Zachariah’s new song explores the corporate logo marketing travesty that all of us 90’s kids endure every time we see a Nirvana or Ramones shirt for sale in Target or Wal-Mart. Back in 1992 I had to go to the concert to buy a $30 shirt. Now the logo is on onesies.
After Reading Sean Penn’s ‘El Chapo’ Piece, I Decided to See What my Old Pot Dealer From High School was Up to…
Recently, Sean Penn made headlines when he bravely traveled deep into the heart of Sinaloa to meet and converse with the notorious Mexican drug cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Right after the story went to press, El Chapo was captured – and his latest elusive time on the lam abruptly came to a close. Penn’s piece was published in Rolling Stone this week and I found it to be an engrossing piece of long lost Gonzo journalism at its finest. Penn, an actor, long known for his political involvement, put himself in the direct line of peril and danger all while partnering with a famous Mexican film actress to infiltrate the most impenetrable depths of Narco activity. He shook hands, broke bread and slammed tequila with a man that the DEA and Mexican authorities have been unable to locate for close to six months. In my opinion, Penn’s story was a hell of a lot more ballsy than anything else any pampered Hollywood actor has attempted in the past twenty years. (Sorry, Julia Roberts. Playing an AIDS-sensitive doctor in The Normal Heart may have been considered “daring” but it pales in comparison to a 55-year-old Oscar winner risking his life to traipse deep into a jungle of death for an interview for a rock-n-roll magazine).
So, inspired by Sean Penn’s courage, I decided that the recent stories and essays I have written have felt a little too “soft.” I realized that had to step it up. Knowing that I was traveling back to my hometown of Tucson to visit my mother on Martin Luther King, jr. weekend, I made up my mind that I was going to turn the trip into my own personal “El Chapo rendezvous.” I had a great idea…
My goal was to track down Ernesto Gregory, the most successful marijuana dealer in my high school. The last I had heard of Ernesto was through a photograph taken around 2011 by our mutual high school friend, Erik. He posted a picture of the two of them on Facebook drinking in the desert. Erik had captioned the photo with He’s finally out! Welcome home boss!”
Assuming that this caption insinuated that he had just been released from some high security prison, I was under the impression that Ernesto had built up an El Chapo-like narcotics network of hundreds of foot soldiers and truckloads of contraband over the past 18 years. Why else would he have been in jail? Why would Erik call him “boss?” Plus, he was wearing the typical outfit. A Large Polo Horse logo situated on a blue collared shirt on top of True Religion designer jeans. DEA agents call this look “Narco Polo.” Now I have seen Sicario. I’ve watched Breaking Bad. I had no doubt that Ernesto had risen from low-grade weed dealer at Rincon/University High School into a southwestern drug legend – living in ranches and mansions sprawled across the Tucson and Mexico landscape.
And I was going to interview him.
I was set to fly into Tucson International Airport on January 17th. My plan was to eat a bunch of food at my mother’s house, drink wine and play three games of Scrabble all while hearing her talk about how amazing The Revenant was. The following day, I would travel deep into the center of Tucson to meet up with and interview the most intimidating and bad-ass pot dealer my high school had known.
Back in 1993, Ernesto Gregory had owned the school’s finest lowered mini truck. He had a 200-dollar Motorola pager. His “system” – or car stereo – was as custom as they came, complete with an Alpine tape deck, a Sony Discman attachment, two 12-inch Kicker woofers, some Kenwood tweeters and a constant bass thump of MC Breed, DJ Magic Mike and Wrecks ‘N Effect blasting from his trunk. He had his own apartment on Speedway, decked out with a two-foot bong, a television with cable and an unlimited financial account on a sort of early 90’s YouTube video-on-demand predecessor known as “The Box.” He always wore a black Colorado Rockies cap and Marithe and Francois Girbaud jeans beneath over-sized t-shirts of ridiculous animated Looney Tunes characters wearing 90’s hip-hop clothing. His pager code for weed was “907.” His girlfriend was the hottest girl in the senior class – a dark-haired Mexican sex goddess named Racquel Hernandez. And he was tough. As far as we knew, he had never lost a fight. In fact, I recalled him once putting my friend from Hebrew School – Adam Richford – into a headlock and smashing his nose repeatedly until he apologized for “mad-dogging” him in the parking lot. He claimed he had connections through “uncles in Nogales,” where his product came from. And everybody knew, anyone with “uncles in Nogales” was always in the drug game… In short, Ernesto Gregory was the most accomplished 18-year-old kid I had laid eyes on in my young life.
After I landed, I told my mom about my plan.
“Why the hell are you meeting with this criminal?” My mother asked on the car ride from the airport.
“He was the king, mom!” I exclaimed. “Didn’t you read the Sean Penn article?”
“Sean Penn’s an idiot, going to interview that drug dealer!”
“I thought that story was genius,” I said. “Besides, what else am I going to write? Another story about my kids not being allowed to bring refined sugar to school?”
Following a few glasses of wine at the house, my mom was trying to convince me to go to Wal-Mart to buy a knife for the meeting. I assured her that Ernesto and I were in good standing and that no concealed weapons would be necessary. She broke into a desperate sweat. We played two games of Scrabble before deciding to put the third one on pause because we were so tired that word like “uh” and “is” had begun appearing on the board.
My final memory of the evening was listening to my mom curse my name before she went to bed in the other room.
The following morning I fueled up on eggs and coffee, not knowing when I would be back to the house. The afternoon’s plans had been Facebook “messaged” to me by Erik, who I quickly learned from his profile hadn’t left Tucson since graduation. Erik wrote me that Ernesto wasn’t on social media, but he mentioned that he did watch a lot of TV and he had even seen my History Channel show and had once commented, “I know that fucker!” He also told me that Ernesto had demanded that Erik take down the aforementioned photo he had posted in 2011. Sure enough, when I searched for it, it was no longer online… All this solidified my drug-lord theory even more.
Ernesto had agreed to meet at 12:30. I took off in my mother’s Acura and sped over to an address located in the shadow of the bar-heavy downtown area. A place much hipper and enticing than it had been back in the 90’s when druggies and skinheads and homeless wandered Congress Boulevard scaring off any young people looking for a good time. Must have been all the drug money given to the city by Ernesto, I theorized.
I parked in a dirt lot and immediately recognized Erik, who looked like he had been a meth fiend since about 1994. He wore a saggy shirt, filthy pants and sported a patchy beard and shaved head. He had a kid’s BMX bicycle in his pick up truck bed, which I took as also a sure sign of a man on crystal meth. For some reason, heavy meth addicts seemed to always travel on way-too-small dirt bikes. Erik wasn’t unlike them.
I looked up just as a helicopter darted above us in the sky. DEA drone, I thought. Of course. We were most likely being followed. Hell, who knew what corner or alleyway was outfitted with a hidden camera tracking Erik’s every move. Shit, maybe the FBI had caught on to my story as well? I mean, who’s to say they weren’t tracking Erik’s Facebook page when I sent him my original message? I was starting to hit an all-time level of paranoia. Even a pigeon that flapped above us and landed on a telephone wire looked like it had a hidden camera in its eye… I tried to keep my cool.
Knowing some of the narco protocol, I began preparing for my meeting with Ernesto.
“So, should I give you my iphone for safety precautions?” I asked Erik.
“What for?” He replied.
“Oh, I just assumed I wasn’t allowed to bring any electronics to the meeting,” I said.
“We aint goin on no airplane or nothin,” he replied.
At this point, my entire drug kingpin theory went out the window. After all, in the El Chapo story, Sean Penn was told to turn his phone off in Los Angeles, nearly 14 hours before he even made contact with the cartel in Mexico. He had been forced to travel to in two separate SUV’s, two single engine planes and armored vehicles just to meet with El Chapo’s henchmen before gaining approval. He was most likely given a full body cavity search, frisked and water-boarded. Ernesto’s lone henchman was a meth fiend named Erik who was allowing me to bring my iphone into a meeting as if I was about to pitch him a new Angry Birds app to finance… Ernesto’s notorious drug cartel was crumbling before my eyes.
“Follow my truck, we’re going to shoot pool at Pockets,” Erik said.
“Pockets? We’re not going to his house or something?” I asked.
“What house?” He said. “Ernesto likes to play pool. You play pool?”
“Sure, man – I love pool,” I said.
I hate pool.
Pockets was a stale billiard hall way too brightly lit for a Wednesday afternoon. A few biker types with chain wallets and denim jackets drank Miller High Life at the bar. A Mexican guy who looked to be on his 5th or 6th Corona sat watching a soccer game on TV. One lone female, a waitress who would have slept with Bad Blake in the movie Crazy Heart after he played a set at a bowling alley, served beer. In the far west corner stood a chubby man in an Arizona Wildcats baseball cap chalking up his cue. I recognized him immediately as Ernesto Gregory.
His face had filled in and he had put on close to 35 pounds. By his footwear and saggy jeans I could tell that he hadn’t done much to change his fashion choices during the past 22 years. He wore Jordan sneakers, which were probably eight years old and had accumulated a slew of new arm tattoos, including one portrait of a woman who looked a lot like a fatter version of Racquel Hernandez. He drank what I would soon learn was Jack Daniel’s and Diet Coke and was constantly adjusting his pants from the crotch area. My first thought was that the most accomplished 18-year-old I had ever known had become the sloppiest 40-year-old I had seen in some time.
“Zach Selwyn!” He announced as I nervously approached the pool table. “What up Hollywood!”
Oh boy. He was going to call me Hollywood the rest of the day, I knew it.
“I seen you on that TV show about the words and shit!”
“Yeah, America’s Secret Slang, thanks man.”
“Yeah, American Slang! That’s it, what up big homie?”
“Nada man, just trying to catch up with some old friends, ya know?”
“Well shit, let’s shoot some stick.”
Ernesto racked up some balls and began rattling off shots. He was a damn good pool player and I knew that even at my best – which was pretty terrible – I was about to be embarrassed. But, he told me to pick a cue and even though it was 1:30 in the afternoon, I ordered a pitcher of Bud Light. The waitress brought it over and charged me for it. It cost $3.75.
As Ernesto sank shot after shot, we never once discussed drug dealing. In fact, we spent most of our time talking about girls from high school that he had always wanted to screw. Turns out, he thought I was some Olympic-level cocksman in my teens and he assumed that I had slept with every cute girl in our high school. As he dug up names from the past, I could only laugh and try to remember who some of these girls even were. Most of them I had never been intimate with, but to placate Ernesto, I played along.
“Paula Schrapner? Yeah, I nailed her,” I said. Not true.
“Jen Robbins? Blow job,” I lied.
“Did you ever get together with Laura House?” Ernesto asked. “She was DOPE!”
“Uh, we just kissed,” I said, which was actually true. One New Years Eve 1992, we had briefly kissed.
“Man, I wonder what she’s up to now?” He said, staring off at a neon sign.
As the beers flowed, I was finding that I was having a hard time getting anything out of Ernesto. He was stuck in 1993, still pining for girls who were long married, divorced and even had kids in high school of their own. He remembered football games that I hadn’t even thought about in 20 years and quoted our Economics teacher Mr. Franklin from a class I didn’t even recall taking. When I took a second to ask him about Racquel Hernandez and what happened to their relationship, he grew silent, took out a vape pen and pulled long and hard.
“You know we have three kids, right?”
“I did not know that,” I said. “Congrats. I have two. How old?”
“19, 17 and 15,” he said. “But the 15-year-old has blue eyes and blonde hair – aint no way that kid’s mine. We broke up 12 years ago. My second wife bailed on me last year. Bitch.”
Wow. Here I was, stressing out about my 9 and 5-year-old kids in Los Angeles and this guy had been divorced twice and had three kids in high school – one who he was convinced wasn’t even his. I suddenly felt like every pampered Hollywood asshole I have come to despise.
“Hey Hollywood, you never slept with Racquel, did you?” He asked.
“What? Hell no!”
There was a sudden silence. Erik looked ready to tear out my jugular. Ernesto stared me down. This was what Adam Richford would call “mad-dogging.” My mom was right… I should have bought that knife.
“Man, I’m just playing!” He said. “You should see your face, you looked like a little bitch just now!”
Everybody laughed. I pounded my beer. It was then that I decided that I had to get the whole story right here or else I was going to end up on the wrong end of a bong in the south side of Tucson come six o’clock, getting high and watching some show like Ridiculousness on a Futon. I found my courage and lowered my voice to a whisper.
“So, Ernesto – you still in the weed game?” I asked.
Ernesto looked at me and laughed. He looked at Erik and then back to the pool table.
“Man, I aint dealt weed since high school,” he said.
“I thought you went to jail or something?” I inquired.
“Shit man… I shot some endangered pregnant salamander with a rifle during bow-hunting season. Thank God it didn’t die… Luckily I only did two nights in county jail, man. Sucked ass.”
He had shot a pregnant salamander with a rifle during bow-hunting season? He did two nights in county jail? El Chapo had done something like seven years in maximum security before his first escape… As far as I know, he never complained either. Here was my one-time narcotics hero admitting to me that he was scared after doing two measly nights for shooting a fucking lizard. My story was falling apart.
“So, what about the last 15 years? I mean, what have you done for work?” I asked.
Ernesto sunk a 9 ball and looked up at me.
“I repair windshields, man. Over at Glassworx on Speedway.”
I watched him return to the table. My heart sank as he finished off the game by dropping the eight ball perfectly in the side pocket. My story was over. The most notorious drug dealer I had known had become a windshield repair guy. There was no mansion in the hills, no ranch house in Nogales… and no harem of sexy Mexican women. Ernesto had gone straight and my story was dead.
“Why do you ask, homie?” Ernesto inquired. “You need weed?”
Being that my story was a bust, I figured that the very least I could do was to go on one more pot buying deal in my old hometown. Maybe the dealer would be the drug kingpin I was looking for and I could write something about him instead.
“Yeah, sure man. Just a little bit to get me through the next two days.”
“Well, my dude sells dime bags over at hole 14 at the Golf N’ Stuff on Tanque Verde if you want to pick one up,” Ernesto said.
Dime bag? Golf N’ Stuff? I wasn’t interested. The last thing I needed was to buy Mexican weed from a kid at the same place where I had celebrated my 11-year-old birthday party. It just didn’t seem right.
“No that’s cool, man,” I replied. “I gotta get home anyway – maybe we can hook up tomorrow or something.”
“Are you sure?” He said. “This kid gets good shit… he has a couple of uncles in Nogales.”
Of course he did. I threw a five-dollar tip on the wooden table and finished off my beer. I high-fived Erik and Ernesto, promised to be in touch and promptly drove back to my mother’s house where I found her nervously pacing the living room like I was 15 again and out with a senior at my first high school party.
We opened a bottle of wine and finished our game of Scrabble…
The following is an email chain I exchanged with my Hollywood agent, who I have paid 10 percent of my income to these past ten years. In that past decade, he’s brokered a deal or two for me and has also bought me lunch three times. His agency is a big one, but I am a lowly peon in the cable TV hosting game, dwindling way beneath the Seacrests and Trebeks of the world. However, I am undoubtedly the biggest sports fan on the roster. Which is why, as a die hard NBA fan, I began asking him for tickets to the agency “luxury suite” four months ago to watch the Los Angeles Clippers play the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Staples Center on January 16, 2015…
Oct. 12, 2014.
From ME: Yo – Looking for Clippers – Cavs tickets on Jan 16 2015. I think the Cavs are gonna be great this year – and their new coach is a mastermind. Clips look strong too. Both teams will be in top playoff mode around January. If possible, might I be able to get into the agency box seats that night? Asking early to make sure… Thx – Z
From AGENT: Z! Of course buddy. Emailing tickets guy. You need two, right?
From Me: Yes Thank you so much.
Nov. 8, 2014.
From ME: Checking in on Clippers – Cavs tix for January. Has anyone asked about them? Thx – Z.
From AGENT: You’re #1 on the list. I got you covered big Z.
From Me: U Rule. Thx.
Dec. 9, 2014.
From ME: Hey brother – any news on those tickets? It’s getting close and I want to make sure I get in here before the office shuts down for holiday season.
From AGENT: Thank you for your email. Our offices have closed until January 7, 2015.
Jan 7. 2015.
From ME: My dude. Zach here – Hope your holidays were awesome… I was in Seattle with the fam. Checking in on Clippers – Cavs game for January 16. Wanted to see if you could email the tickets to me? Or maybe messenger them? Very excited – thank you sooo much.
From AGENT: Hey Z. Checking in with tickets guy again today.
Jan 8. 2015.
From ME: Any news?
From AGENT: Hang tight.
Jan. 12, 2015.
From ME: Hey man, sorry to bother you – but game is in 4 days – trying to figure out babysitter and all that stuff… Looking forward to seeing LeBron.
From AGENT: (No reply).
Jan 16, 2015.
From AGENT: Hey Z, so sorry bud but we had an overflow of ticket requests for this game… Apparently both teams are playing really well. Matthew Perry snapped up a pair this morning and Giuliana Rancic is top of the list for the other pair. Sorry bud. We’ll get you into a game. I know we have seats for the Lakers – Nuggets on February 10… Chace Crawford just turned them down.
In the world of celebrity, free stuff is king. Matthew Perry and his 500 million dollars does not need free basketball tickets… Plus, he’s sober, so all the free booze in the luxury box was going to be ignored anyway. Giuliana Rancic? Or DiPandi or whatever her name is? Are you kidding me? She makes fun of celebrity dresses for a living. She probably heard the word “Cavs” and thought it was a leg workout. And Lakers – Nuggets tickets? The Lakers are led by a guy who is famous for being Iggy Azaleia’s boyfriend. Kobe is out for the year. They’re not exactly a hot ticket. The point was, I was not considered successful enough to snag the Clippers tickets. I was looking at some washed up pretty boy from Gossip Girl named Chace Crawford’s rejects… Perry and Rancic were gonna be on their iphones in the suite the entire time and most of the so-called Hollywood celebrities who were going to the game probably think “Chris Paul” is a type of champagne.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, the Lakers were all that mattered. They had Del Harris, a young Kobe, Van Exel was being name-checked in Jay-Z songs, Eddie Jones and huge NBA stoner Sam Perkins. (Who looked blazed in 99% of his games). My friends and I would drop $25.00 to sit in the nosebleed section of the Forum just to catch a fading glimpse of what the legendary teams of the 80’s left behind. They were likeable underdogs who fought hard and always battled. Then came Shaq. And Phil Jackson and Kobe became Kobe. Those were the last years I liked the Lakers. Kobe lost his appeal when he shaved his mini afro and faced his legal troubles. Still, going to games was fun because, hey – going to the games are always fun. Still, these last ten years I stopped rooting for them and began just appreciating all professional basketball in general.
Now, Los Angeles is all about the Clippers. A recent text from a buddy read: Lakers are for Fakers…I’m going to the Clips game. The abundance of Lakers flags that people used to display from outside of their car’s windows are long gone. The sea of purple and gold has been replaced by red, white and blue. And let me tell you, I have never seen anyone play pick-up basketball while wearing a Carlos Boozer jersey.
Still, the luxury box is indeed, luxurious. I emailed my agent back a few days later and accepted the Lakers – Nuggets tickets. At least I could see Arizona Wildcat-alum Jordan Hill and possibly watch a few Jeremy Lin up–and-unders. Plus, my brother is a huge hoops fan as well and neither of us are Matthew Perry – sober. Watching two out-of-the-playoff race teams loaf up and down the court over free hot dogs and Stella Artois isn’t a bad way to spend a Tuesday night.
I emailed my agent a week before the game to make sure he could send the tickets over.
Feb. 3, 2015
From ME: Hey man – excited for Lakers – Nugs game on Tuesday… Can you messenger the tickets or email them? Thx brother – Z
From AGENT: Yo, Z – Hey man… looking into this. Looks like Chace Crawford might want the tickets after all… but it depends on if we can get him seats on the floor or not.
From ME: You’re fired.
When it was all said and done, Chace Crawford ended up not going, so I snagged the tickets. The game was poorly attended and didn’t even get exciting until the 4th quarter. Jack Nicholson wasn’t there. Neither was Leo. Or any other familiar celebrity face that we have all come to associate with the Lakers. Instead, it was my brother and myself, sitting amongst a bunch of 22-year-old agent assistants in the luxury suite, sipping Stella Artois and filling up the stat sheet with junk food.
I looked long and hard down at the floor as the game wound down. I was having the time of my life. I guess watching LeBron James would have been a lot more entertaining, but this was still a pretty awesome way to see a basketball game. As a sports lover, sometimes it doesn’t even matter who is playing. And after Swaggy P made a three-pointer and did the eye goggles gesture with his hands, I suddenly became a Lakers fan again for the first time in ten years.
And as I squinted hard at the row of folks seated on the floor, I believe I recognized a celebrity typing away into his iphone three seats down from the Lakers bench.
It was Chase Crawford.
Buy Zach’s newest album “Skywriting” on itunes NOW!
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:
Ever wonder why you get “3 Sheets to the Wind?” Why you make money “Hand over Fist?” Why you’re called a “Slacker?” JOIN ME on the HIGH SEAS on H2 – History tonight for an all new episode of #Secretslang 9pm/10pm est on H2
YO HO YO HO A PIRATES LIFE FOR ME…
ZACH TO READ A STORY FROM HIS NEW BOOK” TALENT WILL GET YOU NOWHERE” at POWERHOUSE WEDNESDAY NIGHT! Hollywood & Highland!
Zach’s hit show “Americas Secret Slang” – premieres MAY 31 at 9 est/10 pst on H2 @more2history – live tweet #slang – PLEASE TUNE IN!!! The series consists of 8 hour-long episodes and will be the most educational, entertaining and enjoyable TV you watch all summer long!
We’re “Back in the Saddle” and “That Cat does NOT have our tongue…”… LOOK for Zach and the crew of History Channel’s hit series, “America’s Secret Slang” around America these next few months — shooting and uncovering the hidden history of America’s slang phrases, terms and words. If you see us, SAY HI!!
Season 2 premieres on History Channel and H2 in May! – You just got that, “Straight from the horse’s Mouth”