133 COLD AS ICE

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COLD AS ICE

There’s not much to tell about the next day. We had some tech glitches with the live rig, but between Kevin and Colin and me and Christian and the guys from the venue they were eventually worked out. Soundcheck was a non-event, as if we were all working so hard not to be nervous about our opening night that we ended up less enthusiastic than usual. Deadpan, even.

Deadpan, in fact, is a good word to describe pretty much everything from our waitress at Denny’s to my performance itself. The more stiff I was, the more frenzied Ziggy got, fretting and strutting and screaming to the audience like he could make up for it. And the more wild he got, the colder I felt, the more rooted to the floor.

The audience cheered anyway. I played the right notes. They didn’t know to complain, I guess. How were they supposed to know that I felt like I was doing some kind of rehearsal, a live-audience rehearsal, going through the moves with a singer who tried too hard to please them and a rhythm section whose eyes I wouldn’t meet during the show?

When we came off the stage Colin said “good show” in an obligatory sort of way, and Carynne chewed the end of her pen and hugged her day book to her stomach. Everyone kind of made small talk about this or that, shook hands with the local crew who didn’t seem to notice anything amiss, and the first person to say anything about it at all was Digger, when he and I were sitting in the bar (Rogan’s Rodeo Room, which had a couple of horseshoes on the wall but otherwise was as generic a dark wood and dart board and neon Bud sign kind of bar as you could get) next to the motel. They didn’t card me. I was drinking something that was a step above Jack Daniels, I forget which whiskey, and Digger was having the same, and bar peanuts, salty skinless peanuts that he’d crack into two halves between his fingers and then eat each half one at a time, making the bowl last longer, I guess.

“Kind of a rough night?” is what he said.

And I’m thinking, this is my father asking, here. This is my manager, too. Maybe he’ll actually have some advice or something. “Yeah.”

“Heh!” He cracked a peanut and joked, “Better shape up or we’ll have to fire ya.”

Okay so maybe one of the reasons I didn’t talk to him before, and one of the reasons why after Remo left I stopped spending much time with the old man, was because he never did give any good advice. Right now he wasn’t even giving the impression that he cared, particularly. The booze was hot in my throat. I was thinking c’mon, even with the best of intentions, what’s he going to tell you? What kind of advice does a former shoe salesman turned media exec have for a professional musician with some kind of performance block going on? I mean, what the fuck did I expect? At least he noticed. At least he asked.

All this went through my well-lubricated mind in a flash leaving me feeling not angry or sad but empty. When I didn’t laugh or smile at his joke, Digger’s eyes drifted to the baseball game on the TV screen overhead and he popped another half-peanut into his mouth. We were going to lapse into an uncomfortable silence, I thought, but suddenly he looked at me. “This isn’t about your mother, is it?”

I was too startled to do anything but blurt “What?”

“This thing,” he said, meaning whatever my problem was, “you’re not feeling guilty about her now are you?”

“Why would I–?”

“Because you got to wonder, if I saw you in a magazine, Claire might’ve. I see those teeny boppers in the audience and I think, sheez, Courtney could be one of ‘em.”

I half-wondered if he hoped to find them by tagging along with me. But, no, that’d be stupid, he’s the one who ran off without them.

He swigged his bourbon and stared at the game while he talked. “Don’t you worry yourself about them. They ain’t starving. I left them well-taken care of. It wasn’t like some spur of the moment thing, my taking off like that. I planned it pretty good.”

“Then why the fuck didn’t you tell me?” My hand was tight around my glass and a funny pain burned like booze in my chest. “I had to hear it from Remo, forgodsake, six months after the fact…!” My mouth stayed open as I trailed off realizing that, although I’d waited years to tell him off about it, I didn’t really have anything else to say.

Digger didn’t really look at me. He looked down at my feet wound in the rungs of the barstool, his eyebrows knit and protruding like a small, folded up awning on his face.

Finally he muttered, “Pot calling the kettle black, hey Mister Moondog?” The name had never sounded more stupid before that moment. “You’re pissed at me, because I took off, cut you off, and your reaction to that is, what, take out a personal ad? Give me some credit, Daron, I ain’t dumb.”

I wanted to know how he kept from blushing. My face felt molten hot.

“I had some good reasons doing it like I did. ‘ats not what matters now anyway.”

“Don’t…” I started to say don’t give me some cockamamie tough guy story because I ain’t buying it. But a couple of things were hitting me at once. One, he was kind of right about me doing exactly what I was pissed at him for doing, and once again I was struck with the fact that my image of myself as nothing like him was false. Ouch. And two, whenever we drank and/or argued, we both said ‘ain’t’ instead of ‘isn’t’ and other shit like that. “Just don’t.”

“Don’t what? Kiddo, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“The fuck I don’t,” I said, though it sounded childish even to me. I stood up–or got down, as the case may be with tall bar stools–and decided to leave him with the tab. “Getting up early,” I said as a surly goodbye and walked out.

Well, that was one sure way to get my mind off Ziggy for a while. Oh I was just making friends all over the place, wasn’t I?

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