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…
My wife and I received an Air BNB request online two weeks ago… It read as follows:
We’re five guys from Germany who don’t do drugs. We are excited to visit LA and really enjoy clubs and West Hollywood.
“What do you think, babe?” My wife asked me. “Should we accept their request?”
“I dunno,” I responded. “Five guys? Clubs? West Hollywood? Sounds like we’re inviting a bunch of Europeans over for a Bacchanalian orgy.”
“You’re an idiot,” she said. “They seem nice AND they said they don’t do drugs.”
“When you have to tell people you don’t do drugs, it means you definitely do drugs.”
“I’m approving them. We can always charge them if they mess anything up.”
I don’t know if I am the only one whose mind works like this, but when I hear that a crew of 25-year-old German dudes want to “go to clubs and enjoy West Hollywood,” I immediately think of that scene in Wolf of Wall Street when Jordan Belfort waltzes into his apartment early from a business trip and finds 25 guys sucking each other off on his $50,000 couches.
When you “Air BNB” your house out, you can’t help but formulate some concerns. We have rented to people of all sexual orientations and we are not bothered by any of it, however, in the six years that we have been doing this, I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that at some point, two strangers from Idaho fucked in our bed the night after they took their kids to Universal Studios.
My wife and I have been Air BNB’ing as long as it has been approved in Los Angeles. We own our house, travel often and don’t stress out when a family of four comes to LA and wants to rent our place for the week. We are often out of town during these times and for years most of our vacations have pretty much been paid for.
When we first began doing this, we rented our place to some younger twenty-somethings and their abhorrent treatment of our property became a serious issue. One six-person rock band from Brooklyn decided that our couch cushions would make fine ashtrays. Following another rental, three bachelorettes from Colorado accidentally left two dildos in my 9-year-old son’s bedroom.
After that, we decided that our home would be rented to families only.
But then we had the request from the five guys from Germany. Since we were going to be out of town that week and we didn’t have any other requests, it seemed like a safe option. Not only that, but the money we would get for the week would sure help us pay some badly overdue bills.
“Fine,” I told my wife. “But if our place gets wrecked that’s on you.”
We traveled to Tucson to visit my mom for a week and asked our dear friend Lauren to help check them in as they arrived. She called us that night with some interesting news.
“They seem sweet,” she said. “It’s weird though… all of them shave their legs.”
“Told ya, they’re male escorts,” I blurted.
“Shut up… maybe they’re like, on a swim team or something,” my wife offered.
“Well, they’re all in their early to mid 20’s,” Lauren relayed. “Good looking guys… but they are using one of your potted plants to put their cigarettes out in.”
500 miles away, I decided to just let it be. There wasn’t much to worry about. I had hidden my guitars in the basement, my vinyl collection was labeled off-limits (A 6-year-old had ruined a treasured Dire Straits LP I had left on the turntable a couple of years earlier) and we had a grand total of $32.16 in cash in the house. My wife’s jewelry was locked away in her closet and about the only valuable thing in our home was a shoe San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker had given me about 13 years ago… So what if they shaved their legs and smoked? Outta sight outta mind… We spent the week in Tucson hanging with my mom.
When we got back to our house on Saturday night, we anticipated the place would appear like it always does post Air BNB… Most people do their best to tidy up, take out trash, re-set furniture and clean out their leftovers from the fridge.
Upon entering our house, the first thing I noticed was that the entire place smelled like Axe Body Spray. Like, the entire house. Every room, every hallway, every bathroom… It had a post 9-keg fraternity party eminence to it.
When a toilet paper roll was finished, rather than replace the roll on the dispenser, they managed to just toss the empty cylinder behind the toilet.
We pride our house on our “Kids Art Wall” where we encourage guests to add to the collection. Over the years, dozens of kids have contributed drawings to the wall and it’s a fantastic little abstract collection of developing artistic minds across the world.
Needless to say, these guys didn’t add anything to the art wall.
They also did not bother to turn off any light in the house.
Nor did they take out the trash… at all. In our backyard, stuffed in about 25 paper grocery bags, resided the ruins of their week… hundreds of beer bottles, countless empty boxes of cigarettes, discarded Red Bull cans and bottles of Starbucks Double Shot Cappuccinos. There were over a dozen empty pizza boxes from three different delivery joints nearby and nine discarded Jack Daniel’s bottles… Not to mention the new cigarette butt succulent plant they had crafted. Maybe they didn’t do drugs, but these guys fucking partied.
According to my calculations… and to the grocery store receipts I found in one of the random trash bags, these guys lived on beer, cigarettes, pizza, energy drinks and coffee for five days. That was it. There was NO sign anywhere that a single meal other than pizza had been consumed. There was, however, one ominous item listed on a grocery store receipt from Thursday: MAYONNAISE.
“What do you think they bought mayonnaise for?” I yelled to my wife across the house.
“Uggh, there are shaved pubes in the sink!” she responded.
As I went around the house opening every window to air it out, I could only imagine what kind of debauchery these Euro-bros got into in our house. Was there any freaky sex? Any late night drug use? Did they jack-off in every room? After finding a piece of pizza jammed in our pool filter, my wife panicked, called our cleaning lady and told her she would have to work a double shift the next day. After finding an empty carton of cigarettes that said “Smoking Kills” on the floor of my daughter’s room, we decided to sleep on the floor in the one room where we do not allow renters to use rather than in our own beds.
The next morning, the Axe Body Spray scent was still lingering. We had taken out the trash and emptied the fridge, but our cleaning lady had the hardest job. When she was done for the day, she mentioned that these five guys had managed to use 32 bath towels during their five day stay. 32 fucking towels. When I was 25-years-old, I owned ONE bath towel that I washed like every six weeks! Who the fuck did these guys think they were?
I decided that a quick internet search on these guys might alleviate my concerns. The kid who had booked the place and had been responsible for the payment was listed as simply a “coach” in Munich. Not sure what kind… Soccer coach? Life coach? Sober coach? (Doubtful). Whatever the case, I checked out his Twitter account and he had recently tweeted about his upcoming trip to the United States. It read as follows:
Me and the boys are going to Hollywood to parteeeey with movie stars! Then VEGAS BABY VEGAS! What happens in Vegas STAYS in VEGAS!!!
After realizing that this guy was still quoting Vince Vaughn from Swingers, a 20-year-old film, I felt a small bond with him. He had probably tried to find a decent place in LA to rent, but was met with rejection after rejection by worried homeowners like myself. He was 25 and just looking to party with movie stars and now he was apparently in Las Vegas, most likely contracting that new un-treatable strain of gonorrhea I keep seeing on billboards all over town.
After a few days, the house felt like home again and my son and daughter fell into their summer routines of Fortnite, swimming and staying up until 11. I thought of this strange world we were subjecting them to… After all, not many kids are forced to leave their houses for Air BNB renters every few weeks. Still, maybe the constant travel and new experiences will teach them more about the world and someday they’ll thank us for forcing them into the car for 8-hour road trips to Arizona… Maybe someday my son and his good friends will go desecrate a family’s house in Germany with their own beer bottles, cigarettes and sink pubes. If anything, these are experiences that not every kid gets to have.
I put my kids to bed and brushed my teeth. My wife and I agreed to watch a new Netflix show and I drank some water. Happy to be back in my bed, I finally felt relaxed for the first time in a week…
And then I found a used condom in the drawer of my bedside table…
ZACH SELWYN’S HOUSE IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON AIR BNB… FOR RESPECTABLE FAMILIES ONLY.
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!!
I could have fucked one of my teachers back in high school. I didn’t. But I could have. She was into me… She told me I made her ‘quiver…’ She said I looked like a movie star. She tried to kiss me. This was 25 years ago… I still think about it.
Nowadays these stories are everywhere. Open any internet browser and you are greeted by a photo of a young teacher who was recently arrested for seducing their 16-year-old Biology student with marijuana and booze and throwing group sex parties and shit. Their mug shots get splashed all over websites and people everywhere shame these women for fucking underage boys…
Back in the day you never heard about this type of shit. If you did, it was always a creepy male Phys Ed. teacher who wore New Balance sneakers and sported a filthy Don Mattingly moustache. Now it seems these sex-starved teachers are women who look like Charlize Theron with John and Kate Plus Eight haircuts.
In the early 90’s, these women didn’t exist.
Except in my high school.
During my senior year, a really cute teacher’s assistant/college student named Debbie joined my AP English class. She was responsible for grading our shitty essays about the “Grapes of Wrath,” and helped with our teacher Mrs. Kelly’s syllabus… and she also happened to give me ‘fuck me eyes’ nearly every single day.
One day after school in the parking lot, Debbie caught me by my Dodge Lancer as I was preparing to roll a Mexi-shwag joint to smoke with my boy Adam.
“Zach, can I talk to you for a second?” She asked.
At first I thought she was going to criticize my schoolwork or something, but instead she ended up asking me on a date.
“Look, Zach – so I know you mentioned that you want to be an actor when you are older… and uhmm… Well, Les Miz is coming to the U of A next Saturday and I actually have an extra ticket – so if you want to go…?”
She smiled at me. The ‘U of A’ was the University of Arizona… and I had been hanging around the campus since I was a kid. I had always noticed the frat guys and the cute girls, but here was one of them actually… hitting on me. Or at least I thought she was. She was confident and she certainly had something none of the high school
girls I had been dating had… a MAJOR.
I wasn’t sure if this invite was a come on, but I liked it. I felt invincible and dominant. Typical 17-year-old shit. I nodded my head, told her, ‘sure’ and we made plans to meet around seven at Centennial Hall on the Arizona campus to see the show. She even gave me her phone number just in case I got lost. Cell-phones weren’t a thing yet, but she promised to check her answering machine from a payphone.
I went back to see Adam.
“What was that all about, dude?”
“Dude, I think I might fuck the English T.A.”
I went home and told my mom that I had plans to go out on Saturday night. My mom went ballistic. My mom can read anybody. Especially back then. She immediately began getting suspicious of this woman’s intentions.
She wanted to know who she was, how old she was, what exactly this teacher wanted with me, etc.
“Mom, don’t worry, she’s like, 22, and she just knows I want to be an
actor – that’s it!”
“Don’t kid yourself, Zach, this woman has ulterior motives… don’t be so naïve.”
Amazingly, I somehow convinced my mom that this could be my only chance to see Les Miserables, and since my mother is a Broadway Theater geek, she relented at the last minute and let me go. But with a warning…
“Keep in mind, Zach, you have way too much going for you to
impregnate a teacher.”
I ignored her and drove off to meet Debbie at the show.
Debbie was waiting in front of Centennial Hall as I walked up from the free parking spot I found six blocks away. I had no interest in dropping $4.00 on the valet… although today, that seems completely reasonable. Meanwhile, Debbie had dressed up for the occasion, much differently than her usual school jeans and sweater. She was wearing an above-the-knee dress and a leather tank top with fringes angling from them. This was no high school girl…
Meanwhile, I wore Banana Republic jeans and my favorite striped shirt from a long extinct mall fashion store called Structure.
During the show, Debbie ‘accidentally’ grabbed my arm a few times as if we were watching a horror film like Nightmare on Elm Street. The thing was, the show wasn’t that scary… It also wasn’t that good.
It may have been the touring company, or the Centennial Hall acoustics, but I was lost for most of the performance. About the only thing I remember about it was that I was hiding a massive chubby in my pants and that New York Yankees pitcher Tommy John had a kid who was performing in the show… I thought that was pretty cool. (Taylor John RIP).
After it wrapped and we stood and applauded, Debbie suggested we walk around the university for a little bit. She actually asked me if I would be interested in getting a beer. I was 17. I rarely drank in high school, but I did have my stepbrother’s fake I.D. He was 5’9”. I was 6’2”. It only worked at one liquor store on Columbus Avenue where the clerk actually believed me when I told him I had, “A big growth spurt last summer.
“I could have one, I guess,” I said.
Debbie smiled and we walked over to U of A Liquors and she bought a six-pack of this relatively new beer called Icehouse.
Growing up in Tucson, you spend a lot of time drinking beer in the washes and deserts hidden off the sides of the streets. She found her little familiar spot where she liked to drink with her college friends and we drank and talked for quite a while… about my Hollywood dreams, our English class and movies we liked. Eventually, near the end of beer number two, she told me that she thought I have “it” and told me that she was confident that I will absolutely make it as a huge movie star.
She then leaned in and began kissing the side of my neck for roughly four seconds.
“Woah,” I said, pulling away and hiding my awkwardness behind a weird laugh.
“I…I…I’m so sorry!” She blurted out. “I thought you wanted this!”
Debbie turned deep red. My stomach twisted. That sinking feeling in the stomach where you just don’t know what the right words are.
“Look, I’m only 17, ya know?” I said.
She wasn’t comfortable. She began rocking back and forth.
“I’m so stupid, this was – this was so stupid,” she said.
“No, no, it’s fine – I just – I’m not sure it’s… right,” I said.
“You’re really sexy, Zach, you know that, right?”
“Uhmm, Thanks,” I said. “I mean, you’re sexy too but…”
And then we sat there in silence for close to ten minutes. Those awkward high school silences…
“Listen,” she said sometime later. “Can we please never tell anybody about this – especially Mrs. Kelly?” She said.
“I will never tell anybody,” I promised. Another five minutes of silence followed before I suggested it was time to call it a night.
As we made the walk back to my car, I began to feel somewhat guilty. I was sort of one of those high school make-out kings – the guy who always loved kissing almost more than anything else… I thought, that when we got to my car, I would grab her and kiss her – just to lift our self-esteem and make the night less disappointing and more epic… But when we got back to my Dodge… I just couldn’t do it.
I looked at her. She seemed confused. She seemed lost, most likely feeling guilty. I told her that Monday morning would be no different than any other day. I told her she shouldn’t worry and that I wouldn’t tell a soul. I thanked her for the ticket to Les Miz and I drove home and masturbated into my pillow.
25-years later, a big part of me wishes I would’ve had sex with her… This was the pre-internet world. Nobody would have cared. She would have not been able to ‘friend me’ on Facebook or post pictures of us in that wash posing with beers in the Tucson night… There would have been no mug shot… She probably had an apartment nearby the campus and life would have just rolled along so easily back then… My God, it would have been so simple to get away with it and I would have a killer story for my friends when I got to college…
Alas, the moment faded, much like my movie star dreams… and my adolescent fantasies. That following Monday morning in class was far less awkward for me than it was for her, although we never seemed to even acknowledge one another.
I recently typed Debbie’s name into Google and found out that she was newly divorced and a mother of three… She was in Scottsdale. She looked old.
It’s funny how life speeds up and people come and go from your lives – I often think back… What if we had fucked? Maybe she gets pregnant and I have a 26-year-old son in Scottsdale right now? Luckily, I don’t. Life is pretty fucking crazy.
I never saw Les Miz again.
I’m not sure if they still make Icehouse beer.
I haven’t smoked Mexi-shwag in decades.
But you’re God damned right I got an ‘A’ in Mrs. Kelly’s AP English class…
Please watch Zach’s NBA2k Vlog from New York City!