This morning I drove past two skinny homeless men with multiple missing teeth who were smoking cigarettes before nearly running over a mangy stray dog panting in the street. I made a left turn at the Hustler Hollywood store, narrowly averting a woman who was squatting and urinating into a discarded water bottle. I eventually parked and walked around my car, side-stepping two discarded needles some dog crap and a used condom. I dodged a speeding Hyundai that was being driven by a dude vaping and texting at the same time before opening the passenger door… and helping my kid get out of the car.
“Ready for school?” I asked.
Welcome to Hollywood.
I was raised in a peaceful, quiet corner of the desert where coyotes and jumping cholla cacti were my biggest fears while walking to school. I didn’t see a homeless man until I was about 13. Hustler was a magazine that only prisoners and truckers read and needles were something only a doctor could get a hold of. Yesterday, my son asked me why the guy who lives in the dumpster across the street from his carpool pick-up lane is always shouting, “Ho ass bitch” while shuffling down Selma Avenue.
I am raising my children in Gomorrah and it’s starting to freak me the fuck out.
This school year, my son’s entire fifth grade class was moved to a new school campus – about 10 blocks north of the previous campus where they had been since kindergarten. The new campus is on Selma Avenue and is a stone’s throw from the Hollywood YMCA. It’s also a block south of Hollywood Boulevard, nearly 10 medical marijuana dispensaries, six seedy bars, smoke shops, two run-down hotels, a vintage street clock that has been permanently set to 4:20 and about nine tattoo parlors.
Back in my 20’s, when I was stumbling out of the bar Boardner’s (a block away from the school on Cherokee), I could never imagine that someday my son would be taking “Beginner Spanish” 50 yards from where I once puked after a night of Vodka – Red Bulls. I never thought I’d be raising my kids anywhere but some pristine little tucked away school with manicured lawns and open fields and morning sing-a-longs. Little did I know that barbed wire fences, metal detectors and cement soccer fields were going to be the norm for my children…
At a back-to-school meet and greet two weeks after the first day, some other parents expressed their concerns as well.
“We just don’t like the way the school feels,” an angry parent offered.
“We are striving to make everybody comfortable,” the principal, a 40-something man named Reggie replied.
“It’s hard to be comfortable when I smell marijuana every day when I drop my kid off,” another mom piped up.
Hollywood has changed immensely since the rundown 1990’s. Tourism is up, souvenir stores are making great money and people from all over the world are still traveling here to take photos of the sidewalk where an actor’s name is etched into a star. Of course, when the tourists come, so do the hustlers. You’ve seen them selling rap CD’s, trying to get you to take the TMZ Tour and drunkenly swaying into your photos while dressed up in a piss-stained Spider-Man costume demanding five dollars.
Look, my high school was no picnic. I witnessed a shooting, a lot of fights and certainly saw my share of LSD and dirt weed from Mexico, but I was in high school… Not fifth grade. Being raised in the desert certainly shaded me from the inner city realities of gang-ridden America, but I was also lucky enough to travel to places like New York and LA to see how other kids were growing up. Ultimately, their fast-paced lives had a strong effect on me because I headed for college in Los Angeles the minute I turned 18. Thinking back about my childhood dreams, I turned my son one day after school.
“Hey dude, where do you want to live when you grow up?” I asked him.
“Probably the beach… or New York I guess.”
Obviously he hadn’t thought this one out. Not me. By the time I was ten, I had it narrowed down to Los Angeles and Los Angeles.
My son is also already planning out his first tattoo, based on a conversation we had last week. After pouring over NBA star Brandon Ingram’s arms as we were watching a basketball game, he asked me a question.
“Dad, if you could get a tattoo, what would you get?”
“Oh wow, I dunno – probably your name and your sister’s name,” I said. “Something small and hidden and meaningful.”
“I’d probably get Savage in cursive across my eyebrow,” he said.
“You’re not getting a tattoo,” I told him.
“Why not? All the sickest rappers have face tattoos now…”
As we listened to my kid’s Spotify playlist, I heard no less than ten “N-Bombs”, three songs about abusing Xanax, Percocet and Molly and over ten about Gucci, 80,000 dollar watches and ‘Lambos. Every song featured sound effects like “Skrrr” for a cool car or “Skrrrrratatatatata” to mimic an assault rifle peppering an enemy with bullets… Look, I love rap music. I chased a rap career myself at one point… but no 5th grader should be asking his dad what Codeine, Mountain Dew and Jolly Ranchers taste like together.
Alas, the reality of this situation is that I can’t afford to shell out 35,000 dollars to private academies like Campbell Hall or Oakwood… Although from what I remember from college – most of the heaviest partiers came out of these schools. Which gives me some hope… And truthfully, other than the dead guy who was wheeled away from the apartment down the block last week, the school is fun, diverse and growing and I’m actually proud to be a part of the community.
So, as the years roll along, I’ll just have to deal with the syringes, homeless guys and Hustler Hollywood foot traffic for a few more years until junior high. Luckily, that campus is located downtown in a much more secure location…
It’s across the street from an outpatient clinic for opioid addicts…
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!
Back in 1994, just three weeks into a relationship that I swore would last forever, my hippie Phish-loving girlfriend “Rainbeaux” announced that she was, “giving up toilet paper” as a way to preserve the environment.
“I’m sorry, what?” I responded.
“Look at the facts,” Rainbeaux said. “Every time we use a pre-fab product like toilet paper, we are destroying not only the rainforest, but the redwoods and like, all the natural resources of our planet… It’s a no-brainer for me.”
“Well, it’s a boner-killer for me,” I thought to myself.
If Rainbeaux wasn’t so fascinating and beautiful, I would have run away immediately… Instead, I did my best to question her plan.
“So… like, what are you gonna use when you…uhh – you know, go to the bathroom?” I asked her, calmly.
“It’s called Hmong Hill Hemp Cloth from Thailand,” she explained. “A guy who I met on last Phish Tour introduced me to it. It’s made from undernourished plant cloth and hemp fibers and It originated with the Hmong Hill Tribe…and for like 2000 years – their community is like… the healthiest in the world.”
I nodded my head in solitude, looked into her green eyes – and smiled vacantly.
“Sure, whatever you want,” I said.
She smiled and went back to drawing octagonal prisms in her sketch book.
Rainbeaux’s genius “save the planet” idea was to purchase 100 cloth swatches as her permanent toilet paper – and to just simply wash them at a laundromat whenever everything got dirty… I was secretly disgusted by this entire hippie dream of hers, but I went along with it for the time being because, well… she was cute and we were 19-years-old… and that’s just the kind of shit you do at that age… Especially when your “Are you a REAL hippie?” status is in question by a beautiful woman wearing patchouli and a tie-dyed sundress.
So, after I announced that I would support her toilet paper protest, she made me promise her I would give up toilet paper myself.
I promised her I would.
A minute later, she told me that I was “a real mystic” and then for the next 30 minutes, we made love listening to her $750 dollar Natural Sound Machine from The Sharper Image.
Of course, around 3:30 a.m. I woke up and rushed to her dorm’s community bathroom because I had to take a massive crap… And when I was done, I had torn through about a half a roll of Charmin Double Ply…
“Rainbeaux,” of course, wasn’t her real name. She was born “Hannah Gurlin” and she had grown up rather wealthy in Highland Park, Illinois, beneath the tutelage of a father who encouraged horseback riding as a a hobby and an older brother with a weed connection and a penchant for the Grateful Dead. After turning down offers from multiple respectable schools in the midwest, she had decided to attend UCSB (UC Santa Barbara) as a way to major in creative writing while enjoying the Southern California party lifestyle. We first met at a Big Head Todd and the Monsters concert during our freshman year, in one of those moments when the cute girl next to you singing along to the song Bittersweet made you feel like anything on the planet was possible…
Our eyes met as we sang together: “We work our way arouuuuund each other… as we tremble and we bleed…”
These were the deep connections that could make any lovelorn college kid in the 90’s soul fall head over heels.
After the show, Rainbeaux and I exchanged phone numbers – and we eventually met up again at a Dave Matthews Band show that spring…
A month later we went to a Phish concert… and that night we ended up sleeping together while listening to Mazzy Star Fade Into You. As we laid in bed, we discussed my theory that “The 90’s were just the 60’s Upside Down…” It seemed real, it seemed perfect and we both thought we had a once in a lifetime connection.
Of course, no long-lasting relationship that begins at a Big Head Todd concert can ever be expected to last.
Our relationship peaked when we embarked on an epic five-city West Coast Phish Tour – where we exchanged words of “LOVE” following a post-show Shoreline house party that as I recall, was crawling with ecstasy and Parliament Lights.
And then, a week later… was when Rainbeaux gave up using toilet paper.
Rainbeaux was the type of woman that you fell in love with in your 20’s. She had a zest for life, could party with anybody and it didn’t hurt that her dad was always sending her money. (Back then rich trust-fund hippies like this were referred to as “Trustafarians.”) But eventually, the hippie dream, much like it did to our parent’s generation, turned on us.
My main concern was not flunking out of school. (I wanted to make sure my dad’s tuition checks were going towards something besides my social life).
Rainbeaux’s main concern was how she would be able to make the type of money her parents made to support her lifestyle… She claimed she was a “writer…” yet she barely wrote anything. I was the one always writing. She could never seem to get anything down on paper… and it became awkward when she becoming jealous when my short stories, as dumb as they were, began appearing in the pages of my local college humor magazine.
As the used Hmong Hill Hemp Cloth began piling up in a wastebasket near her closet in the dorm room, I stopped wanting to come over. It was … sadly… disgusting. After she noticed that I had not been taking any cloth with me when I went to the bathroom, I came clean and was forced to admit that I was actually guilty of using “pre-fab” toilet paper. She was unhappy. I told her that after spending a few days on the Hmong Hill… I needed to hike back DOWN to reality.
She cringed, asked me to consider “her feelings” and I told her I didn’t think I could continue following her experiment. A few days later we broke up.
That was it. College went on. I drifted into my dreams and she did the same. We lost track of each other.
It had been nearly 20 years since I had been in touch with Rainbeaux, even after doing some embarrassing social media stalking…
I could never find her… Not online, not on Facebook… I even checked obituaries. There was no sign of Rainbeaux’s or Hannah Gurlin’s existence anywhere.
Until last week – when DEAD AND COMPANY came to the Hollywood Bowl right by my house here in Los Angeles.
My brother and another friend, Mark (Who was once arrested for dealing nitrous balloons at a Grateful Dead concert in 1989), had all gone to the Dead and Company show hoping to relive any slice of our youth that had faded as quickly as adulthood had arrived. John Mayer was playing Jerry Garcia’s parts and the band I fell in love with as a kid was playing better than ever.
Amazingly, Mark revealed to me that he had a fake business license for about five years in the late 80’s that let him pass as a FROZEN YOGURT SHOP OWNER – Basically, he would take his fake yogurt license into a legitimate NITROUS DEALER and procure as big of a nitrous tank as he could, claiming that his “Chocolate/Vanilla Swirl” was super popular and that he needed to buy the max amount of nitrous to get back to Sacramento.
It worked for a while, but eventually, his drug dealing days caught up with him and Mark was arrested at an early 90’s Grateful Dead show in Irvine. For his crime, he paid a thousand dollars and did 100 hours of community service.
To this day, he fucking hates frozen yogurt
Anyway, the three of us jumped out of our Lyft around Highland and Hollywood and embraced the free flowing beauty of the “Shakedown Street” parking lot scene where I quickly spent way too much money on a collectible “Arizona Dead Pin” and some $5.00 bootleg t-shirts…
After vaping and laughing and walking around for a minute, Mark pointed out about 100 plus “balloon dealers” openly distributing the gas on the premises – as if we were at a dental convention and we all needed emergency root canals…
All of this was shocking, not only because of the notorious Grateful Dead parking lot trouble that has existed in the past – but because when Mark was arrested 20-years-earlier, he had merely sold one balloon and was caught, cuffed and carried out…
Back then, the cops didn’t believe his story that he owned a Frozen Yogurt shop. Maybe it was because when they asked for the name of it, he replied “IKO IKO FROYO.” (Apparently the cops giggled at this before arresting him).
At the Hollywood Bowl, the cops didn’t seem to give a SHIT about anything going on. I counted 15 nitrous dealers, countless weed dealers, girls offering K, shrooms, molly… there were even makeshift pop-up bars operating on picnic tables where you could buy any mixed drink you wanted. It was insane. About the only thing I didn’t see for sale in that parking lot was a black market kidney.
And then, through the crowd, I saw RAINBEAUX.
I wasn’t sure if it was her at first, but I certainly remembered her eyes. Green, maybe a bit grey now, but still gorgeous. I watched her flit about some friends for a second in a yellow sundress before realizing that YES, it was her… the only obvious difference I noticed, was that she now had two little children wrapped around her legs.
No matter what, when you see an ex-girlfriend with their children, it makes you think about a lot of shit…
I decided to say hello, and walked up to where she was standing.
“Are you RAINBEAUX by any chance?” I said to her as she was least expecting a conversation.
She lit up. She turned around. She stared at me…
“Oh my God… Zach Selwyn?” She said.
I felt like Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way when his ex recognizes him after getting out of prison.
Charlie? Hello Gail…
“Hi,” I mustered… “I knew that was you.”
We hugged for a while – one of those “what could have been” hugs… and she quickly introduced me to her kids – Saffron and, her youngest – a kid named… ZACHARY. She said he was not named after me.
Secretly, I didn’t believe her.
We hugged again. Deeply. She told me that she hadn’t been “Rainbeaux” for a long time. She was back to being known as… “Hannah.”
She asked me about everything – especially how my writing was going.
“Yeah, it’s fine, I guess,” I meekly admitted. “I just post stuff online and write songs and, whatever, it’s a long story.”
I asked her about her writing career. She said she never had the guts to pursue it. She had been teaching Neo-natal yoga in Poway and was married to a dermatologist.
“Wow, didn’t expect that,” I said.
We rambled on for a moment, talking about what songs we were hoping to hear that night. I was hoping for Estimated Prophet.
“You know, Estimated was my official battle cry/anthem when I moved to LA – telling all my friends and family not to worry about me,” I said before singing out the lyrics, “California! Preaching on the burning shore…”
She smiled. “I remember… Do you remember how much I loved that song Bittersweet by Big Head Todd and the Monsters?”
I stared into her eyes as her daughter ran back up and hugged her.
“Of course I do,” I said. She smiled.
After I introduced her to my friends, she said good-bye, scooped up her daughter and began to walk away. As she was 10 feet or so up the sidewalk, I had to ask her one final question that had been bugging me for years…
“Hey, Hannah…” I said. “Are you still on that ‘Toilet Paper Protest’?”
She stopped, turned towards me and flashed kind smile before responding…
“Haha – NO,” she laughed. “I’m going through about, like – a box a half of baby wipes a week.”
I raised my beer in her direction and nodded my head.
As I watched the concert that night, I thought often of the days I spent with Rainbeaux, and I began to think that I should have brought my own children to the show with me…
Until some guy behind me passed me a Nitrous balloon and said it would make me feel like “God was licking my ass.”
*Warning – the following story contains sexually graphic and disgusting situations
My wife recently bought a $300 vibrator. It’s called a stingray. It pulsates. It’s waterproof. And it does everything but make sandwiches. My wife swears by it and they have a special relationship that extends beyond the bedroom. This throbbing beast has been brought up consistently at dinner conversations since she purchased it… I believe she even told her mother about it, as if she was introducing her to her new boyfriend.
Women have been celebrating the vibrator for hundreds of years… It’s universally acceptable and widely acknowledged that most sexually healthy females have some sort of throbbing stunt penis hiding beneath a pile of T-shirts in their dresser drawers.
However, if I came home one day with a $300 sex toy, it would be considered taboo. Men who do this sort of stuff have long been labeled as perverts and sexual deviants. And, men don’t really discuss masturbation details over wine and pasta at a group dinner.
Maybe men and sex toys do not go together because most men are seemingly easier to please. After all, all we need is a magazine, a free hand and some “me time.”
I have never used a sex toy on myself. I am not saying that I haven’t been intrigued by the molds of “Jenna Haze’s Pussy and Asshole” that I have seen for sale at an adult store, but shelling out hundreds of dollars for a rubber vagina has never been high on my priority list. Plus.” Real Dolls” are like, five grand. Plus, in humble my opinion, nothing could really beat the time-honored tradition of good old fashioned jerking-off.
But then someone sent me a free “Fleshlight.”
I had heard about the Fleshlight forever. It was an early podcast sponsor and was the rage of the Adult Video Awards when I covered them for a TV show back in 2007. But still, I had never tried one, and I wasn’t exactly running out to make a purchase without knowing that it would be worth it… Then again, it’s not exactly the type of thing you borrow from a buddy…
Opening the box, I was amazed to find that there are like, 25 different types of Fleshlight models ranging from any body orafice to Jenna Haze to an actual weird blue ALIEN vagina that I assume is supposed to make you feel like you are fucking Neytiri, Zoe Saldana’s character from Avatar…
You are able to choose from a bevy of porn star clitoral replicas and adjust the suction level by twisting the back of the casing. It came with lube (necessary to simulate female wetness) and a cleaning cloth. It also had extensive directions about how to “wash your sleeve of remaining fluids” once you were done with it. This was a no-nonsense operation.
I settled in one day after work before my wife and kids had come home from baseball practice. I opened up my Fleshlight and examined it. This particular model was not a signature porn star version, it was a “Stamina Training Unit” – meaning it was supposed to help you train to maintain an erection longer should you ever have a real life sexual encounter… This was the “elliptical” of Fleshlights.
My first touch of the thing was unsettling. I felt weird. Deviant. I was fondling with an artificial body part. You know those weird people you see on TV who dig up corpses and have sex with them? For a second I wondered if I had stooped to their level.
Until I inserted myself.
It had been 15 years since I had felt any sexual pleasure with anyone other than my wife. I’m not sure how, but I suddenly became engorged and remained rock hard for the next seven minutes of thrusting, adjusting my technique, rhythm and stroke to this Fleshlight as if I was trying to give it an orgasm. Throughout this blissful and pure rubber sexual adventure, I felt as giddy as a 15-year-old learning how to unhook a bra strap in high school. It was something new and exciting…
As I approached climax, I was wondering if it was a customary rule to finish inside the device – or if the recommended method was to jizz onto any nearby available tube sock. While deciding to pull myself out from the sensual erotic vagina, I grabbed and looked at the manual… It did not offer any “jizz directions.”
I found myself climaxing into the sleeve. I immediately doubled over onto my bed as if I was 17 again and in the back of my Dodge Lancer. I was feeling pretty satisfied.
And that’s when the guilt settled in.
I had a large device on my penis. I had just cum into it and I was immediately dreading the moment when my son or wife would walk in. I began wondering if I had somehow caught an STD from the Fleshlight. Worst of all, I had to eventually pull out… which was a feeling that was so hauntingly real, that it reminded me of all the dorm rooms I had left at two in the morning in college after drunken sex romps… In my mind, I felt like I had somehow cheated on my wife with a Pi Beta Phi sophomore.
My friend Mark, who works in virtual reality calmed my fears when I called and told him that I was not feeling very good following the encounter.
“Dude, I’ve gone through, like – six Fleshlights!,” he said. “I get one every year… I had the Jesse Jayne model last year, bruh, that shit was nice! You should change them every six months or so.”
Woah, six Fleshlights? The Jesse Jayne model? Change them every six months? Obviously I was not living up to my masturbatory potential.
“Wait til you see this virtual reality shit we’re coming out with in a few years,” Mark explained. “Dude, you’ll be able to fuck Jessica Biel on a beach while Justin Timberlake is tied up to a nearby palm tree, crying.”
“Are you serious?” I responded.
“Dude, sex is about to go so virtual, we’re gonna all turn into a world of jizz monkeys shooting 9 to 10 loads a day.”
“Dude, in the future you’ll be able to fuck Jessica Biel on a beach while Justin Timberlake is tied up to a nearby palm tree, crying,” my friend Mark told me.
I did some research. If Mark’s prediction, and the internet is correct, the world will enter the virtual porn sex space in the next few years. People will put on their devices and set up a “scene” where they can have sex with a digital female while they pleasure themselves physically. At first, the sex models will be outrageously priced and unaffordable, but eventually, both men and women will all be pounding away at any number of virtual lovers through the power of visual stimulation.
That’s on some Westworld level shit right there.
Feeling less guilty about my Fleshlight encounter, I read the manual about how to clean it out. I learned that Fleshlight makes a special soap that I would now have to buy if I wanted it to stay in pristine condition. I would also have to double up on my lubrication as the sample pack they included was quite small. And then there is the washing of it. Running warm water through a fake vagina isn’t the most comforting part about using a Fleshlight, but it’s a necessary one if you want to keep it in good condition.
It’s like cleaning your bar-be-cue after every use.
When my wife got home, I shared my experience with her and she actually was proud of me. She told me that she thought men should be able to experience the heightened pleasure of something other than just your hand once in a while. Hearing this got me thinking…
“Well, look,” I said. “Pretty soon there’s gonna be a virtual reality device where I can have sex with Jessica Biel on a beach, can I get that too?”
“Sure, if I can get one where I bang DeAndre Jordan,” she responded.
“Oh, uhmm, let me think about it,” I responded.
I went upstairs and hid my Fleshlight beneath some t-shirts in my dresser…
I live about a mile from the building that was once the famous swing dance club known as “the Derby.” In the mid-late 90’s, when the swing music revolution twirled its way across the streets of Los Angeles and turned regular farm boys from the Midwest into Rat Pack wannabes, “the Derby” was the swing club to frequent.
In 1996, Jon Favreau was so inspired, he made a pretty great film about it called Swingers and suddenly star Vince Vaughn had the entire town looking for “beautiful babies” and saying that everything was “money.” I passed a bootleg VHS tape of the film around my college friends and soon fell in hook, line and sinker. After graduation, I dove head first into the post-Swingers madness that raised dirty martinis all over Hollywood. Lines formed around the Hillhurst/Los Feliz street corner where the Derby resided awaiting entrance into the ultimate haven of swing-cool.
I owned 15 bowling shirts, white “creeper” shoes, Cadillac-emblazoned pants, shoulder-pad heavy sport coats, a flask, three Big Bad Voodoo Daddy CDs and a t-shirt that said “It’s Frank’s World, Were all Just Living in It.” I went to Las Vegas monthly, drank gin and tonics and swept my hair up into a James Dean-inspired pompadour. I remember feeling so confident that my “swinger” image would live with me for the rest of my days, I traveled to New York City around 1999 and searched out underground West Village swing clubs to show Manhattan that a “Real Life Hollywood Swinger” was in their presence. Somehow the façade worked and after ringing up a $290 credit card bill, I managed to make out with a girl named ‘Kitty’ who had a Stray Cats tattoo on her shoulder before retiring to her floor mattress in Brooklyn where she woke up six times during the night to smoke Marlboro Reds.
It was all because of Swingers.
And then, about five years ago, it was announced that the Derby was going to be transformed into a Chase Bank. The bar where I spent my early 20’s was suddenly going to be a place where I would curse the teller for charging me a checking account fee… The club where I once dated the hottest bartender in town was turning into a place where a gal named Evelyn would inform me my mortgage was ten days late. When I heard the news, I knew this was not good. The Derby? I thought… A bank? WWJFD? (What Would Jon Favreau Do?)
Turns out, Favreau had bigger fish to fry. Even though he could have easily bought the Derby and used it to store his Iron Man memorabilia, he ignored my twitter plea for him to buy the bar and turn it into a museum. I’m sure Vince Vaughn most likely drank at “Mess Hall,” the restaurant next door, toasting the ghosts of the barroom that made him a movie star… but he was also too busy and uninspired to save the bar. I even tweeted actor Patrick Van Horn, who played SUE in the film. He at least took the time to write me back by quipping “End of an Era.”
A week before the Derby was to be gutted, I gathered my old “Swinger buddies,” – now dads who had traded in slick sport coats and suspenders for Old Navy hoodies – and we poured out some gin for Favreau and Vaughn, for Sinatra, for dirty martinis, for the incredible wooden Derby ceiling, for the memories we had shared at the bar and for the debauched nights spent watching amazing swing bands like Royal Crown Revue sing “walk right in, walk right out…”
We even quoted the movie a few more times to make sure we still knew all the classic lines. “Get there…” “This place is deaaad anyway…” “He’s all growns up… I would never eat here.” “You’re the fun-loving out going party guy, and you’re sweating some lawn jockey?” The night went on and on.
As the evening died down, we all retired a lot earlier than we had in the late 90’s and excused ourselves back to our families. The next week, the Chase Bank transformation had begun and the last remaining memories of my first few years out of college were carried out and discarded.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in line at the Chase, staring up at the exact same wooden ceiling that I had spun girls beneath in the past. The ceiling beneath which I had done shots of Crown Royal a hundred times. The ceiling that watched over me as I tried to find assimilation with a unique sect of people during those weird times when you’re not yet quite sure who you were – who you are – or where you are going.
I got up to the bank teller and deposited my meager check, taking a moment to remark that this building was once my one-time favorite nightclub.
Without making eye-contact she mumbled, “Yep, every one of you middle-aged guys who comes in here has the same story.”
“Fuck off,” I whispered under my breath.
I took another glance at the ceiling and thought of the days gone by. Hollywood is forever a town of transformation. Very few restaurants and bars make it ten years… hence the stories you read about now defunct clubs like The Trip, The Cathouse and Gazzari’s that were the most happening places to be. In my life, the Derby was certainly my place. The place where I was part of a nationwide fad that engulfed my youth when I was a mere lump of clay awaiting to be molded into the lump of Play-Doh I am these days.
As I looked down at my bank receipt and realized how far this journey in Hollywood had taken me, I thought of the dreams I had at age 22 that were still somewhat unrealized. When places that mean so much to you as a kid disappear, you fail to immediately recognize that they will be gone for good and the memories will fade or melt into new ones until all you have left are a few photographs and some journal entries. I look back at my two years as a pseudo-swinger as important remembrances that I will take with me through all of my life. At the time I thought I’d be 22 forever, twirling cute tattooed ladies across slick wooden floors only pausing to sip drinks and wipe the sweat from our brows. I never thought I’d be 40-years-old and in the exact same room looking down at a bank statement stressing about the fact that I barely had enough money that week to cover my DWP bill.
Again, my thoughts turned to Jon Favreau. As the worlds most in demand director, he probably never imagined he would achieve the level of success he has back when he was simply searching for familiarity amongst the Hollywood night-crawlers of the mid 90’s. I reached back out to my old swinger buddies and arranged another drinking night to sit back and reminisce about the Derby days gone by, and we all agreed to get together on a following Tuesday night.
Of course, by Monday morning, everybody had flaked and the plans were cancelled so we could spend some time with our families. We all agreed to try again later, and I thought about how a little piece of all of us died the day the Derby did…
And a part of me knew, that somewhere, high up in those Malibu Hills, Jon Favreau was feeling the same thing…
Buy Zach’s Book “Talent Will Get You Nowhere” on Amazon.com!
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!!
In February of this past year, I traveled to New York City and somehow spent $647.97 in just under 12 hours.
And I have absolutely nothing to show for it.
New York has always been one of my favorite magical cities. From the first time my mother took my siblings and I there as kids to look at the Macy’s holiday window displays – to the nights spent out eating at fabulous restaurants like Trattoria Del’Arte – to the time when I urinated in a Yankee Stadium phone booth after a tough loss to the Blue Jays, I have always loved New York. The city has enchanted me for all these years and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Still, for all of New York’s charms, romance and restaurants, the place has continuously sabotaged my wallet time and time again. And no matter how hard I try to keep my expenditures under a budget, I forever find myself failing miserably.
Last February, I was flown out to New York to read a short story at a start-up literary festival called the “New Poets and Writers Rooftop Recital.” I anticipated a catered and boozy event that would be full of accomplished writers, sexy New York celebrities like Uma Thurman and dozens of opportunities presenting themselves at every rooftop sip of champagne. It was the literary Mecca of the world and I was there to take it by storm… Or, at least, try and get my stories printed in some kind of respectable magazine. After all, my last published work was in the underground marijuana culture magazine THC EXPOSE. (Sadly, it folded after the second issue).
I arrived on my Jet Blue flight eight hours before the story recital was to begin and I called my wife back home as I bull-rode the never-ending taxi line heading into Manhattan.
“Hey!” I squealed, alive with anticipation of the glimmering city light. “This is going to be a great time!”
“Do NOT spend a bunch of money,” My wife countered.
“I won’t,” I said. “Besides, it’s all paid for… They’re putting me up, there’s food and an open bar and everything. Besides, I can get through a week on like, 30 bucks. I wont spend more than like, 200 dollars.”
“Don’t go out and buy wine,” she explained. “That town overcharges for everything… if you need to get drunk, go buy a bottle at a grocery store and drink it in your hotel room.”
“Right,” I said. “No problem.”
The thought of spending an evening in New York City straddling the filthy sheets of a SoHo Radisson with a plastic cup full of Chilean Merlot while watching SportsCenter seemed dreadful and horrendous. After all, I was in New York City! The Big Apple! The City That Never Sleeps! This wasn’t the “City Where the Guy Away From His Family For One Night Sits Alone Drinking Wine in his Hotel Room…”
By the end of the evening, I was wishing I had followed my wife’s advice.
I dropped my first $100 getting into Manhattan. I had made a classic New York mistake of getting into a gypsy cab with a driver named “Doopsha” who took me to SoHo and charged me extra because he said the tolls had skyrocketed. Not knowing what to believe, I paid him and walked into my hotel, preparing to decompress for an hour or two before going out to find some food.
The hotel had no record of my reservation. Apparently the hosts of the festival had not booked me like they were supposed to, and I now was being told that I needed to pay $379 for the room – which was the standard “walk-in price.”
Excuse me? Walk-in price? What if I jogged in, would it be any cheaper?
Failing to find my humor amusing, the woman ran my credit card as I frantically texted the festival hosts and told them what was happening. I did not hear back. Still, I figured they would cover the expense and reimburse me.
After a long shower, I performed the typical disgusting routine every man does in a hotel room when they first arrive. It starts with naked push-ups in front of the window, followed by a full body shave that leaves hair all over the bathroom floor. It always finishes with a nude half-hour of television spent with my wong pressed up against a cold pillow.
After a quick nap, I decided to ride the subway over to the East Village and find the rooftop where the event was scheduled to take place and get comfortable beforehand. I opened my laptop and logged in online – only to quickly be hit with a $14.99 WiFi charge. Unaware that they had free computers in the lobby – and knowing that $14.99 would save me a late night trip to the Adult Bookstore called “Babeland” that I had passed on the way in – I shrugged it off.
By the way, when I looked up “Babeland’s” website, they were offering the following in store promotion…
Receive 25% off any lube when you purchase a vibrator at any of our stores. Valid until February 14, 2013. Happy Valentine’s Day!
The next thing I discovered, was that the afternoon before I had arrived, a psychotic, racist woman had pushed a Middle-Eastern man to his death on the subway tracks at the very station near my hotel. This was noted in the New York Post I bought in the hotel lobby. (Along with some toothpaste and a $9.00 bottle of Renu Multi-Purpose eye solution). Immediately cowering in fear for a similar copycat incident to befall upon me once I stepped onto the subway platform, I decided to stay above ground, and summon a taxi to the event.
Following the $15.00 ride over to the East Village, I decided to step into an Italian restaurant-bar to catch the score of the New York Knicks game with a bunch of real sports fans that were cursing at the TV. I decided I would buy one glass of wine, knowing that it would probably be my last before going to the event – where the open bar would keep me well lubricated for the rest of the night. I ordered the house Chianti.
After downing it in three sips and admiring Carmelo Anthony’s offensive output, I cursed myself for ordering the drink and made my way over the rooftop building. It was then that I first began to realize that I was dealing with a faction of complete amateurs. Outside the doorway, on a makeshift sign that looked as if it had been patterned by some NYU freshmen who were flunking graphic design, read the following:
New Poets and Writers Rooftop Rectal.
YES. They had misspelled “Recital” as “Rectal.”
I called attention to it at the door before giving my name to the bouncer – who was way too large and intimidating to be working the guest list at an event for writers and poets – and he completely ignored me. He slipped me my Artist Pass and a small schedule before telling me that GREG and BLAISE, the two hosts of the event, were waiting for me in the “green room upstairs.”
Nice, I thought. Finally, a green room. I was looking forward to some Manhattan catering, some ravenous red wine and to be rubbing elbows with the elite of the New York literary world. I climbed those steps aloft with dreams of exchanging email addresses with Jonathan Safran Foer as Woody Allen and I discussed the flaws in Soren Kierkegaard’s criticisms of idealist intellectuals.
Instead, as I walked into the green room, which was actually the bus-boy stand of the restaurant in the adjoining room, I was greeted with a frozen vegetable platter, bottles of $1.99 Charles Shaw red wine and a red-haired doofus in a sweater named Riley who handed me a tiny water and told me I “sort of looked like Jason Bateman.”
So much for Kierkegaard.
Meanwhile, Greg and Blaise were very young. Like, early 20’s.
When I told them I needed to be reimbursed for my hotel room, Blaise said, “We already paid the 129 dollars last month.”
I told them there was no reservation when I had arrived. They flipped out and informed me that they would not be able to cover my room charges beyond getting me a check for $129.00
There went another $250. I was already way over my $200 limit.
Greg apologized and tried to cheer me up by offering up information about the after party.
“After the event, there’s a huge after party on my dad’s boat,” he announced. “Trust me bro, it’s killer… we’re gonna throw down.”
I cracked the Charles Shaw. There was only one way I was getting through this.
I read my story to an enthusiastic crowd of roughly 25 people. I followed a young writer who received a lot more attention and got more laughs than anybody with his banal, arcane and totally lame story about how he thought he saw a mermaid in the East River.
When I asked him if he had ever seen the film Splash, he responded with a gruff, “No.”
“Netflix it,” I told him.
Following the readings, they actually brought out some edamame and hummus to snack on. Starving, I put away nearly three full dishes before folding up my story and preparing to attend the after party on the boat. First, however, Greg and Blaise needed to clean up the event.
“We’re gonna be about an hour or two, man,” they said.
I looked at my watch. It was 10:30. I almost forgot… New York City nights don’t even start until around midnight. Luckily, I was on west coast time. I wasn’t tired and the buzz from my reading had me thrilled to be assaulting the Manhattan bar scene for the next few hours… especially if we would end up partying on some guy’s father’s yacht.
I headed downstairs with some other writers – including a guy who claimed he was about to publish his third novel. We straddled against an old wooden bar in a place called 2A located on Avenue A. We spent a few minutes talking about the pathetic festival we had all just been a part of, and the novelist sipped a whiskey before saying, “I’m so sorry you flew out for this, man.”
I told him I didn’t care. He bought me a glass of wine and we drank to creativity.
It was then that I put my credit card down, which is undoubtedly my most consistent mistake. Once I pass a certain threshold of intoxication, I get extremely generous with the liquor. If you are standing near me at a bar when I am in my cups, I will undoubtedly end up buying you a drink. Or two. Or in this case… four. The novelist and I shared stories of east coast adventures and I showed him pictures of my kids. We talked writing and sports and for the first time in awhile, I felt like a man again.
As the drinks flowed, I barely noticed Greg and Blaise come in the door and announce that it was time to head to the after party on the boat. They had a few cute girls with them and the novelist’s eyes perked up. I swiveled on my chair and texted my wife the following lie:
Got a cab home, don’t worry… going to sleep. Event was fun – call you in the morning.
I’m pretty sure I did that so I wouldn’t face any unnecessary distractions the rest of the evening. After all, a calm wife is a happy wife – and she didn’t need to know that I was soon about to be popping champagne corks off the bow of a yacht into the Hudson River.
When it came to splitting a 15 dollar taxi ride with the novelist, I suddenly became aware that my credit card was still planted at that bar back on Avenue A. I forgot to close it out. Luckily, the novelist covered me – and we eventually arrived at a nice brownstone tucked away somewhere back near SoHo. Expecting to end up at the Chelsea Piers or in some Upper West Side marina somewhere, my evening was quickly derailed when I noticed Greg pressing the combination to an electronic lock on a garage door. When it finally lifted, I was somewhat thunderstruck.
What Greg neglected to mention, was that his father’s boat was above ground and parked in a garage.
“Get on, boys!” He yelled. There should be margarita mix inside!”
I climbed a ladder from the cement floor and did my best to try and stay festive with the party-goers, but this, for me, was the final straw. I was still hungry and not exactly willing to spend the next four hours listening to Jay-Z on the deck of a boat that was in a dark garage. Concerned about my credit card, I pulled what we like to call an “Irish Good-bye” and quietly slipped out the door with three bottles of water under my arm.
Following a three block walk to a major street, I was able to flag a cab and weave my way back to the bar on Avenue A, convincing the driver I would have money for him at the bar. He cursed at me in Pakistani, and I wrote down what he said, hoping to look it up on my laptop when I made it to the hotel.
“Behanchood… Tatti Kaa.”
When we arrived, I closed my tab at the bar. Nine drinks and a bag of barbecue Lay’s chips cost me $111.98. At this point, I was so tired I didn’t even care. I slayed two $4.25 slices of pizza from the all-night place next door while the meter ran and eventually, the taxi took me back to SoHo where the foul-mouthed driver charged me $49.00 for my cross-town detour. I tipped him three dollars and stumbled into the lobby where I was greeted by a new hotel clerk asking me if I was going to require a late check out.
“Hell yes,” I exclaimed.
I also pre-ordered my breakfast, knowing very well that I would not be in the mood to go out searching for egg whites and coffee the next morning. The charge for eggs, coffee, fruit and room service? $65.00.
That night, after I crawled into bed, I went through my receipts.
In exactly 11 hours and 32 minutes in New York, I managed to spend the following:
Car into Manhattan: $100.00
Hotel Room (after $129 refund) $250.00
Hotel WiFi: $14.99
New York Post/Toiletries in Lobby: $17.50
Cab to East Village: $15.00
Glass of wine at Italian Restaurant: $16.00
Drinks at 2A Bar on Avenue A: $111.98
Two slices of pizza: $8.50
Cab from Soho to East Village to SoHo: $49.00
In Room Breakfast: $65.00
The grand total? $647.97. Yeah. I could have stayed home and bought myself an iPad Mini.
Before shutting off the TV and sinking into the starched bed sheets, I remembered to look up exactly what the Pakistani taxi driver had said to me in his native tongue. I entered it into a Google search bar and watched as the following popped up:
Behanchood… Tatti Kaa.
Translation? Sisterfucker… Eat shut.
I wasn’t quite sure what “shut” was, but I had a pretty good idea.
Upon arriving home the next afternoon, I tried to explain to my wife that all of the circumstances were out of my control and that I was miserable the entire time. Unfortunately, this kind of pleading only goes so far and I still ended up looking like a spendthrift loser who squandered a lot of money on absolutely nothing. That night, I promised her it would never happen again.
The following morning, I got an email from Greg and Blaise thanking me for coming and reading at their festival. They said that since it was their first year, they would be making improvements and throwing a kick-ass event the next time. At the end of their email, they invited me back to New York to read any story I liked at the 2014 “New Poets and Writers Rooftop Recital,” promising me an incredible opportunity to meet and greet Manhattan’s literary community.
I just came to the sad conclusion that I would have made a lousy pirate.
My entire life, I have been infatuated with legendary late 17th century buccaneers and the billowing high sea adventures that they embarked upon. I have fantasized about discovering empirical treasures, establishing sumptuous small island colonies full of sexual heathens, and eating grand carved slices of roast Zebu meat washed down with copious never-ending rivers of Carribean rum… I’ve imagined sailing into tropical ports clad in bulging silken scarves puffed out from manicured vests tethered to worldly fabrics… I’ve envisioned a cutlass tucked in my waistcoat belt complimenting a gun or two hidden upon a hip to be used only in case of discovery or ambush… I have envisioned a fair, virginal maiden awaiting me in every port. For 30 years, I have shouldered dreams of piracy.
I have always foreseen myself living this life – thinking that perhaps I was born at the wrong time and that I was meant to be born a sea-beaten and weathered swashbuckler with a Dread Pirate Roberts-like understanding of wit, trickery, swordsmanship, romance and true love. A mysterious villain with a heart – and a chest – of gold. Lavishly gouging myself on intercontinental coffees and licquers. Forever eluding capture. Leading a wispy life on the wind until the proper time arrives when one must lower his mainsail, trade his beloved ship for gold and retire to live like a king in some far-off heavenly slice of paradise cascading into the far reaches of the sun-drenched Earth… I have secretly hallucinated about my own retirement plan. I visualize my final days spent bearded and leathery, awash in Key West swells, living off the fruits of my lifelong seaworthy labors…
And then my father-in-law invited me out to join him on a fishing trip.
We are very different types of men. We have not necessarily spent a lot of bonding time together, but in the quest to find a connection between my wife’s father and myself, I have tried a lot of angles. What I have discovered, is that it has been fairly hard to find any common ground.
Back in 2001, when my father-in-law and I first met, he had never been to a major league baseball game. I had never fired a gun.
He had never written a sketch or a creative story. I had never flown an airplane off of a carrier in the Pacific Ocean.
He scoffed at the use of profanity – like the word “shit” – in film and television. I had just written a song called Cartoons I’d Like to Fuck.
I immediately knew it was going to be a tough climb.
Over the years, I have divulged that my wife’s father is a true man of the sea. Following a storied 35-plus years as an airline pilot, the events of 9/11 forced him into early retirement. Bored with the sky, he was delighted to be focusing his attention on his true love: THE OCEAN. He celebrates the big blue and all that comes with it, everywhere. For instance…
His house is decorated like the inside of a cheesy Santa Monica seafood restaurant. Old fishing nets line the kitchen walls, complete with plastic lobsters caught in their webs. Vintage boat steering wheel-clocks help you keep time at over 26 different spots in the den. At least five small, circular windows are placed on the port and starboard side of the living room. In one room, shark teeth serve as a makeshift picture frame for his wedding photo. Above his bed is a thrift store painting of Captain Cook inspecting a compass and a map. Finally, his shower curtains are seven foot-tall lug sails that he ordered on ebay.
Friends who have visited sometimes refer to his home as “Red Lobster.”
I will say that I absolutely respect his love and passionate worship of the sea. It is his true mistress. When we visit him at his house in Washington State every Christmas, I often find him avoiding the shrieking outbursts of my children by stepping outside, making a fire and longingly staring out across open water where an undiscovered land of opportunity awaits him. I never understood why he did it, but I would not put it past him to believe that somewhere on that horizon lies an island with a river of frozen pina coladas, buried treasure and a pulsating posse of randy mermaids shape-shifting from sea creatures to women – prepared to satisfy his every perverted need.
In short, he also harbors dreams of being a pirate.
My father-in-law had owned a beautiful sailboat for many years and took his family around the world and home again on it as a younger man, but his post-retirement dream was to refurbish another boat into his vision of the ultimate dream cruiser. His plan was to take us all around the world in four years.
In 2001, he bought the boat. Following some bad luck, terrible storms and unfortunate circumstances, he sold that boat for half of its value nearly a decade later. It had never left the dock.
However, in 2012, he finally got a vessel he deemed worthy. It is a beautiful boat – with sleeping room for eight – common hang out areas and gorgeous deck space. He spent the majority of the past year sailing it from Maryland, between some Caribbean islands, through the Panama Canal and up back towards Seattle. It was his dream journey. When I heard that he was on this fabulous trip, my old brigand dreams were rekindled. I harkened back to my obsession with colorful pirate captains like Robert Culliford, Blackbeard and Calico Jack. I dreamt of a night on that boat, searching high above for the Andromeda Galaxy through my spyglass while cosmically spaced out on aged Puerto Rican spiced rum.
And then, in March, my family received his postcard from the island of St. Croix illuminating us on everything we were missing. As I sat on my couch, firing up another game of Wii Wipeout, I realized that he was absolutely right. And I was jealous. My father-in-law was out on the high seas, island hopping and fishing for his dinner – while I was spending my life about to challenge my six-year-old on the treacherous Wipeout “Big Balls.”
Luckily, one night during last year’s holidays, my father-in-law and I happened upon the fantastic film Hornblower on television. I had a few glasses of wine and immediately fell into the story. It was fascinating. He informed me that he had the entire mini-series (on VHS, nonetheless) and we tackled all eight parts within the next three nights. After that, we went through Master and Commander,Dead Calm, Treasure Island and the Pirates of the Carribean collection. It was then, that I inquired about possibly joining him on his next worldwide journey.
“Why don’t you start by coming out with me tomorrow?” He offered. “I’m going to set some crab traps and head to Port Orchard Bay to do some fishing.”
My eyes lit up. Crab traps? Fishing? A boat? I know it wasn’t exactly commandeering a massive English Man-of-War, but it was a start. I figured I would get my sea legs, catch some fresh dinner and be back by sunset to drink some beer and cook fish while counting the easy sailboats in the harbor. My first pirate adventure awaited me. I felt like those lifelong deckhand barflies who spend their lives in the bars of port towns like Bremerton, awaiting the rare Alaskan fishing vessels to offer them jobs out on the icy water for a three month run where they might make enough to stay in booze for weeks.
My wife was her usual supportive self. “Don’t come back with a peg-leg,” she requested.
I slept well that night, anticipating my maiden voyage on his boat, The Great Orca II, where I would ride the Pacific Northwest waves until I was christened first mate. I awoke at dawn to pack and head on out on the open water.
Before we set out, I took my journal with me hoping to find some inspiration. I also fastened my guitar to my back – knowing that pirates always appreciated a good sea shanty – and tucked my headphones into my jacket pocket. As the sun rose, I watched my father-in-law put on a set of rubber pants and some Merrell boots as I laced up my Converse All-Stars. I arrived in the kitchen ready to embark on our little journey with my guitar and ipad. He arrived with a woven beanie and a pair of pliers in his hand.
“What are those for?” I asked.
“In case we hit something and one of your teeth pops loose.”
I froze. He smiled.
“So, what’s your sea name gonna be?” He asked me.
“Excuse me?” I said. “Sea name?”
“All my passengers must create sea names for themselves when we are out on the water. You know, aliases. I always go by ‘Captain T.’’
I thought about it. A sea name! Cool! It would be like my pirate name… I knew it had to be something legendary, with a little flourish and a hardened edge. Something like “Black Pistol Bluebird McCoy…”
Knowing that there was a “Pirate Name Generator” on the internet – (look it up) – I quickly logged on and typed in my name. Sadly, their suggestion wasn’t the heroic adventurer name I had imagined. On the website, it read:
Yarr olde name be Zachary Selwyn. But we’ll now call ye:
PANTS DOWN DARIUS
My wife laughed. So did my mother-in-law. I demanded to re-enter my name, but it was too late. The new sea name had stuck.
“Hey, Pants-Down,” Captain T yelled. “Don’t bring your guitar unless you want it to get ruined.”
(For the record, when my father-in-law typed in his name, he was anointed Pirate Laszlo the Ochre… Lucky bastard.)
Now I have certainly been fishing a number of times. However, most of the deep sea adventures I have been on involved a drunk Mexican pontoon boat captain named “Suarez” and an unlimited supply of Modelo Especial somewhere down in Cabo San Lucas. I figured this little trip would be the Pacific Northwest version of that. Basically, at a short little booze cruise into Port Orchard Bay.
As I slipped on the wet step-ladder that hoists a passenger into his boat, Captain T called back towards the house where my wife and kids were waving good-bye from the back porch.
“Better stand in the ‘widow’s peak’ now,” he chortled. “He might not make it two knots!”
Widow’s peak? Knots? Sailor humor, I figured. I stepped into the cabin and drank some coffee. It was cold outside, but I figured the sun might come up soon enough for me to catch some open sea rays before catching our lunch and heading home. I lied down to try and catch another ten minutes of rest.
Five minutes later, we set off from the dock, and I suddenly found myself alone, in the water with my father-in-law. It suddenly dawned on me that if my daughter was to ever marry a man like me, I would someday do everything I could to find a way to “accidentally” push him off of a boat into arctic waters. I immediately became paranoid that I was on a boat trip not unlike the one the character “Big Pussy” made with Tony on The Sopranos.
After getting out of the inlet waters that are surrounded by hilltop mansions of Bainbridge Island, we settled into a nice stretch of slightly bumpy water where I figured we might drop some crab traps. As it turns out, we were early. Captain T informed me that we were just stalking until the tide came back out. I looked at my watch. It was 8:13 a.m.
“What time does the tide come back out?” I asked.
“Around 10,” he responded.
The next hour was remarkably the most relaxed I had been since we arrived for the holidays five days prior. Captain T and I played cards, looked at pictures on our iphones and talked about what type of fish we wanted to have when we got back to shore. We both snacked on some almonds and popped open bottles of Amber Lager while playing the card game “Casino.” We discussed my children, our careers, and how good life would be once we emptied his crab pots and relished in the brilliant shellfish found below the surface. There was no Spongebob on TV, no diapers to change and no wives to harass us abotu drinking beers at 8:30 in the morning.
“Are there laws about how long you have to be sober before flying a plane?” I asked.
“When I flew for Pan Am the rule was eight hours bottle to throttle.”
“What about when you’re on a boat?” I inquired.
“Probably something like, ‘don’t get in trouble, drop anchor when you see double.’”
It was by far the hardest my father-in-law has ever made me laugh.
It might not have been piracy, but it was a deep hang. One that I enjoyed so much, I began doing math numbers in my head to figure out how much property I could get in a small Seattle waterfront town if I sold my house in Hollywood. Bottom line? I could probably get a shitload. And a decent boat. And I could probably purchase and work at a small fireworks stand on the side of the road near the Suquamish Indian Reservation. For 45 minutes, I was truly considering this massive life change.
And then the storm broke.
The Pacific Northwest isn’t exactly known for its dry weather. In fact, they average 23 days of sunshine a year – which explains the high suicide rates and tremendous coffee production. Sometimes, when we visit, we get lucky and only have to withstand a small patch of overcast skies and minimal rain. Unfortunately, this afternoon was not one of those times.
Sheets of water began pulsating against the Great Orca II forcing us to cut our engine and enclose ourselves in a plastic sheathing to protect the engine room. I helped button down a few knobs, but I began to get a little concerned when, following a heavy pane of rain, I heard my father-in-law cursing at something from below the deck. Being that he was a man who found Mary Poppins to be morally reprehensible, I was amazed at his sudden vulgarity. The man I had known for 11 years suddenly became a re-incarnation of the revolting British pirate Batholomew Sharp.
As a rule, in his home, the word “damn” summoned up punishment.
Out here, on the water, the words “fucking cockshit” suddenly became acceptable.
“Something wrong, sir?” I yelled below deck.
“Stay up there Pants-Down,” he yelled back.
I leaned against my seat and did my best to ignore the boat’s nauseating rocking motion. I dumped the remainder of my beer over the side.
“We got a breach in the hull,” he yelled. “Get me my black toolbox, NOW!”
I panicked. Not knowing where he stored it, I frantically searched in the state room before coming across what I thought was a black tool box. I brought it down to him and he slapped it away.
“That’s a God-Damn tackle box, Zach!”
So much for only using our sea-names.
“Stay here and apply pressure to where this leak is coming through, got it?” He said.
I nodded and applied pressure on a tarpaulin that he had fastened over a small crack in the boat’s bottom. Water was seeping in fast. Assuming the hole didn’t get any bigger, I figured we had three hours before we would be re-enacting scenes from The Perfect Storm.
When Captain T got back down, he cursed at the scene and thrust me out of his way. He threw open his tool kit and removed some puddy-like mold and went to work. I sat there, frozen for what seemed like 20 minutes.
“Anything I can help with?” I offered.
“Go upstairs and radio the Coast Guard… We might be stuck out here tonight.”
Back above deck, I fiddled with the radio, but had no idea what the hell I was doing. When I couldn’t get any response when I simply garbled “SOS” into the receiver. I figured we were done for. We were barely five miles from his house, but we were in the middle of nowhere. Looking around, I did not see another vessel in sight. It was time I faced my immediate pirate future. I would be buried at sea.
In the world of ancient pirate adventures, rarely did a buccaneer get a chance to enjoy the treasures he pilfered. Most pirate galleons were besieged by disease, starvation, dehydration and terrible, long droughts of immobility. Ships would fail to catch wind and be stranded in the middle of oceans for days on end, making life hell for the crew. Very few pirates got away with anything without dire punishment. Should a pirate be captured, his life became even more unpleasant, and many spent years holed up in dank, smelly, cavernous prisons chained to walls and a chamber pot. If one was lucky enough to get pardoned, he would more than likely end up penniless and ruined. The lucky ones died of scurvy or dehydration. Many hung from gallows to welcome incoming ships and warn them against the joys of piracy. Making it out alive in the world of 17 and 18th century piracy was about as common as moving to Hollywood tomorrow and becoming the next Hugh Jackman. Very few pirates actually got to enjoy their riches, and most were killed, imprisoned or tortured for their brief careers as marauders of the seven seas. It took a strong will to be a pirate, spending a treacherous nine months on a boat hoping for one miraculous ship capture and a raid that would make you rich.
The toughest ones stuck it out.
I had been at sea for a grand total of two hours and five minutes and I was ready to abandon ship.
About ten minutes after I had given up on the pirate life, Captain T came back up to the bridge and asked me for a towel. When I handed him one, I noticed that he was soaking wet and smelled like the open sea. He was shivering something fierce and his droopy face beneath his wool cap made him look a little like a drowned sea lion.
“Well, I got the leak fixed,” he said.
I nearly got up and hugged him. I couldn’t believe it
“Any word from the Coast Guard?”
“Uhh, no,” I replied. “I wasn’t really sure how to call them.”
Captain T handled the radio and spoke into it. When he did not receive a response, he calmly holstered the radio and sat back in the Captain’s seat.
“Looks like we might have to tough it out and get back home through the storm,” he mumbled.
As the wind raged on and the boat rocked back and forth a few times, I found myself a victim of seasickness. Vomiting over the side of a rocking boat in the middle of the ocean is a wonderful experience, let me tell you. Especially when your father-in-law captain recommends aiming it into the wind so that it doesn’t fly downwind and land on any leather boat cushions.
Captain T straightened out some things that had come off the walls before fastening nearly everything down and telling me to hold on to anything I could find. He flipped on the engine and guided the boat to turn around.
“Anything I can help with?” I asked.
“You can get us a couple of beers,” he said. “This is gonna be a rough re-entry.”
The next three hours, I watched my father-in-law in his element. Whereas I had spent the afternoon scared for my life, he was fighting mother nature like I imagined Captain Kidd would have done while guiding his ship from the shores of Madagascar back to New York Harbor. My father-in-law was magnificent. He relished in every challenge and every chance he got to steer clear of an oncoming swell or ride through a air pocket with ease.
No wonder this guy had flown planes for 35 years, I thought to myself.
It was a true mark of bravery. One that reduced me from a heroic and valiant wannabe pirate – into a lowly stowaway, longing to warm my feet by a fire while flipping through 298 television stations.
He dipped over waves and squinted through the wind like a cast member of Deadliest Catch. His beard had tiny icicles forming below his nostrils and he was doing it while wearing nothing but a cap, rubber jacket and a long sleeve shirt.
Meantime, I was in nine layers of long johns and two sweaters.
About two hours later, we safely made it back to the dock where I helped tie up some lines and put out ship bumpers so that we wouldn’t scratch the vessel. As I walked up the dock towards the house, I looked through the windows. I noticed the familiar positioning of my family. My wife was on the couch. The boy was yielding a lightsaber by the kitchen table and my mother-in-law stood cooking chili. I stopped and looked for a minute at this Rockwell-like serenity and for a moment, considered waiting for Captain T to come out of the boathouse so that he could share the praise with me. After all, we had survived the storm! We had made it through! We were men of action. True sea-dogs. Quite possibly the closest we would be to pirates our entire lives.
AMC’s unscripted series brings viewers into the captivating and provocative world of creative and competitive taxidermy. Hosted by ZACH SELWYN, Immortalized explores the passionate detail and artistic expression that goes into creating this compelling art. Each episode will feature one of four highly regarded “Immortalizers” facing off against a “Challenger” in a competition. Their task is to create a piece to be judged on three criteria: originality, craftsmanship and interpretation of the designated theme. Whether the artists are known for their classic or rogue creations, each week they will work to perfect this centuries-old art form in an unprecedented battle. “No Guts, All Glory.” Premieres Thu., Feb. 14 at 10/9c, only on AMC.