Out of Touch at The Dream Hotel * 2015 By Zach Selwyn
It was two-o-clock in the morning and I was standing on the street outside the Dream Hotel in New York City when a slick looking hustler in a Panama hat sided up to me.
“You looking for girls tonight?” He said.
“Naah man, I’m just trying to get some air.”
“You sure? Just up those stairs across the street is all kinds of hoes… I’m talking Thai girls, Russians, Mamis… You ever bang a bad bitch?”
“What exactly is a bad bitch?” I asked.
“If you don’t know, then you’ve never banged one…”
I have been in New York City for roughly 36 hours. In that time, I have averaged 4 hours of sleep a night, eaten 7 street hot dogs and drank close to 19 cups of bad deli coffee. I have also realized that I am the most out of touch loser in the city. The average Manhattan man around my age is sporting a hundred dollar undercut and a long beard – which is eerily similar to L.A. (With only a few less Man-Buns). The difference is, these guys are also rocking 3,000 dollar Ted Baker suits and wingtips. As for me, I am wearing a 1970’s – era Wrangler cowboy shirt, some Lee Riders from the early 80’s and a pair of ¾ boots I scored from a TV show wardrobe department about 4 years ago. My hair is pretty tame and I still have Beverly Hills 90210-era sideburns. I’m also wearing a trucker cap that reads “Roy Clark” on it, bellbottoms and a belt buckle that features Chester the Cheetah riding a Harley motorcycle beneath the inscription “Cheesy Rider.”
I feel a little like Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy because NOBODY is dressed like me. Funny thing is, this is how I have been dressing for 15 years. A few years back, in the early 00’s, everybody started dressing like this. Now, those days are long gone and I’m the only guy on 8th Avenue wearing a shirt that unsnaps when you tear it apart and a turquoise ring.
And apparently, I have no idea what a “bad bitch” is.
I realized I was grossly under-dressed when I attended the first business dinner with the company I am working for. I figured it would be a quick bite at a local bar, but it turned into the type of place where they asked me to remove my hat as I sat down. The next day, at the company’s request, I made my way to a J. Crew to try and find something respectable that I would feel comfortable wearing. I settled on a checkered red, white and blue button-down and some horrendously skinny jeans. The price? $254.
When the sales associate asked me “how my sock game” was, I told him, “Fine. I buy all my socks at Ross: Dress for Less.”
“How’s your shoe game?” He asked.
“I have these nice ¾ boots,” I said.
“Uggh, please – nobody is wearing ¾ boots anymore,” he retorted. “You need some wings!”
I walked out of the store.
I couldn’t place my finger on it, but Manhattan had begun to seem too cookie cutter. I guess I was aware of the Duane Reade explosion and the Starbucks on every corner, but I was not prepared for the fashion clones that had sprouted up everywhere. Sure I was ten years older than the average guy out on a Wednesday night, but even I could sense a lack of originality. New York City, which was once full of punk street kids, trendsetters and Mapplethorpe-worshipping leather daddies sticking whips in their asses and walking into a Saks Fifth Avenue, had become somewhat tame.
I recently read an interview with AdRock of the Beastie Boys talking about how the “New York of his youth had disappeared.” I was beginning to understand what he was talking about. Manhattan in the 70’s and 80’s – before the crackdowns and the $8200 a month rent – was an artistic and fantastic place to be. These were the days before the smelly Times Square Jack Sparrows. Before Hell’s Kitchen was a gentrified hipster paradise. In the late 80’s I would visit my second cousin and roll down Canal Street to buy fake Gucci jackets, leather African medallion necklaces and a bootleg cassette of LL Cool J’s Walking With a Panther. The tape-dealers would offer me “smoke,” which scared the crap out of me. At one point, my mom dragged me away from a couple of black guys who were standing around Washington Square Park discussing the new Bobby Brown On Our Own song from Ghostbusters II. I tried to inject some white boy wisdom by saying I thought Bobby should’ve written a second rap verse instead of repeating the “Too hot to handle, too cold to hold” line and they ignored me as if I was “Chester the Terrier” following around the bigger “Spike the Bulldog” in the Looney Tunes cartoons.
The only exception I could find was in the Dream Hotel. The first couple of nights I was in town, I took it easy, stayed in my room, watched TV and had sex with the full-length pillow. However, a hotel room can only hold you captive for so long and eventually I came downstairs to find out where the notorious dark side of this fantastic city had wound up. I now believe it all centers around the Dream Hotel. Within an hour of hanging in the lobby, I was propositioned by more pimps, hustlers, hoes and drug dealers than I have seen in 20 years in Los Angeles. Methy looking skinny teenagers were offering me weed, cocaine and what they claim is “Government pure MDMA.” The lobby was crawling with hookers and late night denizens of the rooftop nightclub, which is named “PDH.” An acronym for what I can only imagine is “Pimps, Drugs and Hoes” based on the army of thick women standing around comparing 9 inch Indian weaves and elastic black twat-length skirts that barely cover their clitori. (Is that the plural for “clitoris?”)
The new Manhattan underbelly had become what Jay-Z sang about in Empire State of Mind. “Ballplayers, rap stars, addicted to that limelight…” Everywhere I went folks were talking about money, cars and rap music. If Los Angeles is supposedly a vapid, material city full of superficial idiots, New York City has embraced a lifestyle full of flashy watches, bottle service, velvet ropes and hangers on… So much so that when I tried to get access to the PDH nightclub on the top floor, the bouncer looked at my “shoe game” and instructed me to “please wait in the other bar.”
I didn’t really want to go up to PDH, but it did seem like it had to be part of my Dream Hotel adventure. So I waited in the bar drinking 17 dollar glasses of shoddy tempranillo wondering how anyone can listen to this much house and trap music in one day. The hotel sort of felt like Miami, but it was 40 degrees cooler and Pitbull wasn’t here singing some shitty song about how “white girl got some ass.”
Finally a large Puerto Rican man came over and told me that since I was a guest of the hotel, all I needed to do was show my room key and I could gain access to the club. I sauntered up towards the door, bypassing the line of desperate gold diggers and club kids and flashed my hotel room key. It was the first time in my entire trip that I had felt somewhat cool.
The nightclub was everything I always hated about nightclubs. Expensive drinks, a DJ mixing Calvin Harris with Blondie, hairy men pouring vodka-cranberry drinks for girls who were most likely being paid to hang around them and intimidating looking security guards who mad-dogged anybody ordering a single beer instead of a 2500 dollar bottle of Grey Goose.
I stayed for 8 minutes.
On my way downstairs, I decided I had to get outside and just see the street. I was sick of the lines, the attitude and the fact that a cast member from Real Housewives of Atlanta had demanded to cut the line… and was placated with a free bottle of vodka. I had to walk to a deli and buy some water and eat a sandwich and try to get some sleep before my work event the following day.
I came back to the hotel with my snacks and drinks – which, by the way, were shoved into about 11 plastic bags by the deli owner as if the plastic problem doesn’t exist in New York – and stopped to listen to the sidewalk pimps do their thing. They were like the dude selling Eddie Murphy’s gold hair dryer in Coming to America. I heard some remarkable stuff:
“You wanna table shower my man?”
“I got one tranny but she visiting her brother at Riker’s right now.”
“Playa, I can get you three at once, but you gotta wear three rubbers.”
I guess Manhattan hadn’t changed that much. Instead of bootleg tapes, men were looking for the booty. These hipster hotels had become infidelity dens and the cops just seemed to look the other way. And as for the falling crime rate – well – as this night was coming to a close, NBA player Chris Copeland was actually stabbed in an altercation outside of 1OAK nightclub just a few streets away from where I was staying.
As I strolled towards the entrance, I passed by my friend in the Panama hat one last time.
“Yo, son – I got you. I know you wanna find out what a bad bitch is,” he propositioned.
“I’m good, man,” I said. “I gotta get to bed.”
I went up to my room and had sex with the full-length pillow.
THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM THE PRIVATE JOURNAL OF ZACH SELWYN MARCH 12, 1996
SOMEHOW, WE’RE ON A PLANE TO MIAMI…
Woah daddy… I am lucky to not be in jail right now.
It is 9 o’clock at night in Los Angeles and we are finally on a plane – on our way to Miami, where we will catch a puddle jumper to Key West to begin our Spring Break… My traveling companion is my best friend Dave Green… and we both just spent an hour detained at the airport for trying to board an earlier flight with two fake ID’s and an eighth of magic mushrooms balled up in one of Dave’s socks.
Luckily, the cops didn’t find the mushrooms.
They did, however, confiscate our fake ID’s and they laughed at how stupid we were… 20-year-old kids trying to use fake identification to take advantage of a free ticket issued by Dave’s father’s frequent flier miles…
If this all seems confusing, let me start this story one week ago…
Dave’s father, Rob Green, is a high-up stock trader from New Jersey. He is a constant traveler, and has miles on United Airlines that he never uses. So, as a gift to his son Dave, he transferred him two free round-trip airline tickets anywhere in the continental United States…. AND HE TRANSFERRED THEM BOTH IN DAVE’S NAME. Rob Green had also earned himself a free week stay at a hotel down in Key West, Florida that he said Dave was free to use. So, a week ago, Dave asked me if I wanted to go to Key West with him for Spring Break.
“Of course I said, but I can’t afford it.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Dave said. “I have two free tickets.”
“Yeah, but they’re both in your name.”
“I know, I looked that up. We have to mail the tickets in to change the name from mine to yours and it takes too long to convert them. So instead, we should go get you a fake ID that says your name is also Dave Green and we’ll both just use them… Plus, we need fake ID’s to get into bars in Key West anyway…”
PRESENT DAY LOS ANGELES NOVEMBER 9, 2018
Getting fake ID’s to board an airplane was Dave’s first dumb idea. We were both college students, with hair down to our shoulders often found dressed in Grateful Dead t-shirts. To the naked eye, we looked like drug users. To a cop we looked like drug dealers… Even my mother asked me how I was able to afford all the concert tickets I had been buying that year. When I told her I had ways of making money, she thought I was definitely dealing weed. (As it turns out, I had quit that after my freshman year. I was currently letting my fraternity brothers use my car for $10 a day…)
I was sort of the original UBER.
Anyway, since Dave was intent on getting me on the plane using his free ticket, a day later we found ourselves driving to a place in downtown Los Angeles known as “The Drive Through.”
“The Drive Through” is located in and around the corner of 7th and Alvarado. USC college students have called it the “drive through” for years, because you basically drive up and dozens of Latino men and women suddenly race to your window with whatever vices you needed. Weed, mushrooms, ecstasy… hookers… it was all there. Most importantly, however, we were told they could also get you a decent fake ID for $35.00.
As we pulled around the corner, we were easy marks. We were swarmed. Dave motioned to a shorter hustler and said, simply, “We need ID’s.” Five minutes later, we had pulled into an alley where we were escorted into a back room of a dirty warehouse. On the wall was a large blue screen. Everybody spoke a lot of Spanish. Having been a decent speaker since high school, I was still only able to translate the words “Facil” and “Dinero.” That meant “Easy Money.” A woman snapped two photos of us standing in the corner of the blue screen. We filled out some forms and in about a half hour, we both had brand new fake “Dave Green” California driver’s licenses.
The quality, however, was not exactly what you might call “acceptable.”
My ID said I was 5’7” tall (I’m 6’2”) and the city of “Los Angeles” was misspelled as “LOS ANGSELE.” It was by far the worst fake ID ever issued. And that beats my step-brother’s 1991 Arizona ID which mistakenly identified him as a woman.
When I examined this amateur document, my only hope was that, once we got to Key West, a Florida bouncer at a bar would have no idea what the California driver’s license looked like. So maybe, in the dark cover of a doorway, we would be able to pass through.
Meanwhile, as bad as my ID was, Dave’s had some issues as well. It did not have any misspellings, but it did say he was born in 1964 and that he was 31-years-old.
We complained briefly about the shitty ID’s, but they brushed us off, took our $70.00 and acted like they had better things to do than hear any complaints. We left, scared and disappointed and returned to our apartment where our roommates laughed at the pathetic documents we had procured.
Our friend Oren, a pre-law student had one comment for us…
“You guys are going to jail,” he said.
And guess what? Oren was right. Well… Dave ended up in jail… I did not. Luckily, I had a backup plan.
THERE ARE 3 POLICE OFFICERS BEHIND YOU, GENTLEMEN…
A couple of days after we had scored these ridiculous fake ID’s, I phoned my friend Josh Katz in Tucson, a senior at the University of Arizona. We didn’t exactly look alike, but we both had long hair. A week earlier, he had turned 21. So, I asked him if I could use his old driver’s license as my fake ID when I got to Florida. Luckily, he sent it immediately and I was in possession of a genuine Arizona drivers license that said I was of legal drinking age. The only issue was that Katz was about 15 pounds heavier than I was in his photo so, I had planned to just tell the bouncers that I had “lost a little weight” since the photo was taken.
So, now I had three ID’s in my wallet. My actual driver’s license, from Arizona. Josh Katz’s license. And a $35.00 piece of shit from “the Drive Through” that said I was “Dave Green from Los Angsele.”
Dave and I left for the airport about an hour before the flight was set to take off. We got to the gate and decided to go in different ticketing lines to check in. (Our master plan). Next, we handed over both of our ID’s… and said our names. (This was 1996… air travel was a LOT different back then). Dave obviously used his real Dave Green ID to get on the plane – and had no problem getting a ticket. When I tried to use MY Dave Green ID, however, the American Airlines employee took a long look at my license and asked me for my name.
“Uhm, Dave Green,” I said.
“Funny, another Dave Green is already checked into this flight… can you hold on one minute.”
“Sure,” I said.
She went to the back room. My hands started shaking and trembling. She was gone a long time. Dave came over to make sure everything was OK… About 10 minutes later, she returned and informed us that there were three police officers behind us who wanted to have a little chat…
When you get handcuffed, it happens surprisingly fast. It also kind of fucking hurts. Dave and I were shackled and forced to the ground, where three LAPD officers paced above us, displaying the fake ID I had failed to board a plane with.
“Where’d you guys get this ID?” They asked.
We stayed silent. Finally, I spoke up.
“This guy at our college gets them for like, 35 dollars… 7th and Alvarado.”
“Well, this guy makes pretty shitty ID’s,” an officer said.
“How much cocaine is in your luggage?” Was their next next question.
Luckily, as far as I knew, we weren’t transporting any drugs… They asked for my REAL ID, and I gave it to them. They asked for my name, date of birth, everything… it was frightening. Meanwhile, Dave looked shaken and nervous. The cops took our bags and proceeded to open them up in front of us. It was at this time, when Dave leaned over and whispered something in my ear…
“Dude, I have an eighth of mushrooms balled up in one of my socks.”
They brought out the drug-sniffing dogs. They prodded everything. A box of condoms spilled out from my toiletry bag. My dirty boxer shorts were lifted in the air by a metal pointer device. My heart raced… I was going to fucking jail. 20-years-old, and I was gonna have a record.
“What was the plan here, boys?” An officer named ‘Polo’ inquired.
It was then, that Dave manned up and explained the entire situation.
“Look… this is my fault,” he explained. “My dad gave me two tickets in my name and we didn’t have time to transfer Zach’s name onto the ticket… so we got him a terrible ID and thought it might work because were just trying to get to Spring Break.”
The cops laughed. They asked me to confirm the story.
“He’s right,” I said. “We sort of knew it was a long shot because of how terrible the fake ID is… but we’re just two college kids and… yeah this was pretty stupid.”
“We are so sorry,” Dave said. “The changeover process takes so long… I feel like a idiot.”
There was a pause in the conversation. They had a little private meeting and I hung my head in shame, knowing this was probably the moment that would make my parents pull my tuition and force me to go finish up at a community college. They came back, and I was expecting to be dragged to a squad car outside.
“So you don’t have any drugs on you?” They asked. “Because we found something in one of the bags.”
That was it, I thought. Possession of a psychedelic drug. Transporting it across state lines. Dave and I were going to spend many months in jail.
“No sir,” Dave said, with absolute confidence. “We’re not druggies, we just wanted to have a few beers down in Key West.”
Was Dave insane? They said they had found drugs… Amazingly, they zipped up our bags and gave them back to us. They had NOT found anything, the cops were just bluffing.
“You have two choices,” the officer said. “Go home now… or you can buy another ticket for Zach to Miami tonight – but not in your fake name. Dave.”
They laughed. Then they un-cuffed us. We were free. Holy shit.
“Holy fuck,” Dave whispered.
He then went up to the counter and Dave bought me a round trip ticket for $875.00 on his dad’s credit card…
We were on our way to Miami, having dodged the first bullet of the trip.
AND THEN DAVE GETS ARRESTED…
We celebrated our close call with the cops by both having a few beers on the airplane. The flight attendants didn’t card us, or just didn’t care if a couple of kids had a few Bud Lights on a five hour flight. We landed, stumbled over to the Key West plane and then lost our shit nearly cartwheeling the plane into the Key West airport when some funneling winds blew our craft in an awkward position. Still, we had landed. We made it to the hotel and checked in and slept for about five hours.
We awoke to the crashing waves of the sea below. The hotel we were at wasn’t exactly some five-star resort, but it had some amenities that catered to tourists, like a wave runner rental, a banana boat ride and a small slide going into the swimming pool. There was a beach bar called “Rum Runners” and waiters who brought you the local fried delicacy, a sea snack called “Conch Fritters.” Dave and I settled in and I was happy to discover that my Josh Katz ID worked flawlessly at the Rum Runner, where I chatted up two guys who worked for the Equal Sugar Additive Company. Since I had to tell everyone that my name was Josh Katz, my new name was suddenly, “Katz,” and I felt like a Jew Lawyer who was constantly ridiculed by his partners.
“Hey, Katz – What are you drinking?”
“Hey someone bring Katz a beer…”
“Katz, you do taxes?”
It was then that one of the guys, named Neil, informed me that Key West was known for having a fair amount of six-toed cats running around the island.
“They’re called polydactyls, or something,” Neil explained. “A shit load of them live over on the former Hemingway estate… We’re gonna call you ‘Six-Toe’ the rest of the day, man! Hahahahahha.”
And from then on, I was “Six-Toe.” I guess it was a cooler name than “Katz” and it also meant I didn’t have to pretend I was the guy on my fake ID… I was just, simply, Six-Toe.
My new friends bought me a few rounds and I delivered them to Dave on the beach and I had suddenly caught a day-drinking buzz by 3:30. Retiring to the hotel for a nap, we sat on the balcony smoking Parliament cigarettes discussing what bars along Duval Street we needed to hit up to meet other college girls on Spring Break.
We woke up around 8 p.m. and hit the town in a taxi. As we cruised through town, the ghosts of Ernest Hemingway, Shel Silverstein and Hunter S. Thompson circled the streetlights – even though the raw hedonism of what Key West was before Jimmy Buffett had commercialized it was fading fast… Gone were a lot of the local smuggler bars… replaced by the corporate genius of “Margaritaville” and foot-tall hurricanes in a collectable glass.
The sidewalks were full of locals who looked a lot like we did. Long hair, pirate attire and sandals. Drum circles thumped out rhythmically from every street corner and being that we weren’t quite a year removed from the death of Jerry Garcia, local buskers warbled their way through covers of songs like “Bertha” and “Bird Song” above guitar cases full of loose change and homemade signs reading, “All who wander are not lost.”
We were dropped in front of the world famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a famous Hemingway haunt featuring the writer himself on their logo. Dave mentioned that he’d like to go in their eventually, so we took a stroll down Duval, looking for busier bars where more age appropriate females might want to have a covert fling with a couple of California boys. Soon, we landed in front of a Grateful Dead-like hippie bar called “Barefoot Bob’s.”
The band inside was playing “Soul Shine” by the Allman Brothers. I caught a glimpse of a blonde hippie Goddess dancing shoeless on the makeshift floor in front of the band. I turned back to Dave.
“This is our spot,” I said. I produced the Katz ID and breezed past the bouncer. I went to the bar and turned around to see where Dave was. I quickly noticed that he was stuck outside, being questioned repeatedly by the bouncer.
“Shit,” I said.
A few minutes later, two cops were escorting Dave to a nearby squad car. He was shoved in the back seat and I ran out after him. Too late. Dave was gone, off to the Key West police holding area for trying to use a fake ID to enter a bar. As the bouncer chuckled behind me, I heard him giggling to a nearby employee…
“Look at this piece of shit… It says that guy was 31-years-old.”
$175 DOLLARS OR COMMUNITY SERVICE
I had no way of contacting Dave. I had no idea who to call or what to do. I went back inside of Barefoot Bob’s and was now laser-focused on paying my tab and getting back to the hotel to gather myself. As I asked the bartender for one last shot of tequila before I went back to the Marriott, a slightly built blonde guy standing next to me toasted me in a strange accent with his Bud Light.
“Cheers, man… to Key West, huh,” he said.
“Yeah, man – cheers – except my buddy just got taken to jail for using a fake ID…”
“That sucks. I lost my license a few weeks ago at a bar because it’s from Sweden… so I roll with my passport now.”
He produced it. His name was Jonas Sarviddsen. He was 23 and impossibly tan, like one of those lifelong beach kids that never seem to freckle… but only get perfectly bronzed.
“I’m Jonas” he offered.
“I’m Zach… sorry dude, I gotta split and figure out where my boy Dave is…”
“Oh, I know where he is,” he said. “He’s at the police station. They’ll keep him overnight and he’ll have to do community service or pay 175 dollars.”
“What? How do you know that?”
“‘Cause that’s what tI had to do when they took my license… But, luckily, I called home and my mom sent proof that I was 23… Americans have no idea what a Swedish license looks like, ya know?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Alright, dude – I gotta go.”
“Wait,” Jonas called out. “I’ll help you – I can help you with getting him out of jail.”
This shit was getting weird. A young Swedish guy was trying to tag along with me for some reason. I motioned to the bartender for my bill once again and he brought it. Without hesitating, Jonas threw a 20 dollar bill on the bar and said, “I got it, dude… just let me go with you to the hotel.”
OK. I am not homophobic, nor am I even scared of strangers who weigh 40 pounds more than me… but for some reason, this was feeling weird. I didn’t think Jonas was trying to hit on me, nor did I think he was taking me to some underground lair where I would be beaten and robbed… I just thought it was strange that he had bought my drinks and wanted to help me find Dave… I inquired into what was going on before we took even another step out of the door.
“Look man,” he said. “I live over in Marathon – I run Hobie Cats for tourists, but I came up here to party with my girlfriend – she’s a lawyer… makes good money, you know – but we split a few nights ago. She was cheating on me… it sucked. I slept on the beach last night and it sucked even more. Honestly dude? I’ll buy you as many beers as you want if I can come crash at your hotel for a night or two.”
I didn’t know what or where Marathon was, but I knew this situation seemed weird. I thanked him for the drinks, politely declined his offer and walked outside to hail a cab.
A minute later, he was outside with me.
“No cabs around here for a while,” he said from behind me. “But I have a car if you need a ride.”
Shit, I thought. A car would save me 15 bucks back to the hotel Plus, it didn’t look like there were ay around at that moment… And then I noticed that Jonas had cigarettes. And he also had a joint. And in this moment of weakness, when I should have been calling the police, or Dave’s father or going home and sleeping this horrible night off, I caved in to temptation. The smoke hit well. About twenty minutes later I was letting Jonas drive me to my hotel in his 1993 Nissan Altima.
“Windows down cool with you? A.C. is expensive, man,” he said.
“Cool with me,” I said, letting the ocean breeze wash through my hair as we drove through the city streets.
My best friend was in jail and I was letting a 23-year-old Swedish stranger drive me to my hotel where I was gonna let him crash for the night. In my mind, I figured I’d wake up without a kidney, drugged and robbed or not even wake up at all.
Fuck it, I thought. This guy bought me drinks and smoked me out… What could go wrong?
THE FOLLOWING MORNING
The ringing of the hotel room phone woke me up around 6 a.m. I wasn’t missing any vital organs and as far as I knew, Jonas hadn’t taken any of my cash… I rubbed my eyes and said hello.
It was Dave. He was calling me with his one phone call after spending the night in the Key West drunk tank. (Even though he blew a .03 when they administered a breathalyzer upon admittance). He was being charged with possession of a fake ID and underage drinking. And, just like Jonas had told me, he had two options… Pay the $175 fine, or do some community service. Eight hours worth to be exact. Being that he had already milked his dad when he bought me that $875.00 plane ticket the night before, he chose to do the community service… He would be picking up trash on the side of the road for the next eight hours. Then, he said he needed to take a taxi back from the station to the hotel. At that point, Dave decided, that he wanted to just get the hell out of town. Back to L.A. I told him I would do whatever he wanted… I was fine leaving without encountering any other police activity. He thanked me for understanding and I was about to hang up when Jonas spoke up from his other bed.
“Tell him we can pick him up so he doesn’t have to spend the money on a cab,” he said.
“Really?” I said back.
“Yeah, I owe you guys for the room last night… Tell him we’ll be there at 4 pm when they get back to the station.”
I told Dave I had met this cool Swedish fellow named Jonas and that he had a car and that we could save him a taxi ride back to the hotel… Dave was confused, but when I told him that Jonas had gone through the same night in the drunk tank a week earlier, he seemed fine with it.
“Just get me out of here and make sure we have booze and cigarettes when I get back to the fucking hotel,” he responded.
“No worries,” I said. “Jonas is like, 23 – he can buy us whatever we want!”
And I hung up, Jonas and I went back to sleep… and Dave went to the side of the road to pick up trash while wearing an orange jumpsuit.
I woke up around 11 a.m. feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Jonas had been up since 7:30, and had even ran on the treadmill in the hotel. I hated early morning workout people. Jonas made me feel like I was a cigarette away from a heart attack. After we showered, we went into town and ate at some cafe before heading back to the hotel to lie on the beach. It was then that he told me his story…
Jonas Sarviddsen was born in 1972 in Umea, Sweden. He never knew his father, and his mother had remarried a guy who had five kids from his previous marriage. After they split, Jonas had moved to Florida to get into treasure hunting, a very real profession in the keys, as I was finding out… where SCUBA-trained men, immigrants, dreamers and privateers scoured the floor of the sea searching for lost gold, jewels, doubloons, canons, metal, weaponry, you name it. If you were at all lucky, you could unearth anywhere from ten million dollars worth of sunken currency… to a valuable sword from past days of piracy and high seas adventure… Depending on what you admitted to finding, you were allowed a percentage for yourself and, according to Jonas, many men and women had spent the 70’s and 80’s getting very rich finding treasure at the bottom of the seas just off of the Florida Keys. Jonas was a licensed SCUBA diver and a captain. He was here to find sunken treasure. That was his job. He had been on hundreds of dives… and, up until this point, his biggest find was a piece of a broken sword form an 18th century Spanish ship that had fetched him $3,000 two years back. But three grand won’t get you very far in the Florida Keys… especially with an alcohol problem and a girlfriend who broke up with you on the beach just 48 hours ago…
“I’m pretty sure I know where a French shipwreck is, but these locals won’t let me explore it unless I pay them like 10 grand,” Jonas explained. “If you pay up ten large, we can split all that treasure dude, I’m serious.”
Serious or not, I was a college student already $50,000 deep into my student loans. I made $80 dollars a night as a fraternity party DJ… As much as I’d like to say I was interested in becoming a pirate treasure hunter, I had to turn him down.
“Dave’s dad has all the money,” I explained. Maybe you can ask him.”
“There’s a lot of lost history at the bottom of these waters,” he replied. “I’m gonna get rich someday.”
I have always been fascinated by those movies like Boyz in the Hood when a character like Doughboy (Ice Cube) comes back from a bid in prison and the neighborhood throws him like, a big bar-be-cue dance party – where all the homies gather round and celebrate their buddy’s freedom. I had never been a part of one of those parties, but I felt that after Dave’s experience, he needed a welcome home celebration as a way to make sure he wasn’t really serious about leaving Key West for LA only 24 hours after we had arrived. Jonas and I made a pact: We would throw Dave a “Get out of Jail” party and bring in a bunch of females, booze, joints and music… We spent the afternoon recruiting locals and other spring breakers to meet us at our hotel around five o’clock.
The first group of girls we had met were on spring break from Notre Dame. Kat, Emily and Rachel. Catholic girls They had driven down from Miami after flying in from Chicago and they had a rental car that they had affixed a lame Black Fly’s Sunglasses sticker upon… It read “FLYGIRLS.” This little sticker made them seem crazier than their Catholic school upbringing, even though they had probably purchased the thing at a Spencer Gifts for .99 cents… The sticker, for them, was the equivalent of a bachelorette party “penis hat” or something. It said they were in town and ready to get crazy… Which meant cigarettes, maybe a little weed, a thong in public and a shitload of Coronas.
To Jonas it meant “College chicks ready to have an orgy.”
I was just happy to have some females to finally flirt with – and especially to make Dan’s return from the clink a lot easier. (The more and more I think about this, the more hilarious it is to me that a middle class white dude picking up trash for eight hours deserved a ‘Get Out of Jail’ party). Still, he had brought me to Key West, so I was gonna take it upon myself to make sure his trip was better than it had been the first 48 hours.
Jonas and I bought a bunch of beer, rolled some joints and picked up Dave at 4:00 p.m. He had spent the day in the sun with 14 other 20-something kids who were all arrested for possessing fake ID’s. Jonas and Dave immediately got along, especially since Dave’s dad had a boat while he was growing up, so he took to Jonas right away. However, Dave didn’t want to immediately go back the hotel. His suggestion was that we meet his new friends Tim and Keith, who he had bonded with on the road spearing styrofoam cups that had been discarded by passing motorists. He said they Tim could get us into a bunch of clubs and that he knew where all the strippers went after their shifts. I was tempted, but Jonas reminded me that we had the Notre Dame girls coming by and that we had bought a shitload of beer for Dave.
“Maybe we can meet up with them later,” I suggested.
“OK,” he said. “They gave me the names of some bars we should be able to get in without a problem.”
Dave got home and wanted to sleep. He did. For four hours. The FLYGIRLS, as we had begun calling them, finally said they’d come by for a few drinks around nine. Dave woke up at 8:30. Jonas and I were just starting on the Sam Adams.
Kat, Emily and Rachel showed up. Dave perked up. We drank. We smoked. We went swimming…. Dave was into Emily, Jonas was into Rachel and Kat and I hit it off… for a few brilliant minutes, it was perfect. We were all on the beach, stumbling drunk, high, young and happy…
Dave looked at me and said, “thanks man… I needed this.”
“You did some hard time, bro,” I responded.
We all laughed and decided to go into town. It was around 11:30 at night.
Jonas said he was OK to drive, and the girls took their rental as well. We landed on Duval Street, seeking pizza and more cigarettes… and eventually found a small restaurant bar where we sat down on the outside patio and laughed and smoked for a few hours. I had managed to sneak a bunch of beer into the place in my backpack, so I slowly filled my glass throughout the night as the warm Florida air kissed our skin and left us smiling for hours. It was one of those nights where nearly everything seemed to flow perfectly…
The funniest moment was when Neil from the Rum Runner drove by the bar and yelled out simply, “SIX-TOE!!!”
Around two in the morning, we were all making out with our girls in different areas of the boulevard. From a distance, we heard a car tire screech and a police siren. It startled me enough to know it was time to go home and we hopped into Jonas’ car and made it back to the hotel for a final balcony cigarette and a conversation with each other about how this was one of the best nights we had ever had… I guess that when you’re 20-years-old, you seem to have a lot of “Best Nights Ever…” That is the beauty of youth, isn’t it? We are all grow so much and experience so much that every day is potentially a better day than we’ve ever had in our entire lives…
That’s the key to life, isn’t it? Keep moving and make every day your best day ever…
AND THEN CAME THE GIRL…
12:30 the next day and Jonas brought us back into town. We were all hungry, well rested and glowing. Jonas was grateful for letting him crash at the hotel, but he said that he had to get back to Marathon for a night to pick something up. “Some treasure hunting shit,” he said. We said our good-byes and I wasn’t sure if we’d ever see him again, but no matter what, he had been a huge part of this journey already. He dropped us at a restaurant where we could smoke and feel the salty air… It was then that our waitress arrived.
April was 18, from Vermont and had just moved to Key West. She was a restaurant employee by day and a poet by night and had complimented me on my rather lame “Carpe Diem” t-shirt. She had dreamer’s eyes, a body of a Goddess and one of those kind smiles that made you want to just start kissing her… She was full of beauty and laughter and as she filled our water glasses, both Dave and I knew we were in trouble.
After all, Dave and I had a long history of failing in love with the same women.
Freshman year there was Danielle, a northern California girl with a love of Marlboro Mediums, weed and white wine. Sophomore year there was Casey, a gorgeous Orange County blonde who we had both made out with merely weeks apart. And then there was Heather, my one-time girlfriend who Dave had subsequently dated after me… We were both acutely aware of our strange attraction to the same women, but as best friends, we had always shrugged it off. As we used to say in our fraternity house, “Bros before Hoes.” (Yes, this was – and might still be – a horrible motto that frat guys say to each other while in college).
But then again, girls like April did not go to the University of Southern California.
And guys like us weren’t your typical Spring Breakers partying for a week in Key West.
“Oh my God, that waitress,” Dave said.
“Yeah, she’s pretty… spectacular,” I responded.
We looked at each other sand started laughing. An hour later, she had agreed to meet up with us when she got off work.
“I’m done at seven tonight and then me and some friends are watching Basketball Diaries,” she explained.
“Oh, I love Leo,” I said.
“Me too!” She said through a smile. “He’s so talented.”
Dave rolled his eyes at me.
“You know, he got his start on Growing Pains, right?” Dave offered.
“He did?” April responded.
“Yeah, totally,” I said.
“I loved that show!” April said.
“I know… Alan Thicke, right?” Dave said.
“You know he did the theme song, too, right?” I added.
On and on we went with this type of shit. Dave and I trying to one up each other to impress this Goddess of the Keys with some stupid knowledge about Leonardo DiCaprio’s fucking acting career. Who cared. We were both just trying to hook up with her.
After we paid our bill and agreed to meet up with April after work, we strolled down Duval Street window shopping at the stupid tourist – friendly stores where a knock-off Calvin Klein T-shirt that had re-imagined the CK logo as a KW (Key West) logo sold for $15.00. I wondered who the hell would buy such a dumb shirt.
And then Dave saw an even dumber shirt.
On display in the window of this Key West novelty store was a white T-shirt with a small slogan printed upon the front of it… It read as follows:
I’M SHY, BUT I’VE GOT A BIG DICK.
“I need that,” Dave said.
“I’ll pay for it if you wear it the rest of the day,” I said.
Less than three minutes later, Dave was wearing a T-shirt that guaranteed he would never successfully run for any political office.
“I can’t believe you bought that,” I said.
We went to the hotel to swim and lay in the hammocks.
Dave disappeared upstairs to shower and take a nap. I fell asleep. Dave woke me up because his “prison friends” Tim and Keith were meeting us at a dockside bar where they didn’t card anybody… and a bunch of strippers were supposed to show up after ten.
I looked at my watch. It was 8:30. Shit, I had overslept and missed meeting April to watch The Basketball Diaries.
AND THEN CAME THE CRACK PIPE…
The dockside bar was amusing, as Dave quickly be-friended an older man in his 50’s who had a large beard and a bevy of women surrounding him. I spent most of my time doing shots with Tim and Keith and playing the jukebox, filling it with the Dead, Allman Brothers and Rolling Stones songs as we ordered beer after beer without ever being asked for our ID’s. Dave and the older guy were doing shots. Tim had cigarettes. The night air cooled my skin as every beer went down easier than the previous one. We got high and sang along to the jukebox and smiled and laughed and it was only around 11:30 that night when I realized that I was sort of bummed that I had not met April at her friend’s place to watch the movie. The so-called strippers never showed up, but life was good nonetheless.
And then Dave smoked crack.
I wasn’t sure how this started, but it seemed like the older guy in his 50’s was the one holding the pipe. He had walked around a corner with Dave and some girls and they had smoked a little weed… or so we had assumed. When Dave came back to the bar, however, something had changed.
“Dude, I smoked something that tasted like glue,” he said. “Now I’m all fucked up, bro… but I feel amazing.”
“Glue?” I responded. “What the fuck, man? Was it freebase?”
“I don’t know man, but you should take a poke,” Dave said.
“Fuck that,” I said.
And then Tim and Keith informed us that yes, the bearded man Dan was smoking with was known for smoking “Bazookas.” A combination of crack or cocaine and marijuana in a joint.
“Holy fucking shit,” Dave said as his eyes dilated and his head started spinning. “I’m so fucked up.”
Tim, Keith and I managed to calm him down, after a while, and thankfully the jukebox had enough familiar music on it to see Dave’s head in the game. After about an hour, he decided he was going to go sleep on somebody’s boat in the marina, and we had a hard time restraining him as he stumbled into the docks with a glazed look in his eye. Eventually, a security guard helped us pour him into a cab and we sped back to the hotel to crash. Of course, this didn’t come easy, as Dave and I sat up talking for the next five hours, After I dumped an ashtray full of cigarettes over the balcony onto the plant life just beneath our room, I decided that it was time for bed. I crawled into my bed and put a Jackson Browne album on my Sony Discman… My Opening Farewell was the final track… I overanalyzed the lyrics for hours… was this his farewell to his opening album? Or was this a metaphor to my farewell to his days drinking snd smoking? Or a farewell to a woman he had just met and didn’t want to leave…? Every time I thought that I understood his lyricism, it hit me that he was 23 when he made this album. 23. Man., he was OLD. I couldn’t sleep.
Shit, at least nobody got handcuffed tonight.
THE TREASURE HUNT
Jonas had been knocking on our door for what seemed like 30 minutes. When I finally got up and answered, he high-five me and said he had great news… He had discovered a wreck 13 miles off shore where we could salvage some serious boating parts and hopefully come to the surface with some treasure. He claimed that he had spent the past 13 hours on the water, hovering above a wreck that even the deepest and most experienced treasure hunters didn’t know existed… It was the rest of the unrecovered the loot from the famed Nuestra Señora de Altocha, a half a billion dollar wreck uncovered by a famous Key West hunter named Mel Fisher in the 1980’s… Jonas said there were cannons, jewels, gold, and more sprawled everywhere across the nearby ocean floor. All he needed was a few grand to hire a crew and get some equipment and we would all be worth millions in less than 24 hours.
I tried to wake Dave to hear this plan. He wouldn’t budge.
“I dunno, man,” I said. “Dave wouldn’t pay $175 for community service yesterday… why is he gonna go ask his pops for three grand for a treasure hunt?”
“If he wants to be stupid rich, he will,” he responded.
After he woke up, 30 minutes later, Dave called his father to ask if he could fund a treasure hunt for himself, his friend Zach and a Swedish pirate who had apparently discovered sunken treasure off the shores of Key West. His dad actually held a conversation with him for a good 20 minutes about it. In the end, however… he had denied Dave’s request.
“Fools seek treasure,” he had told him. “Smart men seek rich wives.”
Dave’s dad was fucking cool.
We took the Hobie Cat out to the wreck anyway, and Jonas navigated the wind perfectly until we hit some coordinate he had written down in a journal. It was much colder out on the water. Luckily, to combat my sea-sickness, I got high and sang “Wooden Ships” in my head to keep my balance… and sanity. When we found the area where Jonas’ treasure was, we looked down and saw only lumpy sand.
“Beneath those mounds is gold, weaponry, collectibles, man… who knows!” He declared.
I think Dave was happy he hadn’t procured any moment from his pops. This seemed like we were searching for El Dorado or something. Still, Jonas went down. He was able to deep-dive for up to three minutes and he wanted get as close to the surface as he could. As he sunk down in the water, leaving me and Dave alone on the Hobie cat, Dave awkwardly looked at me and whispered, “Have you ever seen Dead Calm?” He said. “We’re gonna DIE out here.”
We both laughed for the remainder of Jonas’ trip to the bottom of the ocean.
When he came back he said it was too rough that day and the visibility wasn’t up to par for treasure seeking. Fuck it, he said. We should go back to shore and have a party. Dave and I agreed and our days as treasure hunters came to an end.
That night we took Dave’s mushrooms. More importantly I tracked down April after her shift and was able to apologize to April for missing the Basketball Diaries screening.
“Oh, don’t worry – we just got drunk and went swimming instead,” she said.
I invited her out that night to meet on Duval Street and – if she was in – to take some mushrooms with us. She agreed and we met up around nine. The world spun, the walls breathed and the trees swayed to the beautiful balance of the world. I took my journal with me and wrote a half poem/ halflove letter to April about her delicious energy, her nymph-like easy way of gliding through life and how if I was to live near her, I would love her, caress her and make her every day better than the last… as a lover and a friend. I was smitten with this girl – and made a decision to giver her this note at some point in the night. Of course, you’re smitten with a lot of things when you’re on mushrooms… For instance, April and I walked into a touristy store full of tchotkes and refrigerator magnets and I decided that it was a good idea to buy a stuffed gecko and name him DWAYNE because for some reason – at that moment in my life – DWAYNE was the best name in the entire world and this beautiful girl who was lacing her arm through mine looked like a dream and maybe… just maybe… if you someday get married, this DWAYNE gecko will become some symbol of everlasting love and commitment…
“I think DWAYNE is having a good time,” April said.
“I think I love you,” I said to April as we sat in the branches of a Banyon Tree.
I had never told a girl I had loved them before. I didn’t know if I did. I didn’t know what to expect. But I didn’t care. At that moment, I was in love with that face. I laid my heart on the table and awaited a response.
“Hmmm,” she hummed. “You’re sweet.”
I read that one pretty easily. I was in love with this girl and she was just happy to be in the moment. I watched Dave as he lit a cigarette a few feet away from me… I shook it off, took a walk to a street corner and wrote another stupid poem in my journal. Something about breath in the skies, billowing canvases my new life as a “Gentlemen Pirate.”
When I came back, Dave had moved in on April and was giving her a neck massage. Same shit, different state.
After April declared it, “The best back rub she had ever received” she smiled at Dave and slid away to meet another guy at the ice cream shop for a quick hello. Dave and I sat together, gathered our thoughts and admitted that we were both in love with the same girl.
“Why does this always happen to us?” He asked.
“It will probably happen the rest of our lives,” I said.
“Let’s have one more cigarette in honor of this epic trip.”
“Yessir… I’m quitting after this trip by the way.”
“Yeah… me too.”
April came back with her friend, a musician from a local band called Grooveyard. They were about to play and she wanted to go watch them. Of course, Dave and I tagged along. The band was a Buffett-meets-Marley like reggae outfit full of stoner-friendly grooves and clever hooks. I dropped 16 bucks on a CD. Dave and I watched as April flirted with the bass player… We were both coming down and somewhat devastated. Even DWAYNE, the little stuffed gecko in my pocket looked upset and confused. When the show finished, Dave and I both stared at each other, wondering if she was coming with us – or going home with the rock star.
“She’s gonna bang the bass player,” I said.
“Yep,” Dave responded.
But a few minute later, April came over. And smiled. And told us that we made her feel “slinky,” which Dave and I both totally understood at that particular moment in time.
“I’m sort of in love with both of you,” she said. “And I know you’re like close friends… so I don’t wanna be that person in the middle.”
“I get it,” I said.
“I do too,” Dave added. “But you wouldn’t be the first one.”
She smiled, leaned in and kissed us both on the cheek. As she turned to walk away with her bass player she looked back and both of our hearts melted.
“Wait,” I yelled before running up to her. “I want you to have something.”
I reached into my journal and tore out the 2 page poem I had written for her when I was flying high on caps and stems a few hours earlier. I pressed it into her hand… As I did, I whispered in her ear.
“Read this when you’re alone… and please call me and write me and understand that this was a once in a lifetime connection.”
She smiled at me, spreading her lovely energy across my face, which I swear to God, at that time, I inhaled… deeply.
“You’re a beautiful soul,” she said.
She kissed me on the cheek and walked out of the bar. I walked back to Dave… who had one thing to say.
“You wrote her a fucking poem, didn’t you?” He said.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
Before we left Key West, Jonas came back over and we had one last hotel party. The Flygirls came over as well and we all decided we would keep in touch forever. Jonas gave me all his information. I wished him the best of luck in hunting down that Spanish treasure in the middle of the ocean and he thanked us for letting him stay in our room. My make out buddy Kat told me she wanted me to visit her. I told her I would… In reality, I was only thinking about April…
Dave and I were too hungover on the flight home to discuss the trip. I couldn’t even write much in my journal, but I did manage to list the “best memories” – most of which are featured in this story. When we landed, we definitely spun some incredible tales to our roommates about our Key West adventure. We rattled off tales and sea stories of our brushes with law enforcement, all the beautiful women we met on Duval street, our mushroom journey and of course, April… After swearing off smoking anything, we put on the Grooveyard CD and proceeded to get high and smoke Parliaments until 5 o’clock in the morning with our roommates laughing about our fake ID’s and the close call at LAX a week prior.
“Told ya so,” Oren said.
The next morning was Monday. Classes started at 9. I somehow got up, fished through my jacket for any loose marijuana or Parliaments and came up empty… All I could find, hidden an inside pocket, was DWAYNE. I picked him up and looked him in the eyes…
“What up DWAYNE?” I asked.
After no answer, I tossed him on my bed and went off to somehow force myself through my first few classes.
Two weeks later, a letter arrived in the mail from April. She told me she was writing to me while sitting on a beach smoking weed, thinking of both me and Dave. She had said she had fallen for both of us, and was unable to get herself to write until we had long left the island. She said my letter had blown her away. At the very end of the letter she asked me how DWAYNE was… and then mentioned that she had felt like we had a connection she couldn’t process at the moment, but was able to process now.
She wrote: When you told me you thought you loved me, I wanted to respond… but I couldn’t… because I was stunned… And then I read your poem that you put in my hand – and Zach – please find me somewhere in the future… I think I love you too… And I’m here.. but I can’t come to LA because I can’t afford it but my heart is with you… Please understand that you and Dave mean soooo much to me…
At the end of the letter she quoted a Grooveyard song and reported the most recent news out of Key West…
Apparently someone had recently discovered a 20 million dollar sunken Spanish treasure right off the coast.
I called Jonas but never heard back… Man, I hoped it was him…
*This story was originally conceived and written in Key West, Florida in March of 1996. After discovering it in my journal from that time, I re-visited it and pieced together whatever memories I still had from that time. I recently tracked down April on social media and found her to be back in Vermont, married with a child. I added her as a friend. She did not respond.
It was somewhere between Los Angeles and Palm Springs when I found myself helping a woman re-apply bloody gauze to an open wound that had split open due to complications from liposuction in Tijuana.
Moments later, another woman – with a razor blade tattoo on the side of her neck – smacked her 7-year-old son for spilling his Mountain Dew on her iPhone and screamed something at him in Spanish.
Sometime after that, a man with an infant child walked out of the bathroom in the back and promptly dumped a full diaper in the trash bag hanging in the middle of the aisle.
We still had seven and a half hours until we hit Tucson…
Welcome to the Flixbus.
For the past few months, my mom and a bunch of other friends have been raving about a new public transportation service known as “The Flixbus.” For a low price, you can travel on this large “comfortable bus” anywhere you like and select from a great list of pre-chosen movies – and use free WiFi the entire time. I looked it up and it seemed legit. And definitely affordable. A ticket to San Diego from Los Angeles cost $4.99. A ticket to Palm Springs? $6.99… To get to my hometown of Tucson, I was looking at $22.00. Since Southwest Air wanted nearly $400 for two one way plane tickets, I booked my 9-year-old daughter and I on a 12:30 Flixbus to Tucson leaving from downtown LA.
Wanting to beat the crowd, my daughter and I took a Lyft down to the parking lot across from Union Station, right by LA’s famed “Twin Towers Correctional Facilities.” It’s an intimidating spot – heavily populated by at least five bail bond storefronts and street meat hot dog vendors. It’s hard not to take note of family members leaving the bail bond stores, openly weeping about their loved ones having spent the night in jail.
“Are they crying because they have to take the Flixbus too, daddy?” My daughter asked.
“Uhh, no. Whole different situation.”
I promptly took notice of the waiting area and its potential to escalate into a violent “prison yard” type of situation. A woman was walking around selling homemade “street tamales” out of a plastic bag, three 12-year-olds were selling bottles of water and packs of cigarettes and two men with children were openly sharing a blunt in front of their kids. (As would happen, I ended up buying two street tamales and a bottled water, as I had not thought to pack any food for the journey.)
I hadn’t even boarded the bus yet and I was $19 dollars in the hole.
The line to board the bus was non-existent. as Everybody sort of milled about near an area until the ticket conductor shouted out, “Palm Springs, Phoenix and Tucson line up HERE.”
The awaiting pack scrambled immediately. As people got tossed aside and trampled like they were rushing the stage of a Travis Scott show… Elbows were thrown. Space was cleared. Somehow, I managed to grab all of my luggage and scoop up my daughter before she was flattened to death. Sadly, even though we were the third people in the waiting area, we had been easily bullied to the back of the line by the violent mob, which was led by a 6’7” ex-linebacker wearing a baseball cap reading: K.U.S.H. Keeps Us Super High.
My advice? Pay the extra $20 online and get a reserved seat.
Once my daughter and I got on the bus, we noticed that any available seats together had been claimed. Eventually I was forced to convince a man who looked like he had recently been let out of a Texas prison to switch seats with me so that my daughter and I could sit together… He scoffed, kicked the side of the seat and mumbled something under his breath.
“Thank you so much, sir,” I said.
“I run this bus, cocksucker.”
Eventually he moved and we accepted the fact that we were stuck in the last seat in the back of the bus… basically right next to the toilet. And then, minutes before we left, a rather large woman came back and destroyed the bathroom… I nearly vomited. My daughter asked to switch seats. The bus pulled out into traffic.
Nine hours to Tucson.
The first thing people tell you about the Flixbus is that you can watch unlimited movies and surf the web, email, text, whatever you like. As it turns out this is simply not true. After trying for nearly an hour to watch Euphoria on HBO GO, I was alerted repeatedly with notes that I was in a “non-connection zone” and that I was possibly traveling “out of the continental United States.” I switched over to Netflix and was met with much of the same. Incredibly long loading times, spotty streaming and the inability to watch anything. After looking up the Flixbus website, I came across some small type in the “Services” section that read, “Please do not stream Netflix, YouTube or HBO Go on the Flixbus as it slows down everybody’s WiFi speeds and will not load correctly.”
Wow. That would have been nice to know. Oh, also? They DO NOT ALLOW MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS on the bus that are bigger than 12 inches… So unless you’re strictly a harmonica player, forget bringing your acoustic guitar anywhere. (Since I was going to play a gig in Tucson, I now had to rent a guitar from the local music shop).
Anyway, reading deeper, they recommended that passengers watch their curated film selections on the Flixbus app, which were “expertly chosen” and free. I checked it out. The selections were the same as what you’d expect on an airplane: Wonder Park, A Madea Family Funeral and about 9 shitty Melissa McCarthy movies.
Seven hours and 45 minutes to Tucson.
As we rattled over the freeways on the outskirts of Los Angeles, weaving in and out of the carpool lane, I was convinced I was going to die on the Flixbus. My daughter was getting carsick from the bumps and sudden stops and I could not believe that I had chosen this as my best means of transportation to Tucson…
The bus continued to shake from side to side, causing a middle-aged lady across the aisle from me to begin moaning. Like, painfully moaning. And grabbing her sides. Thinking that she may be in labor with a child, I looked over and noticed that she had a freshly dressed wound on the side of her mid-section. At one point, she screamed “Fucking FUCK, can you drive a little slower?”
“Are you OK ma’am?” I asked her, hoping she hadn’t been shot in a bank robbery gone wrong and was using the Flixbus as an escape tool.
“Uggh, yeah – I’m just recovering from plastic surgery,” she said.
“On the Flixbus?” I responded.
“Well, I live in Palm Springs,” she proceeded to tell me. “I went to Mexico for liposuction because it’s like, 75 percent cheaper down there.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “Didn’t you go through some sort of like, recovery first?”
“I’ll be fine once I get to Palm Springs.”
We hit a bump and she made a noise that I have only heard once before in my life back when I witnessed a goat slaughter in a tiny village in Mexico in 2003.
“Oh fuck,” she screamed. “One of my sutures popped – can you just hold your finger here for a second?.”
Shielding my daughter from the horror of this situation, I regrettably leaned over and put pressure on an area of bloodied gauze that had come undone. Eventually, the woman fastened it back together with a clip and thanked me profusely. I excused myself to the bathroom and threw ice cold water on my face.
30 minutes later the ride was smoothing out. Looking out the window I saw the desert approach.
“Folks we are stopping in North Palm Springs in eight minutes,” the driver announced. “We will have time to get refreshments and some air.”
“Thank fucking God,” the bleeding woman said.
We pulled into an AM/PM parking lot in Palm Springs and the lady limped off the bus and met her ride. She waved good-bye to me and sped off into the Palm Springs afternoon. For all I know she bled out on the way home and is dead.
The good news was that 12 passengers got off the bus in Palm Springs. This freed up some seats and we moved a few aisles away from the bathroom. The miles began to roll away and I started to fantasize that I was Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy taking the bus to a new dream, over expansive desert land and into the heart of opportunity. Of course, Jon Voight was heading to New York City in 1968 and I was going to Tucson to visit my mom, but the view sure was pretty.
20 minutes later, I opened up one of my tamales-in-a-bag and gave it a shot. It smelled like some sort of fucking rotting animal. A few passengers looked over at me and covered their faces with blankets and scarves. Acting casual, I took a small bite and chewed for a few seconds before beginning to feel violently ill. I managed to spit the food into a bag and quickly wrapped it up, avoiding the grossed out looks of my fellow Flixbus friends. Luckily, that was exactly the moment when the newborn’s father emerged from the bathroom with the full diaper. He tossed it in the center trash bag and the entire bus groaned and began cursing him out.
“What am I supposed to do?” The dad asked the gallery of hecklers.
“Flush that shit,” the guy in the K.U.S.H. hat suggested.
The driver came on the intercom and reminded everyone that nothing but toilet paper could go down the toilet. The passengers collectively groaned and went back to their devices. At this point, between the tamale and the diaper, the bus was turning toxic. If you lit a match in the thing, there was a strong chance the bus would explode.
Six hours to Tucson.
Our next stop was in Blythe, California, on the Arizona border. Here, we were given a 30 minute lunch period and the only restaurant around for miles was a McDonalds 25 feet away. Assuming this would be my last chance to eat before 9:30 that night, I broke down and ate six Chicken McNuggets and an Oreo McFlurry.
I also called my mom to alert her of our progress.
“How’s the Flixbus?” My mom asked. “Watching any good movies?”
“Well, nothing really works,” I said. “Half the seats don’t have outlets, the WiFi in the desert sucks and they don’t allow streaming… and I refuse to watch Life of the Party. (That’s a terrible Melissa McCarthy movie BTW…)
“What kind of food do they have?” She inquired.
“They don’t have food,” I said.
“What?” She said. “On their website it says you can purchase snacks and stuff from the driver?”
What? Here I was nearly puking street tamales and eating Chicken McNuggets when the driver had food on him the entire time? Why were we not informed of this? I tracked down the driver as he smoked a cigarette and asked him if I could see a menu of the food they offered on board.
“Their aint no menu, mane… We just have some Ruffles and shit.”
Ruffles and shit?
“Come on my man, you don’t have like a Tapas box? My daughter needs some Wiki Stix!”
“This aint Alaska Airlines, mane,” he responded.
Eventually, 100 miles from Phoenix, a college kid broke down and went into the bathroom to vape. He was far from discreet and as a man who once routinely snuck weed to smoke into airplane bathrooms, I viewed his efforts as amateurish. The key to smoking on a bus or airplane is to basically flush the toilet as you exhale with your face nearly in the bowl. Yeah, this is a disgusting activity, but for some reason back in the mid 90’s I had no problem shoving my head inside an airplane toilet. Now I can’t even USE bathrooms on moving vehicles. Anyway, the kid opened the door and a cloud of Watermelon E-Juice enveloped the back area. The kid walked out as if he had done nothing wrong.
The smoke was impossible to miss and even though it dissipated quickly, it really upset the bus driver, who pulled over to the side of I-10 and DEMANDED to know who had smoked on the bus.
My daughter raised her hand to volunteer the information.
“Put your hand down,” I said, knowing that being labeled a “narc” at age 9 doesn’t do anybody any good.
“Who was smoking back here?” The bus driver said. “I demand an answer!”
I expected somebody to speak up… but nobody did. We all held together in a Flixbus code of silence. Shit, we felt like we were in La Cosa Nostra. For the first time on the ride I sensed a camaraderie with my fellow passengers. We all sort of looked at it the same way… If this was a bus in 1957, people would be smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey from flasks. We all had the same thought… Let the kid vape.
Four and a half hours to Tucson.
The rest of the trip went fairly smoothly. I was amazed at how well behaved my daughter was and as the stops piled up, the passengers started getting off. A few people got on in Phoenix and we got to Tucson in roughly nine hours and 30 minutes. To put that in perspective, If you drive directly from LA in a car, you’re guaranteed to spend eight hours on the road and you have to buy gas. If you fly to Tucson from LAX, door to door takes about five hours and 30 minutes. So, I basically lost four hours of my life, had to endure some awful smells and I got to be an impromptu nurse to the woman recovering from plastic surgery.
When we got to my mom’s house, she had food and wine waiting for me and I told her all the fun stories from my 400 mile road trip in a public bus. We laughed, drank and I slept in until 8:30 the next morning when I awoke to my mom freaking out about a dead animal in the walls.
“Zach, some animal died in the wall I called the exterminator already,” she shrieked.
I woke up and smelled what she was talking about. I opened my backpack and found the OTHER street tamale I had forgotten to throw out buried beneath my laptop.
“Found it, mom,” I said.
She made me throw it out in the neighbor’s trash can…
WATCH Zach’s music video for his song “Watch the Horses”…
This morning I drove past two skinny homeless men with multiple missing teeth who were smoking cigarettes before nearly running over a mangy stray dog panting in the street. I made a left turn at the Hustler Hollywood store, narrowly averting a woman who was squatting and urinating into a discarded water bottle. I eventually parked and walked around my car, side-stepping two discarded needles some dog crap and a used condom. I dodged a speeding Hyundai that was being driven by a dude vaping and texting at the same time before opening the passenger door… and helping my kid get out of the car.
“Ready for school?” I asked.
Welcome to Hollywood.
I was raised in a peaceful, quiet corner of the desert where coyotes and jumping cholla cacti were my biggest fears while walking to school. I didn’t see a homeless man until I was about 13. Hustler was a magazine that only prisoners and truckers read and needles were something only a doctor could get a hold of. Yesterday, my son asked me why the guy who lives in the dumpster across the street from his carpool pick-up lane is always shouting, “Ho ass bitch” while shuffling down Selma Avenue.
I am raising my children in Gomorrah and it’s starting to freak me the fuck out.
This school year, my son’s entire fifth grade class was moved to a new school campus – about 10 blocks north of the previous campus where they had been since kindergarten. The new campus is on Selma Avenue and is a stone’s throw from the Hollywood YMCA. It’s also a block south of Hollywood Boulevard, nearly 10 medical marijuana dispensaries, six seedy bars, smoke shops, two run-down hotels, a vintage street clock that has been permanently set to 4:20 and about nine tattoo parlors.
Back in my 20’s, when I was stumbling out of the bar Boardner’s (a block away from the school on Cherokee), I could never imagine that someday my son would be taking “Beginner Spanish” 50 yards from where I once puked after a night of Vodka – Red Bulls. I never thought I’d be raising my kids anywhere but some pristine little tucked away school with manicured lawns and open fields and morning sing-a-longs. Little did I know that barbed wire fences, metal detectors and cement soccer fields were going to be the norm for my children…
At a back-to-school meet and greet two weeks after the first day, some other parents expressed their concerns as well.
“We just don’t like the way the school feels,” an angry parent offered.
“We are striving to make everybody comfortable,” the principal, a 40-something man named Reggie replied.
“It’s hard to be comfortable when I smell marijuana every day when I drop my kid off,” another mom piped up.
Hollywood has changed immensely since the rundown 1990’s. Tourism is up, souvenir stores are making great money and people from all over the world are still traveling here to take photos of the sidewalk where an actor’s name is etched into a star. Of course, when the tourists come, so do the hustlers. You’ve seen them selling rap CD’s, trying to get you to take the TMZ Tour and drunkenly swaying into your photos while dressed up in a piss-stained Spider-Man costume demanding five dollars.
Look, my high school was no picnic. I witnessed a shooting, a lot of fights and certainly saw my share of LSD and dirt weed from Mexico, but I was in high school… Not fifth grade. Being raised in the desert certainly shaded me from the inner city realities of gang-ridden America, but I was also lucky enough to travel to places like New York and LA to see how other kids were growing up. Ultimately, their fast-paced lives had a strong effect on me because I headed for college in Los Angeles the minute I turned 18. Thinking back about my childhood dreams, I turned my son one day after school.
“Hey dude, where do you want to live when you grow up?” I asked him.
“Probably the beach… or New York I guess.”
Obviously he hadn’t thought this one out. Not me. By the time I was ten, I had it narrowed down to Los Angeles and Los Angeles.
My son is also already planning out his first tattoo, based on a conversation we had last week. After pouring over NBA star Brandon Ingram’s arms as we were watching a basketball game, he asked me a question.
“Dad, if you could get a tattoo, what would you get?”
“Oh wow, I dunno – probably your name and your sister’s name,” I said. “Something small and hidden and meaningful.”
“I’d probably get Savage in cursive across my eyebrow,” he said.
“You’re not getting a tattoo,” I told him.
“Why not? All the sickest rappers have face tattoos now…”
As we listened to my kid’s Spotify playlist, I heard no less than ten “N-Bombs”, three songs about abusing Xanax, Percocet and Molly and over ten about Gucci, 80,000 dollar watches and ‘Lambos. Every song featured sound effects like “Skrrr” for a cool car or “Skrrrrratatatatata” to mimic an assault rifle peppering an enemy with bullets… Look, I love rap music. I chased a rap career myself at one point… but no 5th grader should be asking his dad what Codeine, Mountain Dew and Jolly Ranchers taste like together.
Alas, the reality of this situation is that I can’t afford to shell out 35,000 dollars to private academies like Campbell Hall or Oakwood… Although from what I remember from college – most of the heaviest partiers came out of these schools. Which gives me some hope… And truthfully, other than the dead guy who was wheeled away from the apartment down the block last week, the school is fun, diverse and growing and I’m actually proud to be a part of the community.
So, as the years roll along, I’ll just have to deal with the syringes, homeless guys and Hustler Hollywood foot traffic for a few more years until junior high. Luckily, that campus is located downtown in a much more secure location…
It’s across the street from an outpatient clinic for opioid addicts…
No, not as a favor to a relative… This is a job I am contractually obligated to do. A job I consented to nine years ago. A job that will pay me to slow dance with a 95-year-old great-grandmother as “What a Wonderful World” careens throughout the ballroom of the Calabasas Marriott Hotel. A job that is part of an occupation so nerve-wracking and terrifying, that I once swore I would never do again. Here’s the deal…
Apparently, I did such a good job of emceeing Goldie Thalberg’s Princess Fairy Tale Bat Mitzvah Celebration in 2003, that her father – Alan – had booked me to be a part of his youngest child Max’s Bar Mitzvah – for the upcoming date of September 29, 2012… According to my old boss, Mike, I took a $1000 booking fee in 2003 – and signed a contract. I have absolutely no recollection of this event whatsoever, but Mike said that if I returned the1000 bucks, I could get out of the commitment… Unfortunately, thus far in 2012, I have made a grand total of 329 dollars.
Looks like I’m doing the Bar Mitzvah.
My career shifted right around the time of the Goldie Thalberg party, I was given a small break on television and I began working somewhat consistently – for channels like ESPN, G4 and Discovery Channel. I have not emceed a Bar or Bat Mitzvah since. I actually thought I was out of the game forever. I have not thought about Bar Mitzvahs at all – and in fact – I haven’t even been to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah since 2003. And I couldn’t be happier…
For seven years, it was my only job.
See, from late 1997 to December 2003, I was a part of one of the biggest Bar/Bat Mitzvah/Wedding party planning companies in the world. We controlled the party business in southern California, sending out charismatic party emcees and hot female dancers, adequate young DJ’s and aging cheese-meisters with grease-pan hairdo’s to turn boring parties into the greatest celebrations of a family’s life. The company was called You Should Be Dancing – and at one point, I was a high-ranking performer, desired and requested by Jewish families alike across the expansive California landscape. I sacrificed my Saturday nights for paychecks soaring well into the low four-figure range – all while making a fool of myself in front of a bunch of smiling Jews and their awkward offspring. From Candlelighting ceremonies to mother-son dances, I witnessed it all. The stories are endless and the experience was invaluable, but in 2003, the minute I saw even a slight crack in the window to try and escape, I did – and I never once looked back. Until my old boss called me last week.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me!” I said to Mike, my onetime supervisor. “When did I do this kid’s sister’s party?”
“2003, Zach,” Mike responded. “You need to call them and start working out the details… unless you just want to return the thousand bucks.”
Hmm. Return the 1000 bucks? The bottom line is, that thousand dollars was spent long ago when I used to have something called “money” in the bank. Long before kindergarten cost 25 grand per year – and way before I knew that “escrow” was an actual thing – not Sheryl Crow’s “hip-hop name.”
Did I have the thousand bucks? Are you kidding me? My wife and I are currently scrambling to refinance our house with some bullshit 2009 Obama-bank Re-Fi that we have been rejected for nine times already. I owe my kid’s dentist $847 for my son’s eight – yes EIGHT – cavities he had filled last month… (For the record, I have never had a cavity in my life, and my kid has brushed his teeth twice a day for 5 years… I am sending this quack to the board for review). I even owe my 90-year-old grandmother five grand because she executive produced the last CD my band put out. (According to my itunes sales, it has netted me negative -3,988 dollars since its release in 2010).
Right now, it’s looking like I am going to have to emcee Max Thalberg’s Bar Mitzvah… And I am scared shitless.
Back in the day, I had a pretty impressive Bar Mitzvah routine. It was cheesy and full of feigned spontaneity, but it worked almost every night. It always started with a traditional Jewish Horah, and went into me leading a choreographed dance to Think by Aretha Franklin -which was then masterfully mixed into the YMCA and The Time Warp. Then, I’d drop the CD in the tray for a hip, new rap dance song like Gettin’ Jiggy With it before closing the set with a popular funny jam like Stacy’s Mom by Fountains of Wayne. Then came the obligatory Sinatra send-off to get people to their tables for their salads, before I would toss on James Taylor’s Greatest Hits and hit the open bar for about 5 double bourbon and ginger ales. I’m guessing that the scene may have changed a bit since then.
“Look, Zach – I’ll send you out with our hippest DJ and some glow-sticks to give away,” Mike promised. ”It’ll come right back to you, you’ve always been a natural performer.”
“I don’t know, Mike, I’m so off on the new music and everything,” I said. “Is Mase still popular?”
“I doubt it… But don’t worry, we have a bunch of Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West and Fun and all that new stuff… you’ll be fine.”
I took a deep breath. Who the hell is Fun?
“How much am I making again?” I asked.
“Well, since you already took the advance, I’ll pay you what all the emcees get these days… $250.”
250 bucks. Not bad for a night’s work, but the pressure and anxiety I used to face preparing for and executing these parties was already beginning to creep back up on me. I wasn’t sure if it was worth it. I opened a bottle of red wine before stumbling upstairs to give my kids a bath. As I soaked them in the tub, I sipped the congenial, crimson liquid and leaned back… wondering how the hell my life had led me back here.
The first time I had to emcee a Bar Mitzvah was when I was 22-years-old. It was a Saturday night, the first summer I was spending in the real world after college, and most of my friends were out at the beach, sucking down Mexican beer and talking to beautiful women, deciding between playing the Rolling Stones or Snoop Dogg on some jukebox. I was stuck in a $50 tuxedo talking to a 13-year-old girl about which song I was going to play next: Barbie Girl by Aquaor MMMBop by Hanson. That night, as the familiar words to “Hava Nagilah” crusaded off the back wall of the party room at Temple Adat Elohim, I nervously took the microphone and was forced to direct the Horah dance as best I could. I had the men grasp hands and come to the middle, circle to the left, stop and clap, circle to the right… I even had to bring in a chair on which to seat little Joshy Schnozzleman as he was hoisted into the ceiling by a bunch of inebriated uncles and proud parents. I was 22 and nervous, breaking a debilitating sweat and completely unable to grasp the concept that I had graduated USC two months earlier with a Broadcast Journalism degree – and was now officially a “Bar Mitzvah Emcee.” I gave myself three months at the job, thinking in the back of my head that some great acting job would come along and take me away from Bar Mitzvah hell…
Little did I know, this would be my profession during my 20’s. Mike even coined a phrase for all of the employees. We had to refer to ourselves as the “Pied Pipers of Party People.” I am not kidding.
By my second year into the job, I had made some good friends. We were all actors and musicians, and we had a job that allowed us to get to auditions during the week and make a decent living on the weekends. Plus, once we figured out a way to have bartenders serve us alcohol during parties, the job eased up and became a lot more fun… And then the incredible stories started coming out.
At a wedding in 1999, a DJ named Ronnie Jacobs had sex with a bride ten minutes after her first dance in a broom closet.
Rick Freed slept with a 45-year-old mother of the Bat Mitzvah girl while meeting her to organize the slide show.
Brad Billings got paid $1000 to show a woman his dick at a wedding.
It went on and on.
The name that was thrown around the You Should Be Dancing offices nearly every day, was Paul Rudd. Apparently, in 1994 or so, Paul had worked at the company as a DJ and emcee before getting his break in the film Clueless. We all aspired to be Paul Rudd, and looked at this job as a launching pad to our acting careers. (Years later, when I interviewed Paul Rudd, I mentioned to him that I used to work at the same company he did… He laughed and asked me how I “got out.” – Like I had broken out of a Civil War prison camp or something). I even saw Paul on a late night talk show spinning stories from his days on the Bar Mitzvah circuit, and even those yarns were entirely inspiring to every one of us.
If he could get out, we all could…
After overdrawing my bank account for a Trader Joe’s purchase, I realized that there was no way out of the party. Thankfully, it was then that I realized that this could, in fact, be a great opportunity. After all, I had met plenty of Hollywood folks at parties over the years – maybe someone would like my dance rendition of Greased Lightning and offer me a walk-on role on Two Broke Girls? Heck, I used to DJ Bar Mitzvahs that Jonah Hill attended… back when he was the funny fat kid who ate all the dreidel-shaped sugar cookies. Maybe this party would open an unexpected door that I hadn’t even considered? I immediately called Mike and told him I was on the job. He gave me the Thalberg’s number and I dialed it up, preparing to fill out the typical Bar Mitzvah worksheet I used to live my life by all those years ago.
Here goes… I thought to myself.
“Hello?” Alan Thalberg said as he picked up his phone.
I promptly hung up.
Nervous and anxious, I decided to look up my old friend Rick Freed on Facebook and see if he was still working in the business. Sure enough, he was. He had branched out and started his own company called “FREED YOUR MIND” and was doing quite well. I messaged him and gave him my number. He called me within two minutes.
“Zach!” He screamed. “Dude! I saw you on TV last month! You’re killing it, dude! How’s life?”
“Not bad, Rick, how are you?” I asked.
“Still sleeping with Bar Mitzvah moms, bro!”
I was taken aback. Was he serious? Was he still in the game of Bar Mitzvah MILF hunting? He must be 42 or 43 by now… hadn’t the whole novelty of that all worn off?
Rick updated me on some of our old friends from the business: Good old Ronnie Jacobs got fired in 2005 when he hit on a girl who turned out to be 16-years-old. He thought she was 25. Turns out, she was a high school junior with an Accutane prescription. Last he heard, Ronnie was DJ-ing at the Spearmint Rhino strip club in the valley.
Brad Billings was a weatherman in Piggott, Arkansas. He had 5 kids.
Rick was, indeed, still sleeping with Bar Mitzvah moms.
“Wow, man… that’s crazy,” I offered. “Listen… I have to do a Bar Mitzvah next week and I’m a little rusty… can you help me out?”
Rick greeted me with silence. His heavy breathing sounded beleaguered as he slowly let his voice drop to a whisper.
“Are you serious, man? I don’t have any positions to hire you…”
“No, no -it’s not like that, man – I made a promise to a family nine years ago that I’d do their son’s party and, well… it’s been nine years. I have to emcee a week from Saturday. I was hoping you could give me some tips.”
Rick proceeded to break it all down for me. He was a lifesaver. His main point was that nothing had changed but the pop music. The dance moves were all the same, the Candlelighting ceremony and mother-son dance hadn’t changed – and they even still played Donna Summer’s Last Dance to close the night. The only thing I might need to do is help the dancers lead a choreographed routine to “All the Single Ladies” by Beyonce.
“Watch the video on YouTube and learn the moves,” he said. “Kids LOVE it.”
You have got to be kidding me.
After thanking Rick profusely and promising him I’d meet him for a beer in the next couple of weeks, I felt somewhat relieved that I might still be able to pull off the YMCA and Grease songs, but that All the Single Ladies idea scared me blind. I quickly Googled the video and began yelling at my wife across the house as I witnessed Beyonce and her dance partners do things the human body was never supposed to do.
“White people aren’t supposed to move like this!!” I screamed.
I finally called Alan Thalberg, who it turns out, had been shocked that I was still available. He promised me a fun night – and said that his kid Max was trying to get him to throw a Playboy Magazine- themed party. He wanted to hire actual Playmates to walk around and dance the Horah in a throne rather than a chair – all while wearing a monogrammed Hugh Hefner-inspired bathrobe instead of a suit.
Max was my kind of dude.
Over the next week, I organized a musical playlist and rented a tuxedo. I learned maybe 4 moves by Beyonce and just accepted the fact that my performance was going to suck. I asked Mike to have the DJ bring the equipment so I didn’t have to lug it all around, and he told me that it was all done on laptops these days. The 350-pound equipment I used to have to carry around was long gone. Everything could be run off of an amp and a MacBook Pro. I cursed the hernia I got from this job in 1998.
When Saturday came around, I avoided drinking beer and watching football during the day so that I would be on my game that night. I combed my hair, brushed up on some Travolta steps from Grease and left two hours early to guarantee I wouldn’t be late.
When I got to the Calabasas Marriott, it was as if had entered a time warp. The same worrisome caterers were arguing over how to plate the chicken. The uptight party planner stressed out over where the chicken fingers and pizza would be stationed during the kids dinner. Even the photographer, who had long given up his dream of becoming the next Walter Iooss, jr. in favor of party photography – looked the same. It was a black hole into 2003… Except now, I had less hair and no idea what these kids were listening to anymore.
When I got to meet Max, I didn’t remember him. After all, he was four-years-old when we had first met. He took me aside and told me how he had originally wanted a Playboy-themed party. Instead, his parents had forced him to have a Hunger Games theme.
“Totally gay,” Max said, the way only a 13-year-old can. “I hated that lame movie.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen…” I began, my palms sweating as the first crowd entered the room. “Welcome to Max’s Hunger Games! Please choose a weapon from the guest table and proceed to your local DISTRICT… also known as your TABLE!”
These are the exact moments why I quit the business for good.
The DJ I had been assigned to work with was named Gus. He was 23 and told me he was really an actor – but was only doing this job for a few months until “his career took off.” I laughed and wished him luck. I made sure he knew the routine… How to transition from the Horah into the YMCA, etc. and he told me not to worry. In fact, he had cued up every song on his laptop to play back-to-back.
“All I have to do is press one button, and we can coast until the salads are served,” he said. “It’s what all the big DJ’s do too, like Skrillex and David Guetta – it’s all total show. They get pad two million dollars to play a pre-recorded EDM track on their laptops.”
Even though I had no idea what EDM was, I thought back to how miserable we used to have it. I used to make sure I had a WALKMAN on stand-by with cassettes in case of emergencies. I dealt with CDs skipping, levels dropping unexpectedly and bad beat mixes between songs. Occasionally, music would come to a complete stop in the middle of a pulsating dance set… It was a DJ nightmare, and we dealt with it all the time. I used to have anxiety dreams about it the night before parties… Now, all Gus had to worry about was pressing one button. Spoiled little prick.
As Max and his friends took their seats at the Katniss Everdeen Table I suddenly caught the eye of a fantastically stunning brunette in a blue ball gown. She was probably 21, and her flirtatious gaze caught me off guard. What was this girl doing at a party like this? It was Saturday night! She should be out hitting the clubs… dating Charlie Sheen… whatever! She was radiant and young, sexy and enticing. And she was walking towards me…
“Hey Zach,” She said, coyly.
It was then that I realized. This sparkling gem of a female was none other than Goldie Thalberg. And she was smoking hot.
“Remember me? Goldie?”
I took a step back. Here I was, 37-years-old and married, staring at a perfectly shaped young woman whose Bat Mitzvah I had emceed nine years earlier.
“I go to UCLA now,” she continued. “I kept up with your career! You did some cool stuff on TV! It’s so cool that you’d come back to do Max’s party. Can we take a picture?”
“Uhh, sure,” I said, even though she had already snapped it with her iphone.
She turned back towards her table. I caught her looking over her shoulder a second later.
“Hey, save me a dance, will ya?”
Keep it in your pants, Selwyn…
As the evening rolled along and I found myself having no problem with the old routine, I did notice one peculiar thing about the kids. They weren’t interested in glow-sticks and flashy novelty giveaway rings anymore… All they did was TEXT. Every 13-year-old kid had an iPhone and was tweeting, updating a Facebook status and occasionally taking photos. At one point, a group of young girls asked to take my picture. I happily posed for them. They asked if they could “tag” me, and I said sure. For a moment, I actually felt kind of cool! Like I was back relating to the youngsters again, the way I used to do all those years ago…
And then, three minutes later, I got a Facebook update. They had tagged me on their page as “The douchey emcee at Max’s Bar Mitzvah.”
Following my terrible rendition of “All the Single Ladies,” where I just gave up halfway through, I found myself leading a “snowball” dance amongst the kids, where everyone changes partners. It was then that Goldie Thalberg asked me to dance. I obliged, and we awkwardly embraced in that junior high way that hormone-ravaged‘tweens often do. As I spun her in a swing-dance pattern, as a way to keep things lighthearted, I happened to catch Alan Thalberg’s eye. His furious squint said it all. He gave me a signal that I quickly read as “Get the fuck away from my daughter.”
I turned to Gus and told him, “Play anything fast – NOW!”
He did. Goldie went to eat dessert and I snuck off to the bar for a double bourbon and ginger ale.
“Dude, you’re not allowed to drink at parties,” Gus told me nervously.
Two drinks later, the party was in full swing. Max shot fake Hunger Games arrows at his family during the Candlelighting ceremony and Goldie got sick and apparently puked up champagne in the bathroom. As the four-hour extravaganza came to a close, I was relieved when I turned to Gus and announced, “Play Last Dance.”
Moments later, the party came to a superbly happy end. The guests sauntered back to their cars and into the San Fernando Valley night as Gus and I went to the bar for a beer before leaving. As per tradition, Alan Thalberg came up to us with cash tips in an envelope.
“Gentlemen, terrific job tonight,” he said.
“Thanks so much,” I responded.
“Zach, at least three of my friend’s have kids Max’s age and were asking if you’d be available in the next few months… I’ll pass along your number if you like…”
I swallowed my beer and looked at Alan. Was he serious? Suddenly, I was back on top! The one time king of the Bar Mitzvah had returned! I was in demand! For the first time in about nine years, I recalled that feeling of accomplishment and recognition after a live performance… That sense that I had brought happiness to the family and had been admired by the crowd… It felt good. Almost like I was willing to step back in the Bar Mitzvah emcee game once again… And after all, you never get cash tips after you nail a take on TV.
“Uhm, you know what, Alan… sure!” I said. “Give my number to whoever you want!”
Alan thanked us again and walked away. I watched Gus gobble an olive from the bar tray before looking up from his iPhone.
“Can I ask you a question?” Gus said.
“Sure,” I responded.
“How old are you?”
“37, wow! I hope I’m not still doing parties when I’m your age!” He said.” No offense, but I’m like, with the best agent now… and I’m doing a sketch show at UCB…”
“You sound a lot like me when I was your age,” I said.
Gus rambled on about how a girl from his acting class had co-starred on “Rules of Engagement” and how he hated reality TV – and then he said something that made me want to punch him in the nose.
“Did you know that Paul Rudd used to work at the company?” He blurted. “Can you believe that? He’s like, a comedy legend, bro!”
I slammed what remained of my beer and patted Gus firmly on the shoulder. I sauntered back to the DJ booth to gather my car keys and jacket. As I strolled out to the parking lot, I took one look back at the cracked façade of the one-time famed Calabasas Marriott Hotel.
A familiar thought rushed over me…
I am never doing one of these fucking parties again…