Digger met me for lunch at the Imperial Tea House, a big two-story Chinese restaurant around the corner from the loft. I shuffled my feet a little faster down the street when I saw him, standing under their bright red awning in the wintry drizzle, the lapels of his collar hunched up around his neck.
“What are you doing out here? You could wait inside.”
“Wanted to be sure I had the right place. Figured I’d see ya if you went walking by.”
A surly waiter in a tuxedo showed us to a table under a wall sculpture of a phoenix that looked like it had seen better days. The paint on its light bulb eyes was scratched and the wings were chipped like an old plate. I remembered there was a carton of uneaten lo mein in the fridge at the loft waiting for me and ordered General Gao’s chicken.
“So, the kids like me, huh?” he said as he poured tea into two cups.
“Yeah, they think you’re alright.” I dumped sugar from paper packets into mine. “But you know, we’ve been doing okay thus far.”
“I didn’t say you weren’t.” He slurped his tea and made a face, too hot.
“You’re right. There are things we need. I need somebody to do our taxes, and I need somebody to set up health insurance and that kind of stuff. I admit I can’t do it myself.” I turned my tea cup in my fingers, around and around, getting ready to lie. I wasn’t going to tell him I’d left Watt a message this morning. “But I’m not ready to give anyone else the power to make decisions. I… I gotta be the one driving the train.”
“But someone else lays the track?”
“Maybe that wasn’t the best analogy.” I felt my heart start to beat faster. “What I’m trying to say is…” I was supposed to tell him what we’d decided last night, to ask him to be our accountant, essentially, on a trial basis. But I couldn’t seem to get the words out.
Food arrived and I sat staring at it, watching it steam, not making a move to scoop any onto my own plate while my throat got tighter and tighter. Digger started putting rice onto his plate and put some onto mine as well.
“What I’m trying to say is…” You kicked me around when I was a kid and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
He started to eat and I followed suit. Digger ate by mixing his rice and food with a fork and then shoveling it onto a spoon. When I had a chunk of chicken in my mouth he said “I’m not asking you to give up any control. Why don’t we do this. You tell me what you need, and I’ll do it. That’s all.”
“Fixed—-” I choked on a piece of rice and had to start again. “Fixed price, no percentages.”
“What, are you going to pay me by the hour?” He put his utensils down when he saw that yes, I was. He cleared his throat. “Okay, that’s fine. I can see that. Why are you looking at me like that? You’ve got that suspicious look on your face.”
I put my utensils down, too. “And why shouldn’t I? You show up on the doorstep, unannounced, after disappearing with no word…”
“Wait, hang on.” His eyes went dark and I noticed how deep the wrinkles around his eyes were. “You ain’t exactly been the most communicative. And I’ve been trying to call you for weeks, months even.”
“Did you leave a message?”
“Hell no. I hate those damn things.” Answering machines, I assumed he meant. “And didn’t I talk to you that one time…?”
“Yeah.” During the last tour, tracked me down in a hotel. “And you wonder why I’m suspicious? You’re like, fucking stalking me, Digger.”
“This business has made you paranoid, kiddo, and it makes me sad to see.”
“Don’t you fucking patronize me…”
“Keep your voice down.” We both looked around to see if anyone was looking at us. No one was.
Digger put his hands on the table cloth, fingers wide. “Look. I know, the ideal parent–I haven’t always been. I understand if you’re pissed at me.”
“Pissed!” I couldn’t get into words the fact that the whole last six months I’d lived in his home he’d treated me with open hostility. Then again, maybe that one word was enough, because he then said,
“I was having a really rough time there for a while. Maybe you were too young to understand.” I had no way to tell if his buddy-buddy voice was genuine. “I wanted out, I knew I had to get out. But I felt trapped. Courtney was only nine, Lilibeth’s tuition skyrocketing, and Claire, picking away at me, every day, like her only pleasure in life was torturing me.” Okay, that seemed accurate enough. “And you, I couldn’t figure out how to fix it with you, Daron. Things had gone wrong somewhere, and I didn’t know what to do. Remo was gone, I was chained to that fucking shoe store, and there you were, about to take off and escape the whole thing. I took out a lot of my frustrations on you, I know it, and I’m sorry.”
I wondered if he’d seen a therapist or something because that all sounded really coherent and believable.
“I would have told you when I skipped town, but I didn’t know how you’d take it. I didn’t want her to find me, and I just had to cut everyone off for a while. Start over. So I did. I’m back on my feet, and I’m trying to make right, okay? All right, it’s obvious you don’t want a manager. The last thing I want to do is push you into something you don’t want. But when I saw the article, I thought, shit, I can help out. I’ve got the skills and the contacts. For once, maybe I can do the right thing. If you don’t want the help, I understand. It’s more important to me that … ah, jeez, this is going to sound corny.”
Man, what a speech. I waited for the punch line.
“I’m asking you to forgive me here, or-—!” He must have seen the look on my face because he quickly added, “Or just to think about forgiving me some day. I know I got a lot to make up for and I don’t expect it to happen all at once. If there’s something I can do for you, I’m just asking you to let me do it.”
I swigged back some tea. “Digger, you have to know that sounds like a load of horse shit.”
“I know,” he said, which surprised me. “But it’s true. I mean, what am I supposed to do, make up a story? Give me a break, kiddo. Apologizing ain’t my strong suit.”
“Yeah, ain’t that a bitch,” I said, but in the back of my mind I was starting to smile. What a piece of work.
“So, what do you say? I’m groveling here.”
“And you’re not pissed that I want to get you to do all the shit work and then dump you as soon as I find a manager I like?”
His face was a little red. “Course I’m pissed. But I gotta take what I can get. Throw me a bone, here, Daron. I mean, I’m begging you to let me do your taxes. How weird is that?”
“Okay, okay. You can do the fucking taxes. We need an accountant, and I guess you’re as good as any.” We shook hands and both of us were smiling. Clearly we both needed our heads examined. We ate for a while without saying anything, and then I said, “I mean, there’s the fact you’re my father.”
“What’s that mean?” His eyes were on the passerby out the window, not on me. He seemed a little goosed that I hadn’t closed the subject completely.
“I mean, no one takes celebrity parents seriously. Look at Brooke Shields, her mother supposedly her manager… what a mess. Or, who was that kid…”
He swirled the tea in his cup and looked into it as if the leaves might tell him something new. “You got a point there. But, hey, I’m not about to change my name.”
I blushed, I know it. Did he think my name was stupid? I pretended I wasn’t blushing and looked into my tea, too. “So it’d be a secret.” Just what I needed.
“If you think it’s best. Now that you point it out, you’re right–I, I shoulda thought of that myself. You know I just want what best for you.”
The sprain throbbed and I wondered how today’s rehearsal would go. I didn’t want to think about the fact that there were, what, twelve days until the concert?
I was distracted by my thoughts and almost didn’t hear him when he said “Let’s get this in writing, what do you say? I’ll have my office in New York fax us some boilerplate. I’ll pick it up at the hotel and meet you later at, what’s the name of the place?”
“Mondo Z Productions. It’s right around the corner. I’ll show you.”
Two waiters, I’d lost track if they were the same ones as before or different, took our plates away and handed him the check. Of course I let him pay it.
(By the way, I swear the parallels between this song’s lyrics and the argument between me and him were not apparent to me until I went looking for a Clash video to paste in here. Jeez. But now that I noticed, I have to keep this one. I was originally thinking ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ was going to be more apropos, but no. Wow.)