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.
After Reading Sean Penn’s ‘El Chapo’ Piece, I Decided to See What my Old Pot Dealer From High School was Up to…
Recently, Sean Penn made headlines when he bravely traveled deep into the heart of Sinaloa to meet and converse with the notorious Mexican drug cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Right after the story went to press, El Chapo was captured – and his latest elusive time on the lam abruptly came to a close. Penn’s piece was published in Rolling Stone this week and I found it to be an engrossing piece of long lost Gonzo journalism at its finest. Penn, an actor, long known for his political involvement, put himself in the direct line of peril and danger all while partnering with a famous Mexican film actress to infiltrate the most impenetrable depths of Narco activity. He shook hands, broke bread and slammed tequila with a man that the DEA and Mexican authorities have been unable to locate for close to six months. In my opinion, Penn’s story was a hell of a lot more ballsy than anything else any pampered Hollywood actor has attempted in the past twenty years. (Sorry, Julia Roberts. Playing an AIDS-sensitive doctor in The Normal Heart may have been considered “daring” but it pales in comparison to a 55-year-old Oscar winner risking his life to traipse deep into a jungle of death for an interview for a rock-n-roll magazine).
So, inspired by Sean Penn’s courage, I decided that the recent stories and essays I have written have felt a little too “soft.” I realized that had to step it up. Knowing that I was traveling back to my hometown of Tucson to visit my mother on Martin Luther King, jr. weekend, I made up my mind that I was going to turn the trip into my own personal “El Chapo rendezvous.” I had a great idea…
My goal was to track down Ernesto Gregory, the most successful marijuana dealer in my high school. The last I had heard of Ernesto was through a photograph taken around 2011 by our mutual high school friend, Erik. He posted a picture of the two of them on Facebook drinking in the desert. Erik had captioned the photo with He’s finally out! Welcome home boss!”
Assuming that this caption insinuated that he had just been released from some high security prison, I was under the impression that Ernesto had built up an El Chapo-like narcotics network of hundreds of foot soldiers and truckloads of contraband over the past 18 years. Why else would he have been in jail? Why would Erik call him “boss?” Plus, he was wearing the typical outfit. A Large Polo Horse logo situated on a blue collared shirt on top of True Religion designer jeans. DEA agents call this look “Narco Polo.” Now I have seen Sicario. I’ve watched Breaking Bad. I had no doubt that Ernesto had risen from low-grade weed dealer at Rincon/University High School into a southwestern drug legend – living in ranches and mansions sprawled across the Tucson and Mexico landscape.
And I was going to interview him.
I was set to fly into Tucson International Airport on January 17th. My plan was to eat a bunch of food at my mother’s house, drink wine and play three games of Scrabble all while hearing her talk about how amazing The Revenant was. The following day, I would travel deep into the center of Tucson to meet up with and interview the most intimidating and bad-ass pot dealer my high school had known.
Back in 1993, Ernesto Gregory had owned the school’s finest lowered mini truck. He had a 200-dollar Motorola pager. His “system” – or car stereo – was as custom as they came, complete with an Alpine tape deck, a Sony Discman attachment, two 12-inch Kicker woofers, some Kenwood tweeters and a constant bass thump of MC Breed, DJ Magic Mike and Wrecks ‘N Effect blasting from his trunk. He had his own apartment on Speedway, decked out with a two-foot bong, a television with cable and an unlimited financial account on a sort of early 90’s YouTube video-on-demand predecessor known as “The Box.” He always wore a black Colorado Rockies cap and Marithe and Francois Girbaud jeans beneath over-sized t-shirts of ridiculous animated Looney Tunes characters wearing 90’s hip-hop clothing. His pager code for weed was “907.” His girlfriend was the hottest girl in the senior class – a dark-haired Mexican sex goddess named Racquel Hernandez. And he was tough. As far as we knew, he had never lost a fight. In fact, I recalled him once putting my friend from Hebrew School – Adam Richford – into a headlock and smashing his nose repeatedly until he apologized for “mad-dogging” him in the parking lot. He claimed he had connections through “uncles in Nogales,” where his product came from. And everybody knew, anyone with “uncles in Nogales” was always in the drug game… In short, Ernesto Gregory was the most accomplished 18-year-old kid I had laid eyes on in my young life.
After I landed, I told my mom about my plan.
“Why the hell are you meeting with this criminal?” My mother asked on the car ride from the airport.
“He was the king, mom!” I exclaimed. “Didn’t you read the Sean Penn article?”
“Sean Penn’s an idiot, going to interview that drug dealer!”
“I thought that story was genius,” I said. “Besides, what else am I going to write? Another story about my kids not being allowed to bring refined sugar to school?”
Following a few glasses of wine at the house, my mom was trying to convince me to go to Wal-Mart to buy a knife for the meeting. I assured her that Ernesto and I were in good standing and that no concealed weapons would be necessary. She broke into a desperate sweat. We played two games of Scrabble before deciding to put the third one on pause because we were so tired that word like “uh” and “is” had begun appearing on the board.
My final memory of the evening was listening to my mom curse my name before she went to bed in the other room.
The following morning I fueled up on eggs and coffee, not knowing when I would be back to the house. The afternoon’s plans had been Facebook “messaged” to me by Erik, who I quickly learned from his profile hadn’t left Tucson since graduation. Erik wrote me that Ernesto wasn’t on social media, but he mentioned that he did watch a lot of TV and he had even seen my History Channel show and had once commented, “I know that fucker!” He also told me that Ernesto had demanded that Erik take down the aforementioned photo he had posted in 2011. Sure enough, when I searched for it, it was no longer online… All this solidified my drug-lord theory even more.
Ernesto had agreed to meet at 12:30. I took off in my mother’s Acura and sped over to an address located in the shadow of the bar-heavy downtown area. A place much hipper and enticing than it had been back in the 90’s when druggies and skinheads and homeless wandered Congress Boulevard scaring off any young people looking for a good time. Must have been all the drug money given to the city by Ernesto, I theorized.
I parked in a dirt lot and immediately recognized Erik, who looked like he had been a meth fiend since about 1994. He wore a saggy shirt, filthy pants and sported a patchy beard and shaved head. He had a kid’s BMX bicycle in his pick up truck bed, which I took as also a sure sign of a man on crystal meth. For some reason, heavy meth addicts seemed to always travel on way-too-small dirt bikes. Erik wasn’t unlike them.
I looked up just as a helicopter darted above us in the sky. DEA drone, I thought. Of course. We were most likely being followed. Hell, who knew what corner or alleyway was outfitted with a hidden camera tracking Erik’s every move. Shit, maybe the FBI had caught on to my story as well? I mean, who’s to say they weren’t tracking Erik’s Facebook page when I sent him my original message? I was starting to hit an all-time level of paranoia. Even a pigeon that flapped above us and landed on a telephone wire looked like it had a hidden camera in its eye… I tried to keep my cool.
Knowing some of the narco protocol, I began preparing for my meeting with Ernesto.
“So, should I give you my iphone for safety precautions?” I asked Erik.
“What for?” He replied.
“Oh, I just assumed I wasn’t allowed to bring any electronics to the meeting,” I said.
“We aint goin on no airplane or nothin,” he replied.
At this point, my entire drug kingpin theory went out the window. After all, in the El Chapo story, Sean Penn was told to turn his phone off in Los Angeles, nearly 14 hours before he even made contact with the cartel in Mexico. He had been forced to travel to in two separate SUV’s, two single engine planes and armored vehicles just to meet with El Chapo’s henchmen before gaining approval. He was most likely given a full body cavity search, frisked and water-boarded. Ernesto’s lone henchman was a meth fiend named Erik who was allowing me to bring my iphone into a meeting as if I was about to pitch him a new Angry Birds app to finance… Ernesto’s notorious drug cartel was crumbling before my eyes.
“Follow my truck, we’re going to shoot pool at Pockets,” Erik said.
“Pockets? We’re not going to his house or something?” I asked.
“What house?” He said. “Ernesto likes to play pool. You play pool?”
“Sure, man – I love pool,” I said.
I hate pool.
Pockets was a stale billiard hall way too brightly lit for a Wednesday afternoon. A few biker types with chain wallets and denim jackets drank Miller High Life at the bar. A Mexican guy who looked to be on his 5th or 6th Corona sat watching a soccer game on TV. One lone female, a waitress who would have slept with Bad Blake in the movie Crazy Heart after he played a set at a bowling alley, served beer. In the far west corner stood a chubby man in an Arizona Wildcats baseball cap chalking up his cue. I recognized him immediately as Ernesto Gregory.
His face had filled in and he had put on close to 35 pounds. By his footwear and saggy jeans I could tell that he hadn’t done much to change his fashion choices during the past 22 years. He wore Jordan sneakers, which were probably eight years old and had accumulated a slew of new arm tattoos, including one portrait of a woman who looked a lot like a fatter version of Racquel Hernandez. He drank what I would soon learn was Jack Daniel’s and Diet Coke and was constantly adjusting his pants from the crotch area. My first thought was that the most accomplished 18-year-old I had ever known had become the sloppiest 40-year-old I had seen in some time.
“Zach Selwyn!” He announced as I nervously approached the pool table. “What up Hollywood!”
Oh boy. He was going to call me Hollywood the rest of the day, I knew it.
“I seen you on that TV show about the words and shit!”
“Yeah, America’s Secret Slang, thanks man.”
“Yeah, American Slang! That’s it, what up big homie?”
“Nada man, just trying to catch up with some old friends, ya know?”
“Well shit, let’s shoot some stick.”
Ernesto racked up some balls and began rattling off shots. He was a damn good pool player and I knew that even at my best – which was pretty terrible – I was about to be embarrassed. But, he told me to pick a cue and even though it was 1:30 in the afternoon, I ordered a pitcher of Bud Light. The waitress brought it over and charged me for it. It cost $3.75.
As Ernesto sank shot after shot, we never once discussed drug dealing. In fact, we spent most of our time talking about girls from high school that he had always wanted to screw. Turns out, he thought I was some Olympic-level cocksman in my teens and he assumed that I had slept with every cute girl in our high school. As he dug up names from the past, I could only laugh and try to remember who some of these girls even were. Most of them I had never been intimate with, but to placate Ernesto, I played along.
“Paula Schrapner? Yeah, I nailed her,” I said. Not true.
“Jen Robbins? Blow job,” I lied.
“Did you ever get together with Laura House?” Ernesto asked. “She was DOPE!”
“Uh, we just kissed,” I said, which was actually true. One New Years Eve 1992, we had briefly kissed.
“Man, I wonder what she’s up to now?” He said, staring off at a neon sign.
As the beers flowed, I was finding that I was having a hard time getting anything out of Ernesto. He was stuck in 1993, still pining for girls who were long married, divorced and even had kids in high school of their own. He remembered football games that I hadn’t even thought about in 20 years and quoted our Economics teacher Mr. Franklin from a class I didn’t even recall taking. When I took a second to ask him about Racquel Hernandez and what happened to their relationship, he grew silent, took out a vape pen and pulled long and hard.
“You know we have three kids, right?”
“I did not know that,” I said. “Congrats. I have two. How old?”
“19, 17 and 15,” he said. “But the 15-year-old has blue eyes and blonde hair – aint no way that kid’s mine. We broke up 12 years ago. My second wife bailed on me last year. Bitch.”
Wow. Here I was, stressing out about my 9 and 5-year-old kids in Los Angeles and this guy had been divorced twice and had three kids in high school – one who he was convinced wasn’t even his. I suddenly felt like every pampered Hollywood asshole I have come to despise.
“Hey Hollywood, you never slept with Racquel, did you?” He asked.
“What? Hell no!”
There was a sudden silence. Erik looked ready to tear out my jugular. Ernesto stared me down. This was what Adam Richford would call “mad-dogging.” My mom was right… I should have bought that knife.
“Man, I’m just playing!” He said. “You should see your face, you looked like a little bitch just now!”
Everybody laughed. I pounded my beer. It was then that I decided that I had to get the whole story right here or else I was going to end up on the wrong end of a bong in the south side of Tucson come six o’clock, getting high and watching some show like Ridiculousness on a Futon. I found my courage and lowered my voice to a whisper.
“So, Ernesto – you still in the weed game?” I asked.
Ernesto looked at me and laughed. He looked at Erik and then back to the pool table.
“Man, I aint dealt weed since high school,” he said.
“I thought you went to jail or something?” I inquired.
“Shit man… I shot some endangered pregnant salamander with a rifle during bow-hunting season. Thank God it didn’t die… Luckily I only did two nights in county jail, man. Sucked ass.”
He had shot a pregnant salamander with a rifle during bow-hunting season? He did two nights in county jail? El Chapo had done something like seven years in maximum security before his first escape… As far as I know, he never complained either. Here was my one-time narcotics hero admitting to me that he was scared after doing two measly nights for shooting a fucking lizard. My story was falling apart.
“So, what about the last 15 years? I mean, what have you done for work?” I asked.
Ernesto sunk a 9 ball and looked up at me.
“I repair windshields, man. Over at Glassworx on Speedway.”
I watched him return to the table. My heart sank as he finished off the game by dropping the eight ball perfectly in the side pocket. My story was over. The most notorious drug dealer I had known had become a windshield repair guy. There was no mansion in the hills, no ranch house in Nogales… and no harem of sexy Mexican women. Ernesto had gone straight and my story was dead.
“Why do you ask, homie?” Ernesto inquired. “You need weed?”
Being that my story was a bust, I figured that the very least I could do was to go on one more pot buying deal in my old hometown. Maybe the dealer would be the drug kingpin I was looking for and I could write something about him instead.
“Yeah, sure man. Just a little bit to get me through the next two days.”
“Well, my dude sells dime bags over at hole 14 at the Golf N’ Stuff on Tanque Verde if you want to pick one up,” Ernesto said.
Dime bag? Golf N’ Stuff? I wasn’t interested. The last thing I needed was to buy Mexican weed from a kid at the same place where I had celebrated my 11-year-old birthday party. It just didn’t seem right.
“No that’s cool, man,” I replied. “I gotta get home anyway – maybe we can hook up tomorrow or something.”
“Are you sure?” He said. “This kid gets good shit… he has a couple of uncles in Nogales.”
Of course he did. I threw a five-dollar tip on the wooden table and finished off my beer. I high-fived Erik and Ernesto, promised to be in touch and promptly drove back to my mother’s house where I found her nervously pacing the living room like I was 15 again and out with a senior at my first high school party.
We opened a bottle of wine and finished our game of Scrabble…
HOW TO SURVIVE A GRATEFUL DEAD SHOW WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR FRIENDS IN THE PARKING LOT * By Zach Selwyn
My old college friend Bernard (Or “Burner – for reasons that don’t need to be explained) called me the day before Father’s Day. He had an extra ticket to the 50th Anniversary Grateful Dead concert in northern California. I informed my wife that I would be traveling to the show the following Saturday night.
“Haha yeah right,” she said.
“No. I’m going.”
“Stop it. Now, what do you want to do for Father’s Day? Should we meet the Bartons for brunch? Or do you want to have people over to bar-be-cue?”
“I hate the Bartons,” I said. “I want to go to the Grateful Dead.”
“Are you serious?”
“Well, take your son with you, don’t you think he would enjoy it?”
I didn’t think that was the brightest idea. The smoke and the dancing and twirling was completely mind-blowing to me when I was at my first show at age 18. Back then I was scared shitless. Too many drugs, too many lost souls… too many people having a lot more fun than I was. I told my wife that I’d rather let my son find his own musical path. (Then again, if he’s following 5 Seconds of Summer around the country in 10 years I may have failed somewhere.) Plus, I told my wife that a 9-year-old boy does not need to see his 40-year-old dad clink Absinthe cups with a dude in hiking shorts who made Silicon Valley millions by inventing the Nook.
“Do NOT drink Absinthe,” she demanded.
“I won’t, I promise.”
Eventually, I got the green light – and I called Burner back and committed to his 70-dollar ticket. Which I soon found was WAY too expensive for my shitty seats behind the stage where just a few songs into the set a man would face-plant and nearly die on the concrete right next to me.
Recent online ticket prices for the Santa Clara shows had settled at $20-$40 depending on where you were seated, way down from the rumored $1500 nearly a month earlier. This was due to the “Soldier Field Panic Purchase” that nearly every Dead Head and ticket scalper had fallen for when their final two shows of this “Fare Thee Well” concert were originally announced… Thinking the tickets to Santa Clara might be listed at the same price as the Chicago shows, folks bought up dozens of seats at face value, only to find themselves losing money when trying to unload the tickets in the parking lot the afternoon of the show. (Steal Your Face Value, anyone?) Even Burner was left with a handful of tickets that he ended up trading for “pieces” (pipes or chillums), 50th anniversary bandanas, T-shirts and at one point a foot long joint being sold by a spritely blonde nymph out of a giant cardboard box.
Now, a fair amount has already been written about these shows – if you want to hear about the set lists and the fan reactions to Trey Anastasio and the supposed $50,000 “fake rainbow” – go Google that now. This is my personal adventure about smoking a lump of hash with a crazy looking scallywag who was dragging a dirty pet pit bull named “Iko” around on a hemp dog leash – and becoming so cosmically altered, that I managed to lose my friends for the duration of the show long before the first note of Truckin’ was even played.
It was a surreal experience to say the least. When I last saw the Grateful Dead in 1995, the crowd was pretty much the same… just about 20 years younger. But now, those folks have grown up. Gone are the days of living in the Vanagon and hopping from town-to-town. The “Only Users Lose Drugs” shirts I used to fawn over had been replaced by at least 25 men happily wearing a t-shirt reading “Grateful Dad.” (Thank you, honey for not getting me THAT for Father’s Day.)
A vast majority of the well-off crowd could be found eating sushi and sipping wine in the safe “red” parking lot, while the more traditional “Shakedown Street” blue parking lot catered to the jewelry designers, pushers, providers, dealers and, yes, the guys selling veggie burritos. (At $5.00 a steal – considering it was $11.00 for a nitrate-riddled hot dog in the stadium). Bottom line was, it was a very balanced scene. Which is how I went from talking about music with a doctor who lived in Marin County – to witnessing a hippie trade a T-shirt for a Churro – to eventually asking the aforementioned scraggly looking pit bull owner if I could have a hit of his joint.
“It’s hash bro,” he said.
“Nice,” I said.
“Nice,” he responded.
I took a long drag from the tightly rolled spliff. It was licorice-like in flavor… and reminded me of smoking hash on a Eurorail with a Spanish stranger during a train ride from Switzerland to Germany in 1996. I exhaled.
“Nice.” I said again.
“Real nice,” he said and pulled off the joint again.
I stared up at the clouds.
“Nice,” I laughed.
“Totally nice,” he replied.
We stood and watched the sky for a few minutes. I started to realize that for the past ten minutes, I had managed to keep a totally coherent conversation going by merely uttering the word “nice.”
I shook off my daze and decided to gather myself to find Burner and our other friends and head inside. We were 30 minutes away from the opener and I didn’t want to miss it. I looked back at my hash-providing friend and we shared an ever-knowing look of “I’ll never see you again, but thanks for the time together.” I threw up a peace sign. As I walked away to find my buddies, I heard him utter one final word as a fare thee well to our little session.
Back on Earth, I was suddenly totally confused. Burner was gone. Swirls of dreadlocks and weathered faces engulfed me. I wasn’t sure if I should head back to the blue lot and skip the show altogether or saunter forth inside all alone. Like a wilderness-trained tracker, I decided I’d take some photos to document the beauty of the signage and the sky and the colorful people and cars all around me. Scrolling through my camera roll a day later, all I can find is a few pictures of the stadium and a wasted girl passed out on a lawn. I definitely could not find my friends. I was high and wandering… but at least I had a ticket to my seat.
Having lost buddies at concerts over the years, I am somewhat used to making friends and surviving. This was certainly not the first time I had been alone at a Grateful Dead show… In fact, at the LA Sports Arena in 1993 I accidentally left the concert mid-song and walked 23 blocks away until I was lost in a Ralph’s parking lot deep in South Central Los Angeles. Luckily, the night cashier slipped me a Fentanyl and called me a taxicab. Once I lost my buddy in Santa Barbara and ended up sleeping in a bush after a Neil Young concert. At the Dead show, however, I wasn’t truly worried, because nowadays we are all lucky enough to have cell phones.
I looked down to text my friends. No service. Of course. No fucking service.
I made my way inside and ogled the crowds flittingly dancing along. Anticipating the first note of the show that would send me into another stratosphere. They started with Truckin’. The place went nuts.
Then the guy next to me almost died. His friends pounded his chest until he sat up and they forced water down his throat. Scared and afraid, I went to get a beer. I met some kind gentlemen in the beer line. We spoke about how awesome the show was that we were missing… by waiting in that beer line. I looked around. A girl next to me made sure to use all 9 pockets of her leather fanny pack. At least three guys purposefully wore cargo shorts to show off the “Jerry Bear” leg tattoos they had done in the 90’s that they were waiting all these years to uncover once again… Finally, a woman carrying a six-month old baby in what seemed like a paper bag attached to her back came dancing through the crowd. The kid’s head bobbled furiously, unstable and terrifying. In Los Angeles, the helicopter moms of Orange County would have screamed, rescued the baby and brought it to the nearest hospital. At the Grateful Dead show, however, grown men laughed and spewed forth dragon breaths of marijuana smoke into the sky as the baby drifted right through the haze. It was absolutely disturbing. I could not imagine my kids in this environment. As much as I would want them to appreciate what the music can do for everybody, the last thing I would want is my kid getting a second hand weed buzz around a group of folks sending wafts of OG Kush into the atmosphere.
A few songs later, I had settled down. It suddenly hit me that I was completely alone and that my conversations with strangers were fun but fleeting. I wasn’t making any new friends… I wasn’t analyzing every note Trey played… The worst part was, I was barely even seeing the show from my seat behind the stage. I watched the majority of it on a big screen. So, I wandered around and decided to talk to the security guard. His name was Reed.
“What’s crazier, a 49ers game, or this?” I asked.
“Well, different crowds, ya know?” He said. “Niners fans drink a few beers and try to look tough. These folks drink 10 beers and dance around like fools!”
“So is this the rowdiest show you’ve ever seen here?” I asked.
“Oh hell no, the worst was the WWE Wrestling event. I broke up about 30 fights, had to throw a guy down some stairs.”
“What’s the weirdest show you’ve ever seen here?”
“Kenny Chesney. Was like a Gay Pride Parade met the deep south.”
He shook my hand and walked off.
A few beers later, I was overwhelmed by hippies praying to the miracle rainbow in the sky yelling out things like “It’s a gift from JERRY GARCIA MAN!” (If you can imagine a bunch of high people reacting to a rainbow at a 50-Year Grateful Dead anniversary show, it’s EXACTLY how you picture it…) The argument that the rainbow has been faked is everywhere online, but in truth, if the Dead had 50K to blow on a holographic rainbow, I would hope they at least should have tried to construct a hologram Jerry Garcia instead. (Shit, I’d have settled for hologram 2Pac.)
As the evening went on, as a way to remember what I was going through, I began dictating voice notes into the “recorder” app on my iphone. These are the translations as best as I could decipher them:
A: I have just spent the last hour hanging with a giraffe
B: (Me singing a song idea for my band to record in the future) – “Sunday Ticket, who’s got my Sunday ticket… man are you with it? I wish I could stop and smell the roses – but the elements of elephants are lost among the doses – I suppose it’s the way of the Dead – I suppose it’s the way of the Dead” (Then yelling): “WAY OF THE DEAD!!! MY NEW SONG WOOOOOOHOOOOOO!!!!”
C: Hot dogs, nachos, chicken fingers… hot dogs nachos chicken fingers…
D: What hole have these people been hiding in since 1995?
The last note made sense. A lot of these fans were folks who looked like they never recovered from Jerry Garcia’s death. They had been in exile, awaiting the return of the Grateful Dead for years, sort of like those Japanese soldiers you read about who were trapped on islands with their loaded weapons unaware that the war had ended months earlier.
The highlight of my night came during the song St. Stephen. I had never heard the tune live – nobody really has – and it lifted my spirits high. For five minutes, the long drive alone had been worth it. So had the hash and the lost friends and the $70 seats. I reached high for the sky and let out primal screams of joy and happiness and thought about my kids, my wife, my career, my goals, my dreams my family. I was genuinely ecstatic. I had found my top of the mountain… It was one of those moments that I remembered having as a kid – worshipping this band for slices of perfection like that – when everybody is smiling and nothing can go wrong. A moment of calm and peace I hoped would never end…
Of course, an hour after the show I found myself cursing technology and feeling depressed about having to wait in a two-hour line for an Uber.
I left the venue alone. Got to the hotel alone. I was in bed by 1:00. I woke up before my friends – who had stumbled in at 3:30 – and shook off the cobwebs before beginning the long drive back to L.A. As I listened to the radio and heard reviews of the show it became clear how awesome the evening had been. I re-played to my voice memos and shuffled Dead songs on my iphone the whole drive, wondering how I could call my work and get out of it Monday so that I could stay and watch the second night show instead. Thankfully, I decided one amazing show was enough and I rode down California 5 with Santa Clara and the Grateful Dead in my rear view mirror. As I watched northern California disappear behind the rolling hills, one word came to mind as I smiled and traveled the golden road home…
In the late 90’s I was lucky enough to sleep with a Playboy
Centerfold. For the sake of this story, let’s call her “Miss July.” She
wasn’t the current centerfold by any means, in fact her issue had
already been off the racks for nearly seven years at the time of our
tryst, but she had been a popular Playmate in the 90’s… and one that I
had admired for years. For some reason, the planets aligned and she
and I shared a three-night fling at our respected apartments doing all
we could to pretend that we had anything in common outside of our bed
Following our little hook up, I rifled through a used bookstore for
her back issue, buying at least six copies to give to my high school
friends. I called nearly every guy I knew to share in my glory and
walked on air for a good three months after our encounter, knowing
that I had achieved one of the ultimate male fantasies. I even sent a
back issue to my dad. After all, Playboy was my bible growing up and
bedding one of the world’s most beautiful women suddenly made me feel
like I could accomplish anything in my life.
Last week, while walking through a grocery store with my 10-year-old
son, I ran into Miss July in the produce section. At first, I stopped
and stared at her, like every man in the store had been doing since
she walked in the vicinity. She was still gorgeous and shapely and
wearing an outfit that only a Playmate can get away with.
Her breasts were still high and on display. He hair still blonde and
bountiful, with ringlets cascading beneath her shoulders – as if she
was currently in the middle of a photo shoot. I ogled for a minute,
before coming to the realization that she was, indeed, Miss July. My Miss July. The girl I had slept with all those years ago. I hadn’t
thought of her in so long, I assumed she had moved to the other side
of the country where I would never see her again.
And now here she was fondling a pair of avocados.
“Why are you staring at that girl?” My son asked, snapping me out of
the coma my 40-year-old mind had drifted into.
“Oh, I think I know her,” I said, secretly hoping that he might
recognize her beauty and high-five me after we left the grocery store.
“Cool,” he responded. “Can I play on your phone?”
I gathered my thoughts and strolled around to the coffee aisle. I
wasn’t sure if I was going to say hello to her, afraid that she would
think I was some stalker from her Playmate days. I also didn’t want
her to blurt out something stupid, like “Oh my GOD! You were that guy
I slept with in the 90’s!” Worst of all, I thought, she wouldn’t
remember me at all. I let my son pick out some cereal as I mulled over
my next move.
Like most happily married men, I still harbor the memories of my
single years when one-night stands were so daring and fun and
whimsical. After all these years, they hold a nostalgic place in my
heart as something fantastic and perfect – when in reality they were
normally panic-riddled and led to health concerns and loneliness.
My week with Miss July began at a nightclub in Hollywood. She was
gorgeous, fending off the masses with her icy stare and constantly
turning down drinks from potential suitors clamoring to be in her
airspace. I had no idea she was a Playmate at the time, but she
certainly had the look. She was dressed to the nines in a fur jacket
and sipping on a vodka drink when my friends dared me to go speak to
her. As I was in my cups, I waltzed directly up to her and began
rubbing her jacket.
“Interesting. A New Zealand back country field rabbit coat… Very
rare,” I said.
She laughed and stared me deep in the eyes.
“Are you on ecstasy?” She replied.
“No,” I exclaimed. “Not at all… why?
“Normally when I wear this coat out a bunch of druggies just want to pet it.”
I laughed and thought of a quick comeback.
“I’d rather pet you,” I blurted out confidently.
She actually laughed and wrote her number down on a bar napkin. I told
her I’d call her and I did – the next day – breaking any rules which I
had learned from popular movies like Swingers. She was surprised to
hear from me. We made plans to go out to a Casa Vega, a Mexican
restaurant in the valley for margaritas the following night. When she
cancelled on me two hours beforehand, I thought I was doomed. When I
asked her why she had to cancel, however, my eyes lit up.
“I have to fly to Iowa for a Playboy convention in the morning, I’m so
sorry,” she said.
“Why? Do you sell advertising for them or something?” I inquired.
“No, silly – I was Miss July a few years ago! I thought you knew…”
I didn’t know. Now I did. I immediately called my friends and sang
them J. Giels Band lyrics through the receiver. Yes. My baby was a centerfold.
A week later, we hit Casa Vega. At one point she went outside
to smoke and I let her go alone. (I was trying to quit at the time).
When a guy at the bar saw this, he motioned to me and said, “Dude, you don’t let a girl that hot out of your sight for any amount of time.”
I ignored him, assuming she would brush off any potential creeps and
return back to our bar stool where we’d finish our drinks and continue
our evening. After 20 minutes, however, I began to grow nervous.
I went out to the smoking section, and sure enough, there they were:
MEN. All kinds… Guys who had intended to come inside for dinner but
were so mesmerized by her beauty that they decided to hang outside a
little longer. Guys who didn’t even smoke were bumming cigarettes from
her and chain smoking. One guy even flipped her a business card and
said, “I scout for Playboy, if you ever want to be in the magazine,
let me know…”
She laughed and to my surprise grabbed me by the arm. All the men’s
faces dropped as they saw this 23-year-old kid with a Strokes haircut
coyly slip his hand around the top of her waist. Dejected, the guys
all walked inside with their heads down, preparing to settle for
baskets of chips and salsa and not the ravishing creature who I was
lucky enough to be spending the night with.
We went to another bar and then went to my place. Two nights later, I
joined her at her place. We went out once more, on a Saturday, but she
got swept up in a crowd of famous actors and I stood around waiting
for her to return to me, feeling like the unpopular kid in junior high
who can’t muster up the balls to ask a girl to dance. Eventually, when
she began partaking in their bottle service vodka, I grew frustrated,
knowing my time was up. Without even saying good-bye, I grabbed my
jacket and made a quick exit, calling my buddies to meet me for a
heartbreak beer at Coach and Horses, my old favorite dive bar.
“So what if it’s over?” My buddy said. “You were with a Playmate!”
“Yeah dude, my last hook up was with the hostess at Yankee Doodles in
Agoura Hills,” said another.
As the drinks flowed, my confidence returned and I quickly got over
the fling with the help of some good friends. The next day Miss July
and I exchanged a few phone messages, but never reconnected.
Even though it was over, I was still waking on air, feeling as if I
had done all I could and was now exuding an air of confidence that
nobody could touch. I even kept two of her back issues for myself. One
to put on the coffee table, and one to put in a pristine cellophane
folder where it would remain intact on my bookshelf until the end of
my days… It still sits there today.
As I rounded the bread aisle, I saw her again. As luck would have it,
we were approaching the check out line at the same time, inspecting our carts and reaching into our wallets for ATM cards. I purposefully took the spot in line directly behind her and noticed as she unloaded
an unusual amount of dog food onto the conveyor belt. She also bought butter, apples, avocados, bananas, Kombucha and a pre-made tray of
sushi. I was still staring. My 10-year-old took advantage of my distant
gaze and slipped two packs of M & M’s into my cart. I didn’t care. I
had butterflies in my stomach as if I was back in that Hollywood
nightclub 17 years earlier… But then it hit me: I was married. I was
standing with my child. I had no reason to not say something. If
anything, I thought, it would extend the memory a few more years. I
decided to go in for the kill.
“Is your name Taylor? (Not her real name)” I asked.
She looked up at me and smiled.
“Yeah, who are you?”
“My name is Zach,” I said. “Not sure if you remember me, but we sort
of dated about 17 years ago… we met at a nightclub and went to Casa
She looked me over, perplexed.
“Were you that drummer?” She asked.
“No, but I play music…”
“Oh, you were the guy who knew Green Day!”
“No,” I said.
“Oh. Did you know Quentin?”
“Nope,” I responded, realizing that I was barely a flicker of memory
in her mind all these years later – whereas she had held the top spot
in my gallery of former flames for close to two decades. I was a bit
“Oh, wait!” She said. “Did you used to have long curly hair? And you
lived on Harper Avenue and you played me Crash into Me by Dave
Matthews Band on your guitar?”
The cashier chuckled.
“Uhh, yeah, that was me,” I said, blushing.
She hugged me as if we were long lost siblings. I felt my wobbly arms
go around her body once more, immediately wondering what would have
happened if I hadn’t been so stubborn at that bar all those years ago.
My chest pressed against hers and for a brief moment I was 23 again,
stupidly running around Hollywood with a group of horny friends
worrying about nothing but a 10 a.m. commercial audition and where I
was going to be drinking that night. She pulled away and paid for her
groceries and stood behind the bag boy waiting for me to pay and
rejoin her. When I did, we caught up briefly and I introduced her to
my son… who seemed to not have any interest in this beautiful woman
that his dad was talking to.
As it turns out, Miss July still did Playmate conventions. She was
living in the valley, had been married for a year but was divorced and
was raising her 3 small dogs, Gucci, Dorito and Mr. Farts-A-Lot. She
didn’t go out anymore, was disappointed with Tinder and loved The Big Bang Theory. I felt like she was reciting her “Turn-On” list
from her Centerfold interview page – but had updated it as a
We exchanged numbers and she remarked on how handsome my son was. I
told her I’d invite her out to see my band if we ever played again and
I watched her speed off in her Prius. I thought back to the nights we
had shared together and then looked back at my son, blissfully playing
on my phone, seemingly unaware of what had transpired between his father and
that mysterious girl in the produce section 17 years earlier.
As we drove home, he handed me back my phone and stared out the
window. As I watched his eyes dart around the city, I thought of his
future and how he was still so young and innocent and had the entire
world ahead of him. I realized how happy I was to be spending my life
with my wife, my daughter and him, and not a smelly pug named Mr. Farts-a-Lot.
And then, after a few minutes of driving, he broke the silence.
“Dad, I wanna learn some Dave Matthews Band songs on guitar,” he said.