It was around 2:15 in the morning when a hammered single mom of three kids with a very visible C-section scar approached me following my music gig at a place called Peri’s in Marin County, California.
“Hiiii Mr. Talented…” She slurred. “I live two blocks away and my kids are prolly asleep – D-ya wanna come have a drink and smoke and hang ouuuuut?”
I looked this woman over. She was about 40, had a swollen and (possibly) fractured purple ankle and was heavily puffing on an e-cigarette…. From behind, half of her dress had hiked up and lodged itself in her butt, revealing a horrifying leg tattoo of a dragonfly that started mid-thigh and ended probably just above her Va-jayjay.
She also had one dreadlock.
“Uhhh… Well, the thing is…” I stumbled. “I’m married – sooo I don’t think it would be a good idea, ya know?”
“Fuck you! You’re an asshole for leading me on!” she snapped.
Wait, what? Leading her on? How was I leading her on?
A few seconds later, it hit me… When I was performing on stage a few minutes earlier, I recalled saying:
“Who’s the hottie in the back/Nice body, nice rack/
Meet me outside in five – My name is Zach.”
Look. If you have ever seen me or my band perform live, I often jokingly flirt with girls in the crowd with improvisational freestyle rap lyrics from the stage… This, however, was one of those rare moments when the girl actually stuck around and thought I was serious… I felt terrible. (Here’s a sample of a freestyle from NYC in 2017)
“Sorry, it was a joke, – like a part of the show??!??!?” I tried to explain to her.
She threw a drink at me, turned around and stopped at the door to say good-bye.
“Your music fucking sucks anyway,” she screamed.
By the way? I never made it home that night. Since I was too drunk to drive, the bartender let me sleep in the back seat of my Prius in the bar’s parking lot…
Did I mention it was a Tuesday?
What the fuck am I doing?
I am 44-years-old. I have two kids and a wife. Most men my age are in bed by 8:30 every night, binge-watching Netflix and thinking about some meeting they have at work the next day with Nancy from H.R.
Not many dudes I know are living like me this summer… touring bars in their mid-40’s trying to sell 20-something kids t-shirts and CD’s of their country hip-hop band that – in most people’s eyes – peaked when they opened for Jason Mraz in 2008…
For the record? On this tour I sold ZERO CD’s.
But let’s go back a few years…
In the 2000’s, every bar I played in was always PACKED. Friends, fans and industry folks lined up outside awaiting new songs – or a 10-minute freestyle rap where I might drop their names into a verse… They bought CD’s and shirts and sang along and I would walk out of the bar with $400 and a thousand business cards… My band played across the country and stayed in fine hotels, sipping top shelf whiskey and partying with rock stars…
But, then came adulthood. People had kids and a lot of my musician friends got real jobs. Some band members moved out of town… Most guys gave up or got into real estate. Even I took a break from it for a while to be around the family and work in the TV business. However, the thrill of performing live was always missing…
So, this past summer I decided that a 9-venue mini music tour of Northern California would be the best thing for my mind, body and soul.
Tour posters from the road…
As the days rolled on, I sort of forgot about the ways of the road… Late nights, uncomfortable beds… bad habits reintroducing themselves… When you’re out driving down I-5 at 9:30 at night – a restaurant like Subway suddenly becomes a solid option. The Yellow American Spirit cigarette suddenly becomes “healthy” decision… Not to mention that most bars where I play like to avoid paying musicians – and instead – offer up FREE DRINKS instead – which ultimately leads to me drinking $4.99 mini bottles of Sutter Home Cabernet – guaranteeing a foggy and painful morning.
Oh, and most bartenders who hear me ask for “the best red wine in the bar” often think I’m joking and laugh in my face.
In all honesty, I quit drinking hard liquor ten years ago…. Waking up in a Super 8 Motel with two lines shaved into your eyebrows like D’Angelo Russell will do that to anybody…
But that’s a whole ‘nother story…
The “Zachariah: Backyard and Wineries” tour began in San Francisco, at a private party where some tech geniuses of the world dug my music and my improv songs about how expensive the city had become… The host had somehow procured 25-plus bottles of the legendary Pliny the Elder beer from Santa Rosa and he was extremely generous with his liquor cabinet. However, as people got more sloshed, a supremely drunk friend of theirs named Kelly demanded I sing Shallow by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.
“Are you gonna sing it with me?” I asked her.
“Fuck YESSS!” She screamed as the party encouraged her.
A few chords later and she was warbling through the “Wooooaaaah – ohhh – h ohhh ohh ohh oh AWWOWOHHHWHWHWH” section of the song. Let’s just say she didn’t nail it, but it didn’t matter. The vibe and energy was fantastic and I assumed every gig would end up this beautiful and natural.
But the next night I drove up to gig at Peri’s Bar in Marin County. It was certainly a success, but I was definitely under-paid and over-served awful tiny bottles of Sutter Home… (Thus the reason why I slept in a parking lot).
When I woke up in the back seat of my 2008 Prius at six the next morning, having sweat through my clothes on stage the night before, I decided that a shower was indeed in order. I quickly Googled “YMCA Marin County” on my phone and found one 10 miles away where my Hollywood “Family Membership” would let me use their facilities. This is also a practice that HOMELESS people participate in.
I ended up spending 45 minutes in the sauna listening to two men talk about their new tech venture that would “change the dumpling game forever.” After they noticed me listening in, they began whispering and eventually left the sauna altogether, protecting their billion dollar dumpling idea.
A billion dollar dumpling idea? What I derived from this moment was that I am definitely in the wrong business…
That night, I performed at the Lagunitas Tap Room in Petaluma. The venue was amazing and they even offered up cash ($80) for the gig. Plus, per usual, they served me all the beer I could drink. Initially I had planned on having one or two beers because I had to drive to meet my wife and kids up north in Cloverdale once the night ended…
However, after my show, I quickly found myself 8 beers in. Since my head was spinning, I asked my new friend Pete (who booked me there) if he had a better idea than drunk driving to Cloverdale.
“Yeah brother… my buddy Andy has an Airstream in a forest that he rents out – it’s $45 for the night,” he said.
“Uhh… like, HOW in a forest?” I inquired.
“It’s desolate, man… super chill and quiet and you won’t hear anybody’s voice for like, 9 hours straight!” Pete replied.
OK. Look. I enjoy nature. I love converted Airstream trailers. But 9 hours alone in one in nature? Yo, I’m not trying to live that Into the Wild life… I am a social person. I need conversation. Shit, I need some WiFi, ya know?
“I don’t know Pete,” I explained. “I sorta need a bed – I slept in my car last night.”
“They have a killer Aerobed,” Pete said. “I’ve slept there sooo many times, you’ll love it – I’ll even drop you off!”
And with that, Pete took me to a beautiful house with 40 acres of land in the woods, where we knocked on the door and met Pete’s buddy Andy who was extremely tired and reluctantly thrust the trailer keys into my hand. He also passed me a Romancing the Stone-like treasure map explaining how to find the forest Airstream… Pete left and I slugged through the dark forest, absolutely fearing for every second of my life, before coming across what was a beautiful 1950-something converted Airstream “Cabin.”
I unlocked the door and went inside. It was about as rustic as you could expect.
There was an Aerobed with a blanket on it…
On the wall hung a calendar from the year 2013…
And there was a shovel in the corner next to a roll of toilet paper beneath a sign that said, “Use Nature’s Facilities.”
Holy shit. What? So no bathroom? Was I gonna have to re-learn the “One-armed tree hang” I had been taught at summer camp as a kid?
I decided to just crash and wake up as early as possible to split.
30 minutes after I went to sleep, I woke up on the floor. The Aerobed had deflated. It was about 45 degrees in the trailer. With no visible air pump nearby, I turned the deflated Aerobed into a pillow and did my best to sleep for the next six hours.
A couple of hours later I woke up to the sound of what must have been two bears humping in the woods… I also swear a mysterious light flashed across the sky and for two hours I panicked about being abducted by aliens and anally probed above the Redwoods. Eventually, around 6:30, I awoke with a stiff neck and took a $20 taxi back to my car at Lagunitas.
Up in Cloverdale I met my family and began thinking that perhaps, the road life was no longer for me… I took the family to the local trampoline park and hit up some small town burger place and I was amazed at how comfortable the safe and respectable family life felt again… For a minute, I almost cancelled my final three gigs…
But, since I can rarely turn down a chance to perform, I decided to carry through on my commitments.
As I was playing the night at an all ages restaurant, the local town drunk “Banjo Bob” (yes, his real name) taught my 13-year-old son how to best hold a pool cue if he was ever to get into a bar fight.
(His advice? Hit the guy with the skinny end, that way if it breaks off – you’re left with the more dangerous thick end of the stick as a weapon.)
To quote my late grandmother: “That’s wonderful?”
The following night, I played at a pretty cool bar in Healdsburg where I ate pizza that a guy had made from an oven that he dragged behind his bicycle… I know what you’re thinking: Bike Pizza? Trust me – It was absolutely delicious.
On the last night, we drove down to San Francisco and the tour ended at a bar in the Marina called Jaxson for a friend’s fundraiser party in the city – where, as I was playing live, a man and woman dry-humped each other on the dance floor in front of me…
Now look, I’m all for dancing, but this was kind of ridiculous… I actually didn’t care. They were wasted and they loved my music and I felt at home for a few minutes with the young Marina area crowd of San Francisco…
Here – watch the video and make your own assumptions:
For the record? That girl dancing did not ask me to come back to her place after the gig.
But the guy did…
“Hi Mr. Talented,” He said… “Wanna come party with me at my place?”
“I’d love to, but, the thing is… I’m married,” I said.
I woke up the next morning in the back seat of my Prius…
ZACH IS NOW BOOKING VENUES FOR HIS SUMMER 2020 TOUR!!
I am uncomfortably straddling a white folding chair with 40 other people, ages ranging from 21-60 on a 103-degree day in Alta Dena waiting to work as an extra on a network TV show for the day. The pay isn’t terrible – $142.37 – or something like that, plus whatever gargantuan amounts of Craft Service snacks, candy, sodas and mini sandwiches I can shove into my shoulder bag to take home, but the overall feeling is grim. There is some old Greek food suffering beneath a sneeze guard nearby, a lot of discarded banana peels and a large fan blowing cool air towards us to keep us comfortable – like we’re NFL running backs playing a September game in Phoenix.
The scene has a prison-like feel to it. There are the lifers, the newbies and the guys who are only here for a few days trying to get their health insurance. I fall into that last category, but the fear of getting sexually assaulted by one of the older “inmates” is very real. Only problem is I can’t kick anyone’s ass to prove that I’m “tough.” Instead, I choose to bury myself into my iphone and hope the 45% charge lasts another 8 hours.
A year ago I was in New York City promoting my own TV show in Times Square for Tru TV. Now I am listening to a 22-year-old kid talk about how Hot Tub Time Machine is the main reason he dropped out of college to try to make it as an actor. You gotta love this business.
The majority of chatter amongst these “background players” or “atmosphere” is about the world of extras. Many relay the legendary scene in Ben Hur where an extra forgot to take his watch off during the chariot race. (Look it up – it’s hilarious). Others talk about how Ricky Gervais ripped off their idea when he did his Extras TV show. However, the subject that keeps coming up time and time again is the “bump up.” A “bump up” is when an extra is promoted from an extra to a principal role. Suddenly, the lucky bloke can go from zero to hero and earn Screen Actors Guild daily rate. However, according to everyone, incidents like that are more rare than finding a piece of sushi that hasn’t been in the sun for six hours beneath the cast and crew food canopy.
I am here today because I need to make $6300 before the end of the year as a way to qualify for Screen Actors Guild health insurance, a plan I have somehow managed to attain for the past twelve years. This year, however, the jobs dried up, a ton of work went non-union and I have finally aged out of the commercial actor category of “young, shaggy haired beer-drinking party guy.”
At this pay rate, it will take me working nearly every day for three months to earn the necessary SAG income to keep my family on the health plan. Alternative options – Obamacare and Cobra – basically guarantee that I will be paying 75% more money for lesser benefits. It has long been noted that SAG has terrific health care. The problem is that you need to earn an outrageous amount of money to qualify for it, and this year has been an ice bath as far as SAG work has been going.
“My dad was Jimmy Smits’ stand-in on LA Law,” a man named Sonny who was dressed as a Native American jewelry salesman bragged to the lot of us huddled beneath the blue pop-up tent. “He told me to find a niche as an extra. When I started out I only played Latino, only roles were for prisoners or a gang members. Now that I play Native American, I work all the time.”
I suddenly found myself wishing I had some Native American cheekbones.
As the day rolled along, I began to hear everybody’s story. You coop someone up for long enough, they will eventually tell you their life’s narrative. Every extra on set seemed to have a tale about the one legendary time they were “bumped up” to a principal role. One woman claimed she was bumped on Two and a Half Men because Charlie Sheen fired the original woman who had been cast for her one line of “Suck it, Charlie.” A guy who often plays blue-collar types said he got his bump on Dharma and Greg and had his career-defining moment in a bar fight scene when he raised his fists and said, “Meet my two friends… Mary-Kate and Ashley.”
And then there was Sonny, who said he specifically learned the extinct Native American language Kiowa to nab a line in a Civil War series. His line was “D’on T’ap Piii.” Which translates roughly to “See deer eating.”
I stared at Sonny for a long while. He did look familiar, as that Native American guy you sort of see in films, but I wasn’t sure. Which meant he was a great extra. One who blended in. He bragged of his work on The Alamo, Oz, The Longest Yard, Texas Rising, Hatfields and McCoys. Dances With Wolves and of course, That 70’s Show. The way he saw it, he was an integral part of these films. A guy who went uncredited – but felt he deserved all the success.
“There should be an extras lifetime achievement award,” he offered.
As a young actor, I did some extra work at age 22. At the time, like most young dreamers, I thought I was a small break away from my own series and I treated the other kids in the high school dance scene like castaways and future failures. When I started booking some jobs and enjoying the confines of an air-conditioned trailer with a private bathroom, I swore I’d never go back to the extras holding again. Yet, here I was. A 15-year TV veteran with a decent resume that I was too embarrassed to share with the other inmates. I decided to shut up and do my time and maybe get out of there with a few Clif bars and some coconut water.
Then, there was a call to action.
“Peter, Mike, Donna, Marla, Zach – party scene, now!” An Assistant Director yelled at us, directing us towards the makeup department to get touched up.
I put down my phone and walked over to the area, when Donna, one of the younger extras, mentioned that she often worked on the show. She then proceeded to refer to one of the makeup artists as her “glam squad.”
A short, effeminate man named Ty erupted in her face.
“Don’t call me ‘glam,’ don’t call me ‘glam squad’ or I’ll shove this hairbrush up your ass,” he screamed.
Emily, another makeup artist stopped him before any penetration took place. It was surreal. Never in my life had I seen a fight between an extra and a makeup artist. It was like the Cubs-Pirates bench clearing brawl in the National League Wild Card this season. You couldn’t believe it was happening.
It was a major altercation. Apparently, Ty was sent home and Donna was threatening to sue the show for harassment. It didn’t make sense. In my opinion, being called the “glam squad” wasn’t nearly as bad as being referred to as “background” or “ambience.”
My scene was fairly easy. I had to drink some iced tea and mouth the words “peas and carrots” to another extra. The entire time I was placed in the corner of the party and they shot about 9 angles and we let the main actress do six takes before she was happy. As the director stood merely three feet from me, I tried to convince him that a line would be appropriate for my character. I pitched him ““D’on T’ap Piii.”
He didn’t respond. Apparently he didn’t speak Kiowa.
Lunch was at 1:00 and the extras were told to not touch or come near any food until the entire cast and crew had eaten. I was actually quite full from snacking – so I didn’t need to rush, but a lot of the extras bitched and moaned about the lack of respect. I turned to a fellow extra named Tony, who was about my age.
“Why can’t everyone just relax?” I asked him.
“Welcome to the Screen Extras Guild,” he responded.
An hour later, following one of those naps when you fall asleep with your chin in your hand, there was a small rumbling about a potential bump up for one of the extras. Apparently, a producer had seen one of us and wanted to add a line. The bit was that the lucky person would confront the female star of the show – who was wearing a fur jacket – with an uncomfortable long hug and then said, “you feel like a plushie.” All the extras began rehearsing their lines as if this was an audition for the next Coen Brothers film and we all got excited. I even took a walk around the tent and worked on my delivery.
Eventually, the female star and the director came to the extras tent and started looking around at all of us as if we were cattle being sold at a livestock auction. The female actress passed the first few folks, skipped the youngsters and then whispered to her director, “I need a middle-aged schlub.”
I am certainly creeping up on middle age, but I don’t feel like I look that way. I’m in great shape and still have hair and my skin has been hiding from the sun throughout the years as I write my life away. However, I was chosen as one of the three finalists to play “middle-aged schlub.”
We all went and had a private audition with the actress and director. I immediately messed up my hair, raised my jeans to mom-jean height and did my best to look like a total Midwestern chump who would give a hot girl a “long hug” and make her uncomfortable.
“Mmm, you feel like a fluff – wait, what’s the line?” The first guy said, immediately messing up his chances.
“You feel like a plushie,” said the next guy who was 40 pounds heavier and 100% balder than me.
When my turn came, I looked deeply into the actress’ eyes. She stared back at me for about five seconds. I knew this was my job to lose… so I did my best to “eye-bang” her and get the job on the spot. Instead, before I could get my line out, she interrupted me.
“You look like that guy from that Tru TV show,” she said.
“I am that guy!”
“What are you doing in the extras tent?” She replied.
“Trying to get my health insurance,” I said, hoping she would feel my pain and give me the bump up on the spot. I dug deeper into my plea, mentioning that my family had been sick a lot the past year and I was a huge fan of the show.
“You might be too recognizable,” she blurted. “Second guy, you got the job.”
And with that, the fat, bald guy went off to his own folding chair, better food and a holding area behind the video village where the producers and directors hung out.
I returned to my spot in the tent. All the other extras wanted to know what had happened and I told them I relayed the story as best I could. When I mentioned that the female star had said I was “too recognizable” the tent wanted to know why. After all, not one of these folks had any idea who I was. I told them. Nobody had even heard of my show.
“I get recognized all the time,” said Sonny. “People stop me when I walk down the street.”
The rest of the day I watched my phone dwindle down towards the 3% range and eventually die. In a way, I felt like that iphone charge… A year back I was flying high at 100%. Now, I was hanging onto 3.
Before I left, I managed to fill my bag with enough high fructose corn syrup snacks to kill a small village and I hopped into the first awaiting white van that would shuttle us back to the parking lot. Luckily, I ended up in the same row as the female lead actress from earlier.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m sorry about that moment back there… I just recognized you from that other show – I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”
“Amazingly, you’re the first person to know me from that like, ever,” I said.
“I’ll tell you what. Give me your manager’s name and I’ll make sure we get you in for a small role this season,” she offered.
I couldn’t believe it. Here she was telling me that she would go out of her way to get me a speaking part on her show. I got her personal email and said I’d be sending my demo reel and headshot over immediately. We exchanged good-byes and I returned my mom jeans to the costume department and signed out for the day.
As I walked to my car, the lead actress shook my hand and said I would be hearing from the production office very soon.
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!!!
Zach recently began shooting a multi-episode series for History Chanel – where Zach travels deep into the heart of America to find the most unique and unusual people, jobs, locations and history he can find! Produced by Bullet Point Films, expect the series to premiere on TV and online in late 2017 or early 2018! Here’s a sneak peak of Zach at Rhinebeck Aerodrome in upstate New York and in Grand Teton National Park… Look for him on the road!
My grandmother is 92. She has spent the last 37 years in Tucson, Arizona, trying to remember why she agreed to move there in the first place. In reality, she knows it was to spend more time around her grandchildren, exhaust her retirement in a peaceful community with plenty of golf courses for her late husband to play and to relish the clean, crisp desert air that draws so many retirees from colder, more polluted climates. However, now at 92, she just wishes she had never left New Jersey.
Whatever the case, New Jersey was a long time ago. And now, for the first time in her life, she is reaching an age when she is losing her motor skills and abilities to function on a daily level, which is absolutely heartbreaking. Still, she manages to make us laugh daily. To my family’s amusement, she has kept herself satiated these past three or four years with a voracious diet of nitrate-rich foods, like Oscar Meyer hot dogs, Kraft singles and garlic bologna. Whenever my brother or sister confront her about her less-than-healthy food consumption, she always responds with the same comment:
“What – do I wanna live to be 120? It’s ENOUGH already!”
I always suggest to my grandmother that as long as she is at it, she should take up smoking or heavy drinking, to which she responds, “Ehh, I’d forget where I left my cigarette and burn the house down.”
Born in 1922, Florence Lazar (Who would not let me reveal her middle name – which she hates), has always been the sharpest woman I have ever known. Quick, hilarious and witty, she turned her unique view of the world into a way of life that my entire family has admired for as long as we can remember. As recently as 2011, she was starring in a web series my brother and I put together called “NJ LADY” based on her hilarious commentary on the world that has changed so much around her. She riffed on Justin Bieber’s voice, thumbed through an old photo album telling us who was “dead” and who had affairs with girls in their offices and she even tried medical marijuana. Had her life served her differently, she would have been a Betty White-type of performer. (See marijuana ep below!)
It is only now, at 92, that she has started closing the curtain on an otherwise adventurous and charming life, somehow forgetting things that took place mere moments earlier or even where she might be at any given time. It is why she has gladly volunteered to splurge on weekly beach house rentals for her family every summer for the past five years, as long as one thing is made clear: Someone has to fly out to Tucson and drive her and her overweight lap dog “Lucky” to California for the celebration. After all, flying has become too much of a burden, and the dog, more importantly, must have a comfortable seat if it is to ever travel across state lines.
My mother often books these annual trips for our family at my grandma’s request. Usually, after seeing the price of the beach house rental, my mother will ask my grandma if she is sure about dropping such a large amount of money. My grandmother’s response?
“Who cares, I’m only spending your inheritance!”
Earlier this year, my mother phoned me about coming out to Tucson to drive my grandmother out for our weekly family summertime beach vacation in Malibu. Always willing to travel through the desert, I volunteered my services and in July, flew out to meet my grandmother and mom for the nearly eight-hour jaunt through the cacti and blue skies that separate my home state with my adopted one. There was only one issue: My grandma didn’t want to drive all the way through to California. After all, ‘Lucky’ needed a break to run around, do his business and get a good night’s sleep. Plus, some room service (My grandma’s favorite thing in the world) was definitely going to be necessary following a long drive. Going all the way to L.A. was out… That meant my mother, grandma and I needed a place to stay. I started searching online. At first, I recommended a $93 dollar-a-night Motel 8 I found in Blythe, California, situated directly on the border of Arizona and California.
However, my grandmother had other plans.
“I want to stay in Palm Springs.”
My first thought was to find a kitschy, Sinatra-like desert oasis in Palm Springs for all of us to crash in before making it out to the Pacific Ocean the following day. I even looked into the fanciest hotels online, but couldn’t get behind $350 dollar Friday night rates for queen-sized bedrooms that didn’t even allow pets. In fact, a lot of places were not pet-friendly or were booked for some weekend party happening in town, so my mother and I eventually decided to get a room at a small, renovated former Howard Johnson at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains. I had read about it before, and had heard that it was, ‘cute.’ Still, the price was somewhat affordable and the rooms looked cozy. So, my mom, 92-year-old grandmother and myself decided to book a room on a Friday night at the trendy hipster flophouse known as the ACE HOTEL.
I had no idea what to expect. At $230 a night, I was hoping for a classy, somewhat peaceful confine full of working professionals and possibly a “Rat Pack” tribute concert in the Sammy Davis, jr. Hall at 9:00 p.m. Instead, it was the exact opposite.
My grandmother’s first shriek of terror occurred when I couldn’t find a handicapped parking spot near the check in. She does have a handicap parking pass, mainly as a way to alleviate the 15-minute shuffle she makes to a doorway, but this afternoon, there were no spots available. A Red SUV happened to be parked in the lone handicapped spot that afternoon and carried a vanity license plate reading “I SPIN.” I suddenly found myself praying that it didn’t belong to some DJ setting up his pre-programmed music for a set in the bar that evening. When I saw a 20-something blonde guy with short sides and a backward black Mitchell and Ness OKC Thunder hat, I knew he was, in fact, the entertainment for the evening.
As I helped my grandmother across the parking lot, I took it to myself to yell out at the wannabe Tiesto for his mercenary act of swiping the only handicapped spot in the hotel.
“Thanks for parking in the handicap spot, guy,” I yelled.
Perhaps my grandmother’s presence was what made him shudder for a second, but in my mind he was not apologetic, just shocked to see a senior citizen check into the hotel. He had a look on his face that we were breaking the unwritten Friday night rules of the Ace Hotel stating that nobody over 40 was allowed inside.
“Oh, my bad man… didn’t know you were, ya know, with an old lady,” he said.
“Yeah, thanks brother,” I snarled.
Even though I hated him for the comment, he was right. Most of the packs of hotel guests walking around the grounds looked to be about 25-30 and in great shape. Many had committed to body-covering tattoos and strange piercings and even though it was only 3:00 in the afternoon, numerous amounts of open containers. In fact, everyone was shirtless and partying. If you analyzed the crew I was rolling with, I had my 68-year-old aging hippie of a mother, my 92-year-old grandma and me, who at 39 was still the third oldest person at the hotel that evening. It would only get worse.
During check in, the young girl working the front desk presented us with three pink VIP Poolside wristbands that would guarantee we could skip the line and get into the raging party that went on until 2:00 in the morning that night. I put my wristband on, as did my mom. I gave the other one to my grandma, hoping for a funny, ironic photograph, but she just tucked it in her purse.
“What is this, a hospital bracelet?” She said. “Did somebody have a heart attack?”
After receiving a terribly sophomoric explanation of the hotel layout, I gathered the luggage from the car and dragged it around the bend and up the flight of stairs to the second floor room we had been assigned. My grandmother was horror-struck that there was no elevator.
“Where are we, a military base?” My grandma asked as we settled into our room full of funky artwork and an old vinyl record player. I recalled the episode of Portlandia when they check into the fictional “Deuce Hotel” and the obnoxiously hip staff hand the guests turntables and vintage typewriters. Still, somewhat intrigued by a night away from my own family, I was looking forward to throwing on a swimsuit and hitting the pool for a few beers before eating.
And then my grandma decided that we should have dinner at 5:00. At first, this idea seemed fine since we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. The reality check came five minutes later, when I realized that we were the only three people in the restaurant.
And then the 23-year-old waitress opened with, “Are you guys here for lunch or dinner?”
“What do you think we’re here for?” my grandma responded.
“Well, about 10 people just left breakfast, so I have no idea,” she said.
“Who eats breakfast at 9:00 at night?” My grandma said.
“Grandma, it’s 5:03,” I said.
“Do they have hot dogs?” My grandma asked.
They didn’t. Instead, we all ordered red wine and chicken with potatoes. To the Ace Hotel’s credit, the restaurant, which resembled an old rotted out Denny’s that Sonny Bono probably nursed a hangover or two in, was delicious.
“Welp, it’s 6, I’m ready for bed,” my grandma said.
“Mom, it’s 6!” My mother said. “You don’t go to bed this early at home!”
“Lucky needs to make,” my grandma explained. “Zach, walk Lucky for me, make sure he makes.”
I escorted my grandmother upstairs, and took Lucky for a walk. I decided to check out the hotel, which was actually a pretty incredible and alluring place. I strolled past a swimming pool full of drunken weekend partyers waist deep in 80-degree water and margaritas. I passed a random acoustic guitar in the lobby where a guy who looked like a band member from MGMT strummed an acoustic cover of the band Fun’s “We Are Young” for an adoring crowd of beauties straight out of the Ace Hotel brochure. I overheard a bachelor party dressed like characters from Fletch discuss how hot the UCSB girls were they met at the pool. It made me feel young and old at the same time. Young, because I still felt like I could hang with these people as if it were 1996 and I was at some party hotel in Europe, but mainly old because I guaranteed that I was the only man at the hotel that night who was traveling with a woman in her 90’s and who had a Propecia prescription.
“The dog has made,” I announced as I re-entered the hotel room where my grandma was already snuggled up in the covers, ready for bed. She thanked me and turned over, summoning Lucky up to her arms for their nightly bedtime routine.
“C’mon Luck,” she said. On cue, Lucky jumped on the bed and licked her face. My mom and I smiled before watching as my grandma slowly drifted off into sleep. We looked at the clock. It was 7:02.
“Let’s go sell her VIP wristband,” I said to my mom.
“Let’s at least go explore the hotel and have a glass of wine,” my mom said.
The bar next to the hotel pool was crawling with casualties of the afternoon. Sunburns, yawns and weary eyes accompanied the faces of the patrons who had spent the past six hours wading in the water hoping for some miraculous Penthouse letter to present itself. Others had changed into jeans and more comfortable clothes for the evening festivities, which, as predicted, include the “DJ STYLINGS” of the same dildo who had taken up the valet parking spot from my grandmother earlier in the day.
I overheard some guys drinking at the bar exclaim, “This DJ is sick, he plays everything.”
My mom and I talked to some strangers and took notes that the two bartenders seemed to continuously skip over us in favor of younger, hotter clientele clad in bikinis and bandanas. I snarked to my mother that, “you’d think they would serve one of us who actually look like we may have jobs.”
That garnered a severe stare-down from the Gosling-wannabe behind the bar who then poured us two shots of bottom shelf tequila.
“On the house,” he said.
My mom and I both tipped him a dollar and took the shots outside where we both promptly tossed them into the pool.
Returning back to the room, we found my grandmother packing her things, preparing to depart the Ace Hotel altogether.
“What time are we leaving,” She asked.
“Not until tomorrow,” I told her. “It’s only 11:30.”
“You know, Grandpa and I once stayed in a hotel like this, full of nudity and all these people shaking their you know what’s,” she said. “Back in Florida. Bunch of idiots if you ask me. Zach, can you call room service and see if they have any garlic bologna?”
“I called earlier, grandma, they don’t.”
“What kind of place are we staying in anyway? Who ever heard of such a place that doesn’t serve hot dogs or garlic bologna?”
“Mom, we’re not at the circus,” my mother said.
Finally, my grandmother and mom went to bed and I decided to take one last round of the bar scene adjacent to the pool. I mainly stayed to myself, avoiding any unnecessary conversation with the Fireball-swilling patrons dancing to Jason DeRulo. After another 9-dollar beer, I made my way upstairs, folding a 27-dollar bar tab for three beers into my wallet and harboring a feeling that perhaps my grandma was correct…
“Bunch of idiots if you ask me.”
The continuous partying and noise echoing from the room downstairs was enough for my grandmother to lodge a formal complaint against the Ace Hotel, which led to an extremely uncomfortable late-night phone call between my mother and the front desk. Ultimately, as my family is often able to do, we scored 50 dollars off of our bill and a free breakfast, which included toast and coffee that was delivered to the room by a waiter who looked like he was rattling off the final twitches of a cocaine bender.
The money we saved led us to the Cabazon Outlet stores just five miles outside of Palm Springs, where my grandmother bought essentially the same purse at three different stores as my mother tried hard to stop her from spending any more cash. As my grandma shrugged her off and tossed her loot into the mechanized wheelchair we had picked up in the parking garage, she mumbled under her breath a familiar phrase that was beginning to discomfit my mom:
“Who cares, I’m just spending your inheritance.”
As we continued on through the Cabazon Outlet stores, my mom and I looked at each other as if there was nothing we could do about the situation. It was only then that my grandma entered a Michael Kors outlet for yet another look at another purse and uttered the following request:
“Zach, walk Lucky for me, be sure he makes.”
I took Lucky out into the parking lot and stared down the road at the San Jacinto Mountains overlooking the Ace Hotel. I doubted they would ever play host to anyone over 90 again. They would certainly never host my grandmother again. As the dog did his business, I reached into my grandmother’s purse for a plastic bag to pick it up with. It was only then that I came across the unused pink wristband that allowed all access to the Ace Hotel pool area for the entire afternoon.
I approached a crew of young women, impossibly sexy and in their early 20’s, giddily perusing the outlets for brand name discounts. I found the cutest and sexiest one, made eye contact with her and pressed the pink wristband in her hand. Feeling pretty good about the move, I hustled Lucky back into the shopping area, imagining how the crew of hot girls must be feeling to have a handsome man like me give their gorgeous leader a VIP all day bracelet to the Ace Hotel.
Instead, as I walked away, I overheard one of them comment under her breath: