Guilt is the weirdest thing. Guilt is like a parasite that doesn’t help the host at all, it grows for its own sake even if it kills you. Yet you’re convinced that you feel that way for your own good. You’re so sure that the reason you feel so guilty is because you actually do know better. The reason you feel that awful gnawing burn in the bottom of your stomach is that you’re doing wrong and if you’d only do right that terrible feeling would go away.
But it’s a lie.
That acid eating you away from the inside won’t simply go away. It feeds on you. So you do wrong–you do something where you pursue feeling better temporarily (drink, drugs, get sucked off by a stranger, whatever your vice is), then you feel worse because of the guilt, and your need to assuage that pain drives you to do the thing you’re not supposed to do. Wash, rinse, repeat. Feeling guilty itself drives you to do more of what you feel guilty about. There’s no way to win.
Guilt is also very isolating. It’s wrapped up with shame and thrives on being hidden. How many years did it take me to break through that cocoon shell of self-loathing and internalized homophobia? All of them. It took all of the years, and I’ve still got clingy bits of it that have to be peeled off and burned from time to time.
Turns out the engine that spins the silk that makes the damn cocoon in the first place is guilt. When you feel guilty you isolate yourself and that helps it to self-perpetuate. Because you can’t perceive clearly what’s going on around you from inside the cocoon. You miss what’s going on with other people, misinterpret what you do see, and you worry way too much about how much your own shit stinks.
All of which is easy for me to say now, but on that day in Tennessee my plan was literally to hide and self-flagellate until I felt I deserved to try again to be accepted by the humans around me. But a couple of things kept that worldview from becoming the prevailing one, despite the fight I had with Remo.
Flip convinced me to go with him to the hotel fitness center, which was the first blow to my plan to hide. “You told me you got into lifting when you were at home,” he pointed out, “and a day when I don’t lift amps I gotta make up for with other stuff.”
“I’m lucky I can lift my head off this pillow,” I replied. My calves and forearms ached a little, as if the show had been much more physically taxing than usual.
“Fine. Sit there and talk to me so I don’t have to listen to CNN or Oprah or something the whole time.”
Flip didn’t ask for a lot of favors so I felt it was the least I could do. I was still feeling pretty weak and wanted to recover as much as possible, so not overdoing it was my priority. So while Flip curled some weights heavy enough to make him grunt, I sat crosslegged on a folded pool towel and did finger dexterity exercises on my thighs.
If you want to try these exercises yourself, here’s one. Tap your left pinky, then your right pinky, then your left ring finger, right ring finger, etc… all the way to the thumb and then back again. Do that five times and then start speeding up. How fast can you go before you mess it up and put the wrong finger down? Then move on to two taps with each finger. And keep the rhythm even. The top pianists I knew at music school excelled at these exercises which were supposedly good for keeping your hand-brain coordination sharp. There are a million variations. I sometimes did ones touching my individual fingers to my thumbs without even thinking about them.
Flip gave me a Gatorade and it tasted salty to me, which he took as a sign that I was finally getting back to normal. “Drink half of it anyway, then dilute it from the water fountain and sip the rest.”
“Yes, doc,” I said, and did as prescribed.
“Huh,” I said, about twenty minutes later, “my muscle aches went away.”
He just nodded as he grunted and lifted a heavy thing. I was definitely going to have to make sure he and Christian were in synch when we went out with Ziggy.
In fact, now that I thought about it, Flip was probably the ideal guy to keep an eye on Chris. I mean, I would’ve probably been ideal except what were the odds that Ziggy wasn’t going to need most of my attention? Slim to none.
When we were done with our exercises, we ran into Remo in the locker room as he was getting ready to have a swim. “You doing all right?” he asked me.
“Everything’s under control,” I told him, which when you think about it was a weird answer if all he was asking was whether my food poisoning had cleared up. But remember, I figured it was actually my own moral failings that were afflicting me.
He made an approving noise even if his face and posture still seemed generally disapproving to me. I got out of there fast: we’d already had a couple of flare ups on the tour and I didn’t want another one. Every time we had a spat, I realized, boiled down to some kind of pseudo-parental diappointment crap, and so of course I wanted to avoid it.
But it eventually became unavoidable. Bus call was in the early evening, as we were supposed to be in transit overnight to North Carolina. The main part of the crew and gear had already long since left (possibly a whole day ahead–I don’t remember), and Happy Occident had played a day-off gig in Chapel Hill, so only the Nomad core band and crew bus. Even Waldo had gone ahead with the main crew.
The person who was late to the bus was the last person I would’ve expected to be AWOL–well, one of the two–since it was Alan Mazel (and Alex would be the other). In my mind they were the two who were never trouble. They kept to themselves, didn’t create mayhem (unlike Martin sometimes), and had always been reliable. Remo had known them almost as long as he’d known my father. At that point, remember, I was still shocked Remo hadn’t picked one of them as a godfather for Ford and had convinced myself making me the kid’s godfather was so he wouldn’t have to choose one brother over the other.
When we were all ready to go except for Alan, Alex said he’d last seen him in his room, and he and Remo went to see if he was still there. I settled down to read a magazine in the front lounge. Martin, Flip, the horn section, Fran and Clarice, an assistant of Waldo’s, and the driver were all in the bus with me, each minding their own business.
The sight of Remo and Alex practically dragging Alan up to the bus was shocking. So was the smell as Remo helped him past me. It didn’t improve when he went into the head and puked his guts out.
The bus was already moving by that time–the driver had shut the door the second Alex had loaded Alan’s bag down below and got on himself.
“God damn it, Alan,” Remo shouted at the closed door. You figure if we could hear the retching sounds, Alan could probably hear Remo bellowing. “I thought you had everything under control!”
My words haunted me. There was no answer so Remo went on venting. “Is this what we’re coming to, now? A bunch of drunks and potheads? Can’t count on any of you anymore!”
Yeah, I about wanted to curl up and die about then.
It got worse. “Who’s going to miss a show next, eh? A runny nose from too much coke? A tummy ache from goddamn booze? Nah, none of you ever liked coke, did you?”
At that point he slid open the one window in the front lounge that opened. It made a crack just big enough to put a hand through. Remo dug through the cabinets and bunks found a couple of fifths of whiskey and other small half-empty bottles and began tossing them out. I could hear them smash on the pavement. We were moving along a kind of underdeveloped stretch of frontage road parallel to the highway so at least no one was being endangered by the ejected missiles, but I flinched each time I heard one smash. Do you remember an old-time Donald Duck cartoon where Donald goes ballistic because he thinks his nephews have been smoking cigars and he forces them to smoke until they’re completely ill? This reminded me of that. That cartoon made me physically ill as a child. (Especially at the end when, at the bottom of the cigar box, he finds the card “Happy Birthday, Uncle Donald.”)
And in typical me being guilt-ridden fashion, I believed somehow that it was my fault, which meant once again I was hypersensitive. So when he said, “The kid not holding his liquor I can almost forgive–” I cut him off with, “I am not a fucking kid,” which got me a reply of “You sure as hell are until you learn to get everything under control.” (Those words again. I guess I know who I learned them from.) “I thought we were all fucking grown-ups here but apparently I was wrong.”
“And that’s my fault?” I challenged–because, remember, I had convinced myself that my moral degeneracy was catching. As if I’d weakened the moral fiber of the group so we were all susceptible to lapses. “How the fuck is that my fault!”
We screamed obscenities at each other for a couple more horrendous minutes, which was the absolute low point. Well, no, the scenario worsened in a lot of ways in the minutes and hours after that, but I, at least, had reason to feel better. Because it wasn’t my moral degeneracy that was catching. The thing we were overdosing on was jumping to judgmental conclusions. And the thing that was contagious was… an actual thing that was contagious.
Remember when they told Flip at the hospital I had “food poisoning?” What I didn’t know was they’d also told him if anyone else had come down with it, they’d have called it the “stomach flu” instead.
This is how I got the nickname Typhoid Daron.
(I’m home from my final gig of the year! No more appearances until 2017. Phew. Now I can get ahead on work again and hopefully build up enough backlog of DGC chapters to carry us through my vacation trip to Japan at the end of September! Meanwhile look for THREE chapters this week since you may note the Donation Meter is at $100! I’ll transfer those funds out later today and queue up a chapter for Saturday! Thanks to all who chipped in! -ctan)