By dinner time the dancers had been released for the evening and we’d made some strategic and logistical decisions. For example, we cut a song from the final segment of the set and moved it to the encore.
That took a tiny bit of the pressure off me, but only a tiny bit. Considering that we made that decision while I was soaking my hand in a bucket of epsom salts, every minute helped.
Flip brought me my medicinal shot of whiskey as we were finishing dinner. “You would pick the one kind that’s the hardest to find,” he faux-complained.
I knew he was just ribbing me to keep things light but I couldn’t just take it, for some reason. “Oh, come on, you know I’m fine with Jack or–”
“Daron. Chill. Drink up.”
I downed what he gave me–a scant shot, a mouthful–and it felt like the elephant that had been sitting on my chest got up to walk around. Weird, but that’s how stress works, I guess. I felt better before I’d even swallowed it. At this point in my life my alcohol tolerance was quite high, comparatively speaking, so I barely felt a shot like that. I didn’t feel tipsy at all. Not even a little bit drunk. Just…relieved somehow.
“Thanks,” I said, as I handed him back the plastic cup. “Sorry I’m such a pain right now.”
He gave me a self-indulgent smile and made a free throw of the cup into a distant garbage can. “You and Remo are the two easiest guys to babysit on Earth. I keep waiting for the real off-the-wall requests to start and they never do.”
“How about this one. Play guitar in the opening act.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, pull the other one.”
“I mean it.” I jammed my left thumb into the stiff places in my right palm. “It’s kind of alt-prog with a fair bit of Guitar Craft thrown in. We’re going to work on it later tonight with Jordan Travers. Don’t tell me you weren’t planning to bring an NST guitar for yourself anyway.”
Flip was not the type to back down from a challenge. “Okay, sure. But not everyone can learn a set overnight like you can, you know.”
“It’s going to be five songs, max, and you won’t have to learn a lot of parts,” I assured him. At that point I honestly didn’t know exactly what he was going to play, either, but I felt like it was better to have him than not. “You’re still a better guitar player than I am singer.”
The band then worked that last quarter to a third of the show, including the encore, for about two hours. They were all getting it down pretty good. I wasn’t. I was faking my way through. Because it’s me, my faking sounded kind of okay, at least to casual listeners, but I knew it wasn’t all there, and Ziggy knew it wasn’t all there.
But like I said, the only thing I know how to do is keep pushing the rock up the hill. Keep trying.
And still no one had breathed another word about the acoustic part of the set. Ziggy had clearly told them all not to bring it up. He’d probably told them that we–meaning he and I–had it covered.
The reality that we were now something like 48 hours from getting on a plane and the entirety of our preparation had been a single insomniac run-through of one song was hitting me very hard. Tomorrow we’d have to show everyone what we had. If I hadn’t just medicated, I would have felt ill thinking about it. Instead I just felt helpless.
One thing at a time, though, eh? My next task was to get through figuring out the Star*Gaze stuff…
No, wait, first there had to be a small meltdown about Colin. Very small. So small I thought I’d kept it between us. It was just one more me saying “I’m sorry” and squeezing his hand really hard.
But I think Ziggy had seen it or sensed it or something. “You’re being ridiculous,” he said to me, his annoyance peaking. “You’re being totally effing ridiculous.”
And because guilt is the thing that makes me the least rational of all–it fucks me up much worse than any drugs or alcohol–I said something I was sure I was going to regret, but I threw it out there anyway. “Why don’t you come with us to Jordan’s tonight?”
“I thought you didn’t want anyone to see what a wreck it is.”
“I thought you wanted to be there to cheer me on.”
We stared at each other. I…won? Lost by winning? He capitulated: “All right. I’ll come along.”
Barrett made a disapproving noise and may have said something about Ziggy needing sleep, but that was Barrett’s job. “If we’re not back to the apartment by one in the morning, send Tony for him,” I said, and miraculously everyone seemed to think that was a perfect solution.
I took Colin by the hand again. “You’re a computer guy. You might be able to help, too.”
“Whatever you want, boss,” he said. His laugh was throaty. “It’s not like I have some other plans.”
So we went to Jordan’s. All of us. Well, to the studio, which was fortunately not in use that night.
I went and shut myself in a toilet stall before we started. You know, sometimes that takes longer than it should. (Especially when one is on Vitamin F, I later found out.)
After a while Jordan came in. “Daron?”
“Are you reading the New York Times in there or something?”
I had been done for a while, actually, but I’d somehow failed to go back out there. “No. Just, um, almost done.” I flushed the toilet for realism.
“I know it’s hard,” he said. Just that. No other words, no reference to what, exactly, was hard. Just “I know it’s hard.”
That almost made me lose it right there, despite my medical calm. That’s how stressed out I was. Those words struck a nerve. “How’d you know?”
“You always ask me that, and I always tell you I know you,” he answered. “And I know you a lot better now than I did four years ago, or two years ago, for that matter. You work best under pressure.”
I don’t think I do, I thought. We were having this conversation through the closed door of the stall, remember. “I think I sometimes pull a diamond out of my ass under pressure but it’s not the only way to work.”
“But it’s the way we’re working now,” he said reasonably. “So come pull a diamond out, all right?”
(Kickstarter backers take note! Packages have started shipping! If you changed your address between last summer and now, please make sure you’ve given me your new address so your rewards can go to the right place! -ctan)