(Saturday post! Also, Happy Pride Day in Boston! -ctan)
“Sex has always been easy for me and hard for you,” Ziggy said. The statement would have come out more clinical sounding if he hadn’t also leaned over and wiped his eyes on the sleeve of my black T-shirt. His face was less raccoon-like now than it had been when we started talking. I felt that was a victory of sorts.
“It’s not quite as hard for me now,” I said, a little afraid to admit too much and set him off. “At least, not when there’s not a lot at stake.”
“Ahhh.” He nodded like he knew what I meant: I didn’t mean just that “casual” sex wasn’t a big deal to me anymore, but that sex between him and me always had a lot at stake. He got it: “And there’s more at stake right now than ever.”
“Feels like it, anyway.” I took a deep breath and tried to let it go bit by bit.
“So what old habit are you going to kick?” He leaned against the back of the bench, but it was too careful, too posed to be actual nonchalance. Maybe that didn’t matter. He was signaling to me he was relaxed and ready for whatever answer I gave.
“What did Digger tell you about me firing him?”
Ziggy made a dismissive noise. “Nothing, really. Acted like it was no big deal, like it was all status quo. Made it out as if you and he and Carynne had been talking for months about a ‘transition’ once she was ready. I mean, I knew you wanted to fire him but the only way I knew you actually did was Alex Mazel told me.”
That surprised me. “When did you see Alex?” From Nomad.
“At some function in L.A. He commented to me he was surprised to see Digger walking around upright because the last time he’d seen him he was being taken away in an ambulance.” Ziggy was looking past me, his eyes glittering. I didn’t think he was focusing on the statue. “Digger of course hadn’t bothered to mention his hospitalization to me.”
“So you know about how he showed up at Thanksgiving at Remo’s house, uninvited? Remo read him the fucking riot act and would have kicked him out except he collapsed and, yeah, ambulance.”
“That’s pretty much all I know. That wasn’t when you fired him though, was it? You aren’t the type to kick a guy when he’s down, Daron. I really can’t picture you standing at his hospital bed and telling him to take a hike.”
I took another one of those deep breaths. “Am I that soft?”
“You make it sound like it’s a bad thing.”
“It is if keeping him for as long as I did is what sank us.” That was one of those thoughts that kept me up at night. What if I’d had the courage to fire him earlier? Or not hire him at all? Would a better manager have worked things differently with BNC from the start? Then again, maybe it would have been worse. There was no telling. Ziggy was giving me a bit of a blank look. “Wow. You really don’t know what’s been going on?”
He shook his head.
“I fired him the day he wouldn’t stand up for me or the band when Mills called us in to the office to tell me to my face–” I had to stop and take another deep breath, and to remind myself not to shout. There were kids close by. “–that they were dustbinning the album as unrecoupable because I’m gay.”
Ziggy gave me–or that thought–the hairy eyeball. “I thought the album didn’t sell.”
“The only reason the album didn’t sell goes all the way back to what Digger himself said the month it was released: they didn’t put enough copies out there. It’s a fucking travesty that we could fill a twenty-thousand seat arena in Houston and not have a blip in sales there.” I paused to try to remember what I was actually trying to say, though. It was hard to remember because it made no logical sense. “The whole business about them not knowing what bin to put us in, yadda yadda. Mills mentioned that but then handed me a pack of paparazzi photos of me and Jonathan holding hands in a parking lot and tried to lay on some bullshit about how that kind of thing turned off the American public.”
“Like people would give a fuck?”
“Well, even if they would, the American public never saw those photos. Because Mills paid off the photographer. And as far as I know there’s been zero word in the tabloids or wherever about me. So how could it be a PR problem? It’s a scapegoat problem is what it is.”
Ziggy nodded gravely.
“There was one of you and me in there, too. A photo, I mean.”
“Yeah.” I remembered so clearly what his weight had felt like on top of mine that night he’d collapsed after the show at Madison Square Garden. God, I missed him. I had missed him. “Backstage at MSG.”
He bit his lip which trembled a little.
“But anyway, at that meeting–which was while you were still at Betty Ford–I fired Digger.”
“Your hands are shaking.” He took hold of mine, one in each of his.
“Smartest thing I ever did,” I said.
“But traumatic.” He squeezed gently. “Was there violence?”
I had to think. “I smacked him in the face. Digger, I mean. Mills had already waltzed out. Digger said something vile and I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
Ziggy nodded. “He didn’t hit you back?”
“Nope. Maybe he thinks we’re even now. I dunno.”
“He smacked me that one time, that one awful time, and now I got him back? I don’t know.” I squeezed Ziggy’s fingers in return. “Anyway. About old habits. I vowed no more violence after that.”
“You’re not exactly a violent person, D.”
“No. But…” It was odd to hear Ziggy say that, when he was the only person, other than Digger, I had hit. “Are you sure?”
He raised one of my hands to his lips and kissed the knuckles. “I’m sure.”
I shook my head. “I should never have raised a hand to you.”
“You learned it from him.”
“That’s my point. That’s what I’m trying to stop. That’s what I’m trying to get rid of.”
“You’re trying not to be like him. But I’m telling you, Daron. You’re not like him.”
“I keep thinking I’m not, or that I’ve moved on, but his bullshit seems to keep cropping up again and again.”
“When are you going to stop giving a shit about what he thinks?”
“I stopped giving a shit about that a long time ago.” Especially after firing him, I thought. “That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean shit like… I’ll say something and it’ll sound like it came out of his mouth. And then I’ll hate myself.”
“Don’t hate yourself. What kind of things?”
“Like calling you a whore earlier.”
“Ah.” His eyes fluttered closed for a second and I wondered what was going on inside his mind. “That was… not the best moment for either of us.”
“Yeah, no.” Apparently we were both ashamed of our outbursts. Him staying calm helped me stay calm.
“I’ll make you a deal,” he said, looking down at our hands instead of at my face. “Call me on it if I try to play the victim card, and I’ll call you on it if you’re acting like Digger.”
“Okay, deal.” For the sake of being specific, I added, “And I won’t hit you or call you a whore.”
Ziggy pursed his lips. “I’d say that was a pretty reasonable word to use, given that what I’d done was fully deserving of the label. But, you know, if I’m going to stop sleeping my way to the top it won’t be because I’m ashamed of it.”
Sex has always been easy for me and hard for you.
“Why will you stop, then?”
“I already told you, but I’ll tell you again. For you, Daron.”
“Thanks, I think?” From one angle that seemed really straightforward. From another angle it was twisted. I decided the only logical thing to do was stay at the angle where it looked straightforward. “Do you like it, though?”
He shrugged. “I like exerting control. But there are ways I can do that without being a whore.”
“You’re the only person I know who can use that word with a straight face.”
“To mean what it actually means? Someone who trades sex for something else?”
“Yeah. I mean, seriously, would I have even called you that if I hadn’t grown up hearing it? Digger liked to throw it around whenever he was upset with my mother. I mean, even when he shouldn’t have been. For fuck’s sake, she would get dolled up to go out with him, to look pretty for his sake, and he’d make comments…” I trailed off, remembering what Remo had told me in Japan, about Claire and him.
“What?” Ziggy asked, while my brain tried to integrate what I knew with my childhood memories. Digger calling Claire a whore took on a different dimension in light of what I now knew. Was he rubbing her face in it all the time?
“Digger’s an asshole,” I said, which was the only reasonable conclusion. “My mother… cheated on him. He knew about it. They tried to manipulate each other constantly. I can’t…” I felt a little ill, thinking about it. “I can’t do it that way.”
“You need honesty,” Ziggy says seriously.
“Some people can’t live without the lies that prop them up,” he said, without any apparent irony.
Fine. “What about you?” I asked gently, more a plea than a demand.
He licked his lips. “For me, truth and lie aren’t two mutually exclusive states with a wall between them. You know that.”
“That doesn’t make sense, though. If you ate the last piece of blueberry pie, either you did or you didn’t.”
“Okay, let me rephrase. When it comes to matters like identity and relationships I don’t think there’s always a binary between honesty and dishonesty. And trying to break everything down to this or that is just wrongheaded and reductive.”
“Give me an example?”
“Okay. For example, it’s reductive to say you had to be either happy or sad after you fired your father. It’s perfectly possible you could have been both.”
“Huh.” In the case of firing Digger I was more like neither. But after I had broken up with Jonathan? Hell, while I was still living with him? I could see it. There were things almost every day that made me feel both happy and sad, relieved and anxious, and so on. “I guess… I guess I can see that.”
We were silent for a while. The children were quieter now: there were fewer of them. The park was emptying out a bit. Mr. Boombox had gone. That probably meant we needed to go, too.
“What next?” I asked.
Ziggy sighed. “I go back and play nice.”
“You do?” My hackles rose, literally, the hairs on my scalp standing up and my heart picking up pace.
“Daron. There are a lot of pieces in play when it comes to career here.”
“Calm. Calm.” He was still holding my hands. He squeezed them gently until I relaxed my fingers. “Let’s not make any decisions yet, okay? I won’t make any commitments. But I need to feel them out, find out what they’re actually thinking, and find out what’s on the table.”
“They want me and the guys to quit and to reposition you as ‘Ziggy and the Moondogs’ with a backing band,” I said, sounding nowhere near as calm as I wanted to.
“And what do you want, Daron?”
I want you, I thought. I want you and you and that’s it, I don’t care about the details, I just want you beyond all sense or reason.
I didn’t say that, of course. Because I knew the details mattered, and I knew I’d be miserable if I went along with what Digger and Mills wanted.
“I want you at a band meeting on Tuesday,” I said. “Allston house. Basement. Seven o’clock.”
A smile spread slowly across his face. “I think I can manage that. Now let me go before Tony has a coronary.”
I had tightened my grip again, I guess. “All right,” I said, but I didn’t let go.
He leaned over and kissed me then, gentle and almost tentative, until his tongue coaxed my lips to part, and then he sucked the breath right out of me. I wanted to pull him closer, but once I let go of his fingers and reached for him, he skipped away. He turned in a circle and then blew me a kiss goodbye before running away, laughing gleefully.
His laughter was infectious. Despite my doubts, despite my fears, as I sat there I found myself smiling.