Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's Nothing Sweetie... Just the Wind

“... fire danger in the canyons should get worse before it gets better as the national weather service reports the strong winds from the east will continue through the weekend... turning to sports...”

Zack wasn’t interested in games as he turned off the radio in order to better hear his agent over the phone. Nor was he fooled for a minute. The jerk hadn’t heard much of the CD, but would act, when they met on Friday, as if he was Zack’s best friend on the planet. This was the part Zack hated the most: the uncertainty, the definite maybe’s, the indefinite yes’s, all the bull that was the “music biz.” He felt he wasn’t fooled, but when Bo Eschete, the jerk-agent, closed with his now traditional “Who’s my main man Babe?” Zack couldn’t help hoping that he was. 

Hope. It was the elusive elixir in Zack’s recipe for success and the strongest motivator in the mix of emotions that made Zack come West in the first place. Zack hoped his family would understand. He hoped they would accept his Exodus not as a need to run away from something, but as a need to step toward something else. He hoped his songs were good enough even as his friends back in East Lansing raved about them. All the while, Zack hoped. As he set down the phone, his mind ran through the familiar scenario once again. Had he done the right thing? Was Hollyweird where he should be? Was it where he belonged? Were his songs really good enough, or were the well-worn wheels that brought him West spinning uselessly?

“Tune in again Friday as we find what fate may befall our yet-to be-crestfallen hero,” he laughed anxiously to himself.

Tired of pondering the new mysteries tomorrow held for him, Zack fell upon the old mystery of his celebrity back home. To his friends he had become some sort of a heroic figure, a legend. They saw his departure as an event, an artistic crusade, an adventure from which they were certain he would return triumphant. He would “make it,” and they told him so, but they really didn’t know what it was like or what it would take, and Zack didn’t have the heart, or maybe the courage, to tell them. Sure, he told them what things could be like, veiled in the guise of what he wished them to be, but not as they truly were. He avoided the truth, spared them of it. He told them of the Hollywood Hills parties he had attended, and of the “majors” he had met. What he omitted was that these majors had only a minor interest in him, and to his friends he echoed Eschete’s “things will break big time”; however, he wasn’t always certain whether this meant his career or something else.

How many other Zacks were there upon whom Eschete had cast his spell? How many others were made to believe, as Zack’s friends believed of Zack, that they were destined to be heroes? Did Zack believe it? Did he want to believe it? Yes. He could taste how badly he wanted to, but right now, the taste was bitter. Sleep was what he needed, and it came grudgingly with the wind singing its sedative song. 

 When he awoke, he realized he hadn’t dreamed. Not dreaming had become the order of nocturnal business since he had arrived. Back home he dreamed every night and sort of looked forward to it. Sometimes the dreams even seemed to mean something, but mostly they were the surrealistic stuff that earns them the name. Either way, it had been dreaming, but no more. He quickly shook this off as he did quite often now. He had been down this road too often lately and the mood swings it brought weren’t welcome. “Forget it,” he said to the ceiling, “today is another shot at it. Put on your best face.”

By the time Eschete called, Zack had already worked his way through a half a pack of cigarettes and most of the coffee pot. He thought he was ready for the pace of the call.

“Say babe, what shakes?” opened Eschete.
“Same old, same old,” Zack replied, though he knew it was he who was shaking. Was it the caffeine, or something else?
“Have we heard from Diamond Records Bo?”
“Don’t sweat Diamond man. They’ve got the CDs and they’ll come around when they hear the new stuff.”
Zack was silent.
“There is progress on the new stuff?” This came from Eschete as more of a statement than a question.
Zack closed his eyes and thought, “New stuff? What does he mean new stuff? It’s all new to them.” He wondered if this meant it was already old to them.

“I’ve got a rough 16-track mix ready Zack, but I want to touch up the backing vocals before I hand it over.”
“Great babe,” replied Eschete, “make ‘em sweet and low man.”
This caused Zack to flash on sugar substitutes and to shudder involuntarily.

“Yeah babe?”
“How does it look for the old, I mean, the other CDs we gave them?”
“They’re working them through their people as we speak; we’ll know soon for sure.”

We’ll know soon. I’ll know next week. Talk at me later. Bounce it off me mañana. These were the fast and furious phrases Eschete used when he really should have said, “I am completely and categorically, clueless, but you’re not supposed to know that.”
Zack was shaking visibly now.
“That was a lot of work,” said Zack, “it would be nice to know what they think before I set these new tunes in stone.”
“Relax babe. We’re happening,” said Eschete, “don’t sweat it. I’m doing the lunch thing with their top people before the meet today. I’ll know everything absotively by then.”
What a fool, thought Zack, although at this point, he wasn’t certain who the fool was.
“Hey babe,” said Eschete, “who’s my main man?”
“I am,” Zack regurgitated.
Zack hung up and walked to the window to watch the trees being bent by the wind. “How far can I bend?”

He thought of home and of how his folks used to comfort him when there was a storm. How safe he felt. They would tell him not to worry, it was only wind, rain, thunder, nothing to be afraid of at all. He wanted that feeling again. He thought of home.

“Hi Mom, what’s up?”
“Zack? Is that you?”
I think so.
“Yeah. Just called to say hi.”

"Are you OK Zack? Is everything alright?”
“I’m fine; couldn’t be better. Mr. Eschete and I have a meeting with Diamond Records to discuss my contract. Things are looking great.”
Just great.
“We miss you and want you to be happy out there Zack… as long as you’re happy we’re…”
Zack, more than anyone right now, wanted Zack to be happy. Hadn’t his mother heard what he said? Things were going great.
“I miss you guys too, Mom.”
Stop shaking.
“Your father wants to say hello.”
Stop it.
“Mom? Somebody’s at the door; I gotta go.”
Please… stop it!
“Kiss Dad for me. I’ll call again soon.”
“I gotta go.” 
Zack sat and trembled like the leaves in the howling wind outside. It wasn’t the coffee or the smokes. It was Mr. Fear once again saying, “Howdy-hi buckaroo!” What was there to be afraid of? Things were going great, weren’t they? Bo was on his side, wasn’t he? His songs were good enough.
Good enough.

Friday finally arrived and at last here he was, right in the middle of the biz, right where he had wanted to be since he arrived almost seven months ago. It was Friday. The day he had been working and hoping for. Zack shifted nervously in the expensive leather chair, while he looked around the plush office and waited for Bo and the record man. 

The office had the usual office stuff: a fern here, some couch-art there, a huge desk with a college diploma on the wall behind it. He squinted to read the guy’s name: Leo Gere. Maybe just “Leo,” but probably “myfriendscallmeLG.” What was the degree? “Forestry Management!?” Zack swallowed, gagged, and almost shouted, “My fate’s in the hands of Johnny Appleseed!?” 

Shaking his head and still examining the room, Zack looked anxiously at the desk. On it, conspicuous by their difference in height, lay two piles of CDs: the one on the left towered easily at a foot and a half, while the other consisted of exactly two CDs. 

 “Hardly a pile,” Zack mused. He craned his neck to look at them because for some strange reason, he felt he shouldn’t leave his seat. Was his CD on the right or the left? Feast or famine? The lady or the tiger? Door number 1 or number 2?
“Don’t make yourself crazy,” he whispered to himself. He straightened suddenly as he heard the click of the latch in the doorknob. “Relax,” he thought, “this is it.”
“Whoa!” exclaimed Eschete as he and the record man entered the room, “I’ve never seen it this windy before.”
“I hear that,” replied the record man, “it almost blew my Beamer of the blacktop this morning.”
Zack rose for the introduction.
“Leo Gere?” Eschete said, “this is Zack.”
“Glad to know you Mr. Gere.”
“Call me LG my man, everybody does.”
Zack flinched almost visibly. Gere’s handshake reminded Zack of the fish market where he used to work during his summers at Lake Michigan. The weather was typically humid and cloudy with a constant wind that blew in from the big lake, and Zack used to love standing at the end of the long pier, looking across, wondering what was out there.
“Zack? You here?” chided Eschete.
“Yeah. I just flashed on something that… yeah… I’m here.”
“LG says the tunes have wheels babe. He shot them up a rung.”
What the hell does that mean?
“Um, wheels?” he responded.
“You know. Wheels man! They’re on their way; moving up. You know!” said Eschete.
Try speaking English for a change, thought Zack.
“I’ll have a definite read for you Monday,” added Gere, “I want to bounce it around some more.”
Bounce this around, thought Zack as he glanced down to his lap. Two more days? Why not now? What’s wrong with now? What’s wrong?”
“I was sort of hoping to have some idea today,” Zack said, as he looked from Gere to Eschete, “You did say Friday, right?”
“That’s the way the rock rolls babe. Right LG?”
“Right as rain,” replied Gere.
Forget the rain; Zack was beginning to feel the full force of the wind.

            Back in the car, as they pulled out on Sunset, Eschete shrieked at Zack.

"Listen man. If you ever pull a stunt like that again, you’ll lose me faster than you can say Johnny Appleseed.”

Zack looked at Eschete and couldn’t help wondering if he was somehow psychic.
“You told me that we would know on Friday,” Zack said almost pleading, “Today is Friday. I was counting on it.” The thought of having to wait again was almost too much to bear. It was too much.
“Listen babe, LG said it had wheels, you heard him.”
Zack heard it all right, but he had heard a lot of things these last months. He was starting to wear down from only hearing and not seeing. He was dreading the wait because he knew Mr. Fear and Mrs. Doubt would be spending the weekend again.

“It’s a windy mother,” Eschete said, perhaps trying to change the subject, “I’ve never seen it this windy before.”
Zack didn’t notice. In fact, he was noticing less and less with each mile they drove. A fog had blown around him, and it was making it harder to see anything clearly.

            When Eschete picked him up on Monday afternoon, Zack wasn’t really sure what day it was. The last two days had been a blur to him; they had melted together to the point that Zack wasn’t sure of anything. His recent inability to dream was made irrelevant by his more recent inability to sleep. At one time, maybe as recently as Friday, he was sure this was what he had come West to get; a shot at the big time, the brass ring. Just one more time around and he would reach again, straining for all he was worth. Trying to reach it, trying to grab it, trying again.
“You sure you got the right CD babe?” asked Eschete as they drove out of Laurel Canyon.
“Yeah,” said Zack from within his fog, “I got it.”

“You OK babe? You seem a little... I don’t know... you OK?”
Who’s he talking too? thought Zack.

            Leo Gere seemed to be exactly where they had left him: behind his desk with his two piles of CDs. For some reason, an image of King Solomon came to Zack. The decision maker. The giver of life and the executioner. The axe man.
“Hey babies!” enthused Gere as they sat down.
The irony of this greeting stuck Zack like a needle, but he didn’t react.
As they sat there, Gere rose and walked to the window. Pausing, he stared at the flagpole in the courtyard. Something… was… different.
“Did you bring the new CD?” he asked, still staring out.

"We got it and it’s gold man,” replied Eschete.
“Good. Before we get started… you should know… the other songs washed out.”
From deep within the mist, Zack heard, but couldn’t move.
Gere continued, “My people felt they were too derivative, too familiar. They decided to send them back to me.”
“Yeah,” said Eschete, “I figured that too.”

            This time Zack tensed only slightly and then fell back into the chair and into the rising mist, a little further this time, showing absolutely no outward reaction. Nothing. He was somewhere else now with the wind whistling wildly around him.
            Gere was still staring at the flag when it came to him. The flag was no longer straight out from the pole. The wind had stopped. A bit flustered, he turned to face what was left of Zack.
“Um, like I was saying,” continued Gere, somewhat haltingly now, “We want to run this new one up the flagpole and see who salutes.” Gere half chuckled to himself as he said this.
“Well… we should bail then,” said Eschete, “we want to miss the rush traffic. Zack?”

Zack wasn’t there anymore, hadn’t been there for some time. Physically perhaps, but only that. He just sat there, staring at his hands, not seeing them, completely still.
“Zack?” this time from Gere, “Listen man, we’ll be in touch. Don’t sweat it, it’s the biz, am I right?”

            Finally, with great effort, what was now left of Zack rose, staring at nothing and no one. As Eschete opened the door and stepped into the hall, Gere spoke again, “Zack? Are you OK?”

            Slowly, smoothly, as if his neck was ball bearings, his head a turret, Zack turned his head, his eyes glazed and unfocused, his expression blank. Looking out the window past Gere, Zack suddenly saw it all as clearly as a shiny penny in a sun-drenched pool. His attention more firmly fixed than ever before with the truth of it, now, at last, right in front of him. A smile came over his face as he turned to Gere, looked through him, and said,
“It’s nothing sweetie... just the wind.”

Zack turned and walked out, closing the door behind him.
            Now alone, Leo Gere couldn’t resist the involuntary chill that came over him as he turned to look out where Zack had looked, out the window, to the flagpole, to the flag.

“Now it’s blowing the other way,” he said.

* The End *

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