It took a few days, but rehearsals began to get somewhat better–either that or I was just adjusting to my crippled state. The transitions were smoother, and even though I felt held back by the limitations of my fingers, the new material did not sound as bad as I’d feared. I couldn’t play chords or intricate riffs, but I began to get into the slide thing as a new texture and have a little fun with it.
And Ziggy didn’t torture me. The fight seemed to have sobered us up. We pretended nothing was wrong, or that there was nothing to be wrong about. That was fine with me, except for the lonely nights part. Chris and I couldn’t very well get stoned every night. We settled for drunk the next night, drinking Southern Comfort and Rolling Rock. The next day was much the same: coffee, rehearse, come home.
I put off reading the contracts for several days, too, until a very nice-sounding secretary from Digger’s New York office called to ask for them. I crossed out what I didn’t like and wrote in a statement that said we had the right to cancel at any time without penalty. I think I copped the language from a TV commercial.
I felt like the show would never arrive. Funny, when I was a kid I used to be impatient for Christmas. Digger would get me and my sisters all built up trying to guess what Santa was going to bring–or what various relatives were going to bring, for that matter. December always dragged. Now I had to suppress the urge to pace back and forth in front of the window in the loft when we weren’t playing, figuring the hours left until the show. When was the last time I’d gone this long without playing out? Even when we didn’t have a singer I was playing in the park, in the T; in Providence I’d always gotten fill gigs, done the coffeehouse. Here it was, not quite two months since we’d come off the road, and I was stir crazy. And just like Christmases of the past, I was dreading getting what I wanted and being disappointed by it. I Fedexed Mills a tape of the new stuff with a note explaining the reason for the weird instrumentation. I didn’t tell him how I got the sprain. I told him all would be normal by the time of the show and I hoped I was right.
The week before the Jingle Bell shindig the worry that something would go wrong increased as we began to rehearse the full set without breaks. Ziggy seemed as itchy to get back in front of an audience as I was, and he pretended there was one there, screaming at the empty couch, dancing and spinning around as he sang. And while he was singing, his inhibitions seemed to disappear–not that this was a surprise. But it meant he would crawl toward me, rub his back against mine, whisper-sing into my ear, and I found myself unable react to him. Worst of all, I didn’t even realize I’d frozen up at first, until we were at a break and Bart said, “What’s with you, Daron?”
“What do you mean?” I was thinking I was off-tempo from the thumb or something.
“Loosen up, man, does your thumb hurt that much?”
What actually hurt was my jaw from clenching it. But of course thinking about being stiff only made me more self-conscious and more stiff. When we started to play again, Bart looked at me like he didn’t recognize me.
When we were packing up he suggested we get something to eat, the two of us. I followed him to a funky sushi place down the street called Ginza. At 2am the place was filled to capacity with ultra-chic young Asians–the Asian American equivalent of Newbury Street’s Eurotrash, I guess. They looked like they’d walked right out of an ad in GQ or something. But nobody seemed to mind my grubby high tops or Bart’s unfashionable gray wool coat while we shuffled our feet until a table opened up.
As if by some unspoken rule, we waited until after we had ordered to talk about anything serious. “So, how bad is it?” I asked.
“It’s bad,” he said. “You know it is or you wouldn’t ask me.”
“I guess I… lost my groove,” I said.
He was shaking his head. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were intimidated by him.”
“Yeah, you’re like clammed up.”
“It’s the thumb.” I held the splinted hand up as if that proved it. “Makes me nervous.”
“Is that all? I mean, shit, Daron, I’ve never seen you nervous and playing the guitar at the same time. It was like something that could never happen, an either/or thing, and now my whole worldview is shattered.” He did not chuckle. “I mean it. All the time I’ve known you, you’ve been like some kind of … of split personality. Quiet, introverted even, when off stage, but unstoppable, wild, when playing. This is downright spooky, this… crossover.”
“It won’t last,” I said, for myself as much as him. “It just can’t.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Is this a you-and-Ziggy thing?”
I shrugged back. “I’m not sure.” I watched as Bart’s eyes defocused and I felt the imminent launch of another Grand Bart Theory.
“Ever since the fight… maybe this comes back to the thumb, Daron, but, let me indulge in some pop psych here. You went from being totally chemical together to you being like freaked or something, and you’re the one with a black eye and a bandage. And,” his voice got quieter, but harsher suddenly, “goddammit, if he hurt you I think…” He jerked upright, like he had surprised himself. “I’m not a violent person, you know that. But I want to know when to, I mean,” he smacked his fist into his open hand.
I’m touched, I wanted to say, but I knew the words would come out sounding sarcastic. “It’s okay,” I said. “I-I’m the one who hit him, anyway.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Or, I tried to hit him, and I think he knocked my hand away with his, and hit me back. It all happened pretty fast. But I started it.”
“But what did he say to get you to do it? I know how he gets.”
“Yeah, you know how he gets. So it doesn’t matter what he said, does it?” I wished we’d gone to a Chinese restaurant where there’d be more interruptions. This place was going to take forever.
“I wish you two’d get over it, anyway,” he said, resting his arms on the table. “I’m tired of the tension.”
“Me, too. But I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it.” The question I had in my mind was, but could I?