Zachariah & the Lobos Riders
“Ghosts in This Guitar”
Skywriting (c) 2014 Papago Records
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:
“Eww, what did that old guy just hand you?”
I vowed to never return to the Ace Hotel again.