I did as Flip did when I pulled up at Remo’s, stopping short of the garage door and leaving it closed, to keep things quiet. As I slipped the key into the front door I had a ridiculous deja vu to sneaking back into my parents’ house in New Jersey.
I really haven’t said much about what it was like living there after Remo and the guys left for LA. The truth is I don’t much like thinking about it, and there isn’t a lot to tell anyway. I was a very angry, very sad, very lonely, antisocial kid, stressed constantly by raging hormones and a homelife where I really did not feel wanted. The people who could tolerate me were a group of burnouts who thought the guitar was cool and the guys liked that I never put the moves on their girlfriends. I was not close to any of them but when you’re desperate for any kind of social interaction, you take what you can get.
I think I fantasized more about being in a band then than I did about sex. Which was to say a lot about both, but remember I was so messed up about sex. I didn’t even want to think about it sometimes. I picked a gym locker as far from the varsity area as I could for obvious reasons. Okay, in case it’s not as obvious as I think, it was because there were jocks there who did shit like make guys pull their pants down and bend over and threaten anal rape if they didn’t. Which if you think about it makes no sense. Making sense was not high on their to do list, though. A popular substitute teacher got caught at the rest area a couple of miles up the highway where everyone “knew” the cocksuckers went–or where they used to go since then they closed the rest area, as if that would make the infestation of perverts go away.
I remember trying to make sense of it. How did it work? Did you drive into the rest area and park and flash your lights or something? In my mind I imagined the guys there to get sucked would stay in their cars and the guys willing to do the sucking would wander up and down. And then, did they do it right there in the car? Or drive somewhere else? Or was it more like they just went behind a tree? At age 15, 16 I was desperate to know how that sort of thing worked, and I’d try to figure it out in my head–often while jerking off, I admit–and in the end I still didn’t know, but I’d have a handful of hot gloop and be sick to my stomach.
I’ll tell you the truth: I still don’t know how it worked. I’ve never had rest area sex with a stranger and I hope I never will.
But anyway. That substitute teacher was disgraced and humiliated and I don’t even think he ended up going to jail but it didn’t matter. His life was basically over. He didn’t kill himself (as far as I know) but there were other people who did. A guy a couple of towns over who was caught with Polaroids of naked boys. I’m sophisticated enough now to know a pedophile is a whole different kettle of fish from just a closeted gay man, but at the time I didn’t. The TV news and the homophobes in my life sure didn’t.
So is it any mystery that I was completely fucked up about sex and being gay? The only gay man I knew–or suspected I knew since of course we never talked openly about it–was Martin’s old roommate Oliver, who was a male stripper and not exactly a shining role model. I took refuge at Martin’s once in a while before Nomad left for LA. All total I probably met his roommate half a dozen times.
I fantasized about Oliver an unhealthy amount.
But like I was saying. I fantasized about being in a band way more. I felt no guilt over those fantasies. They were occasionally elaborate, including details like what brand of drums the kit was (Tama), where the bass player was from (Florida, Ohio, Canada, depending on my mood), things like that.
And I practiced. After Remo left there weren’t a lot of places I could go to do that. I put in hours and hours at the music store where if there wasn’t a lesson going on, I could use one of the tiny practice rooms. Remember how my mother had banned me playing in the house because she didn’t like the noise? I eventually decided if she couldn’t hear it, then it was okay. I would wedge a towel under my bedroom door at night when she was asleep or when she was watching TV and I would practice the electric guitar without amplification.
Some people–even some really good musicians–hate to practice. I’m not one of them. Maybe because when I was practicing I was in charge of my world. I was in control. I was doing something good for myself and for my life even if right outside that door I was worth less than nothing.
I’ll stop talking about it now because honestly, just remembering how much self-hate and self-loathing I was steeped with makes me a little sick to my stomach. The relevant bit is that there were times when I was sixteen, seventeen, when I would be out late and when I didn’t crash on someone’s couch and I would try to sneak back in as quietly as possible. Claire slept with earplugs in but the reason she did was because she was such a light sleeper.
A motion-sensor light had been installed in the back yard so coming in through the kitchen door was not the greatest option. So I used the front door. I was usually successful, but it was stressful. Once in a while she would throw the deadbolts, which required a key I didn’t have, just to spite me. I eventually figured out a way to break into the house that she didn’t know about, which only worked if one of the louver windows on the porch was open enough for me to get my arm through, bend the screen, and unlock the porch door. Of course she never said a word about the fact that I appeared to be successfully indoors in the morning.
Anyway, that was probably why I had this spike of anxiety when I put my key into Remo’s front door. That and I was still turning over the latest Ziggy facts in my mind. He’d invented an excuse to be in LA so that he could see me, and yet at other times he seemed to be avoiding me, but wouldn’t talk to me about it in anything but the most evasive manner. Not exactly confidence-inspiring.
I let myself ninja-quiet into the living room and then startled: Melissa was standing just beyond the pool table with Ford cradled on her shoulder, doing the baby-hop. “Jeezus.”
She made a shushing sound, but then said, in a quiet voice, “I keep thinking he’s about to pass out…and nope. The little night owl wants to be up. If I try to lay him down in the crib, he cries.”
I didn’t have anything helpful I could say to that. “Um, hope he gets tired eventually.”
“Yeah. Could you do me a favor, though? I’ve had to pee like crazy for twenty minutes and I can’t put him down or he’ll cry and wake Remo up.”
“Um, sure?” It hadn’t penetrated into my brain yet what she was asking until she tried to hand the baby to me.
So then I had my arms full of baby and she pretty much ran to the bathroom. I went around to the couch to sit down where at least if he wiggled out of my grip he’d land on something soft. I sat him in my lap with my hands under his arms to hold him upright. He batted at the buttons on my denim jacket. Like a cat. I felt like I should be petting him like a cat which just goes to prove I had no idea how to treat a small human and “like a pet” was the next closest thing in my mind.
“Hey, Ford,” I said. “You gonna let your mom and pop get some sleep now, hey?”
No reply, of course.
After I gave him back to his mother I went to bed and I slept like a baby. Which was to say I woke up after four hours, hungry and cranky, and couldn’t get back to sleep.
(This song went to #17 in 1991. I’ve never been happy with how generic Gloria Estefan’s biggest hits were often–like Amy Grant’s–really watered down bland pop ballads instead of the exciting, fresh, multicultural music that the early Miami Sound Machine songs were. But I can’t fault those career choices and I sure as hell can’t fault her for this incredible comeback after terrifying injury. By the way, that is New Jersey native Jon Bon Jovi introducing her.)