s okay if we keep the window open.”
The guitar player, James (now you can see why I kept getting their names mixed up) joined us, and we passed another hour that way, until our pitstop at a restaurant somewhere in the middle of nowhere. In a stoned moment I wondered if there was any way to be sure we were going the right direction.
John, the road manager, showed us to a private room in the back of the place, a train car diner that had sprouted a few extra dining rooms four times as big as the original place. “I recommend the chocolate cream pie,” he said as they brought us all menus and then he went off to do whatever road managers do when they disappear–to confirm our hotel reservations? Talk to the diner manager? Chocolate cream pie sounded good. Bart reminded me to eat something else, too. I settled on a hot open roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes. When he couldn’t finish his fries I ate those, too, sopping up the extra gravy on my plate. “Make a note where this is,” I said to him. “In case we come this way again.”
“You seem to be enjoying yourself,” he said.
“Why, are my eyes bloodshot?”
“Only a little.” Bart leaned forward so his shoulders almost touched the edge of the table and I knew he was holding Michelle’s hand under the table. Aww. “It’s good, though. You seem more relaxed than usual.”
“I just like being on the road, I guess.” I mean, hey, I got to play so much music my fingers hurt and I got to do so much of another certain something that certain other parts of me hurt. And I was happily stoned and well-fed. “I think I need a nap, though.”
We were still a few hours from Portland so back into the buses we went. This time Christian took my place in the MNB bus. I really was sleepy, so I arranged myself–head toward the rear of the bus–and folded up my arms to sleep. Bart and Ziggy watched a video, some standup comedian from the bus’s tape library. My eyes closed. When I opened them again, we were pulling in to the parking lot of a motel.
Rooms in Portland must have been cheap because every member of the entourage had his or her own room. John told us all that soundcheck was the next day at 2, then we’d play, and then it would be into the buses right from the show to Seattle. This place had real metal keys for the doors, not the mag stripe card key things we were used to. I had a little trouble fitting mine into the door, but then I was in. I put my bag and acoustic guitar case on the floor and lay down on the bed closest to the bathroom–like I always did. Funny how habits form. Matthew had always taken the bed closest the windows and I’d always taken the other.
Someone was knocking on the door. I got up to look through the peep hole in the door, but there wasn’t a peep hole. So I opened it. No one there. Then I heard the knock again–it had come from the connecting door to the next room. And then Ziggy’s voice. “Daron? Are you conscious?”
I opened the correct door and he poked his head in. “Your room is a mirror image of mine.”
I went to lie down again, but he took me by the arm and pulled me into his room to show me. “See? Four beds.”
He was starting to undress me, which, tired though I was, felt nice. “See, four beds. That’s three where we can leave a wet spot and a fourth where we can sleep.”
“How nice,” I said as he went to work on my fly. I took over then and sat down to take off my sneakers. He began to strip himself. I lay back and thought about it… this was what, the fourth? fifth? night that Ziggy didn’t disappear with some woman out of the crowd, leaving me wondering when and if he’d be back? Five nights that I didn’t lie awake chewing my calluses and wondering if I should masturbate. He bounced onto the bed next to me.
“Do you have a headache?” he asked.
“Come to think of it, yes.”
“I can tell because you’re frowning.” His fingers smoothed over my forehead.
“I should know better than to get stoned in the middle of the day on an empty stomach,” I said, and reached for him.
He batted my hand away. “Lie still. Let me take care of you.” He rolled me onto my stomach and began to press his hands into my back. After all the time I’d spent hunched over an acoustic guitar with Tread, the massage felt almost as good as sex itself.
Almost. After a while he lay himself down on top of me and I felt his erection nosing at my ass. I spread my legs for him and didn’t worry about anything, anymore.