*Warning – the following story contains sexually graphic and disgusting situations
My wife recently bought a $300 vibrator. It’s called a stingray. It pulsates. It’s waterproof. And it does everything but make sandwiches. My wife swears by it and they have a special relationship that extends beyond the bedroom. This throbbing beast has been brought up consistently at dinner conversations since she purchased it… I believe she even told her mother about it, as if she was introducing her to her new boyfriend.
Women have been celebrating the vibrator for hundreds of years… It’s universally acceptable and widely acknowledged that most sexually healthy females have some sort of throbbing stunt penis hiding beneath a pile of T-shirts in their dresser drawers.
However, if I came home one day with a $300 sex toy, it would be considered taboo. Men who do this sort of stuff have long been labeled as perverts and sexual deviants. And, men don’t really discuss masturbation details over wine and pasta at a group dinner.
Maybe men and sex toys do not go together because most men are seemingly easier to please. After all, all we need is a magazine, a free hand and some “me time.”
I have never used a sex toy on myself. I am not saying that I haven’t been intrigued by the molds of “Jenna Haze’s Pussy and Asshole” that I have seen for sale at an adult store, but shelling out hundreds of dollars for a rubber vagina has never been high on my priority list. Plus.” Real Dolls” are like, five grand. Plus, in humble my opinion, nothing could really beat the time-honored tradition of good old fashioned jerking-off.
But then someone sent me a free “Fleshlight.”
I had heard about the Fleshlight forever. It was an early podcast sponsor and was the rage of the Adult Video Awards when I covered them for a TV show back in 2007. But still, I had never tried one, and I wasn’t exactly running out to make a purchase without knowing that it would be worth it… Then again, it’s not exactly the type of thing you borrow from a buddy…
Opening the box, I was amazed to find that there are like, 25 different types of Fleshlight models ranging from any body orafice to Jenna Haze to an actual weird blue ALIEN vagina that I assume is supposed to make you feel like you are fucking Neytiri, Zoe Saldana’s character from Avatar…
You are able to choose from a bevy of porn star clitoral replicas and adjust the suction level by twisting the back of the casing. It came with lube (necessary to simulate female wetness) and a cleaning cloth. It also had extensive directions about how to “wash your sleeve of remaining fluids” once you were done with it. This was a no-nonsense operation.
I settled in one day after work before my wife and kids had come home from baseball practice. I opened up my Fleshlight and examined it. This particular model was not a signature porn star version, it was a “Stamina Training Unit” – meaning it was supposed to help you train to maintain an erection longer should you ever have a real life sexual encounter… This was the “elliptical” of Fleshlights.
My first touch of the thing was unsettling. I felt weird. Deviant. I was fondling with an artificial body part. You know those weird people you see on TV who dig up corpses and have sex with them? For a second I wondered if I had stooped to their level.
Until I inserted myself.
It had been 15 years since I had felt any sexual pleasure with anyone other than my wife. I’m not sure how, but I suddenly became engorged and remained rock hard for the next seven minutes of thrusting, adjusting my technique, rhythm and stroke to this Fleshlight as if I was trying to give it an orgasm. Throughout this blissful and pure rubber sexual adventure, I felt as giddy as a 15-year-old learning how to unhook a bra strap in high school. It was something new and exciting…
As I approached climax, I was wondering if it was a customary rule to finish inside the device – or if the recommended method was to jizz onto any nearby available tube sock. While deciding to pull myself out from the sensual erotic vagina, I grabbed and looked at the manual… It did not offer any “jizz directions.”
I found myself climaxing into the sleeve. I immediately doubled over onto my bed as if I was 17 again and in the back of my Dodge Lancer. I was feeling pretty satisfied.
And that’s when the guilt settled in.
I had a large device on my penis. I had just cum into it and I was immediately dreading the moment when my son or wife would walk in. I began wondering if I had somehow caught an STD from the Fleshlight. Worst of all, I had to eventually pull out… which was a feeling that was so hauntingly real, that it reminded me of all the dorm rooms I had left at two in the morning in college after drunken sex romps… In my mind, I felt like I had somehow cheated on my wife with a Pi Beta Phi sophomore.
My friend Mark, who works in virtual reality calmed my fears when I called and told him that I was not feeling very good following the encounter.
“Dude, I’ve gone through, like – six Fleshlights!,” he said. “I get one every year… I had the Jesse Jayne model last year, bruh, that shit was nice! You should change them every six months or so.”
Woah, six Fleshlights? The Jesse Jayne model? Change them every six months? Obviously I was not living up to my masturbatory potential.
“Wait til you see this virtual reality shit we’re coming out with in a few years,” Mark explained. “Dude, you’ll be able to fuck Jessica Biel on a beach while Justin Timberlake is tied up to a nearby palm tree, crying.”
“Are you serious?” I responded.
“Dude, sex is about to go so virtual, we’re gonna all turn into a world of jizz monkeys shooting 9 to 10 loads a day.”
“Dude, in the future you’ll be able to fuck Jessica Biel on a beach while Justin Timberlake is tied up to a nearby palm tree, crying,” my friend Mark told me.
I did some research. If Mark’s prediction, and the internet is correct, the world will enter the virtual porn sex space in the next few years. People will put on their devices and set up a “scene” where they can have sex with a digital female while they pleasure themselves physically. At first, the sex models will be outrageously priced and unaffordable, but eventually, both men and women will all be pounding away at any number of virtual lovers through the power of visual stimulation.
That’s on some Westworld level shit right there.
Feeling less guilty about my Fleshlight encounter, I read the manual about how to clean it out. I learned that Fleshlight makes a special soap that I would now have to buy if I wanted it to stay in pristine condition. I would also have to double up on my lubrication as the sample pack they included was quite small. And then there is the washing of it. Running warm water through a fake vagina isn’t the most comforting part about using a Fleshlight, but it’s a necessary one if you want to keep it in good condition.
It’s like cleaning your bar-be-cue after every use.
When my wife got home, I shared my experience with her and she actually was proud of me. She told me that she thought men should be able to experience the heightened pleasure of something other than just your hand once in a while. Hearing this got me thinking…
“Well, look,” I said. “Pretty soon there’s gonna be a virtual reality device where I can have sex with Jessica Biel on a beach, can I get that too?”
“Sure, if I can get one where I bang DeAndre Jordan,” she responded.
“Oh, uhmm, let me think about it,” I responded.
I went upstairs and hid my Fleshlight beneath some t-shirts in my dresser…
It was around 2:15 in the morning when a hammered single mom of three kids with a very visible C-section scar approached me following my music gig at a place called Peri’s in Marin County, California.
“Hiiii Mr. Talented…” She slurred. “I live two blocks away and my kids are prolly asleep – D-ya wanna come have a drink and smoke and hang ouuuuut?”
I looked this woman over. She was about 40, had a swollen and (possibly) fractured purple ankle and was heavily puffing on an e-cigarette…. From behind, half of her dress had hiked up and lodged itself in her butt, revealing a horrifying leg tattoo of a dragonfly that started mid-thigh and ended probably just above her Va-jayjay.
She also had one dreadlock.
“Uhhh… Well, the thing is…” I stumbled. “I’m married – sooo I don’t think it would be a good idea, ya know?”
“Fuck you! You’re an asshole for leading me on!” she snapped.
Wait, what? Leading her on? How was I leading her on?
A few seconds later, it hit me… When I was performing on stage a few minutes earlier, I recalled saying:
“Who’s the hottie in the back/Nice body, nice rack/
Meet me outside in five – My name is Zach.”
Look. If you have ever seen me or my band perform live, I often jokingly flirt with girls in the crowd with improvisational freestyle rap lyrics from the stage… This, however, was one of those rare moments when the girl actually stuck around and thought I was serious… I felt terrible. (Here’s a sample of a freestyle from NYC in 2017)
“Sorry, it was a joke, – like a part of the show??!??!?” I tried to explain to her.
She threw a drink at me, turned around and stopped at the door to say good-bye.
“Your music fucking sucks anyway,” she screamed.
By the way? I never made it home that night. Since I was too drunk to drive, the bartender let me sleep in the back seat of my Prius in the bar’s parking lot…
Did I mention it was a Tuesday?
What the fuck am I doing?
I am 44-years-old. I have two kids and a wife. Most men my age are in bed by 8:30 every night, binge-watching Netflix and thinking about some meeting they have at work the next day with Nancy from H.R.
Not many dudes I know are living like me this summer… touring bars in their mid-40’s trying to sell 20-something kids t-shirts and CD’s of their country hip-hop band that – in most people’s eyes – peaked when they opened for Jason Mraz in 2008…
For the record? On this tour I sold ZERO CD’s.
But let’s go back a few years…
In the 2000’s, every bar I played in was always PACKED. Friends, fans and industry folks lined up outside awaiting new songs – or a 10-minute freestyle rap where I might drop their names into a verse… They bought CD’s and shirts and sang along and I would walk out of the bar with $400 and a thousand business cards… My band played across the country and stayed in fine hotels, sipping top shelf whiskey and partying with rock stars…
But, then came adulthood. People had kids and a lot of my musician friends got real jobs. Some band members moved out of town… Most guys gave up or got into real estate. Even I took a break from it for a while to be around the family and work in the TV business. However, the thrill of performing live was always missing…
So, this past summer I decided that a 9-venue mini music tour of Northern California would be the best thing for my mind, body and soul.
Tour posters from the road…
As the days rolled on, I sort of forgot about the ways of the road… Late nights, uncomfortable beds… bad habits reintroducing themselves… When you’re out driving down I-5 at 9:30 at night – a restaurant like Subway suddenly becomes a solid option. The Yellow American Spirit cigarette suddenly becomes “healthy” decision… Not to mention that most bars where I play like to avoid paying musicians – and instead – offer up FREE DRINKS instead – which ultimately leads to me drinking $4.99 mini bottles of Sutter Home Cabernet – guaranteeing a foggy and painful morning.
Oh, and most bartenders who hear me ask for “the best red wine in the bar” often think I’m joking and laugh in my face.
In all honesty, I quit drinking hard liquor ten years ago…. Waking up in a Super 8 Motel with two lines shaved into your eyebrows like D’Angelo Russell will do that to anybody…
But that’s a whole ‘nother story…
The “Zachariah: Backyard and Wineries” tour began in San Francisco, at a private party where some tech geniuses of the world dug my music and my improv songs about how expensive the city had become… The host had somehow procured 25-plus bottles of the legendary Pliny the Elder beer from Santa Rosa and he was extremely generous with his liquor cabinet. However, as people got more sloshed, a supremely drunk friend of theirs named Kelly demanded I sing Shallow by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.
“Are you gonna sing it with me?” I asked her.
“Fuck YESSS!” She screamed as the party encouraged her.
A few chords later and she was warbling through the “Wooooaaaah – ohhh – h ohhh ohh ohh oh AWWOWOHHHWHWHWH” section of the song. Let’s just say she didn’t nail it, but it didn’t matter. The vibe and energy was fantastic and I assumed every gig would end up this beautiful and natural.
But the next night I drove up to gig at Peri’s Bar in Marin County. It was certainly a success, but I was definitely under-paid and over-served awful tiny bottles of Sutter Home… (Thus the reason why I slept in a parking lot).
When I woke up in the back seat of my 2008 Prius at six the next morning, having sweat through my clothes on stage the night before, I decided that a shower was indeed in order. I quickly Googled “YMCA Marin County” on my phone and found one 10 miles away where my Hollywood “Family Membership” would let me use their facilities. This is also a practice that HOMELESS people participate in.
I ended up spending 45 minutes in the sauna listening to two men talk about their new tech venture that would “change the dumpling game forever.” After they noticed me listening in, they began whispering and eventually left the sauna altogether, protecting their billion dollar dumpling idea.
A billion dollar dumpling idea? What I derived from this moment was that I am definitely in the wrong business…
That night, I performed at the Lagunitas Tap Room in Petaluma. The venue was amazing and they even offered up cash ($80) for the gig. Plus, per usual, they served me all the beer I could drink. Initially I had planned on having one or two beers because I had to drive to meet my wife and kids up north in Cloverdale once the night ended…
However, after my show, I quickly found myself 8 beers in. Since my head was spinning, I asked my new friend Pete (who booked me there) if he had a better idea than drunk driving to Cloverdale.
“Yeah brother… my buddy Andy has an Airstream in a forest that he rents out – it’s $45 for the night,” he said.
“Uhh… like, HOW in a forest?” I inquired.
“It’s desolate, man… super chill and quiet and you won’t hear anybody’s voice for like, 9 hours straight!” Pete replied.
OK. Look. I enjoy nature. I love converted Airstream trailers. But 9 hours alone in one in nature? Yo, I’m not trying to live that Into the Wild life… I am a social person. I need conversation. Shit, I need some WiFi, ya know?
“I don’t know Pete,” I explained. “I sorta need a bed – I slept in my car last night.”
“They have a killer Aerobed,” Pete said. “I’ve slept there sooo many times, you’ll love it – I’ll even drop you off!”
And with that, Pete took me to a beautiful house with 40 acres of land in the woods, where we knocked on the door and met Pete’s buddy Andy who was extremely tired and reluctantly thrust the trailer keys into my hand. He also passed me a Romancing the Stone-like treasure map explaining how to find the forest Airstream… Pete left and I slugged through the dark forest, absolutely fearing for every second of my life, before coming across what was a beautiful 1950-something converted Airstream “Cabin.”
I unlocked the door and went inside. It was about as rustic as you could expect.
There was an Aerobed with a blanket on it…
On the wall hung a calendar from the year 2013…
And there was a shovel in the corner next to a roll of toilet paper beneath a sign that said, “Use Nature’s Facilities.”
Holy shit. What? So no bathroom? Was I gonna have to re-learn the “One-armed tree hang” I had been taught at summer camp as a kid?
I decided to just crash and wake up as early as possible to split.
30 minutes after I went to sleep, I woke up on the floor. The Aerobed had deflated. It was about 45 degrees in the trailer. With no visible air pump nearby, I turned the deflated Aerobed into a pillow and did my best to sleep for the next six hours.
A couple of hours later I woke up to the sound of what must have been two bears humping in the woods… I also swear a mysterious light flashed across the sky and for two hours I panicked about being abducted by aliens and anally probed above the Redwoods. Eventually, around 6:30, I awoke with a stiff neck and took a $20 taxi back to my car at Lagunitas.
Up in Cloverdale I met my family and began thinking that perhaps, the road life was no longer for me… I took the family to the local trampoline park and hit up some small town burger place and I was amazed at how comfortable the safe and respectable family life felt again… For a minute, I almost cancelled my final three gigs…
But, since I can rarely turn down a chance to perform, I decided to carry through on my commitments.
As I was playing the night at an all ages restaurant, the local town drunk “Banjo Bob” (yes, his real name) taught my 13-year-old son how to best hold a pool cue if he was ever to get into a bar fight.
(His advice? Hit the guy with the skinny end, that way if it breaks off – you’re left with the more dangerous thick end of the stick as a weapon.)
To quote my late grandmother: “That’s wonderful?”
The following night, I played at a pretty cool bar in Healdsburg where I ate pizza that a guy had made from an oven that he dragged behind his bicycle… I know what you’re thinking: Bike Pizza? Trust me – It was absolutely delicious.
On the last night, we drove down to San Francisco and the tour ended at a bar in the Marina called Jaxson for a friend’s fundraiser party in the city – where, as I was playing live, a man and woman dry-humped each other on the dance floor in front of me…
Now look, I’m all for dancing, but this was kind of ridiculous… I actually didn’t care. They were wasted and they loved my music and I felt at home for a few minutes with the young Marina area crowd of San Francisco…
Here – watch the video and make your own assumptions:
For the record? That girl dancing did not ask me to come back to her place after the gig.
But the guy did…
“Hi Mr. Talented,” He said… “Wanna come party with me at my place?”
“I’d love to, but, the thing is… I’m married,” I said.
I woke up the next morning in the back seat of my Prius…
ZACH IS NOW BOOKING VENUES FOR HIS SUMMER 2020 TOUR!!
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.
After Reading Sean Penn’s ‘El Chapo’ Piece, I Decided to See What my Old Pot Dealer From High School was Up to…
Recently, Sean Penn made headlines when he bravely traveled deep into the heart of Sinaloa to meet and converse with the notorious Mexican drug cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Right after the story went to press, El Chapo was captured – and his latest elusive time on the lam abruptly came to a close. Penn’s piece was published in Rolling Stone this week and I found it to be an engrossing piece of long lost Gonzo journalism at its finest. Penn, an actor, long known for his political involvement, put himself in the direct line of peril and danger all while partnering with a famous Mexican film actress to infiltrate the most impenetrable depths of Narco activity. He shook hands, broke bread and slammed tequila with a man that the DEA and Mexican authorities have been unable to locate for close to six months. In my opinion, Penn’s story was a hell of a lot more ballsy than anything else any pampered Hollywood actor has attempted in the past twenty years. (Sorry, Julia Roberts. Playing an AIDS-sensitive doctor in The Normal Heart may have been considered “daring” but it pales in comparison to a 55-year-old Oscar winner risking his life to traipse deep into a jungle of death for an interview for a rock-n-roll magazine).
So, inspired by Sean Penn’s courage, I decided that the recent stories and essays I have written have felt a little too “soft.” I realized that had to step it up. Knowing that I was traveling back to my hometown of Tucson to visit my mother on Martin Luther King, jr. weekend, I made up my mind that I was going to turn the trip into my own personal “El Chapo rendezvous.” I had a great idea…
My goal was to track down Ernesto Gregory, the most successful marijuana dealer in my high school. The last I had heard of Ernesto was through a photograph taken around 2011 by our mutual high school friend, Erik. He posted a picture of the two of them on Facebook drinking in the desert. Erik had captioned the photo with He’s finally out! Welcome home boss!”
Assuming that this caption insinuated that he had just been released from some high security prison, I was under the impression that Ernesto had built up an El Chapo-like narcotics network of hundreds of foot soldiers and truckloads of contraband over the past 18 years. Why else would he have been in jail? Why would Erik call him “boss?” Plus, he was wearing the typical outfit. A Large Polo Horse logo situated on a blue collared shirt on top of True Religion designer jeans. DEA agents call this look “Narco Polo.” Now I have seen Sicario. I’ve watched Breaking Bad. I had no doubt that Ernesto had risen from low-grade weed dealer at Rincon/University High School into a southwestern drug legend – living in ranches and mansions sprawled across the Tucson and Mexico landscape.
And I was going to interview him.
I was set to fly into Tucson International Airport on January 17th. My plan was to eat a bunch of food at my mother’s house, drink wine and play three games of Scrabble all while hearing her talk about how amazing The Revenant was. The following day, I would travel deep into the center of Tucson to meet up with and interview the most intimidating and bad-ass pot dealer my high school had known.
Back in 1993, Ernesto Gregory had owned the school’s finest lowered mini truck. He had a 200-dollar Motorola pager. His “system” – or car stereo – was as custom as they came, complete with an Alpine tape deck, a Sony Discman attachment, two 12-inch Kicker woofers, some Kenwood tweeters and a constant bass thump of MC Breed, DJ Magic Mike and Wrecks ‘N Effect blasting from his trunk. He had his own apartment on Speedway, decked out with a two-foot bong, a television with cable and an unlimited financial account on a sort of early 90’s YouTube video-on-demand predecessor known as “The Box.” He always wore a black Colorado Rockies cap and Marithe and Francois Girbaud jeans beneath over-sized t-shirts of ridiculous animated Looney Tunes characters wearing 90’s hip-hop clothing. His pager code for weed was “907.” His girlfriend was the hottest girl in the senior class – a dark-haired Mexican sex goddess named Racquel Hernandez. And he was tough. As far as we knew, he had never lost a fight. In fact, I recalled him once putting my friend from Hebrew School – Adam Richford – into a headlock and smashing his nose repeatedly until he apologized for “mad-dogging” him in the parking lot. He claimed he had connections through “uncles in Nogales,” where his product came from. And everybody knew, anyone with “uncles in Nogales” was always in the drug game… In short, Ernesto Gregory was the most accomplished 18-year-old kid I had laid eyes on in my young life.
After I landed, I told my mom about my plan.
“Why the hell are you meeting with this criminal?” My mother asked on the car ride from the airport.
“He was the king, mom!” I exclaimed. “Didn’t you read the Sean Penn article?”
“Sean Penn’s an idiot, going to interview that drug dealer!”
“I thought that story was genius,” I said. “Besides, what else am I going to write? Another story about my kids not being allowed to bring refined sugar to school?”
Following a few glasses of wine at the house, my mom was trying to convince me to go to Wal-Mart to buy a knife for the meeting. I assured her that Ernesto and I were in good standing and that no concealed weapons would be necessary. She broke into a desperate sweat. We played two games of Scrabble before deciding to put the third one on pause because we were so tired that word like “uh” and “is” had begun appearing on the board.
My final memory of the evening was listening to my mom curse my name before she went to bed in the other room.
The following morning I fueled up on eggs and coffee, not knowing when I would be back to the house. The afternoon’s plans had been Facebook “messaged” to me by Erik, who I quickly learned from his profile hadn’t left Tucson since graduation. Erik wrote me that Ernesto wasn’t on social media, but he mentioned that he did watch a lot of TV and he had even seen my History Channel show and had once commented, “I know that fucker!” He also told me that Ernesto had demanded that Erik take down the aforementioned photo he had posted in 2011. Sure enough, when I searched for it, it was no longer online… All this solidified my drug-lord theory even more.
Ernesto had agreed to meet at 12:30. I took off in my mother’s Acura and sped over to an address located in the shadow of the bar-heavy downtown area. A place much hipper and enticing than it had been back in the 90’s when druggies and skinheads and homeless wandered Congress Boulevard scaring off any young people looking for a good time. Must have been all the drug money given to the city by Ernesto, I theorized.
I parked in a dirt lot and immediately recognized Erik, who looked like he had been a meth fiend since about 1994. He wore a saggy shirt, filthy pants and sported a patchy beard and shaved head. He had a kid’s BMX bicycle in his pick up truck bed, which I took as also a sure sign of a man on crystal meth. For some reason, heavy meth addicts seemed to always travel on way-too-small dirt bikes. Erik wasn’t unlike them.
I looked up just as a helicopter darted above us in the sky. DEA drone, I thought. Of course. We were most likely being followed. Hell, who knew what corner or alleyway was outfitted with a hidden camera tracking Erik’s every move. Shit, maybe the FBI had caught on to my story as well? I mean, who’s to say they weren’t tracking Erik’s Facebook page when I sent him my original message? I was starting to hit an all-time level of paranoia. Even a pigeon that flapped above us and landed on a telephone wire looked like it had a hidden camera in its eye… I tried to keep my cool.
Knowing some of the narco protocol, I began preparing for my meeting with Ernesto.
“So, should I give you my iphone for safety precautions?” I asked Erik.
“What for?” He replied.
“Oh, I just assumed I wasn’t allowed to bring any electronics to the meeting,” I said.
“We aint goin on no airplane or nothin,” he replied.
At this point, my entire drug kingpin theory went out the window. After all, in the El Chapo story, Sean Penn was told to turn his phone off in Los Angeles, nearly 14 hours before he even made contact with the cartel in Mexico. He had been forced to travel to in two separate SUV’s, two single engine planes and armored vehicles just to meet with El Chapo’s henchmen before gaining approval. He was most likely given a full body cavity search, frisked and water-boarded. Ernesto’s lone henchman was a meth fiend named Erik who was allowing me to bring my iphone into a meeting as if I was about to pitch him a new Angry Birds app to finance… Ernesto’s notorious drug cartel was crumbling before my eyes.
“Follow my truck, we’re going to shoot pool at Pockets,” Erik said.
“Pockets? We’re not going to his house or something?” I asked.
“What house?” He said. “Ernesto likes to play pool. You play pool?”
“Sure, man – I love pool,” I said.
I hate pool.
Pockets was a stale billiard hall way too brightly lit for a Wednesday afternoon. A few biker types with chain wallets and denim jackets drank Miller High Life at the bar. A Mexican guy who looked to be on his 5th or 6th Corona sat watching a soccer game on TV. One lone female, a waitress who would have slept with Bad Blake in the movie Crazy Heart after he played a set at a bowling alley, served beer. In the far west corner stood a chubby man in an Arizona Wildcats baseball cap chalking up his cue. I recognized him immediately as Ernesto Gregory.
His face had filled in and he had put on close to 35 pounds. By his footwear and saggy jeans I could tell that he hadn’t done much to change his fashion choices during the past 22 years. He wore Jordan sneakers, which were probably eight years old and had accumulated a slew of new arm tattoos, including one portrait of a woman who looked a lot like a fatter version of Racquel Hernandez. He drank what I would soon learn was Jack Daniel’s and Diet Coke and was constantly adjusting his pants from the crotch area. My first thought was that the most accomplished 18-year-old I had ever known had become the sloppiest 40-year-old I had seen in some time.
“Zach Selwyn!” He announced as I nervously approached the pool table. “What up Hollywood!”
Oh boy. He was going to call me Hollywood the rest of the day, I knew it.
“I seen you on that TV show about the words and shit!”
“Yeah, America’s Secret Slang, thanks man.”
“Yeah, American Slang! That’s it, what up big homie?”
“Nada man, just trying to catch up with some old friends, ya know?”
“Well shit, let’s shoot some stick.”
Ernesto racked up some balls and began rattling off shots. He was a damn good pool player and I knew that even at my best – which was pretty terrible – I was about to be embarrassed. But, he told me to pick a cue and even though it was 1:30 in the afternoon, I ordered a pitcher of Bud Light. The waitress brought it over and charged me for it. It cost $3.75.
As Ernesto sank shot after shot, we never once discussed drug dealing. In fact, we spent most of our time talking about girls from high school that he had always wanted to screw. Turns out, he thought I was some Olympic-level cocksman in my teens and he assumed that I had slept with every cute girl in our high school. As he dug up names from the past, I could only laugh and try to remember who some of these girls even were. Most of them I had never been intimate with, but to placate Ernesto, I played along.
“Paula Schrapner? Yeah, I nailed her,” I said. Not true.
“Jen Robbins? Blow job,” I lied.
“Did you ever get together with Laura House?” Ernesto asked. “She was DOPE!”
“Uh, we just kissed,” I said, which was actually true. One New Years Eve 1992, we had briefly kissed.
“Man, I wonder what she’s up to now?” He said, staring off at a neon sign.
As the beers flowed, I was finding that I was having a hard time getting anything out of Ernesto. He was stuck in 1993, still pining for girls who were long married, divorced and even had kids in high school of their own. He remembered football games that I hadn’t even thought about in 20 years and quoted our Economics teacher Mr. Franklin from a class I didn’t even recall taking. When I took a second to ask him about Racquel Hernandez and what happened to their relationship, he grew silent, took out a vape pen and pulled long and hard.
“You know we have three kids, right?”
“I did not know that,” I said. “Congrats. I have two. How old?”
“19, 17 and 15,” he said. “But the 15-year-old has blue eyes and blonde hair – aint no way that kid’s mine. We broke up 12 years ago. My second wife bailed on me last year. Bitch.”
Wow. Here I was, stressing out about my 9 and 5-year-old kids in Los Angeles and this guy had been divorced twice and had three kids in high school – one who he was convinced wasn’t even his. I suddenly felt like every pampered Hollywood asshole I have come to despise.
“Hey Hollywood, you never slept with Racquel, did you?” He asked.
“What? Hell no!”
There was a sudden silence. Erik looked ready to tear out my jugular. Ernesto stared me down. This was what Adam Richford would call “mad-dogging.” My mom was right… I should have bought that knife.
“Man, I’m just playing!” He said. “You should see your face, you looked like a little bitch just now!”
Everybody laughed. I pounded my beer. It was then that I decided that I had to get the whole story right here or else I was going to end up on the wrong end of a bong in the south side of Tucson come six o’clock, getting high and watching some show like Ridiculousness on a Futon. I found my courage and lowered my voice to a whisper.
“So, Ernesto – you still in the weed game?” I asked.
Ernesto looked at me and laughed. He looked at Erik and then back to the pool table.
“Man, I aint dealt weed since high school,” he said.
“I thought you went to jail or something?” I inquired.
“Shit man… I shot some endangered pregnant salamander with a rifle during bow-hunting season. Thank God it didn’t die… Luckily I only did two nights in county jail, man. Sucked ass.”
He had shot a pregnant salamander with a rifle during bow-hunting season? He did two nights in county jail? El Chapo had done something like seven years in maximum security before his first escape… As far as I know, he never complained either. Here was my one-time narcotics hero admitting to me that he was scared after doing two measly nights for shooting a fucking lizard. My story was falling apart.
“So, what about the last 15 years? I mean, what have you done for work?” I asked.
Ernesto sunk a 9 ball and looked up at me.
“I repair windshields, man. Over at Glassworx on Speedway.”
I watched him return to the table. My heart sank as he finished off the game by dropping the eight ball perfectly in the side pocket. My story was over. The most notorious drug dealer I had known had become a windshield repair guy. There was no mansion in the hills, no ranch house in Nogales… and no harem of sexy Mexican women. Ernesto had gone straight and my story was dead.
“Why do you ask, homie?” Ernesto inquired. “You need weed?”
Being that my story was a bust, I figured that the very least I could do was to go on one more pot buying deal in my old hometown. Maybe the dealer would be the drug kingpin I was looking for and I could write something about him instead.
“Yeah, sure man. Just a little bit to get me through the next two days.”
“Well, my dude sells dime bags over at hole 14 at the Golf N’ Stuff on Tanque Verde if you want to pick one up,” Ernesto said.
Dime bag? Golf N’ Stuff? I wasn’t interested. The last thing I needed was to buy Mexican weed from a kid at the same place where I had celebrated my 11-year-old birthday party. It just didn’t seem right.
“No that’s cool, man,” I replied. “I gotta get home anyway – maybe we can hook up tomorrow or something.”
“Are you sure?” He said. “This kid gets good shit… he has a couple of uncles in Nogales.”
Of course he did. I threw a five-dollar tip on the wooden table and finished off my beer. I high-fived Erik and Ernesto, promised to be in touch and promptly drove back to my mother’s house where I found her nervously pacing the living room like I was 15 again and out with a senior at my first high school party.
We opened a bottle of wine and finished our game of Scrabble…
Zach and Missi Pyle have a new podcast called “Missi and Zach Might Bang!” Exec. Produced by Anna Faris and Sim Sarna of “Anna Faris is Unqualified” – the show takes on celebrity guests, improvisational music and offers entertainment business advice as well! Head to http://www.ewpopfest.com to buy tickets now!!!
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 we 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 “Facil” 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-brother’s 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 misspellings, 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 drugs… 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 “Conch Fritters.” 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 p.m. 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 Dave 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.
From April 25 – 28, ZACH will lead a band featuring Nashville legends -while performing LIVE at the world famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville during live tapings of the hit NFL Network show “Good Morning Football”Zach’s band Zachariah & the Lobos Riders recently released their new album “Hacienda” to high praise Lead singer Zach Selwyn, a former ESPN personality and digital sports content talent for TBS currently hosts the new interactive game show “Stacks” – Returning fall 2019. Stay tuned for more NFL Draft information! Show airs 6am-10am – prepare for NFL FREESTYLES, COUNTRY REWRITES, COVERS, EPIC CLOTHING and Zachariah ORIGINALS!
see below! Zach brings his worldwide knowledge of slang words to Sirius XM/ Shade 45’s hip-hop radio show “THE ALL OUT SHOW” once a month. Make sure to listen in and hear Zach and Jude play origin games and chop up the English language… on SHADE45 Sirius/XM
Sweden TV4’s late night talk show will feature ZACH singing his counter-culture anthem “How to Get a Medical Marijuana Card” LIVE on tomorrow’s broadcast. We’re betting most of you dont live in Sweden… So come down to the W Hotel in Hollywood at 10:45 a.m. and watch Zach perform it LIVE!
Now, I know this is not something that a 37-year-old father of two should ever be writing, but for some reason, last Wednesday night – I felt a burning desire to join an intimidating rap circle and try and drop some dope-ass, quick-minded, funny lyrics on some totally unsuspecting strangers.
If there is ever a moment in my life I could have back, it is this one.
Standing out in front of the Smokehouse restaurant in Burbank – in front of my wife and another couple – whose kid is in the same kindergarten class with our son, I decided to stumble over into a “cypher,” or crew of people rapping together in a cyclical pattern. I suddenly turned from “the bearded weirdo who always drives the soccer practice carpool,” into “the drunk dad from the kindergarten class who thought he was Eminem.”
Let me back up here a minute. See, I used to be a rapper. That is not a typo. I didn’t “wrap” presents… I RAPPED. I recorded a few CD’s and everything. I had skills. A future. A following.
I know, laugh it up…my outside appearance is deceiving. I am white, fatherly and pasty. I wear basketball shorts and t-shirts 90 percent of the time for “comfort.” I occasionally have non-dissolved Rogaine foam in my hair. I am not intimidating at all.
But, believe it or not, at one point in my younger life I was a bona-fide, authentic, legitimate, validated, record deal – having, somewhat admired freestyle rapper. Arguably, one of the best in the world. I could rhyme like Dr. Seuss on a mushroom trip. I could think off the top of my head faster than 99 percent of all improvisational actors I have encountered. I used to perform my skills live with bands in nightclubs, at late night parties and at sketch comedy shows. I garnered mad respect. People would come up nightly and ask me, “How the hell does your mind think like that?” The truth is? I had no idea.
I bet you’re wondering how this all started…
In 1987, if you had asked my mother what career she thought I’d pursue as a young man – based on the thousands of dollars I made mastering Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire’s signatures – she most likely would have said “professional autograph forger.” (A quick arrest at the local baseball card shop in 1989 ended that career…)
She might have guessed I could have followed my father – who is a doctor – into medicine – but a quick “D” in chemistry my sophomore year of high school stifled that dream. (I even cheated. And I still got a D…)
I may have even been able to make a living in the courtroom, brandishing my gift of gab in front of honorable judges while trying to convince the jury that the defendant was not even in the country when the crime occurred… But to me, law school was for the geeks who couldn’t talk to girls at junior high parties. Or make them laugh at summer camp… Or freestyle rap their way into their pants.
“Yo Melissa/ I wanna kiss ya/Take off your dress and I wont dismiss ya…”
The first time I made a rhyme up about a girl was in eighth grade. Her name was Melissa, and we were at Dana Restival’s Halloween party. Everybody knew I was the best rapper in school – and when I dropped those lyrics to her in front of a crowd of people, she continued to follow me around the party for the rest of the night. Around 9:30, we snuck away, near a saguaro cactus in the Tucson desert – and shared our first kiss. It was sloppy, but unbelievably perfect. Brilliant and everything I had ever imagined. In my mind, Melissa was going to be my girlfriend. I thought I had it made… Problem was, she ended up letting John Coates – school hesher – feel her up on the school bus a week later.
Back in the 1980’s, if you were into rap music, it made you unique. I had a partner in crime named “Ryan the Rhymer” (Now a dentist in Tucson) – and we comprised the tightest white-boy rapping outfit at Townsend Junior High School in 1989. We were a two-man wrecking crew known as “SO FRESH.” I wore African leather medallions to school and sported those 3rd Bass/ Dwayne Wayne flip-up glasses as a way to seem more “intelligent.” We wrote raps and performed onstage as a crew at talent shows, and were basically laughed at for not listening to cheesy hair-cock rock like Poison and Slaughter. Back then, we were the musical outcasts, because we liked Beastie Boys, Shinehead and Boogie Down Productions. Then, one day, we won a student council election based on one of our raps (Called “Do it for the School!!!”) – After that, we were no longer considered out-of-touch losers.
The first rap I performed at my high school was when a kid named Eric Tiberon challenged me to a rhyme-off in ninth grade. He was black, and had the entire school behind him mainly for the sole reason that he had a high-top fade that looked like Kid from “Kid ‘N Play.” When I accepted his challenge, people were somewhat scared for me… but the final parking lot battle went a little differently. Eric basically recited Eazy-E’s classic Eazy-Duz-It. I made up a rap about how much being in ninth grade sucked.
Eric rapped about his cars and his girls (Both of which he did not have).
I rapped about being beat up by a high school bully named Jason and getting a C in Geometry. I remember my verse well.
“School sucks, I get up so early/ Bully named Jason always looking so burly/ Said I looked like a freshman girlie/ stuck my head in a toilet and gave me a swirlie…”
Yeah, I know it was WILL SMITH-ish… It wasn’t hardcore or gangsta – but it was funny – and the people loved it. So much so, that Eric and I became friends after that – even going to see Ghostbusters 2 together just to hear Bobby Brown’s new song “On Our Own.” (Still holds up today. CLASSIC jam).
After that, high school was certainly an awkward stumble through athletics, music, girls and experimentation – but hip-hop music was always a staple in my life. I rapped over Humpty Dance break beats at high school proms and earned my juice on the dance floor busting out the Running Man, Roger Rabbit and the Butterfly to songs like The Choice is Yours by Black Sheep during my junior prom. By my senior year, I thought I’d even try to make a legitimate rap album.
And then The Chronic came out.
Dr. Dre’s album changed my life Suddenly, dancing wasn’t cool anymore. My style of rap sucked and whatever street cred I had amongst my Tucson, Arizona brethren went out the window. I was Vanilla Iced-out. Squashed. 187-d. Ignored.
At the time, I was surprised at how little I cared. In fact, it was a relief to know that my rap career had ended… And the following fall I enrolled in college at USC in Los Angeles – where I engulfed myself in West Coast G-funk – but also expanded my mind into other areas of music as well. I picked up the acoustic guitar as a means to get laid – and even started my first band with my pal Jason Richards. (The only other freshman that could play more than 3 chords) We were called, sadly – “Two College Freshman.”
We were at USC – which is a terrific campus in the middle of south central Los Angeles – and we were one year removed from the famed LA riots of 1992 – so the West Coast dominance of rap music was everywhere – but I no longer wanted to be a rapper. In fact, based on the amount of girls I got when I rapped compared to how may I got when I did an acoustic guitar cover of “Your Bright Baby Blues,” I suddenly realized that I really wanted to be JACKSON BROWNE. Especially when legends like 2Pac and Notorious BIG were murdered, I knew the rap game wasn’t exactly cut out for a 3.8 GPS-having son of a Jewish doctor.
I ended up paying tuition and making ends meet in college by DJ-ing and Emcee-ing fraternity parties and weddings – and I eventually branched out into Bar Mitzvahs after school (An entirely different story altogether). But by the time the late 90’s rolled around – and I found myself hanging around musical friends like the bands Matchbox 20, Paperback and even boy-band acquaintances like ‘NSYNC – I noticed that everybody always talked about the newest rap music out at the time. Puff Daddy, Mase, Nelly – you name it. This was the music of the time, and even the biggest musical stars I knew were obsessed with the genre. I’m not sure where it happened for the first time, but I was around some guy who began freestyle rapping. He was decent, but his trite choice of lyrics and lack of originality made me consider attempting my own rap. I jumped in. He nodded along, probably unimpressed – but nonetheless enjoying my effort. When I was done, he gave me a fist bump and walked away.
I did it again with the guys from ‘NSYNC. Living in Los Angeles in 1998 meant I had a lot of young friends who were trying to act, sing, dance, direct, produce – you name it. One of my buddies had grown up with Chris Kirkpatrick – probably best remembered as the guy Eminem threatened to beat up in a song in 2000 – and the dread-locked “bad boy” of ‘NSYNC – the most popular boy band in the history of the world. Chris and I would get drunk together and end up in some random hotel room with a bunch of girls and background dancers and rap producers at two in the morning. Somehow, after 30 Heineken bottles littered the floor and a few joints were passed, people began rapping. I started stepping in. I started getting the laughs. Making up rhymes – and ultimately having the tightest flows of any so-called “rapper” hanging around these after-parties.
Once, around 1999 – I ended up in the Standard Hotel with Dr. Dre. He was surrounded by 300-pound bodyguards and a crew of slinky women who looked like they were in En Vogue. – He employed a personal “blunt-roller” and was encircled by about ten wanna-be rappers. That night was the first time I was actually afraid to rap in front of somebody in nearly ten years. In fact, after witnessing three saggy-pantsed douche-nozzles try to rap Dre’s ear off, I decided that perhaps my rap future was a pointless joke. I guess I always knew what I did in hotel rooms with my friends was more of a party-trick, and less of a career choice, and it didn’t bother me. I had no interest in becoming a professional rapper. I was committed to having fun and getting laid and occasionally jumping on-stage after 10 drinks to freestyle along with my friend’s band at their Hollywood club gigs. None of it made any sense. We were 25-years-old, wasted and happy and sleeping until noon. We were young, dumb, naïve and convinced that fame and success was just around the corner. One of my friends, a former hip-hop dancer for the local rap station Power 106 – began calling me “Zachariah.” I immediately took on the moniker as my rap handle. “Zachariah, the Rhyme Messiah.” There it was. My party trick. I would go around any room and rap about what people were doing, wearing, drinking, you name it. I never thought it would lead to anything but a few free drinks and some laughter.
And then somebody offered me a record deal.
The first studio time I ever had booked was around this time. A girl I had fooled around with named Lisa knew a rap producer named “Cookie” and she arranged a meeting for us at the Skybar on Sunset Boulevard. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do during this meeting, but I put on a cowboy shirt and fluffed my hair up to Lindsay Buckingham –heights. Anything to seem somewhat marketable and charismatic.
At the time, nobody in LA had any type of haircut but a short spiked boy-band thing, so my wild Jew-fro gave me a little edge. It somehow made me a bit more reckless. Maybe even dangerous – if only in that “I don’t give a fuck” drug-addict look that you see outside of Venice Beach grocery stores.
At the Skybar, “Cookie” – as he introduced himself – told me to order a beer. Lisa was next to me, and I think I ordered a Corona because Mexican beer was about all I lived on in my early 20’s. Lisa bragged about my ability to freestyle and Cookie then stared me down, took a long pull off his beer and asked me to “do something impressive.”
It was on. Was he serious? I nearly froze. I was unsure of what to do. Should I recite some lyrics? Tell him some song ideas? I wasn’t sure. Instead I rapped off the top of my head to the cocktail waitress.
“Come here now for a second Miss blondie/ Any chance you wanna get on me?/ You live in LA? I’m from Arizona/ Do my boy Cookie a favor – another Corona?/ Don’t mistake this – I Cant fake this – you’re so hot for a waitress/ Do ya have fake tits? I cant tell/ That’s alright, I still think yer swell/ My name is Zachariah, how do I look?/ Trying to rhyme for this dude named Cook/ Ill steal yer heart like a bona-fide crook/Ill take yer naked photos and put em in a book/ So lets just let this relationship bloom/ So here’s the key to my hotel room…”
The waitress smiled. Cookie looked at me and said, “I want to capture THAT in the studio.”
I made out with the waitress that night.
So a week later, we were in Cookie’s studio, known as “LeftSide.” I had written a song in Las Vegas with my friend Jason Jacobs called “Runnin’ Shit” about two guys who slept with girls, traveled to Mexico and Vegas on random Wednesdays – and got high and drove really nice cars. In reality, we were both Southern California Bar Mitzvah DJ’s. The last time I had been to Mexico was with my mother over a family Christmas vacation (typical Jewish trip – Mexico over Christmas) and I drove a 1989 Dodge Lancer.
To top it all off, I was desperately unable to do anything in the studio that night – but SUCK.
The studio was a small rented office space off of Slauson and La Cienega. Cookie hooked me up with a producer named Warrior – who was a master of the MPC 3000. We smoked some weed, made a beat and put together a silly rap song full of voice imitations and bad jokes and pop culture references. It was called “Come On” and I was convinced it was my ticket to the big time. A crossover hit… a massive smash. Cookie started marketing me to record companies as “If Eminem hung out at Dawson’s Creek.” I should have quit right then.
I put out an EP on Q/LeftSide Records – and it went triple plastic. Every major label denied me. I ended up with a closet full of 3500 CD’s – which included a song called “Other Side” featuring the powerful voice of a silk-voiced friend of Cookie’s named Stacy Ferguson. Today she’s known a little differently. She’s Fergie from Black Eyed Peas. I never thought she had much of a future. She did have a voice from God, but so did a lot of girls. When we stopped hanging out, I didn’t think she’d go very far.
After LeftSide folded, I ended up starting a country rock band that dabbled in hip-hop. We had a little local success, but not much more. From there, I caught a lucky break and got on TV – where I was able to convince the folks behind the screen to let me attempt to record some songs for nearly every show I have been a part of. Today, those residual checks amount to roughly 63 cents a year.
I also recorded a bunch of stupidly silly comedy rap songs about Cartoons I’d like to F*%&, White People Problems and the TSA. I have released a few CD’s on some small labels and I have been hired by over two dozen companies to write and record rap songs for their products, from Levi’s Jeans to Netgear. So, I guess, technically, I once called myself a rapper… but I certainly never took it seriously. And now, the style of rap is so much different, I have no idea how to imitate lyrical geniuses like Lil Wayne and Drake. I’m still stuck in that Will Smith meets Skee Lo style. Storytelling, comedy and fluff rap.
According to my calculations, it had been nine years since I truly “battled” somebody. A battle is when you trade rhymes with another emcee, often including insults, braggadocio and clever wordplay. A lot of rappers suck at this. For some reason, I was always able to come up with quick rhymes. In fact, I have never lost a battle in my life. Other fools have claimed they out-rapped me, but most of them recited something I could tell was written beforehand. I was strictly improvisational.
Freestyle rapping is like working out. You need to do it all the time or you get rusty. Rarely do you take nine years off and step up to the microphone and sound like Rakim. For some reason, however, last week – following a few glasses of red wine, I thought I was back in the Skybar in 1999.
The three dudes standing outside of the Smokehouse restaurant in Burbank were sharing a joint and rapping about “Maybach’s” and “Stackin’ Chips.” The valet parking attendant took our ticket as I caught one of the guy’s eyes. I guess in the 90’s you would call what he was doing “Mad-dogging.” I would normally run from any large crew of wasted black dudes in a parking lot at 11 o’clock at night, but for some reason, I felt the need to jump into the rap battle. Maybe it was because he kept staring at my wife and obviously commenting under his breath about her. Whatever it was, I felt like I needed to say something. I took a step towards them.
“Punk ass bitches get stitches like snitches/rub you out like a genie, grant ya 3 wishes/ Im a killa, son, drinking Miller, son – All the tracks on my album dope, no filler son…”
I heard the guy’s rhyme. Not bad, but I knew I could hang. I sort of stumbled over as my wife failed to pull me back and stop me from entering the cypher. As I walked up, they noticed me and rapped about my approach.
“White boy stepping up, what the fuck he want/ Gonna kick him in the dick if he pull a stunt…”
The 3 guys laughed uproariously. I started getting nervous. I heard my wife gasp. The other couple we were eating with immediately signaled for their Volkswagen Touareg to be ready to drive off should I get into a street brawl or something. I slipped up to the crew of rappers.
“Are you guys rapping?” I asked, realizing I sounded like that fat pledge in Animal House asking the frat brothers if they were playing cards.
They burst out laughing. I thought I was doomed.
“Yeah, you wanna step in?” A large man with a diamond encrusted grenade-chain offered.
“Well, I actually freestyle… was hoping to get in on the cypher.”
More laughter. They punched each other’s shoulders and leaned their heads against one another.
“Are you gonna put your doggie bag down first?” One of the guys asked.
I looked down. In my hand was a plastic bag of leftovers with a red bow around it. I looked like the schlub I used to make fun of when I was younger. The out of touch chump who was taking home half a New York Strip and three pieces of cheesy-bread after a double-date night. I knew the only way out was to rap. I began firing.
“Yo -I take a bag of leftovers from the smokehouse/ you can continue with your jokes now/I’m broke now – so I have to eat this for breakfast/ When’s your next concert? Put me on the guest list/ I spent my weed money on my wife’s gold necklace/ That’s her over there, she’s got the Best Tits/ I’ve ever seen and they aint even fake/ We live in a house over in Toluca Lake/ I bust freestyles in only one take/ Put the kids to bed stay up late and get baked/ and I know I look lame and somewhat old/ You guys look like a younger De La Soul/ But my wife’s calling me to get the car and go home/ Because she don’t want me to catch another cold/ So I’m out – thanks for giving me time / I doubt any of ya’ll can defeat that rhyme!”
I stepped back and took a breath. Wow. I had dropped 16 bars in front of a crew of three hardcore hip-hop heads who probably took rap music more seriously than I ever did… I had held my own. I was proud and I looked back at my wife and the other couple, who were stone-faced and somewhat impressed. Wait until I tell my son about this!!! I thought to myself.
And then one of the guys began answering my challenge. His name was Black Angus.
“Yo, white boy – your white noise aint right boy/ yeah I see yer wife, she no longer tight, boy/ cause I did her last week/ in the back seat of my Jeep/ Did it in five seconds without a peep/ while you was asleep/ getting kids ready for school/ I gave her my tool and took a piss in your pool/ Smoked your bullshit weed/ pulled it indeed/ Killed you like Drago did Apollo Creed/ Planted a seed – inside her – you mind?/ Now you wonder why your kid looks like mine?/ Don’t step into my circle unless you bring skills/ go home to your anti-anxiety pills/ Watch whack white TV like that show the Hills/ and keep being a sucker and paying yo’ bills/ You a dumb-ass honky who cant rhyme for shit/ Now go back to your Minivan before you get HIT.”
The crew cheered. Our friends Touareg sped off and I was silenced. A terrifying chill, like one I’ve had on airplanes when we hit some odd air pocket that scares even the flight attendants, engulfed my body. I was smoked. Forget winning a freestyle battle, I had been pulverized, insulted, dissed and clowned by a dude outside of a steakhouse that I would probably never be able to go to again. I faked a laugh, and tripped backwards towards my wife and our awaiting car. Which, by the way, is NOT a Minivan.
“How’d that go for you?” My wife asked as we raced off into the Burbank night.
“Uhm, not well,” I said.
After five minutes of complete silence, I uttered my final words of the incident.
“Why’d they have to be so mean?”
I sulked into my home. Being a little buzzed, I passed out watching SportsCenter and the thought of rap music sickened me with every commercial starring Andre 3000 or Ice Cube. It was a cold bucket of water to the face that reminded me that I am – at best – an above average rapper. I am a decent freestyler, but in no way cut out to be a professional. Bottom line? I am too much of a pussy.
The next morning, I pulled out the leftovers from the Smokehouse and considered making a steak-and-egg omelet. The one indulgence I was going to allow myself. When I saw that half of a New York Strip in the bag, it brought back too many bad memories from the night before. I tossed the meat in the trash and settled for a bowl of Trader Joe’s ‘Honey Nut O’s’ instead.
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….