Zach and Missi Pyle have a new podcast called “Missi and Zach Might Bang!” Exec. Produced by Anna Faris and Sim Sarna of “Anna Faris is Unqualified” – the show takes on celebrity guests, improvisational music and offers entertainment business advice as well! Head to http://www.ewpopfest.com to buy tickets now!!!
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…
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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…
see below! Zach brings his worldwide knowledge of slang words to Sirius XM/ Shade 45’s hip-hop radio show “THE ALL OUT SHOW” once a month. Make sure to listen in and hear Zach and Jude play origin games and chop up the English language… on SHADE45 Sirius/XM
This past weekend, I decided to have a yard sale. It sounded like the perfect idea. A fun and social way for me to unload the over-crowded boxes that had been shoved in the back of my garage and turn them into some serious cash. After all, who wouldn’t want to buy my old snap button western shirts I once wore on tour with my band? Or my vintage t-shirt collection that ranged from soft 1970’s Wild Turkey Bourbon logos to an original Rick Springfield Working Class Dog Hanes Beefy-T? Or even the dozens of valuable beer coozies I had collected rifling through Goodwill crates across the country that I just never used? And what neighborhood fashionista wouldn’t jump at the chance to own a pair of my wife’s designer leather pants for a steal at $100? Or any of the hundreds of blouses she had earned working in the fashion industry for twenty years? The way I saw it, my yard sale was more of a vintage pop-up shop than a junk sale – and I was expecting nothing but a hipster, gypsy crowd with millennial money in their wallets and a dream of buying an old suede fringe vest on their minds.
Oh how wrong I was.
The Craigslist ad I had placed stated that the sale would begin at 7 o’clock in the morning. However, a crowd of freakish haggling ghouls began showing up at 5:30, knocking on my pre-dawn door asking me if I would give them a sneak peak into my wares before everybody else arrived. Some came by van, others by bike. One man, I had assumed by the sleeping bag he carried, had camped out on our sidewalk the night before like we were about to release tickets to a One Direction concert. Suddenly, having a yard sale became somewhat frightening but I thought of all the time it would save me having to deal with ebay and those pesky fees, shipping costs and trips to the post office.
Our first early morning visitors were two Spanish-speaking men who were very interested in knowing if we had any “tools for sale.” Having only owned a screwdriver, some nails and a hammer in my illustrious DIY carpentry career, I calmly told them no – before inquiring if they would be interested in a brass Jackson Browne belt buckle.
“No, gracias,” the older gentleman said. He took a look at my daughter’s rusty Frozen decorated bicycle before driving off.
The guy with the sleeping bag asked if we had any bedding and/or pillows for sale. I told him no, and asked him if he’d be interested in a Jane Fonda Workout vinyl record.
Our next visitor arrived around 6:00 a.m. She was an older, haggard bag lady who had over 45 satchels draped off of her weathered bicycle. In the knapsack that was slung around her shoulder she carried an actual brass tai-chi sword that she insisted on wielding in front of my son in a terrible re-enactment of her early morning lesson she had just taken in Griffith Park. After frolicking around the sidewalk like Westley in The Princess Bride for 25 minutes, she finally walked in and inquired about buying some iron rods and curtain rings we had recently taken down from our inside windows. Originally, these rods were purchased for $300 when my wife was doing some interior decorating to her old home in Laurel Canyon. Feeling generous, I offered her the rods and rings – with the curtains included – for $200. She stared at me as if she was about to run me through with her weapon. She mumbled something beneath her breath and eventually moved onto the junk table I had assembled in the back corner. She picked up a set of hippopotamus salt-and-pepper shakers and giggled while examining them.
“These are fun,” she exclaimed.
“My mom brought me those from Morocco,” I told her, lying. In reality they were Goodwill purchases I had used as a prop in a film I had made with my brother in 2011.
“Could you do ten bucks?”
Again, she laughed and twirled around the yard and started speaking what seemed like French to nobody in particular. She wrote her name down in a tiny notebook she had hidden in her stocking, ripped the page out and handed it to me. As she pressed it into my palm, she whispered, “Call me when you realize you’re asking way too much money for everything.”
I looked at the slip of paper. Her name was Laurette Soo-Chin-Wei Lorelai.
Around 7:15, the floodgates began to open. More and more groups began appearing, asking for mainly larger items such as furniture and floor lamps. I was somewhat amazed that no one had snapped up the Crosley turntable, the Pablo Neruda collection of poetry or the coffee table book Nudie: The Rodeo Tailor. After 45 minutes, I was beginning to wonder if that sword-carrying woman was correct… Was I charging too much?
I quickly Googled Yard Sale Etiquette.
According to yard sale laws, the average price of most of your items that are not bulky or still in the packaging – should be around $1.00. My average item was in the 5-10 dollar range, and in my mind, totally reasonable. It wasn’t until I made my first sale that I had a change of direction for the rest of the afternoon.
In 2007 or so, I had bought my son a collectible Star Wars denim jacket with R2-D2 and C-3PO sewn on the back at a trendy Farmer’s Market for $45. Even though he had probably thrown up and peed on it a few dozen times during his toddler-hood, I felt that $30 was a fair asking price. When I mentioned this to the interested woman who had been measuring it up against her own 3-year-old’s torso, she scoffed and hung it back on the rack.
“Ay de mi!” She said in Spanish.
Determined to make my first sale, I decided to bargain with her.
Now, I come from a long line of world-class bargainers. My mother and late grandma used to waltz through Canal Street in New York City with peacock-like confidence, able to nudge an unwavering vendor into dropping the price on an imitation Louis Vitton handbag from 500 dollars to roughly 50 cents in under three-minutes. Together they played the street like silver-tongued Jewish barter hounds, satisfied only when departing the area with 3-5 purses, imitation Rolexes and fake Prada luggage beneath their arms. They have been taking me to the secret inner space of fake handbags since I was about two-years-old and as far back as I can remember, they were the Ronda Rouseys of price negotiating… In fact, I recall one legendary trip where my mother actually made a profit while buying a purse.
Throughout the years, I have mastered the talent myself, but mainly when talking down a woman who once offered to cornrow my hair on the beach in Puerto Vallarta. I have also, never really been the haggled, only the haggler… Nevertheless, I felt that my family history had prepared me to challenge this woman over the Star Wars jacket to the very end… and I would not give in.
“Maam, could you do 25?” I asked.
“How about one dollar,” she said.
“What?” I screamed. “This is Star Wars! Like, collectible!”
“Senor, I will give you two dollars.”
At this point I knew my grandmother was watching down from heaven like a boxing trainer watching her prizefighter take hits in the ring. I refused to back down, so I just slowly lowered my price until she agreed. I decided I would not go lower than 18 dollars.
“20 bucks,” I said.
“3 dollars,” She barked,
“18?” I pleaded.
“Adios, senor,” she said, walking away. Oh my God! What was wrong here? Had I lost the sale? Was I going to be stuck with this jacket in my garage for the next 30 years? Like most hoarders I thought to myself, maybe when my son has a kid of his own, he will give this to him… but I knew that was a long way off. Finally, I surrendered. Mainly as a way to break the ice and make my first sale of the day.
“Maam? 3 dollars is fine,” I said. The lady reached in her wallet.
“How about two?” She offered.
I paused. I looked up at grandma, undoubtedly shaking her head in disappointment from that great Nordstrom’s Rack in the sky.
“Fine,” I said. She pressed two wrinkly dollars into my hands and just like that, I was $42 in the hole, but I had made my first sale of the day.
As the day wore on, my prices dipped lower and lower. I sold a handful of action figures for .25 cents a piece, a stack of vintage T-shirts for a dollar each and had the day’s biggest score when an unopened buffet dish that we had received for our wedding in 2004 went for $4.00. Nearly every item of clothing I was selling dropped in price by 99% by noon. My wife’s leather pants went for two bucks. The Rick Springfield shirt went for a dollar, as did the Mumford and Sons shirt, some Jack Daniel’s glasses and a silver booze flask that had an engraving of a man bass-fishing while naked. As the yard emptied, my wallet grew fatter and fatter – albeit with one-dollar bills – until I found myself exhausted, bored and anxiously wanting to count the bankroll in my pocket. My guess was that I had made $100 or so, based on the flurry of quick deals I made unloading the DVD collection, stacks of children’s books and my unbelievably large collection of novelty trucker hats… which had sold to some professional tree service men who had been working on a job a few blocks down. (Which might explain why if you drove by Franklin Avenue last weekend, you saw six guys on ladders wearing hats with My Other Car is Your Mom on them).
The most disgusting sale of the day went to the three ladies who argued over who would get to wear my wife’s used LuLuLemon Yoga pants. In retrospect, I probably could have sold them to some perverted Japanese businessmen in a vending machine for $60 a piece. Instead, I settled for – yep you guessed it – a dollar.
A crisis struck when I sold my son’s old Nintendo Wii console for ten bucks. Originally, he had wanted $100 for it… Which is 90 dollars more than what the smug bastards at GameStop will give you for the same item. Convincing him that I was a master salesman, I let him give me the Wii to sell at the yard sale instead. Sadly, I buckled early and let it go for $10.00 and I threw in some accessory called a Skylanders Portal. Not even sure that the console worked, I was just happy that I had made a double-digit sale. My son was not thrilled at all.
“You’re the WORST!” He screamed at me. “That was worth at least 300 dollars!”
One thing that kids fail to recognize is how fast technology loses value in today’s ever-changing world. Still, there was very little convincing him that I had struck a decent deal and he continuously stuck his head out the door and screamed at me for my “epic fail.” Ultimately, I ended up giving him the ten bucks even though I was the one who had bought him the original console for $275 back in 2010. Screw technology.
Around 4, the traffic had dwindled down to some neighbors, who we basically just handed items for free to get the stuff off of our property. Although it seemed like a bunch of things had been sold, I was still staring down a massive pile of clothes and books and toys and albums and knick-knacks and just straight up garbage. I prayed for some Saudi billionaire to walk in with a briefcase full of cash and just tell me he was taking the whole lot for $50. Alas, it looked as if my day was over. I cracked a beer and peed on a cactus.
And then, like a boll weevil out of a nearby hedge, Laurette Soo-Chin-Wei Lorelai re- appeared, tai chi sword in hand, pushing her bike in my direction with a Cheshire cat-like simper on her face.
Like a panther she strutted around the sale, inquiring about every single item remaining. She decided to mention that she was a regular on “the scene” and that she could tell you what was going to sell the minute she sets foot in someone’s rummage sale. She offered to help me whittle down my items to try and resell the next day for the bargain price of 10 dollars an hour… I relented. All I was thinking was “get the hell out of my yard.”
I started gathering everything that was left over and throwing them in boxes. She suddenly slid next to me, holding the iron curtain rods, the rings and the hippopotamus salt-and-pepper shakers from earlier.
“Ready to make a deal?” She asked.
“Lady,” I said. “Give me five dollars and go back to whatever hole you crawled out of.”
She handed over a bill, pressing it into my palm and stared directly into my eyes.
“Told you so,” she said.
That night I didn’t finish cleaning up. I was too wiped out. I left the majority of my once valuable wardrobe out for whoever in the neighborhood wanted it. A few things disappeared, which I didn’t even care about. It might be cool to see the neighborhood homeless guy wearing my old Blues Traveler T-shirt.
The next morning I threw all the remaining crap into my car and drove it directly to the Out of the ClosetThrift Store. I shoved it into a filthy back room along with thousands of other donations. As we unloaded all the boxes and unsold clothes and books and toys, they asked me if I thought the huge haul of stuff was worth more than $500. After all, a big donation would serve as a great tax write-off at the end of the year. Unaware of this little loophole, I figured that, yes – this crap was definitely worth more than $500.
They gave me a slip to present to my tax preparer and I drove home, satisfied that I had at least made a donation that would help me out financially.
As for my bankroll, I finally had the chance to count my earnings at the end of the sale. For nine hours of bargaining, labor and sweating under 100-degree weather, I had made a grand total of $47.
Somewhere up in heaven, my grandma was shaking her head in disappointment…
When I was 16, it Took Me Two Weeks to Figure Out Who Sang Nights in White Satin…
By Zach Selwyn
It was early summer 1991. I was driving around Tucson on another hot day listening to the classic rock station 96.1 KLPX in my ’88 Dodge Lancer when I first heard the tail end of the song Nights in White Satin. The melody was haunting and seemed like the kind of ghostly and sexy voice I could put on a future mix tape for some girl. I didn’t know what a “night in white satin” was or who the band was or why it grabbed me like it did, but when the song finally ended, the radio DJ moaned into the microphone that that song always took him back to “a magical time when love was free and gas was cheap.” (Gas was .99 cents a gallon in 1991, BTW.)
Sadly, the DJ did not finish his tag. He never mentioned who sang the song or what it was called. I assumed it was titled Nights in White Satin. But I had no way of confirming this. There was no space age device or Shazam app in my hand that I could hit and get instant answers from a satellite above that had every solution to every question man has ever pondered. I actually had to do some research.
I wrote the song title down on a Jack-in-the-Box napkin I had in my car and sped home as fast as I could to call the radio station… From my mother’s landline.
Since that was during the “96.1 Days of Summer” promotion when Tucsonans were feverishly competing to win tickets to a Joe Satriani concert taking place at Tucson Raceway Park in July – the line was constantly busy. I could NOT get through. I even called the pop radio station 93.7 to ask the 25-year-old DJ if he knew the answer. His response?
“We don’t have that song, bro.”
I was dying to figure out who sang it. Since my music-obsessed stepfather was at one of his countless rehab centers that did not allow human contact from behind sober walls, I had to ask my friends at school, who were only interested in Nirvana, Digital Underground and the Black Crowes at the time. Nobody knew. Only one buddy had even heard the song.
And he swore it was Rush. I knew it wasn’t Rush.
Finally, on my weekly sleepover at my father’s house, I had to ask my dad – who, although he is truly one of the smartest men I have ever known – is not much for rock-n-roll trivia.
“Pretty sure it’s a Neil Diamond song,” he exclaimed.
That did it. I spent the next week saving up my bread and thinking Neil Diamond sang Nights in White Satin. Finally I took $20 from my job bussing tables – and went to the local record store called Zips. I acted nonchalant and cool – like all record store shoppers used to act when they would walk into a place with so many options… You wanted to appear focused. If you have ever been to an Amoeba Records in LA or San Francisco, you know the swagger you want to have when you walk in. You want to impress the clerks. You can’t look lost around the other customers. You want to appear as if you know exactly what you are looking for.
I headed towards the rock section. I started thumbing through Neil Diamond CDs. The big cardboard box ones. The CD packaging that was soon banned by the Environmental Protection Agency – although they somehow let the plastic that now pollutes half of our oceans remain as the primary packaging for compact discs. If I ever come across that massive plastic floating island in the middle of the Pacific, I’m gonna be amazed at just how many CD jewel cases compose the island’s largest volcano.
Anyway, I rifled away through Neil Diamond. I could not find Nights in White Satin. I looked at the Neil Young section as well, just in case my dad had simply “mixed up his Neil’s.” No luck. Finally, I realized I had to do what every young music loving record shopper dreads the most at a retail store: I had to interact with an actual employee.
After fooling around with some buttons and stickers near the register, I eventually mustered up the courage to raise my voice above the din of the shitty hair band that was playing from the speakers in the ceiling.
“Hey man, do you know which Neil Diamond album Nights in White Satin is on?”
The dude momentarily stopped filling out the plastic rack card he was illustrating in red Sharpie for Alice in Chains.
“Neil Diamond?” He chortled. “That’s not Neil Diamond. That’s the Moody Blues.”
What? The Moody Blues? That shitty band that sang Ride My See-Saw? Impossible.
“Yeah, look in the prog rock section,” he explained.
Fuck me. I was going to the prog rock section? I never went to the prog rock section. I hated bands like Yes and early Genesis and what?!? I refused to go to the prog rock section and gasp! Buy a prog rock CD??
Listen. In 1991 broke teenagers didn’t have illegal or easy 99 cent download services. Or streaming. Or YouTube. Or any cassette singles that were made in 1967 when Nights in White Satin was recorded. I had but two really expensive choices… I could to plunk down the 16.99 for the actual album the song first appeared on, which was called Days of Future Passed… Or, I could play it a little safer and spend 18.99 on Voices in the Sky: The Best of the Moody Blues.
Either way, I was throwing my money blindly at 13 unknown songs. I decided to go with Voices in the Sky because it just sounded trippy and like something I might “get high to” someday. I brought it up towards the front where the clerk informed me that if I bought two “same artist” CD’s I would get a coupon for three dollars off. Luckily I passed on that amazing offer.
So, I was roughly twenty dollars invested into the Moody fucking Blues. I had recently dropped $195 on a sweet Blaupunkt Pull-out tape deck for my ride at the local stereo shop, and I had also scored a Sony Discman-cassette adapter so that I could have CD-quality sound in my car at all times. Assuming my batteries weren’t low, of course… So, I loaded up the Discman and rolled my windows down and began a very brief relationship with the Moody Blues.
The first song was Ride My See Saw. Skip. Then another clunker. Skip. Soon, however, the songs got a tad more interesting… Never Comes the Day was soaring and anthemic, and Question had some Stones-y undertones… but the sheer annoyance of Talking out of Turn or I’m Just a Singer in a Rock-N-Roll Band was so hard for this kid from the lowest corner of the desert to accept that I had to move ahead to Nights in White Satin for the remainder of my drive home.
My stepfather returned from rehab two weeks later and I showed him my recent musical purchases. He approved highly of the Byrds and the Doors Greatest Hits, but he scoffed immediately when he saw the Voices in the Sky CD I had purchased. His complaint was simple… And was very understood.
“You’re such a stooge, man – you didn’t buy a Moody Blues CD with Tuesday Afternoon on it?” He scoffed. “That’s like, their best song ever!”
Two weeks later, I had saved up enough money to buy a second Moody Blues Greatest Hits CD. One that had Tuesday Afternoon on it. I swear to God. This collection, called Legend of a Band ran me $14.99 and introduced me to a trippier longer version of Nights in White Satin as well as the poppy foppishness of the hit Your Wildest Dreams.
(For the record, my stepfather could have changed my life if he had just said, “Screw the Moody Blues, go listen to the Kinks.”)
To this day, Voices in the Sky and Legend of a Band both sit in gargantuan CD cases in my office that have been collecting dust since around 1994. In the same case are thousands of CD’s that set me back 14.99 here and 17.99 there. From Phil Collins to 3rd Bass to that fucking Oasis album that came out after …What’s the Story Morning Glory. We all have them. Resting in our garages and attics, taunting us like medals of adolescence that will forever brand us as the parents who tell our kids that they need to do some research once in awhile because “nobody’s going to do it for you.”
Well, we better be careful. This new generation’s problem is that everybody is doing it for them.
As I paid my bills this month, and looked over the CD collection I have amassing in my house that is worth nothing but fond memories, I thought back to that hard earned $18.99 and $14.99 I had dropped on those CD’s back in 1991. That’s a lot of money for a kid. That’s a lot of money for a lot of people. The music industry sure did take advantage of us, didn’t they? Then again, without them, we wouldn’t have what we have. As I sent off another online bill to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power at that very moment, I thought to myself that all that disposable high school income sure would be really helpful right now.
And then I pulled out that CD case, got stoned and listened to Nights in White Satin…
Out of Touch at The Dream Hotel * 2015 By Zach Selwyn
It was two-o-clock in the morning and I was standing on the street outside the Dream Hotel in New York City when a slick looking hustler in a Panama hat sided up to me.
“You looking for girls tonight?” He said.
“Naah man, I’m just trying to get some air.”
“You sure? Just up those stairs across the street is all kinds of hoes… I’m talking Thai girls, Russians, Mamis… You ever bang a bad bitch?”
“What exactly is a bad bitch?” I asked.
“If you don’t know, then you’ve never banged one…”
I have been in New York City for roughly 36 hours. In that time, I have averaged 4 hours of sleep a night, eaten 7 street hot dogs and drank close to 19 cups of bad deli coffee. I have also realized that I am the most out of touch loser in the city. The average Manhattan man around my age is sporting a hundred dollar undercut and a long beard – which is eerily similar to L.A. (With only a few less Man-Buns). The difference is, these guys are also rocking 3,000 dollar Ted Baker suits and wingtips. As for me, I am wearing a 1970’s – era Wrangler cowboy shirt, some Lee Riders from the early 80’s and a pair of ¾ boots I scored from a TV show wardrobe department about 4 years ago. My hair is pretty tame and I still have Beverly Hills 90210-era sideburns. I’m also wearing a trucker cap that reads “Roy Clark” on it, bellbottoms and a belt buckle that features Chester the Cheetah riding a Harley motorcycle beneath the inscription “Cheesy Rider.”
I feel a little like Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy because NOBODY is dressed like me. Funny thing is, this is how I have been dressing for 15 years. A few years back, in the early 00’s, everybody started dressing like this. Now, those days are long gone and I’m the only guy on 8th Avenue wearing a shirt that unsnaps when you tear it apart and a turquoise ring.
And apparently, I have no idea what a “bad bitch” is.
I realized I was grossly under-dressed when I attended the first business dinner with the company I am working for. I figured it would be a quick bite at a local bar, but it turned into the type of place where they asked me to remove my hat as I sat down. The next day, at the company’s request, I made my way to a J. Crew to try and find something respectable that I would feel comfortable wearing. I settled on a checkered red, white and blue button-down and some horrendously skinny jeans. The price? $254.
When the sales associate asked me “how my sock game” was, I told him, “Fine. I buy all my socks at Ross: Dress for Less.”
“How’s your shoe game?” He asked.
“I have these nice ¾ boots,” I said.
“Uggh, please – nobody is wearing ¾ boots anymore,” he retorted. “You need some wings!”
I walked out of the store.
I couldn’t place my finger on it, but Manhattan had begun to seem too cookie cutter. I guess I was aware of the Duane Reade explosion and the Starbucks on every corner, but I was not prepared for the fashion clones that had sprouted up everywhere. Sure I was ten years older than the average guy out on a Wednesday night, but even I could sense a lack of originality. New York City, which was once full of punk street kids, trendsetters and Mapplethorpe-worshipping leather daddies sticking whips in their asses and walking into a Saks Fifth Avenue, had become somewhat tame.
I recently read an interview with AdRock of the Beastie Boys talking about how the “New York of his youth had disappeared.” I was beginning to understand what he was talking about. Manhattan in the 70’s and 80’s – before the crackdowns and the $8200 a month rent – was an artistic and fantastic place to be. These were the days before the smelly Times Square Jack Sparrows. Before Hell’s Kitchen was a gentrified hipster paradise. In the late 80’s I would visit my second cousin and roll down Canal Street to buy fake Gucci jackets, leather African medallion necklaces and a bootleg cassette of LL Cool J’s Walking With a Panther. The tape-dealers would offer me “smoke,” which scared the crap out of me. At one point, my mom dragged me away from a couple of black guys who were standing around Washington Square Park discussing the new Bobby Brown On Our Own song from Ghostbusters II. I tried to inject some white boy wisdom by saying I thought Bobby should’ve written a second rap verse instead of repeating the “Too hot to handle, too cold to hold” line and they ignored me as if I was “Chester the Terrier” following around the bigger “Spike the Bulldog” in the Looney Tunes cartoons.
The only exception I could find was in the Dream Hotel. The first couple of nights I was in town, I took it easy, stayed in my room, watched TV and had sex with the full-length pillow. However, a hotel room can only hold you captive for so long and eventually I came downstairs to find out where the notorious dark side of this fantastic city had wound up. I now believe it all centers around the Dream Hotel. Within an hour of hanging in the lobby, I was propositioned by more pimps, hustlers, hoes and drug dealers than I have seen in 20 years in Los Angeles. Methy looking skinny teenagers were offering me weed, cocaine and what they claim is “Government pure MDMA.” The lobby was crawling with hookers and late night denizens of the rooftop nightclub, which is named “PDH.” An acronym for what I can only imagine is “Pimps, Drugs and Hoes” based on the army of thick women standing around comparing 9 inch Indian weaves and elastic black twat-length skirts that barely cover their clitori. (Is that the plural for “clitoris?”)
The new Manhattan underbelly had become what Jay-Z sang about in Empire State of Mind. “Ballplayers, rap stars, addicted to that limelight…” Everywhere I went folks were talking about money, cars and rap music. If Los Angeles is supposedly a vapid, material city full of superficial idiots, New York City has embraced a lifestyle full of flashy watches, bottle service, velvet ropes and hangers on… So much so that when I tried to get access to the PDH nightclub on the top floor, the bouncer looked at my “shoe game” and instructed me to “please wait in the other bar.”
I didn’t really want to go up to PDH, but it did seem like it had to be part of my Dream Hotel adventure. So I waited in the bar drinking 17 dollar glasses of shoddy tempranillo wondering how anyone can listen to this much house and trap music in one day. The hotel sort of felt like Miami, but it was 40 degrees cooler and Pitbull wasn’t here singing some shitty song about how “white girl got some ass.”
Finally a large Puerto Rican man came over and told me that since I was a guest of the hotel, all I needed to do was show my room key and I could gain access to the club. I sauntered up towards the door, bypassing the line of desperate gold diggers and club kids and flashed my hotel room key. It was the first time in my entire trip that I had felt somewhat cool.
The nightclub was everything I always hated about nightclubs. Expensive drinks, a DJ mixing Calvin Harris with Blondie, hairy men pouring vodka-cranberry drinks for girls who were most likely being paid to hang around them and intimidating looking security guards who mad-dogged anybody ordering a single beer instead of a 2500 dollar bottle of Grey Goose.
I stayed for 8 minutes.
On my way downstairs, I decided I had to get outside and just see the street. I was sick of the lines, the attitude and the fact that a cast member from Real Housewives of Atlanta had demanded to cut the line… and was placated with a free bottle of vodka. I had to walk to a deli and buy some water and eat a sandwich and try to get some sleep before my work event the following day.
I came back to the hotel with my snacks and drinks – which, by the way, were shoved into about 11 plastic bags by the deli owner as if the plastic problem doesn’t exist in New York – and stopped to listen to the sidewalk pimps do their thing. They were like the dude selling Eddie Murphy’s gold hair dryer in Coming to America. I heard some remarkable stuff:
“You wanna table shower my man?”
“I got one tranny but she visiting her brother at Riker’s right now.”
“Playa, I can get you three at once, but you gotta wear three rubbers.”
I guess Manhattan hadn’t changed that much. Instead of bootleg tapes, men were looking for the booty. These hipster hotels had become infidelity dens and the cops just seemed to look the other way. And as for the falling crime rate – well – as this night was coming to a close, NBA player Chris Copeland was actually stabbed in an altercation outside of 1OAK nightclub just a few streets away from where I was staying.
As I strolled towards the entrance, I passed by my friend in the Panama hat one last time.
“Yo, son – I got you. I know you wanna find out what a bad bitch is,” he propositioned.
“I’m good, man,” I said. “I gotta get to bed.”
I went up to my room and had sex with the full-length pillow.
There was something scampering behind my washing machine. Something rodential. Something with chattery little teeth that sounded like it could nibble the toenail off of a homeless man if there was a promised slice of cheese beneath it. A real man would have stood up, tore back the machine and smashed the skull of whatever creature was frolicking around his lint catcher. Not me, I heard it nibble something and screamed so loudly, my wife ran downstairs and asked me if I had accidentally cut off my finger.
I hate mice, rats, squirrels, possums, raccoons, boll weevils… whatever. They disgust me, not only for their collection of diseases, but because they have no bowel control and they love cropdusting the bowl of avocados in my house with fetid urine samples and freakish teeth marks.
I’ve never been an animal person. Ever since my dog ‘Buffy’ shook my pet kitty to death in front of me when I was a quiet, sensitive 5th grader, I have despised all pets. Maybe I’m afraid to get close to them… maybe I’m afraid one might attack me. Maybe the fact that Buffy was the subject of nearly six separate lawsuits from 1985-1989 involving other 5th and 6th graders who claimed to have been mauled by him while waiting for our local ice cream truck has something to do with it… I don’t know. I just don’t love them. Nor do I love miniscule vermin who invade my kitchen at 9 o’clock at night when I’m trying to have a glass of Malbec and watch college basketball.
I heard the scratching again. My guess was that he made his way in through the side of the house like an imprisoned Andy Dufresne before nestling near the laundry machine searching for any disgusting amount of dried food that might fall out of my kids pockets following a day at school. There was a chance that the invaders gathering behind my Kenmore were harmless and small. But I doubted it. I was guessing they were quite large. The type Westley from The Princess Bride would refer to as R.O.U.S.’. (Rodents of Unusual Size). I wanted nothing to do with these cheese-nibbling tick factories.
I was torn on what to do. Should I set a trap? Bait him? Call the exterminator? Not like they ever really help… First, they come and charge $100 to spray coyote urine all around my back yard. Two weeks later new turd droppings line the closets, the “safety screens” they installed become metallic snacks and eventually, a horrendous smell that resembles what I imagine the a rotting corpse of a tauntaun to smell like breezes through my house. I wanted to kill these little shits, but as you may have devised, I lack the courage to kill anything besides a bottle of wine. In college, I killed a few moths, spiders and cockroaches, but that was a long time ago – and these massacres took place while drunkenly squealing with my eyes shut and frantically whapping a rolled up Rolling Stone magazine against a nest of invaders who had settled into my Futon. “Bastard son of a bitch slut sons of WHORES,”
I yelled at the noisy bunch gathering in numbers behind the aforementioned washing machine. “I’ll kill all you fucks.” They didn’t listen. They just seemed to slog me off like the guys trying to get me to take a “StarLine Bus Tour” of Hollywood every time I pass through Highland.
I watched the rest of the Arizona Wildcats game admiring TJ McConnell’s presence and smiling with every play drawn up by coach Sean Miller… But every time the applause died down, I heard the little Ratatouille party happening a few feet away. God-damn disease-ridden little whiskered gargoyles. Why wouldn’t they leave? I finally had the courage to take a hand towel and smack the washing machine a few times trying to get them to scamper and disappear. Instead, what I heard was the following:
CHRIST. At this point, they were mocking me. Laughing. Squeaking their way through my house like furry rabies-riddled bastard hobo squatters. I finally decided there was only one thing to do. I had to KILL. These beastly gargantuan monsters had to go. I was going to go all Chris Kyle on these little pricks. I was about to assassinate.
Using all my strength – no doubt brought on by the wine and some anxious anger – I ripped that Sears Model Top Load Elite away from the back wall and prepared to face the dragon I knew I had to slay. Armed with an iphone flashlight and a paper bag, I was ready to battle these medieval beasts with all my timorous might – hoping to get it done in one schmack. A kill shot on the first swing. In my mind, I was the house-husband American Sniper. I was a silent assassin. In football terms, I would have chanted “I Must Protect This House.”
When the snarling creature and I came face-to-face, I was immediately humiliated. Sitting on the floor, behind my washing machine, was the tiniest most timid, miniature little mouse I had ever seen. The type of mouse they feed to snakes in terrariums at desert museums. A little guy who was just trying to find his next meal and a nice comfy tube sock to sleep in. I stared him down. He stared back at me. His head tilted left. Mine went right. He squeaked. I smiled…
And then he screamed and ran away as if I was the John Wayne Gacy of homeowners. After he left, I went to the mirror and took a look at myself. My lips were purple. My teeth were dressed in the stains of the evening’s red-wine. My hair shot forth in a bundle of curls. The bags under my eyes spoke of a few too many late evenings. In reality, I did somewhat resemble a serial killer. If anyone was scared, it was that little mouse. He was just a cute little thing. I looked like I was about to go on a Manson-like mass murder.
I decided to drag myself to bed. Around the same time the next night, I heard similar chattering coming from behind my washing machine. More nibbling, more squeaking… more odd noises that made me think I was 90 seconds away from having a honey badger tear through my kitchen and rip my scrotem off. However, instead of panicking and dropping rat poison behind the Kenmore, I took a moment and tilted my cap to my cute new friend behind the major appliance. After all… he was more scared of me than I was of him.
In prison, that would mean I was in control.
After a few minutes, I explained to my wife that I was totally cool with having a few rats and mice run around our house. As far as I was concerned, if they don’t bother us, let’s not bother them, right?
It used to be the America dream. Three or four bedrooms, a yard, a dog, two kids, a mortgage and a slice of property that you tell strangers you meet while sipping drinks that you “own.” But do we really own these brick piles and stucco standings? Or are we merely temporary renters for a brief time on this planet? Over-paying our way through each month so that someday we might be able to pass our structure onto our children, who will most likely sell it the first chance they get so they can snort the profits?
My house is very nice. People tell me I am very lucky. But fuck owning a house. Why have I done this to myself? Every time I think I’m finally getting ahead with my finances, a clay pipe from 1929 explodes beneath the concrete walkway in my front lawn. 240 volts of electricity spring loose from a patched heater cable on the roof and threatens to electrocute my entire family if we plug in a toaster while my wife is using a hair-dryer. A feral squirrel eats an electric filament that connects the natural gas line and we have no hot water for 5 days. (I hope that stupid squirrel dies).
Repairs, property taxes, renter fees, water, power, gas and sewer charges… Basically I work my ass off to not be able to do anything but tell people I own a house. It’s a term Investipedia describes as being “house poor.” Basically, you become a prisoner to the bank and you flush all the money you had saved for things you always dreamed of down the clogged toilet every month.
For instance… I always wanted to buy season tickets to a baseball team. The Dodgers play three miles away. Ready to pounce on a package two years ago, I was shit-sided by the water pump in my basement exploding. BAM. Bye bye Yasiel Puig, hello All Valley Heating and Appliances.
Example number two: A best friend from college gets married in Italy last year. Plane tickets and lodging look affordable. My wife and I plan the most amazing trip. We even set up grandma to watch the kids while we’re away sipping limoncello beneath some Italian moon and devouring plates of Taglietelle Bolognese. And then? BOOM, a tree falls in our yard and smashes three windows. This, in turn, makes us have to “earthquake-proof” the entire fucking house and instead of dining beneath an Italian moon, we order take out from Olive Garden and eat it while watching Peaky Blinders.
Alright, I understand that most of you are reading this and saying, “Fuck you Zach, you own a house? Kiss my ass you lucky bastard asshole son-of-a-bitch.”
I will trade places with you right now. Give me a condo with a landlord who fixes stuff when it happens, and I’ll be a happier man. Bring me a community pool in the center of an apartment building and some shitty underground parking, and I am IN. For crying out loud, I pay a gardener $100 a month to mow our dead lawn – which we were told to stop watering during the California drought… I pay a cleaning lady more money than my mother makes a year to make sure the loose blueberries that sneak beneath the couches get swept up in an orderly manner. I pay a handyman to fix shit like a broken kitchen drawer when too many can openers and wine keys weigh it down and snap the wood.
This is not what I planned on spending all my money on in my life. However, these little incidents are why I have to do shit like pimp myself out as the ribbon-cutting host at the opening of an Artisanal pickle store in Alta Dena to make $150.
The other thing is, that there is about a 3 percent chance that I will ever pay this house off. It will keep going and going until I die and then my grandchildren will look at what I was paying and mumble to themselves, “Grandpa Zach was an idiot.” Of course, by then, the Hollywood neighborhood I live in will be full of Wal-Marts and Dave N’ Busters and my house will look like the house in the Disney film Up – The lone remaining house in a forest of corporate shit. My family will probably argue at my funeral over who gets to keep the ASCAP royalty checks from songs I have placed in film and TV shows and then sell the entire pile of shit-bricks for millions of dollars to a company that will build a Marshall’s Discount Store on our property. Then, when they look back at my books and past taxes, they will see how much money I threw into the trash trying to keep my house afloat, and how many wonderful opportunities I missed out on because I was busy paying gardeners and handymen and the city of Los Angeles to guarantee that my trash gets picked up every Friday… Hopefully then, they will realize that owning a house isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and they will continue living with roommates or in cheap studio apartments with sleazy landlords or even – if they’re lucky – in hotels with turn-down service.
I used to think that someday I might be able to retire. Yeah, right. THAT’S happening. Screen Actor’s Guild recently sent me a notice of my past earnings and told me that by the time I hit age 65, I will be receiving social security from them at the rate of… wait for it… $236 a month. BOOM. That’s about what I pay the city to guarantee we get a phone book every year. WHY? Fuck the phone book!
Then again, if all goes well, when I am 65 I will be living in a cardboard box with no lawn to mow, no heater to fix and no sewer to fill. My showers will be happily taken at the Hollywood YMCA and I will pass the day slurping watered-down coffee at the 7-11, pilfering my ASCAP checks for just enough money to buy a couple of 40 ounce beers so that I can sleep in peace knowing I don’t have to replace the fucking water filter in my refrigerator for $195 every May.
Of course, homelessness isn’t a joke and I’m not saying I’d rather be homeless, but sometimes when I see a young dude in a knitted cap with black soot on his face looking like he just swept a chimney – walking a pit bull on a leash made of chains – while smoking a half of a cigarette he found on the ground a few minutes beforehand, I wonder if in some way, he is better off. He doesn’t have any bills, no roof to patch and no yard to maintain. His house is the freeway underpass, which is power-washed and swept every week… The CITY takes care of his shit FOR him! And who pays the city to do that? I DO! It’s in my property taxes! Upkeep of the neighborhood!
Then again, he does need to eat. And when I thought about this earlier today, looking at a fellow around my age trying to sleep on an abandoned Futon frame, I understood that yes, I AM a lucky person. This poor guy probably had an awful childhood and he may never know the pleasures I have tasted or the comfort of a warm bed and I can’t help but feel guilty for griping about my white people problems while this unfortunate man eats Chick-Fil-A from a garbage can.
I slowly pulled my car over the side of the freeway and dug deep into my pants pocket for a few bills. I took out my wallet, searching… Realizing that it is my responsibility to help those in need. If you have a little – share a little. The young man saw me stop and began walking over to my car window for his handout. I kept poking around in the glove box for some money. Nothing. Center console? Cash-free.
“Shit man,” I say. “I thought I had some money on me, but I had to pay my handyman 100 bucks to fix the broken hatches on my garage door this morning.”
Loyal readers of this blog… Thank you for your years of support – especially in regards to the SHORT STORY writing. We have compiled many of the essays you have read (And many you have not read) into Zach’s first ever published collection of stories for sale as a PAPERBACK . (Kindle coming soon!)
Hollywood is a notoriously tough town. About 99 percent of the people who arrive here daily to become television or movie stars end up scrambling to make ends meet, strung out on drugs or alcohol or waiting tables at some awful Middle Eastern restaurant buried deep in the San Fernando Valley. In my 15 years here, I have seen a fair amount of contemporaries pull in with glossy head shots, star-crossed eyes and dreams of red carpet idolatry, only to return to their parent’s houses as quickly as six months into their silver screen adventures. Most men or women barely scratch the surface in this town. Some might land a commercial or two or even become a member of somebody’s entourage, but the majority of these illusionary dreamers end up as footnotes to the lucky ones… Cast-aways who are quickly replaced – and rarely remembered. If they’re lucky, they might meet one or two people in five years who have found success. To tell you the truth, however… even that is a stretch.
Yet somehow, for reasons unknown, three of my wife’s ex-boyfriends – who she briefly dated prior to our relationship – happen to be incredibly famous and successful superstar film and TV stars.
I am not at liberty to mention them by name, but let’s just say that you have seen them on screen. You have possibly bought an Entertainment Magazine because they were on the cover. If you’re a woman, you may have imagined one or two of them in your mind while being intimate with your boyfriend or husband. You have fainted while meeting them at San Diego Comic Con… Two of them have even been on lunch boxes. I’m talking huge f-ing stars.
Now, according to my wife, before she met these three guys, they were simply struggling actors, living on Top Ramen and tips for bartending and waiting tables at places like the now vanished Italian restaurant “Pane E Vino.” Once she broke up with them, however, their careers took off and they now all own multiple homes and squire fabulous starlets around the covers of In Touch and Us Magazines.
As my wife would say, she has the “golden vagina.”
In the 12 years we have been together, I have certainly seen my television career take off – being lucky enough to host a bunch of shows and land a few acting jobs, and I am grateful and appreciative for any work I’ve received. Yet, as a competitive man, I am very aware that I am still miles away from the careers of the three aforementioned actors whom previously shared my wife’s bed.
Which makes me think that the only way my dreams of becoming a successful film and TV actor will come true, is if my wife divorces me.
I jokingly posted this thought on Twitter a few months back and received a huge amount of response from thousands of followers trying to figure out who these actors were. Guesses ranged from Bradley Cooper to the Rza – but I would not reveal their names to anybody. In defense of my wife, she was never a slut… In fact, she once turned down a sexual advance from a very drugged-out Chris Farley after he flew her and a friend on a private jet to Hawaii after a night of partying in Hollywood. (She gave me Chris’ XXXL green shirt a few years back – which still hangs in my closet today).
Other Twitter followers suggested the usual Hollywood cocksmen – David Spade, Jeremy Piven… Charlie Sheen et al. Thing is, those guys were already stars before my wife even moved to LA. No. Her celebrity cache was founded on the strength of her sense of humor, encouragement and her all out sexual power.
When I “hung up my boner” at age 26, after meeting my wife, Wendy, I had but one celebrity conquest on my “sex resume.” (Not including ex-Playmates and flash-in-the-pan actresses). She was an actress named Danielle Fishel – who played the girl “Topanga” on Boy Meets World and at the time she was 19-years-old and I was 22. She also happened to be dating ‘NSYNC now-out-of-the-closet star Lance Bass just before me, so when we hooked up one night at a celebrity-filled bar called “Dublin’s” on Sunset Boulevard (Now also torn down), I thought I had scored an A-List hottie. (For the record, we never had sex – just made out in a bar and in my driveway for three hours).
Bottom line? Not exactly Motley Crue kind of sex-capades. In fact, when I ran into Danielle seven years later when she was hosting a show on Style Network called The Dish, she had no idea who I was.
At the same time, Wendy was living it up in private jets, drinking with Keith Richards at the Whiskey Bar at the Sunset Plaza, being flown to New York by record executives (Remember them?) and living an all-around fabulously privileged life for a hot woman in her late 20’s. I was still traveling to Puerto Vallarta with my family over Christmas for snorkeling adventures… Advantage: Wife.
How I ended up with Wendy is another story, but the fact is, we’re perfect soul mates. I could not be luckier. And nobody has told me this more than the three famous exes she at one-time dated…
I have now met them all.
Roughly three years ago I was in an electronics store when I ran into undoubtedly the most famous of these exes. He is a star on a very popular TV show now in it’s 9th season or something. He is cool and handsome and built and talented and I wondered why my wife would ever decide that they weren’t right for each other. I approached him as he perused a $7500 outdoor flat screen and weatherproof speaker system and told the salesman it was for his, “Homies to watch the Lakers game” that evening.
“Hey, bro,” I said.
He raised an eyebrow and gave me the once over – not unlike his character does to criminals on his TV show.
“Just wanted to say hi – I’m a fan… I’m Zach – I married Wendy Thompson…”
His face lit up. He waved away the salesman and high-fived me. He smiled and said, “Dude! How’d you ever pin her down?”
Relieved, I laughed it off.
“I dunno, man… we just clicked!”
“Dude, I tried so hard to make her like, my serious girlfriend and she just never went for it… you must be a STUD.”
I laughed and tore off a fingernail, nervously. I should have asked him for a guest-starring role on his show right there. Instead I over-stayed my welcome by hanging around and watching him buy electronic equipment that cost the same as the credit card debt I had recently wracked up re-piping the copper sewer tubes beneath my front lawn
Finally, after realizing how much of a tool I was being, I turned around and walked away. He called after me.
“Yo, broseph – tell Wendy I said ‘hi,’” he said.
“I will man,” I responded giddily. “Keep on keeping on!”
As I drove home, dreaming of a career like his, and the ability to walk into an over-priced electronics store and plunk down seven G’s so I could watch sports outside of my living room, I thought about how lame it had been that he had called me “Broseph.” TV star or not, the dude was not as impressive as I had once thought…I mean, “Broseph?” Come on.
Although I had wished he had invited me to watch that Lakers game…
I ran into the second of my wife’s famous ex-boyfriends at the 2012 Hollywood Holiday Gifting Suite – where already-way-too-rich celebrities walk around a room at a hotel and accept free shit from vendors hoping to get a celebrity endorsement. Believe it or not, these places exist, and a star like, say, Brian Cranston can walk into one of these any time he wants and be handed $50,000 worth of useless shit for free as long as he poses for a picture with the product. This gifting suite was full of everything you don’t really need. Nespresso Brand Espresso Makers, Stainless Steel facial massagers, strawberry-crystal body scrubs, electronic cigarettes with actor Stephen Dorff’s image in the box…. It was a madhouse. I happened to be there because my friend was one of the vendors and he had snuck me in on the guest list. I was allowed through the velvet rope only after a crew of 20-something girls IMDB’d me and noticed that I was hosting a TV show on AMC. (IMDB is the Internet Movie Data Base… a website full of credits for performers all around the world)
After drinking some horrible peach bellinis with former NBA-player turned TV host John Salley, I strolled through the suite hoping to get anything worth selling on ebay. It was then that I saw Wendy’s ex from the 90’s… a well-known film and TV star who was wheeling around a metal cart full of free stuff behind him.
After observing his behavior for a few minutes, which basically included barking orders at his suite-host and jamming as much crap into his metal basket as he could, I came to the conclusion that he must be a world-class asshole. My wife had mentioned that he had endured years of drug and alcohol abuse, but was supposedly on the straight and narrow now… Still, if there was a rehab for douchebaggery, this guy needed to be shipped there immediately.
At the conclusion of the walk-through, my suite loot consisted of two gold-plated pens, a set of thermal pajamas and an Ipad charger that powered up 9 different devices at the same time. I also got a free week in a Bahamian Hard Rock Hotel… but I was responsible for getting myself there. Basically, that will never happen. Compared to the other actors in the suite, I barely registered. Nobody had heard of the AMC show I was hosting and my request for any of the bigger items was denied.
I wasn’t really that insulted by the lack of attention until I saw Tila Tequila loading up her Range Rover with about six Espresso makers.
As I waited with a small crowd for my car, I decided to let ex number two know that I had been the one who snagged Wendy Thompson away… It was a small victory, but one I needed to share.
“Hey man,” I said. “You’re that guy from that film, right?” I said.
“Yeah, man… what up.”
“Did you used to date Wendy Thompson?”
He paused and looked me over as his suite host loaded up his Mercedes SUV with free gifts. He lit his new electronic cigarette.
“Yeah, a long time ago, why?”
“Funny, I was going through some old photo albums and saw a bunch of pictures of you in them… like from ’97, right?”
Ex number two cracked his neck and stared me down. He was menacing and steel-eyed. The rasp in his voice screamed of a decade old cocaine habit.
“Why were you going through her photo albums?” He wanted to know.
“Oh, we’re married and I’m sort of the ‘family scrapbooker’” I replied, immediately feeling like a total dweebazoid.
“No way!” He said. “Dude, tell her I said hi… Is she seeing anybody?”
This comment obviously took me aback, considering I had just mentioned that we were married. I came to a quick conclusion that ex number two was not exactly a very bright bulb.
“Uhh, yeah, actually we’re married,” I repeated.
As he peeled a 20-dollar bill off of a fold and handed it to his suite host, he came back and shook my hand.
“I gotta hand it to you, man… She’s a keeper. Don’t fuck it up like I did.”
“Oh, thanks. I won’t.”
At that point, he stared at my meager haul from the gifting suite. It all fit in one canvas bag.
“Dude, you didn’t get an Espresso Maker?” He inquired.
The truth was, I wasn’t offered one. The PR department at Nespresso did not think I was recognizable enough to warrant a gift.
“Naah, dude… We have two already – I didn’t need one,” I lied.
“Bro, all this stuff isn’t for you! I give all this shit away to my family, my sisters, my housekeeper, my agent… You think I really want a stainless steel facial massager? Hell no – my assistant is getting that!”
I nodded. He was smarter than I thought. He had just done all his holiday shopping in one spot for the price of a photograph or two. I was now pissed that I didn’t get a coffee machine.
“Nice to meet you, man,” I offered before he walked to the side of his car to drive off.
“You too, man. Tell Wendy what up for me… And good luck with that! Don’t do what I did!”
And with that, he was gone – off to another gifting suite across town where he would work the Hollywood system once more.
When I got home and told Wendy this story, she proceeded to remind me of his inhuman drug intake, his dismissal from two big Hollywood films and the fact that she once walked in on him masturbating to an Avril Lavigne music video during a family dinner party. We finally agreed that he was a total loser, and I kissed her goodnight fully knowing that I was the luckiest one because I got to sleep next to her. Of course, once the lights went off, she knew exactly how to make me second guess my afternoon’s actions.
“Really?” She said. “You couldn’t get one Nespresso maker?”
Ex number three is currently one of the biggest stars in the world. He sort of stalked Wendy when he followed her to a bar called “Smalls” after a Social Distortion concert in the mid 90’s. His indie film was a big industry darling at the time, and it would eventually lead him to a worldwide recognition. That night at Smalls, he introduced her to Quentin Tarantino and some other heavy partiers who carried the weight of Hollywood in their back pockets. A few dates followed and he casually bumped into her at the restaurant where she worked for awhile until a tabloid photo surfaced of him with a stunningly famous blonde in a Jacuzzi. Since Wendy wasn’t exactly committed to him at the time, she shrugged it off and went on her way. Within a year he was starring in a huge film and three years later he was one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors. All after dating my wife.
I ran into him at the Hotel Café on Cahuenga one night after my band had finished playing.
It was a decent crowd for a Thursday. We played a lively set and the owners were all excited about the future of our band. Beer and wine flowed and we all ended up doing shots at the bar before it had expanded into the bigger venue that it is today. It was then that I met ex number three.
Getting to him was harder than the others. He was obviously out to be seen, and had a nest of beautiful women clucking at his feet. When I finally poked through the crowd to order another beer on the band tab, he stopped me.
“Your band was good, I love outlaw country,” he said.
Again, I should have handed him a CD and asked him to get a song in his films. Instead, I brought up Wendy.
“Dude, this is so funny!” I yelled over the crowd. “I married Wendy Thompson!”
He leaned down into my space and took out some homemade ear plugs fastened from paper bar napkins.
“You have a hairy Johnson?” He responded.
Like him or not, the dude was funny.
“No, haha,” I continued. “I married Wendy Thompson…”
He took a minute to register who I was talking about. Apparently, they had been together for two months roughly eight years earlier, but I still expected him to react a little more intrigued.
Instead, he nodded his head and said, “Did I ever sleep with her?”
“I have no idea,” I said. “But you dated awhile back…”
He replaced the earplugs in his ear and looked my way once more. He obviously had no clue who Wendy was or why I was so interested in sharing my matrimonial conquest with him.
He slugged his beer and yelled at me once more.
“If I did sleep with her, that means we’re Eskimo Brothers,” he said.
(For the record, according to UrbanDictionary.com, the term “Eskimo Brothers” is Used to describe two men who have had sex with the same woman.)
“Nice to meet you man,” I screamed.
“Congratulations on getting married,” he said before turning around to watch the next band. Disturbed, I went outside to bum an American Spirit from somebody.
That night I got home and relayed the story to Wendy, who at this point, was starting to find it strange that I was running into all of her exes around town. She said that ex number three was always an ego-maniac and didn’t seem to remember or even care about anyone but himself.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “He was kind of stand-offish…”
We spoke about how famous these guys had become since she had dated them and how successful they seemed on paper and in the magazines, but my wife is always one who is well aware of the fact that success does not equal happiness. As we shared some wine that night and laughed at the incident at the Hotel Café, I relayed how lucky I felt to have found her and to have started our family together and that even if I never became some huge star, I would never ask her to dump me for my own personal success.
Lying in bed that night, I asked her once again if she regretted dumping any of these exes who had turned out to become Hollywood A-Listers.
She rolled over, kissed me softly on the lips and said, “Yes.”
I laughed so hard, I nearly threw up on my thermal pajamas.
“Well, I look at it this way,” I said. “I’m ‘Eskimo Brothers’ with some pretty huge stars…”
“Who am I ‘Eskimo Sisters’ with?” She inquired.
I thought about it for a long time.
“Well, almost Topanga from Boy Meets World,” I said.
She put her arms around me and smiled.
I kissed her on the forehead and turned out the light.
COME SEE ZACH’S BAND PLAY POWERHOUSE in HOLLYWOOD! – TUESDAY NIGHT ! 7:00 -9:00 pm
On December 28, 2012, during a visit to my in-laws house for Christmas, I took my family to a Chuck E Cheese in Poulsbo, Washington. After receiving the proper safety stamps, smothering my body in hand sanitizer and shelling out $40.00 for three cups of tokens, I noticed that behind the counter, in a non-descript homemade metal serving area that looked like a sink from my high school chemistry class, were four taps reading “CHABLIS, BLUSH, BUDWEISER and BUD LIGHT.”
Their display resembled something from the Prohibition that one might have found at a speakeasy in the south side of Chicago in 1931. It looked like a nine-year-old designed it.Didn’t matter, I wanted a beer. After all, I was feeling a little on edge, and 300 screaming maniac kids sneezing and running all around Chuck E. Cheese seemed a lot easier to deal with should I have a pitcher of beer on hand.
I inquired about buying a pitcher of the Bud Light, but was quickly told that the keg was kicked. The young lady behind the counter recommended the Budweiser, saying that is was “Really the Red.”
I told her I wasn’t interested in wine, but, as it turns out, the “Red” was not red wine, but a local “red brew” from nearby Silverdale with an extremely high alcohol content. Knowing that would probably do the trick, I ordered up a pitcher, paid the young lady another $14.00 and went off to challenge any nine-year-old takers in games of mini-basketball Pop-a-Shot.
Following a 45-16 drubbing at the hands of a 12-year-old named Jayden, I sunk into our family booth and proceeded to pound three of these red beers in under an hour. Suddenly, I was feeling like I was a 12-year-old a kid at a friend’s birthday party in 1987. I was engulfed in the dazzling lights and sounds of the Chuck E. Cheese. I chased strange kids around the game room in a game of tag… I took my daughter up into the plastic maze/slide and let a bunch of kids tackle me… I sat and posed for dumb pictures with my family and a giant, stuffed mouse on a cheap amusement ride… I was truly, the super dad of the Chuck E. Cheese, and my wife smiled at me as I approached her with a wad of gum stuck in my hair and a red pizza sauce stain on my t-shirt.
“You really are the best dad,” she said before kissing me.
As my buzz began to fade, I knew I would have to get another beer before we went home to keep the ride going. Deciding to skip dinner due to the plasticene appearance of the so-called cheese on top of the rubbery pizza, I took down two more Reds and packed up the diaper bag. My son ended up winning 498 tickets – which he quickly traded in for a stuffed mini-Spongebob and a pencil. Two pieces of unadulterated crap that retail somewhere around 75 cents. I didn’t care, though. It was a great time and he had a blast playing all of the games and winning tickets. Best of all, I was leaving Chuck E. Cheese with a tremendous buzz and a newfound love for dark beer from the Pacific Northwest.
That was the last thing I remembered from that evening.
The next day I woke up around 10 a.m. to hear my wife cursing me out from the other room. She was saying something about me falling off the bed in the middle of the night and waking up our daughter. Having no recollection of this, I stumbled to my feet and looked helplessly for my eyeglasses. When I couldn’t find them, I made a point of acting as if nothing was wrong, even though my head was pounding with the thumps of a million five-year-olds dancing across my temples.
“You’re in trouble,” she said to me, glaring as I walked into the kitchen.
Her mother laughed. I squinted for any answer in the mid-morning Northwest gloom. All I could find were blurry shapes and rapid movements, mainly my kids, who sat eating cereal and playing with their new Hannukkah and Christmas toys.
“What are you talking about?” I asked
“Do you not remember what you did last night?” She offered.
“Oh, you mean when you told me I was the best dad ever?”
“I can’t even look at you right now.”
And with that, I ran off to the bathroom where I threw up a mountain of fluid and a distinctly unfamiliar mystery meat. I found my eyeglasses in the wastebasket by the toilet.
According to my in-laws, we had come home after Chuck E Cheese and I split a bottle of red wine with my wife’s dad. When his neighbor Mike, a European guy who makes homemade beer and cooks a mean pork pozole, invited us over for some beer tastings and food – we both accepted. From then on, I proceeded to run a little “blank tape.”
My wife informed me that I had arrived at the door three hours later with my pants around my ankles. I was slurring and proceeded to pop my contact lenses out of my eyeballs and throw them across the room without knowing where my glasses were. After nearly falling through a plate glass window and severing my carotid artery, I demanded that my wife turn on a porno film on the big screen television – before yelling at my mother-in-law to “go the hell to bed already.” I passed out on the couch and was carried to bed by wife and her dad.
When this was all relayed to me by my wife, who just hours earlier had been commending me on my parenting skills, I let the situation slowly sink in. As I attempted to swallow a 16 ounce coconut water and wiped the never ending sweat from my brow, I began to think that it might be a good time to take a real close look at what WebMD had described as “my drinking problem.”
I spent the rest of the entire day in bed and/or in the bathroom, vomiting. It was one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced – not unlike those 24-hour bugs that have been going around where you puke and sleep forever, convinced you are dying.
I hated every minute of it, especially when I was incapable of playing with my kids because I was in too much pain. Embarrassed and ashamed, I took a vow of sobriety on the afternoon of December 29, 2012. I also vowed to chronicle my efforts in my journals, which I have been fastidiously keeping since my 16th birthday but had grown a little lazy about recently. I was sort of hoping that the non-drinking would re-inspire me to keep a more comprehensive diary again, but instead of logging activities and hours in the following pages, I mainly focused on the extremely difficult task of avoiding alcohol at all costs.
What follows are lifted directly from my personal journals beginning the day of December 29th and continuing on until I broke my streak. I hope this either inspires you to face your demons head on, or continue drinking responsibly so you do not end up trying to turn on a DVD of Little Orphan Anal in front of your wife’s parents over the holidays.
Sobriety Journal. Aka The Non-Rum Diary.
Dec. 29, 2012
Day 1: OOOOOOOhhhh God. I have been puking for 9 hours straight and I don’t even have any food in my body… I think I just threw up knee cartilage. Last night was a lost bender of epic proportions, coming to a head at the neighbor’s house (Mike? Mark?) Where I drank his homemade 14% alcohol Belgian Tripelbock after nearly killing 6 beers and some wine during and before dinner. I don’t remember the end of the night, but the wife said I arrived at the in laws door with my pants around my ankles. My last memory was beer at Chuck E. Cheese – and my kids playing arcade games with those disease ridden tokens. All I found was this picture crumpled up in my wallet of me slamming a beer with my finger up my nose.
Shit, maybe I got roofied. Roofeed? How do you spell that? More than likely, I put my hand in some kid’s snot that he wiped on the “Mousecalator” and inhaled it, which is what undoubtedly caused this massive bodily excursion.
I have to uke again…
Dec. 30. 2012.
DAY 2: Wow, a day after hangover. Maybe I’ll have a bowl of Honey smacks and watch Breaking Bad on DVD all day… Wife is in the other room talking about going to the mall or something. Not me. I’m still laid up… No more booze, ever. Period. I’m serious. 100%. Even though its New Year’s Eve in 2 days and were invited to a party in LA thrown by the guy who owns the Coldwater Wine Company, I will refrain… It’s been 15 years of this shit time to grow up and be a man. Fuck it, man… Robert Downey jr. got sober. So did Dick Van Dyke and Richard Dreyfus and Nick Nolte…I think… Maybe even Slash… wait, is Slash sober? If Slash is sober, I can be sober. Although I only seem to over-consume wine and beer … I think Slash was mainlining jet fuel at one point… I don’t know… I don’t want to have to keep explaining myself- especially once my kids are old enough to wonder why daddy is staying in bed all day. I talked to George Carlin’s daughter Kelly once… She told me she spent every morning of her childhood wondering when her parents would wake up and play with her… Apparently they had a blackout curtain in their room to keep out that evil sun. Luckily, I’m in Washington State right now and the sun is nowhere to be found. WE go home tomorrow… thank GOD.
(15 minutes later)
My wife’s brother just brought over a six pack and a bottle of wine and I turned him down! I think I’m cured! Who needs Dr. Drew- fuck that guy! I will never crave booze again!
Dec. 31, 2102
DAY 3: I want booze. So badly. Just some wine or a beer or something… DAMN! And it’s New Years Eve! What the hell. I’m so exhausted. We’re invited to about three different parties but I don’t want to go to any of them. I’m probably gonna do the lame West Coast dad thing and watch the ball drop at 9 pm on an East Coast feed— that is very very sad. Two years ago I took ecstasy and covered myself in body paint with a crowd of naked strangers in an apartment in Glendale. Yeah, I was in a shithole in Glendale and I was on ecstasy and I felt like I was being licked by the tongue of God. It was awesome. Now, I’m two nights sober. I feel awful Head cloudy, body still in shock… Maybe it was the pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food I consumed last night in an effort to curb my body’s sugar cravings… Who the hell knows. It is 8:31 at night and I don’t even think I can make it to New York New Years… So I am signing off, asleep at 8:34 on New Year’s Eve.
Jan. 1, 2013
Day 4: I feel a lot better! Might even attempt to go to the gym and run today… But I don’t know. We’re invited to a friend’s house for football and wine later and they always have the best French Bourdeaux. How the hell does that happen? Man, when you are not drinking, THE WHOLE WORLD IS AN OPEN BAR!!!
(later that night)
I just told my wife I had a late night meeting, but in reality, I’m off to the grocery store to buy some more ice cream. Seriously. I am lying to my wife so that I can go eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in the Gelson’s parking lot. Alone. Jesus. Some men have affairs, I sneak off to have sex with pints of Cherry Garcia.
January 2, 2013
DAY 5: Back to the gym, finally sweat out the remnants of that night. I smelled like a beer on the treadmill. It was sad. My mom and my grandma fly in later tonight. My mom will immediately wonder why I am not drinking. She is a two bottle-a-night of chardonnay drinker… I normally stay up with her and talk, but this might be the time I don’t. Damn! I love drinking with my mom!
January 3, 2013
DAY 6. My mom and I had this conversation last night beginning at about 4:45 in the afternoon.
MOM: “Why aren’t you drinking?”
ME: “I had a rough night last week and I’m taking some time off.”
MOM: “You loser! Open some red wine and play Scrabble with me.”
Somehow, I managed to not drink with her and I went to bed early. The last thing my mom said to me before she went to bed was,
“I really hope this isn’t a permanent thing. Think of your mother, won’t you?”
I will say, my mom is one of my all time favorite drinking buddies. We sit and play old records and run through Scrabble games until two in the morning – usually forgetting to finish because we both get so loopy that we begin placing words like “Oughta” on the board and accepting them. Meanwhile, my grandma, who is 90-years-old and still sharp and hilarious said to me, “I don’t care if you stop drinking forever… you NEED to stop biting your nails!”
I love my grandma.
Jan. 4, 2013
Day 7. One week! Wow, I went one week. I still haven’t found much inspiration to write or play guitar or anything, but my son and I played his new Wreck it Ralph Wii game for five hours straight today! Not that playing video games is productive, but it was something, right? Oh man, I sound like all the stoner gamer geeks I used to work with at G4. So that’s what sobriety leads to? VIDEO GAMES? Shit, I might as well go get a bottle of Jim Beam right now. BTW, my mom and grandma went to Orange County to visit my sister, so I’m back to exercising and reading this great book on Bonnie and Clyde. Makes me happy I never shot anybody.
Jan. 5. 2013
Day 8. OK, I was at a film screening tonight and they had an open bar. I had sparkling water with lemon, but I was craving alcohol. You know how we Jew are, anything free, we WANT IT!! Especially the red wines they had… and the Pilsner beer… Oh man. Anyway, I ended up drinking my first Coke in about five years. It was like drinking a Snickers bar. Jesus. I switched to Diet Coke, but my buddy Eric told me about all the studies and the chemicals and the fact that Diet Coke causes cancer and depression… My God, once again, I’m better off drinking.
Jan 6. 2013
Day 9. Well, I just bought a six pack of Buckler non-alcoholic beer. It tastes alright, but is definitely lacking the sweet, calming trace of alcohol. I cracked one about two hours ago and drank it within three minutes. I drank the second one three minutes later. I killed the six pack in 28 minutes. Now I feel bloated and somewhat satisfied, as if there was a placebo affect to the whole thing. Whatever the case, my mom comes back tomorrow and I have an audition for a Toyota Commercial.
Jan. 7, 2013
Day 10. Fuck fuck fuck you Q Q Q Q DICK. Fucking dick fuck fuck this sucks fuck you dick dick balls dick.
Jan. 8, 2013.
Day 11. FUCCCKKKKKK YOOOUUUU!UU!U!UU!U!U! I want a drink I want a drink I want a drink drink drink dnrindinrindikkkkkk. I texted a few sober friends and asked them how they deal with all of this and they sent me back the clichés we are all familiar with. Cigarettes and coffee… meetings… ice cream… My one buddy, a former coke-monkey named Bobby wrote Dude, substitute one addiction for the other… why do you think I got divorced? I’m a cooze hound!
Jan. 9, 2013
Day 12. I have officially crossed the threshold! I truly believe I may not ever have a craving again. I’m exercising, nailing my auditions (Toyota callback!) and I’ve slowed down on my Ben and Jerry’s to half a pint a night! This is the beginning of a whole new me! I will write tomorrow. I LOVE this!!
That was my final entry into the Sobriety Journal.
I made it 12 full days before being invited to a party where they were serving Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Sea Smoke red wine. I looked at my wife, who knew that the minute I saw the Sea Smoke (my favorite) I would be done for. She grabbed me and looked me in my eyes.
“Look, Zach,” she said. “If you think you can have just a couple of glasses, I think you should. BUT, remember, drink water, stay in control and you don’t have to POUND the wine. Enjoy it, sip it, you know?”
I looked into my wife’s sweet face. She was sticking by my side no matter what I did and I loved her for it. I knew she was my rock, my confidant… my unofficial “sponsor” if you will and the fact that she trusted me to know my limits meant more to me than anything in the entire world at that moment. I kissed her and promised to be responsible and careful and I watched her walk away into the party to hang with a group of women who were discussing their unnecessary scarves in the 60-degree Los Angeles winter night.
I rolled up to the bar and took a long hard moment to gather myself. The waiter poured me a decent glass of Sea Smoke and told me to enjoy it. I swirled the red lava around in the glassware like a vinyl record and let it settle a few times before placing my nose up to its fortuitous aroma. I inhaled deeply, taking in the fine grape, the chutes of ember and the floral notes. This was GOOOD wine. The best wine to break a fortnight of sobriety with. I slowly pressed the glass to my lips and swallowed the heavenly liquid until my body turned warm with familiarity and melted into a séance-like calmness. I felt alive. I knew I was going to be able to conquer this demon – and practice the finest art of them all… The art of moderation.
The next morning I woke up on the bathroom floor, fully clothed and in a fetal position.
I had no idea where my eyeglasses were…
Watch Zach’s new TV Show “Guinness World Records Gone Wild! Feb. 7th at 8:00 pm on TruTV!
There is a small stretch of road about five minutes from my house that is known as “Tranny Alley.” The section I am talking about exists on what used to be the most famous highway in America: Route 66. Nowadays, it is known simply as Santa Monica Boulevard and it famously runs the length of the city, cascading into the Pacific Ocean at its conclusion.
“Tranny Alley” gets its name from – you guessed it – the number of transsexual prostitutes working their trade up and down the boulevard. Situated directly between Highland Avenue and Las Palmas, the majority of these prostitutes seem to use a shop called “Donut Time” as their home base. It was here, at this Donut Time, that I found myself picking up a 28-year-old prostitute named “Honeysuckle.”
Any man who has lived in the city of Angels for any period of time has found himself staring at a tight pair of denim shorts walking down the street only to be surprised when the person turns around and reveals him/herself as a guy. Santa Monica Boulevard is usually the place where it all goes down. Sometimes, they catch you staring and send an awkward wink your way at which point you react by either looking the other way or thinking to yourself, Wow… Dude or not, I still got it!
Last week, when I was on my way to pick up my six-year-old son from school, I noticed a pair of those exact denim shorts parading across a parking lot directly in the heart of Tranny Alley. When the person turned around, she had caught my eye – and sent a gorgeous and flirtatious look my way. I watched her cheetah-strut her body towards Donut Time, where she adjusted her top and threw me a salacious wink. I was stunned. She was by far the prettiest girl I have ever seen in Tranny Alley in the 19 years I have lived in this city –and there was even something familiar looking about her… but I couldn’t quite place it. Needless to say, she had an incredible Rihanna-like body with a face like a younger Sage Steele. (ESPN anchor). If she was, in fact, a man – I didn’t care… She was worth making eye contact with.
As I scooped up my six-year-old from school and we began driving home, I decided to take Santa Monica Boulevard again, risking a Donut Time drive-by, knowing fully well that my son often screams out “Donuts!” whenever we pass a shop serving up the fried, round, sugary treats. Giving your kid a donut at 3:30 in the afternoon is a terrible idea, as it often leads to a sugar crash, Lego’s being thrown all around your house and a dinner time screaming match between me and my wife… However, the moment I passed the shop, I noticed Rihanna again… She noticed me as well. She gave me a subtle nod and caught my eye in a flirtatious way, just as my son yelled out at the top of his lungs,
I flipped on my blinker and made a left turn into the parking lot.
My initial intention was not to speak to her. I wanted to get inside the shop, pick out a donut, maybe get a closer look and then speed off towards the park to make my son run off the 550 calories he just inhaled. Instead, she approached me like a long lost girlfriend just as I walked through the door.
“You go to the Hollywood YMCA, don’t you,” she asked as I cradled my son so he could get a better look into the donut case.
How the hell did she know that?
“Uhhm, yeah?” I said quizzically. “Are… you a… member?”
She laughed. I took a quick gaze at her throat. It was Adam’s apple – free.
“I shower there sometimes,” she continued. “I’ve seen you and your kid walking around.”
It was then that I put it together. She was a member of the Hollywood YMCA. I had seen her before, striding around the ground floor, making every pasty-white mother of three uncomfortable by flaunting her ferocious curves and Olympian build. I always had assumed she was a personal trainer or a professional fitness model or something… Looks like she was simply, just a professional.
“Are you a…” I started, before looking down at my son, knowing that no six-year-old should be conversing with a prostitute ten minutes after leaving Math Workshop.
She smiled and rubbed the side of my shoulder.
“I can be anything you want me to be.”
Now I have never been one for talking dirty, but for some reason, her comment uncoiled some inner beast in my loins that had been lying dormant for way too long. I noticed a boulder-like erection burst into my boxer briefs that felt like a Sumatran rhino giving birth. I wasn’t quite sure what it was… but this girl’s voice and body and face were so searing, for that one fleeting moment I truly, deeply in the back of my head, considered throwing away a perfect marriage to the love of my life – consenting to spending the rest of my adulthood couch-surfing in Van Nuys. I felt contented with the fact that I would rarely be allowed to see my children again… And if my wife wanted to take half of all my finances? FINE. These all seemed like worthy sacrifices for one night of rapture with this thunder-bodied beautiful sex bomb who looked like she could break my penis off.
And who may or may not be a guy.
I paid for the donut and did my best to shake off the fantasy. As I allowed my erection to lower itself to half mast, I eeked a smile her way and raised my hand, showing her my wedding ring, as if to say, “Sorry, I’m married.”
She laughed and whispered into my ear.
“Single men don’t walk into Donut Time,” she said. “Most of my regulars are married… But you’re the first guy who actually brought his kid along.”
Yeah, about that… I looked over at the boy, eating his chocolate sprinkled donut, unaware that his father could be 20 minutes away from making the biggest mistake of his life. Unaware of “Tranny Alley.” Thinking only of toys and ninjas and the Angry Birds Star Wars toy on his Hannukkah list. Just innocent, pure and happy…
“It’s 50 bucks for a blow-job,” she whispered.
“We should go,” I yelled out to the boy. “C’mon, dude…”
I loaded him up into the car and didn’t even buckle his seat belt. His face was smeared with chocolate. Within six minutes, we were up in the park and he was climbing a play structure as I found myself perversely Google–searching “Sexy Rihanna Photos” on my iphone. Had anybody seen some of the half-naked images I came across, I would have been arrested and thrown in prison for lewd conduct. Looking at soft-core porn on your phone in a public park is probably a bigger offense than actually picking up a prostitute… (I looked that up by the way… It’s not.)
Paranoid, I cleared my history, turned off my phone and did 10 pull-ups on the monkey bars as a way to release some unbridled energy.
I believe I first realized that I didn’t have my wallet about 45 minutes later. We had come home from the park and the Rihanna incident was way beyond me – because by that point, other concerns popped into my head. What time was his soccer practice? Did I forget to email the bank about the house Re-Fi? Why did I forget to buy printer ink? But now, something even more horrifying had crossed my mind: My wallet was gone, and the only place it could possibly be was sitting on the counter at “Donut Time.”
When my wife came home, I told her I had left my wallet at my son’s school and I had to go get it. She called me a dumb-ass and told me to hurry up. After all, we had Nick and Marcy coming over for dinner. I jumped in the car and raced towards Santa Monica Boulevard as fast as I could, praying that Rihanna was nowhere to be found and that my wallet was safe and sound behind the counter. The drive over there shared the same nerve-wracking feeling of a first date in high school… It was mortifying.
As I began creeping along towards Tranny Alley, I noticed that there were a few more ladies of the night walking the street. Most of them were obviously men, and I avoided their looks as long as I could. I managed to find a parking spot at a meter, hoping my presence would go unnoticed. I crossed over the sidewalk and ran towards Donut Time at a swift pace. When I got there, I grabbed the door handle and pulled it open. Before I could slide inside, a familiar voice turned me around.
“Looking for this?”
There was Rihanna, holding my embarrassing tri-panel Velcro piece of shit wallet with a clear sleeve for my driver’s license and a change purse zipper. My driver’s license was in her left hand.
“Zachary Stephen Selwyn, huh?” She said. “You look younger than 37.”
“Uhm, thanks,” I said, not knowing if she really meant it or if it was her way to talk a potential john into dropping 500 bucks on life-ruining sex.
“Where’d you, uhh – find it?” I asked.
“I can find a man’s wallet anywhere. Now you want it back, or what?”
“Yes please,” I meekly answered.
“You can have it — if you run me up to the YMCA – I have to take a shower.”
The first thing that popped into my mind was the Hugh Grant – Divine Brown incident. Back in 1997, Grant was a superstar who was arrested for receiving fellatio in his BMW just north of Tranny Alley from a prostitute named Divine Brown. Following the arrest, Grant’s reputation went from ‘irresistibly charming leading man’ to Mickey Blue Eyes. Divine Brown, meanwhile, has allegedly made close to two million dollars from personal appearances and pornography and is now raising her three well-off children in Beverly Hills…. Advantage: Prostitute.
The other famous incident at the time was when Eddie Murphy was pulled over with a tranny prostitute in his car in the same neighborhood. Although never charged with anything, Eddie has been dragged across the floor by the press since then as well. By offering Rihanna a ride, I was risking my career and more importantly, my marriage. It seemed like a no-win situation…
“Sure, I can give you a ride,” I said.
I wasn’t sure why I had agreed to do it. Part of me believed it was a moment of weakness where I felt like the character “Mr. Incredible” from the film The Incredibles. Downtrodden, bored and eager to find adventure again, he takes on paid missions without his wife knowing -which, at first – get him his mojo back. Of course he ends up nearly dying until his superhero family arrives and saves his ass with superpowers and they all live happily ever after. I wondered to myself if my superhero family would come save me should I get arrested with a prostitute in the front seat of my car… My initial thought was, probably not.
Rihanna handed me my wallet and tried to hold my hand as we walked back to my car. I pushed it away and kept my eyes peeled for any sign of police. At the moment, everything looked clear. We got in and I quickly lowered my radio so she wouldn’t know I had been playing the Rihanna song “What’s my Name” on my ipod for the past 30 minutes. We slowly pulled out into traffic and headed up towards Vine, where I would shuttle her to the awaiting, lucky, pulsating shower beads of the Hollywood YMCA.
“OK, you know my name… what’s yours?” I asked her. After all, I couldn’t keep referring to her as “Rihanna.”
She took a moment to fiddle around with a pair of my sunglasses I had resting against the center console. She put them on her eyes and turned towards me.
“You can call me Honeysuckle,” she said.
Perfect. Honeysuckle? Could there be a more appropriate name for this fiery African-American fuck machine than “Honeysuckle?”
“Is that your real name?” I asked.
“Is Zachary your real name?”
“Than my real name is Honeysuckle.”
“Wow!” I said. “Like the Willie Nelson film Honeysuckle Rose!”
“I’ve never heard of that.”
As she lowered the passenger side mirror to apply lipstick, I found it odd that she was on her way to take a shower and was applying make-up 10 minutes beforehand. She pursed her lips and laughed at her face in the mirror in a way that exuded more self-confidence than any woman I feel I had ever encountered. It was the last thing you expected a “soiled dove” to be doing. I dug deeper. Fascinated by this workhorse of sexual pleasure. I have always been obsessed with those who spend their lives this way… I love their back-stories and their ideals and hearing about the unique way they view the world. Her story was enthralling
As it turns out, Honeysuckle was born and raised in Oakland by a single mother who was also a prostitute. Honeysuckle had dropped out of high school at 16 when she got pregnant, and had lost the baby during childbirth. Disenchanted with everything, she moved to San Francisco were she began turning tricks for as much as $1500 a night. By 21, she was well known throughout the city and pleasured star athletes, politicians and businessmen from all over the world. She had even once been flown to New York for a convention with top brass at a massive electronics company that we all know about. Finally, she settled in LA, where she heard she might be able to work as a high-class call girl and not a “streetwalker.” Unfortunately, most of the girls in Los Angeles who were in that racket were five to ten years younger and from foreign countries. Honeysuckle claimed she was too street savvy to get caught up in that business and she now walks the boulevard three times a week, doing what she can to keep her lights turned on, her weave silky and her body in shape. It was a story straight out of a terrible movie. A hooker with a heart of gold… I wasn’t sure what I believed.
I had one more question I had to ask her. I took a chance.
“So, by any chance… are you a transsexual?” I boldly proposed.
“Honey, please – I am all woman,” She exclaimed. “You know what my father once told me before he split on me and my mom? He told me the best piece of advice I have ever heard. He told me “As long as you got a pussy, you will never go broke.”
I took that in. I have absolutely no plans of ever sharing that advice with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
We drove in silence for a few blocks as she applied more makeup and drank from a mini bottle of grape Five-Hour Energy that was tucked away in her purse. I was only hoping I could make it to the destination without being pulled over by any flashing red and blue lights. As we made a left onto Selma near the new Trader Joe’s, I finally broke the silence.
“So, why do you belong to the YMCA?” I asked.
“The Y lets homeless people in on a 10 dollar -a-month discounted rate,” she explained. “I’d say 50-100 YMCA members are homeless people or hookers… it’s true. Trust me, do NOT go in the jacuzzi.”
All I could think of was the fact that I had taken my six-year-old boy in the Jacuzzi two days earlier.
When we wound up pulling up to the front of the YMCA, it suddenly dawned on me that I had seen a number of toothless men in the locker rooms, shady looking women emerging from the massage rooms and occasional clove-smoking dope fiends shuffling in and out of the front door. Maybe Honeysuckle was telling the truth… The Hollywood Y was as much a gym, a gravity strength pilates class and a Kids Klub, as it was a homeless shelter… I was about to cut my engine when Honeysuckle instructed me to pull to the side of the building.
I did as I was told, now fully aware that the earlier rhino boner I had set fire to had now completely retreated inside of my body. I pulled my car into a metered space and watched her smooth out her shorts so they wouldn’t bunch up. She casually stared back at me with her hazel-ish eyes and put a tethered hand on my upper right thigh.
“The best thing about a woman like me, Zachary, is that I don’t kiss and tell,” she said.
I looked deep into her pooling retinas. She was marvelous. A physical specimen. Probably no older than 27 or 28. Any man with 100 or 200 or 500 dollars was sure to have the time of his life with this woman – but I was simply not going to be that guy. All I could think of was my son and the chocolate smeared across his face and his Hannukkah list and my wife’s smile and my daughter’s growing Hello Kitty collection. I was even looking forward to a small argument about getting the boy a donut at 3:30 in the afternoon.
I just wanted to go home.
Honeysuckle kept her hand on my thigh. I thought long and deep about how I was gong to let her down… I didn’t want to crush her. I mean, her life had been so hard, could she handle my rejection? How would she react? I was nervous. I took a deep breath and reached down into the depths of my soul for what was the honest-to-God truth.
“Look, I’m flattered… but I – I can’t – I could never live with myself,” I said.
Without flinching, her hand was gone from my leg. She clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and opened the door. Within eight seconds, she had dismounted my car, tossed her weave back over her shoulders and buckled her purse.
So much for her having trouble taking rejection, I thought.
As she walked in front of my car towards the YMCA, I was watching her denim shorts again. It was then that she turned around and ran back to my window. I knew it… I thought. She couldn’t stand to think about how this 37-year-old father and husband had turned down her advances… She couldn’t fathom being rejected or humiliated like that… I KNEW IT! In fact, what I was thinking was, I still got it…
As she persuaded me to roll down my window, I expected another come-on. After all, getting hit on by any woman at my age is flattering, even if they turn out to be a prostitute… I zapped down the pane and awaited her final cry for my love…
“Hey, Zachary,” She began. “You had 50 bucks in your wallet when I found it, so I took it as a finder’s fee… OK?”
She pirouetted and slinked towards the awaiting doors of the YMCA.
I’ve driven by Tranny Alley a few times since, but Honeysuckle seems to have disappeared. I hadn’t seen her at the YMCA either, until earlier this week. I caught her bounding out of the locker room, midriff showing, with micro-beads of sweat glistening just above her belly button. As usual, all the YMCA moms stopped and stared, aghast at her sheer physical presence and beauty, and the older dudes working out on the machines snuck glances as she sauntered towards the door. As she passed by my son and I, she caught my eye and gave me a silent nod. It was all unspoken and perfect and it made me feel comfortable and happy knowing that she was still around and had no intention of changing who she was to appease the eyeballs of others. Only one thought entered my mind as I watched her move through a crowd of bewildered onlookers.
Best 50 bucks I ever spent…
COME SEE ZACH PERFORM LIVE AT THE HAYRIDE! Tues. Dec 11 – 7:30 pm. BOOTLEG THEATER!
Based on my calculations, I have probably nursed more than 3500 hangovers in my adult life. Most of them have been passable- usually unraveled before 10 a.m. with some coffee, greasy food and copious amounts of water. Others have traveled into the afternoon, unable to be defeated by all the old tricks – like boxes of coconut water, bottles of Kombucha and the occasional trip to the steam room.
Then there are those hangovers that creep into the next day. Those hangovers that have you seriously considering a treatment program or moving out to a deserted island- far away from the temptation and distraction of the real world… A place where you can dry out and kick the need to party every time your favorite team scores a run, you watch a film like Pulp Fiction or read a rock-n-roll autobiography.
As I have grown older, those 2-3 day hangovers happen a lot less frequently. My body just can’t recover as quickly as it used to, and I can barely recall the last time I even had a head-splitting, mind-crusher that took me out of an entire day. However, on October 27, 2012, my screaming two-and-a-half-year-old daughter woke me up at 5:42 in the morning to the largest mule-kick, thunder-fuck of a hangover I have ever had in my 37 years on planet Earth.
It was one of those “I’d rather just die here” hangovers. One of those “I’m considering just vomiting in my bed” hangovers. A shrieking anguish pulsated throughout my brain as I attempted to focus on any inanimate object in my bedroom. It was useless. I was as useful as a deflated pool raft. I felt like a moppish blob of failure.
It was at that moment that I remembered it was Saturday morning, and I was expected to fulfill a laundry list of activities throughout the day. Activities I had no memory of agreeing to.
At 10 am, my family was scheduled to meet another family at the Los Angeles Zoo for a Halloween-themed afternoon where there was supposed to be all types of fun activities, free candy and spooky decorations… The event was called Boo at the Zoo, and my wife had planned it a week earlier. Unfortunately, my wife had forgotten that she had to work all Saturday, so I would be hanging with both kids by myself.
Then, at 3 o’clock, we had RSVP’d to a one-year-old birthday party at a park in Sherman Oaks.
It should be noted that my six-year-old son had broken his foot a week earlier by jumping off of a jungle gym and was sporting a massive, immobile cast, so I was dreading any activity that would take place outdoors and make him feel useless. Unfortunately, both of these plans were outdoor events.
To top it all off, I checked the demonic weather forecast for the day… 90-plus degrees in late October.
The piercing screech of my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter demanding a bowl of Cheerios was a fierce reminder that I am no longer able to drink like I used to. In fact, I could barely walk when I carried her downstairs into the living room, where I promptly did what any terrific, hands-on parent who cares about his children’s future would do…
I turned on the TV and crawled beneath a blanket.
Beneath the din of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, I was able to quickly re-discover my sleep pattern and I drifted in and out of consciousness as Mickey and Goofy talked about calling some freak named “Toodles” for help with their project. I figured I was good to go. The blanket was a little thin, but the couch never felt better – and I was convinced I could skate by another two hours and be in fine shape to take the little ones to Boo at the Zoo. Unfortunately, then my six-year-old son woke up.
“Are we going to the zoo yet, daddy?” He asked.
“Uhghghg… I think the zoo is closed today…” I said.
“No… mommy said it was open… Can I have Frosted Flakes?”
When my wife woke up, she was bounding with ebullience over the fact that she was set to be spending the day interviewing orphans for a documentary film she was producing. Even though her project is important, understanding and impressively daring, I managed to insult the entire thing by moaning an insensitive bad joke from beneath my shield of a blanket.
“I’m real glad you care more about the orphans than you do your own kids,” I remarked.
And with that, she was gone. Out the door for her interviews, obviously pissed off at me – not only for my immature comment – but also for my Jurassic hangover.
As I hobbled myself into an upright state, I tried to piece together my activity from the night before. I tried to remember exactly where it all went wrong. What moment the tables had turned and I had blacked out. For some reason, I was running a lot of blank tape…And then it hit me… it was my trainer Tony’s fault!
Tony and I had met at the gym a year earlier. He was solely responsible for transforming my body from doughy, out-of-shape 36-year-old into the only slightly less-doughy out of shape 37-year-old writing this essay. (Truth be told, Tony has helped me shed 10 pounds and get into my best shape since high school…but that’s another story). Bottom line is, Tony is a beast. At the gym he throws me into gravity strength training classes, punishing me with his signature moves called “Burpees,” “Oil-wells” and “Gorilla Thumps.” I leave the gym in pain every time we work out together, but I have also seen incredible results and I look at the guy not only as a trainer, but as a new friend. However, up until the night before, we had never been out drinking together…
Tony had texted me that he wanted to have a beer somewhere in Hollywood. Feeling a little loopy following the bottle of wine my wife and I had split during bath time with our kids, I was motivated and intrigued to go and join such a healthy athlete like Tony on a pub-crawl. My wife told me to have fun and specifically warned me not to drink too much.
“Please,” I said. “He’s a trainer, I highly doubt he likes to drink excessively…”
Oh, how wrong I was.
The thing with Tony, was that he has the same sort of mentality in a bar drinking, that he does in a weight room or a gravity class. He is a leader. The kind of guy who pushes you to do the kinds of things that don’t make you feel good… So, as easily as he made me do 20 pull-ups in the gym, he just as easily made me do nine shots at the bar. It was his trainer mentality. The mentality that said, do it or you’re a pussy.
So, I did it. And I did it a lot. Convinced I could easily dust him in any kind of drinking contest, I was shocked when he continued blasting through shots of Jameson whiskey as I casually switched over to light beer. His constant ribbing of my “weak liver” only fueled me to turn my attention back to doing shots, and by the time midnight rolled around, I was so hammered, I stumbled outside and bummed at least two menthol cigarettes from a black prostitute named “Mouse.”
The last thing I remember was having a final glass of red wine at the bar down the street from my house before walking home to my awaiting bed, where I promptly knocked over a shelf full of books upon barely making it under the sheets. I slept in my contact lenses, and my wife said my breathing was so beleaguered, that she feared I might asphyxiate during the night. To top it all off, I tried to listen to music on my iphone as I went to sleep, but I ended up dropping it and extending a small crack in the face of the phone all the way down across the home button. And then, 5:42 am arrived and I was carrying the little girl downstairs.
After my wife left, I tried another tried-and-true father maneuver to try and divert children from wanting to go to a Boo at the Zoo celebration… I bribed them.
“Listen,” I said to the boy. “If we skip the zoo today, I’ll buy you any Skylanders toy you want.”
“Either that, or I’ll take you to get ice-cream sundaes later…”
“Can’t we have both?” He asked.
I rubbed a moon-rock of sleep from my eye.
“Sure,” I relented.
Roughly 30 minutes later, the cereal was all over the floor and the kids were fighting over what channel they wanted to watch. Feeling somewhat guilty, I informed them that we were going to not watch anymore TV and that we were going up to the park.
“But what about the zoo?” The boy yelled.
Raising children is not an easy thing. Especially when you are an aging almost-rock star who once released an album called “Alcoholiday.” You get used to the night life for so long, it is a 180 degree wake-up call the first time your kid jolts you up in the early morning ruining what was once uninterrupted sleep. I am not the first person to write about this type of stuff, but I may be one of the first to try and do what I used to do whenever things didn’t go my way in life: Drink through it.
I managed to put together the most comfortable outfit I could, compiled from a dirty floor-sweatshirt and cargo shorts with flip flops, and I loaded up a bag full of kids snacks and bottles for the zoo. 10:00 was quickly approaching, and I thought that perhaps, with a little more water and a power bar, I could get through the 20-minute drive to the zoo for what was sure to be a fun day for my kids. After all, my wife would absolutely kill me if I kept them at home to nurse a hangover, so I sacked up and decided that a little fresh air might do us all some good. (By the way, if you are wondering why I have yet to pop an Advil or Tylenol, it’s because I am afraid of pain-relief medicine. Yeah, I know. I will take nine shots of Jameson, but I am afraid of the physical damage two Advil might have on my body.)
I admit it. I am an idiot.
I should have turned the car around when I saw the traffic entering Griffith Park. We were backed up for 25 minutes. The number of cars going left seemed endless, and I immediately knew that the zoo would be a madhouse. Still, I turned up the volume on the back seat TV and let the kids watch the final half hour of Monsters Vs. Aliens. I also took the time to begin texting the other family we were going to meet at the zoo. Scott and Joely weren’t close friends, but they had a six-year-old who my son enjoyed playing with. Besides, I thought, another two sets of eyes would make the day go by a lot faster.
I texted Scott.
How close are you guys?
He didn’t reply.
After we successfully made the left turn into Griffith Park, we followed the winding road around past the golf course and up towards the Gene Autry Museum and the Los Angeles Zoo. I slouched forward and noticed the alarming number of cars already parked in the adjacent lot. Families of four all pushed strollers towards the entrance, roughly 2000 feet away from the nearest parking space. It was massively crowded. I should have turned around. Instead, I passed through the barricade and committed to the afternoon. I looked at my phone… 88 degrees and rising.
My headache only worsened as I wrestled the stroller from the back of my car. Sometimes, trying to maneuver a stroller into position is like attempting to fold a 30-pound Origami napkin. Wheels get turned sideways, diaper bags get caught in bottom carriages… it truly sucks. Of course on this day of hangover hell, everything you can imagine was going wrong. When I finally straightened it out and prepared for the half-mile hike to the entrance, I carried my daughter towards the stroller, praying she’d take a nap for the majority of the zoo adventure. Instead, she wanted to walk. The boy, already lame in his foot cast, wanted to go in the stroller. Realizing that it would probably be a better idea for him to not put as much pressure on his foot, I let him ride. Of course, this made the girl want to ride as well.
The brother-sister battle began. As I strained to push the stroller with a 55-pound boy inside, my daughter screamed that now she wanted to be inside. I compromised by carrying her in my left arm while pushing the boy with my right. Impossible to steer on a straight line, we made it roughly 25 feet before I had to readjust and try another tactic. This continued for the rest of the walk. Her only other desire was to be carried .It was finalized. I would be carrying my daughter the entire time we were at the zoo.
I think it was the minute we made it up to the entrance when Scott finally texted me back.
Dude, waaaay to crowded and hot. We’re not gonna make it. Beer later?
Fuck you, Scott.
Boo at the Zoo was one of the lamest things you could choose to take your children to. In the newspaper ad, kids were promised trick-or-treating and huge bags of candy. Upon arrival, they were handed a tiny paper bag with five treats inside – sponsored by 99 Cent Stores. The giant pumpkin maze turned out to be about 7 bails of hay arranged in a small stack surrounded by random jack-o-lanterns. The “spooky crafts” they had been promised was a table where you could paint a stick. Finally, there was a lame attraction where zookeepers fed chimpanzees pumpkins and let the crowd watch. Not exactly a fascinating thing to witness.
At one point, while leaning over the Tapir cage, a father standing next to me sniffed near my body and made eye contact.
“Dude, I didn’t want to say anything, but you smell like booze,” he said.
I slowly turned my head towards the sober-looking instigator.
“Walk away,” I said before slumping my way down the railing.
The boy seemed to get heavier as the day wore on, possibly because I let him eat his entire treat bag, and he simply refused to get out of the stroller. The girl and I actually saw most of the animals, which was somewhat enjoyable – especially when she called the giraffe a “firaffe” and the zebra a “webra,” but mainly, it was just another day at the zoo with a ferocious hangover… and 2000 families in Halloween costumes jockeying for position to watch a Brazilian rodent called a “Red-Rumped Agouti” eat pumpkin seeds.
Having nursed mild hangovers everywhere from Disneyland to farmer’s markets, I have to say the LA Zoo has one terrific feature about it. It serves booze. At first, I didn’t notice it, but as the day dragged on, more and more moms and dads were nursing 12 dollar beers in the now 91-degree heat. I even saw a kiosk offering up red and white wine, and toyed with the idea of a little hair-of-the-dog, but my stomach pains eventually won out and I kept swallowing water at a feverish pace instead. About two hours into our zoo journey, I broke a natural sweat. It felt terrific. I let the girl run around near the elephant display as I soaked up the sun like a Jersey Shore cast member in a tanning booth. I finally felt, for the first time all day, alive.
I bought the kids some chips and a hot dog to split, but neither of them seemed interested. Frustrated with the lack of enthusiasm for the fact that I just dropped 15 dollars on a hot dog and bag of Doritos, I decided that I would be eating them myself. I wheeled the stroller to the edge of the “Gorilla Grill” and proceeded to wolf down a nitrate-blasted chemical dog, a bag of Doritos and even went back inside to order a chocolate-dipped churro. The boy sulked that I wouldn’t let him have any of the churro, but I felt that my health was more important to surviving the afternoon than his was. I told him he needed to eat something healthy before he could have a treat. This coming from a guy who just poisoned his body with 30 gallons of liquor and a frankfurter made out of pig lips, intestines and assholes.
The next sign of humanity came when I had digested the food and washed it down with a soda. Some color returned to my face and I felt less pekid. I wheeled the stroller around the lion display (which was closed) and past another Halloween activity – the pumpkin-carving specialist – before announcing that this day at the zoo was over.
I steadied myself for the nearly mile-and-a-half walk back to the car, and threw my daughter up on my left arm while navigating the boy in the stroller with my right. All I cared about was getting home, putting the girl down for her nap and turning on any college football game on TV. I could blame her nap schedule for us missing the one-year-old birthday (everyone does it) and I knew that if I didn’t lie down soon, things might get really ugly. My wife wasn’t due home until 7:30, and it was approaching 1:30 – so I figured that some coffee and some TV might help me drift through the rest of the day. I limped off towards our ride home.
30 minutes later, I struggled with the stroller again and climbed into the wretchedly hot interior of my 2005 Honda CR-V.
I sat and let the air-conditioning pulsate through the car. The boy looked miserable, and was jamming a pretzel stick into his leg cast as a way to scratch an invisible itch. Of course, the pretzel broke off, and I spent the next 14 minutes trying to dig it out. My daughter repeatedly asked for a bottle, and since we were out of milk, I tried to pass her a half-water concoction instead Of course she could tell the difference right away and threw it back at me in the front seat.
My head still pounding, I pulled out of the parking lot and turned the wheel towards home. I knew the day was only half over, but the worst part of my hangover had passed… or so I thought. My head was still pounding and now, following my disgusting lunch, my stomach had kicked itself into high gear as well. As it rumbled through the 20-minute drive home, I did my best to text Scott back and curse him out for skipping the zoo altogether. At this point, I had two choices. I could tell Scott how lucky he was that he had skipped it – and give him the sense of satisfaction that he had made the right decision to stay home instead – or I could talk up the experience as one of the best we as a family had ever been a part of… I went with the latter.
Boo at the Zoo RULED! Best day ever – we missed you guys… it was amazing and not too hot!
Evil, I know, but it made me feel a little better.
Five minutes from the house, I nearly puked in my car. I realized that it was probably going to happen within the next 30 minutes or so – so I did my best to hold it in as we rambled down Franklin Avenue. As I fought back the acidic demons in my stomach, I looked back at my kids and hoped that they had at least a morsel of fun. I know the boy was too injured to do much, but he at least got to see a few neat things – and for that – I felt proud of myself as a dad. I had braved the crowds, the heat and the zoo and even had a little laugh about the entire experience. I asked my daughter what her favorite part was, and she responded with, “The firaffe.” My heart nearly melted.
When I proposed the same question to the boy, his response was a little different. Aware that he had just been wheeled around a 91-degree zoo with a broken foot, he threw back something that only a six-year-old could hold onto after nearly half a day spent surrounded by strange families in costumes eating bags of treats from a 99 cent store…
He scratched at his cast and the bits of pretzel stick still hanging around the itchy part of his poor leg and caught my eye in the rear-view mirror. He squinted his eyes back at me before responding…
“Dad?” He said. “When are going to get ice cream sundaes?”