(Happy Passover to those who celebrate it, and happy Saturday post to all readers of Daron’s Guitar Chronicles! Your donations made today’s post happen! -ctan)
That might have been the first time I ever heard Ziggy admit there WAS a “real” him. I didn’t say anything about it, though. I just let the idea settle like a pebble tossed into a pond, sending out ripples across the surface but coming to rest comfortably at the bottom. A little kernel of contentment underneath it all.
We went on up to Jordan’s loft shortly after that. I managed to forget his partner’s name again. He was even more soft-spoken than Jordan so he never left much of an impression. I wondered if there were people who thought of me like that. Who was that guy who didn’t say much? Especially if me and Ziggy were going to be a couple from now on, if we came as a package, who were people going to remember, him or me? Definitely him.
I realized I was comfortable with that idea. I wanted to be accepted, maybe even liked, for who I was, but at a big social gathering no one was going to really get to know me. Ziggy, on the other hand, wanted to be recognized for what he was—what had he called it, an avatar of free expression? Yes. An idol. An icon. And that was unmistakeable from first glance.
Honestly, if I was an icon of something, I didn’t want to know about it.
The after party at the loft was a necessarily smaller group than had been at the club, with a lot of familiar faces in it. You could never really say Jordan’s “inner circle” because Jordan himself stood in the overlap space of so many circles on the Venn diagram. Matthew had gone home to tend to Archie but I saw other people I knew were in the downtown art and photography scene. There were some A&R types and other record company employees. There were drag queens (and kings) and Greenwich Village personalities. And of course there were musicians and rock stars at varying levels of fame.
I finally caught up with Sarah there. We had a talk pretty similar to ones I was having with a lot of people, of the “oh my god, I heard you had a rough time in South America” variety. And then it was up to me to decide how much to tell them.
I had developed a kind of boiled down version of the story: “Yeah, a bad combination of meds for my hand sent me off the deep end and I ended up hiding on the roof of a hotel. It was bad. But Ziggy came and talked me down. And I’m fine now.” The number of people who took it in stride was on the one hand weird, because you know, what the fuck happened was pretty extreme, but on the other hand was kind of reassuring. A lot of them told me stories about other people they knew who went insane and who turned out okay. You know, like “my brother took all his clothes off, painted himself green, and was found hiding in a cornfield, but he just graduated college and is starting a job in hospitality” or “I dated a guy once who was convinced aliens were sending him messages in the pattern of blinking lights we could see from the airport, which was fine until the messages told him to start building a bomb shelter in our neighbor’s backyard.”
Sarah’s was, “They tried me on an antidepressant once and I had suicidal thoughts for the first time. Like really scarily detailed ones.”
“Holy shit, really?”
“Really. But they took me off it and it went away.” She had changed her hair again, to a really dark red, slicked down and pulled back in a severe bun. The dark red twist at the back of her head matched the dark red of her lipstick. “I’m glad you’re back. In more ways than one. Although what’s with the two of you shacking up in Boston? Are you trying to get away from all this?” She gestured at the loft full of people drinking and schmoozing.
“Yeah, pretty much,” I said. “Although we had to come back for tonight.”
“Did you have any connection with Queen or Freddie?”
“No. Not professionally. Just… spiritually, I guess.” Something clicked for me then and I felt bad about judging all the people who had come to the wake who didn’t have “real” reasons to mourn Freddie Mercury. Most of us didn’t know him, but that didn’t mean he didn’t occupy a place that was important in our lives. I reversed what I had been thinking earlier. The loss of an idol is something to mourn whether you knew the real person or not. Something you held dear has been taken away. That’s the bottom line.
Sarah was giving me a look of slight amusement, like she knew I’d gone off on a stream of thoughts but she didn’t want to interrupt me.
“I think I just figured something out,” I said.
“Funerals aren’t for the person who died. They’re for the people left behind.”
“Are they? I feel like so much of what motivates people to hold them, though, is a sense of obligation to the person who died.”
“Yeah, but think about it. That person’s gone. They’re not around to be hurt by it or to feel proud about it or anything.”
She cocked her head. “I suppose.”
“I guess that’s why they say things like this is ‘to respect their memory.’ Because it’s about respecting our collective idea of what we remember that person to be, what they meant to us.” I felt much clearer about why I was there, then, but also suddenly much sadder. I didn’t know Freddie Mercury but I knew what he meant to a lot of people. And I also knew how late I was to knowing that, how oblivious I had been to the fact that there was basically a giant gay icon staring me in the face for years before I was ready to see it.
Now I was sad and angry not just about losing Freddie—and losing him to “the gay disease”—but about all the lost years of my own life where I could’ve been… what? A wholer person? Yeah, a wholer person.
I had not cried a lot in the past couple of weeks compared to, oh, that last week in South America and the couple of weeks after I got back, when I had really just been a wreck in every way. I didn’t even cry during my last therapy appointment. But I could hear someone else crying–there had been a lot of that, of course–and when Sarah reached out to touch my suddenly superheated cheeks, the waterworks started. She hugged me while I tried to get myself back together. But this crying didn’t feel like the crying did when I was so wrecked, like I was ripping apart at the seams. It didn’t feel GOOD exactly, but I don’t know. Maybe it was healthy somehow.
When she let me go, her eyes were misty. She didn’t seem to know what to say.
I decided to change to subject. “You still seeing that Ivy League professor?”
She shook her head. “Nah, but we’re still friends. How about your sister? She still have a thing going with that woman from Brown?”
I blinked. “When did Cour–” I broke off as I my brain caught up with itself. I had a vague recollection that Court had gone to Providence to see someone before the summer. It hadn’t occurred to me who. “You know more about that than I do.”
“Don’t be such a big brother about it.”
“If you mean overprotective, I think that’s the opposite of what I’m being, given that it never occurred to me to ask who she’s been seeing or not seeing.” Well, as long as she wasn’t getting involved with someone I was involved with, I mean. That’s not being overprotective. That’s being not-incestuous. I didn’t bring that up.
Sarah and I parted, then, while I made my way to the kitchen sink to splash a little water on my face. I dried my eyes on a kitchen towel hung on the handle of the oven. Coming toward me, to look in the fridge for a drink, was Davide. I skirted around him trying to escape the kitchen and realized who was coming directly toward me, though he wasn’t looking at me at the time.
I turned my back to him, just completely not ready to face him at all, which put me directly face to face with Davide, who was just straightening up after getting a beer. He locked eyes with me.
“Hi. Um. Just wondered if there was another one of those in there,” I said, trying to make it seem totally natural and not weird at all that I was suddenly talking to him over the open door of the fridge.
“Yeah, sure.” He reached in again and handed me a bottle of something, and then shut the door. “Do you know where the opener is?”
“Yes.” I pointed at the one set in the wall of the counter behind him. He notched the bottle into it and levered the cap off. It fell into a bowl full of them that had been set on the counter to collect them. He handed me the bottle and swapped it for the one I was holding.
To be friendly, I guess, we clinked bottles. Green bottles of Rolling Rock, I think. I wasn’t paying that much attention to the beer. I was focused on Davide as if doing so could create a force field around us and keep Roger away from me. Also, Davide was apologizing.
“Look, I’m sorry about earlier. I’ve been told I have a really strong grip. I didn’t realize you were injured.”
“It’s all right,” I said. “I should have declined. But I didn’t want to seem like some kind of, you know, celebrity prima donna or something. You know, Katherine Hepburn doesn’t say goodbye, Daron Marks won’t shake hands? That’s the last thing I want.”
He seemed to choke a little on his beer. He had a deep tan–or maybe that was just his complexion–but some redness in his cheeks was still visible. “You’re…not what I expected.”
My turn to choke a little on my beer. “I’m not?”
“If you could hear how Jonathan goes on and on about you–” He broke off and shook his head, smiling. “This is no excuse. But he made you out to be a kind of… giant.”
I laughed and that let him laugh a little, too. “Giant is not a word most people would use for me.”
“Purely metaphorical,” he said.
“That sounds like Jonathan.”
“Yes, rather.” His eyes scanned over the crowded room, probably looking for J. “But you know what I mean. He built you up in my mind so I was kind of… keyed up when we met.”
“Well, now you know the truth. I’m just a guy.” I shrugged and took a swig. I wondered if the problem wasn’t how big I seemed in Davide’s mind so much as how worried Davide was that I was still taking up so much room in Jonathan’s. I remember J telling me he waited a couple of months before he was going to ease Davide into entertainment industry circles. It was exactly this kind of thing he was worried about. With good reason, I guess. When you live inside the circus you forget how it looks to those outside the tent. “He told me you’re a… union organizer?”
“Yes. For the writer’s union. I’m the lead on a grievance committee who goes in to fight when a union member doesn’t get paid by a publisher or magazine. It happens more often than you might think.”
“J’s told me some of his woes in that area, yeah.”
“It’s ridiculous. Some companies seem to have it as a business model to keep costs down–just don’t pay the writers unless they make a big enough stink about it. That way some number of them give up and go away without being paid.” He raised his beer like he was shaking his fist at corporate crooks. “And then even the ones that aren’t outright criminal, they all chronically underpay–that’s standard throughout the industry. Most magazines haven’t raised their rates since the 1950s or ’60s. So even though the top-paying markets are still the top-paying markets, as cost of living goes up, they are functionally cutting their rates. If Harper’s paid $500 for a story in 1950, that was enough to pay your rent and food and expenses in Manhattan for a month or two. Nowadays that won’t even cover a month’s rent in the boonies.”
It was clearly an argument he’d made before, but he delivered it with such conviction and ire I could see why he was attractive to Jonathan.
He went on. “I’m about to start applying to law schools, though. I think there’ll be more I can do to help writers and artists fight corporate exploitation if I have a law degree.”
“Oh, really? That’s… cool.” I didn’t know which was more stunning, that he was turning out to be a paragon for creator’s rights or that Jonathan was shacking up with a future lawyer. “You’ll always have work in that area, that’s for sure.”
“Too true, too true.” We clinked bottles again and drank to fighting corporate exploitation. Then I saw Davide look past me at someone.
I tried to peek cautiously behind me to see if Roger was still there. He wasn’t.
Ziggy and Jonathan were, which in and of itself wouldn’t be a problem, except for the rather entangled-looking pose they were in.
“You know that can’t be what it looks like,” Davide said reasonably.
“I guess we better find out what it is, then,” I answered.