Tony came to get me from Artie’s to take me (and Ziggy) up to see Priss. Artie waited with me down in the lobby of the building, which he really didn’t have to do, but was nice of him.
This gave me a chance to ask him something. “You’ve known Remo for a long time.”
“Not as long as you, though.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t count those first couple of years when I was drooling and in diapers,” I said. “But tell me. Do you think he’s changed?”
“You mean because of the baby? No. He was always like this.”
“Like a duck. You know what they say. Smooth on the surface but paddling like crazy underneath.”
“Huh. He’s always seemed like a laid back guy to me.”
“Well, you know, he is a laid back guy in his way. Confident, doesn’t get rattled. Usually, anyway. What’s changed is that he’s so out of his element with a baby and wife.” Artie watched the midtown traffic–which was forty percent yellow cabs–going by outside. “My younger son’s in high school now.”
“So you’re an expert, then.”
“Hardly.” He chuckled. Artie was one of the older guys we knew in the music business. Gray was showing in his hair which he had let grow a little wild. “I’m a little worried but not that worried.”
“About the future of Nomad, you mean?”
“About whether Remo will get his family stuff ironed out. I think it’ll be easier once he gets off the road.”
“I think he thinks it will,” I said. “I’m not sure about it, though.”
“No? Why is that?”
“I think what Remo likes about being on the road is that he feels like he controls everything.” I hadn’t really realized that until the moment I said it. “It’s not real life. It’s not the whole world. It’s just this one piece of the world you control and you just don’t worry about everything outside your bubble. You have your job, your purpose, and it makes life simple when everything else is secondary to the show.”
“Hm.” Artie nodded thoughtfully. “Your nomad only has to worry about his tent and his camel, so to speak.”
“Exactly. But it’s kind of an illusion because no matter how carefully you plan, shit can still hit the fan.”
“Stomach flu, accidents, wife having a meltdown…”
He gestured at my cast. “You worried about that?”
“I’ll start worrying when they tell me to worry.” You’d think I’d be freaking out, but as I’d learned I was much more freaked out about things I imagined might happen than things that had actually happened. “They tell me I was really lucky. They think I didn’t sever any major arteries or tendons.” I wiggled the ends of my fingers where they extended out of the cast.
Artie shuddered. “I think the PR department has been fielding calls about it nonstop.”
“Well, maybe it’s died down now that it seems like you’re going to be okay. Everyone’s looking for the next Rick Allen story.”
“Oh jeez.” Rick Allen is the drummer for Def Leppard who lost his arm in a car accident but then learned to play all the band’s songs one-handed. I would do that if I had to. If they had to give me a prosthetic with a guitar pick glued to it, I’d learn how to use it. (That’s kind of what it felt like with the cast on as it was…) I couldn’t let myself think about all the things I’d learned to do with my fingers, all the time in Spain and so on, or I’d flip out. “This definitely isn’t that bad.” I said it to reassure him and myself. “I’ll know more what my rehab picture will look like next week.”
“Okay, good.” He pointed to the curb where a black car was pulling up. “Your ride’s here.”
“Thanks, Artie.” We clapped each other on the shoulder and I hurried toward the car.
Halfway across the sidewalk, though, I had a moment of vertigo and queasiness that I thought was my brain having a spasm at the thought of amputation. Rick Allen actually got his arm reattached after the accident but the reattachment didn’t take and they had to remove it again. Can you imagine?
I got in the car a little green around the gills. Maybe it was lingering backlash from the stomach bug, too, I thought.
Seeing Ziggy brightened me right up, though. I kissed him on one perfect cheek and he licked me behind the ear like a cat or a puppy. “My family’s crazy,” I said.
“When did you…oh, you mean the Remo side of the family.”
“Yeah.” I didn’t explain any more and he didn’t press, just held my hand in sympathy.
Up at Priss’s apartment I lay down on her chaise longue while she worked with Ziggy. I let the sound of his voice pour into my ears and fill up my brain with nothing. I had a kind of flashback, except it wasn’t to something that had actually happened, but it felt like a memory of an alternate past. Music school, Ziggy doing vocal exercises, what it would have been like if we’d been there together…
I sat up with a jolt. It would have been a lot like the fucked up situation I had with the singer of my then-band. Somehow over the past couple of years as I’d come to realize it was Roger who’d taken advantage of me and not the other way around, I’d started to forget the music we’d made together.
I think it’s possible the dynamic between him and me in the studio had been even more toxic than the one in our apartment. I felt a wave of queasiness pass through me just thinking about it.
A little voice was whispering in my ear: are you sure things are better with Ziggy? Are you sure you’re not just going down that same road again? Are you sure you aren’t your own worst enemy because you’re always attracted to your worst enemy?
Shut up. I am not always attracted to my own worst enemy. I have plenty of enemies I’m not attracted to, for one thing, and for another I’ve been attracted to plenty of helpful, healthy people. There have been exactly two of these pathetic crushes on pretty lead singers in your life that led to severe damage, and one of them is five or six years in the rear view mirror and the other is sitting at the piano right now, the most important person in your life who really loves you. So shut up.
I shut up. I went and got a drink of water and sat back down.
When it was my turn, Ziggy ran out to grab himself a snack and I took his place on the piano bench.
“You had the flu, then this,” Priss said, indicating the cast on my hand. “What’s the third thing?”
“Misfortunes come in threes.” Her voice was mild, which was impressive because she was usually such a drill sargent when we were sitting at the piano. “Tell me you’ve been doing your work?”
By “work” she meant the exercises I was supposed to do for her. “Most of the time,” I said, “except when I was too ill.”
She tutted over me mother-hen-like and then played a chord on the piano. “Let’s go,” she said, meaning: okay, sympathy time is over, it’s time to get to work.
We went through a warmup. Toward the end of it I heard Ziggy come back in and the sound of the microwave humming in the kitchen. The vision of us as conservatory students was still vivid in the back of my brain.
“Let us work on one of your songs,” Priss said.
“One of my what?” I sounded like an idiot. “I mean, what do you mean by my songs?”
“Your strength is better and so is your tone in the mid-range and your support in the upper. I would like to work on your expressiveness.”
“I don’t nee–”
She cut me off with a warning noise. “Ah-ah-ah, who is in charge here? I will tell you what you do and do not need.”
“Good.” Her German accent always came out a little on that word: goot. “I would rather work with one of your songs than some other thing from the radio.”
“Okay, but how are we going to work on it?”
“I don’t mean today. Provide me the sheet music for something you’d like to work on before next time.” She went into a brief lecture about expressiveness and a lot of stuff about mic technique, includng gems like this one: just because I’m teaching you to sing loud doesn’t mean you have to all the time.
Maybe it was that I’d just been in Artie’s office, and maybe everything else in my head right then rolled up together in that same ball of wax with the anxiety about the kid I used to be and the album I wanted to do and what the future had in store for me and Ziggy, but when she had me stand up to sing I felt immediately like I wanted to sit down, and then another wave of stomach-queasy, and I thought wow, I didn’t realize I was so averse to being a front man that I would actually feel ill from it.
Then I found myself sinking to the carpet, holding onto it with one hand and cradling my hurt one against my chest, the vertigo making me unsure which direction gravity was coming from.
“Are you all right?” Ziggy. When did Ziggy come into the room?
“I’m dizzy.” It felt almost like seasickness.”
“The flu coming back?”
“No.” I tried to stand up but couldn’t. “Just let me sit here for a minute.”
A minute became five minutes. The wave passed and eventually I continued the lesson, but Ziggy went to use the phone. I think he called Carynne.
When I continued to feel unsteady, though, Priss called a halt and examined my eyes. Then she felt my head. “Have you always had this lump on your head?”
“Ow. No.” She was jamming her thumb into the spot on my head where I’d hit something while diving to save Ford from mayhem.
“Take him home and rest him,” she said to Ziggy. “Take some Tylenol if you have a headache. Don’t take aspirin.”
“Because you probably have a concussion and if you take aspirin your brain could bleed until you die.” She shooed me and Ziggy toward the door as if it might be catching.
Before we could go, though, she said to Ziggy, “All right, liebchen, take care of him.” And to me, “I told you misfortunes come in threes.”
She was right about it being a concussion, by the way.