Zach wrote and produced this piece for TBS Digital starring the Sklar Brothers.
Last week at the local park where I take my children, a 4-year-old boy named Falcon took a dump behind a tree and his mother brushed pine needles over it. She looked around conspicuously before grabbing Falcon by the arm and hightailing it out of the park, into her Lexus SUV. I was one of the few parents who noticed the despicable act and chose to not make a stink – so too speak – about the incident until Falcon and his mom were long out of earshot. “Did anybody else just see that?” I prodded. At first, I sort of sided with Falcon’s mom, knowing that if it had been my kid, I probably would have done the exact same thing. I just would have been more stealth about it – pretending to pick it up the way I used to do with my old dog whenever a passing car saw him take a crap on a neighbor’s lawn. After awhile though, when the stench wafted down towards the playground, I decided the act was too heinous to ignore. “That Eagle… or Hawk kid – what’s his name? Took a crap behind the tree and his mom covered it up… That’s why it smells down here,” I informed the moms and nannies texting and pretending to chase their kids around the playground. ‘Nina Carlotto?” One mom responded. “Falcon’s mom? No way, she would never do that.” “Well, Nina Carlotto did,” I said. “We can take a DNA sample if you want – run a few tests and ban her from the park forever.” Nobody laughed. My friend Charlie, one of the rare cool parents that I hang with at the park, once joked that, “The worst thing about being a parent… are other parents.” He couldn’t be more correct. Especially in Los Angeles, where every single mom and dad believes their child is the next Einstein, Chopin, Chagall, thoracic surgeon, David Beckham, Gabby Douglass or Kobe Bryant. In reality, most of these kids – mine included – will most likely drink their way through college and find themselves pining over a crappy screenplay that they will never sell wondering why they never went to medical school. This is why I hate most of the parents I have met in Los Angeles.
There is so much pressure put upon a kid these days to be the best at everything that they never get a chance to discover what they truly love. Most kids are in piano, ballet, YMCA sports and Rapa Nui as a Second Language courses by the time they are in kindergarten. I know a kid who is a 9-year-old real estate agent. These kids are not having normal childhoods. 30 years ago or so, I was actually one of those kids. Spanish, piano, soccer, cooking, formal dance, Hebrew School… you name it, I hit it all. I also found a unique way to hate it all, and thus became a depressed asshole – albeit a well-rounded one – for most of my childhood. My wife and I have lethargically done our best to expose our oldest son to these types of things. He has taken a small shine to baseball, although I really thought Jai-Alai was his best sport. He has some interest in drums, which is encouraging for my father who took up drumming at age 65, but I really don’t think he’s going to stick with it past lesson nine. Which in a way doesn’t bother me. Especially when a musician buddy of mine, when finding out my son was taking drums, remarked, “Congratulations, you’ll be paying his rent until he’s 39-years-old.” My son has also expressed some interest in Kung Fu, but doesn’t like the “repetition of it all.” Of course, this is quite possibly the most important aspect of training in Kung Fu. So, I basically encourage him to follow his true interests and passions. He’s only eight for crying out loud, but I remember stating at the same age that I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. My mom has records of hundreds of football stories I wrote at that time, full of imagined rosters and fake statistics. I was obsessed with the NFL and its massively talented athletes, and begged my mom to take me to a broadcasting class for kids. (They didn’t exist in 1982. They do now…) Amazingly, I got my first TV break in sports broadcasting and I am still writing to this day, so my technique is to encourage my son to follow his passions and find a way to get better at them. Of course, right now all he seems to care about is my iPad that he has turned into his virtual arcade, an online social game called Club Penguin and any TV show that features a ninja as a lead character. His early life’s goal? To be a video game designer. I love it. One parent called my son’s interests detrimental to his mental growth. I argued that someday he is going to design the next Grand Theft Auto game and make 800 million dollars. We’ll see who is right. For now, I’ll let that negative bitch take her son to his fencing class while my kid beats level 49 on Call of Duty: IV.
So the park moms began whispering under their breath about my discussion of the fecal matter behind the tree. I witnessed Rachel and Kelly, two horrible gym rat 40-somethings scurry their kids away from mine as a way to subtly insult me. Another sour-faced hag named April, who had two separate nannies and is married to a very successful TV producer stared me down with her miserable scowl. Finally, Lupita and Carmen, the nannies for two girls both named Sawyer, seemed to curse at me in Spanish. I yelled at my son that it was time to go. Normally, park parents thankfully come and go from your life in a few short years, but for some reason, I have not been able to shake Nina Carlotto. The woman is everywhere. At pre-school meetings, jog-a-thons…. I ran into her trick-or-treating. She works out at my YMCA. She even shows up on the few commercial auditions I get a year. She is a shadow and a cancer at the same time. Especially now that somebody must have told her how I called her out about her actions at the park that afternoon. “I don’t know what you think you saw, but you didn’t see what you think you did,” she rambled at me one afternoon as we waited in a room to audition as a married couple for a Honda Odyssey commercial. “I don’t know what you heard you heard, but what you heard was not what you think you heard,” I responded. She scoffed, upset that I would retort to her incessant ramblings in such a manner. Minutes later, we went into the audition room together where we were forced to act like we loved each other and our new Honda Odyssey as we ogled at our kids in the back seat. “Perfect!” The casting director said. We graciously joked with the advertising clients before leaving the room, happy that we nailed the audition, but muttering tiny insults beneath our breaths. “Nice realism,” I offered. “Dick,” I heard her whisper. I didn’t get a callback. Why I was being chastised for Nina’s obvious fecal flee was somewhat understood. I knew that a lot of parents resented my three month-a-year work schedule that I had recently been living, but in reality it wasn’t because I had a year where I was somehow lucky enough to make salary in 90 days, it was because I was actually one L.A. father who got to spend a lot of time with his children. Most of these women were married to much older – and much busier- men. Millionaire studio executives, assistant directors who disappeared across the country for six-month film shoots and lawyers who barely saw their kids in the evening and then split for the golf course the minute the weekend arrived. I was the park dad who was always around. The dad who went to every baseball game. The dad who liked volunteering at school. The dad who started drinking wine at bath time and had nowhere to be but the gym the next morning. The dad every single one of these parents wished their kids had. It especially killed them when we went to the park, and all their kids wanted to play “Tackle Zach” rather than watch their mom post Instagram pictures of the $9.00 green smoothies they had just purchased at the neighborhood gourmet juicer.
I invited my friend Charlie over for beers one night and we began writing an entire TV series about the parents at the park. Enough ground has been covered about the gluten-free crackers and the parents who won’t let their kids watch anything but educational television, so we took it another way. Believing we had the next great sitcom, we decided to shoot a few snippets ourselves and present them to networks. (The three-episode web-series, Parktime, reeled in an anemic 1500 internet views on YouTube when posted, but still holds up.)
I’m not saying that every parent in Los Angeles is a soulless cockroach. In fact, I have many friends who I love hanging with and talking with who are as laid back as my wife and I are with their parenting. It’s just that at some point in your life, you begin choosing friends out of convenience. This town is so spread out, that childhood friends do not attend the same schools. As a child in 1980’s America, every neighborhood kid went to the same school, played on the same sports teams for a decade and rode bikes to each other’s houses at 9:00 at night. Nowadays, my eight-year-old has no interest in even learning how to ride a bike and his five best friends attend FIVE different elementary schools. It’s nearly impossible to develop lifelong friendships in this town, and I’m sure I’m not making it any easier by bickering with Nina Carlotto about her lack of public health and safety hazards. So, you hang with other parents out of suitability. Are you neighbors? Are your kids in the same class? Do you play on the same soccer team? These requirements are all it takes these days to establish a falsified friendship with another parent. “Your kids are 8 and 4 too? Oh my GOD, we have to have you over for bone broth soup and wine this weekend.” It’s a far cry from, say Flatbush Avenue back in the 60’s when you had to stab a kid from a rival neighborhood to prove to your buddies that you were “friend material.”
So we saunter on and drop the kids in the carpool lane and meet up for wine and soup and just hope that our kids are making deep connections with their new friends. Occasionally someone throws a party and we all call Uber to drive us home by 11:00 and we struggle in the morning to make decent coffee and go to the gym. At times I feel like Kenny Powers in Eastbound and Down season four when he domesticates and has children, but when I look at the sad faces of the 20-somethings trolling the bars of my youth looking for what I currently have, I remember I’m in a much better place. No matter how much I can’t stand talking with the Ressler’s about their Grecian vacation plans the upcoming summer – when daddy can FINALLY spend some time with his kids on a yacht– I do it, realizing that my parents had the same conversations with their friends back in the 80’s. I am just very grateful to have the time I have to be the father I am… and if that pisses Nina Carlotto off? I don’t give a DAMN… Especially since she let her kid drop a phantom deuce at the park and continues to deny it to this day. By the way, I saw the Honda commercial that we auditioned for on TV last night and was suddenly pained with the horrifying image of her face in the Odyssey passenger seat… Somehow she got cast as the loving mother. Bitch.