I met Jonathan for a drink. At some dive in Hell’s Kitchen, which is a scary sounding name for a neighborhood but actually it was really not that bad. Not really all that different from a lot of other residential areas of Manhattan. Mine was non-alcoholic, his wasn’t.
I, of course, told him about my idea. “All acoustic, just him and me. No fancy production.”
“Pure…?” he said, swirling his glass thoughtfully.
“Raw,” I said. “Pure makes it sound too clean. I don’t think this’ll be clean. More likely rough cut, with studio noise, us laughing in the background, string squeak, all that. What do you think?”
“Real,” he said with a nod. “I like the sound of it. And I bet this is a good time for it. Look at how successful the ‘Unplugged’ stuff is coming out of MTV. Shocked the hell out of everyone.”
“I’m not shocked by it. The M in MTV stands for ‘music’ after all.” At that point MTV Unplugged had been on the air for about a year and a half and they’d started releasing recordings for sale of the performances, too. “People like to watch slick videos with eye-popping effects but they also like to sit and watch musicians do what they do, too.”
“Well, you have tens of thousands of people a night watching you do what you do, so I guess you’d have that perspective,” Jonathan said. “It’s just ironic, I guess, that the source of this back-to-nature backlash against the MTV era is MTV itself.”
“Only if you think MTV believes its own press.”
“True. They’re very smart, though. Lots of Brown alums in the upper management there.” He shrugged. “Which has been good for me.”
“I thought you were doing more political reporting than music stuff these days?”
“More but not exclusively,” he said.
“And have you started writing another book? A sequel or whatever?”
He laughed a somewhat stiff laugh. “Definitely not a sequel.”
“Oh, right, that would be a hack commercial writer thing to do. I forgot. You killed off your main character anyway, didn’t you?”
“I haven’t decided what I’m going to work on next,” he said. “I have a few ideas simmering, but haven’t committed to any of them yet.” He took a swallow of his drink. “Speaking of commitment, though…”
A frisson passed through me as he paused before whatever he was going to say. Before I could even figure out if that had felt good or bad he went on.
“I’ve met someone.”
“Cool,” I said automatically. “I think Sarah told me you had.”
“That was the previous one.” He looked around and I could feel the anxiousness coming off him in waves. “This is someone new-ish. I haven’t introduced him to anyone yet.”
“New-ish?” Jonathan was usually precise with his words. Had he picked up the -ish habit from me? Or was he very precisely saying that the guy wasn’t exactly new? “How long have you known him?”
“That’s the funny part. I knew him back in college.”
I had a sudden heart attack. Roger? Was he involved with Roger? Was he being so cagey because–
“In fact we were kind of nemeses. He was a frat type, we clashed on the staff of the BDH. In fact that might have been why I quit writing for them.”
I relaxed. That wasn’t Roger at all. Phew. “I thought you quit writing for the school newspaper because you were already getting paying gigs as a freelancer.”
“Oh, that, too, but yeah. His name’s Davide, I hadn’t seen him in years, but I ran into him at the office of the NWU of all places.”
“Is that like NYU but a couple doors down?” I joked.
Jonathan’s laugh was much more genuine this time. “Oh that’s especially funny because the office is pretty close to NYU. It’s the National Writers Union.”
“Aha. I didn’t know you had a union.”
“There are a bunch of freelance writer advocacy groups but, yeah, the NWU is an honest to god union. Check it out.” He pulled out his wallet and showed me his union card, which had the logo of the UAW on it, which was a union even I had heard of: United Auto Workers. “Health insurance, grievances, all that sort of thing.”
“Anyway. I had gone down there to file some grievance paperwork on a magazine that hasn’t paid me and I ran into Davide while waiting for the elevator. That was three months ago.” His wallet was still in his hand, and he pulled out a wallet-sized photo of the guy. Dark hair, cropped short, dark eyes, tanned skin. Polo shirt.
“You’ve been seeing him for three months and you haven’t introduced him to anyone?”
“No one who matters, anyway.” He realized his glass was empty and he set it aside. “Not my parents, not Sarah. Not you.”
“Me? Okay wait a second–”
“And not the crowd around Limelight and Jordan’s. I’ve been wanting to–this is going to sound weird–but I’ve been wanting to get to know each other on a level where all the celebrity stuff isn’t part of it. Just him and me. Does that make sense?”
“That doesn’t sound weird at all and yes it makes sense. But I get the feeling the reason we’re talking about it is you’re getting ready to introduce him to the rest of your life?”
He studied the woodwork pattern on the tabletop. “Yeah. And I just don’t want to repeat some of the mistakes I made with you. He’s got one major similarity with you. Only one, really.”
“Are you going to make me guess what?”
“Lord, no. It’s that he’s just starting to come out. He was bi in college, said it was a phase, dated women only for a few years afterward, then was miserable and celibate and unsure why.”
“And then he met you.”
“Well, yeah.” He waved to the waitress and ordered a ginger ale as I guess it had become obvious we were going to be there a while. “And that’s one of the things I want to be careful about. I know I was sometimes too cavalier about it with you.”
“Okay, but is this guy some kind of public figure?”
“No. It’s just his family and friends he needs to come out to. The bi phase was apparently well hidden from them.”
“Well, that should simplify things a little, I guess.” I thought about it though. “Although I think in the end a lot of the…friction between us about our different levels of out-ness had less to do with me being famous than with the fact that I resented being taught how to be gay.”
He cringed. “Was I really that terrible?”
“No. You were occasionally condescending but not most of the time. But you made a lot of assumptions about how a relationship ‘should’ go and because I was playing catchup with you I couldn’t effectively push back or negotiate that stuff on the level with you.” Now that I said it, the rising anxiety I’d felt throughout the conversation ebbed away. It felt good to be able to say it. “For some people that might work out just fine. For me, the whole point of coming out and accepting I’m gay was about trying to figure out the right way to be myself, not the right way to be gay, you know?”
“I know. I know. Actually, can I write that down? What you just said there, it’s so perfect. I just…” He was already digging in his bag for his notebook.
“Sure. If you think it’ll help.” I played with the ice cubes in my glass while he jotted furiously. “Is it just a coincidence or do you think you’re a particular magnet for us closet cases?”
“Ha. Just a coincidence. Most of the guys I’ve dated have been out already. Far as I’m concerned the main advantage of living in the city is everyone here’s already out. Well, almost everyone.”
Yeah, but none of those guys stuck and the two you’ve really been head-over-heels for were me and this other guy. I didn’t say it. Just thought it. Maybe their dynamic was different, though. After all, this guy could do the Ivy League talk and all that. And they didn’t have the dynamic of Jonathan having a rock-star crush to deal with, either. I’m sure they were going to be very happy together.
I wonder why I was trying to convince myself of all those things when I had no actual stake in the relationship. I guess because I really wanted Jonathan to be happy? And maybe if he was really happy with someone else I could let go of the last little bits of guilt I felt over how it had ended with him and me?
“You must be really, really into this guy,” I finally said.
“What makes you say that?”
“Just the amount of anxiety you’re having about it. The stakes are high because you’re so into him.”
His laugh was nervous and self-deprecating at the same time. “It’s true.”
“Introduce him to your parents.”
“I think I want to introduce you first.”
“I want to get your take on him. Ziggy, too, if you want to make it a double date and less like a…a…”
“Yeah.” He swallowed. “Am I being too much of a nut about this? I’ve never been this…careful before.”
“Maybe that’s because this is really the one,” I said.
“Or maybe because I don’t want to mess it up like I did with you.”
“You know it’s weird that you want me to approve of this guy or something, right?”
“I don’t want you to… Well, okay. I guess maybe I do.” He sighed. He needed a haircut and his hair had grown long behind his ears, the way I liked it. “I guess I just want a reality check. He and I have been in a bubble. I’ll find out if it’s all been a fantasy or if we have a future together when we come out of that bubble and meet other people. I really, really would like one of the first people to do that to be you, Daron.”
I had forgotten how much of a sucker (?) I am for the honest, direct approach. How do you say no to someone who comes right out and asks you for what they want? Seems rude. Besides, it was probably harmless. “When I get back from this leg of the tour I’ll be doing rehearsals here in the city with Ziggy before we depart for South America. That’s in like two weeks. If it can wait till then–”
“Two weeks would be perfect. Perfect.” He grabbed my hand and kissed me quickly (but hard) on the cheek. “Thank you.”
I chuckled. “You mean ‘thank you for not being an ex from hell?'”
“Thank you for being someone I’ve never regretted having as part of my life,” he said earnestly.
“Speaking of exes from hell,” I said, and then looked away trying to figure out if I could make it into a joke. I couldn’t. And now that I’d started to say something I couldn’t just leave it there. “And of introducing your new beau to Jordan’s crowd. I want to…warn you, I guess…about Roger Devon.”
“Warn me? Which one is he?”
Okay, how to explain this without opening a giant disgusting wriggling can of worms? “They just did a record, a bunch of HIV positive guys, Jordan produced it, charity thing, they’re here in the city. Their main singer and I had a falling out a long time ago and I guess the warning is don’t do your human Rolodex thing and introduce me to him because we’re both RIMCon alums because I would honestly rather never lay eyes on him again.”
Jonathan’s mouth hung open a little as he digested my infodump. He sat up straighter as he put the pieces together in his mind. “Wait, I know who you mean.”
I didn’t want to hear how much he knew or remembered about me and Roger or the old band. “Life’ll be better for everyone if me and Roger are never in the same room again. That’s all.”
“Wait, you said exes from hell, but–”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Jonathan shut up immediately, sipping his ginger ale and nodding to himself. He then skipped back to a different branch of the conversation. “Well, thank you again, anyway, for being an important person in my life.”
“You, too,” I said, and I meant it. Because not everyone in my past was such a benign force.