Why do I always upchuck in Texas? Is it something about Texas? I think it must be.
The less said about Dallas the better. The show was fine, really, except for me drinking too much whiskey and not enough water. (Or Gatorade. When I mentioned that Colin used to essentially force me to drink an entire bottle of the stuff before every encore Flip was like “why didn’t you tell me that before?” and took it on himself to start doing it.)
Just as well we left Dallas right after the show and when I woke up we were in Colorado. This may be why sometimes in the map of my mind those two states are really near each other and sometimes they’re not. Sleep long enough and your tour bus can go really far.
We had a night off in Denver. Remo and I went to do a drive time radio appearance a little after four o’clock. By 5:30 we were in a bar somewhere with the program director and the head of promo from the station.
I was good and tipsy when we got back to the hotel and the unfortunate thing is that I tore Flip’s head off. I confess I don’t remember how it started but thank goodness Flip is both a good enough friend to not take it personally and a master psychologist when it comes to musicians. He basically said, flat out: “I forgot you’re such a loner. Daron, take a chill pill, willya? I’ll stay out tonight. Doctor Flip prescribes some alone time for you, you get me?”
I sobered up later, while lying alone on a hotel bed, looking at the ceiling and thinking, actually, he was completely right, what I actually need is for everyone to get out of my face.
But after I’d been alone for several hours, around midnight, I called Remo’s room to see if he was there.
He answered the phone with, “Yeah.”
“Hey. It’s me.”
“Hey, me. You doing all right?”
“Listen, if you’re ready to give me some actual advice instead of pseudo-parental bullshit, I have a question to ask.”
“Well if you’re going to be a snarky little shit about it, come do it to my face,” he said, but not in a nasty way. Call me weird but it felt more like he was being refreshingly blunt. It made me feel more like we were rock solid, not less.
So I went to his room. He was alone. He had poured me a peace offering of his good bourbon before I got there so I took it, intending to not actually drink it. He sat down on the small couch that was in one corner of the room and I took the rolling chair that went with the desk.
He took a swig and then leaned his forearms on his knees. “So what’s your question?”
“Promise you won’t laugh if it’s too stupid.”
“How about I promise I won’t get angry, instead.”
“Is that a promise you can keep?”
He raised the glass toward me. “Good question. I’ll at least try.”
“Have I changed a lot since I was a kid?”
The expression on his face said what the hell kind of question is that, but he appeared to consider it before answering. “Yes and no. I think you’ve come out of your shell a lot. But what’s in the shell is the same, if you know what I mean?”
“Huh. I guess.” That wasn’t the question I wanted to ask, of course. That was the question before the question. “So the thing is, I keep trying to change for the better. I think I’m getting there. But am I just fooling myself?”
“You mean, are you a better person now that before?”
“Um, maybe?” Was that what I meant?
“You’re a man now, not a child, but even as a child you were always acting like a grownup. You always seemed like you were trying to skip childhood.”
That wasn’t an insight I expected. “Really.”
“Yeah. But you were always a good person, a hard worker, never took your talent for granted or slacked off because you were talented enough to.”
“How do you know that? You didn’t see what I was like at conservatory.”
“Am I right?”
“Well, yes, but how do you know?”
He shrugged. “Because you haven’t changed.”
“Okay.” He was right about that. I had worked myself half to death in music school and now I could hardly remember why. Because that was just what one did, right? But this conversation wasn’t about that. “But I have changed in some ways, I think. Like I used to be an idiot about my…about being gay, and I’m a lot calmer now.”
“Sure.” Remo took another sip, waiting for me to say more, I think.
“God, remember when I flew all the way to your house to tell you?” I held in a nervous laugh, flashing back to it. “And I was so stressed out I almost puked over the back deck.”
He smiled fondly. “I thought you were going to pass out and fall in the pool or something. You were so spooked.”
“And then you already knew!”
“I did.” He nodded, remembering, too.
My stomach gave a little clench in flashback. I took a deep breath. “So I’ve come a long way from then.”
“Okay so if I could figure that out, why can’t I figure out how to get along with everyone?”
His sandy eyebrows drew together. “What do you mean? You get along great with everyone. Even me when I’m being an ass. Speaking of which, I know you don’t appreciate me pulling the father figure card on you. That wasn’t…that wasn’t what that whole business was about. Or it wasn’t supposed to be.”
If he was going to go right to the heart of the matter, so was I. “What, the whole thing with you disapproving of Ziggy?”
He pulled a face. “Yeah. Look. Speaking as a friend and not as a, what did you call it? Pseudo-parental figure. It’s a friend’s job to tell you if they think you’re being stupid, but it’s also a friend’s job to help support you if you make a disastrous choice. That goes for relationships and for business.”
“Shouldn’t that be what parents do, though?” I asked. “Warn you if they think you’re about to do something stupid, but be there to help you if you did it anyway? Instead of threatening to withdraw that support if you do something they disapprove of in the first place?”
“When did I ever threaten to withdraw my support from you?”
Whoa. I set the whiskey down. Somehow even though I hadn’t intended to drink any, I was halfway through it and that wasn’t helping me keep track of what we were saying. “Not you. Not you, Remo. My actual parents. That was them every step of the way my entire life.”
I waited for a few seconds but when he didn’t go on I said, “So, what are you saying, really? Are you telling me you think I made a disastrous choice in relationship? Or in business?”
“Neither, yet. I’m saying I’m realizing if I’m going to be your friend and not the new father figure for you to hate, I need to be more of a friend and less of a… a…”
He snorted bourbon out his nose—which triggered me to laugh hysterically except I tried to tamp it down because he was obviously in a lot of pain, because it took a full minute for his sinuses to stop burning enough for us to start talking again.
“I deserved that,” he said, dabbing at his face with a bandanna and then stuffing it back into his pocket.
“We both were stupid the other night,” I admitted. “But I think you meant what you said and I meant what I said. I think relationships have to trump money. You mean a lot more to me as a person than as a…career path, does that make sense?”
He set his mostly empty glass down next to mine carefully, like the booze had turned to nitroglycerin or something. “It makes perfect sense.”
“At the same time, though, I seem to have this thing about only hiring my friends and people I already know, so maybe I’m not the best person to talk about keeping work separate from personal stuff.”
“Sometimes those things can’t be kept separate,” Remo said. “You can’t change who you are.”
“Wait! But that’s what I’m trying to figure out!” I knocked my knuckles against the desk. Hard. “Ouch. About when the hell am I going to get used to working with everyone.”
“Okay, back up, that’s different from what you said before. Before you said ‘getting along with everyone.’ Is something going on that I should know about?”
“I had a flip out at Flip earlier tonight and he was like ‘you need to be alone.’ And I was like fuck yeah, I do. And I lay there alone feeling immensely relieved. Like I couldn’t wait to just get rid of everybody. Like I was going to go postal on the next person who tried to talk to me.”
“Maybe you just needed to blow off steam.”
“Okay, but what does that mean? Does the top have to blow off Mount Daron every so often and when it does everyone just has to suffer?” That was pretty much how Digger was, now that I thought about it. Another damn thing I inherited from him? “That doesn’t seem fair, or healthy.”
“What else did Flip say?”
“Nothing other than ‘see you in the morning.'” I shrank down a little, feeling like a heel.
“Daron, you’re a good person and everyone on the crew likes you. If you need a little time to yourself–” He sat up straight suddenly, realizing what he was saying, I guess. “Just say so. And I mean that. Say something. Don’t just sneak off or disappear.”
I had realized the same thing. “You think the reason I disappear is…I’m trying to escape?”
“Maybe? You got a better explanation? It sure isn’t because you’re an irresponsible prima donna.”
“Listen, it’s not that I don’t want to be here. I do.” I had a moment of panic though, wondering, was that what was going on? Was it that I really didn’t want this gig?
No. I wanted to be here. But I also wanted to reconnect with Ziggy and I wanted to figure out what else was going on in my career.
One thing at a time. “I’ve been kind of dancing around this issue, Reem. I feel kind of like you want me to, I don’t know, take over Nomad? And that just feels plain weird.”
He stood and poured us each a glass of ice water from the bucket, leaving mine on the desk in front of me and taking his back to the couch. When he sat back down he said, “I don’t want you to take over Nomad. But I don’t really know what I want right now.”
“Ah.” How many times had that been my problem? You can’t get what you want until you know what you want. And when you don’t know what you want, you can hurt a lot of people while you thrash around trying to figure it out.
Remo rubbed his forehead. “How’m I going to work this thing with wife and kid? I haven’t figured that out yet. On the one hand, I’ve never been happier. On the other, holy shit what am I doing?”
“Does Melissa want you to be a full-time dad?”
“She doesn’t know. We haven’t figured it out. It’s going to take some trial and error, I think.” He sighed. “So I won’t know what’s up with her, I won’t know what’s up with the band, I won’t really know what’s coming more than four or six months down the road.”
“And you’ve gotten used to a nice, predictable, stable life,” I said.
“Yeah. Ironic, right? A nomad is supposed to be able to roll with the punches, just pick up and move. But I’m getting older, Daron. I started to like it predictable. I liked it.”
I thought about what Flip said, about how when I wasn’t there, the show was the same night after night. “And then along I came and shook everything up.”
“Well, yeah. And that is exciting and vital and good and I should be grateful that you’ve brought so much to the table. Fuck it, I’m going to be paternal for a second: you have no idea how proud I am of you even if it means I’m working ten times as hard to keep up with you.”
I blushed on top of the whiskey heat.
“You have a gift, and you are a gift, to the world, Daron Marks,” he said. “It’d break my heart if you weren’t playing. I don’t mean playing with Nomad. I mean playing out. Playing at all. I know you need to do stretch your wings. That instrumental album is beyond amazing. And who knows what you’re going to do next. Whatever it is, whoever it’s with. I promise I’ll try not to be judgmental about it. God knows you had more than a lifetime’s fill of judgmental-ness from Digger and Claire.”
I realized then that he was just as confused as I was about which parts of my relationship with Ziggy were purely “personal” and which were music/business. Maybe it was time we all just stopped trying to separate those two things and accepted it was the family business and we were all personally invested in it so there was no separating it.
“Thanks,” I said.
After we’d sat there in silence for a bit he asked, “Did I answer your question?”
“No, but that’s okay. I think we answered some important-er ones.” I stood up to go back to my room. “Oh, so before I forget, when we get to LA, I asked Ziggy to come. So if I disappear, I’m not disappeared at all. I’m with him. In fact you might not see me until soundcheck in San Diego.” I knew I could drive there from LA. I’d done it before.
Remo stood, too. He made a slightly unhappy face. “All right. If you’re really going to keep carrying on with him I guess I better get to know him better, though.”
“Maybe I can convince him to meet us for a drink–?”
Remo waved his hand. “Don’t try to set up something this time around. LA will be a media zoo, plus Melissa will be there, and I just won’t have the time.”
“Okay.” I felt a little regretful that Ziggy had turned down my invitation to spend more time with Remo and the gang at Christmas. We’d seen him at that party, but seeing Ziggy at a party was not the best way to get to know the real Ziggy. Which might have explained Remo’s next comment about him:
“Understand me, Daron, if I don’t like him it’s probably as much a reflection on me as on him. He seems like a nice enough kid, honestly. But he pushes my buttons a little. And, you know, it’s really that he reminds me so much of your mother.”
That explained a lot.
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