98. What’s the Matter Here?

Tuesday afternoon we moved into a new rehearsal space, one where we could let loose a little more, and where we could start recording. Chris had a friend at company called Mondo Z Productions, with a recording studio and video production company with facilities in a loft outside of Chinatown. Most of their crew was in Florida filming something for a couple of weeks, they didn’t mind making some rent money back from our being there.

Something told me the fact that they’d probably read the Spin article didn’t hurt us either. They left us the keys, the phone number of the superintendent, and a case of Hope Lager in the fridge.

The only drawback to the place was it was a third floor walk up, with a little dumbwaiter not big enough for Christian’s bass drum.

“Remind me,” I said, as I lugged an amp up the stairs, “to hire some guys for the load out.”

Chris came up behind me with two crates of cords and things. “Sure thing, boss.”

“Now don’t you start with the ‘boss’ thing,” I said as I reached the first landing.

“You got it, boss,” he said and kept climbing.

We started rehearsing with our old live set. Only a few months had passed but already there was a nostalgic feel to doing some of those tunes that way. My brain went into autopilot and I let the set sweep me along. Bart and I dug hard into the familiar riffs, mirroring each other across the floor. Ziggy started out stationary but was soon prancing and stalking in front of an imaginary audience. The loft was huge, big enough to play tennis in except for a low ceiling, with a sound booth and recording rooms built right in the middle of it with sheetrock and drywall. Ziggy weaved in and out of support pillars a hundred feet away from where the amps were set up.

When he tired of that, he turned to face the three of us, and sang to us. I felt a kind of gnawing ache by the time we were finished with the set. I sat down on a crate and pretended to tune.

“What did you think, Daron?” Bart came up to me. “Not too rusty, yet.”

“No,” I said, trying to look up and smile, but I couldn’t. “Got to work in some of the new material though.”

Chris rumbled through a quick drum break. “How long do we get?”

“A half hour.” That’d mean seven or eight songs for us.

He and Bart talked back and forth about where to put different songs in the set or what we should cut. I was listening with half an ear while the rest of me sat there picking through a melody, numb and blank. When I did have a coherent thought it was something like: why did I want to kiss him again so much when I’d made up my mind–I thought–to stay away from him?

I put the guitar aside and got myself a beer without looking at him.

“Alright,” I said, focusing on Chris, “What if we try putting Way of Life in second or third? It’s hooky enough that even if it’s unfamiliar I think it’ll hold up. Let’s save Windfall and Intensive Care for late in the set. Maybe do them back to back…?” Outside it was full night and through the big windows I could see late commuters piling up on the on ramp to the elevated highway. “Why don’t we run through the new stuff?”

“Uh, boss?” Ziggy spoke up from where he sat on the couch along one wall. “I haven’t had anything to eat today. Could we have a dinner break, first?”

I hadn’t eaten anything that day either, but the thought of sitting in uncomfortable silence with him in a restaurant didn’t spur my appetite. “Why don’t you three go and get something while I poke around here.”

Bart looked as if he might say something, then laid his bass into a stand.

Within minutes the three of them were tromping down the stairs, joking and laughing about something.

From the windows I watched them head into Chinatown. I finished my beer, opened another, and explored the studio control room. Mondo Z had a nice setup here, with fairly new equipment that looked like it hadn’t been used much, a Mackie mixing board and monitors, and several racks of video and film components that I didn’t dare touch. Not quite Fort Apache, but I liked the place.

I had brought three guitars up here, my standby Fender Strat, the Ovation semi-acoustic, and one Korean-made acoustic twelve string I hadn’t played much since buying it right after we’d come home. (Yes, that’s right, I couldn’t help it–I now had enough guitars that I didn’t know them all well, yet.) I sat on the couch then, letting my fingers strum over the double strings, watching clouds come into the city’s winter glow and singing. And asking myself over and over in my mind, what now? Could I make it right between us, or could I at least make it so I didn’t get this feeling like there was an empty hole in my chest every time I heard his voice or got close enough to touch him? How?

I didn’t have an answer by the time they returned with a take out carton of lo mein for me. I had another beer and felt a little better. I put the noodles in the fridge for later. We ran through three new songs at full volume several times apiece. I think I might have almost forgot about the whole mess with Ziggy except he would catch my eye in the midst of a lyric, and throw a little growl or scowl I would know was meant only for me. I wasn’t as steady on my feet as I would have liked to have been, probably thanks to the beer, and the strings felt slick under my fingers. Around eleven we got stuck on the bridge in Windfall and I gave up.

“Let’s try this again tomorrow. I’ve got a headache.” I was already making a note to myself to try that section with the twelve string. “We’ve got to tighten up that break in ‘Walking’, too.” I sat down on the couch, feeling tired now that the buzz of the beer and the music was gone.

Chris laid his sticks across the top of his bass drum. “It’s only eleven. Anyone up for seeing the Learys? They go on at midnight.”

“Yeah, I’ll go,” Bart said.

“Not me,” Ziggy said. “Got plans.”

But Ziggy lingered around after the other two had left. He stood at the windows looking at the highway and said, flat out, “What are you thinking, Daron?”

And maybe because I was startled, I blurted out exactly what I had in my head. “I’m thinking maybe I can’t handle us sleeping together right now.”

“Because it freaks you. Because you’re scared.”

I cleared my throat. “Yeah, basically.” I sounded miserable even to myself.

He was shaking his head like he couldn’t believe it–or maybe like he could. Then without saying anything else, he left, his boots ringing on the stairs as he went down.


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