(It’d be great if we could get 50 people to take this quick survey about loading times for DGC! Get a timer and go: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/W7NWDPG -ctan)
Bart picked me up at six as planned but with no plan for where we were going to eat.
“How about Bertucci’s?” Michelle suggested. She had grown her ringlety hair out gloriously and had adopted almost Ziggy-like dark eyeliner, giving her a more Bohemian look than she used to have. “I love their rolls.”
“But I don’t love their pizza, and neither does Daron,” Bart pointed out.
“Oh, right, I forgot you believe deep dish is a crime against nature.” She turned in the front seat to look at me. “Where do you want to go? Any place you’ve been missing?”
“There’s that place in Chinatown we used to eat at all the time,” I said. “Haven’t been there in forever.”
“True. Parking might be tough at this hour but let’s try it.” He turned left when we came out to the main drag.
Michelle and I did a lot of the usual catching-up talk, and it I found it fascinating what she was up to. Not just that she was designing handbags but that she was involved in this whole manufacturing business now, that Bart’s dad had helped to finance. She would design the bags or accessories or what have you and then she would go to Guatemala to teach the women in the factory there how to make it, and then they’d do the sewing and stuff and then ship it–in actual ships on the ocean–to the U.S. Her customers were mostly funky but upscale boutiques in the States who would find out about her products at trade shows where she exhibited.
I was fascinated enough that I kept asking more and more questions while Bart circled looking for parking and even after we’d sat down in the restaurant and ordered.
“The game-changer for us would be if one of the chains like Urban Outfitters wanted to go in on something,” she said as the waiter put forks down next to our chopsticks because we weren’t Asian. We always ate with chopsticks because, I dunno, aren’t you supposed to in a Chinese restaurant? But the waiters in this place always gave us forks just in case, I guess.
“Is there a chance your stuff will be in Urban Outfitters?”
“Yeah. If they decide there’s a pillow or a shoulder tote they want, they’ll buy the entire production run. In fact, to keep up with other orders we’d probably have to expand, and then you have the challenge of needing to keep up that higher level of production to keep your workforce, despite the lowered take.”
“The chains get a much bigger discount than the individual stores, so you don’t make as much per unit sold, and you’re supposed to make that up on the fact that manufacturing more of the same item should be cheaper per unit. But in our case that’s not really true. Efficiency doesn’t increase by that much when you have to hand-bead the strap or whatever.”
“Then is it worth it to sell to a chain?”
“If I don’t, then there’s a chance they’ll either just make a knockoff themselves using even cheaper labor, and then I not only get nothing, I’ve actively hurt my future chances for earnings.” She shrugged. “There’s also the ego factor. It’d be awesome to have something on sale in every mall in America.”
“But wouldn’t you have that anyway if every mall had an independent boutique carrying your stuff?”
“Yes, but most malls have hardly any independent stores at all and the ones that are out there don’t buy in large quantities. So reality is if I want that mainstream ‘hit’ then a chain is the only way to do it. We’re doing more with pillows and throws trying to capture the Pier One, Crate and Barrel market. Home accessories is ever so slightly less cut-throat than fashionwear accessories.”
“Wow.” Half my brain was having flashbacks to the horrible temples to conformity I’d spent a lot of my teen years trapped in–shopping malls–and half my brain was trying to imagine if the recording industry worked like that. “Imagine if record companies only printed a certain number of a record, only sold it in one chain, and once it was gone it was gone. The band would never make another dime.”
“The scarcity is part of the appeal in fashion,” Michelle said. She had grown her hair out longer but had tamed her ringlets with some kind of product and pulled it back in a scrunchie in anticipation of the food coming. “People are constantly out there looking for the ‘right’ thing, whether it’s to dress themselves or their home. They want something new since if you wear the same old thing again and again that’s not fashionable, but they have to find the right color, the right look, the right feel. It’s all about ‘what does this pillow or couch or dress or scarf say about me?’ And they know if they see the right thing they better grab it because they might never find it again. Do they want something classic? Or something multi-culti? Multi-culti is very hot right now and that’s why my stuff is taking off.”
Bart tried to get a glass of water from the waiter who grunted noncommittally. “People do that with music, too. They like or dislike a band based on their own self-image.”
“This is why homophobes supposedly didn’t buy our records,” I reminded him wryly. The waiter put down a pot of hot tea as he passed by. “Because I held hands with Jonathan at a party once.”
“Okay, explain that to me,” Michelle said, pouring the tea into the small round cups and pushing them toward us. “Because Bart’s told me the story and it didn’t make sense but maybe it’ll make sense if I hear it directly from you. Daron, not to be coy or anything, but you’re not the one who projects a queer image to the public. That’s a hundred percent Ziggy. And yet you guys are dropped and Ziggy gets re-signed for a multimillion dollar deal.”
I sighed. “It’s not going to make any more sense when I explain it.”
“Can you try? Without popping a vein, I mean?”
I tried to laugh, couldn’t, took a deep breath. “Apparently not.”
“I can,” Bart said. “Motherfucking Mills wanted to drop us and to do it he made it a personal attack on you. Totally uncalled for when he could have just told us goodbye and then stonewalled us.”
Which was more like what usually happened. I thought about Sarah saying Mills was a closet case and wondering if that was really why. Or if Digger was part of it…? I mused aloud. “I wonder if Mills was just seeing if crushing me would prove he had Digger by the balls.”
“Oh, totally,” Bart said. “Especially given what’s happened to Digger since.”
Michelle looked confused. “What hap–oh, right, you did tell me. About him showing up destitute and asking for money. You think he made such an ass of himself that Mills thought the only way to get rid of him was to jettison Moondog Three and attack you personally?”
“Anything’s possible when Digger’s involved,” I said with a shake of my head. “In related news, I’m kind of warming up to Ziggy’s new manager.”
“Which is good,” Bart said, “since you technically work for him now.”
“So do you, technically,” I said.
“Yes, boss.” Bart waved to a waiter in a second attempt to get a glass of water—possibly third, if you counted he probably asked when we had ordered our food in the first place, too.
“Okay, next on the agenda,” Michelle said. “What movie are we seeing?”
“Bart said you’d know what was playing.”
She pulled a copy of the Phoenix out of her tote bag, which was made of several panels of brightly colored fabric, dotted with beads. I guessed it was one she had designed herself. “There are always cool indie films at the Brattle, and then there’s whatever’s new from Hollywood…”
The food came while she was reading off listings to us, and we paused in our discussion to devour everything that was put down in front of us. Or at least that’s what I did. That was how I usually ate anyway, but the workout probably made me extra hungry. Bart was always good at keeping up with me, too. Michelle had used to joke, back when we were students, that she never had to go on a diet as long as she just ate her meals with us, because we’d eat most of it before she had a chance. (Which was why we let her take some first before we dug in.)
Michelle opened the paper again while we were polishing off what was left on the plates. “All right, let’s see. There’s a Steven Segal action flick, that firefighting movie, that lesbian movie, that goofy-ass thing with Billy Crystal as a cowboy, no way we’re seeing that. Kevin Costner as Robin Hood—”
“Saw it in New York,” Bart said, then added quickly, “But I’d totally see it again if that’s what you want to see.”
She started to laugh, but tried to stay on task. “There’s a new Keanu Reeves movie coming out but I don’t see it here–”
“Lesbian movie?” I finally got my mouth to say.
Michelle huffed. “Okay, I don’t know if it’s really a lesbian movie or not, but it’s Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. Everyone’s talking about it.”
“Oh, you mean Thelma and Louise,” Bart said. “Don’t they die at the end?”
Michelle made a face. “Ugh. Now you ruined it.”
“No, Hollywood ruined it by always killing off the marginalized,” I said and they both looked at me like I had two heads.
“Have you been talking to your sister a lot?” Bart asked.
“Um, yeah. She’s already given me a whole rant about Thelma and Louise.”
“Okaaaay, skipping that one.” Michelle clucked her tongue. “The Keanu Reeves thing doesn’t open for a couple weeks. Looks like a surfing movie.”
“Keanu Reeves is okay, I guess?” Bart sounded confused. “Why are you so fixated on a movie that isn’t even out yet?”
“Daron likes him,” Michelle explained.
“I do? I mean, I do, but I’m amazed you remember that.”
She smiled. “You want to know the truth? First time I wondered if you were gay was at a party at Ruth’s in Providence and you and I got talking about Keanu Reeves.”
“Wait. I remember that. River’s Edge had just come out.”
“First thing I asked Bart when we got home was whether you were gay, and Bart said you were having some kind of weirdness with Roger, which pretty much sealed the deal for me.” She raised an eyebrow. Her voice was casual and calm but her face said she knew it wasn’t a casual subject for me.
I blinked. “What did I say about Keanu Reeves that made you wonder?”
“Nothing in particular beyond the fact that you were interested enough in him to know his name when he was still almost nobody.”
Bart touched a waiter on the sleeve as he breezed by. “Could we have some water, please?” Then he looked at me. “I took it as a good sign that you were comfortable enough with Michelle that you’d let your guard down enough to talk about it.”
“A good sign for what?”
“You know, like the sign of approval that she was the one.”
“Oh, you mean like if your dog wags its tail at your new girlfriend she’s okay?” I asked.
“Not that I’m comparing you to a dog,” Bart said.
“No, I’m the one doing that to myself, but hey, c’mon, I’m the one who picked my stage name.” I was still trying to backtrack to Keanu Reeves though. “You thought I let my guard down?”
“Yeah. You were so clammed up most of the time, I guess to prevent yourself from giving yourself away, I think I met you three times before I actually knew what your speaking voice sounded like,” Michelle said. “And it was months before I had any idea what you looked like under your bangs.”
“And that was because they finally grew long enough you started tucking your hair behind your ears,” Bart said.
“Huh, okay, but wait, how did we get on the subject of what a closeted nerd I used to be?” I shook my head like that could clear it. “Oh, right, how Michelle knew I liked Keanu Reeves. Got it.”
“And look at you now–you’re not even freaked out that we’re talking about it.” Michelle raised her teacup to me. “I’ve missed you, you know.”
Well. Color me surprised.
We ended up seeing the Segal movie, by the way. And while we were sitting in the theater waiting for it to start, Bart asked her, “What was so funny earlier?”
“Something about…Kevin Costner?” He sounded like he was treading carefully.
“Oh! When you were all apologetic about going to see Robin Hood without me.” She put her hand in his. “I didn’t tell you. I’ve seen it twice already.”
“With two different sets of girlfriends. Costner is okay in it but Alan Rickman is the best.”
Bart was laughing. “You. You are the best.” He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
I felt like even though Michelle and Bart were each the same as ever, their relationship had changed in ways I didn’t understand. At least they looked happy?
Later I’d report to Christian that they seemed like they were getting along fine for a pair of total wack-jobs.