It was so much easier to learn Nomad’s set when I had more than two days to come up to speed. Also I wasn’t the only one coming up to speed, since there was a new horn section (one sax, one flugelhorn). Learning new songs is much more fun, in a way, when you have plenty of time to play with them. I say “in a way” because I suppose it depends on your definition of fun. I can’t say I didn’t somewhat enjoy doing what I did in Japan: I did. But it was kind of nice to have the leisure to take more time.
Not that I didn’t get impatient with the process once in a while, but I could tell myself to chill out. I wasn’t driving this bus, and we were all going to get there together. This was a band that was content to spend an hour eating lunch in the middle of the day. That meant ten or twenty minutes of actual eating and the rest of the time shooting the breeze. Someone had set up a basketball net in the parking lot and sometimes during breaks we would go out and play two on two or three on three. Don’t laugh: being tall is only an advantage in basketball if you’re an athlete playing other athletes. Martin was so much taller than me that he had trouble blocking my shots. I don’t think of myself as particularly agile but being younger had some advantages, too. It was fun and half the time we didn’t even keep score.
But enough about the technicalities of rehearsal. I should talk about Ziggy.
I got a call from him after I’d been in LA for a couple of days. That evening I dropped Remo off at home and set off to figure out where Ziggy was staying. LA has a lot of areas. It’s so spread out you can’t really call them neighborhoods: I mean Hollywood and Beverly Hills and East L.A. Well, technically there’s also the problem that what most people call LA isn’t really just the City of Los Angeles, it’s the whole of LA County, which includes Santa Monica and Burbank and Long Beach. And then there’s the confusing fact that West Hollywood, where Jonathan and I lived, is its own city, whereas Hollywood is only a neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles.
This is all a long way of saying Ziggy was in an out-of-the-way place that wasn’t any of the places I expected, i.e. he wasn’t at the Bonaventure or in Century City. He was at a bland kind of “business” type hotel sort of near the airport. I guess the important thing was it was nearish to where they were “filming.” I didn’t ask what was being filmed. It could have been a commercial or a video or a movie for all I knew and I didn’t really want to know.
I went to the room number he gave me and knocked, then heard a bang from inside the room that gave me a heart attack, and then his voice cursing loudly, which calmed me down a little.
He didn’t open the door, though, which I found a bit worrying, so I knocked again.
When he opened the door I caught a whiff of smoke and something that smelled like…barbecue? Ziggy had one of those slightly manic I-am-totally-innocent-nothing-to-see-here grins on his face. He was wearing plain blue jeans and a white tank top, with his hair lightly gelled and no makeup other than what might have been a bit of yesterday’s eyeliner still clinging.
“Everything all right?” I asked.
He snickered and stepped back to let me into the room. “I was trying to make myself a snack.”
The front half of the room was like a small living room. In the middle was the bathroom and in the back was the bedroom. It was the same size as a regular hotel room but by putting the bathroom in the middle like that they created the effect of a two-room suite. At the pass through by the bathroom was the “kitchen,” i.e. a tiny sink, cabinet, coffee maker, and microwave oven.
The microwave door was open. “Trying?”
He went and looked into the sink. I looked with him.
The partially obliterated corpse of a hot dog and a plate that had cracked in half were sitting there.
“You didn’t poke it,” I said.
“You have to prick it.”
“That sounds even dirtier.”
“The hot dog.” I couldn’t help myself. Instead of saying you have to make a hole in it, I said, “You have to penetrate the skin,” which made both of us snort with laughter. And of course the more he laughed, the more I laughed, and the more I laughed, the more he laughed, until I had to lean against the counter.
“I know that now,” he said, when we were able to talk again.
“Are you hungry? I know a taco stand in Silver Lake that’s open late.” Or maybe it was in Los Feliz. I’d have to find it by feel.
His eyes lit up. “That would be fantastic.” He pulled on a leather jacket, socks, and boots and out we went.
“You don’t have to check in with anyone about where you’re going?” I asked, as I unlocked the doors of the SUV.
I figured it was going to take an hour to get there, because yes, it takes longer to drive across Greater Los Angeles than it does to drive across the state of Rhode Island–not exaggerating. This isn’t a knock on Rhode Island (or Los Angeles) by the way, just a fact.
“How’s rehearsal going?” Ziggy asked.
“Great. I’m having a great time. Hey, how’s your vocal coach doing? I mean, how’s the training going?”
“Unf, it’s fantastic. Fantastic, I tell you.” He rolled down his window partway but then rolled it back up again, whether from smog or chill I don’t know. “It’s not just the range. I’ve got more timbres now.”
He said it the way musicians do: “tam-berz.” “You always had really great expressiveness,” I said.
“Yeah, but she’s really allowed me to get technical about it. I told you that, though. At Christmas. Didn’t I?”
“Maybe? If it was at that party where I drank too much I might not remember.” I wondered when I’d get to hear him air it out. Patience, patience.
“Did you see Val Kilmer is in that movie about The Doors?”
“I’ve seen the billboards but I’ve been too busy to watch TV. Is it good?”
“I haven’t seen it yet, either. But they spent a huge amount of money making it.”
“Thirty-four million. Or so I read.”
“I guess it’s more expensive to put a fake rock band on the road than a real one.” I craned my neck trying to read the street signs. We were going the right way. I could feel it. “How much of that was Val Kilmer’s salary?”
“No clue.” Ziggy shrugged and looked out the window.
We were there before I knew it. Time flies when you’re chatting a mile, I guess. There wasn’t any tension between us so everything just flowed.
We stood in line at the taco stand with a couple of other random people who seemed uninterested or unaware of celebrities in their midst.
“If they have it, get the tongue,” I said to Ziggy, which started another round of immature laughing from us, but god, it was so good to laugh with him.
We got two orders of tongue tacos and one fish and sat at a picnic table on gravel a couple feet from where the SUV was parked, pigging out.
When we were done, Ziggy said, “That beat heating up a hot dog in the microwave.”
“Was there even a bu–never mind. I don’t want to know.”
“I wonder if I broke the microwave.”
“It’s probably fine.” My hands right then were not much cleaner than the inside of the oven had been. I licked my fingers. “I wonder if there’s somewhere here we could go to wash up.”
Ziggy went and asked the guys working the taco stand and they suggested the grocery store up the street.
“Up the street” in LA terms meant like half a mile away, so we drove there. After we had washed up, Ziggy went to pick up a couple of other things.
He paused in the aisle in front of the bag of marshmallows. “Have you ever microwaved a marshmallow?”
“No, but Bart did a marshmallow Peep at one point.”
“Peeps! This is the right time of year for that!” The next thing I knew he had two packs of Peeps and a shopping cart. “You know what else we should try microwaving?”
“A bar of soap is supposed to be the coolest thing.”
He put a bar of Ivory soap into the cart.
“I seem to recall it being a thing to do in the dorm kitchen with grapes,” I said as we neared the produce aisle. “If you grease the bottom of the microwave, the grapes emit steam and shoot around like little rockets.”
So we bought a can of Pam and a bunch of grapes.
And, you know, we chattered away for the hour it took to get back to the hotel, and then we stayed up nuking things and generally having a good time.
And we didn’t fall into bed together until it was nearly two in the morning, when I wouldn’t say we were running out of things to talk about, but we were both out of patience for playing chicken about it. It wasn’t the best sex we’d ever had, but it wasn’t the worst either. It was familiar. It was Ziggy.
Afterward I had to leave. It was that or get up at the crack of dawn to try to get back to Remo’s at rush hour? Not a good plan.
“When am I seeing you again?” I asked as I leaned over him to kiss him goodbye. He was still in bed, under just the thin sheet, while I was fully dressed.
“I’m in town a couple more days.” He caught my hand and rubbed his face on it. “Let’s go see a show. Or a movie. Let’s do something together.”
“Okay.” I agreed without really thinking that through, but then again, why the hell not?
“Late tomorrow. I think we’re taking Sunday off.”
“I think we are, too. I’ll have to check.”
“Kiss me goodnight.”
I did as he asked and then did that satisfied just-got-laid saunter down to the parking lot. That had all seemed really…normal. I wondered how much of it was really as free and easy as it had seemed, though, and how much was Ziggy really putting in an effort. I didn’t know. But I decided it was better to take the good times when they happened, even if they were sporadic, than it was to dwell on how it might all go wrong next.