“Really? ‘Did he find god’?”
“Does god need to be found?”
“He’s suppose to be omnipotent. If he needs to be found, then something’s wrong.”
I laughed. I couldn’t argue with her logic.
When Jeb and I started this journey (of sorts) it was completely without spoken agreement, arrangement, or even understanding of what our roles were. Mostly we went about our day to day lives, movements, and boundaries slightly altering our paths to coincide with whatever new element was introduced along the way. As two prideful people it is best to have these slight shifts without direct focus as it gives the air of respect for each other’s ego while minding the more important inner fragility of the person themselves. To the outside, it seems like pride, to us it wasn’t. It was something of micro paradigm shifts for which one can endure the pangs of change while still grasping to the comfortable stability of roots.
I sometimes felt like I was part of a 1920s New York City vaudeville act where we made it through everything the world threw at us, even Prohibition. But suddenly I find my partner was offered a tremendous Hollywood deal in the new “talkies” and I was left backstage at the Lyceum theater sitting on stool with nothing more than a collection of old memories frozen in photographs without someone dependable to fill in the gaps when I flubbed decades of dance routines and slapstick onstage in front of a house packed with thousands of spectators. The loss of a friend is one thing, but loss of a two-man act is a loss of deep history, future history, future inspiration. It’s a loss of art. It is only then I could realize how separation and disassociation sometimes brings to light that too much time on one side of the stage begets a complete ignorance about those of the other side. It works in both directions between audience members and performers.
The communication with the high school ‘kids’ helped curve that feeling of losing a fellow artist and set a repouring of a foundation, which was a good thing because the next surge of emails came from the second part of Jeb’s life: the Navy. It was a middle step between the teenager who made everyone in the back of the bus learn lyrics from the Violent Femmes and one step closer to Scot Free, the guy I almost didn’t know. It was a smaller group with less volume, but their voice cut with more depth.
Whenever meeting the ‘best friends’ of someone you are close to from the past, there is a slight quiet sense of ‘appraising one’s worthiness’ in the part (and that is about as nice as I can put that). It occurred quite recently when I met another best friend of Conrad (who I mentioned in “Chapter Five”). We are now great friends, but back when we realized who the other person was there was an immediate “sizing up” of the other… and Conrad had been dead for 12 years! It’s nothing bad, it’s just very ‘ex-lover’ish and even though that ‘love’ is not romantic in nature, the aspects of reaction still remain the same.
When I get an email from Craig, my first reaction was oh fuck fuck. I knew who this was. Craig is a straight guy, Jeb’s roommate from the Navy, his old best friend, and the guy who turned Jeb Mobley from an uncoordinated novice at a turntable into the very well loved, talented, and respected DJ Scot Free. He also works out a lot and could beat my ass. He has beaten other people’s asses. He is a “man” in every definition of the word. What sucks is that I thought he was just a myth, something Jeb made up. I had to verify with Brian that the shadow in history actually existed. He did exist. Brian met him on a trip to east coast. Oh fuck fuck… fuck. This comes with more conflicting neurosis because we were all talking about a very similar person, so they knew Jeb’s hard-headedness, but still… he died on my watch. With Craig there were three email exchanges, at most – no stories, no clutter. What was said was said. He was a man of few words and more action, so as far as words were concerned, nothing more was needed after that.
Not so much for Christina, who would be the sole member of the Navy delegation. I get a call from her after a brief email exchange. The voice I hear starts immediately discussing things as she has a mastery of definitive speaking. She assured me that Craig “most likely would not” fly to Austin just to punch me in the face for not shoving HIV pills down Jeb’s throat instead of Tuaca. I was “most likely” not comforted with that response.
“I am flying into Dallas next week for a conference. I will see you there.”
“You will? I mean yes. I will drive up, it takes a few hours.”
“Drive? Nonsense. Melissa will get you a flight.”
“Okay. I’ve never done that. On such short notice, it might be a bit pricey.”
“Well it doesn’t matter. I got it. No argument. Its my Christmas present to you.”
“James. This is what I do. Now say ‘Thank you’ and bring something cute to sleep in. I do not wake up to ratted underwear.”
“Only if you wake up 30 minutes before I do to apply natural-looking make up and do your hair.”
“So I can crawl back into bed…”
“Exactly. If you’re going to be the first woman I wake up to in well over a decade, I can’t have you making me any gayer. Not in Dallas.”
Less than an hour later I had an email from Melissa confirming my 45 minute flight to Dallas where I was encouraged to arrive an hour and a half early for check in. As a side note, I have always avoided the jump between Austin and Dallas (or Austin to Houston) mainly because I couldn’t justify having a longer airport wait time than actual airplane flight time. Also (and most importantly) most airplane crashes happen either at take off or landing and the flight to Dallas is all take off and landing. Statistically there is no more danger than any other flight, but in my head there wasn’t any recovery time between “danger” issues of take off, realizing we are going to live, cocktail celebration, and ‘oh crap we’re descending.’ That entire cycle happens in less time then it takes to get a coffee at Starbucks during morning rush hour.
Christina and I had 2 days, 13 costume changes, a traumatized Domino’s employee, and breakfast in bed. It was fantastic. We both have strong intuition. Normally this intuition undergoes revision as information is gathered, but together, it was like having our very own assurance-crack vending machine as our initial intuition needed no revision. And even if they did need revision, we would still find ways to make the adjustments applaudable as they then became a source of inspiration for us, and those who love us.
“Jeb mulled over it for some time, we discussed it on and off. Finally he agreed and signed the papers on October 31st, Halloween.”
“Oh. That’s really cool. But that’s not what happened. Come on. Spill it.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s sweet, nice, rehearsed, and entirely way to glossy. What happened?”
That didn’t take long. (In frustrated manics) “Oh my god. We talk about it sporadically… on random days, maybe. Its me asking about it and he returns with a dry mouth grunt. And a month later he asks some off the wall question about life and death. Then it’s quiet again. What the hell?”
“He was processing. That was his way of opening up. Why are you upset? You worked very well with what he gave you.”
“Which was nothing. And I’m glad he processed so well because come Halloween it’s just… BAM! ‘I signed the papers.’ And I’m like, I’m not there yet, asshole. And those brochures… they are so ridiculously sad.”
“He knew your shock. He was deflecting with the brochures. He always did that.”
“It was ripping the Band-Aid off like… RIP!”
“I know, but wasn’t that better? For the both of you? You got things in gear and look at you. Doing so well with the new job. And you’ve lost weight.”
“This is the first time you’ve met me.”
“From Facebook pictures. Trust me. I know. You look good.”
“But we could’ve had more of an actual discussion, you know? More of a pow-wow.”
“Well, in his mind, maybe you did. Your presence there allowed him to comfortably connect with someone he knew and trusted. You made that possible. And by you not hounding him about it vocally, he was able to have your discussions mentally and finally make a reasonable determined decision.”
“That was nice of me.”
“Don’t let little things like that bother you. Plus, we all have imaginary discussions in our head. It doesn’t make them any less real.”
“Have you ever won an argument with a man using that reasoning?”
“We’re focusing on you, remember?”
When two professionals versed in the art of enabling stabilize to each other’s frequency, it’s a dangerous thing. But now, with this new step, I was treading in familiar territory. I could see the form set by the ‘kids’ from high school, sculpted by his friends in the Navy, and later would be colored in by the bar sponsoring his pseudonym. This looked more like the Jeb I knew. We were talking about the same person and we were able do so in his original language. It’s like going to an amusement park you visited as a child and finding the same spark of wonder and excitement from the same characters and signage you did so many years before.
She bought out volumes of photographs and went through her history, their history… or the parts that she remembered. There was so much that is blank just from the sheer volume of events and movement, excitement, availability of cheap drugs, and the copious amount of alcohol consumed… just life, living. Even some pictures she shared were footnoted with “I have to admit, I do not remember any of this trip.” Once they walked off base on Fridays they were just regular Americans terrorizing every European country they could puddle-jump to. She listed all the marriage propositions she received and the country of origin of each man. She talked about the night Jeb proposed to her. Again, Jeb and his ‘protector gene’ was at play. She talked fondly of Craig although they hadn’t spoken to each other in over 10 years, and the two of them have a history that rivals any telenovela one could ever imagine. She talked about Chris (I would end up meeting the extremely sweet-natured contemplator Chris in the future) and the positive influence Jeb had on “Little James,” helping him come out of the closet.
“When did Jeb come out of the closet?” I asked.
“He was never… in the closet. He just always was. He didn’t talk about it, but the Navy isn’t like the Army. As long as you did your job well, no one cared either way.”
(Craig later extended on this mentioning how Jeb didn’t tell people of rank anything although all his friends knew. Jeb discharged from the Navy first, and after he left Scotland Craig took it upon himself to out Jeb to everyone on the base (via various awkward situations). The humorous twist is that the next time Jeb returned to visit the group for a weekend picnic… everyone of authority knew definitively that he was gay. Jeb was unaware of this and kept wondering why everyone was staring at him throughout the weekend. All of his friends were in hysterics.)
When Ed and I were going through Jeb’s stuff I noticed a Russian watch. I knew that watch but I didn’t know how I knew it. I took it and kept it for a while. When the Navy group started to email me, pieces of a path started to formulate. I took the watch with me and showed it to Christina. Her eyes immediately watered. I mean immediately… she barely saw the strap and she knew what it was. She knew the story.
On a trip to London he had come across a guy from the other side. Realize that just because the Cold War was over didn’t mean everything between our two superpowers were warm and cozy. There was still surveillance going on between Russia and the United States. Upon meeting this guy and sharing a few drinks, Jeb wanted to trade him a lighter (we think) for his watch. The Russian agreed. It almost seemed like it was a quiet meeting of two soldiers in “no man’s land” that just happened to be set in bar in London. Each serviceman walked away with proof of sharing a drink with the opposition. That was Jeb, making friends where others saw enemies, a guerrilla fraternizer. I gave the watch to Christina.
She and Jeb were more than just friends, they were people who were in comfort, each other’s security blanket. Anything else projected to their audience from their stage was something of a “Punch and Judy” idiocy with her in tiara and boa and he in jeans and a t-shirt. It was a solid combo that had everyone in stitches even years later. Her and I were, in fact, two completely different people with two completely different takes on the same theatrical sidekick character. Not a single line of dialog had changed. Her and I were mourning the engine of our individual sideshow acts – the person who brought to the table insane inspiration and encouragement, appreciation , non-judgmental discussion, and straightforward criticism.
I flew back to Austin feeling better than I did before, although at the time I was even more afraid Craig was going to show up to my door and punch me in the face. Once again, the amount of honest laughter that came from the weekend was needed to push me forward. It was hearty laughter, dirty laughter… laughter about ashes sealed in cockrings. On the whole, however, it was easier since more time had passed between the shock of hearing the news about it and sitting down to talk about it. Emotions had run most of its course but again, people still needed information… and information leads to closure.
When I got hit in the head with this Navy almanac of dazzling mostly-true facts about high-wire viewing from low-lying places, I saw a mirror. It was a parallel universe where the part of me was played by Xtina Xtrema and she could out drink anyone in the audience, but first… her portrayal of an innocent young girl by the lake. Their show was like our show and not for the audience, it was a challenge to ourselves. What we presented to the world was nothing more than the fourth wall of the proscenium and behind us a cleverly hidden series of ropes, pullies, and props. The real show was what we were seeing. And there it was, me not being a participant. Instead, I was witnessing all this in silent pictures from the audience point of view for the first time. I couldn’t believe the laughter that came out of me. It was a spectacle to see. But before I could absorb the genius, the house lights went up and the show was over.
(It would be years later before I had a chance to meet Craig the man… the myth in person, face to face. I can say that he is quite impressive, the one and only person you will ever need standing beside you in a bar fight, or any fight. He is one of the strongest, most formidable people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I am proud albeit extremely humbled to have stood shoulder to shoulder with him in Jeb’s world. Thankfully, he did not punch me in the face. In fact, he and Chris actually bought me dinner. It was my birthday.)
James P. Perez © 2014