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…
We lost a terrific man this week. Here he is saying more with no dialogue than most actors can say with Shakesperean prose. – RIP to John Walsh… aka “Jimmy the Taint.” (Originally aired on G4 “Attack of the Show” in 2007)
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!
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?”
Yeah, posterized. Embarrassed. Juked. Lit up. Dusted. Shook, took and left for dead. Jammed on by a 20-something human helicopter in the YMCA basketball league I reluctantly joined to appease my doctor, my family history of heart disease and my rising cholesterol. It was pretty damn humiliating, especially since my wife and six-year-old son were on the sidelines – and this 6’6” athletic specimen – with arms like boa constrictors and the vertical leap of a Madagascan Cheetah – decided to gloat while high-fiving his teammates, shouting “Take that white boy!” in my general direction… Our coach Jerome called a time out and quickly informed that I wouldn’t be coming back in the game for awhile. I understood. I sat on the bench and hung my head against my 2004 Arizona Wildcats basketball shorts and wiped heavy beads of sweat into my towel. I slowly looked over at my son – who turned to his mom and asked her why daddy got taken out of the game. Ever the subtle parent, my wife informed him, “Your dad just got annihilated.”
When I first joined the Hollywood YMCA, it was on my doctor’s orders. My family history had a lot to do with it – and his main motive was to get my cardiovascular activity up and my cholesterol down. Since basketball was always my favorite form of exercise, I chose the Y because the courts were full of older players with no other motivation than a little exercise and some fun. The majority of the guys I encountered on Tuesdays and Thursdays were in their 30’s and 40’s and had some sort of knee brace or elbow support sleeve on their bodies. They put up long threes, blew easy lay-ups and spent half the game talking about the Hollywood trades and other silliness, killing time as their kids tooled around the clubhouse downstairs. Rucker Park this was not.
After hanging around the sidelines for 20 minutes or so, I was invited in to play… and I quickly put up a dazzling 6 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in a 21-19 thriller of a pick up game. In my mind, I was back. Back to those glory days of my youth when I used to school young Jewish guys in the “Stephen S. Wise Temple Basketball League.” Back when I made the Junior Varsity team at my high school and actually had the ability to dunk a basketball on a ten-foot rim. (OK, I did it twice, but I did do it…) Back when my life was simple and easy, and when the only thing that mattered was which pair of Air Jordans I would save up for to parade around high school as a way to try and impress hot Tucson girls who actually would consider me to be a potential prom date just because I wore a pair of $100 Nikes…
Nowadays, the last thing I remember dunking was a celery stalk into a Bloody Mary. Those Air Jordans are long gone. So is my vertical leap. And according to Facebook, all those hot Tucson girls have teenage kids and have been divorced an average of two times since high school. So, in my mind, scoring 6 points in a YMCA game was the equivalent of winning an NBA Championship. I immediately told my wife that I loved basketball at the YMCA – and I showed up again the next day to take on another set of chumps with my wicked first step and decent mid-range jumper.
Turns out, the Tuesday – Thursday game features a totally different crew than the guys who play on Monday – Wednesday.
My first indication that the competition was at another level, was the fact that most of the guys on the court didn’t have a mid-section. There were dudes even playing shirtless, a thing you only see down at Venice Beach during the summer, and they looked like their bodies had robotic sound effects when they moved. Some guys had typical basketball tattoos reading ”Ball is Life” and “Love of the Game” beneath an orange ball swishing through a net. One guy stood close to 6’10” and practiced drop-step lay-ups while a scraggly Steve Nash-looking kid fed him bounce passes. Another rained in threes from NBA range, shouting out “ALL DAY!” whenever he connected… which was a lot. Finally, a shredded swing-man named DeMar threw down an Isiah Rider through-the-legs dunk during a fast break. I quickly turned and headed towards the door, opting to run on the treadmill that day instead.
Little did I know, DeMar would be the same guy would dunk on me this morning… Let me back up for a second and explain how I even got invited to play in the YMCA league in the first place.
Back in the summer of 2008, I was covering the famed “San Diego Comic-Con” for Attack of the Show, a TV program I was hosting. The convention was a nerd party of epic proportions, and I took full advantage of every open bar in the Gaslight District of the city – including a party where celebrated Ohio State star and Portland Trailblazers number one draft pick Greg Oden made an appearance. Being one of the only basketball fans in the entire city that night worked to my advantage, and Greg Oden and I spoke for a good 20 minutes before he was whisked away by a publicist for some interview. After he left my presence, a geeky fanboy tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if the seven-foot Greg Oden was Samuel L. Jackson from Snakes on a Plane.
“Uhm, no,” I told him.
In November of that year, I was inspired to get myself in shape. I read that Nike had announced the release of the new Greg Oden Power Max basketball shoe and the minute I had read about it, I knew that would be my shoe. After all, Greg had been so cool at Comic Con, I was convinced he had a Michael Jordan – like career ahead of him and would be exactly the kind of role model I needed to inspire me to revisit my past basketball athletic prowess. So, the day the shoe was released, I took a trip up to the Topanga Canyon Mall where I dropped 130 dollars on a pair of Nike Greg Oden PE’s which featured his name – “Oden” – prominently stitched across the laces as well as the back of the shoe. It was impossible to miss.
Five years later, as you may or may not know, Greg Oden is considered one of the biggest disappointments in the history of NBA basketball. Right up there with Sam Bowie, Joe Barry Carroll and Michael Olowokandi. Yes, a BUST. His injuries have left him sidelined for all but 23 games or so and the guy drafted after him – Kevin Durant – has gone on to become arguably the best player in the NBA. Greg Oden is currently coaching basketball clinics in Oregon. I hope he invested his money wisely, or he might be hanging sheetrock in a few years.
Unfortunately, his shoe is the only basketball shoe I own. Basically, I refuse to ever pay that much money for a shoe again – and I never really wore his model that much anyway – so it is in fairly great condition. A year ago I tried to see if it would sell on ebay, but the only other model on the website was a “Buy It Now” offer for $9.99, so I figured I’d just play ball in my Oden’s until they fell apart. (By the way, if you are interested, you can buy 100 – yes 100 – Greg Oden Topps rookie basketball cards for $3.99 on ebay right now).
So, I am stuck with my Oden’s and there’s a small part of me that actually kind of enjoys the irony of owning them. It’s like owning the film Gigli on Blu-Ray.
The treadmill I run on at the YMCA faces the pathway between the basketball courts and the water fountain, so the players come out every 20 minutes or so for breaks. The players have never noticed me running before, but that Wednesday, they decided to approach my treadmill as I was running following the first game they had played that afternoon. I wasn’t sure why… until they called me by my shoe.
“Yo, Greg Oden!” One wiry dude yelled just as I hit my 9 minute-per-mile stride. “Come off that treadmill for a second, man!”
A little intimidated, I kept running.
“Why?” I asked.
“We wanna ask you a question,” he responded.
I pressed pause on my iphone and stepped off the treadmill. I had run 1.2 miles in 10 minutes. 151 calories. Meh.
I walked over to the crew of dudes who were somewhat taunting me like jocks in high school making fun of the kid who played piccolo in the band. Why were they here? What did they want? I quickly found out.
“Where did you get a pair of Oden’s?” The leader asked.
As his crew looked down at my shoes, the laughs and taunts continued.
“Nice choice, bro!”
For some reason, I was facing ridicule for Greg Oden’s injury-prone career… as if I had been Greg Oden. It didn’t make any sense. So, as I have always tended to do, I made a humorous jibe about the situation.
“Yeah, I got these when he was the biggest prospect in basketball, alright? I could afford one dope pair of shoes, and I fucked up and chose these, OK? Whatchu think, I can afford a pair of Kevin Durant’s?”
The guys laughed. They high-fived. They made me feel better. They were funny, and seemingly down to Earth. And then, maybe as a kind gesture – or just as a way to see how terrible I was as a basketball player – they invited me to come get into a quick game of pick-up hoop in the main gym.
A lump appeared in my throat… Could I hang with these trees? Was my game on their level? I mean, if my shot was on, I might be able to put up a few buckets… but if my nerves got the better of me, I risked the horror of becoming known as the “Greg Oden of the YMCA…”
Painted in a corner, I said OK, and I tightened my $130 shoes and walked out towards the basketball court – convinced that I was about to get schooled by a bunch of guys who probably played division I, NBA D-league or even overseas basketball.
The tip-off was the first sign of the ring of hell that I had entered. After Fez from our team won the tip, a guy named Derrick told Fez that the ball wasn’t thrown up “evenly.” A huge shit-talk session began for the next three minutes and we weren’t even past the tip-off. I had seen these trash-talker games before. Basically, a lot of guys call fouls on every play and their opponents complain about the calls. The games take forever to finish because nobody ever actually plays, they just spend most of the time jawing at each other. It sucks to play in and to watch. I immediately knew it would be that kind of game. After we held a re-jump ball, nearly every two or three trips up the court ended in a heated smack talk exchange.
“Hell, no, THAT’S A FOUL!” Yelled a guy called Jay Reezy who was covering up his embarrassing air-ball.
“Foul… and one,” screamed Joelle as his ball clanged off the rim.
“Man, get yo hand off my dick!” shouted Lorenzo, after I cleanly swiped the basketball from his hands. Yes, it was clean, but he accused me not only of the foul, but of molestation. They took the ball back and scored on sheer intimidation factor on the next play. The reality of YMCA pick-up basketball had set in. When Lorenzo yelled, “I’ma KILL you mother fucka” to oue sidwline coach Jerome who called a traveling violation on a jump shot, it vaguely reminded me of that scene from White Men Can’t Jump (A film that director Ron Shelton actually envisioned while playing on the same Hollywood YMCA courts I was playing on) when Marques Johnson’s character went to his glove compartment to get a gun to settle a dispute. I believe the line was “I’m gonna get my other gun and I’m shooting you AND him…”
Whatever the case, I was scared – and I did my best “hide around the three-point line and pray that nobody wants me to shoot” routine. Woody Harrelson, I was not. Amazingly enough, I did attempt one three-pointer… And I somehow nailed it.
As the game wore on, I notched up another bucket on an inside pump fake that got the team yelling “Nice one, Oden!” As I spent a minute jogging back on defense, I couldn’t help but notice as a guy named Red flew by me and converted a lay-up against an older center whom I had recognized from Tuesday’s game. As I threw the ball in, I jokingly told him, “You should’ve called a foul.”
He smiled and passed the ball up to the front court.
The game turned out to be the longest pick-up game I have ever played in. There was more chatter, more arguing, more fouls called, more shit-talking and more disagreements than I have seen even in my six-year-old son’s Junior Lakers League. It was like playing against spoiled teenagers, and I wanted to fake an injury just to not play anymore… Still, it was the big league players at the YMCA… and I was hanging.
When the buzzer sounded, we were shuffled off the court for the next crew of five. We had lost 21 – 17… and even though I only scored five points, I honestly felt like I had played better than some of the trash-talking intimidators who had been there dealing handfuls of smack to our opponents. I was inspired and convinced that after a little practice, I might be able to step back in to bang with these big boys. Following the game, when coach Jerome invited me to sub on their YMCA league team the following Saturday morning, I knew I had proven myself as somewhat of a baller… I was shocked and flattered, and I responded to his request with a foolish exclamation of “dope!”
I immediately felt like an idiot.
I came home and informed my wife that I had made the team… Sort of. I mentioned that I was invited to substitute for another player and that I needed to be on my A-game on Saturday morning. My wife, an actual high school female basketball All-State player seemed impressed. The stage was set. I had a league game on Saturday! No news yet on if I’d be starting… But I was nervous as shit.
I decided that a quick pick-up game in the Jewish Basketball League wouldn’t hurt my confidence either.
Back in 2000 or so, I was a terror on the courts of the Jewish Basketball League. My old roommate Mike and I had been a lethal inside-outside combination, and even though I would enter most games sweating beer and whiskey from the night before, our Stephen S. Wise Matzah Ballers defeated the Temple Hess Kramer Lions handily for three years straight. Many of our players have gone on to Hollywood success, some are still playing and others are long gone from the city… Still, I always knew in the back of my head that if there was a place to regain my basketball confidence, it was the Jewish league. A run I specifically refer to as “Heeb Hoops.”
Thursday evening, I rolled into the Michael Milken gymnasium wearing a Carmelo Anthony Denver Nuggets jersey and cradling a Vita-Coco water. My old roommate Mike was still running the league. Not much seemed different – except for the fact that Mike was now sporting a “Rip Hamilton Face Mask” that he had been fitted with following his fourth broken nose in Jewish basketball games. (Shockingly, the nose-break is a very popular Jewish basketball injury.)
Mike gave me a silent head nod as I surveyed the competition before warming up. Convincing myself that these young players had nothing on my storied Jewish Basketball League career, I shot a few jumpers, ran some drills and worked on my left-handed penetration – a skill I had been lacking since those JV days back in high school. By the time I was allowed to get in the run, I was on top of the world. And it showed. I shook Gabe Friedman on a crossover that gave us a two-point lead. Mike fed me a pass and Jordan Mogelwitz fell for my pump-fake and ended up watching me bank in a 7-footer on his left. Even Raphie Spiegel bit on my daring long-range three that tied the game at 16 before my old homeboy Mike crossed-over a college kid and put us up by a bucket. Mike and I ended the run with a classic give and go – punctuated by his three-pointer that won us the game. Mike and I celebrated, exchanged awkward 37-year-old dap handshakes and chest-bumps. I had 9 of our points. Mike had 12. It was 2000 all over again. We even smoked a joint in the parking lot afterwards and made stoned plans to form a team that had a shot at winning the coveted “Dead Sea Cup” in the fall. It was amazing. I got home, showered and went to bed, convinced that by Saturday, I would be running YMCA regulars up and down the court beginning at the first whistle.
Oh how wrong I was.
The YMCA league resembled the All-Valley Karate Championship from the film Karate Kid. Some dudes were mad-dogging any potential challengers like Johnny Lawrence did Daniel Laruso. Teams were stretching and warming up like it was the Final Four. Guys with prison-shaped muscles ran “suicide” drills and barked out orders towards their teams. I recognized DeMar the shredded dunker from the YMCA working on his through-the-legs jam during a lay-up drill. Some other players from the YMCA were there too, representing different branches. We were Hollywood, but there was definitely a Downtown crew and an intimidating looking Westside team. Most of their players all looked bigger and more confident than I did. Even my teammate Fez seemed to be in the zone, dishing out chest passes to our team before noticing my arrival and demanding I let my wife and kid know they had to remain outside the gym until the sidelines were opened up to the public… Somehow, I immediately knew this was a bad idea.
I did not start the game. In fact, I “rode pine” the entire first half, doing what I do best… MOCKING PEOPLE. I reverted to the 13-year-old clown who developed his ESPN-worthy broadcast voice on the bench as the 10th man on his junior high championship team. I regressed into the sophomore who spit funny commentary from the bench as my team lost by 29 to Marana High School. I became the stoner kid from college who skipped our fraternity basketball tournament due to a mushroom hangover… I was simply not taking anything seriously.
“Jesus, I’ve seen better jumpers hooked to the battery of my car,” I announced.
“He couldn’t hit air if he was skydiving,” I offered.
“He’s got more turnovers than a bakery,” I joked, terribly.
I went on and on. Until two minutes before the half when our coach, Jerome, informed me that our leading scorer Gary Vernon had sprained his ankle. I was in at small forward, and that I “better not fuck it up.”
Luckily, with a minute left, I handled my own. I was able to guard their sharp-shooter somewhat easily, at least for 60 seconds, and when the halftime buzzer sounded, I hustled to the sideline, winking at my wife and son, knowing we were up by 8 points.
At halftime, I prayed that Gary would be able to return. Unfortunately, he told coach Jerome he was out. I was summoned to start the second half and I told him I was ready to answer the call.
The second half was reminiscent of the YMCA pick-up game I witnessed a few days before. Smack was talked, play was delayed, but luckily, the presence of referees helped move the action along. A minute in, and I got passed the ball for the first time. I looked inside, but had no outlet. I took a few dribbles around the perimeter before handing the ball off to our point guard. He drove the lane and was quickly rejected… the ball bounced towards me. Wide open outside of the three-point line. Now, in my life, I have performed for crowds as big as 1500 people. I have no fear of the spotlight. I embrace. It. So of course, at that very moment, I did what any lifelong performer would do… I froze.
Like a statue. Good old DeMar ran up and swiped the ball from me before beasting towards the other side of the court where he easily converted a tomahawk rim-rocker that brought the crowd to its feet. I was suddenly, the worst player on the court. I felt that familiar lump return to my throat. Sure, I could perform music and comedy in front of 1000 people, but when 18 folks – including my wife and son – were standing on a nearby sideline, I had no idea how to execute anything. The floodgates of failure had been opened.
DeMar went on a scoring tear. 12 points in under five minutes. Our eight point lead became a four point deficit. Game was 21… It was 17-13.
I felt the crowd getting into the game. I looked towards my bench and saw Gary glaring at me – as if I had stuck his pet kitten in a microwave. It was not exactly the teammate support I was looking for. As I tried to juke the opposing team with some cross-pattern routes I remembered from high school ball, I was checked by a player and felt like I had run into a concrete wall. I staggered back slightly, a bit dazed but conscious, before looking up to see Fez’s missed three-pointer bounce my way. I turned my body asunder – if only to imitate the Lebron James and Magic Johnson moves I had grown up worshiping, and felt an inescapable lack of confidence when I sent a lazy pass over the lane intended for a guy named Rick Cahill. Unfortunately, that pass was read with precision by DeMar.
I made the mistake of chasing him down the court. By the time I had come close to catching up with his super-human speed, he was already 39 inches in the air… I lept up as well, and thought for a second that I might have a chance at slapping the ball out of his hands. Instead, what happened will forever be known as the worst sports moment in my life.
He threw down a one-handed fiendishly brutish ogre-fuck of a dunk. The ball thunderously cascaded off of my head. It ricocheted against the back wall and sadly crept towards the exit of the gym before pausing against a stranger’s bag – almost as if it had been shot by a hunter with a cross-bow. It did everything but deflate itself and bleed to death. Coach Jerome called a very necessary time-out.
A few minutes later, we lost 21 – 13. I looked over towards my wife and son. She had already taken him out of the gym as if to not force him to watch any more of the carnage. Our players threw water bottles at the bench and cursed to each other. They asked Gary about his ankle and offered him 50 solutions to get it to heal. They swallowed Gatorade and water without making any eye contact with me and exited quickly and quietly. Before coach Jerome could leave the gym, I yelled out at him.
“What time’s game next week?”
Jerome looked back to me and offered, “You don’t have a game next week…”
As DeMar disappeared to the sidelines and put on a pair of Beats by Dr. Dre, I stood up and made my way down to the locker room to shower. As I walked inside, I could hear many of the members talking about DeMar’s dunk and how incredible it was. When I passed the crew of players tightly seated in a circle, I noticed they were watching something on one of their iphones… Sure enough, it was the dunk. Someone had filmed him taking flight and macerating the rim at my expense. I quickly turned away from the viewing and tried my best to tip-toe back out of the door. Before I could escape, one of the guys called after me.
“Yo, dude!” He said. “Quick question for ya…”
I stopped in my tracks and turned around, afraid of what insulting low blow he would send my way. Anticipating the worst, I took a deep breath and awaited sure insult and humiliation. Finally, he spoke.
“Are you wearing Greg Oden’s?”
I cracked a meek smile and threw my towel over my shoulder.
“Only until I can afford a pair of Sam Bowie’s,” I joked.
The guys chuckled, probably because they felt sorry for me, but it was enough to show that I wasn’t taking any of this stuff that seriously.
As they replayed the dunk over and over on the iphone, I slipped out the door and called my wife. She answered the phone by saying, “I’m sorry.”
We spoke for a minute about everything but the game. What we needed at the store, what time the kids needed to be dropped off at practice… even what Netflix we wanted to order. It was a nice distraction and one that took my mind off my embarrassing moment on the court a few minutes earlier.
I drank some water and said good-bye to some of the other players who were on their way out of the locker room. I looked around the YMCA and quietly announced my retirement from the basketball league to nobody in particular. It was rather unnecessary, but it felt better to say it out loud.
And then I went upstairs to run on the treadmill.
Zach Selwyn October 23, 2012
To read Mike’s wife cute blog entry on Mike’s mask itself – click here – THE FACE MASK
Zach’s busy summer continues, as he has been tapped to host the upcoming truTV show “Guinness World Records Gone Wild.” Alongside Co-Host DAN CORTESE (Hot in Cleveland, Veronica’s Closet) and Guinness adjudicator LIZ SMITH – Zach will provide humorous and amusing color commentary as people from all across the world will attempt to break Guinness World Records.
Set to premiere later this year on truTV, Guinness World Records Gone Wild challenges people to push themselves to do astonishing things for their place in history. The one-hour series is being produced for truTV by High Noon Entertainment (Tough Love, Cake Boss, Hurricane Hunters).
“Like the title says, Guinness World Records Gone Wild is a wild hour of television,” said Marc Juris, executive vice president and chief operating officer for truTV. “This is an exciting show that really puts you on the edge of your seat while also making you laugh out loud at the crazy things some people will do to break a record.”
Zach’s other TV show, Americas Secret Slang, is also slated to premiere in the late summer on History Channel or H2.
Liz Smith, Dan Cortese and Zach Selwyn on set this week in Santa Monica, CA.