The next day was a day off. The whole entourage relocated to a hot springs resort where the main order of business was soaking in hot water. Some of the tubs were outdoor, and there was much talk about how zen-like the experience could be when sitting in geothermally heated spring water while snow fell. Like something from a haiku. Yeah:
Get me out of here
Sitting still is my nightmare
Get me the fuck out
And it wasn’t even snowing.
Flip, as usual, saved me. We ended up in a round wooden tub by ourselves–one of the hottest ones, which Remo declared too hot for his taste–with a view of the lagoon. Flip, in case I haven’t made it clear, was kind of a hefty guy, built more like a “roadie” than Matthew was. I don’t mean he was built like Arnold Schwarzenegger, not at all, but he had big fingers, a big forehead, and big biceps. I wondered why he was in the water in a baseball shirt–the kind with three-quarter colored sleeves and a white middle–so I asked.
“Dude,” he answered, “did you miss the whole thing with all the bowing and apologizing at the door?”
“I did. What’s going on?”
“The manager was very apologetic but trying to explain to me that basically tattoos are considered obscene here.”
“They are?” That was totally news to me.
“It’s a gang thing, a Yakuza thing,” he said, in a lower voice. “So it’s totally frowned upon in polite society to let your ink show. I’m cool with it. This is totally different from that time I got thrown out of the pool at the Ritz in Dallas.”
It wasn’t hard to get Flip to tell a story, ever. “What happened to you at the Ritz in Dallas?”
“Some junior manager took it upon himself to express that he didn’t like my kind of people, by which I think he meant anyone with a tattoo was obviously some kind of demon-worshipping lowlife. I’m not sure which was the worse sin to him, the devil worship or being of a lower socio-economic class.” Flip sniffed and shrugged.
“So he threw you out?”
“Yep. The funny part is that I was there teching for Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July festival, which is this huge deal. A bunch of the bands and guests were staying there. When someone in the chain of command found out what happened, they pulled us all out of there. Nothing like costing a place a hundred thou in business in one day, eh?”
I did the math in my head. Let’s say the place was five hundred a night, and if the festival ran all weekend each room was probably booked for five nights. So that would be $2,500 a pop. Say it was forty rooms. Holy crap, that would be $100,000. “Where’d they send you?”
“Some friend of Willie’s had a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of town that was closed for renovations but the renovations hadn’t actually started yet, so we all moved there. And that place turned into party central, let me tell you! No one but us there. I never heard for sure if pulling everyone out was Willie’s idea or just something he endorsed. He’s a pretty cool dude. Sticks up for his people.”
“Yeah. Okay, but this wasn’t like that, you say?”
“No. First of all, they were really apologetic here. Second, it was clear it was the tattoos themselves that were the problem, not ME.”
“The manager told me he wanted me to understand it wasn’t that they believe anything bad about me or my intentions, but they wanted me to understand that it’s like a taboo here. And they knew that I didn’t get inked up specifically to come here and bust their taboos, so could I simply cover it? That would make it okay.”
I meditated on that for a while. “But, wait. Isn’t part of the point of getting tattooed exactly to say fuck you to the societal norms that Dallas hotel junior managers follow?” That was pretty much how Colin had described it to me.
“But those are American social norms. I didn’t do it to offend these nice Japanese people.”
“Um–” The hot water was melting my brain. I couldn’t quite get my thoughts to line up. “So which came first, the idea that tattoos are taboo and so that’s why the Yakuza get them? Or is it because it’s something the Yakuza do that it has become taboo?”
“Oh, I see, you mean, is the only reason the yakuza do the tattoo thing because it marks them as outsiders? Or did they end up monopolizing tattoos because people here automatically assume tattoo means yakuza? I have no idea. I’ll have to ask Rocky later.”
Then I quit talking for a while because a couple of the other guys came along then and got in the tub next to ours. They started talking to Flip about something and my mind wandered off.
Shortly after that I was thinking I should really get out of the water because I had this vague idea that being in too long wasn’t healthy. Cray came scuffing by in his slippers and caught my eye.
Yeah, I would much rather be upstairs working on the duet. That was what we were both thinking. So I got out of the water, said so long to the guys, and went to get dried off.
You want a sign of how far I’d come from my terrified and in-the-closet days? I didn’t even blink or think twice about hopping out of the tub and following a guy into the changing room, despite what that might have looked like. Maybe it was because I wasn’t as freaked out about how things “might look” now that I wasn’t trying to hide anything. Maybe it was because I was concentrating more on wanting to play and to have an excuse to go.
We got dried off and dressed and went upstairs to play until it was time to go to dinner. The arrangement was coming out sweet and it got to where we weren’t “working” on it so much as enjoying playing it, meshing with each other. Cray really was decent at the guitar, better than Flip, though Flip could hold his own in a jam session.
When we wound down, Cray asked, “Hey, did you see if they have a shop that sells postcards?”
“I noticed a shop, didn’t notice if they had postcards or not. But what hotel shop doesn’t?”
“I better send one to my mother or I’ll be home for a month before she gets it.” He stood and stretched.
“Good point. I better send some, too.”
So we went down to the shop and bought some postcards. Some I bought to keep for myself since I didn’t have a camera and these were nicer pictures than I could probably take anyway.
One of the horn players, a skinny guy in a skinny tie named Mitch, came into the store, when Cray had just finished paying and I was digging out my own wallet to finish my own transaction.
I swear what he said sounded innocent to me. Well, not innocent. But what he said was meant in a joking, good-natured way, not to be nasty. I think.
He said, “You two sneak off to the Honeymoon suite?”
I didn’t see what happened exactly because they were behind me. But my take is that Cray went ballistic. Mitch ended up with a black eye and postcards ended up all over the floor.
And I ended up all over Cray to keep him from beating Mitch’s face in.
“What the fuck, Daron? Let go of me!”
“Yeah, as soon as you calm down.”
“I am fucking calm!”
“Uh huh. Sure you are.”
Waldo appeared first, two steps ahead of hotel security, and Remo hurried over next, dressed for dinner. They both ended up giving me the “make yourself scarce” look, so I slipped back to my room. The phone rang a little while later.
Remo. “You want to tell me what was going on there? You don’t have to, but I’d kind of like to know.”
“Mitch made a joke. Cray didn’t take it as one.”
“Well, Mitch can be kind of snide sometimes. Did you hear what he said?”
“Yeah. He asked if Cray and I had sneaked off to the honeymoon suite together. And Cray took exception to that.”
“And you didn’t?”
“It was just a joke. I mean, if someone else said it? Or it was done in a nasty way? But it didn’t feel like that.” I thought about how I’d told Cray I was gay and kind of challenged him to have a problem with it. I didn’t think he had. “Wait, you don’t think Cray thought I was offended and so was defending me, sort of?”
Remo snorted. “Don’t think so. I think he acted like a meathead getting called fag.”
“Mitch didn’t use that word.”
“I know. Mitch wouldn’t, because Mitch is gay.”
“What? Are you sure?”
“Listen to yourself, Daron. Yes, I’m sure.”
Okay, so I still had some stereotypes and bullshit to get past for myself, and my “gaydar” was crappy. What else is new? “Then, you know what I think? I think Mitch sincerely thought there was something going on with me and Cray.” I paused, wondering if my gaydar was even worse than I thought. “Wait. Please tell me Cray is straight.”
“As a whistle. I am curious, though, what you two have been spending so much time doing.”
“We’ll show you tomorrow at soundcheck.”
“If I don’t send Cray home on the next plane across the Pacific.”
“He’s not some green kid,” Remo said. “He’s thirty years old, for pete’s sake, and should know better than to punch out another bandmember, and has been a pain in my ass since the day I asked him to come on this trip. Give me one good reason why I should put up with him any longer.”
“Because this thing we’re going to play you tomorrow is going to blow your socks off.”
There was silence at the other end of the phone for a while. Then Remo said, “You’ve really come around about him.”
“If you’d asked me three days ago, I would have probably felt differently, yeah. But the band is starting to gel–”
“One punch could fracture that.”
“True. It’s up to you, Reem. But if you want I’ll talk to him? And Mitch?”
He chuckled. “No need. Mitch isn’t taking it too hard, actually. Feels like he brought it on himself. They made up already.”
“Well, Jeez, Remo, then why give me the third degree?”
“Just getting a fresh take on it, that’s all. Come down to dinner. Everyone’s going to be there.”
“I’ll put on a nicer shirt.”
“And comb your hair. It’s a mess!” he said–I think jokingly.
I gave as good as I got. “Yes, papa.”
“Ha!” He hung up on me and I did a little end zone dance.