I could have fucked one of my teachers back in high school. I didn’t. But I could have. She was into me… She told me I made her ‘quiver…’ She said I looked like a movie star. She tried to kiss me. This was 25 years ago… I still think about it.
Nowadays these stories are everywhere. Open any internet browser and you are greeted by a photo of a young teacher who was recently arrested for seducing their 16-year-old Biology student with marijuana and booze and throwing group sex parties and shit. Their mug shots get splashed all over websites and people everywhere shame these women for fucking underage boys…
Back in the day you never heard about this type of shit. If you did, it was always a creepy male Phys Ed. teacher who wore New Balance sneakers and sported a filthy Don Mattingly moustache. Now it seems these sex-starved teachers are women who look like Charlize Theron with John and Kate Plus Eight haircuts.
In the early 90’s, these women didn’t exist.
Except in my high school.
During my senior year, a really cute teacher’s assistant/college student named Debbie joined my AP English class. She was responsible for grading our shitty essays about the “Grapes of Wrath,” and helped with our teacher Mrs. Kelly’s syllabus… and she also happened to give me ‘fuck me eyes’ nearly every single day.
One day after school in the parking lot, Debbie caught me by my Dodge Lancer as I was preparing to roll a Mexi-shwag joint to smoke with my boy Adam.
“Zach, can I talk to you for a second?” She asked.
At first I thought she was going to criticize my schoolwork or something, but instead she ended up asking me on a date.
“Look, Zach – so I know you mentioned that you want to be an actor when you are older… and uhmm… Well, Les Miz is coming to the U of A next Saturday and I actually have an extra ticket – so if you want to go…?”
She smiled at me. The ‘U of A’ was the University of Arizona… and I had been hanging around the campus since I was a kid. I had always noticed the frat guys and the cute girls, but here was one of them actually… hitting on me. Or at least I thought she was. She was confident and she certainly had something none of the high school
girls I had been dating had… a MAJOR.
I wasn’t sure if this invite was a come on, but I liked it. I felt invincible and dominant. Typical 17-year-old shit. I nodded my head, told her, ‘sure’ and we made plans to meet around seven at Centennial Hall on the Arizona campus to see the show. She even gave me her phone number just in case I got lost. Cell-phones weren’t a thing yet, but she promised to check her answering machine from a payphone.
I went back to see Adam.
“What was that all about, dude?”
“Dude, I think I might fuck the English T.A.”
I went home and told my mom that I had plans to go out on Saturday night. My mom went ballistic. My mom can read anybody. Especially back then. She immediately began getting suspicious of this woman’s intentions.
She wanted to know who she was, how old she was, what exactly this teacher wanted with me, etc.
“Mom, don’t worry, she’s like, 22, and she just knows I want to be an
actor – that’s it!”
“Don’t kid yourself, Zach, this woman has ulterior motives… don’t be so naïve.”
Amazingly, I somehow convinced my mom that this could be my only chance to see Les Miserables, and since my mother is a Broadway Theater geek, she relented at the last minute and let me go. But with a warning…
“Keep in mind, Zach, you have way too much going for you to
impregnate a teacher.”
I ignored her and drove off to meet Debbie at the show.
Debbie was waiting in front of Centennial Hall as I walked up from the free parking spot I found six blocks away. I had no interest in dropping $4.00 on the valet… although today, that seems completely reasonable. Meanwhile, Debbie had dressed up for the occasion, much differently than her usual school jeans and sweater. She was wearing an above-the-knee dress and a leather tank top with fringes angling from them. This was no high school girl…
Meanwhile, I wore Banana Republic jeans and my favorite striped shirt from a long extinct mall fashion store called Structure.
During the show, Debbie ‘accidentally’ grabbed my arm a few times as if we were watching a horror film like Nightmare on Elm Street. The thing was, the show wasn’t that scary… It also wasn’t that good.
It may have been the touring company, or the Centennial Hall acoustics, but I was lost for most of the performance. About the only thing I remember about it was that I was hiding a massive chubby in my pants and that New York Yankees pitcher Tommy John had a kid who was performing in the show… I thought that was pretty cool. (Taylor John RIP).
After it wrapped and we stood and applauded, Debbie suggested we walk around the university for a little bit. She actually asked me if I would be interested in getting a beer. I was 17. I rarely drank in high school, but I did have my stepbrother’s fake I.D. He was 5’9”. I was 6’2”. It only worked at one liquor store on Columbus Avenue where the clerk actually believed me when I told him I had, “A big growth spurt last summer.
“I could have one, I guess,” I said.
Debbie smiled and we walked over to U of A Liquors and she bought a six-pack of this relatively new beer called Icehouse.
Growing up in Tucson, you spend a lot of time drinking beer in the washes and deserts hidden off the sides of the streets. She found her little familiar spot where she liked to drink with her college friends and we drank and talked for quite a while… about my Hollywood dreams, our English class and movies we liked. Eventually, near the end of beer number two, she told me that she thought I have “it” and told me that she was confident that I will absolutely make it as a huge movie star.
She then leaned in and began kissing the side of my neck for roughly four seconds.
“Woah,” I said, pulling away and hiding my awkwardness behind a weird laugh.
“I…I…I’m so sorry!” She blurted out. “I thought you wanted this!”
Debbie turned deep red. My stomach twisted. That sinking feeling in the stomach where you just don’t know what the right words are.
“Look, I’m only 17, ya know?” I said.
She wasn’t comfortable. She began rocking back and forth.
“I’m so stupid, this was – this was so stupid,” she said.
“No, no, it’s fine – I just – I’m not sure it’s… right,” I said.
“You’re really sexy, Zach, you know that, right?”
“Uhmm, Thanks,” I said. “I mean, you’re sexy too but…”
And then we sat there in silence for close to ten minutes. Those awkward high school silences…
“Listen,” she said sometime later. “Can we please never tell anybody about this – especially Mrs. Kelly?” She said.
“I will never tell anybody,” I promised. Another five minutes of silence followed before I suggested it was time to call it a night.
As we made the walk back to my car, I began to feel somewhat guilty. I was sort of one of those high school make-out kings – the guy who always loved kissing almost more than anything else… I thought, that when we got to my car, I would grab her and kiss her – just to lift our self-esteem and make the night less disappointing and more epic… But when we got back to my Dodge… I just couldn’t do it.
I looked at her. She seemed confused. She seemed lost, most likely feeling guilty. I told her that Monday morning would be no different than any other day. I told her she shouldn’t worry and that I wouldn’t tell a soul. I thanked her for the ticket to Les Miz and I drove home and masturbated into my pillow.
25-years later, a big part of me wishes I would’ve had sex with her… This was the pre-internet world. Nobody would have cared. She would have not been able to ‘friend me’ on Facebook or post pictures of us in that wash posing with beers in the Tucson night… There would have been no mug shot… She probably had an apartment nearby the campus and life would have just rolled along so easily back then… My God, it would have been so simple to get away with it and I would have a killer story for my friends when I got to college…
Alas, the moment faded, much like my movie star dreams… and my adolescent fantasies. That following Monday morning in class was far less awkward for me than it was for her, although we never seemed to even acknowledge one another.
I recently typed Debbie’s name into Google and found out that she was newly divorced and a mother of three… She was in Scottsdale. She looked old.
It’s funny how life speeds up and people come and go from your lives – I often think back… What if we had fucked? Maybe she gets pregnant and I have a 26-year-old son in Scottsdale right now? Luckily, I don’t. Life is pretty fucking crazy.
I never saw Les Miz again.
I’m not sure if they still make Icehouse beer.
I haven’t smoked Mexi-shwag in decades.
But you’re God damned right I got an ‘A’ in Mrs. Kelly’s AP English class…
Please watch Zach’s NBA2k Vlog from New York City!
I can vividly picture the scene taking place on a Newark, New Jersey street corner in 1922… Prohibition is hanging heavily over every boarded up bar and single family household on the block. The streets are full of the penniless, making bedding out of old jackets on the grey and crunchy dirty sidewalk snow. Children are wrapping up nightly stick ball games to return home for dinner as the streets darken with denizens of the nightlife and small time hoods…
And then suddenly, out of the darkness, trotting up in a horse-drawn buggy, appears Rabbi Levi Zalman, who is suddenly swarmed by scores of men from these homes looking to procure the finest bottle of bootleg wine they can get their hands on. Money is exchanged, prayers are said and the men race home to their families. With every sale, Rabbi Zalman mutters, “Baruch Hashem.” (Blessed be the name of the lord). When it’s all over, Rabbi Zalman rides away a very rich man…
Of course, Rabbi Levi Zalman is not a Rabbi at all. In fact, he is Jack Joseph Brauer, an out-of-work shoe peddler from East Jersey City who has just unloaded his Government-relegated weekly supply of booze for a shade over $5,000.
He is also my great-great grandfather. This was his “congregation.”
Ratified in 1920, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution – which is America’s only Amendment to later be repealed – federally prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol. Of course, this was one of our biggest failures in our short history, and led to the golden age of organized crime, corruption and sheer madness across the country.
Doing some research (And I am not the first to report this – just giving you some background) Jewish households were allowed a certain amount of wine per household per year. To top that off, if you were a Rabbi, and you lead any type of “congregation” (12 members or more) you were allowed to get as much wine as you wanted for religious purposes at any time you desired… So guess what happened? A lot of “new Rabbis” suddenly started showed up.
“There were fake Rabbis everywhere,” my grandmother told me years ago before she died. “If you knew 12 people, that was a congregation… why do you think so many people started converting to Judaism during the 20’s? FOR BOOZE.”
So, when Jack Brauer’s shoe business got hit with hard times in the early 1920’s, he bought some religious robes, sported a fake beard and marched up to the proper Governmental distribution center and bought as much alcohol as he needed… He flipped it in two days and kicked off a successful six-year-run as the biggest “Rabbi Bootlegger” in Newark, New Jersey.
A few years later, when the American Jewish Committee began cracking down on the large number of fake Rabbi’s, my great-great grandfather Jack was NOT on the suspected fraud list. In fact, he continued to support his family until 1931, just before the Amendment was repealed. How? He had the third largest congregation in New Jersey at the time. (Even though it was 95 percent FAKE.)
Now, according to the three part documentary Prohibition by Ken Burns, other religions had these loopholes as well. In fact, Priests were ALSO able to purchase liquor for religious ceremonies. Of course, the government could actually reference records to determine if someone claiming to be a Priest actually was a Priest. But Rabbis? There was NO WAY OF TELLING WHO WAS A RABBI.
According to writer Daniel Okrent, “Rabbis were suddenly showing up everywhere. Irish Rabbis, Black Rabbis…” Nobody ever doubted their religious claims.
As is turns out, my grandmother was correct. In the 1920’s, Jewish congregations increased in membership by like, 75 percent. In short? BOOTLEG LIQUOR BUILT MODERN DAY JUDAISM. In fact, I don’t think you can reference a time in history when more NEW Jews suddenly showed up out of the woodwork to embrace Judaism in our nation’s history. No wonder we say prayers over the wine…
A few years ago, my grandmother Florence passed away. Readers of my stories should be familiar with our adventures together in her later years, which included a trip to the Ace Hotel, smoking medical marijuana and leafing through her old photo albums so she could announce who was presently, “Dead.” When she passed, it was a sad moment, and a week later, our family went through her home to get rid of old useless items…(My grandfather’s 5000 VHS tapes of classic movies) and save valuable ones… (My grandma had always claimed that she had hidden “thousands of dollars in cash” all over the house and that it was our job to find it when she died.)
Of course, knowing this, we tore open her home like Jesse Pinkman looking for hidden cash in that drug dealer’s condo in the film El Camino…
My mom and I found some money, but the “thousands of dollars” my grandma promised turned out to be something more like 220 bucks. We also uncovered a lot of jewelry and a stamp collection valued at about $39. So, if you’re the new couple that bought the place? If you ever find some ungodly wad of $100 dollar bills in a crawl space, hit me up…
Aside for a few of my grandma’s stray Vicodin, which I squirreled away in a jacket pocket, the only other item in the home that really intrigued me was my grandmother’s birth certificate. On it was listed her parent’s names and occupations – (Ruth Brauer-Kaplan – housewife. Jacob Kaplan- Dentist) – as well as her GRANDPARENT’s names and occupations… What intrigued me was the job description as reported to the state of New Jersey by JACK JOSEPH BRAUER –
His job: RABBI.
“Wow so Grandma’s story was true?” I asked my Uncle Steve who was helping my mom go through Florence’s old belongings.
“Yes indeed,” he answered.
“So was he really a Rabbi?” I asked.
“Do you know what a ‘Rabbi’ was back then?”
“I’m guessing a bootlegger?”
“It’s great getting to know your family, isn’t it?”
I went into the kitchen and poured myself a large glass of wine. I toasted my grandma on her final journey and raised my glass up to Jack Joseph Brauer – my great-great grandfather who kept so many families buzzed during the dark years of Prohibition…
Zach and Missi Pyle have a new podcast called “Missi and Zach Might Bang!” Exec. Produced by Anna Faris and Sim Sarna of “Anna Faris is Unqualified” – the show takes on celebrity guests, improvisational music and offers entertainment business advice as well! Head to http://www.ewpopfest.com to buy tickets now!!!
Yesterday, while nursing a mild hangover brought on by my reckless quarantine red wine intake, I found myself fondling myself in the middle of a 14-person ZOOM business meeting.
Ohhh boy. Hang on… Let’s analyze this for what it is…
The team I am currently working with was all in pajamas, hats and glasses – sporting unkempt beards and yelling at their kids to stop interrupting their video calls. Our hair had been laid to waste by weeks of barber shop closure. The ladies passed on their morning makeup and contact lenses for more natural headbands and eyeglasses… Others had pets jumping around living rooms and husbands yelling about burnt toast from other rooms… and one guy did not mute his video microphone when he yelled, “FUCK OFF I’M ON THE PHONE” at his six-year-old.
I understand. These are tough times.
Anyway, as we were discussing a podcast I am currently working on for our company – I noticed that for a good majority of the meeting I had been sort of… playing with my penis beneath the camera lens.
Yeah. Not sure why I was doing it, it was just one of those “personal moments” where I probably was up way too early, taking advantage of my comfortable sweatpants and recovering from some weird dream where I fantasized about maybe LEAVING my house during the day… I wasn’t focused on the meeting at all, in fact I was muted (thankfully) and just sort of having one of those “moments” that I’m sure we have all had recently… I wouldn’t call it a weakness, necessarily – it’s just a need to FEEL SOMETHING.
After realizing what I was doing, I quickly discontinued my Zoom video stream claiming I had a “parent-teacher conference” and did 25 push-ups.
During this quarantine, like most fathers, I have two kids in my house fighting over bandwidth and laptops and TV and all I want to do is watch The Last Dance on ESPN and drink until I pass out and somehow do some sort of coherent podcast episode the next day.
Whatever the case, those preceding paragraphs you just read were all I have managed to come up in regards to my short stories… The thing is – I am not that concerned. Why? Well, look… I used to be a pretty prolific short story writer. I have published (Online) over 250 stores since about 2001. But recently, I just haven’t felt the passion… I mean, I HAVE been writing, but it’s not like I really have any actual ‘put together’ or ‘completed’ short stories as of yet… but in my mind they are coming. At least I think they are… Well, maybe.
What I have really been writing somewhat prolifically are TITLES to stories I would love to write should this quarantine ever end …and I ever feel like putting the written word out to the public again.
Now, my old writing professors would have asked me why I haven’t been writing and finishing these short stories… Of course they would have been asking me that question in the 90’s when people still paid for the written word… But the answer is mainly – for one – that nobody cares or gives a shit about anything but survival right now. Also? in reality, every time I post a new story it hits the internet and about 500-1000 people read it. Maybe 40 of those readers comment on it and tell me how great it is and then nothing happens until I get a cease and desist lawsuit threatening to sue me for $900 because I used a photo of a mushroom that I borrowed off of Google Images in a blog post. (Yes, this is true. A company tracked me down, demanded $900 and threatened further legal proceedings for using an image of a fucking image that some Danish photographer took in the first in 1998. )
This was before quarantine, when I had maybe $750 in the bank. I never paid the company. I’m now guessing that Covid-19 furloughed those cockroaches back to the unemployment line where they now search for answers to explain to the Government how they worked as Soul Sucking Jizz Stains for living… and now they need a bail out.
They’re probably asking for $20 million, like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse received. (By the way – maybe Ruth’s Chris will spend some of that money to change the horrible name of their restaurant. I mean what is a “Ruth’s Chris?” It sounds like a toothless kid asking for her teeth back on Christmas Day. “All I want for Ruth’s Chris is my Two Front Teeth…“)
Look, I consider myself very lucky. In my life – writing has actually worked for me on occasion. I recently optioned one of my short stories as a screenplay to a pretty fantastic independent film company… but in the end it ended up resulting in two years of work on a film that never got made, which is really what you hear in Hollywood all the time, but I’m not upset about that- I’ve been in this business a long time. I mean listen… The first script I wrote in college was called Wedding Crashers. It had been read by a lot of people, but when the Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn film came out I had my first taste of “What-the-fuck-is-this-town?”
Another time, a website that published first person essays offered me $250 for a story about the Great Wolf Lodge that I still feel is the funniest thing I have ever written … The thing was, they told me to cut 400 words out of it. I told them to fuck off and retained my rights to the story. By the way? A grand total of 47 people commented on that post.
But fuck it, it’s a new world, a new normal… whatever the fuck this is. I’ve been busy writing scripts for podcast comedies, jokes for projects and animated sitcoms that may never see the light of day. But, as I said – I have also been writing titles for a book of QUARANTINE ESSAYS…
And as of today – here is my working list of titles.
…And Other Quarantine Essays by ZACH SELWYN
“I Thought I had Enough Booze for Three Weeks… I Said on Day Four.”
“I Dunno, a Wife Swap Might Not be the WORST Idea, and other Reasons I’m Sleeping on the Couch…”
“Don’t Trim Your Toenails While Inebriated.”
“My Conspiracy Theory Friend Explains it All”
“My son is 13. We had “the talk.” It wasn’t about sex or pregnancy…. It was about “How to hide your porn history using private browsing.” #NewNormal”
“Divorce on Pause… One Friend’s Living Hell Awaiting a Legal Separation”
“Why am I Googling My Exes?”
“Finding’ a Jerkin Window… an Impossible Task”
“I’m Committing Suicide, Dad… And Other Things I heard When the WiFi went Out.”
“Fuck if I get Sick. I’m Going to the Store for Beer and Easter Candy… One Dad’s Adventure.”
“Alexa, Play Anything but Ed Sheeran.”
“My Kid Goes to School on the Same Laptop I Googled ‘Hot Girl Gets Blasted by Stepdad’ on Yesterday.”
“Yeah, it’s a Breakfast Beer… Big Deal…”
Oh…. By the way. I’m Repped by WME.
Reach out if you’re interested in reading the rest of my essay collection…
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.
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”…
I just came to the sad conclusion that I would have made a lousy pirate.
My entire life, I have been infatuated with legendary late 17th century buccaneers and the billowing high sea adventures that they embarked upon. I have fantasized about discovering empirical treasures, establishing sumptuous small island colonies full of sexual heathens, and eating grand carved slices of roast Zebu meat washed down with copious never-ending rivers of Carribean rum… I’ve imagined sailing into tropical ports clad in bulging silken scarves puffed out from manicured vests tethered to worldly fabrics… I’ve envisioned a cutlass tucked in my waistcoat belt complimenting a gun or two hidden upon a hip to be used only in case of discovery or ambush… I have envisioned a fair, virginal maiden awaiting me in every port. For 30 years, I have shouldered dreams of piracy.
I have always foreseen myself living this life – thinking that perhaps I was born at the wrong time and that I was meant to be born a sea-beaten and weathered swashbuckler with a Dread Pirate Roberts-like understanding of wit, trickery, swordsmanship, romance and true love. A mysterious villain with a heart – and a chest – of gold. Lavishly gouging myself on intercontinental coffees and licquers. Forever eluding capture. Leading a wispy life on the wind until the proper time arrives when one must lower his mainsail, trade his beloved ship for gold and retire to live like a king in some far-off heavenly slice of paradise cascading into the far reaches of the sun-drenched Earth… I have secretly hallucinated about my own retirement plan. I visualize my final days spent bearded and leathery, awash in Key West swells, living off the fruits of my lifelong seaworthy labors…
And then my father-in-law invited me out to join him on a fishing trip.
We are very different types of men. We have not necessarily spent a lot of bonding time together, but in the quest to find a connection between my wife’s father and myself, I have tried a lot of angles. What I have discovered, is that it has been fairly hard to find any common ground.
Back in 2001, when my father-in-law and I first met, he had never been to a major league baseball game. I had never fired a gun.
He had never written a sketch or a creative story. I had never flown an airplane off of a carrier in the Pacific Ocean.
He scoffed at the use of profanity – like the word “shit” – in film and television. I had just written a song called Cartoons I’d Like to Fuck.
I immediately knew it was going to be a tough climb.
Over the years, I have divulged that my wife’s father is a true man of the sea. Following a storied 35-plus years as an airline pilot, the events of 9/11 forced him into early retirement. Bored with the sky, he was delighted to be focusing his attention on his true love: THE OCEAN. He celebrates the big blue and all that comes with it, everywhere. For instance…
His house is decorated like the inside of a cheesy Santa Monica seafood restaurant. Old fishing nets line the kitchen walls, complete with plastic lobsters caught in their webs. Vintage boat steering wheel-clocks help you keep time at over 26 different spots in the den. At least five small, circular windows are placed on the port and starboard side of the living room. In one room, shark teeth serve as a makeshift picture frame for his wedding photo. Above his bed is a thrift store painting of Captain Cook inspecting a compass and a map. Finally, his shower curtains are seven foot-tall lug sails that he ordered on ebay.
Friends who have visited sometimes refer to his home as “Red Lobster.”
I will say that I absolutely respect his love and passionate worship of the sea. It is his true mistress. When we visit him at his house in Washington State every Christmas, I often find him avoiding the shrieking outbursts of my children by stepping outside, making a fire and longingly staring out across open water where an undiscovered land of opportunity awaits him. I never understood why he did it, but I would not put it past him to believe that somewhere on that horizon lies an island with a river of frozen pina coladas, buried treasure and a pulsating posse of randy mermaids shape-shifting from sea creatures to women – prepared to satisfy his every perverted need.
In short, he also harbors dreams of being a pirate.
My father-in-law had owned a beautiful sailboat for many years and took his family around the world and home again on it as a younger man, but his post-retirement dream was to refurbish another boat into his vision of the ultimate dream cruiser. His plan was to take us all around the world in four years.
In 2001, he bought the boat. Following some bad luck, terrible storms and unfortunate circumstances, he sold that boat for half of its value nearly a decade later. It had never left the dock.
However, in 2012, he finally got a vessel he deemed worthy. It is a beautiful boat – with sleeping room for eight – common hang out areas and gorgeous deck space. He spent the majority of the past year sailing it from Maryland, between some Caribbean islands, through the Panama Canal and up back towards Seattle. It was his dream journey. When I heard that he was on this fabulous trip, my old brigand dreams were rekindled. I harkened back to my obsession with colorful pirate captains like Robert Culliford, Blackbeard and Calico Jack. I dreamt of a night on that boat, searching high above for the Andromeda Galaxy through my spyglass while cosmically spaced out on aged Puerto Rican spiced rum.
And then, in March, my family received his postcard from the island of St. Croix illuminating us on everything we were missing. As I sat on my couch, firing up another game of Wii Wipeout, I realized that he was absolutely right. And I was jealous. My father-in-law was out on the high seas, island hopping and fishing for his dinner – while I was spending my life about to challenge my six-year-old on the treacherous Wipeout “Big Balls.”
Luckily, one night during last year’s holidays, my father-in-law and I happened upon the fantastic film Hornblower on television. I had a few glasses of wine and immediately fell into the story. It was fascinating. He informed me that he had the entire mini-series (on VHS, nonetheless) and we tackled all eight parts within the next three nights. After that, we went through Master and Commander,Dead Calm, Treasure Island and the Pirates of the Carribean collection. It was then, that I inquired about possibly joining him on his next worldwide journey.
“Why don’t you start by coming out with me tomorrow?” He offered. “I’m going to set some crab traps and head to Port Orchard Bay to do some fishing.”
My eyes lit up. Crab traps? Fishing? A boat? I know it wasn’t exactly commandeering a massive English Man-of-War, but it was a start. I figured I would get my sea legs, catch some fresh dinner and be back by sunset to drink some beer and cook fish while counting the easy sailboats in the harbor. My first pirate adventure awaited me. I felt like those lifelong deckhand barflies who spend their lives in the bars of port towns like Bremerton, awaiting the rare Alaskan fishing vessels to offer them jobs out on the icy water for a three month run where they might make enough to stay in booze for weeks.
My wife was her usual supportive self. “Don’t come back with a peg-leg,” she requested.
I slept well that night, anticipating my maiden voyage on his boat, The Great Orca II, where I would ride the Pacific Northwest waves until I was christened first mate. I awoke at dawn to pack and head on out on the open water.
Before we set out, I took my journal with me hoping to find some inspiration. I also fastened my guitar to my back – knowing that pirates always appreciated a good sea shanty – and tucked my headphones into my jacket pocket. As the sun rose, I watched my father-in-law put on a set of rubber pants and some Merrell boots as I laced up my Converse All-Stars. I arrived in the kitchen ready to embark on our little journey with my guitar and ipad. He arrived with a woven beanie and a pair of pliers in his hand.
“What are those for?” I asked.
“In case we hit something and one of your teeth pops loose.”
I froze. He smiled.
“So, what’s your sea name gonna be?” He asked me.
“Excuse me?” I said. “Sea name?”
“All my passengers must create sea names for themselves when we are out on the water. You know, aliases. I always go by ‘Captain T.’’
I thought about it. A sea name! Cool! It would be like my pirate name… I knew it had to be something legendary, with a little flourish and a hardened edge. Something like “Black Pistol Bluebird McCoy…”
Knowing that there was a “Pirate Name Generator” on the internet – (look it up) – I quickly logged on and typed in my name. Sadly, their suggestion wasn’t the heroic adventurer name I had imagined. On the website, it read:
Yarr olde name be Zachary Selwyn. But we’ll now call ye:
PANTS DOWN DARIUS
My wife laughed. So did my mother-in-law. I demanded to re-enter my name, but it was too late. The new sea name had stuck.
“Hey, Pants-Down,” Captain T yelled. “Don’t bring your guitar unless you want it to get ruined.”
(For the record, when my father-in-law typed in his name, he was anointed Pirate Laszlo the Ochre… Lucky bastard.)
Now I have certainly been fishing a number of times. However, most of the deep sea adventures I have been on involved a drunk Mexican pontoon boat captain named “Suarez” and an unlimited supply of Modelo Especial somewhere down in Cabo San Lucas. I figured this little trip would be the Pacific Northwest version of that. Basically, at a short little booze cruise into Port Orchard Bay.
As I slipped on the wet step-ladder that hoists a passenger into his boat, Captain T called back towards the house where my wife and kids were waving good-bye from the back porch.
“Better stand in the ‘widow’s peak’ now,” he chortled. “He might not make it two knots!”
Widow’s peak? Knots? Sailor humor, I figured. I stepped into the cabin and drank some coffee. It was cold outside, but I figured the sun might come up soon enough for me to catch some open sea rays before catching our lunch and heading home. I lied down to try and catch another ten minutes of rest.
Five minutes later, we set off from the dock, and I suddenly found myself alone, in the water with my father-in-law. It suddenly dawned on me that if my daughter was to ever marry a man like me, I would someday do everything I could to find a way to “accidentally” push him off of a boat into arctic waters. I immediately became paranoid that I was on a boat trip not unlike the one the character “Big Pussy” made with Tony on The Sopranos.
After getting out of the inlet waters that are surrounded by hilltop mansions of Bainbridge Island, we settled into a nice stretch of slightly bumpy water where I figured we might drop some crab traps. As it turns out, we were early. Captain T informed me that we were just stalking until the tide came back out. I looked at my watch. It was 8:13 a.m.
“What time does the tide come back out?” I asked.
“Around 10,” he responded.
The next hour was remarkably the most relaxed I had been since we arrived for the holidays five days prior. Captain T and I played cards, looked at pictures on our iphones and talked about what type of fish we wanted to have when we got back to shore. We both snacked on some almonds and popped open bottles of Amber Lager while playing the card game “Casino.” We discussed my children, our careers, and how good life would be once we emptied his crab pots and relished in the brilliant shellfish found below the surface. There was no Spongebob on TV, no diapers to change and no wives to harass us abotu drinking beers at 8:30 in the morning.
“Are there laws about how long you have to be sober before flying a plane?” I asked.
“When I flew for Pan Am the rule was eight hours bottle to throttle.”
“What about when you’re on a boat?” I inquired.
“Probably something like, ‘don’t get in trouble, drop anchor when you see double.’”
It was by far the hardest my father-in-law has ever made me laugh.
It might not have been piracy, but it was a deep hang. One that I enjoyed so much, I began doing math numbers in my head to figure out how much property I could get in a small Seattle waterfront town if I sold my house in Hollywood. Bottom line? I could probably get a shitload. And a decent boat. And I could probably purchase and work at a small fireworks stand on the side of the road near the Suquamish Indian Reservation. For 45 minutes, I was truly considering this massive life change.
And then the storm broke.
The Pacific Northwest isn’t exactly known for its dry weather. In fact, they average 23 days of sunshine a year – which explains the high suicide rates and tremendous coffee production. Sometimes, when we visit, we get lucky and only have to withstand a small patch of overcast skies and minimal rain. Unfortunately, this afternoon was not one of those times.
Sheets of water began pulsating against the Great Orca II forcing us to cut our engine and enclose ourselves in a plastic sheathing to protect the engine room. I helped button down a few knobs, but I began to get a little concerned when, following a heavy pane of rain, I heard my father-in-law cursing at something from below the deck. Being that he was a man who found Mary Poppins to be morally reprehensible, I was amazed at his sudden vulgarity. The man I had known for 11 years suddenly became a re-incarnation of the revolting British pirate Batholomew Sharp.
As a rule, in his home, the word “damn” summoned up punishment.
Out here, on the water, the words “fucking cockshit” suddenly became acceptable.
“Something wrong, sir?” I yelled below deck.
“Stay up there Pants-Down,” he yelled back.
I leaned against my seat and did my best to ignore the boat’s nauseating rocking motion. I dumped the remainder of my beer over the side.
“We got a breach in the hull,” he yelled. “Get me my black toolbox, NOW!”
I panicked. Not knowing where he stored it, I frantically searched in the state room before coming across what I thought was a black tool box. I brought it down to him and he slapped it away.
“That’s a God-Damn tackle box, Zach!”
So much for only using our sea-names.
“Stay here and apply pressure to where this leak is coming through, got it?” He said.
I nodded and applied pressure on a tarpaulin that he had fastened over a small crack in the boat’s bottom. Water was seeping in fast. Assuming the hole didn’t get any bigger, I figured we had three hours before we would be re-enacting scenes from The Perfect Storm.
When Captain T got back down, he cursed at the scene and thrust me out of his way. He threw open his tool kit and removed some puddy-like mold and went to work. I sat there, frozen for what seemed like 20 minutes.
“Anything I can help with?” I offered.
“Go upstairs and radio the Coast Guard… We might be stuck out here tonight.”
Back above deck, I fiddled with the radio, but had no idea what the hell I was doing. When I couldn’t get any response when I simply garbled “SOS” into the receiver. I figured we were done for. We were barely five miles from his house, but we were in the middle of nowhere. Looking around, I did not see another vessel in sight. It was time I faced my immediate pirate future. I would be buried at sea.
In the world of ancient pirate adventures, rarely did a buccaneer get a chance to enjoy the treasures he pilfered. Most pirate galleons were besieged by disease, starvation, dehydration and terrible, long droughts of immobility. Ships would fail to catch wind and be stranded in the middle of oceans for days on end, making life hell for the crew. Very few pirates got away with anything without dire punishment. Should a pirate be captured, his life became even more unpleasant, and many spent years holed up in dank, smelly, cavernous prisons chained to walls and a chamber pot. If one was lucky enough to get pardoned, he would more than likely end up penniless and ruined. The lucky ones died of scurvy or dehydration. Many hung from gallows to welcome incoming ships and warn them against the joys of piracy. Making it out alive in the world of 17 and 18th century piracy was about as common as moving to Hollywood tomorrow and becoming the next Hugh Jackman. Very few pirates actually got to enjoy their riches, and most were killed, imprisoned or tortured for their brief careers as marauders of the seven seas. It took a strong will to be a pirate, spending a treacherous nine months on a boat hoping for one miraculous ship capture and a raid that would make you rich.
The toughest ones stuck it out.
I had been at sea for a grand total of two hours and five minutes and I was ready to abandon ship.
About ten minutes after I had given up on the pirate life, Captain T came back up to the bridge and asked me for a towel. When I handed him one, I noticed that he was soaking wet and smelled like the open sea. He was shivering something fierce and his droopy face beneath his wool cap made him look a little like a drowned sea lion.
“Well, I got the leak fixed,” he said.
I nearly got up and hugged him. I couldn’t believe it
“Any word from the Coast Guard?”
“Uhh, no,” I replied. “I wasn’t really sure how to call them.”
Captain T handled the radio and spoke into it. When he did not receive a response, he calmly holstered the radio and sat back in the Captain’s seat.
“Looks like we might have to tough it out and get back home through the storm,” he mumbled.
As the wind raged on and the boat rocked back and forth a few times, I found myself a victim of seasickness. Vomiting over the side of a rocking boat in the middle of the ocean is a wonderful experience, let me tell you. Especially when your father-in-law captain recommends aiming it into the wind so that it doesn’t fly downwind and land on any leather boat cushions.
Captain T straightened out some things that had come off the walls before fastening nearly everything down and telling me to hold on to anything I could find. He flipped on the engine and guided the boat to turn around.
“Anything I can help with?” I asked.
“You can get us a couple of beers,” he said. “This is gonna be a rough re-entry.”
The next three hours, I watched my father-in-law in his element. Whereas I had spent the afternoon scared for my life, he was fighting mother nature like I imagined Captain Kidd would have done while guiding his ship from the shores of Madagascar back to New York Harbor. My father-in-law was magnificent. He relished in every challenge and every chance he got to steer clear of an oncoming swell or ride through a air pocket with ease.
No wonder this guy had flown planes for 35 years, I thought to myself.
It was a true mark of bravery. One that reduced me from a heroic and valiant wannabe pirate – into a lowly stowaway, longing to warm my feet by a fire while flipping through 298 television stations.
He dipped over waves and squinted through the wind like a cast member of Deadliest Catch. His beard had tiny icicles forming below his nostrils and he was doing it while wearing nothing but a cap, rubber jacket and a long sleeve shirt.
Meantime, I was in nine layers of long johns and two sweaters.
About two hours later, we safely made it back to the dock where I helped tie up some lines and put out ship bumpers so that we wouldn’t scratch the vessel. As I walked up the dock towards the house, I looked through the windows. I noticed the familiar positioning of my family. My wife was on the couch. The boy was yielding a lightsaber by the kitchen table and my mother-in-law stood cooking chili. I stopped and looked for a minute at this Rockwell-like serenity and for a moment, considered waiting for Captain T to come out of the boathouse so that he could share the praise with me. After all, we had survived the storm! We had made it through! We were men of action. True sea-dogs. Quite possibly the closest we would be to pirates our entire lives.