Greensboro had to be nixed because by the time we got there, more members of the band were puking than were not.
And when we reunited with the rest of the crew, we discovered that a bunch of them had taken ill, too, along with most of the guys in Happy Occident.
When something like this happens, you can’t exactly quarantine the entire entourage, though I’m sure the department of health probably wishes they could. We did turn a large portion of a motel into a sick ward, with those whose fevers weren’t so high they needed to be hospitalized like I had been. Alan was the first to be rushed to a hospital because he couldn’t even keep water down and he was so dehydrated his skin was loose.
Strangely, although I had been the first to get sick, my pariah status evaporated immediately. You’d think people would be blaming me, but they really didn’t. If anything anyone who’d been judging me for being insufficiently “in control” of my vices flipped over to feeling guilty about having judged me. Plus when you’re puking your guts out your perspective on what’s really important changes. It probably helped that I was one of the few who was upright and available to fetch ice water, drinks, et cetera, and because I’d already had it, I couldn’t catch it again.
Remo didn’t escape the stomach bug. In fact, the only people who did escape it were Fran and Clarice. Presumably because they weren’t as slobby or likely to share bottles/drugs/instruments as the rest of us. They were told to keep away from the rest of us and they ended up moving to a different hotel.
A doctor visited the hotel-slash-sick-ward a couple of times. The whole day had a feel like a snow day or a hurricane day when everything you were supposed to be doing was punted for an emergency but since I wasn’t actually sick anymore I didn’t know what to do with myself. I mostly tried to make sure that everyone had enough fluids and made them take their temperatures once in a while.
Flip didn’t like puking–well, I mean, who does?–and in particular was concerned it was bad for his teeth. So he suffered through trying to hold it in. I reminded him about how well weed had worked for me, but he managed to get some other anti-nausea medicine from the doc. Far as I could tell it kept him from throwing up because it made him pass out. Or maybe it was just after fighting nausea for hours on end, having the nausea lifted left him too exhausted to do anything but sleep.
Remo, on the other hand, seemed to feel if the body wanted to puke, it was healthy to puke. Although that was exhausting, too.
At one point after night had fallen, he, Waldo, and the doctor were all in one room together. Waldo was carrying an ice bucket as a puke bucket and looking green around the gills. Remo’s skin was gray and haggard. He hadn’t shaved. Every room in this motel was a “smoking” room, complete with black molded ash tray beside each bed. If everyone hadn’t already been nauseous I felt like that would’ve made them so.
“The vending machine down the hall is out of ginger ale,” I announced solemnly.
“Should I take a cab to the nearest grocery store?” I asked.
The doctor was a slightly chubby Asian-looking guy. “Not a bad idea except you’re still contagious for another 24 hours at least. Last thing we need is you contaminating an entire Food Lion.” He was making notes on a pad with a pencil.
“How soon til we can get moving again,” Waldo said, his eyes closed but his face turned toward the doc.
“Well, given the timeline, if you have no new cases, everyone should become asymptomatic in the next six to ten hours. But to recover enough to travel I would recommend another twenty-four hours of rest after that.”
Waldo groaned as if he were in great pain. “Fuck meeeee.”
“Call Landover and see if they can move tomorrow’s show to Monday.” Remo’s voice was more gravelly than Tom Waits. “Offer refunds to anyone who can’t attend, sell rush tickets, etc. Leave Sunday as is.”
“Long shot,” Waldo said.
“I’m betting the venue’s dark on a Monday.”
“Still, the promoter’ll take a hit and so will we.”
“We won’t take as big a hit as if we have to mount an entire rescheduled show there as a one-off.”
“True–” Waldo heaved himself off the couch then and into the bathroom.
Remo turned his attention to the doctor while Waldo purged behind a closed door. “Okay, so we’re all contagious.”
“For another seventy-two hours, yes. Transmission is way too easy. You touch something and leave the virus behind. Someone else touches that thing and they catch it. You don’t even have to touch them directly. A doorknob. A plate. The way you cut down the transmission is by disinfecting everything, every hard surface, and then being fanatical about washing your hands before you touch anything. I’d say it’s impossible but when I was in the army we managed to keep some outbreaks like this contained.”
“I’m not sure I’d say we have the discipline of the army,” Remo said with an exhausted sigh. “Give me the rundown on our hospitalized people.”
“The high fever is the result of dehydration.”
“It is?” I blurted.
He nodded. “A condition worsened by alcohol consumption, I might add. How high was your fever?”
I could hear Flip’s voice through the connecting door shouting, “One-oh-four!”
I opened the connecting door and found him leaning against the dresser closest to it. “Hey.”
“Wanted to hear the medical confab,” he said.
Remo gestured. “Come on in. But bring your own puke bucket.”
“I think I’m done with that,” Flip said. “Compazine knocked me out for a while there but I’m starting to feel better.”
The doctor nodded. “Good. Anyway, as I was saying, if anyone’s temp hit a hundred and three, call the ambulance. At one-oh-four you’re lucky you didn’t fry your brain like an egg.”
I thought it was drugs that fried your brain like an egg, but whatever. Maybe this guy didn’t grow up seeing the same PSAs on TV that I did.
Flip began interrogating the doctor like we were in some kind of medical TV drama. I finally began to believe that maybe my own moral failings had zero bearing on whether I got sick and to what degree.
“The main thing is stay hydrated,” the doc said.
Flip pointed at me. “You hear that?”
“Why are you pointing at me?”
“Because you’re a shrimp, that’s why. Dar’, you’re like a sponge that’s half the size of the other sponges. A guy like me, I can soak up a lot more water and it takes a lot more to squeeze me dry. You, on the other hand, there’s just not enough of you to hang on to it.”
I made a face and asked the doc. “Is that true? Like, am I actually at a health disadvantage because I’m…smaller than your average bear?”
He gave a small shrug. “For most health effects, being smaller is advantageous. But if you tend to dehydrate easily you might want to bear that in mind.”
I felt distinctly strange, though, my skin crawling. I’d never ever actually considered that being a “shrimp” was actually an objectively negative thing. I’d always considered it was just a stupid prejudice on the same level with people being stupid about homosexuality.
“Well, being too heavy can work against a person, too, because the effort required to lift larger limbs or bodyweight and the insulating effect of fat on flesh can lead to easily overelevated body temperature. At least you won’t have that problem.”
“At least,” I said, but I felt troubled.
“Nobody’s perfect,” the doc said with another shrug. “Everyone’s got something to deal with. If the cure for yours is Gatorade, I’d count myself lucky.”
“True.” That made me feel a little better. Better chronically short than some of the other chronic conditions I could think of.
“I’m going to make some rounds of the others,” he announced then. “Would you come with me since you seem to be the most recovered?”
“Sure.” So we went around doing basically what I had already been doing already, he dispensed some more Compazine, and I eventually began raiding the drink machines on other floors.
“So,” I said to him at one point, “you don’t have a North Carolina accent.”
He chuckled. “No. Haven’t managed to pick one up.”
“If anything I’d guess you were from New Jersey.”
He laughed. “Piscataway.”
“No shit, I know where that is.”
“Well, Nomad, you’re all from Red Bank, aren’t you? Or Perth Amboy, something like that?”
“Something like that,” I said with a laugh. “The Springsteen comparisons used to be unrelenting. Then Bon Jovi came along and that stopped. So how’d you end up here?”
“If you go to any of the really good big med schools, if you’re in internal medicine you’ll have to move. Think about it. They crank out tons of GP’s, but your average general practitioner stays put and in practice for four to five decades. Not a lot of new slots opening up. You have to move to the sticks to get a job.” He shrugged with both shoulders. “Housing here’s cheap and so I paid down my med school loans faster, too. It works out.”
It never occurred to me that one reason doctors get paid so damn much isn’t how important they are but the fact that med school costs so much that if they didn’t, they’d never be able to afford to become doctors in the first place. The economics aren’t as random for doctors as they are for rock stars, but they’re still pretty weird.
Long after he had left, in the wee hours of the morning, when I was awake and so were some other people who had slept on and off all day between bouts of puking, Remo asked me to get him some ginger ale.
I brought it up to his room in a green can and poured it into a cup for him.
He was sitting up in bed and made a gesture like I should sit down. I sat in the arm chair but pulled it closer to the bed.
“It’s a bloody good thing Mel and the baby aren’t here,” he said. “You think fever and dehydration are bad for you, imagine someone only this big.” He held his hands a foot or so apart. “Terrifying.”
“Absolutely.” He sipped from the cup and leaned his head back against the headboard. “I’ve never been as scared shitless as often as since he was born. What if he hits his head and gets his brain damaged? What if he gets a fever and dies? What if someone leaves a goddamned window open?”
I knew he was thinking about Clapton’s kid on that one. “Yeah.”
“Life has risks. I know that. A lot of risks are worth taking. But some aren’t.” His eyes closed and he set the cup on the side table as if he were too exhausted to keep it upright.
“We could talk about this tomorrow.”
“No. Just…a little more,” he insisted, and I clued in suddenly that he was trying to tell me something specific, not merely venting anxiety. “I want to say I’m sorry.”
He opened his eyes again. “You want to know why all of a sudden I’m on your case about drinking?”
“You mean it’s not because you’re so anxious about Ford and so you’re transferring it to all your surrogate sons?” Yeah, I shoot pretty straight when I’m tired.
He had to think about that a second. “No.” He let out a long breath. “You asked me once why I didn’t just pick either Alan or Alex to be Ford’s godfather.”
“You did, and I brushed off the answer. I’m going to give you that answer now.”
I leaned forward, trying to make sure I could catch what he said with his froggy I’ve-puked-too-much voice.
“I know it seems like either one of them would be the no-brainer. They’re both so constant, so reliable. I’ve known them forever. They’re like the brothers I never had.” He coughed and picked up his ginger ale again. Sipped it. Set it back down. “And you know I don’t like to talk shit. But you probably got an inkling what I thought was going on before we knew it was a stomach bug.”
I blurted it out. “You think Alan’s a lush.”
“I know he is. Alex, too. A lot of that ‘quiet, keeping to themselves, keeping out of trouble’ demeanor is them drinking in their rooms where we can’t monitor the quantity except by the dead soldiers the next day.”
By “dead soldiers” he meant empty bottles but I took the metaphor to be pretty grim.
“They’re the most functional alcoholics I know. At least when we’re on the road. Their wives tell me a different story about when they’re at home. No way could I send Ford to one of them.” He shook his head. “We all drink heavy. I know that. For years I’ve been saying it was our buffer against picking up worse habits. But that’s starting to sound more and more like an excuse.”
A light went on suddenly in my brain. Not about why Remo wanted me to be Ford’s godfather. “This is why you announced the band is getting off the road.”
He nodded. “It’s not just Mel and the baby. It’s everyone. Needs time to get their actual lives together. Work out their shit. Rehab, family therapy, whatever. One year off. We need to find out what it’s like to be real people and you can’t do that with two months here and there.”
“Real People,” I joked, trying to lighten the mood. “Wasn’t that a TV show in the eighties?”
He snorted. “Yeah. With Sarah Purcell and Skip Stephenson. Where the hell are they now, I wonder?” He rubbed his eyes. “Fame, that fickle beast. I may be playing chicken with everyone’s careers by making the band take a year off but basically fame isn’t everything.”
“Yeah,” I said, and meant it, even if right at that moment I couldn’t exactly say I’d never put career in front of other concerns. I waited a beat, watched him yawn, and then decided not to flat out confront him about whether he felt he himself was an alcoholic or not. His eyelids were drooping and he needed the sleep.
So did I. But I lay awake for a long time thinking about the Mazel brothers. I’d known them for over ten years. I’d never thought of either of them as anything but hardworking guys. Role models.
I paged Ziggy with a “666” and then went to sleep. I’d tell him all about stomach flu hell tomorrow.
(Look for a post on Saturday this week, too! Thanks to all who donated! -ctan)