This morning I drove past two skinny homeless men with multiple missing teeth who were smoking cigarettes before nearly running over a mangy stray dog panting in the street. I made a left turn at the Hustler Hollywood store, narrowly averting a woman who was squatting and urinating into a discarded water bottle. I eventually parked and walked around my car, side-stepping two discarded needles some dog crap and a used condom. I dodged a speeding Hyundai that was being driven by a dude vaping and texting at the same time before opening the passenger door… and helping my kid get out of the car.
“Ready for school?” I asked.
Welcome to Hollywood.
I was raised in a peaceful, quiet corner of the desert where coyotes and jumping cholla cacti were my biggest fears while walking to school. I didn’t see a homeless man until I was about 13. Hustler was a magazine that only prisoners and truckers read and needles were something only a doctor could get a hold of. Yesterday, my son asked me why the guy who lives in the dumpster across the street from his carpool pick-up lane is always shouting, “Ho ass bitch” while shuffling down Selma Avenue.
I am raising my children in Gomorrah and it’s starting to freak me the fuck out.
This school year, my son’s entire fifth grade class was moved to a new school campus – about 10 blocks north of the previous campus where they had been since kindergarten. The new campus is on Selma Avenue and is a stone’s throw from the Hollywood YMCA. It’s also a block south of Hollywood Boulevard, nearly 10 medical marijuana dispensaries, six seedy bars, smoke shops, two run-down hotels, a vintage street clock that has been permanently set to 4:20 and about nine tattoo parlors.
Back in my 20’s, when I was stumbling out of the bar Boardner’s (a block away from the school on Cherokee), I could never imagine that someday my son would be taking “Beginner Spanish” 50 yards from where I once puked after a night of Vodka – Red Bulls. I never thought I’d be raising my kids anywhere but some pristine little tucked away school with manicured lawns and open fields and morning sing-a-longs. Little did I know that barbed wire fences, metal detectors and cement soccer fields were going to be the norm for my children…
At a back-to-school meet and greet two weeks after the first day, some other parents expressed their concerns as well.
“We just don’t like the way the school feels,” an angry parent offered.
“We are striving to make everybody comfortable,” the principal, a 40-something man named Reggie replied.
“It’s hard to be comfortable when I smell marijuana every day when I drop my kid off,” another mom piped up.
Hollywood has changed immensely since the rundown 1990’s. Tourism is up, souvenir stores are making great money and people from all over the world are still traveling here to take photos of the sidewalk where an actor’s name is etched into a star. Of course, when the tourists come, so do the hustlers. You’ve seen them selling rap CD’s, trying to get you to take the TMZ Tour and drunkenly swaying into your photos while dressed up in a piss-stained Spider-Man costume demanding five dollars.
Look, my high school was no picnic. I witnessed a shooting, a lot of fights and certainly saw my share of LSD and dirt weed from Mexico, but I was in high school… Not fifth grade. Being raised in the desert certainly shaded me from the inner city realities of gang-ridden America, but I was also lucky enough to travel to places like New York and LA to see how other kids were growing up. Ultimately, their fast-paced lives had a strong effect on me because I headed for college in Los Angeles the minute I turned 18. Thinking back about my childhood dreams, I turned my son one day after school.
“Hey dude, where do you want to live when you grow up?” I asked him.
“Probably the beach… or New York I guess.”
Obviously he hadn’t thought this one out. Not me. By the time I was ten, I had it narrowed down to Los Angeles and Los Angeles.
My son is also already planning out his first tattoo, based on a conversation we had last week. After pouring over NBA star Brandon Ingram’s arms as we were watching a basketball game, he asked me a question.
“Dad, if you could get a tattoo, what would you get?”
“Oh wow, I dunno – probably your name and your sister’s name,” I said. “Something small and hidden and meaningful.”
“I’d probably get Savage in cursive across my eyebrow,” he said.
“You’re not getting a tattoo,” I told him.
“Why not? All the sickest rappers have face tattoos now…”
As we listened to my kid’s Spotify playlist, I heard no less than ten “N-Bombs”, three songs about abusing Xanax, Percocet and Molly and over ten about Gucci, 80,000 dollar watches and ‘Lambos. Every song featured sound effects like “Skrrr” for a cool car or “Skrrrrratatatatata” to mimic an assault rifle peppering an enemy with bullets… Look, I love rap music. I chased a rap career myself at one point… but no 5th grader should be asking his dad what Codeine, Mountain Dew and Jolly Ranchers taste like together.
Alas, the reality of this situation is that I can’t afford to shell out 35,000 dollars to private academies like Campbell Hall or Oakwood… Although from what I remember from college – most of the heaviest partiers came out of these schools. Which gives me some hope… And truthfully, other than the dead guy who was wheeled away from the apartment down the block last week, the school is fun, diverse and growing and I’m actually proud to be a part of the community.
So, as the years roll along, I’ll just have to deal with the syringes, homeless guys and Hustler Hollywood foot traffic for a few more years until junior high. Luckily, that campus is located downtown in a much more secure location…
It’s across the street from an outpatient clinic for opioid addicts…
Re-Examining the 1997 NBA Draft – If I Had Been Selected…
(Originally published @Nerdist Sports 2017)
At the end of my senior year in college – despite having not played organized basketball since high school and maintaining a 1.8 blood alcohol level for four years straight, my friends dared me to declare for the NBA draft. I wrote an official letter the NBA commissioner David Stern and presented my accolades: Six-foot-two. 3.8 G.P.A. Fraternity scoring leader and dunk contest winner on the 8-foot hoop in the parking lot.
I wasn’t selected.
Looking back now, I have to argue that I might have been a better pick than 75% of the players in the 1997 NBA draft. Sure, the draft produced perennial all-stars Tim Duncan (#1), Chauncey Billups (#3) and Tracy McGrady (#9), but for every one of those guys, there are three Ed Elisma’s (#40), Bubba Wells’ (#34) and Ben Pepper’s (#55). Who’s to say that if I was chosen in the late second round I wouldn’t have made a better impact than a guy like 44th pick Cedric Henderson?
I was too short to be a forward, my high school position. My handle wasn’t strong enough to compete for a point guard slot, so basically, my only shot was to be drafted as a shooting guard – and my guess is I would have been picked somewhere around 46 – where Orlando took Alabama marksman Eric Washington. (Whose best year came with the Idaho Stampede in the NBA D-League in 2010).
Due to some late garbage time minutes, I estimate I would have averaged roughly 1.2 points a game… Which is more than draft picks C.J. Bruton (#52), Roberto Duenas (#57) and Nate Erdmann (#55) ever averaged in their careers.
The 11th pick of the draft was a guy named Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Nobody past the top 10 picks truly ever made a big statement in the NBA. Sure, Stephen Jackson (#42) was a key piece to the 2003 Spurs, Bobby Jackson (#23) was a sixth man sparkplug and Mark Blount (#54) was a dependable center for a few teams – but overall, 1997 was pretty mediocre… Even though I once bought into the ESPN theory that Jacque Vaughn (#27) would be the next Allen Iverson.
My own personal draft journey began after a two-game playoff run in the annual 1997 fraternity basketball challenge.
It was in a game against Pi Kappa Alpha. Their starting point guard tried to take me off the dribble to the left. I stuck my arm just above his bounce and poked the ball free into the open court. I ran after it, scooped it up and laid it in for the victory. My fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi had won our first play-off game in 10 years. In our next contest, we gave the brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon a good run, and I poured in 21 points. Ultimately, we lost on a late technical foul call when I got kicked out for calling the referee a “dickbag.”
It was after that game, while consuming a lot of Natural Light beer, that I decided to declare for the draft.
On draft day 1997, I sat on my mother’s couch with baited anticipation as the others had their moments. I ordered some pizza for my family. My mother thought I had lost my mind.
As the evening progressed, I had seen enough of the long, tailored mustard and pinstriped suits making their way to the podium to shake David Stern’s hand. I watched as guys like Tony Battie (#5), Danny Fortson (#10) and Antonio Daniels (#4) put on those crisp new NBA caps. I accepted the inevitable as the first round telecast came to an end.
The second round was only on the radio, so I sat in my Civic, listening in.
“And with the 48th pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, the Washington Bullets select Predrag Drobnjak from KK Partizan, Serbia.”
Really? A guy named Predrag was taken? Nobody could even pronounce his name. So what if he was a six-foot-eleven three time Euro League National Champion? I played on the frat tournament second runner-up team!
Most of the players from the ’97 draft ended up overseas, injured or, in Ron Mercer’s (#6) case, involved in a strip club assault or two. I was no different – except for the fact that I never played one minute in the NBA.
Then again, neither did Serge Zwikker (#29), Mark Sanford (#30) or Gordon Malone (#44).
I still think I would have had a shot.
Ed. Note: Zach Selwyn currently averages 15.2 points per game in his over 40-YMCA league.
I am uncomfortably straddling a white folding chair with 40 other people, ages ranging from 21-60 on a 103-degree day in Alta Dena waiting to work as an extra on a network TV show for the day. The pay isn’t terrible – $142.37 – or something like that, plus whatever gargantuan amounts of Craft Service snacks, candy, sodas and mini sandwiches I can shove into my shoulder bag to take home, but the overall feeling is grim. There is some old Greek food suffering beneath a sneeze guard nearby, a lot of discarded banana peels and a large fan blowing cool air towards us to keep us comfortable – like we’re NFL running backs playing a September game in Phoenix.
The scene has a prison-like feel to it. There are the lifers, the newbies and the guys who are only here for a few days trying to get their health insurance. I fall into that last category, but the fear of getting sexually assaulted by one of the older “inmates” is very real. Only problem is I can’t kick anyone’s ass to prove that I’m “tough.” Instead, I choose to bury myself into my iphone and hope the 45% charge lasts another 8 hours.
A year ago I was in New York City promoting my own TV show in Times Square for Tru TV. Now I am listening to a 22-year-old kid talk about how Hot Tub Time Machine is the main reason he dropped out of college to try to make it as an actor. You gotta love this business.
The majority of chatter amongst these “background players” or “atmosphere” is about the world of extras. Many relay the legendary scene in Ben Hur where an extra forgot to take his watch off during the chariot race. (Look it up – it’s hilarious). Others talk about how Ricky Gervais ripped off their idea when he did his Extras TV show. However, the subject that keeps coming up time and time again is the “bump up.” A “bump up” is when an extra is promoted from an extra to a principal role. Suddenly, the lucky bloke can go from zero to hero and earn Screen Actors Guild daily rate. However, according to everyone, incidents like that are more rare than finding a piece of sushi that hasn’t been in the sun for six hours beneath the cast and crew food canopy.
I am here today because I need to make $6300 before the end of the year as a way to qualify for Screen Actors Guild health insurance, a plan I have somehow managed to attain for the past twelve years. This year, however, the jobs dried up, a ton of work went non-union and I have finally aged out of the commercial actor category of “young, shaggy haired beer-drinking party guy.”
At this pay rate, it will take me working nearly every day for three months to earn the necessary SAG income to keep my family on the health plan. Alternative options – Obamacare and Cobra – basically guarantee that I will be paying 75% more money for lesser benefits. It has long been noted that SAG has terrific health care. The problem is that you need to earn an outrageous amount of money to qualify for it, and this year has been an ice bath as far as SAG work has been going.
“My dad was Jimmy Smits’ stand-in on LA Law,” a man named Sonny who was dressed as a Native American jewelry salesman bragged to the lot of us huddled beneath the blue pop-up tent. “He told me to find a niche as an extra. When I started out I only played Latino, only roles were for prisoners or a gang members. Now that I play Native American, I work all the time.”
I suddenly found myself wishing I had some Native American cheekbones.
As the day rolled along, I began to hear everybody’s story. You coop someone up for long enough, they will eventually tell you their life’s narrative. Every extra on set seemed to have a tale about the one legendary time they were “bumped up” to a principal role. One woman claimed she was bumped on Two and a Half Men because Charlie Sheen fired the original woman who had been cast for her one line of “Suck it, Charlie.” A guy who often plays blue-collar types said he got his bump on Dharma and Greg and had his career-defining moment in a bar fight scene when he raised his fists and said, “Meet my two friends… Mary-Kate and Ashley.”
And then there was Sonny, who said he specifically learned the extinct Native American language Kiowa to nab a line in a Civil War series. His line was “D’on T’ap Piii.” Which translates roughly to “See deer eating.”
I stared at Sonny for a long while. He did look familiar, as that Native American guy you sort of see in films, but I wasn’t sure. Which meant he was a great extra. One who blended in. He bragged of his work on The Alamo, Oz, The Longest Yard, Texas Rising, Hatfields and McCoys. Dances With Wolves and of course, That 70’s Show. The way he saw it, he was an integral part of these films. A guy who went uncredited – but felt he deserved all the success.
“There should be an extras lifetime achievement award,” he offered.
As a young actor, I did some extra work at age 22. At the time, like most young dreamers, I thought I was a small break away from my own series and I treated the other kids in the high school dance scene like castaways and future failures. When I started booking some jobs and enjoying the confines of an air-conditioned trailer with a private bathroom, I swore I’d never go back to the extras holding again. Yet, here I was. A 15-year TV veteran with a decent resume that I was too embarrassed to share with the other inmates. I decided to shut up and do my time and maybe get out of there with a few Clif bars and some coconut water.
Then, there was a call to action.
“Peter, Mike, Donna, Marla, Zach – party scene, now!” An Assistant Director yelled at us, directing us towards the makeup department to get touched up.
I put down my phone and walked over to the area, when Donna, one of the younger extras, mentioned that she often worked on the show. She then proceeded to refer to one of the makeup artists as her “glam squad.”
A short, effeminate man named Ty erupted in her face.
“Don’t call me ‘glam,’ don’t call me ‘glam squad’ or I’ll shove this hairbrush up your ass,” he screamed.
Emily, another makeup artist stopped him before any penetration took place. It was surreal. Never in my life had I seen a fight between an extra and a makeup artist. It was like the Cubs-Pirates bench clearing brawl in the National League Wild Card this season. You couldn’t believe it was happening.
It was a major altercation. Apparently, Ty was sent home and Donna was threatening to sue the show for harassment. It didn’t make sense. In my opinion, being called the “glam squad” wasn’t nearly as bad as being referred to as “background” or “ambience.”
My scene was fairly easy. I had to drink some iced tea and mouth the words “peas and carrots” to another extra. The entire time I was placed in the corner of the party and they shot about 9 angles and we let the main actress do six takes before she was happy. As the director stood merely three feet from me, I tried to convince him that a line would be appropriate for my character. I pitched him ““D’on T’ap Piii.”
He didn’t respond. Apparently he didn’t speak Kiowa.
Lunch was at 1:00 and the extras were told to not touch or come near any food until the entire cast and crew had eaten. I was actually quite full from snacking – so I didn’t need to rush, but a lot of the extras bitched and moaned about the lack of respect. I turned to a fellow extra named Tony, who was about my age.
“Why can’t everyone just relax?” I asked him.
“Welcome to the Screen Extras Guild,” he responded.
An hour later, following one of those naps when you fall asleep with your chin in your hand, there was a small rumbling about a potential bump up for one of the extras. Apparently, a producer had seen one of us and wanted to add a line. The bit was that the lucky person would confront the female star of the show – who was wearing a fur jacket – with an uncomfortable long hug and then said, “you feel like a plushie.” All the extras began rehearsing their lines as if this was an audition for the next Coen Brothers film and we all got excited. I even took a walk around the tent and worked on my delivery.
Eventually, the female star and the director came to the extras tent and started looking around at all of us as if we were cattle being sold at a livestock auction. The female actress passed the first few folks, skipped the youngsters and then whispered to her director, “I need a middle-aged schlub.”
I am certainly creeping up on middle age, but I don’t feel like I look that way. I’m in great shape and still have hair and my skin has been hiding from the sun throughout the years as I write my life away. However, I was chosen as one of the three finalists to play “middle-aged schlub.”
We all went and had a private audition with the actress and director. I immediately messed up my hair, raised my jeans to mom-jean height and did my best to look like a total Midwestern chump who would give a hot girl a “long hug” and make her uncomfortable.
“Mmm, you feel like a fluff – wait, what’s the line?” The first guy said, immediately messing up his chances.
“You feel like a plushie,” said the next guy who was 40 pounds heavier and 100% balder than me.
When my turn came, I looked deeply into the actress’ eyes. She stared back at me for about five seconds. I knew this was my job to lose… so I did my best to “eye-bang” her and get the job on the spot. Instead, before I could get my line out, she interrupted me.
“You look like that guy from that Tru TV show,” she said.
“I am that guy!”
“What are you doing in the extras tent?” She replied.
“Trying to get my health insurance,” I said, hoping she would feel my pain and give me the bump up on the spot. I dug deeper into my plea, mentioning that my family had been sick a lot the past year and I was a huge fan of the show.
“You might be too recognizable,” she blurted. “Second guy, you got the job.”
And with that, the fat, bald guy went off to his own folding chair, better food and a holding area behind the video village where the producers and directors hung out.
I returned to my spot in the tent. All the other extras wanted to know what had happened and I told them I relayed the story as best I could. When I mentioned that the female star had said I was “too recognizable” the tent wanted to know why. After all, not one of these folks had any idea who I was. I told them. Nobody had even heard of my show.
“I get recognized all the time,” said Sonny. “People stop me when I walk down the street.”
The rest of the day I watched my phone dwindle down towards the 3% range and eventually die. In a way, I felt like that iphone charge… A year back I was flying high at 100%. Now, I was hanging onto 3.
Before I left, I managed to fill my bag with enough high fructose corn syrup snacks to kill a small village and I hopped into the first awaiting white van that would shuttle us back to the parking lot. Luckily, I ended up in the same row as the female lead actress from earlier.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m sorry about that moment back there… I just recognized you from that other show – I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”
“Amazingly, you’re the first person to know me from that like, ever,” I said.
“I’ll tell you what. Give me your manager’s name and I’ll make sure we get you in for a small role this season,” she offered.
I couldn’t believe it. Here she was telling me that she would go out of her way to get me a speaking part on her show. I got her personal email and said I’d be sending my demo reel and headshot over immediately. We exchanged good-byes and I returned my mom jeans to the costume department and signed out for the day.
As I walked to my car, the lead actress shook my hand and said I would be hearing from the production office very soon.
THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM THE PRIVATE JOURNAL OF ZACH SELWYN MARCH 12, 1996
SOMEHOW, WE’RE ON A PLANE TO MIAMI…
Woah daddy… I am lucky to not be in jail right now.
It is 9 o’clock at night in Los Angeles and we are finally on a plane – on our way to Miami, where we will catch a puddle jumper to Key West to begin our Spring Break… My traveling companion is my best friend Dave Green… and we both just spent an hour detained at the airport for trying to board an earlier flight with two fake ID’s and an eighth of magic mushrooms balled up in one of Dave’s socks.
Luckily, the cops didn’t find the mushrooms.
They did, however, confiscate our fake ID’s and they laughed at how stupid we were… 20-year-old kids trying to use fake identification to take advantage of a free ticket issued by Dave’s father’s frequent flier miles…
If this all seems confusing, let me start this story one week ago…
Dave’s father, Rob Green, is a high-up stock trader from New Jersey. He is a constant traveler, and has miles on United Airlines that he never uses. So, as a gift to his son Dave, he transferred him two free round-trip airline tickets anywhere in the continental United States…. AND HE TRANSFERRED THEM BOTH IN DAVE’S NAME. Rob Green had also earned himself a free week stay at a hotel down in Key West, Florida that he said Dave was free to use. So, a week ago, Dave asked me if I wanted to go to Key West with him for Spring Break.
“Of course I said, but I can’t afford it.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Dave said. “I have two free tickets.”
“Yeah, but they’re both in your name.”
“I know, I looked that up. We have to mail the tickets in to change the name from mine to yours and it takes too long to convert them. So instead, we should go get you a fake ID that says your name is also Dave Green and we’ll both just use them… Plus, we need fake ID’s to get into bars in Key West anyway…”
PRESENT DAY LOS ANGELES NOVEMBER 9, 2018
Getting fake ID’s to board an airplane was Dave’s first dumb idea. We were both college students, with hair down to our shoulders often found dressed in Grateful Dead t-shirts. To the naked eye, we looked like drug users. To a cop looked like drug dealers… Even my mother asked me how I was able to afford all the concert tickets I had been buying that year. When I told her I had ways of making money, she thought I was definitely dealing weed. (As it turns out, I had quit that after my freshman year. I was currently letting my fraternity brothers use my car for $10 a day…)
I was sort of the original UBER.
Anyway, since Dave was intent on getting me on the plane using his free ticket, a day later we found ourselves driving to a place in downtown Los Angeles known as “The Drive Through.”
“The Drive Through” is located in and around the corner of 7th and Alvarado. USC college students have called it the “drive through” for years, because you basically drive up and dozens of Latino men and women suddenly race to your window with whatever vices you needed. Weed, mushrooms, ecstasy… hookers… it was all there. Most importantly, however, we were told they could also get you a decent fake ID for $35.00.
As we pulled around the corner, we were easy marks. We were swarmed. Dave motioned to a shorter hustler and said, simply, “We need ID’s.” Five minutes later, we had pulled into an alley where we were escorted into a back room of a dirty warehouse. On the wall was a large blue screen. Everybody spoke a lot of Spanish. Having been a decent speaker since high school, I was still only able to translate the words “fFacil” and “Dinero.” That meant “Easy Money.” A woman snapped two photos of us standing in the corner of the blue screen. We filled out some forms and in about a half hour, we both had brand new fake “Dave Green” California driver’s licenses.
The quality, however, was not exactly what you might call “acceptable.”
My ID said I was 5’7” tall (I’m 6’2”) and the city of “Los Angeles” was misspelled as “LOS ANGSELE.” It was by far the worst fake ID ever issued. And that beats my step-brothers 1991 Arizona ID which mistakenly identified him as a woman.
When I examined this amateur document, my only hope was that, once we got to Key West, a Florida bouncer at a bar would have no idea what the California driver’s license looked like. So maybe, in the dark cover of a doorway, we would be able to pass through.
Meanwhile, as bad as my ID was, Dave’s had some issues as well. It did not have any mis-spellings, but it did say he was born in 1964 and that he was 31-years-old.
We complained briefly about the shitty ID’s, but they brushed us off, took our $70.00 and acted like they had better things to do than hear any complaints. We left, scared and disappointed and returned to our apartment where our roommates laughed at the pathetic documents we had procured.
Our friend Oren, a pre-law student had one comment for us…
“You guys are going to jail,” he said.
And guess what? Oren was right. Well… Dave ended up in jail… I did not. Luckily, I had a backup plan.
THERE ARE 3 POLICE OFFICERS BEHIND YOU, GENTLEMEN…
A couple of days after we had scored these ridiculous fake ID’s, I phoned my friend Josh Katz in Tucson, a senior at the University of Arizona. We didn’t exactly look alike, but we both had long hair. A week earlier, he had turned 21. So, I asked him if I could use his old driver’s license as my fake ID when I got to Florida. Luckily, he sent it immediately and I was in possession of a genuine Arizona drivers license that said I was of legal drinking age. The only issue was that Katz was about 15 pounds heavier than I was in his photo so, I had planned to just tell the bouncers that I had “lost a little weight” since the photo was taken.
So, now I had three ID’s in my wallet. My actual driver’s license, from Arizona. Josh Katz’s license. And a $35.00 piece of shit from “the Drive Through” that said I was “Dave Green from Los Angsele.”
Dave and I left for the airport about an hour before the flight was set to take off. We got to the gate and decided to go in different ticketing lines to check in. (Our master plan). Next, we handed over both of our ID’s… and said our names. (This was 1996… air travel was a LOT different back then). Dave obviously used his real Dave Green ID to get on the plane – and had no problem getting a ticket. When I tried to use MY Dave green ID, however, the American Airlines employee took a long look at my license and asked me for my name.
“Uhm, Dave Green,” I said.
“Funny, another Dave Green is already checked into this flight… can you hold on one minute.”
“Sure,” I said.
She went to the back room. My hands started shaking and trembling. She was gone a long time. Dave came over to make sure everything was OK… About 10 minutes later, she returned and informed us that there were three police officers behind us who wanted to have a little chat…
When you get handcuffed, it happens surprisingly fast. It also kind of fucking hurts. Dave and I were shackled and forced to the ground, where three LAPD officers paced above us, displaying the fake ID I had failed to board a plane with.
“Where’d you guys get this ID?” They asked.
We stayed silent. Finally, I spoke up.
“This guy at our college gets them for like, 35 dollars… 7th and Alvarado.”
“Well, this guy makes pretty shitty ID’s,” an officer said.
“How much cocaine is in your luggage?” Was their next next question.
Luckily, as far as I knew, we weren’t transporting any contraband… They asked for my REAL ID, and I gave it to them. They asked for my name, date of birth, everything… it was frightening. Meanwhile, Dave looked shaken and nervous. The cops took our bags and proceeded to open them up in front of us. It was at this time, when Dave leaned over and whispered something in my ear…
“Dude, I have an eighth of mushrooms balled up in one of my socks.”
They brought out the drug-sniffing dogs. They prodded everything. A box of condoms spilled out from my toiletry bag. My dirty boxer shorts were lifted in the air by a metal pointer device. My heart raced… I was going to fucking jail. 20-years-old, and I was gonna have a record.
“What was the plan here, boys?” An officer named ‘Polo’ inquired.
It was then, that Dave manned up and explained the entire situation.
“Look… this is my fault,” he explained. “My dad gave me two tickets in my name and we didn’t have time to transfer Zach’s name onto the ticket… so we got him a terrible ID and thought it might work because were just trying to get to Spring Break.”
The cops laughed. They asked me to confirm the story.
“He’s right,” I said. “We sort of knew it was a long shot because of how terrible the fake ID is… but we’re just two college kids and… yeah this was pretty stupid.”
“We are so sorry,” Dave said. “The changeover process takes so long… I feel like a idiot.”
There was a pause in the conversation. They had a little private meeting and I hung my head in shame, knowing this was probably the moment that would make my parents pull my tuition and force me to go finish up at a community college. They came back, and I was expecting to be dragged to a squad car outside.
“So you don’t have any drugs on you?” They asked. “Because we found something in one of the bags.”
That was it, I thought. Possession of a psychedelic drug. Transporting it across state lines. Dave and I were going to spend many months in jail.
“No sir,” Dave said, with absolute confidence. “We’re not druggies, we just wanted to have a few beers down in Key West.”
Was Dave insane? They said they had found drugs… Amazingly, they zipped up our bags and gave them back to us. They had NOT found anything, the cops were just bluffing.
“You have two choices,” the officer said. “Go home now… or you can buy another ticket for Zach to Miami tonight – but not in your fake name. Dave.”
They laughed. Then they un-cuffed us. We were free. Holy shit.
“Holy fuck,” Dave whispered.
He then went up to the counter and Dave bought me a round trip ticket for $875.00 on his dad’s credit card…
We were on our way to Miami, having dodged the first bullet of the trip.
AND THEN DAVE GETS ARRESTED…
We celebrated our close call with the cops by both having a few beers on the airplane. The flight attendants didn’t card us, or just didn’t care if a couple of kids had a few Bud Lights on a five hour flight. We landed, stumbled over to the Key West plane and then lost our shit nearly cartwheeling the plane into the Key West airport when some funneling winds blew our craft in an awkward position. Still, we had landed. We made it to the hotel and checked in and slept for about five hours.
We awoke to the crashing waves of the sea below. The hotel we were at wasn’t exactly some five star resort, but it had some amenities that catered to tourists, like a wave runner rental, a banana boat ride and a small slide going into the swimming pool. There was a beach bar called “Rum Runners” and waiters who brought you the local fried delicacy, a sea snack called a “Conch Fritter.” Dave and I settled in and I was happy to discover that my Josh Katz ID worked flawlessly at the Rum Runner, where I chatted up two guys who worked for the Equal Sugar Additive Company. Since I had to tell everyone that my name was Josh Katz, my new name was suddenly, “Katz,” and I felt like a Jew Lawyer who was constantly ridiculed by his partners.
“Hey, Katz – What are you drinking?”
“Hey someone bring Katz a beer…”
“Katz, you do taxes?”
It was then that one of the guys, named Neil, informed me that Key West was known for having a fair amount of six-toed cats running around the island.
“They’re called polydactyls, or something,” Neil explained. “A shit load of them live over on the former Hemingway estate… We’re gonna call you ‘Six-Toe’ the rest of the day, man! Hahahahahha.”
And from then on, I was “Six-Toe.” I guess it was a cooler name than “Katz” and it also meant I didn’t have to pretend I was the guy on my fake ID… I was just, simply, Six-Toe.
My new friends bought me a few rounds and I delivered them to Dave on the beach and I had suddenly caught a day-drinking buzz by 3:30. Retiring to the hotel for a nap, we sat on the balcony smoking Parliament cigarettes discussing what bars along Duval Street we needed to hit up to meet other college girls on Spring Break.
We woke up around 8 and hit the town in a taxi. As we cruised through town, the ghosts of Ernest Hemingway, Shel Silverstein and Hunter S. Thompson circled the streetlights – even though the raw hedonism of what Key West was before Jimmy Buffett had commercialized it was fading fast… Gone were a lot of the local smuggler bars… replaced by the corporate genius of “Margaritaville” and foot-tall hurricanes in a collectable glass.
The sidewalks were full of locals who looked a lot like we did. Long hair, pirate attire and sandals. Drum circles thumped out rhythmically from every street corner and being that we weren’t quite a year removed from the death of Jerry Garcia, local buskers warbled their way through covers of songs like “Bertha” and “Bird Song” above guitar cases full of loose change and homemade signs reading, “All who wander are not lost.”
We were dropped in front of the world famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a famous Hemingway haunt featuring the writer himself on their logo. Dave mentioned that he’d like to go in their eventually, so we took a stroll down Duval, looking for busier bars where more age appropriate females might want to have a covert fling with a couple of California boys. Soon, we landed in front of a Grateful Dead-like hippie bar called “Barefoot Bob’s.”
The band inside was playing “Soul Shine” by the Allman Brothers. I caught a glimpse of a blonde hippie Goddess dancing shoeless on the makeshift floor in front of the band. I turned back to Dave.
“This is our spot,” I said. I produced the Katz ID and breezed past the bouncer. I went to the bar and turned around to see where Dave was. I quickly noticed that he was stuck outside, being questioned repeatedly by the bouncer.
“Shit,” I said.
A few minutes later, two cops were escorting Dave to a nearby squad car. He was shoved in the back seat and I ran out after him. Too late. Dave was gone, off to the Key West police holding area for trying to use a fake ID to enter a bar. As the bouncer chuckled behind me, I heard him giggling to a nearby employee…
“Look at this piece of shit… It says that guy was 31-years-old.”
$175 DOLLARS OR COMMUNITY SERVICE
I had no way of contacting Dave. I had no idea who to call or what to do. I went back inside of Barefoot Bob’s and was now laser-focused on paying my tab and getting back to the hotel to gather myself. As I asked the bartender for one last shot of tequila before I went back to the Marriott, a slightly built blonde guy standing next to me toasted me in a strange accent with his Bud Light.
“Cheers, man… to Key West, huh,” he said.
“Yeah, man – cheers – except my buddy just got taken to jail for using a fake ID…”
“That sucks. I lost my license a few weeks ago at a bar because it’s from Sweden… so I roll with my passport now.”
He produced it. His name was Jonas Sarviddsen. He was 23 and impossibly tan, like one of those lifelong beach kids that never seem to freckle… but only get perfectly bronzed.
“I’m Jonas” he offered.
“I’m Zach… sorry dude, I gotta split and figure out where my boy Dave is…”
“Oh, I know where he is,” he said. “He’s at the police station. They’ll keep him overnight and he’ll have to do community service or pay 175 dollars.”
“What? How do you know that?”
“‘Cause that’s what tI had to do when they took my license… But, luckily, I called home and my mom sent proof that I was 23… Americans have no idea what a Swedish license looks like, ya know?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Alright, dude – I gotta go.”
“Wait,” Jonas called out. “I’ll help you – I can help you with getting him out of jail.”
This shit was getting weird. A young Swedish guy was trying to tag along with me for some reason. I motioned to the bartender for my bill once again and he brought it. Without hesitating, Jonas threw a 20 dollar bill on the bar and said, “I got it, dude… just let me go with you to the hotel.”
OK. I am not homophobic, nor am I even scared of strangers who weigh 40 pounds more than me… but for some reason, this was feeling weird. I didn’t think Jonas was trying to hit on me, nor did I think he was taking me to some underground lair where I would be beaten and robbed… I just thought it was strange that he had bought my drinks and wanted to help me find Dave… I inquired into what was going on before we took even another step out of the door.
“Look man,” he said. “I live over in Marathon – I run Hobie Cats for tourists, but I came up here to party with my girlfriend – she’s a lawyer… makes good money, you know – but we split a few nights ago. She was cheating on me… it sucked. I slept on the beach last night and it sucked even more. Honestly dude? I’ll buy you as many beers as you want if I can come crash at your hotel for a night or two.”
I didn’t know what or where Marathon was, but I knew this situation seemed weird. I thanked him for the drinks, politely declined his offer and walked outside to hail a cab.
A minute later, he was outside with me.
“No cabs around here for a while,” he said from behind me. “But I have a car if you need a ride.”
Shit, I thought. A car would save me 15 bucks back to the hotel Plus, it didn’t look like there were ay around at that moment… And then I noticed that Jonas had cigarettes. And he also had a joint. And in this moment of weakness, when I should have been calling the police, or Dave’s father or going home and sleeping this horrible night off, I caved in to temptation. The smoke hit well. About twenty minutes later I was letting Jonas drive me to my hotel in his 1993 Nissan Altima.
“Windows down cool with you? A.C. is expensive, man,” he said.
“Cool with me,” I said, letting the ocean breeze wash through my hair as we drove through the city streets.
My best friend was in jail and I was letting a 23-year-old Swedish stranger drive me to my hotel where I was gonna let him crash for the night. In my mind, I figured I’d wake up without a kidney, drugged and robbed or not even wake up at all.
Fuck it, I thought. This guy bought me drinks and smoked me out… What could go wrong?
THE FOLLOWING MORNING
The ringing of the hotel room phone woke me up around 6 a.m. I wasn’t missing any vital organs and as far as I knew, Jonas hadn’t taken any of my cash… I rubbed my eyes and said hello.
It was Dave. He was calling me with his one phone call after spending the night in the Key West drunk tank. (Even though he blew a .03 when they administered a breathalyzer upon admittance). He was being charged with possession of a fake ID and underage drinking. And, just like Jonas had told me, he had two options… Pay the $175 fine, or do some community service. Eight hours worth to be exact. Being that he had already milked his dad when he bought me that $875.00 plane ticket the night before, he chose to do the community service… He would be picking up trash on the side of the road for the next eight hours. Then, he said he needed to take a taxi back from the station to the hotel. At that point, Dave decided, that he wanted to just get the hell out of town. Back to L.A. I told him I would do whatever he wanted… I was fine leaving without encountering any other police activity. He thanked me for understanding and I was about to hang up when Jonas spoke up from his other bed.
“Tell him we can pick him up so he doesn’t have to spend the money on a cab,” he said.
“Really?” I said back.
“Yeah, I owe you guys for the room last night… Tell him we’ll be there at 4 pm when they get back to the station.”
I told Dave I had met this cool Swedish fellow named Jonas and that he had a car and that we could save him a taxi ride back to the hotel… Dave was confused, but when I told him that Jonas had gone through the same night in the drunk tank a week earlier, he seemed fine with it.
“Just get me out of here and make sure we have booze and cigarettes when I get back to the fucking hotel,” he responded.
“No worries,” I said. “Jonas is like, 23 – he can buy us whatever we want!”
And I hung up, Jonas and I went back to sleep… and Dave went to the side of the road to pick up trash while wearing an orange jumpsuit.
I woke up around 11 a.m. feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Jonas had been up since 7:30, and had even ran on the treadmill in the hotel. I hated early morning workout people. Jonas made me feel like I was a cigarette away from a heart attack. After we showered, we went into town and ate at some cafe before heading back to the hotel to lie on the beach. It was then that he told me his story…
Jonas Sarviddsen was born in 1972 in Umea, Sweden. He never knew his father, and his mother had remarried a guy who had five kids from his previous marriage. After they split, Jonas had moved to Florida to get into treasure hunting, a very real profession in the keys, as I was finding out… where SCUBA-trained men, immigrants, dreamers and privateers scoured the floor of the sea searching for lost gold, jewels, doubloons, canons, metal, weaponry, you name it. If you were at all lucky, you could unearth anywhere from ten million dollars worth of sunken currency… to a valuable sword from past days of piracy and high seas adventure… Depending on what you admitted to finding, you were allowed a percentage for yourself and, according to Jonas, many men and women had spent the 70’s and 80’s getting very rich finding treasure at the bottom of the seas just off of the Florida Keys. Jonas was a licensed SCUBA diver and a captain. He was here to find sunken treasure. That was his job. He had been on hundreds of dives… and, up until this point, his biggest find was a piece of a broken sword form an 18th century Spanish ship that had fetched him $3,000 two years back. But three grand won’t get you very far in the Florida Keys… especially with an alcohol problem and a girlfriend who broke up with you on the beach just 48 hours ago…
“I’m pretty sure I know where a French shipwreck is, but these locals won’t let me explore it unless I pay them like 10 grand,” Jonas explained. “If you pay up ten large, we can split all that treasure dude, I’m serious.”
Serious or not, I was a college student already $50,000 deep into my student loans. I made $80 dollars a night as a fraternity party DJ… As much as I’d like to say I was interested in becoming a pirate treasure hunter, I had to turn him down.
“Dave’s dad has all the money,” I explained. Maybe you can ask him.”
“There’s a lot of lost history at the bottom of these waters,” he replied. “I’m gonna get rich someday.”
I have always been fascinated by those movies like Boyz in the Hood when a character like Doughboy (Ice Cube) comes back from a bid in prison and the neighborhood throws him like, a big bar-be-cue dance party – where all the homies gather round and celebrate their buddy’s freedom. I had never been a part of one of those parties, but I felt that after Dave’s experience, he needed a welcome home celebration as a way to make sure he wasn’t really serious about leaving Key West for LA only 24 hours after we had arrived. Jonas and I made a pact: We would throw Dave a “Get out of Jail” party and bring in a bunch of females, booze, joints and music… We spent the afternoon recruiting locals and other spring breakers to meet us at our hotel around five o’clock.
The first group of girls we had met were on spring break from Notre Dame. Kat, Emily and Rachel. Catholic girls They had driven down from Miami after flying in from Chicago and they had a rental car that they had affixed a lame Black Fly’s Sunglasses sticker upon… It read “FLYGIRLS.” This little sticker made them seem crazier than their Catholic school upbringing, even though they had probably purchased the thing at a Spencer Gifts for .99 cents… The sticker, for them, was the equivalent of a bachelorette party “penis hat” or something. It said they were in town and ready to get crazy… Which meant cigarettes, maybe a little weed, a thong in public and a shitload of Coronas.
To Jonas it meant “College chicks ready to have an orgy.”
I was just happy to have some females to finally flirt with – and especially to make Dan’s return from the clink a lot easier. (The more and more I think about this, the more hilarious it is to me that a middle class white dude picking up trash for eight hours deserved a ‘Get Out of Jail’ party). Still, he had brought me to Key West, so I was gonna take it upon myself to make sure his trip was better than it had been the first 48 hours.
Jonas and I bought a bunch of beer, rolled some joints and picked up Dave at 4:00 p.m. He had spent the day in the sun with 14 other 20-something kids who were all arrested for possessing fake ID’s. Jonas and Dave immediately got along, especially since Dave’s dad had a boat while he was growing up, so he took to Jonas right away. However, Dave didn’t want to immediately go back the hotel. His suggestion was that we meet his new friends Tim and Keith, who he had bonded with on the road spearing styrofoam cups that had been discarded by passing motorists. He said they Tim could get us into a bunch of clubs and that he knew where all the strippers went after their shifts. I was tempted, but Jonas reminded me that we had the Notre Dame girls coming by and that we had bought a shitload of beer for Dave.
“Maybe we can meet up with them later,” I suggested.
“OK,” he said. “They gave me the names of some bars we should be able to get in without a problem.”
Dave got home and wanted to sleep. He did. For four hours. The FLYGIRLS, as we had begun calling them, finally said they’d come by for a few drinks around nine. Dave woke up at 8:30. Jonas and I were just starting on the Sam Adams.
Kat, Emily and Rachel showed up. Dave perked up. We drank. We smoked. We went swimming…. Dave was into Emily, Jonas was into Rachel and Kat and I hit it off… for a few brilliant minutes, it was perfect. We were all on the beach, stumbling drunk, high, young and happy…
Dave looked at me and said, “thanks man… I needed this.”
“You did some hard time, bro,” I responded.
We all laughed and decided to go into town. It was around 11:30 at night.
Jonas said he was OK to drive, and the girls took their rental as well. We landed on Duval Street, seeking pizza and more cigarettes… and eventually found a small restaurant bar where we sat down on the outside patio and laughed and smoked for a few hours. I had managed to sneak a bunch of beer into the place in my backpack, so I slowly filled my glass throughout the night as the warm Florida air kissed our skin and left us smiling for hours. It was one of those nights where nearly everything seemed to flow perfectly…
The funniest moment was when Neil from the Rum Runner drove by the bar and yelled out simply, “SIX-TOE!!!”
Around two in the morning, we were all making out with our girls in different areas of the boulevard. From a distance, we heard a car tire screech and a police siren. It startled me enough to know it was time to go home and we hopped into Jonas’ car and made it back to the hotel for a final balcony cigarette and a conversation with each other about how this was one of the best nights we had ever had… I guess that when you’re 20-years-old, you seem to have a lot of “Best Nights Ever…” That is the beauty of youth, isn’t it? We are all grow so much and experience so much that every day is potentially a better day than we’ve ever had in our entire lives…
That’s the key to life, isn’t it? Keep moving and make every day your best day ever…
AND THEN CAME THE GIRL…
12:30 the next day and Jonas brought us back into town. We were all hungry, well rested and glowing. Jonas was grateful for letting him crash at the hotel, but he said that he had to get back to Marathon for a night to pick something up. “Some treasure hunting shit,” he said. We said our good-byes and I wasn’t sure if we’d ever see him again, but no matter what, he had been a huge part of this journey already. He dropped us at a restaurant where we could smoke and feel the salty air… It was then that our waitress arrived.
April was 18, from Vermont and had just moved to Key West. She was a restaurant employee by day and a poet by night and had complimented me on my rather lame “Carpe Diem” t-shirt. She had dreamer’s eyes, a body of a Goddess and one of those kind smiles that made you want to just start kissing her… She was full of beauty and laughter and as she filled our water glasses, both Dave and I knew we were in trouble.
After all, Dave and I had a long history of failing in love with the same women.
Freshman year there was Danielle, a northern California girl with a love of Marlboro Mediums, weed and white wine. Sophomore year there was Casey, a gorgeous Orange County blonde who we had both made out with merely weeks apart. And then there was Heather, my one-time girlfriend who Dave had subsequently dated after me… We were both acutely aware of our strange attraction to the same women, but as best friends, we had always shrugged it off. As we used to say in our fraternity house, “Bros before Hoes.” (Yes, this was – and might still be – a horrible motto that frat guys say to each other while in college).
But then again, girls like April did not go to the University of Southern California.
And guys like us weren’t your typical Spring Breakers partying for a week in Key West.
“Oh my God, that waitress,” Dave said.
“Yeah, she’s pretty… spectacular,” I responded.
We looked at each other sand started laughing. An hour later, she had agreed to meet up with us when she got off work.
“I’m done at seven tonight and then me and some friends are watching Basketball Diaries,” she explained.
“Oh, I love Leo,” I said.
“Me too!” She said through a smile. “He’s so talented.”
Dave rolled his eyes at me.
“You know, he got his start on Growing Pains, right?” Dave offered.
“He did?” April responded.
“Yeah, totally,” I said.
“I loved that show!” April said.
“I know… Alan Thicke, right?” Dave said.
“You know he did the theme song, too, right?” I added.
On and on we went with this type of shit. Dave and I trying to one up each other to impress this Goddess of the Keys with some stupid knowledge about Leonardo DiCaprio’s fucking acting career. Who cared. We were both just trying to hook up with her.
After we paid our bill and agreed to meet up with April after work, we strolled down Duval Street window shopping at the stupid tourist – friendly stores where a knock-off Calvin Klein T-shirt that had re-imagined the CK logo as a KW (Key West) logo sold for $15.00. I wondered who the hell would buy such a dumb shirt.
And then Dave saw an even dumber shirt.
On display in the window of this Key West novelty store was a white T-shirt with a small slogan printed upon the front of it… It read as follows:
I’M SHY, BUT I’VE GOT A BIG DICK.
“I need that,” Dave said.
“I’ll pay for it if you wear it the rest of the day,” I said.
Less than three minutes later, Dave was wearing a T-shirt that guaranteed he would never successfully run for any political office.
“I can’t believe you bought that,” I said.
We went to the hotel to swim and lay in the hammocks.
Dave disappeared upstairs to shower and take a nap. I fell asleep. Dave woke me up because his “prison friends” Tim and Keith were meeting us at a dockside bar where they didn’t card anybody… and a bunch of strippers were supposed to show up after ten.
I looked at my watch. It was 8:30. Shit, I had overslept and missed meeting April to watch The Basketball Diaries.
AND THEN CAME THE CRACK PIPE…
The dockside bar was amusing, as Dave quickly be-friended an older man in his 50’s who had a large beard and a bevy of women surrounding him. I spent most of my time doing shots with Tim and Keith and playing the jukebox, filling it with the Dead, Allman Brothers and Rolling Stones songs as we ordered beer after beer without ever being asked for our ID’s. Dave and the older guy were doing shots. Tim had cigarettes. The night air cooled my skin as every beer went down easier than the previous one. We got high and sang along to the jukebox and smiled and laughed and it was only around 11:30 that night when I realized that I was sort of bummed that I had not met April at her friend’s place to watch the movie. The so-called strippers never showed up, but life was good nonetheless.
And then Dave smoked crack.
I wasn’t sure how this started, but it seemed like the older guy in his 50’s was the one holding the pipe. He had walked around a corner with Dave and some girls and they had smoked a little weed… or so we had assumed. When Dave came back to the bar, however, something had changed.
“Dude, I smoked something that tasted like glue,” he said. “Now I’m all fucked up, bro… but I feel amazing.”
“Glue?” I responded. “What the fuck, man? Was it freebase?”
“I don’t know man, but you should take a poke,” Dave said.
“Fuck that,” I said.
And then Tim and Keith informed us that yes, the bearded man Dan was smoking with was known for smoking “Bazookas.” A combination of crack or cocaine and marijuana in a joint.
“Holy fucking shit,” Dave said as his eyes dilated and his head started spinning. “I’m so fucked up.”
Tim, Keith and I managed to calm him down, after a while, and thankfully the jukebox had enough familiar music on it to see Dave’s head in the game. After about an hour, he decided he was going to go sleep on somebody’s boat in the marina, and we had a hard time restraining him as he stumbled into the docks with a glazed look in his eye. Eventually, a security guard helped us pour him into a cab and we sped back to the hotel to crash. Of course, this didn’t come easy, as Dave and I sat up talking for the next five hours, After I dumped an ashtray full of cigarettes over the balcony onto the plant life just beneath our room, I decided that it was time for bed. I crawled into my bed and put a Jackson Browne album on my Sony Discman… My Opening Farewell was the final track… I overanalyzed the lyrics for hours… was this his farewell to his opening album? Or was this a metaphor to my farewell to his days drinking snd smoking? Or a farewell to a woman he had just met and didn’t want to leave…? Every time I thought that I understood his lyricism, it hit me that he was 23 when he made this album. 23. Man., he was OLD. I couldn’t sleep.
Shit, at least nobody got handcuffed tonight.
THE TREASURE HUNT
Jonas had been knocking on our door for what seemed like 30 minutes. When I finally got up and answered, he high-five me and said he had great news… He had discovered a wreck 13 miles off shore where we could salvage some serious boating parts and hopefully come to the surface with some treasure. He claimed that he had spent the past 13 hours on the water, hovering above a wreck that even the deepest and most experienced treasure hunters didn’t know existed… It was the rest of the unrecovered the loot from the famed Nuestra Señora de Altocha, a half a billion dollar wreck uncovered by a famous Key West hunter named Mel Fisher in the 1980’s… Jonas said there were cannons, jewels, gold, and more sprawled everywhere across the nearby ocean floor. All he needed was a few grand to hire a crew and get some equipment and we would all be worth millions in less than 24 hours.
I tried to wake Dave to hear this plan. He wouldn’t budge.
“I dunno, man,” I said. “Dave wouldn’t pay $175 for community service yesterday… why is he gonna go ask his pops for three grand for a treasure hunt?”
“If he wants to be stupid rich, he will,” he responded.
After he woke up, 30 minutes later, Dave called his father to ask if he could fund a treasure hunt for himself, his friend Zach and a Swedish pirate who had apparently discovered sunken treasure off the shores of Key West. His dad actually held a conversation with him for a good 20 minutes about it. In the end, however… he had denied Dave’s request.
“Fools seek treasure,” he had told him. “Smart men seek rich wives.”
Dave’s dad was fucking cool.
We took the Hobie Cat out to the wreck anyway, and Jonas navigated the wind perfectly until we hit some coordinate he had written down in a journal. It was much colder out on the water. Luckily, to combat my sea-sickness, I got high and sang “Wooden Ships” in my head to keep my balance… and sanity. When we found the area where Jonas’ treasure was, we looked down and saw only lumpy sand.
“Beneath those mounds is gold, weaponry, collectibles, man… who knows!” He declared.
I think Dave was happy he hadn’t procured any moment from his pops. This seemed like we were searching for El Dorado or something. Still, Jonas went down. He was able to deep-dive for up to three minutes and he wanted get as close to the surface as he could. As he sunk down in the water, leaving me and Dave alone on the Hobie cat, Dave awkwardly looked at me and whispered, “Have you ever seen Dead Calm?” He said. “We’re gonna DIE out here.”
We both laughed for the remainder of Jonas’ trip to the bottom of the ocean.
When he came back he said it was too rough that day and the visibility wasn’t up to par for treasure seeking. Fuck it, he said. We should go back to shore and have a party. Dave and I agreed and our days as treasure hunters came to an end.
That night we took Dave’s mushrooms. More importantly I tracked down April after her shift and was able to apologize to April for missing the Basketball Diaries screening.
“Oh, don’t worry – we just got drunk and went swimming instead,” she said.
I invited her out that night to meet on Duval Street and – if she was in – to take some mushrooms with us. She agreed and we met up around nine. The world spun, the walls breathed and the trees swayed to the beautiful balance of the world. I took my journal with me and wrote a half poem/ halflove letter to April about her delicious energy, her nymph-like easy way of gliding through life and how if I was to live near her, I would love her, caress her and make her every day better than the last… as a lover and a friend. I was smitten with this girl – and made a decision to giver her this note at some point in the night. Of course, you’re smitten with a lot of things when you’re on mushrooms… For instance, April and I walked into a touristy store full of tchotkes and refrigerator magnets and I decided that it was a good idea to buy a stuffed gecko and name him DWAYNE because for some reason – at that moment in my life – DWAYNE was the best name in the entire world and this beautiful girl who was lacing her arm through mine looked like a dream and maybe… just maybe… if you someday get married, this DWAYNE gecko will become some symbol of everlasting love and commitment…
“I think DWAYNE is having a good time,” April said.
“I think I love you,” I said to April as we sat in the branches of a Banyon Tree.
I had never told a girl I had loved them before. I didn’t know if I did. I didn’t know what to expect. But I didn’t care. At that moment, I was in love with that face. I laid my heart on the table and awaited a response.
“Hmmm,” she hummed. “You’re sweet.”
I read that one pretty easily. I was in love with this girl and she was just happy to be in the moment. I watched Dave as he lit a cigarette a few feet away from me… I shook it off, took a walk to a street corner and wrote another stupid poem in my journal. Something about breath in the skies, billowing canvases my new life as a “Gentlemen Pirate.”
When I came back, Dave had moved in on April and was giving her a neck massage. Same shit, different state.
After April declared it, “The best back rub she had ever received” she smiled at Dave and slid away to meet another guy at the ice cream shop for a quick hello. Dave and I sat together, gathered our thoughts and admitted that we were both in love with the same girl.
“Why does this always happen to us?” He asked.
“It will probably happen the rest of our lives,” I said.
“Let’s have one more cigarette in honor of this epic trip.”
“Yessir… I’m quitting after this trip by the way.”
“Yeah… me too.”
April came back with her friend, a musician from a local band called Grooveyard. They were about to play and she wanted to go watch them. Of course, Dave and I tagged along. The band was a Buffett-meets-Marley like reggae outfit full of stoner-friendly grooves and clever hooks. I dropped 16 bucks on a CD. Dave and I watched as April flirted with the bass player… We were both coming down and somewhat devastated. Even DWAYNE, the little stuffed gecko in my pocket looked upset and confused. When the show finished, Dave and I both stared at each other, wondering if she was coming with us – or going home with the rock star.
“She’s gonna bang the bass player,” I said.
“Yep,” Dave responded.
But a few minute later, April came over. And smiled. And told us that we made her feel “slinky,” which Dave and I both totally understood at that particular moment in time.
“I’m sort of in love with both of you,” she said. “And I know you’re like close friends… so I don’t wanna be that person in the middle.”
“I get it,” I said.
“I do too,” Dave added. “But you wouldn’t be the first one.”
She smiled, leaned in and kissed us both on the cheek. As she turned to walk away with her bass player she looked back and both of our hearts melted.
“Wait,” I yelled before running up to her. “I want you to have something.”
I reached into my journal and tore out the 2 page poem I had written for her when I was flying high on caps and stems a few hours earlier. I pressed it into her hand… As I did, I whispered in her ear.
“Read this when you’re alone… and please call me and write me and understand that this was a once in a lifetime connection.”
She smiled at me, spreading her lovely energy across my face, which I swear to God, at that time, I inhaled… deeply.
“You’re a beautiful soul,” she said.
She kissed me on the cheek and walked out of the bar. I walked back to Dave… who had one thing to say.
“You wrote her a fucking poem, didn’t you?” He said.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
Before we left Key West, Jonas came back over and we had one last hotel party. The Flygirls came over as well and we all decided we would keep in touch forever. Jonas gave me all his information. I wished him the best of luck in hunting down that Spanish treasure in the middle of the ocean and he thanked us for letting him stay in our room. My make out buddy Kat told me she wanted me to visit her. I told her I would… In reality, I was only thinking about April…
Dave and I were too hungover on the flight home to discuss the trip. I couldn’t even write much in my journal, but I did manage to list the “best memories” – most of which are featured in this story. When we landed, we definitely spun some incredible tales to our roommates about our Key West adventure. We rattled off tales and sea stories of our brushes with law enforcement, all the beautiful women we met on Duval street, our mushroom journey and of course, April… After swearing off smoking anything, we put on the Grooveyard CD and proceeded to get high and smoke Parliaments until 5 o’clock in the morning with our roommates laughing about our fake ID’s and the close call at LAX a week prior.
“Told ya so,” Oren said.
The next morning was Monday. Classes started at 9. I somehow got up, fished through my jacket for any loose marijuana or Parliaments and came up empty… All I could find, hidden an inside pocket, was DWAYNE. I picked him up and looked him in the eyes…
“What up DWAYNE?” I asked.
After no answer, I tossed him on my bed and went off to somehow force myself through my first few classes.
Two weeks later, a letter arrived in the mail from April. She told me she was writing to me while sitting on a beach smoking weed, thinking of both me and Dave. She had said she had fallen for both of us, and was unable to get herself to write until we had long left the island. She said my letter had blown her away. At the very end of the letter she asked me how DWAYNE was… and then mentioned that she had felt like we had a connection she couldn’t process at the moment, but was able to process now.
She wrote: When you told me you thought you loved me, I wanted to respond… but I couldn’t… because I was stunned… And then I read your poem that you put in my hand – and Zach – please find me somewhere in the future… I think I love you too… And I’m here.. but I can’t come to LA because I can’t afford it but my heart is with you… Please understand that you and Dan mean soooo much to me…
At the end of the letter she quoted a Grooveyard song and reported the most recent news out of Key West…
Apparently someone had recently discovered a 20 million dollar sunken Spanish treasure right off the coast.
I called Jonas but never heard back… Man, I hoped it was him…
*This story was originally conceived and written in Key West, Florida in March of 1996. After discovering it in my journal from that time, I re-visited it and pieced together whatever memories I still had from that time. I recently tracked down April on social media and found her to be back in Vermont, married with a child. I added her as a friend. She did not respond.
HOW TO SURVIVE A GRATEFUL DEAD SHOW WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR FRIENDS IN THE PARKING LOT * By Zach Selwyn
My old college friend Bernard (Or “Burner – for reasons that don’t need to be explained) called me the day before Father’s Day. He had an extra ticket to the 50th Anniversary Grateful Dead concert in northern California. I informed my wife that I would be traveling to the show the following Saturday night.
“Haha yeah right,” she said.
“No. I’m going.”
“Stop it. Now, what do you want to do for Father’s Day? Should we meet the Bartons for brunch? Or do you want to have people over to bar-be-cue?”
“I hate the Bartons,” I said. “I want to go to the Grateful Dead.”
“Are you serious?”
“Well, take your son with you, don’t you think he would enjoy it?”
I didn’t think that was the brightest idea. The smoke and the dancing and twirling was completely mind-blowing to me when I was at my first show at age 18. Back then I was scared shitless. Too many drugs, too many lost souls… too many people having a lot more fun than I was. I told my wife that I’d rather let my son find his own musical path. (Then again, if he’s following 5 Seconds of Summer around the country in 10 years I may have failed somewhere.) Plus, I told my wife that a 9-year-old boy does not need to see his 40-year-old dad clink Absinthe cups with a dude in hiking shorts who made Silicon Valley millions by inventing the Nook.
“Do NOT drink Absinthe,” she demanded.
“I won’t, I promise.”
Eventually, I got the green light – and I called Burner back and committed to his 70-dollar ticket. Which I soon found was WAY too expensive for my shitty seats behind the stage where just a few songs into the set a man would face-plant and nearly die on the concrete right next to me.
Recent online ticket prices for the Santa Clara shows had settled at $20-$40 depending on where you were seated, way down from the rumored $1500 nearly a month earlier. This was due to the “Soldier Field Panic Purchase” that nearly every Dead Head and ticket scalper had fallen for when their final two shows of this “Fare Thee Well” concert were originally announced… Thinking the tickets to Santa Clara might be listed at the same price as the Chicago shows, folks bought up dozens of seats at face value, only to find themselves losing money when trying to unload the tickets in the parking lot the afternoon of the show. (Steal Your Face Value, anyone?) Even Burner was left with a handful of tickets that he ended up trading for “pieces” (pipes or chillums), 50th anniversary bandanas, T-shirts and at one point a foot long joint being sold by a spritely blonde nymph out of a giant cardboard box.
Now, a fair amount has already been written about these shows – if you want to hear about the set lists and the fan reactions to Trey Anastasio and the supposed $50,000 “fake rainbow” – go Google that now. This is my personal adventure about smoking a lump of hash with a crazy looking scallywag who was dragging a dirty pet pit bull named “Iko” around on a hemp dog leash – and becoming so cosmically altered, that I managed to lose my friends for the duration of the show long before the first note of Truckin’ was even played.
It was a surreal experience to say the least. When I last saw the Grateful Dead in 1995, the crowd was pretty much the same… just about 20 years younger. But now, those folks have grown up. Gone are the days of living in the Vanagon and hopping from town-to-town. The “Only Users Lose Drugs” shirts I used to fawn over had been replaced by at least 25 men happily wearing a t-shirt reading “Grateful Dad.” (Thank you, honey for not getting me THAT for Father’s Day.)
A vast majority of the well-off crowd could be found eating sushi and sipping wine in the safe “red” parking lot, while the more traditional “Shakedown Street” blue parking lot catered to the jewelry designers, pushers, providers, dealers and, yes, the guys selling veggie burritos. (At $5.00 a steal – considering it was $11.00 for a nitrate-riddled hot dog in the stadium). Bottom line was, it was a very balanced scene. Which is how I went from talking about music with a doctor who lived in Marin County – to witnessing a hippie trade a T-shirt for a Churro – to eventually asking the aforementioned scraggly looking pit bull owner if I could have a hit of his joint.
“It’s hash bro,” he said.
“Nice,” I said.
“Nice,” he responded.
I took a long drag from the tightly rolled spliff. It was licorice-like in flavor… and reminded me of smoking hash on a Eurorail with a Spanish stranger during a train ride from Switzerland to Germany in 1996. I exhaled.
“Nice.” I said again.
“Real nice,” he said and pulled off the joint again.
I stared up at the clouds.
“Nice,” I laughed.
“Totally nice,” he replied.
We stood and watched the sky for a few minutes. I started to realize that for the past ten minutes, I had managed to keep a totally coherent conversation going by merely uttering the word “nice.”
I shook off my daze and decided to gather myself to find Burner and our other friends and head inside. We were 30 minutes away from the opener and I didn’t want to miss it. I looked back at my hash-providing friend and we shared an ever-knowing look of “I’ll never see you again, but thanks for the time together.” I threw up a peace sign. As I walked away to find my buddies, I heard him utter one final word as a fare thee well to our little session.
Back on Earth, I was suddenly totally confused. Burner was gone. Swirls of dreadlocks and weathered faces engulfed me. I wasn’t sure if I should head back to the blue lot and skip the show altogether or saunter forth inside all alone. Like a wilderness-trained tracker, I decided I’d take some photos to document the beauty of the signage and the sky and the colorful people and cars all around me. Scrolling through my camera roll a day later, all I can find is a few pictures of the stadium and a wasted girl passed out on a lawn. I definitely could not find my friends. I was high and wandering… but at least I had a ticket to my seat.
Having lost buddies at concerts over the years, I am somewhat used to making friends and surviving. This was certainly not the first time I had been alone at a Grateful Dead show… In fact, at the LA Sports Arena in 1993 I accidentally left the concert mid-song and walked 23 blocks away until I was lost in a Ralph’s parking lot deep in South Central Los Angeles. Luckily, the night cashier slipped me a Fentanyl and called me a taxicab. Once I lost my buddy in Santa Barbara and ended up sleeping in a bush after a Neil Young concert. At the Dead show, however, I wasn’t truly worried, because nowadays we are all lucky enough to have cell phones.
I looked down to text my friends. No service. Of course. No fucking service.
I made my way inside and ogled the crowds flittingly dancing along. Anticipating the first note of the show that would send me into another stratosphere. They started with Truckin’. The place went nuts.
Then the guy next to me almost died. His friends pounded his chest until he sat up and they forced water down his throat. Scared and afraid, I went to get a beer. I met some kind gentlemen in the beer line. We spoke about how awesome the show was that we were missing… by waiting in that beer line. I looked around. A girl next to me made sure to use all 9 pockets of her leather fanny pack. At least three guys purposefully wore cargo shorts to show off the “Jerry Bear” leg tattoos they had done in the 90’s that they were waiting all these years to uncover once again… Finally, a woman carrying a six-month old baby in what seemed like a paper bag attached to her back came dancing through the crowd. The kid’s head bobbled furiously, unstable and terrifying. In Los Angeles, the helicopter moms of Orange County would have screamed, rescued the baby and brought it to the nearest hospital. At the Grateful Dead show, however, grown men laughed and spewed forth dragon breaths of marijuana smoke into the sky as the baby drifted right through the haze. It was absolutely disturbing. I could not imagine my kids in this environment. As much as I would want them to appreciate what the music can do for everybody, the last thing I would want is my kid getting a second hand weed buzz around a group of folks sending wafts of OG Kush into the atmosphere.
A few songs later, I had settled down. It suddenly hit me that I was completely alone and that my conversations with strangers were fun but fleeting. I wasn’t making any new friends… I wasn’t analyzing every note Trey played… The worst part was, I was barely even seeing the show from my seat behind the stage. I watched the majority of it on a big screen. So, I wandered around and decided to talk to the security guard. His name was Reed.
“What’s crazier, a 49ers game, or this?” I asked.
“Well, different crowds, ya know?” He said. “Niners fans drink a few beers and try to look tough. These folks drink 10 beers and dance around like fools!”
“So is this the rowdiest show you’ve ever seen here?” I asked.
“Oh hell no, the worst was the WWE Wrestling event. I broke up about 30 fights, had to throw a guy down some stairs.”
“What’s the weirdest show you’ve ever seen here?”
“Kenny Chesney. Was like a Gay Pride Parade met the deep south.”
He shook my hand and walked off.
A few beers later, I was overwhelmed by hippies praying to the miracle rainbow in the sky yelling out things like “It’s a gift from JERRY GARCIA MAN!” (If you can imagine a bunch of high people reacting to a rainbow at a 50-Year Grateful Dead anniversary show, it’s EXACTLY how you picture it…) The argument that the rainbow has been faked is everywhere online, but in truth, if the Dead had 50K to blow on a holographic rainbow, I would hope they at least should have tried to construct a hologram Jerry Garcia instead. (Shit, I’d have settled for hologram 2Pac.)
As the evening went on, as a way to remember what I was going through, I began dictating voice notes into the “recorder” app on my iphone. These are the translations as best as I could decipher them:
A: I have just spent the last hour hanging with a giraffe
B: (Me singing a song idea for my band to record in the future) – “Sunday Ticket, who’s got my Sunday ticket… man are you with it? I wish I could stop and smell the roses – but the elements of elephants are lost among the doses – I suppose it’s the way of the Dead – I suppose it’s the way of the Dead” (Then yelling): “WAY OF THE DEAD!!! MY NEW SONG WOOOOOOHOOOOOO!!!!”
C: Hot dogs, nachos, chicken fingers… hot dogs nachos chicken fingers…
D: What hole have these people been hiding in since 1995?
The last note made sense. A lot of these fans were folks who looked like they never recovered from Jerry Garcia’s death. They had been in exile, awaiting the return of the Grateful Dead for years, sort of like those Japanese soldiers you read about who were trapped on islands with their loaded weapons unaware that the war had ended months earlier.
The highlight of my night came during the song St. Stephen. I had never heard the tune live – nobody really has – and it lifted my spirits high. For five minutes, the long drive alone had been worth it. So had the hash and the lost friends and the $70 seats. I reached high for the sky and let out primal screams of joy and happiness and thought about my kids, my wife, my career, my goals, my dreams my family. I was genuinely ecstatic. I had found my top of the mountain… It was one of those moments that I remembered having as a kid – worshipping this band for slices of perfection like that – when everybody is smiling and nothing can go wrong. A moment of calm and peace I hoped would never end…
Of course, an hour after the show I found myself cursing technology and feeling depressed about having to wait in a two-hour line for an Uber.
I left the venue alone. Got to the hotel alone. I was in bed by 1:00. I woke up before my friends – who had stumbled in at 3:30 – and shook off the cobwebs before beginning the long drive back to L.A. As I listened to the radio and heard reviews of the show it became clear how awesome the evening had been. I re-played to my voice memos and shuffled Dead songs on my iphone the whole drive, wondering how I could call my work and get out of it Monday so that I could stay and watch the second night show instead. Thankfully, I decided one amazing show was enough and I rode down California 5 with Santa Clara and the Grateful Dead in my rear view mirror. As I watched northern California disappear behind the rolling hills, one word came to mind as I smiled and traveled the golden road home…
In 1995, I had hair to my back, owned 329 bootleg Phish cassette tapes and dated a girl who didn’t shave her armpits with whom I shared a cat named “Fee.” Phish was more than a band. They were a way of life, and whenever they sauntered within 300 miles of Los Angeles, I was out the door, in my Honda Civic that I had named “Hayley’s Comet” (After an obscure Phish song), en route to another show somewhere down the road. In the 19 years since my first concert, I have seen Phish in 13 different states (and many altered ones). I have snuck into their dressing rooms during long, improvised jam sets and taken pictures of their guitar cases. I even made a long trip to Europe in 1996 to follow them around as the opened – yes opened- for Santana. The highlights of this trip included meeting Trey Anastasio in an Amsterdam café and shaking Mike Gordon’s hand outside of the venue in Paris… (As well as making out with plenty of European women, who didn’t speak a word of English). Yes, I was fanatical. Phish was even the reason I decided to “join the internet” – just to check out their website Phish.net – and they were the benchmark by which I held a person’s character. Did you like Phish? No? Sorry, we can’t be friends.
Every one of my close friends was right there with me. We would write letters of set lists from East Coast shows to buddies stuck in LA, send tapes, make mixes and throw listening parties. Throughout the years, some of us had been cited for possession, arrested for selling bootleg t-shirts and handcuffed at DUI checkpoints. One friend – Frisco Freddy – in an ecstasy-fueled dare – once got married to a girl he met at the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas at a drive-through chapel following the show. The danced to “If I Could” and made love in a hotel room shared by 12 people that night – as we all giggled listening to Frisco Freddy reach his climax. It was all part of the adventure. (The marriage was annulled 2 days later. Frisco Freddy is now Fred Goldfarb, commercial real estate agent).
It seemed so normal. It was our existence. If we timed our chemicals right, we might peak during a terrific “Chalkdust Torture” that would stoke college apartment discussions for weeks on end. My favorite moment/lyric of any Phish show was in the same song when Trey erupted into the brilliant line “Can’t this wait ‘til I’m old? Can I live while I’m young?!” The lyric clanged through our heads like the National Anthem.
The words were a true celebration of our freedom. Of being young, making our own bold choices and not wanting to face any responsibilities of the reality of survival in the real world. That lyric was my unofficial catch phrase for my way of life.
When Phish concerts were announced, a plan was hatched to buy tickets and block out the dates roughly an hour after the show was revealed. We traveled anywhere, drove in any state of mind – and slept five deep on friend’s apartment floors. It was all part of being 20 and being in love with a band of 4 vagrant virtuoso musicians from Vermont who had captured the hearts of our generation. Nothing could ever distance me from my brothers – both onstage and in that endless, dancing crowd. The nameless faces who said to me “Have a good show” before every gate opened – and the post show strangers who would sell me a Pheelin’ Phine sticker and joint for ten bucks in the parking lot to help face the impossible comedown on the drive home.
And then, something happened.
Around 1998 – somewhere between college and the real world, something changed. I remember going to the July 20, 1998 show at the Ventura County Fairgrounds – and for the first time, at age 23 – feeling as if the band and I had suddenly grown apart. Maybe it happened during “Poor Heart” when I didn’t get up and dance like a maniac like I used to do – or maybe it happened somewhere in the second set during “Maze” when I suddenly developed a bunch of insecurities about my career choices and lack of girlfriend – I was never quite sure. All I knew was that there was definitely a grand abyss that suddenly presented itself before me. And my old friends in Phish somehow took the unlucky slack. I contemplated a drive to the following night’s show at Desert Sky Pavilion in Phoenix– site of some of the most memorable concerts of my youth… and I decided against it. It somehow seemed a little irresponsible and desperate. It seemed like another distraction from chasing my new path.
Don’t get me wrong, plenty of my friends attended and sent me letters telling me that they couldn’t believe I missed my home state gig – but I somehow didn’t care. (I think I saw Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at the Derby in Hollywood that same night and felt pretty damn good about myself…) Needless to say, the tides had turned. I was a different man.
I guess it seemed like Phish was a band that would keep me treading in the same spot rather than blazing a new path forward. The recent passing of a dear friend – who I last saw at a Phish concert a year prior – had brought a vague sorrowful cloud over the frivolity of my youth. It was as if a window of life had closed and a dream had ended. I sold Hayley’s Comet that summer and bought a more sensible 1998 Honda CR-V. It went unnamed.
My final show was September 17, 1999 at Shoreline. I sort of wandered around during a long jam session during the second set, seemingly bored. It was as if the drug had worn off and I couldn’t wait to get back to my room and climb into my bed. I was only 24 years old, but I had peaked. It was time to settle in, make some money and follow my own dreams of leading my own band – instead of just following someone else’s. I felt like the pupil who was about to overtake the instructor. When I finally got my band together, in 2002, the goal was to outdraw Phish in five years… Didn’t quite happen. (My band went on to hit some extremely minor success on the zombie country – rap music movie soundtrack circuit, but other than that, we never quite sold out Madison Square Garden…)
Oddly enough, a year after my last show, Phish would break up. I felt like I had timed it perfectly. For six strong years, I followed a band to the ends of the Earth – Draining my wallet while feeding my head and my soul. I was 25, and engulfed in Hollywood – listening to new finds like The Band, Gram Parsons and Little Feat. Suddenly, Phish seemed like a tiny speck on the musical map and I was done with their guidance. It had been a gorgeous journey but it had to come to an end. The CD’s and tapes began collecting dust as I opened my mind into a deeper track list of song and only occasionally reminisced about getting to do the clapping thing along with 13,000 people during songs like “Stash.” The band had broken up, my hair had been cut off and things like set lists and rides to shows no longer mattered. I didn’t think I’d ever see Phish live again.
The phone call came in two days before the concert. Our old friend Larry had bought four tickets to the 2012 West Coast summer tour kick off show at the Long Beach Arena. His first instinct was to gather the tribe back together for a reunion show. It was brilliant. Larry had assembled a crew of former fraternity brothers and Phish-heads alike, none being bigger than me – a man with nearly 35 shows to my name – including some back as far as 1993. Our pal Mike was coming – his first show since 1997. Also along for the ride was a man known as “The Sauce” for his heroic drinking capability back in college – a longtime fan who had seen over 12 shows. And Larry. As advanced a partier as I have ever known. Never without a pocket full of Percoset and a bottle of 18-year-old scotch in his back pocket. We were four old warriors returning for one more battle with the great gentle giant of our past. Prepared to run the place, the way we did in 1997… Prepared to experience an earth shattering revolutionary moment of clarity. Perhaps at a time when we all needed it the most.
All of us are in our late 30’s and married. Three of us have steady every day high-paying jobs. I’m the one without one. (Still coasting along in the entertainment industry). Amazingly enough, whereas we used to compare make out stores and conquests, now, all these years later, there are 9 children between the four of us. There is one stepdaughter and one baby on the way. It was a far cry from the days of smoking an ounce of weed in an old Ford Explorer with our sorority girlfriends. It was our time to prove that we could pretend we were 20, but always be aware that we are 37.
Larry’s offer was impossible to refuse.
See, I had actually broken my Phish hiatus a year earlier. The summer of 2011, I had gone to see Phish at the Hollywood Bowl, my first show in 12 years. It had blown my mind. The songs were familiar and inspiring and even new jams like “Backwards Down the Number Line” had me believing for a few glorious hours, that my life with the band was all worth it. I hit peaks, flashed back to marvelous memories on highways and in hotels, with girls and old friends and eventually simmered into a state of serenity as I took a $5.00 cab home from my neighborhood venue. I had never seen a more perfect concert. So, the possibilities a show in Long Beach held were endless. Old friends gathering once again in a beach community to smoke a little, drink a little and dance a little? It was a no-brainer. I signed up immediately. Mike and the Sauce were in too. The stage was set. We would meet down at the Long Beach Hilton around 5:00 pm and pre-party before hitting the show. If all went too crazy, we’d share a hotel room. We’d even try to carpool down to save money for parking and gas. We were planning on being more responsible, trying to spend a night not thinking about the troubles at work, our kid’s schooling and whether or not to sell our Facebook stock. Larry had even mentioned ecstasy. After a minute-long consideration, we all passed, but the knowing smiles we shared with each other only reminded us of a time more innocent when rolling on a tab of E was a guaranteed path to a brilliant Phish experience. Now, we decided to just have a few beers and maybe split a joint. We had grown.
The 5:00 meeting did not happen. When work let out, the traffic to Long Beach from Los Angeles was unbearable. I left my house at 3:30 and met up with the Sauce at 5. We then spent another hour and a half on the 405 and 710 to the LBC. It took us roughly three hours to get to the concert. I was fuming.
Back in the day, a two- day drive to Texas for a show would have never been out of the question. Now, however, spending three hours in a car these days is not my idea of a “night out from the kids.” And years ago, joints would have eased the pain of the ride as we blasted some live tape from 1992 smiling at the cars we crept along the freeway with. Now we were afraid to hold our cell phones up to our ears to avoid getting pulled over for not having “hands-free” devices.
The Sauce and I made a wrong turn off the 710, but somehow ended up meeting Mike and Larry at the hotel. After long lost friendly pleasantries were exchanged, the immediate recognition of spotting the familiar Phish army sank in once again. Kids showed up in John Fishman dresses – kooky Phish t-shirts from 30 years of merchandising gone right and plenty of MAN-dals. It was all as familiar as a “Bathtub Gin” guitar riff. As we approached the venue, we became aware that we were definitely amongst the older generation – probably by 7-10 years – and we quickly noticed the similarities between 1995 and 2012. Except for instead of being the longhaired young kids with hot girlfriends, we were the dirty old dudes drooling over hot 20-something hippie girls who were there with their boyfriends. It should also be noted that the hairy armpit girls of the 90’s were nowhere to be seen. The California crowd was HOT. Young, bountiful, blonde, sexy, natural, curvy and gorgeous. A far cry from the dreadlocked smock-wearing wanderers that would hitch rides with us from town to town in the 90’s. Somewhere in the past 15 years, Phish’s female fan base somehow got SMOKIN’ hot.
I smoked a joint with my old friends. We laughed, shared pictures of our kids and split decent gyros we bought from some dude on a bicycle. It started to feel like home once again. As we saw the throng of concert goers celebrating the very fact that it was a religious night we began smiling like we were all young and innocent again, We were transported back to a time of peace and incorruptibility, purity and clarity. We were in heaven.
I’m pretty sure I made my first mistake when I stood in a 30-minute line to get a wristband to buy beer. Nobody had told me that inside, there was a smaller line – so I freaked out and wasted a half hour. I also made the mistake of not using the port-a-potties outside. I saw five people waiting to pee and got frustrated. But when I went inside, the line was 75 dudes deep. Took me another 20 minutes to hit the head.
Still, as the anticipation mounted, the familiar feeling returned. I knew I was seeing one of my all-time favorite bands and I couldn’t wait to get into the music like I did one year earlier at the Hollywood Bowl. It had been five hours since I left my house. I had drunk a few beers and took a long hit off of another friend’s chillum pipe. I was flying high when they opened the show with “Suzy Greenberg” – an old school jam that I used to LOVE. I hadn’t even thought about the song in 16 years. But it sounded as boisterous and thunderous as it had all those years ago. The set continued. “Kill Devil Falls” is one of my newest favorites. “Bouncing Round the Room” made me reminisce of old friends and women dancing around my apartment. Just young and dumb and free… Fucking FREE.
The funny thing was, back in the 90’s I would have been able to tell you what song was beginning by the first three notes. I knew every opening riff, line, bass thump, drum kick, you name it. Now, it took me half a song to even recognize what it was. I wasn’t as up to the familiarity as I thought I was. Still, it didn’t matter. That first set was perfect. We were all happily stoned, shrugging off the $10.50 Miller Lites and ignoring the fact that the Long Beach Arena should really have been reserved for a WNBA game – and not a Phish concert in a fine-looking slice of California near the sea. Even the dozens of people near us smoking cigarettes didn’t bother us just yet. We were all in a Phish trance, heckling stadium vendors trying to sell kettle corn and churros to a bunch of drugged out super fans and doing our best to remember our killer dance moves.
Everything was conscious. Everyone was free. Everyone was happy… Until they played “Stash.” It was then that I decided to make my first journey into my iphone to see what the name of the song was. (Back in college I would have had the lyrics tattooed on my arm, but now, I was struggling with the title). As I looked at my phone, my wife’s name appeared in a text. As did my brother’s. And a text from a possible business opportunity. Suddenly, Phish was GONE. I had to return my wife’s text to make sure the kids were OK. I had to send my brother a pdf file. I had to go talk to my business contact about the TV show idea he had. I was distracted. I suddenly realized it was Wednesday. Oh man, I had shit to do.
The classic “Stash” lyric “Was it for this my life I thought? Maybe so, maybe not” began.
It made sense when I was 20. It made perfect sense again.
I made sure I clapped at the right places and sang the “Ohhwooahh woah woah ooh” part in the song somewhat properly, albeit less enthusiastically than I had all those years ago, but I listened to that lyric repeat itself as I embarrassingly dove back into my phone. Afraid my friends would make fun of me for not being as entranced in the show as they were, I was pleasantly surprised to look over and see that Larry, Mike and the Sauce were all frantically texting into their phones as well. We were once slaves to the music. Now we were slaves to technology, wives, kids and work.
I decided to wait to go outside to call my wife until after the first set, which was a good move. But when Phish crushed the arena with “Quinn the Eskimo,” I was as as festive as anyone my age can get. As I drooled over some ridiculously hot dancing brunette who reminded me of half the girls I had dated in the 90’s, I began whispering to my friends about how old I felt at the show. We all nodded, laughed and high-fived.
I think The Sauce was the first one of us to yawn.
Still, I knew I had to go find a quiet place where I could calmly call my wife in peace and let her know I wasn’t wasted and that I would be home on time to wake up with the kids so she could go to work in the morning. As the set ended, and the place erupted, I darted for the doors. Somehow, I beat the bathroom line and even got a beer before getting stuck in sweat-filled traffic towards the front entrance where a full cell phone signal awaited. I called. It rang. My wife was asleep. I looked at the time. 9:45 p.m. Once, the beginning of my nights. Now? Fucking LATE,
I looked around at all of the fans around me. Most of them were texting, tweeting and updating Facebook pages, which I chalk up to the generation. However, when I saw the crew I had rolled with come outside, it was thoroughly predictable. We were all blowing kisses to our wives, checking on kids and even taking business calls. (Larry opened and closed a lawsuit between sets).
The Sauce took a 10-minute business phone call.
Mike went off to buy a churro and didn’t return for 40 minutes.
I sent photos of the crowd to my brother.
The guy next to me played Angry Birds.
30 minutes later, we were all exhausted and ready to call it a night. Still, we forced ourselves back inside. The anticipation was gone, the reality of an hour long drive back to L.A. sank in and we all crowded around the Long Beach water fountains for free cups of polluted tap water – just to avoid $4.50 twelve ounce Dasani’s from the concession stands.
As we sat in our seats, the lights came back and an unfamiliar tune came on. After five minutes of pretending we knew what it was, a guy behind us finally used his “Shazam” app on his phone and figured out it was “Rock and Roll” by Velvet Underground. The Phish version went on for 25 minutes. It was amazing. But then. The pdf file I sent earlier didn’t go through. Larry’s lawsuit took a turn for the worst. Mike’s churro sucked and The Sauce had to discuss hotel design with somebody in Macau. We were suddenly no longer the four Phish phreaks who would bed five girls before the night was through. We were grown men with responsibilities and allergies, children and long drives home. We were fading fast. When “Ghost” started, I shrugged it off. It was never one of my favorite songs, but I knew it well. It was one of those songs I had heard back when I began to separate myself from the band. Still, the song sounded great, and my body seemed to once again start buzzing… Until I realized it was just the buzz from another iphone text from my wife. Our two-year-old daughter was awake and crying. I felt guilty for not being there.
I’m pretty sure I was the second one to yawn.
Larry soon informed me during “Guyute” that he had a place for me to crash on his hotel room floor. My contact lenses were burning – and the drive home seemed impossible, but I figured it would be better for me to get home and not wake up in Long Beach hitching a ride back to Hollywood at my age, so I decided to go get some water from the tap once again. Four glasses later, and I was in the bathroom, staring at the bags below m eyes in the mirror while listening to two 20-something kids discuss some Festival in 2008 that I had obviously missed. I heard “Guyute” climax into that space age three chord re-birth that always made me happy and I smiled again. I was back inside, full of energy and ideas and resilience and glee. Until I returned to our section to find a good amount of the fans in my section seated and unconsciously bored.
“I’m bouncing like a newborn elf,” sang Trey.
Really? I didn’t see any newborn elves dancing near me. I saw four guys who were exhausted, rubbing their temples and beginning to worry about their hearing.
I stuck it out for “Julius” – one of my all time favorites – but when I noticed that our crew was all in the wife-texting mode we all looked at each other with an unspoken knowledge that it was time to go home. Yes, we had blossomed into the OLD GUYS AT THE PHISH SHOW. We weren’t quite what we used to be. And I think, truthfully, we were all a little grateful that we weren’t.
I remember waiting in line to buy Phish t-shirts as a kid to wear around college and try and instigate conversation. I made it a ceremonial task to buy a shirt at every show I went to. I have something like 22 Phish t-shirts in a closet in my house and I’ll hold onto them forever. Mike, Sauce, Larry and I thought we’d take a look at the newest merch and maybe drop a few bills. Of course, the only item that appealed to us was the baby onesies. Mike bought a toddler t-shirt and a newborn onesie. Larry got a onesie as well. I decided against it, as my kids were a little older, but it was the final moment of truth. We were now here just to tell our kids that we were there. The thrill had somewhat faded and we were all just looking forward to a decent night’s sleep.
It was the first time I had ever left before the encore. It was the first time I was happy to do so. It was the first time I hadn’t bought a beer, weed or burrito in the post-show parking lot. It was the first time I hadn’t left completely blasted out of my skull.
When Mike suggested taking a taxi back to the hotel three blocks away, all four of us smiled. Yes, a taxi! Brilliant! We were close enough to walk, but forget that idea, man. When we arrived at the Hilton, We split the $5.25 charge amongst four of is, said some pleasant good-byes and split apart. We had come to do what we came to do… sort of. It was a new experience on an old battlefield. WE were the decorated aging generals of yonder.
On the way home from Long Beach in my car, I fired up the MP3 player to “Chalkdust Torture.”
There was that magical phrase again.
“Cant this wait ‘til I’m old, can I live while I’m young…”
Well, I guess I let it wait ‘til I was old. I lived when I was young! And even though 37 still seems young in a way, when there are babies to feed and diapers to change at 6:00 in the morning, 37 is really fucking old.
Still, Phish will forever hold a deep piece of my heart – and should they play anywhere within 10 miles of me (haha) I will go anytime. The band is one of the reasons why I became a confident stage performer, a songwriter and a well-traveled man. They were a part of my youth, but also of my adulthood. They continue to offer inspiration and wild creativity but they also continue to keep me grounded. To know that nothing lasts forever… be it friendships, bands, trends, beauty, money… you name it. All we have is belief, love and music. And that ain’t bad at all.
Still, if anybody has an extra ticket for tomorrow night’s San Francisco show, I’m totally in… I’ll drive….