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 somewhere between Los Angeles and Palm Springs when I found myself helping a woman re-apply bloody gauze to an open wound that had split open due to complications from liposuction in Tijuana.
Moments later, another woman – with a razor blade tattoo on the side of her neck – smacked her 7-year-old son for spilling his Mountain Dew on her iPhone and screamed something at him in Spanish.
Sometime after that, a man with an infant child walked out of the bathroom in the back and promptly dumped a full diaper in the trash bag hanging in the middle of the aisle.
We still had seven and a half hours until we hit Tucson…
Welcome to the Flixbus.
For the past few months, my mom and a bunch of other friends have been raving about a new public transportation service known as “The Flixbus.” For a low price, you can travel on this large “comfortable bus” anywhere you like and select from a great list of pre-chosen movies – and use free WiFi the entire time. I looked it up and it seemed legit. And definitely affordable. A ticket to San Diego from Los Angeles cost $4.99. A ticket to Palm Springs? $6.99… To get to my hometown of Tucson, I was looking at $22.00. Since Southwest Air wanted nearly $400 for two one way plane tickets, I booked my 9-year-old daughter and I on a 12:30 Flixbus to Tucson leaving from downtown LA.
Wanting to beat the crowd, my daughter and I took a Lyft down to the parking lot across from Union Station, right by LA’s famed “Twin Towers Correctional Facilities.” It’s an intimidating spot – heavily populated by at least five bail bond storefronts and street meat hot dog vendors. It’s hard not to take note of family members leaving the bail bond stores, openly weeping about their loved ones having spent the night in jail.
“Are they crying because they have to take the Flixbus too, daddy?” My daughter asked.
“Uhh, no. Whole different situation.”
I promptly took notice of the waiting area and its potential to escalate into a violent “prison yard” type of situation. A woman was walking around selling homemade “street tamales” out of a plastic bag, three 12-year-olds were selling bottles of water and packs of cigarettes and two men with children were openly sharing a blunt in front of their kids. (As would happen, I ended up buying two street tamales and a bottled water, as I had not thought to pack any food for the journey.)
I hadn’t even boarded the bus yet and I was $19 dollars in the hole.
The line to board the bus was non-existent. as Everybody sort of milled about near an area until the ticket conductor shouted out, “Palm Springs, Phoenix and Tucson line up HERE.”
The awaiting pack scrambled immediately. As people got tossed aside and trampled like they were rushing the stage of a Travis Scott show… Elbows were thrown. Space was cleared. Somehow, I managed to grab all of my luggage and scoop up my daughter before she was flattened to death. Sadly, even though we were the third people in the waiting area, we had been easily bullied to the back of the line by the violent mob, which was led by a 6’7” ex-linebacker wearing a baseball cap reading: K.U.S.H. Keeps Us Super High.
My advice? Pay the extra $20 online and get a reserved seat.
Once my daughter and I got on the bus, we noticed that any available seats together had been claimed. Eventually I was forced to convince a man who looked like he had recently been let out of a Texas prison to switch seats with me so that my daughter and I could sit together… He scoffed, kicked the side of the seat and mumbled something under his breath.
“Thank you so much, sir,” I said.
“I run this bus, cocksucker.”
Eventually he moved and we accepted the fact that we were stuck in the last seat in the back of the bus… basically right next to the toilet. And then, minutes before we left, a rather large woman came back and destroyed the bathroom… I nearly vomited. My daughter asked to switch seats. The bus pulled out into traffic.
Nine hours to Tucson.
The first thing people tell you about the Flixbus is that you can watch unlimited movies and surf the web, email, text, whatever you like. As it turns out this is simply not true. After trying for nearly an hour to watch Euphoria on HBO GO, I was alerted repeatedly with notes that I was in a “non-connection zone” and that I was possibly traveling “out of the continental United States.” I switched over to Netflix and was met with much of the same. Incredibly long loading times, spotty streaming and the inability to watch anything. After looking up the Flixbus website, I came across some small type in the “Services” section that read, “Please do not stream Netflix, YouTube or HBO Go on the Flixbus as it slows down everybody’s WiFi speeds and will not load correctly.”
Wow. That would have been nice to know. Oh, also? They DO NOT ALLOW MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS on the bus that are bigger than 12 inches… So unless you’re strictly a harmonica player, forget bringing your acoustic guitar anywhere. (Since I was going to play a gig in Tucson, I now had to rent a guitar from the local music shop).
Anyway, reading deeper, they recommended that passengers watch their curated film selections on the Flixbus app, which were “expertly chosen” and free. I checked it out. The selections were the same as what you’d expect on an airplane: Wonder Park, A Madea Family Funeral and about 9 shitty Melissa McCarthy movies.
Seven hours and 45 minutes to Tucson.
As we rattled over the freeways on the outskirts of Los Angeles, weaving in and out of the carpool lane, I was convinced I was going to die on the Flixbus. My daughter was getting carsick from the bumps and sudden stops and I could not believe that I had chosen this as my best means of transportation to Tucson…
The bus continued to shake from side to side, causing a middle-aged lady across the aisle from me to begin moaning. Like, painfully moaning. And grabbing her sides. Thinking that she may be in labor with a child, I looked over and noticed that she had a freshly dressed wound on the side of her mid-section. At one point, she screamed “Fucking FUCK, can you drive a little slower?”
“Are you OK ma’am?” I asked her, hoping she hadn’t been shot in a bank robbery gone wrong and was using the Flixbus as an escape tool.
“Uggh, yeah – I’m just recovering from plastic surgery,” she said.
“On the Flixbus?” I responded.
“Well, I live in Palm Springs,” she proceeded to tell me. “I went to Mexico for liposuction because it’s like, 75 percent cheaper down there.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “Didn’t you go through some sort of like, recovery first?”
“I’ll be fine once I get to Palm Springs.”
We hit a bump and she made a noise that I have only heard once before in my life back when I witnessed a goat slaughter in a tiny village in Mexico in 2003.
“Oh fuck,” she screamed. “One of my sutures popped – can you just hold your finger here for a second?.”
Shielding my daughter from the horror of this situation, I regrettably leaned over and put pressure on an area of bloodied gauze that had come undone. Eventually, the woman fastened it back together with a clip and thanked me profusely. I excused myself to the bathroom and threw ice cold water on my face.
30 minutes later the ride was smoothing out. Looking out the window I saw the desert approach.
“Folks we are stopping in North Palm Springs in eight minutes,” the driver announced. “We will have time to get refreshments and some air.”
“Thank fucking God,” the bleeding woman said.
We pulled into an AM/PM parking lot in Palm Springs and the lady limped off the bus and met her ride. She waved good-bye to me and sped off into the Palm Springs afternoon. For all I know she bled out on the way home and is dead.
The good news was that 12 passengers got off the bus in Palm Springs. This freed up some seats and we moved a few aisles away from the bathroom. The miles began to roll away and I started to fantasize that I was Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy taking the bus to a new dream, over expansive desert land and into the heart of opportunity. Of course, Jon Voight was heading to New York City in 1968 and I was going to Tucson to visit my mom, but the view sure was pretty.
20 minutes later, I opened up one of my tamales-in-a-bag and gave it a shot. It smelled like some sort of fucking rotting animal. A few passengers looked over at me and covered their faces with blankets and scarves. Acting casual, I took a small bite and chewed for a few seconds before beginning to feel violently ill. I managed to spit the food into a bag and quickly wrapped it up, avoiding the grossed out looks of my fellow Flixbus friends. Luckily, that was exactly the moment when the newborn’s father emerged from the bathroom with the full diaper. He tossed it in the center trash bag and the entire bus groaned and began cursing him out.
“What am I supposed to do?” The dad asked the gallery of hecklers.
“Flush that shit,” the guy in the K.U.S.H. hat suggested.
The driver came on the intercom and reminded everyone that nothing but toilet paper could go down the toilet. The passengers collectively groaned and went back to their devices. At this point, between the tamale and the diaper, the bus was turning toxic. If you lit a match in the thing, there was a strong chance the bus would explode.
Six hours to Tucson.
Our next stop was in Blythe, California, on the Arizona border. Here, we were given a 30 minute lunch period and the only restaurant around for miles was a McDonalds 25 feet away. Assuming this would be my last chance to eat before 9:30 that night, I broke down and ate six Chicken McNuggets and an Oreo McFlurry.
I also called my mom to alert her of our progress.
“How’s the Flixbus?” My mom asked. “Watching any good movies?”
“Well, nothing really works,” I said. “Half the seats don’t have outlets, the WiFi in the desert sucks and they don’t allow streaming… and I refuse to watch Life of the Party. (That’s a terrible Melissa McCarthy movie BTW…)
“What kind of food do they have?” She inquired.
“They don’t have food,” I said.
“What?” She said. “On their website it says you can purchase snacks and stuff from the driver?”
What? Here I was nearly puking street tamales and eating Chicken McNuggets when the driver had food on him the entire time? Why were we not informed of this? I tracked down the driver as he smoked a cigarette and asked him if I could see a menu of the food they offered on board.
“Their aint no menu, mane… We just have some Ruffles and shit.”
Ruffles and shit?
“Come on my man, you don’t have like a Tapas box? My daughter needs some Wiki Stix!”
“This aint Alaska Airlines, mane,” he responded.
Eventually, 100 miles from Phoenix, a college kid broke down and went into the bathroom to vape. He was far from discreet and as a man who once routinely snuck weed to smoke into airplane bathrooms, I viewed his efforts as amateurish. The key to smoking on a bus or airplane is to basically flush the toilet as you exhale with your face nearly in the bowl. Yeah, this is a disgusting activity, but for some reason back in the mid 90’s I had no problem shoving my head inside an airplane toilet. Now I can’t even USE bathrooms on moving vehicles. Anyway, the kid opened the door and a cloud of Watermelon E-Juice enveloped the back area. The kid walked out as if he had done nothing wrong.
The smoke was impossible to miss and even though it dissipated quickly, it really upset the bus driver, who pulled over to the side of I-10 and DEMANDED to know who had smoked on the bus.
My daughter raised her hand to volunteer the information.
“Put your hand down,” I said, knowing that being labeled a “narc” at age 9 doesn’t do anybody any good.
“Who was smoking back here?” The bus driver said. “I demand an answer!”
I expected somebody to speak up… but nobody did. We all held together in a Flixbus code of silence. Shit, we felt like we were in La Cosa Nostra. For the first time on the ride I sensed a camaraderie with my fellow passengers. We all sort of looked at it the same way… If this was a bus in 1957, people would be smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey from flasks. We all had the same thought… Let the kid vape.
Four and a half hours to Tucson.
The rest of the trip went fairly smoothly. I was amazed at how well behaved my daughter was and as the stops piled up, the passengers started getting off. A few people got on in Phoenix and we got to Tucson in roughly nine hours and 30 minutes. To put that in perspective, If you drive directly from LA in a car, you’re guaranteed to spend eight hours on the road and you have to buy gas. If you fly to Tucson from LAX, door to door takes about five hours and 30 minutes. So, I basically lost four hours of my life, had to endure some awful smells and I got to be an impromptu nurse to the woman recovering from plastic surgery.
When we got to my mom’s house, she had food and wine waiting for me and I told her all the fun stories from my 400 mile road trip in a public bus. We laughed, drank and I slept in until 8:30 the next morning when I awoke to my mom freaking out about a dead animal in the walls.
“Zach, some animal died in the wall I called the exterminator already,” she shrieked.
I woke up and smelled what she was talking about. I opened my backpack and found the OTHER street tamale I had forgotten to throw out buried beneath my laptop.
“Found it, mom,” I said.
She made me throw it out in the neighbor’s trash can…
WATCH Zach’s music video for his song “Watch the Horses”…
My wife and I once hired a hippie nanny named Sioux who hid little bags of weed for me around our house. I remember the day we interviewed her – she was about 19, naturally slender with long blonde hair and she was wearing a skirt that looked like it was stitched out of the AIDS quilt… She had on Birkenstocks. She smelled like lavender. She was gorgeous. My first thought was, “I would have totally dated this girl back in college.”
When you’ve been married as long as my wife and I have, the best way to say you think somebody is attractive is to say that you would have dated ‘back in college.’
Of course, I told my wife this very fact.
“Well keep your hippie dick in your jorts,” she responded.
I laughed. I love my wife. Meanwhile, after a few conversations, I was sold on Sioux to become our nanny for our then five and two-year-old kids… but my wife wasn’t so into it.
“I don’t know – she seems flighty,” she remarked.
“Cmon, what’s the worst that can happen?” I asked. “She gets high and eats all of our ice cream?”
My wife agreed, mainly because we had a wedding that Saturday night and our other go-to nannies were already busy.
“If she fucks up, that’s on you,” she said.
She didn’t fuck up. At least that first night. In fact, when we came back from the wedding a little buzzed from the wine, we stayed up late with her and talked about the kids, how hard it was to meet guys in Los Angeles and eventually, she secretly told me that she hid a tiny bag of weed for me underneath the sage candle she had lit to ward off bad spirits on the coffee table. As she left, I thanked her and imagined that if she was my age in 1995, we would have been one of those hippie power couples that I was always jealous of at Phish concerts.
The second time Sioux babysat, I casually came downstairs wearing my old Grateful Dead 1992 Spring Tour shirt. She went ape shit. Told me it was the coolest thing she’d ever seen. I immediately felt like Phil from Modern Family, pretending that I didn’t even know I had the shirt on… even though I had been calculating the move since the week before. From the corner of my eye I saw my wife shaking her head while watching my pathetic attempt to connect with Sioux over a t-shirt.
“Nice shirt, babe,” she said.
“I guess I’ll go get ready,” I added before running upstairs to change.
When I came back downstairs, Sioux had prepared some food for the kids (all macrobiotic) and smiled one of those young hippie smiles at me – as if we were college sophomores peaking during a Run Like an Antelope solo. My wife smiled at me. I smiled at my wife. She smiled at Sioux. I kissed my kids. Sioux leaned in and hugged Wendy. They separated. The kids ate. My wife watched me as I leaned in and hugged Sioux. As I did, I stupidly whispered a single word into her ear…
Sioux smiled. My wife looked confused. I brought myself out of this fantasy hippie love triangle and said, “OK, bath at 7:15 and bed by eight.”
My wife and I walked outside to catch our Lyft.
In our ride to the birthday party that night, my wife cleared her throat and calmly asked me exactly what “candle” meant.
I told her.
“Last time she babysat, Sioux left me a part of a joint underneath the candle on the coffee table and I smoked it.”
“Oh great, so she’s high around our kids?”
“Well, I mean… so what? Sometimes I’m high around our kids.”
“This is her last night babysitting,” my wife said.
I could understand her frustration. It wasn’t because Sioux was this macrame Goddess with rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes… but face it – if your nanny was sneaking joints around your two-year-old daughter, you might think about getting rid of her too.
Still, I argued that we had nothing to worry about and that by the time we returned home, we would be thrilled to find our kids in bed and that maybe we could even split the little bag of weed I was expecting to find underneath the sage candle on our coffee table.
Until we got back around 11:45 p.m.
As it turns out, Sioux had started a bath for the kids upstairs… and forgot that she began running it. She turned on the water and then came downstairs to get the kids and somehow got distracted… By what, nobody knows – food? A text? A documentary on YouTube about the benefits of Dr. Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar? Whatever the case, she suddenly remembered that the bath was on just as drops of water began seeping through our living room ceiling and landing on the floor. The puddle stain on the roof was large and substantial and we knew we were looking at some serious water damage and mold repair.
Sioux was in shambles.
As she tried to explain how she forgot to turn off the water, we examined the damage and quickly lost the hippie buzz we had all generated earlier. I informed Sioux that we would pay her for her time, but that we fully expected her to be responsible for the damages once we had the roof inspected. She agreed and left, her head hung low, embarrassed and ashamed.
“OK, so she was probably high and forgot about the bath,” I said.
Stupidly, I checked beneath the candle for some weed.
There was nothing.
The damage came to over 1000 dollars. Sioux was broke and we felt bad charging her, so she offered to babysit for free until she could pay us back. Amazingly in Los Angeles, that’s only like, five nights of work…
However, my wife and I chose to not use her again.
The last I saw on Facebook she was living in Oregon with a Spanish guy named Pau.
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
Hollywood is a notoriously tough town. About 99 percent of the people who arrive here daily to become television or movie stars end up scrambling to make ends meet, strung out on drugs or alcohol or waiting tables at some awful Middle Eastern restaurant buried deep in the San Fernando Valley. In my 15 years here, I have seen a fair amount of contemporaries pull in with glossy head shots, star-crossed eyes and dreams of red carpet idolatry, only to return to their parent’s houses as quickly as six months into their silver screen adventures. Most men or women barely scratch the surface in this town. Some might land a commercial or two or even become a member of somebody’s entourage, but the majority of these illusionary dreamers end up as footnotes to the lucky ones… Cast-aways who are quickly replaced – and rarely remembered. If they’re lucky, they might meet one or two people in five years who have found success. To tell you the truth, however… even that is a stretch.
Yet somehow, for reasons unknown, three of my wife’s ex-boyfriends – who she briefly dated prior to our relationship – happen to be incredibly famous and successful superstar film and TV stars.
I am not at liberty to mention them by name, but let’s just say that you have seen them on screen. You have possibly bought an Entertainment Magazine because they were on the cover. If you’re a woman, you may have imagined one or two of them in your mind while being intimate with your boyfriend or husband. You have fainted while meeting them at San Diego Comic Con… Two of them have even been on lunch boxes. I’m talking huge f-ing stars.
Now, according to my wife, before she met these three guys, they were simply struggling actors, living on Top Ramen and tips for bartending and waiting tables at places like the now vanished Italian restaurant “Pane E Vino.” Once she broke up with them, however, their careers took off and they now all own multiple homes and squire fabulous starlets around the covers of In Touch and Us Magazines.
As my wife would say, she has the “golden vagina.”
In the 12 years we have been together, I have certainly seen my television career take off – being lucky enough to host a bunch of shows and land a few acting jobs, and I am grateful and appreciative for any work I’ve received. Yet, as a competitive man, I am very aware that I am still miles away from the careers of the three aforementioned actors whom previously shared my wife’s bed.
Which makes me think that the only way my dreams of becoming a successful film and TV actor will come true, is if my wife divorces me.
I jokingly posted this thought on Twitter a few months back and received a huge amount of response from thousands of followers trying to figure out who these actors were. Guesses ranged from Bradley Cooper to the Rza – but I would not reveal their names to anybody. In defense of my wife, she was never a slut… In fact, she once turned down a sexual advance from a very drugged-out Chris Farley after he flew her and a friend on a private jet to Hawaii after a night of partying in Hollywood. (She gave me Chris’ XXXL green shirt a few years back – which still hangs in my closet today).
Other Twitter followers suggested the usual Hollywood cocksmen – David Spade, Jeremy Piven… Charlie Sheen et al. Thing is, those guys were already stars before my wife even moved to LA. No. Her celebrity cache was founded on the strength of her sense of humor, encouragement and her all out sexual power.
When I “hung up my boner” at age 26, after meeting my wife, Wendy, I had but one celebrity conquest on my “sex resume.” (Not including ex-Playmates and flash-in-the-pan actresses). She was an actress named Danielle Fishel – who played the girl “Topanga” on Boy Meets World and at the time she was 19-years-old and I was 22. She also happened to be dating ‘NSYNC now-out-of-the-closet star Lance Bass just before me, so when we hooked up one night at a celebrity-filled bar called “Dublin’s” on Sunset Boulevard (Now also torn down), I thought I had scored an A-List hottie. (For the record, we never had sex – just made out in a bar and in my driveway for three hours).
Bottom line? Not exactly Motley Crue kind of sex-capades. In fact, when I ran into Danielle seven years later when she was hosting a show on Style Network called The Dish, she had no idea who I was.
At the same time, Wendy was living it up in private jets, drinking with Keith Richards at the Whiskey Bar at the Sunset Plaza, being flown to New York by record executives (Remember them?) and living an all-around fabulously privileged life for a hot woman in her late 20’s. I was still traveling to Puerto Vallarta with my family over Christmas for snorkeling adventures… Advantage: Wife.
How I ended up with Wendy is another story, but the fact is, we’re perfect soul mates. I could not be luckier. And nobody has told me this more than the three famous exes she at one-time dated…
I have now met them all.
Roughly three years ago I was in an electronics store when I ran into undoubtedly the most famous of these exes. He is a star on a very popular TV show now in it’s 9th season or something. He is cool and handsome and built and talented and I wondered why my wife would ever decide that they weren’t right for each other. I approached him as he perused a $7500 outdoor flat screen and weatherproof speaker system and told the salesman it was for his, “Homies to watch the Lakers game” that evening.
“Hey, bro,” I said.
He raised an eyebrow and gave me the once over – not unlike his character does to criminals on his TV show.
“Just wanted to say hi – I’m a fan… I’m Zach – I married Wendy Thompson…”
His face lit up. He waved away the salesman and high-fived me. He smiled and said, “Dude! How’d you ever pin her down?”
Relieved, I laughed it off.
“I dunno, man… we just clicked!”
“Dude, I tried so hard to make her like, my serious girlfriend and she just never went for it… you must be a STUD.”
I laughed and tore off a fingernail, nervously. I should have asked him for a guest-starring role on his show right there. Instead I over-stayed my welcome by hanging around and watching him buy electronic equipment that cost the same as the credit card debt I had recently wracked up re-piping the copper sewer tubes beneath my front lawn
Finally, after realizing how much of a tool I was being, I turned around and walked away. He called after me.
“Yo, broseph – tell Wendy I said ‘hi,’” he said.
“I will man,” I responded giddily. “Keep on keeping on!”
As I drove home, dreaming of a career like his, and the ability to walk into an over-priced electronics store and plunk down seven G’s so I could watch sports outside of my living room, I thought about how lame it had been that he had called me “Broseph.” TV star or not, the dude was not as impressive as I had once thought…I mean, “Broseph?” Come on.
Although I had wished he had invited me to watch that Lakers game…
I ran into the second of my wife’s famous ex-boyfriends at the 2012 Hollywood Holiday Gifting Suite – where already-way-too-rich celebrities walk around a room at a hotel and accept free shit from vendors hoping to get a celebrity endorsement. Believe it or not, these places exist, and a star like, say, Brian Cranston can walk into one of these any time he wants and be handed $50,000 worth of useless shit for free as long as he poses for a picture with the product. This gifting suite was full of everything you don’t really need. Nespresso Brand Espresso Makers, Stainless Steel facial massagers, strawberry-crystal body scrubs, electronic cigarettes with actor Stephen Dorff’s image in the box…. It was a madhouse. I happened to be there because my friend was one of the vendors and he had snuck me in on the guest list. I was allowed through the velvet rope only after a crew of 20-something girls IMDB’d me and noticed that I was hosting a TV show on AMC. (IMDB is the Internet Movie Data Base… a website full of credits for performers all around the world)
After drinking some horrible peach bellinis with former NBA-player turned TV host John Salley, I strolled through the suite hoping to get anything worth selling on ebay. It was then that I saw Wendy’s ex from the 90’s… a well-known film and TV star who was wheeling around a metal cart full of free stuff behind him.
After observing his behavior for a few minutes, which basically included barking orders at his suite-host and jamming as much crap into his metal basket as he could, I came to the conclusion that he must be a world-class asshole. My wife had mentioned that he had endured years of drug and alcohol abuse, but was supposedly on the straight and narrow now… Still, if there was a rehab for douchebaggery, this guy needed to be shipped there immediately.
At the conclusion of the walk-through, my suite loot consisted of two gold-plated pens, a set of thermal pajamas and an Ipad charger that powered up 9 different devices at the same time. I also got a free week in a Bahamian Hard Rock Hotel… but I was responsible for getting myself there. Basically, that will never happen. Compared to the other actors in the suite, I barely registered. Nobody had heard of the AMC show I was hosting and my request for any of the bigger items was denied.
I wasn’t really that insulted by the lack of attention until I saw Tila Tequila loading up her Range Rover with about six Espresso makers.
As I waited with a small crowd for my car, I decided to let ex number two know that I had been the one who snagged Wendy Thompson away… It was a small victory, but one I needed to share.
“Hey man,” I said. “You’re that guy from that film, right?” I said.
“Yeah, man… what up.”
“Did you used to date Wendy Thompson?”
He paused and looked me over as his suite host loaded up his Mercedes SUV with free gifts. He lit his new electronic cigarette.
“Yeah, a long time ago, why?”
“Funny, I was going through some old photo albums and saw a bunch of pictures of you in them… like from ’97, right?”
Ex number two cracked his neck and stared me down. He was menacing and steel-eyed. The rasp in his voice screamed of a decade old cocaine habit.
“Why were you going through her photo albums?” He wanted to know.
“Oh, we’re married and I’m sort of the ‘family scrapbooker’” I replied, immediately feeling like a total dweebazoid.
“No way!” He said. “Dude, tell her I said hi… Is she seeing anybody?”
This comment obviously took me aback, considering I had just mentioned that we were married. I came to a quick conclusion that ex number two was not exactly a very bright bulb.
“Uhh, yeah, actually we’re married,” I repeated.
As he peeled a 20-dollar bill off of a fold and handed it to his suite host, he came back and shook my hand.
“I gotta hand it to you, man… She’s a keeper. Don’t fuck it up like I did.”
“Oh, thanks. I won’t.”
At that point, he stared at my meager haul from the gifting suite. It all fit in one canvas bag.
“Dude, you didn’t get an Espresso Maker?” He inquired.
The truth was, I wasn’t offered one. The PR department at Nespresso did not think I was recognizable enough to warrant a gift.
“Naah, dude… We have two already – I didn’t need one,” I lied.
“Bro, all this stuff isn’t for you! I give all this shit away to my family, my sisters, my housekeeper, my agent… You think I really want a stainless steel facial massager? Hell no – my assistant is getting that!”
I nodded. He was smarter than I thought. He had just done all his holiday shopping in one spot for the price of a photograph or two. I was now pissed that I didn’t get a coffee machine.
“Nice to meet you, man,” I offered before he walked to the side of his car to drive off.
“You too, man. Tell Wendy what up for me… And good luck with that! Don’t do what I did!”
And with that, he was gone – off to another gifting suite across town where he would work the Hollywood system once more.
When I got home and told Wendy this story, she proceeded to remind me of his inhuman drug intake, his dismissal from two big Hollywood films and the fact that she once walked in on him masturbating to an Avril Lavigne music video during a family dinner party. We finally agreed that he was a total loser, and I kissed her goodnight fully knowing that I was the luckiest one because I got to sleep next to her. Of course, once the lights went off, she knew exactly how to make me second guess my afternoon’s actions.
“Really?” She said. “You couldn’t get one Nespresso maker?”
Ex number three is currently one of the biggest stars in the world. He sort of stalked Wendy when he followed her to a bar called “Smalls” after a Social Distortion concert in the mid 90’s. His indie film was a big industry darling at the time, and it would eventually lead him to a worldwide recognition. That night at Smalls, he introduced her to Quentin Tarantino and some other heavy partiers who carried the weight of Hollywood in their back pockets. A few dates followed and he casually bumped into her at the restaurant where she worked for awhile until a tabloid photo surfaced of him with a stunningly famous blonde in a Jacuzzi. Since Wendy wasn’t exactly committed to him at the time, she shrugged it off and went on her way. Within a year he was starring in a huge film and three years later he was one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors. All after dating my wife.
I ran into him at the Hotel Café on Cahuenga one night after my band had finished playing.
It was a decent crowd for a Thursday. We played a lively set and the owners were all excited about the future of our band. Beer and wine flowed and we all ended up doing shots at the bar before it had expanded into the bigger venue that it is today. It was then that I met ex number three.
Getting to him was harder than the others. He was obviously out to be seen, and had a nest of beautiful women clucking at his feet. When I finally poked through the crowd to order another beer on the band tab, he stopped me.
“Your band was good, I love outlaw country,” he said.
Again, I should have handed him a CD and asked him to get a song in his films. Instead, I brought up Wendy.
“Dude, this is so funny!” I yelled over the crowd. “I married Wendy Thompson!”
He leaned down into my space and took out some homemade ear plugs fastened from paper bar napkins.
“You have a hairy Johnson?” He responded.
Like him or not, the dude was funny.
“No, haha,” I continued. “I married Wendy Thompson…”
He took a minute to register who I was talking about. Apparently, they had been together for two months roughly eight years earlier, but I still expected him to react a little more intrigued.
Instead, he nodded his head and said, “Did I ever sleep with her?”
“I have no idea,” I said. “But you dated awhile back…”
He replaced the earplugs in his ear and looked my way once more. He obviously had no clue who Wendy was or why I was so interested in sharing my matrimonial conquest with him.
He slugged his beer and yelled at me once more.
“If I did sleep with her, that means we’re Eskimo Brothers,” he said.
(For the record, according to UrbanDictionary.com, the term “Eskimo Brothers” is Used to describe two men who have had sex with the same woman.)
“Nice to meet you man,” I screamed.
“Congratulations on getting married,” he said before turning around to watch the next band. Disturbed, I went outside to bum an American Spirit from somebody.
That night I got home and relayed the story to Wendy, who at this point, was starting to find it strange that I was running into all of her exes around town. She said that ex number three was always an ego-maniac and didn’t seem to remember or even care about anyone but himself.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “He was kind of stand-offish…”
We spoke about how famous these guys had become since she had dated them and how successful they seemed on paper and in the magazines, but my wife is always one who is well aware of the fact that success does not equal happiness. As we shared some wine that night and laughed at the incident at the Hotel Café, I relayed how lucky I felt to have found her and to have started our family together and that even if I never became some huge star, I would never ask her to dump me for my own personal success.
Lying in bed that night, I asked her once again if she regretted dumping any of these exes who had turned out to become Hollywood A-Listers.
She rolled over, kissed me softly on the lips and said, “Yes.”
I laughed so hard, I nearly threw up on my thermal pajamas.
“Well, I look at it this way,” I said. “I’m ‘Eskimo Brothers’ with some pretty huge stars…”
“Who am I ‘Eskimo Sisters’ with?” She inquired.
I thought about it for a long time.
“Well, almost Topanga from Boy Meets World,” I said.
She put her arms around me and smiled.
I kissed her on the forehead and turned out the light.
COME SEE ZACH’S BAND PLAY POWERHOUSE in HOLLYWOOD! – TUESDAY NIGHT ! 7:00 -9:00 pm
I just came to the sad conclusion that I would have made a lousy pirate.
My entire life, I have been infatuated with legendary late 17th century buccaneers and the billowing high sea adventures that they embarked upon. I have fantasized about discovering empirical treasures, establishing sumptuous small island colonies full of sexual heathens, and eating grand carved slices of roast Zebu meat washed down with copious never-ending rivers of Carribean rum… I’ve imagined sailing into tropical ports clad in bulging silken scarves puffed out from manicured vests tethered to worldly fabrics… I’ve envisioned a cutlass tucked in my waistcoat belt complimenting a gun or two hidden upon a hip to be used only in case of discovery or ambush… I have envisioned a fair, virginal maiden awaiting me in every port. For 30 years, I have shouldered dreams of piracy.
I have always foreseen myself living this life – thinking that perhaps I was born at the wrong time and that I was meant to be born a sea-beaten and weathered swashbuckler with a Dread Pirate Roberts-like understanding of wit, trickery, swordsmanship, romance and true love. A mysterious villain with a heart – and a chest – of gold. Lavishly gouging myself on intercontinental coffees and licquers. Forever eluding capture. Leading a wispy life on the wind until the proper time arrives when one must lower his mainsail, trade his beloved ship for gold and retire to live like a king in some far-off heavenly slice of paradise cascading into the far reaches of the sun-drenched Earth… I have secretly hallucinated about my own retirement plan. I visualize my final days spent bearded and leathery, awash in Key West swells, living off the fruits of my lifelong seaworthy labors…
And then my father-in-law invited me out to join him on a fishing trip.
We are very different types of men. We have not necessarily spent a lot of bonding time together, but in the quest to find a connection between my wife’s father and myself, I have tried a lot of angles. What I have discovered, is that it has been fairly hard to find any common ground.
Back in 2001, when my father-in-law and I first met, he had never been to a major league baseball game. I had never fired a gun.
He had never written a sketch or a creative story. I had never flown an airplane off of a carrier in the Pacific Ocean.
He scoffed at the use of profanity – like the word “shit” – in film and television. I had just written a song called Cartoons I’d Like to Fuck.
I immediately knew it was going to be a tough climb.
Over the years, I have divulged that my wife’s father is a true man of the sea. Following a storied 35-plus years as an airline pilot, the events of 9/11 forced him into early retirement. Bored with the sky, he was delighted to be focusing his attention on his true love: THE OCEAN. He celebrates the big blue and all that comes with it, everywhere. For instance…
His house is decorated like the inside of a cheesy Santa Monica seafood restaurant. Old fishing nets line the kitchen walls, complete with plastic lobsters caught in their webs. Vintage boat steering wheel-clocks help you keep time at over 26 different spots in the den. At least five small, circular windows are placed on the port and starboard side of the living room. In one room, shark teeth serve as a makeshift picture frame for his wedding photo. Above his bed is a thrift store painting of Captain Cook inspecting a compass and a map. Finally, his shower curtains are seven foot-tall lug sails that he ordered on ebay.
Friends who have visited sometimes refer to his home as “Red Lobster.”
I will say that I absolutely respect his love and passionate worship of the sea. It is his true mistress. When we visit him at his house in Washington State every Christmas, I often find him avoiding the shrieking outbursts of my children by stepping outside, making a fire and longingly staring out across open water where an undiscovered land of opportunity awaits him. I never understood why he did it, but I would not put it past him to believe that somewhere on that horizon lies an island with a river of frozen pina coladas, buried treasure and a pulsating posse of randy mermaids shape-shifting from sea creatures to women – prepared to satisfy his every perverted need.
In short, he also harbors dreams of being a pirate.
My father-in-law had owned a beautiful sailboat for many years and took his family around the world and home again on it as a younger man, but his post-retirement dream was to refurbish another boat into his vision of the ultimate dream cruiser. His plan was to take us all around the world in four years.
In 2001, he bought the boat. Following some bad luck, terrible storms and unfortunate circumstances, he sold that boat for half of its value nearly a decade later. It had never left the dock.
However, in 2012, he finally got a vessel he deemed worthy. It is a beautiful boat – with sleeping room for eight – common hang out areas and gorgeous deck space. He spent the majority of the past year sailing it from Maryland, between some Caribbean islands, through the Panama Canal and up back towards Seattle. It was his dream journey. When I heard that he was on this fabulous trip, my old brigand dreams were rekindled. I harkened back to my obsession with colorful pirate captains like Robert Culliford, Blackbeard and Calico Jack. I dreamt of a night on that boat, searching high above for the Andromeda Galaxy through my spyglass while cosmically spaced out on aged Puerto Rican spiced rum.
And then, in March, my family received his postcard from the island of St. Croix illuminating us on everything we were missing. As I sat on my couch, firing up another game of Wii Wipeout, I realized that he was absolutely right. And I was jealous. My father-in-law was out on the high seas, island hopping and fishing for his dinner – while I was spending my life about to challenge my six-year-old on the treacherous Wipeout “Big Balls.”
Luckily, one night during last year’s holidays, my father-in-law and I happened upon the fantastic film Hornblower on television. I had a few glasses of wine and immediately fell into the story. It was fascinating. He informed me that he had the entire mini-series (on VHS, nonetheless) and we tackled all eight parts within the next three nights. After that, we went through Master and Commander,Dead Calm, Treasure Island and the Pirates of the Carribean collection. It was then, that I inquired about possibly joining him on his next worldwide journey.
“Why don’t you start by coming out with me tomorrow?” He offered. “I’m going to set some crab traps and head to Port Orchard Bay to do some fishing.”
My eyes lit up. Crab traps? Fishing? A boat? I know it wasn’t exactly commandeering a massive English Man-of-War, but it was a start. I figured I would get my sea legs, catch some fresh dinner and be back by sunset to drink some beer and cook fish while counting the easy sailboats in the harbor. My first pirate adventure awaited me. I felt like those lifelong deckhand barflies who spend their lives in the bars of port towns like Bremerton, awaiting the rare Alaskan fishing vessels to offer them jobs out on the icy water for a three month run where they might make enough to stay in booze for weeks.
My wife was her usual supportive self. “Don’t come back with a peg-leg,” she requested.
I slept well that night, anticipating my maiden voyage on his boat, The Great Orca II, where I would ride the Pacific Northwest waves until I was christened first mate. I awoke at dawn to pack and head on out on the open water.
Before we set out, I took my journal with me hoping to find some inspiration. I also fastened my guitar to my back – knowing that pirates always appreciated a good sea shanty – and tucked my headphones into my jacket pocket. As the sun rose, I watched my father-in-law put on a set of rubber pants and some Merrell boots as I laced up my Converse All-Stars. I arrived in the kitchen ready to embark on our little journey with my guitar and ipad. He arrived with a woven beanie and a pair of pliers in his hand.
“What are those for?” I asked.
“In case we hit something and one of your teeth pops loose.”
I froze. He smiled.
“So, what’s your sea name gonna be?” He asked me.
“Excuse me?” I said. “Sea name?”
“All my passengers must create sea names for themselves when we are out on the water. You know, aliases. I always go by ‘Captain T.’’
I thought about it. A sea name! Cool! It would be like my pirate name… I knew it had to be something legendary, with a little flourish and a hardened edge. Something like “Black Pistol Bluebird McCoy…”
Knowing that there was a “Pirate Name Generator” on the internet – (look it up) – I quickly logged on and typed in my name. Sadly, their suggestion wasn’t the heroic adventurer name I had imagined. On the website, it read:
Yarr olde name be Zachary Selwyn. But we’ll now call ye:
PANTS DOWN DARIUS
My wife laughed. So did my mother-in-law. I demanded to re-enter my name, but it was too late. The new sea name had stuck.
“Hey, Pants-Down,” Captain T yelled. “Don’t bring your guitar unless you want it to get ruined.”
(For the record, when my father-in-law typed in his name, he was anointed Pirate Laszlo the Ochre… Lucky bastard.)
Now I have certainly been fishing a number of times. However, most of the deep sea adventures I have been on involved a drunk Mexican pontoon boat captain named “Suarez” and an unlimited supply of Modelo Especial somewhere down in Cabo San Lucas. I figured this little trip would be the Pacific Northwest version of that. Basically, at a short little booze cruise into Port Orchard Bay.
As I slipped on the wet step-ladder that hoists a passenger into his boat, Captain T called back towards the house where my wife and kids were waving good-bye from the back porch.
“Better stand in the ‘widow’s peak’ now,” he chortled. “He might not make it two knots!”
Widow’s peak? Knots? Sailor humor, I figured. I stepped into the cabin and drank some coffee. It was cold outside, but I figured the sun might come up soon enough for me to catch some open sea rays before catching our lunch and heading home. I lied down to try and catch another ten minutes of rest.
Five minutes later, we set off from the dock, and I suddenly found myself alone, in the water with my father-in-law. It suddenly dawned on me that if my daughter was to ever marry a man like me, I would someday do everything I could to find a way to “accidentally” push him off of a boat into arctic waters. I immediately became paranoid that I was on a boat trip not unlike the one the character “Big Pussy” made with Tony on The Sopranos.
After getting out of the inlet waters that are surrounded by hilltop mansions of Bainbridge Island, we settled into a nice stretch of slightly bumpy water where I figured we might drop some crab traps. As it turns out, we were early. Captain T informed me that we were just stalking until the tide came back out. I looked at my watch. It was 8:13 a.m.
“What time does the tide come back out?” I asked.
“Around 10,” he responded.
The next hour was remarkably the most relaxed I had been since we arrived for the holidays five days prior. Captain T and I played cards, looked at pictures on our iphones and talked about what type of fish we wanted to have when we got back to shore. We both snacked on some almonds and popped open bottles of Amber Lager while playing the card game “Casino.” We discussed my children, our careers, and how good life would be once we emptied his crab pots and relished in the brilliant shellfish found below the surface. There was no Spongebob on TV, no diapers to change and no wives to harass us abotu drinking beers at 8:30 in the morning.
“Are there laws about how long you have to be sober before flying a plane?” I asked.
“When I flew for Pan Am the rule was eight hours bottle to throttle.”
“What about when you’re on a boat?” I inquired.
“Probably something like, ‘don’t get in trouble, drop anchor when you see double.’”
It was by far the hardest my father-in-law has ever made me laugh.
It might not have been piracy, but it was a deep hang. One that I enjoyed so much, I began doing math numbers in my head to figure out how much property I could get in a small Seattle waterfront town if I sold my house in Hollywood. Bottom line? I could probably get a shitload. And a decent boat. And I could probably purchase and work at a small fireworks stand on the side of the road near the Suquamish Indian Reservation. For 45 minutes, I was truly considering this massive life change.
And then the storm broke.
The Pacific Northwest isn’t exactly known for its dry weather. In fact, they average 23 days of sunshine a year – which explains the high suicide rates and tremendous coffee production. Sometimes, when we visit, we get lucky and only have to withstand a small patch of overcast skies and minimal rain. Unfortunately, this afternoon was not one of those times.
Sheets of water began pulsating against the Great Orca II forcing us to cut our engine and enclose ourselves in a plastic sheathing to protect the engine room. I helped button down a few knobs, but I began to get a little concerned when, following a heavy pane of rain, I heard my father-in-law cursing at something from below the deck. Being that he was a man who found Mary Poppins to be morally reprehensible, I was amazed at his sudden vulgarity. The man I had known for 11 years suddenly became a re-incarnation of the revolting British pirate Batholomew Sharp.
As a rule, in his home, the word “damn” summoned up punishment.
Out here, on the water, the words “fucking cockshit” suddenly became acceptable.
“Something wrong, sir?” I yelled below deck.
“Stay up there Pants-Down,” he yelled back.
I leaned against my seat and did my best to ignore the boat’s nauseating rocking motion. I dumped the remainder of my beer over the side.
“We got a breach in the hull,” he yelled. “Get me my black toolbox, NOW!”
I panicked. Not knowing where he stored it, I frantically searched in the state room before coming across what I thought was a black tool box. I brought it down to him and he slapped it away.
“That’s a God-Damn tackle box, Zach!”
So much for only using our sea-names.
“Stay here and apply pressure to where this leak is coming through, got it?” He said.
I nodded and applied pressure on a tarpaulin that he had fastened over a small crack in the boat’s bottom. Water was seeping in fast. Assuming the hole didn’t get any bigger, I figured we had three hours before we would be re-enacting scenes from The Perfect Storm.
When Captain T got back down, he cursed at the scene and thrust me out of his way. He threw open his tool kit and removed some puddy-like mold and went to work. I sat there, frozen for what seemed like 20 minutes.
“Anything I can help with?” I offered.
“Go upstairs and radio the Coast Guard… We might be stuck out here tonight.”
Back above deck, I fiddled with the radio, but had no idea what the hell I was doing. When I couldn’t get any response when I simply garbled “SOS” into the receiver. I figured we were done for. We were barely five miles from his house, but we were in the middle of nowhere. Looking around, I did not see another vessel in sight. It was time I faced my immediate pirate future. I would be buried at sea.
In the world of ancient pirate adventures, rarely did a buccaneer get a chance to enjoy the treasures he pilfered. Most pirate galleons were besieged by disease, starvation, dehydration and terrible, long droughts of immobility. Ships would fail to catch wind and be stranded in the middle of oceans for days on end, making life hell for the crew. Very few pirates got away with anything without dire punishment. Should a pirate be captured, his life became even more unpleasant, and many spent years holed up in dank, smelly, cavernous prisons chained to walls and a chamber pot. If one was lucky enough to get pardoned, he would more than likely end up penniless and ruined. The lucky ones died of scurvy or dehydration. Many hung from gallows to welcome incoming ships and warn them against the joys of piracy. Making it out alive in the world of 17 and 18th century piracy was about as common as moving to Hollywood tomorrow and becoming the next Hugh Jackman. Very few pirates actually got to enjoy their riches, and most were killed, imprisoned or tortured for their brief careers as marauders of the seven seas. It took a strong will to be a pirate, spending a treacherous nine months on a boat hoping for one miraculous ship capture and a raid that would make you rich.
The toughest ones stuck it out.
I had been at sea for a grand total of two hours and five minutes and I was ready to abandon ship.
About ten minutes after I had given up on the pirate life, Captain T came back up to the bridge and asked me for a towel. When I handed him one, I noticed that he was soaking wet and smelled like the open sea. He was shivering something fierce and his droopy face beneath his wool cap made him look a little like a drowned sea lion.
“Well, I got the leak fixed,” he said.
I nearly got up and hugged him. I couldn’t believe it
“Any word from the Coast Guard?”
“Uhh, no,” I replied. “I wasn’t really sure how to call them.”
Captain T handled the radio and spoke into it. When he did not receive a response, he calmly holstered the radio and sat back in the Captain’s seat.
“Looks like we might have to tough it out and get back home through the storm,” he mumbled.
As the wind raged on and the boat rocked back and forth a few times, I found myself a victim of seasickness. Vomiting over the side of a rocking boat in the middle of the ocean is a wonderful experience, let me tell you. Especially when your father-in-law captain recommends aiming it into the wind so that it doesn’t fly downwind and land on any leather boat cushions.
Captain T straightened out some things that had come off the walls before fastening nearly everything down and telling me to hold on to anything I could find. He flipped on the engine and guided the boat to turn around.
“Anything I can help with?” I asked.
“You can get us a couple of beers,” he said. “This is gonna be a rough re-entry.”
The next three hours, I watched my father-in-law in his element. Whereas I had spent the afternoon scared for my life, he was fighting mother nature like I imagined Captain Kidd would have done while guiding his ship from the shores of Madagascar back to New York Harbor. My father-in-law was magnificent. He relished in every challenge and every chance he got to steer clear of an oncoming swell or ride through a air pocket with ease.
No wonder this guy had flown planes for 35 years, I thought to myself.
It was a true mark of bravery. One that reduced me from a heroic and valiant wannabe pirate – into a lowly stowaway, longing to warm my feet by a fire while flipping through 298 television stations.
He dipped over waves and squinted through the wind like a cast member of Deadliest Catch. His beard had tiny icicles forming below his nostrils and he was doing it while wearing nothing but a cap, rubber jacket and a long sleeve shirt.
Meantime, I was in nine layers of long johns and two sweaters.
About two hours later, we safely made it back to the dock where I helped tie up some lines and put out ship bumpers so that we wouldn’t scratch the vessel. As I walked up the dock towards the house, I looked through the windows. I noticed the familiar positioning of my family. My wife was on the couch. The boy was yielding a lightsaber by the kitchen table and my mother-in-law stood cooking chili. I stopped and looked for a minute at this Rockwell-like serenity and for a moment, considered waiting for Captain T to come out of the boathouse so that he could share the praise with me. After all, we had survived the storm! We had made it through! We were men of action. True sea-dogs. Quite possibly the closest we would be to pirates our entire lives.
On December 28, 2012, during a visit to my in-laws house for Christmas, I took my family to a Chuck E Cheese in Poulsbo, Washington. After receiving the proper safety stamps, smothering my body in hand sanitizer and shelling out $40.00 for three cups of tokens, I noticed that behind the counter, in a non-descript homemade metal serving area that looked like a sink from my high school chemistry class, were four taps reading “CHABLIS, BLUSH, BUDWEISER and BUD LIGHT.”
Their display resembled something from the Prohibition that one might have found at a speakeasy in the south side of Chicago in 1931. It looked like a nine-year-old designed it.Didn’t matter, I wanted a beer. After all, I was feeling a little on edge, and 300 screaming maniac kids sneezing and running all around Chuck E. Cheese seemed a lot easier to deal with should I have a pitcher of beer on hand.
I inquired about buying a pitcher of the Bud Light, but was quickly told that the keg was kicked. The young lady behind the counter recommended the Budweiser, saying that is was “Really the Red.”
I told her I wasn’t interested in wine, but, as it turns out, the “Red” was not red wine, but a local “red brew” from nearby Silverdale with an extremely high alcohol content. Knowing that would probably do the trick, I ordered up a pitcher, paid the young lady another $14.00 and went off to challenge any nine-year-old takers in games of mini-basketball Pop-a-Shot.
Following a 45-16 drubbing at the hands of a 12-year-old named Jayden, I sunk into our family booth and proceeded to pound three of these red beers in under an hour. Suddenly, I was feeling like I was a 12-year-old a kid at a friend’s birthday party in 1987. I was engulfed in the dazzling lights and sounds of the Chuck E. Cheese. I chased strange kids around the game room in a game of tag… I took my daughter up into the plastic maze/slide and let a bunch of kids tackle me… I sat and posed for dumb pictures with my family and a giant, stuffed mouse on a cheap amusement ride… I was truly, the super dad of the Chuck E. Cheese, and my wife smiled at me as I approached her with a wad of gum stuck in my hair and a red pizza sauce stain on my t-shirt.
“You really are the best dad,” she said before kissing me.
As my buzz began to fade, I knew I would have to get another beer before we went home to keep the ride going. Deciding to skip dinner due to the plasticene appearance of the so-called cheese on top of the rubbery pizza, I took down two more Reds and packed up the diaper bag. My son ended up winning 498 tickets – which he quickly traded in for a stuffed mini-Spongebob and a pencil. Two pieces of unadulterated crap that retail somewhere around 75 cents. I didn’t care, though. It was a great time and he had a blast playing all of the games and winning tickets. Best of all, I was leaving Chuck E. Cheese with a tremendous buzz and a newfound love for dark beer from the Pacific Northwest.
That was the last thing I remembered from that evening.
The next day I woke up around 10 a.m. to hear my wife cursing me out from the other room. She was saying something about me falling off the bed in the middle of the night and waking up our daughter. Having no recollection of this, I stumbled to my feet and looked helplessly for my eyeglasses. When I couldn’t find them, I made a point of acting as if nothing was wrong, even though my head was pounding with the thumps of a million five-year-olds dancing across my temples.
“You’re in trouble,” she said to me, glaring as I walked into the kitchen.
Her mother laughed. I squinted for any answer in the mid-morning Northwest gloom. All I could find were blurry shapes and rapid movements, mainly my kids, who sat eating cereal and playing with their new Hannukkah and Christmas toys.
“What are you talking about?” I asked
“Do you not remember what you did last night?” She offered.
“Oh, you mean when you told me I was the best dad ever?”
“I can’t even look at you right now.”
And with that, I ran off to the bathroom where I threw up a mountain of fluid and a distinctly unfamiliar mystery meat. I found my eyeglasses in the wastebasket by the toilet.
According to my in-laws, we had come home after Chuck E Cheese and I split a bottle of red wine with my wife’s dad. When his neighbor Mike, a European guy who makes homemade beer and cooks a mean pork pozole, invited us over for some beer tastings and food – we both accepted. From then on, I proceeded to run a little “blank tape.”
My wife informed me that I had arrived at the door three hours later with my pants around my ankles. I was slurring and proceeded to pop my contact lenses out of my eyeballs and throw them across the room without knowing where my glasses were. After nearly falling through a plate glass window and severing my carotid artery, I demanded that my wife turn on a porno film on the big screen television – before yelling at my mother-in-law to “go the hell to bed already.” I passed out on the couch and was carried to bed by wife and her dad.
When this was all relayed to me by my wife, who just hours earlier had been commending me on my parenting skills, I let the situation slowly sink in. As I attempted to swallow a 16 ounce coconut water and wiped the never ending sweat from my brow, I began to think that it might be a good time to take a real close look at what WebMD had described as “my drinking problem.”
I spent the rest of the entire day in bed and/or in the bathroom, vomiting. It was one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced – not unlike those 24-hour bugs that have been going around where you puke and sleep forever, convinced you are dying.
I hated every minute of it, especially when I was incapable of playing with my kids because I was in too much pain. Embarrassed and ashamed, I took a vow of sobriety on the afternoon of December 29, 2012. I also vowed to chronicle my efforts in my journals, which I have been fastidiously keeping since my 16th birthday but had grown a little lazy about recently. I was sort of hoping that the non-drinking would re-inspire me to keep a more comprehensive diary again, but instead of logging activities and hours in the following pages, I mainly focused on the extremely difficult task of avoiding alcohol at all costs.
What follows are lifted directly from my personal journals beginning the day of December 29th and continuing on until I broke my streak. I hope this either inspires you to face your demons head on, or continue drinking responsibly so you do not end up trying to turn on a DVD of Little Orphan Anal in front of your wife’s parents over the holidays.
Sobriety Journal. Aka The Non-Rum Diary.
Dec. 29, 2012
Day 1: OOOOOOOhhhh God. I have been puking for 9 hours straight and I don’t even have any food in my body… I think I just threw up knee cartilage. Last night was a lost bender of epic proportions, coming to a head at the neighbor’s house (Mike? Mark?) Where I drank his homemade 14% alcohol Belgian Tripelbock after nearly killing 6 beers and some wine during and before dinner. I don’t remember the end of the night, but the wife said I arrived at the in laws door with my pants around my ankles. My last memory was beer at Chuck E. Cheese – and my kids playing arcade games with those disease ridden tokens. All I found was this picture crumpled up in my wallet of me slamming a beer with my finger up my nose.
Shit, maybe I got roofied. Roofeed? How do you spell that? More than likely, I put my hand in some kid’s snot that he wiped on the “Mousecalator” and inhaled it, which is what undoubtedly caused this massive bodily excursion.
I have to uke again…
Dec. 30. 2012.
DAY 2: Wow, a day after hangover. Maybe I’ll have a bowl of Honey smacks and watch Breaking Bad on DVD all day… Wife is in the other room talking about going to the mall or something. Not me. I’m still laid up… No more booze, ever. Period. I’m serious. 100%. Even though its New Year’s Eve in 2 days and were invited to a party in LA thrown by the guy who owns the Coldwater Wine Company, I will refrain… It’s been 15 years of this shit time to grow up and be a man. Fuck it, man… Robert Downey jr. got sober. So did Dick Van Dyke and Richard Dreyfus and Nick Nolte…I think… Maybe even Slash… wait, is Slash sober? If Slash is sober, I can be sober. Although I only seem to over-consume wine and beer … I think Slash was mainlining jet fuel at one point… I don’t know… I don’t want to have to keep explaining myself- especially once my kids are old enough to wonder why daddy is staying in bed all day. I talked to George Carlin’s daughter Kelly once… She told me she spent every morning of her childhood wondering when her parents would wake up and play with her… Apparently they had a blackout curtain in their room to keep out that evil sun. Luckily, I’m in Washington State right now and the sun is nowhere to be found. WE go home tomorrow… thank GOD.
(15 minutes later)
My wife’s brother just brought over a six pack and a bottle of wine and I turned him down! I think I’m cured! Who needs Dr. Drew- fuck that guy! I will never crave booze again!
Dec. 31, 2102
DAY 3: I want booze. So badly. Just some wine or a beer or something… DAMN! And it’s New Years Eve! What the hell. I’m so exhausted. We’re invited to about three different parties but I don’t want to go to any of them. I’m probably gonna do the lame West Coast dad thing and watch the ball drop at 9 pm on an East Coast feed— that is very very sad. Two years ago I took ecstasy and covered myself in body paint with a crowd of naked strangers in an apartment in Glendale. Yeah, I was in a shithole in Glendale and I was on ecstasy and I felt like I was being licked by the tongue of God. It was awesome. Now, I’m two nights sober. I feel awful Head cloudy, body still in shock… Maybe it was the pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food I consumed last night in an effort to curb my body’s sugar cravings… Who the hell knows. It is 8:31 at night and I don’t even think I can make it to New York New Years… So I am signing off, asleep at 8:34 on New Year’s Eve.
Jan. 1, 2013
Day 4: I feel a lot better! Might even attempt to go to the gym and run today… But I don’t know. We’re invited to a friend’s house for football and wine later and they always have the best French Bourdeaux. How the hell does that happen? Man, when you are not drinking, THE WHOLE WORLD IS AN OPEN BAR!!!
(later that night)
I just told my wife I had a late night meeting, but in reality, I’m off to the grocery store to buy some more ice cream. Seriously. I am lying to my wife so that I can go eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in the Gelson’s parking lot. Alone. Jesus. Some men have affairs, I sneak off to have sex with pints of Cherry Garcia.
January 2, 2013
DAY 5: Back to the gym, finally sweat out the remnants of that night. I smelled like a beer on the treadmill. It was sad. My mom and my grandma fly in later tonight. My mom will immediately wonder why I am not drinking. She is a two bottle-a-night of chardonnay drinker… I normally stay up with her and talk, but this might be the time I don’t. Damn! I love drinking with my mom!
January 3, 2013
DAY 6. My mom and I had this conversation last night beginning at about 4:45 in the afternoon.
MOM: “Why aren’t you drinking?”
ME: “I had a rough night last week and I’m taking some time off.”
MOM: “You loser! Open some red wine and play Scrabble with me.”
Somehow, I managed to not drink with her and I went to bed early. The last thing my mom said to me before she went to bed was,
“I really hope this isn’t a permanent thing. Think of your mother, won’t you?”
I will say, my mom is one of my all time favorite drinking buddies. We sit and play old records and run through Scrabble games until two in the morning – usually forgetting to finish because we both get so loopy that we begin placing words like “Oughta” on the board and accepting them. Meanwhile, my grandma, who is 90-years-old and still sharp and hilarious said to me, “I don’t care if you stop drinking forever… you NEED to stop biting your nails!”
I love my grandma.
Jan. 4, 2013
Day 7. One week! Wow, I went one week. I still haven’t found much inspiration to write or play guitar or anything, but my son and I played his new Wreck it Ralph Wii game for five hours straight today! Not that playing video games is productive, but it was something, right? Oh man, I sound like all the stoner gamer geeks I used to work with at G4. So that’s what sobriety leads to? VIDEO GAMES? Shit, I might as well go get a bottle of Jim Beam right now. BTW, my mom and grandma went to Orange County to visit my sister, so I’m back to exercising and reading this great book on Bonnie and Clyde. Makes me happy I never shot anybody.
Jan. 5. 2013
Day 8. OK, I was at a film screening tonight and they had an open bar. I had sparkling water with lemon, but I was craving alcohol. You know how we Jew are, anything free, we WANT IT!! Especially the red wines they had… and the Pilsner beer… Oh man. Anyway, I ended up drinking my first Coke in about five years. It was like drinking a Snickers bar. Jesus. I switched to Diet Coke, but my buddy Eric told me about all the studies and the chemicals and the fact that Diet Coke causes cancer and depression… My God, once again, I’m better off drinking.
Jan 6. 2013
Day 9. Well, I just bought a six pack of Buckler non-alcoholic beer. It tastes alright, but is definitely lacking the sweet, calming trace of alcohol. I cracked one about two hours ago and drank it within three minutes. I drank the second one three minutes later. I killed the six pack in 28 minutes. Now I feel bloated and somewhat satisfied, as if there was a placebo affect to the whole thing. Whatever the case, my mom comes back tomorrow and I have an audition for a Toyota Commercial.
Jan. 7, 2013
Day 10. Fuck fuck fuck you Q Q Q Q DICK. Fucking dick fuck fuck this sucks fuck you dick dick balls dick.
Jan. 8, 2013.
Day 11. FUCCCKKKKKK YOOOUUUU!UU!U!UU!U!U! I want a drink I want a drink I want a drink drink drink dnrindinrindikkkkkk. I texted a few sober friends and asked them how they deal with all of this and they sent me back the clichés we are all familiar with. Cigarettes and coffee… meetings… ice cream… My one buddy, a former coke-monkey named Bobby wrote Dude, substitute one addiction for the other… why do you think I got divorced? I’m a cooze hound!
Jan. 9, 2013
Day 12. I have officially crossed the threshold! I truly believe I may not ever have a craving again. I’m exercising, nailing my auditions (Toyota callback!) and I’ve slowed down on my Ben and Jerry’s to half a pint a night! This is the beginning of a whole new me! I will write tomorrow. I LOVE this!!
That was my final entry into the Sobriety Journal.
I made it 12 full days before being invited to a party where they were serving Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Sea Smoke red wine. I looked at my wife, who knew that the minute I saw the Sea Smoke (my favorite) I would be done for. She grabbed me and looked me in my eyes.
“Look, Zach,” she said. “If you think you can have just a couple of glasses, I think you should. BUT, remember, drink water, stay in control and you don’t have to POUND the wine. Enjoy it, sip it, you know?”
I looked into my wife’s sweet face. She was sticking by my side no matter what I did and I loved her for it. I knew she was my rock, my confidant… my unofficial “sponsor” if you will and the fact that she trusted me to know my limits meant more to me than anything in the entire world at that moment. I kissed her and promised to be responsible and careful and I watched her walk away into the party to hang with a group of women who were discussing their unnecessary scarves in the 60-degree Los Angeles winter night.
I rolled up to the bar and took a long hard moment to gather myself. The waiter poured me a decent glass of Sea Smoke and told me to enjoy it. I swirled the red lava around in the glassware like a vinyl record and let it settle a few times before placing my nose up to its fortuitous aroma. I inhaled deeply, taking in the fine grape, the chutes of ember and the floral notes. This was GOOOD wine. The best wine to break a fortnight of sobriety with. I slowly pressed the glass to my lips and swallowed the heavenly liquid until my body turned warm with familiarity and melted into a séance-like calmness. I felt alive. I knew I was going to be able to conquer this demon – and practice the finest art of them all… The art of moderation.
The next morning I woke up on the bathroom floor, fully clothed and in a fetal position.
I had no idea where my eyeglasses were…
Watch Zach’s new TV Show “Guinness World Records Gone Wild! Feb. 7th at 8:00 pm on TruTV!
There is a small stretch of road about five minutes from my house that is known as “Tranny Alley.” The section I am talking about exists on what used to be the most famous highway in America: Route 66. Nowadays, it is known simply as Santa Monica Boulevard and it famously runs the length of the city, cascading into the Pacific Ocean at its conclusion.
“Tranny Alley” gets its name from – you guessed it – the number of transsexual prostitutes working their trade up and down the boulevard. Situated directly between Highland Avenue and Las Palmas, the majority of these prostitutes seem to use a shop called “Donut Time” as their home base. It was here, at this Donut Time, that I found myself picking up a 28-year-old prostitute named “Honeysuckle.”
Any man who has lived in the city of Angels for any period of time has found himself staring at a tight pair of denim shorts walking down the street only to be surprised when the person turns around and reveals him/herself as a guy. Santa Monica Boulevard is usually the place where it all goes down. Sometimes, they catch you staring and send an awkward wink your way at which point you react by either looking the other way or thinking to yourself, Wow… Dude or not, I still got it!
Last week, when I was on my way to pick up my six-year-old son from school, I noticed a pair of those exact denim shorts parading across a parking lot directly in the heart of Tranny Alley. When the person turned around, she had caught my eye – and sent a gorgeous and flirtatious look my way. I watched her cheetah-strut her body towards Donut Time, where she adjusted her top and threw me a salacious wink. I was stunned. She was by far the prettiest girl I have ever seen in Tranny Alley in the 19 years I have lived in this city –and there was even something familiar looking about her… but I couldn’t quite place it. Needless to say, she had an incredible Rihanna-like body with a face like a younger Sage Steele. (ESPN anchor). If she was, in fact, a man – I didn’t care… She was worth making eye contact with.
As I scooped up my six-year-old from school and we began driving home, I decided to take Santa Monica Boulevard again, risking a Donut Time drive-by, knowing fully well that my son often screams out “Donuts!” whenever we pass a shop serving up the fried, round, sugary treats. Giving your kid a donut at 3:30 in the afternoon is a terrible idea, as it often leads to a sugar crash, Lego’s being thrown all around your house and a dinner time screaming match between me and my wife… However, the moment I passed the shop, I noticed Rihanna again… She noticed me as well. She gave me a subtle nod and caught my eye in a flirtatious way, just as my son yelled out at the top of his lungs,
I flipped on my blinker and made a left turn into the parking lot.
My initial intention was not to speak to her. I wanted to get inside the shop, pick out a donut, maybe get a closer look and then speed off towards the park to make my son run off the 550 calories he just inhaled. Instead, she approached me like a long lost girlfriend just as I walked through the door.
“You go to the Hollywood YMCA, don’t you,” she asked as I cradled my son so he could get a better look into the donut case.
How the hell did she know that?
“Uhhm, yeah?” I said quizzically. “Are… you a… member?”
She laughed. I took a quick gaze at her throat. It was Adam’s apple – free.
“I shower there sometimes,” she continued. “I’ve seen you and your kid walking around.”
It was then that I put it together. She was a member of the Hollywood YMCA. I had seen her before, striding around the ground floor, making every pasty-white mother of three uncomfortable by flaunting her ferocious curves and Olympian build. I always had assumed she was a personal trainer or a professional fitness model or something… Looks like she was simply, just a professional.
“Are you a…” I started, before looking down at my son, knowing that no six-year-old should be conversing with a prostitute ten minutes after leaving Math Workshop.
She smiled and rubbed the side of my shoulder.
“I can be anything you want me to be.”
Now I have never been one for talking dirty, but for some reason, her comment uncoiled some inner beast in my loins that had been lying dormant for way too long. I noticed a boulder-like erection burst into my boxer briefs that felt like a Sumatran rhino giving birth. I wasn’t quite sure what it was… but this girl’s voice and body and face were so searing, for that one fleeting moment I truly, deeply in the back of my head, considered throwing away a perfect marriage to the love of my life – consenting to spending the rest of my adulthood couch-surfing in Van Nuys. I felt contented with the fact that I would rarely be allowed to see my children again… And if my wife wanted to take half of all my finances? FINE. These all seemed like worthy sacrifices for one night of rapture with this thunder-bodied beautiful sex bomb who looked like she could break my penis off.
And who may or may not be a guy.
I paid for the donut and did my best to shake off the fantasy. As I allowed my erection to lower itself to half mast, I eeked a smile her way and raised my hand, showing her my wedding ring, as if to say, “Sorry, I’m married.”
She laughed and whispered into my ear.
“Single men don’t walk into Donut Time,” she said. “Most of my regulars are married… But you’re the first guy who actually brought his kid along.”
Yeah, about that… I looked over at the boy, eating his chocolate sprinkled donut, unaware that his father could be 20 minutes away from making the biggest mistake of his life. Unaware of “Tranny Alley.” Thinking only of toys and ninjas and the Angry Birds Star Wars toy on his Hannukkah list. Just innocent, pure and happy…
“It’s 50 bucks for a blow-job,” she whispered.
“We should go,” I yelled out to the boy. “C’mon, dude…”
I loaded him up into the car and didn’t even buckle his seat belt. His face was smeared with chocolate. Within six minutes, we were up in the park and he was climbing a play structure as I found myself perversely Google–searching “Sexy Rihanna Photos” on my iphone. Had anybody seen some of the half-naked images I came across, I would have been arrested and thrown in prison for lewd conduct. Looking at soft-core porn on your phone in a public park is probably a bigger offense than actually picking up a prostitute… (I looked that up by the way… It’s not.)
Paranoid, I cleared my history, turned off my phone and did 10 pull-ups on the monkey bars as a way to release some unbridled energy.
I believe I first realized that I didn’t have my wallet about 45 minutes later. We had come home from the park and the Rihanna incident was way beyond me – because by that point, other concerns popped into my head. What time was his soccer practice? Did I forget to email the bank about the house Re-Fi? Why did I forget to buy printer ink? But now, something even more horrifying had crossed my mind: My wallet was gone, and the only place it could possibly be was sitting on the counter at “Donut Time.”
When my wife came home, I told her I had left my wallet at my son’s school and I had to go get it. She called me a dumb-ass and told me to hurry up. After all, we had Nick and Marcy coming over for dinner. I jumped in the car and raced towards Santa Monica Boulevard as fast as I could, praying that Rihanna was nowhere to be found and that my wallet was safe and sound behind the counter. The drive over there shared the same nerve-wracking feeling of a first date in high school… It was mortifying.
As I began creeping along towards Tranny Alley, I noticed that there were a few more ladies of the night walking the street. Most of them were obviously men, and I avoided their looks as long as I could. I managed to find a parking spot at a meter, hoping my presence would go unnoticed. I crossed over the sidewalk and ran towards Donut Time at a swift pace. When I got there, I grabbed the door handle and pulled it open. Before I could slide inside, a familiar voice turned me around.
“Looking for this?”
There was Rihanna, holding my embarrassing tri-panel Velcro piece of shit wallet with a clear sleeve for my driver’s license and a change purse zipper. My driver’s license was in her left hand.
“Zachary Stephen Selwyn, huh?” She said. “You look younger than 37.”
“Uhm, thanks,” I said, not knowing if she really meant it or if it was her way to talk a potential john into dropping 500 bucks on life-ruining sex.
“Where’d you, uhh – find it?” I asked.
“I can find a man’s wallet anywhere. Now you want it back, or what?”
“Yes please,” I meekly answered.
“You can have it — if you run me up to the YMCA – I have to take a shower.”
The first thing that popped into my mind was the Hugh Grant – Divine Brown incident. Back in 1997, Grant was a superstar who was arrested for receiving fellatio in his BMW just north of Tranny Alley from a prostitute named Divine Brown. Following the arrest, Grant’s reputation went from ‘irresistibly charming leading man’ to Mickey Blue Eyes. Divine Brown, meanwhile, has allegedly made close to two million dollars from personal appearances and pornography and is now raising her three well-off children in Beverly Hills…. Advantage: Prostitute.
The other famous incident at the time was when Eddie Murphy was pulled over with a tranny prostitute in his car in the same neighborhood. Although never charged with anything, Eddie has been dragged across the floor by the press since then as well. By offering Rihanna a ride, I was risking my career and more importantly, my marriage. It seemed like a no-win situation…
“Sure, I can give you a ride,” I said.
I wasn’t sure why I had agreed to do it. Part of me believed it was a moment of weakness where I felt like the character “Mr. Incredible” from the film The Incredibles. Downtrodden, bored and eager to find adventure again, he takes on paid missions without his wife knowing -which, at first – get him his mojo back. Of course he ends up nearly dying until his superhero family arrives and saves his ass with superpowers and they all live happily ever after. I wondered to myself if my superhero family would come save me should I get arrested with a prostitute in the front seat of my car… My initial thought was, probably not.
Rihanna handed me my wallet and tried to hold my hand as we walked back to my car. I pushed it away and kept my eyes peeled for any sign of police. At the moment, everything looked clear. We got in and I quickly lowered my radio so she wouldn’t know I had been playing the Rihanna song “What’s my Name” on my ipod for the past 30 minutes. We slowly pulled out into traffic and headed up towards Vine, where I would shuttle her to the awaiting, lucky, pulsating shower beads of the Hollywood YMCA.
“OK, you know my name… what’s yours?” I asked her. After all, I couldn’t keep referring to her as “Rihanna.”
She took a moment to fiddle around with a pair of my sunglasses I had resting against the center console. She put them on her eyes and turned towards me.
“You can call me Honeysuckle,” she said.
Perfect. Honeysuckle? Could there be a more appropriate name for this fiery African-American fuck machine than “Honeysuckle?”
“Is that your real name?” I asked.
“Is Zachary your real name?”
“Than my real name is Honeysuckle.”
“Wow!” I said. “Like the Willie Nelson film Honeysuckle Rose!”
“I’ve never heard of that.”
As she lowered the passenger side mirror to apply lipstick, I found it odd that she was on her way to take a shower and was applying make-up 10 minutes beforehand. She pursed her lips and laughed at her face in the mirror in a way that exuded more self-confidence than any woman I feel I had ever encountered. It was the last thing you expected a “soiled dove” to be doing. I dug deeper. Fascinated by this workhorse of sexual pleasure. I have always been obsessed with those who spend their lives this way… I love their back-stories and their ideals and hearing about the unique way they view the world. Her story was enthralling
As it turns out, Honeysuckle was born and raised in Oakland by a single mother who was also a prostitute. Honeysuckle had dropped out of high school at 16 when she got pregnant, and had lost the baby during childbirth. Disenchanted with everything, she moved to San Francisco were she began turning tricks for as much as $1500 a night. By 21, she was well known throughout the city and pleasured star athletes, politicians and businessmen from all over the world. She had even once been flown to New York for a convention with top brass at a massive electronics company that we all know about. Finally, she settled in LA, where she heard she might be able to work as a high-class call girl and not a “streetwalker.” Unfortunately, most of the girls in Los Angeles who were in that racket were five to ten years younger and from foreign countries. Honeysuckle claimed she was too street savvy to get caught up in that business and she now walks the boulevard three times a week, doing what she can to keep her lights turned on, her weave silky and her body in shape. It was a story straight out of a terrible movie. A hooker with a heart of gold… I wasn’t sure what I believed.
I had one more question I had to ask her. I took a chance.
“So, by any chance… are you a transsexual?” I boldly proposed.
“Honey, please – I am all woman,” She exclaimed. “You know what my father once told me before he split on me and my mom? He told me the best piece of advice I have ever heard. He told me “As long as you got a pussy, you will never go broke.”
I took that in. I have absolutely no plans of ever sharing that advice with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
We drove in silence for a few blocks as she applied more makeup and drank from a mini bottle of grape Five-Hour Energy that was tucked away in her purse. I was only hoping I could make it to the destination without being pulled over by any flashing red and blue lights. As we made a left onto Selma near the new Trader Joe’s, I finally broke the silence.
“So, why do you belong to the YMCA?” I asked.
“The Y lets homeless people in on a 10 dollar -a-month discounted rate,” she explained. “I’d say 50-100 YMCA members are homeless people or hookers… it’s true. Trust me, do NOT go in the jacuzzi.”
All I could think of was the fact that I had taken my six-year-old boy in the Jacuzzi two days earlier.
When we wound up pulling up to the front of the YMCA, it suddenly dawned on me that I had seen a number of toothless men in the locker rooms, shady looking women emerging from the massage rooms and occasional clove-smoking dope fiends shuffling in and out of the front door. Maybe Honeysuckle was telling the truth… The Hollywood Y was as much a gym, a gravity strength pilates class and a Kids Klub, as it was a homeless shelter… I was about to cut my engine when Honeysuckle instructed me to pull to the side of the building.
I did as I was told, now fully aware that the earlier rhino boner I had set fire to had now completely retreated inside of my body. I pulled my car into a metered space and watched her smooth out her shorts so they wouldn’t bunch up. She casually stared back at me with her hazel-ish eyes and put a tethered hand on my upper right thigh.
“The best thing about a woman like me, Zachary, is that I don’t kiss and tell,” she said.
I looked deep into her pooling retinas. She was marvelous. A physical specimen. Probably no older than 27 or 28. Any man with 100 or 200 or 500 dollars was sure to have the time of his life with this woman – but I was simply not going to be that guy. All I could think of was my son and the chocolate smeared across his face and his Hannukkah list and my wife’s smile and my daughter’s growing Hello Kitty collection. I was even looking forward to a small argument about getting the boy a donut at 3:30 in the afternoon.
I just wanted to go home.
Honeysuckle kept her hand on my thigh. I thought long and deep about how I was gong to let her down… I didn’t want to crush her. I mean, her life had been so hard, could she handle my rejection? How would she react? I was nervous. I took a deep breath and reached down into the depths of my soul for what was the honest-to-God truth.
“Look, I’m flattered… but I – I can’t – I could never live with myself,” I said.
Without flinching, her hand was gone from my leg. She clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and opened the door. Within eight seconds, she had dismounted my car, tossed her weave back over her shoulders and buckled her purse.
So much for her having trouble taking rejection, I thought.
As she walked in front of my car towards the YMCA, I was watching her denim shorts again. It was then that she turned around and ran back to my window. I knew it… I thought. She couldn’t stand to think about how this 37-year-old father and husband had turned down her advances… She couldn’t fathom being rejected or humiliated like that… I KNEW IT! In fact, what I was thinking was, I still got it…
As she persuaded me to roll down my window, I expected another come-on. After all, getting hit on by any woman at my age is flattering, even if they turn out to be a prostitute… I zapped down the pane and awaited her final cry for my love…
“Hey, Zachary,” She began. “You had 50 bucks in your wallet when I found it, so I took it as a finder’s fee… OK?”
She pirouetted and slinked towards the awaiting doors of the YMCA.
I’ve driven by Tranny Alley a few times since, but Honeysuckle seems to have disappeared. I hadn’t seen her at the YMCA either, until earlier this week. I caught her bounding out of the locker room, midriff showing, with micro-beads of sweat glistening just above her belly button. As usual, all the YMCA moms stopped and stared, aghast at her sheer physical presence and beauty, and the older dudes working out on the machines snuck glances as she sauntered towards the door. As she passed by my son and I, she caught my eye and gave me a silent nod. It was all unspoken and perfect and it made me feel comfortable and happy knowing that she was still around and had no intention of changing who she was to appease the eyeballs of others. Only one thought entered my mind as I watched her move through a crowd of bewildered onlookers.
Best 50 bucks I ever spent…
COME SEE ZACH PERFORM LIVE AT THE HAYRIDE! Tues. Dec 11 – 7:30 pm. BOOTLEG THEATER!
Yeah, posterized. Embarrassed. Juked. Lit up. Dusted. Shook, took and left for dead. Jammed on by a 20-something human helicopter in the YMCA basketball league I reluctantly joined to appease my doctor, my family history of heart disease and my rising cholesterol. It was pretty damn humiliating, especially since my wife and six-year-old son were on the sidelines – and this 6’6” athletic specimen – with arms like boa constrictors and the vertical leap of a Madagascan Cheetah – decided to gloat while high-fiving his teammates, shouting “Take that white boy!” in my general direction… Our coach Jerome called a time out and quickly informed that I wouldn’t be coming back in the game for awhile. I understood. I sat on the bench and hung my head against my 2004 Arizona Wildcats basketball shorts and wiped heavy beads of sweat into my towel. I slowly looked over at my son – who turned to his mom and asked her why daddy got taken out of the game. Ever the subtle parent, my wife informed him, “Your dad just got annihilated.”
When I first joined the Hollywood YMCA, it was on my doctor’s orders. My family history had a lot to do with it – and his main motive was to get my cardiovascular activity up and my cholesterol down. Since basketball was always my favorite form of exercise, I chose the Y because the courts were full of older players with no other motivation than a little exercise and some fun. The majority of the guys I encountered on Tuesdays and Thursdays were in their 30’s and 40’s and had some sort of knee brace or elbow support sleeve on their bodies. They put up long threes, blew easy lay-ups and spent half the game talking about the Hollywood trades and other silliness, killing time as their kids tooled around the clubhouse downstairs. Rucker Park this was not.
After hanging around the sidelines for 20 minutes or so, I was invited in to play… and I quickly put up a dazzling 6 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in a 21-19 thriller of a pick up game. In my mind, I was back. Back to those glory days of my youth when I used to school young Jewish guys in the “Stephen S. Wise Temple Basketball League.” Back when I made the Junior Varsity team at my high school and actually had the ability to dunk a basketball on a ten-foot rim. (OK, I did it twice, but I did do it…) Back when my life was simple and easy, and when the only thing that mattered was which pair of Air Jordans I would save up for to parade around high school as a way to try and impress hot Tucson girls who actually would consider me to be a potential prom date just because I wore a pair of $100 Nikes…
Nowadays, the last thing I remember dunking was a celery stalk into a Bloody Mary. Those Air Jordans are long gone. So is my vertical leap. And according to Facebook, all those hot Tucson girls have teenage kids and have been divorced an average of two times since high school. So, in my mind, scoring 6 points in a YMCA game was the equivalent of winning an NBA Championship. I immediately told my wife that I loved basketball at the YMCA – and I showed up again the next day to take on another set of chumps with my wicked first step and decent mid-range jumper.
Turns out, the Tuesday – Thursday game features a totally different crew than the guys who play on Monday – Wednesday.
My first indication that the competition was at another level, was the fact that most of the guys on the court didn’t have a mid-section. There were dudes even playing shirtless, a thing you only see down at Venice Beach during the summer, and they looked like their bodies had robotic sound effects when they moved. Some guys had typical basketball tattoos reading ”Ball is Life” and “Love of the Game” beneath an orange ball swishing through a net. One guy stood close to 6’10” and practiced drop-step lay-ups while a scraggly Steve Nash-looking kid fed him bounce passes. Another rained in threes from NBA range, shouting out “ALL DAY!” whenever he connected… which was a lot. Finally, a shredded swing-man named DeMar threw down an Isiah Rider through-the-legs dunk during a fast break. I quickly turned and headed towards the door, opting to run on the treadmill that day instead.
Little did I know, DeMar would be the same guy would dunk on me this morning… Let me back up for a second and explain how I even got invited to play in the YMCA league in the first place.
Back in the summer of 2008, I was covering the famed “San Diego Comic-Con” for Attack of the Show, a TV program I was hosting. The convention was a nerd party of epic proportions, and I took full advantage of every open bar in the Gaslight District of the city – including a party where celebrated Ohio State star and Portland Trailblazers number one draft pick Greg Oden made an appearance. Being one of the only basketball fans in the entire city that night worked to my advantage, and Greg Oden and I spoke for a good 20 minutes before he was whisked away by a publicist for some interview. After he left my presence, a geeky fanboy tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if the seven-foot Greg Oden was Samuel L. Jackson from Snakes on a Plane.
“Uhm, no,” I told him.
In November of that year, I was inspired to get myself in shape. I read that Nike had announced the release of the new Greg Oden Power Max basketball shoe and the minute I had read about it, I knew that would be my shoe. After all, Greg had been so cool at Comic Con, I was convinced he had a Michael Jordan – like career ahead of him and would be exactly the kind of role model I needed to inspire me to revisit my past basketball athletic prowess. So, the day the shoe was released, I took a trip up to the Topanga Canyon Mall where I dropped 130 dollars on a pair of Nike Greg Oden PE’s which featured his name – “Oden” – prominently stitched across the laces as well as the back of the shoe. It was impossible to miss.
Five years later, as you may or may not know, Greg Oden is considered one of the biggest disappointments in the history of NBA basketball. Right up there with Sam Bowie, Joe Barry Carroll and Michael Olowokandi. Yes, a BUST. His injuries have left him sidelined for all but 23 games or so and the guy drafted after him – Kevin Durant – has gone on to become arguably the best player in the NBA. Greg Oden is currently coaching basketball clinics in Oregon. I hope he invested his money wisely, or he might be hanging sheetrock in a few years.
Unfortunately, his shoe is the only basketball shoe I own. Basically, I refuse to ever pay that much money for a shoe again – and I never really wore his model that much anyway – so it is in fairly great condition. A year ago I tried to see if it would sell on ebay, but the only other model on the website was a “Buy It Now” offer for $9.99, so I figured I’d just play ball in my Oden’s until they fell apart. (By the way, if you are interested, you can buy 100 – yes 100 – Greg Oden Topps rookie basketball cards for $3.99 on ebay right now).
So, I am stuck with my Oden’s and there’s a small part of me that actually kind of enjoys the irony of owning them. It’s like owning the film Gigli on Blu-Ray.
The treadmill I run on at the YMCA faces the pathway between the basketball courts and the water fountain, so the players come out every 20 minutes or so for breaks. The players have never noticed me running before, but that Wednesday, they decided to approach my treadmill as I was running following the first game they had played that afternoon. I wasn’t sure why… until they called me by my shoe.
“Yo, Greg Oden!” One wiry dude yelled just as I hit my 9 minute-per-mile stride. “Come off that treadmill for a second, man!”
A little intimidated, I kept running.
“Why?” I asked.
“We wanna ask you a question,” he responded.
I pressed pause on my iphone and stepped off the treadmill. I had run 1.2 miles in 10 minutes. 151 calories. Meh.
I walked over to the crew of dudes who were somewhat taunting me like jocks in high school making fun of the kid who played piccolo in the band. Why were they here? What did they want? I quickly found out.
“Where did you get a pair of Oden’s?” The leader asked.
As his crew looked down at my shoes, the laughs and taunts continued.
“Nice choice, bro!”
For some reason, I was facing ridicule for Greg Oden’s injury-prone career… as if I had been Greg Oden. It didn’t make any sense. So, as I have always tended to do, I made a humorous jibe about the situation.
“Yeah, I got these when he was the biggest prospect in basketball, alright? I could afford one dope pair of shoes, and I fucked up and chose these, OK? Whatchu think, I can afford a pair of Kevin Durant’s?”
The guys laughed. They high-fived. They made me feel better. They were funny, and seemingly down to Earth. And then, maybe as a kind gesture – or just as a way to see how terrible I was as a basketball player – they invited me to come get into a quick game of pick-up hoop in the main gym.
A lump appeared in my throat… Could I hang with these trees? Was my game on their level? I mean, if my shot was on, I might be able to put up a few buckets… but if my nerves got the better of me, I risked the horror of becoming known as the “Greg Oden of the YMCA…”
Painted in a corner, I said OK, and I tightened my $130 shoes and walked out towards the basketball court – convinced that I was about to get schooled by a bunch of guys who probably played division I, NBA D-league or even overseas basketball.
The tip-off was the first sign of the ring of hell that I had entered. After Fez from our team won the tip, a guy named Derrick told Fez that the ball wasn’t thrown up “evenly.” A huge shit-talk session began for the next three minutes and we weren’t even past the tip-off. I had seen these trash-talker games before. Basically, a lot of guys call fouls on every play and their opponents complain about the calls. The games take forever to finish because nobody ever actually plays, they just spend most of the time jawing at each other. It sucks to play in and to watch. I immediately knew it would be that kind of game. After we held a re-jump ball, nearly every two or three trips up the court ended in a heated smack talk exchange.
“Hell, no, THAT’S A FOUL!” Yelled a guy called Jay Reezy who was covering up his embarrassing air-ball.
“Foul… and one,” screamed Joelle as his ball clanged off the rim.
“Man, get yo hand off my dick!” shouted Lorenzo, after I cleanly swiped the basketball from his hands. Yes, it was clean, but he accused me not only of the foul, but of molestation. They took the ball back and scored on sheer intimidation factor on the next play. The reality of YMCA pick-up basketball had set in. When Lorenzo yelled, “I’ma KILL you mother fucka” to oue sidwline coach Jerome who called a traveling violation on a jump shot, it vaguely reminded me of that scene from White Men Can’t Jump (A film that director Ron Shelton actually envisioned while playing on the same Hollywood YMCA courts I was playing on) when Marques Johnson’s character went to his glove compartment to get a gun to settle a dispute. I believe the line was “I’m gonna get my other gun and I’m shooting you AND him…”
Whatever the case, I was scared – and I did my best “hide around the three-point line and pray that nobody wants me to shoot” routine. Woody Harrelson, I was not. Amazingly enough, I did attempt one three-pointer… And I somehow nailed it.
As the game wore on, I notched up another bucket on an inside pump fake that got the team yelling “Nice one, Oden!” As I spent a minute jogging back on defense, I couldn’t help but notice as a guy named Red flew by me and converted a lay-up against an older center whom I had recognized from Tuesday’s game. As I threw the ball in, I jokingly told him, “You should’ve called a foul.”
He smiled and passed the ball up to the front court.
The game turned out to be the longest pick-up game I have ever played in. There was more chatter, more arguing, more fouls called, more shit-talking and more disagreements than I have seen even in my six-year-old son’s Junior Lakers League. It was like playing against spoiled teenagers, and I wanted to fake an injury just to not play anymore… Still, it was the big league players at the YMCA… and I was hanging.
When the buzzer sounded, we were shuffled off the court for the next crew of five. We had lost 21 – 17… and even though I only scored five points, I honestly felt like I had played better than some of the trash-talking intimidators who had been there dealing handfuls of smack to our opponents. I was inspired and convinced that after a little practice, I might be able to step back in to bang with these big boys. Following the game, when coach Jerome invited me to sub on their YMCA league team the following Saturday morning, I knew I had proven myself as somewhat of a baller… I was shocked and flattered, and I responded to his request with a foolish exclamation of “dope!”
I immediately felt like an idiot.
I came home and informed my wife that I had made the team… Sort of. I mentioned that I was invited to substitute for another player and that I needed to be on my A-game on Saturday morning. My wife, an actual high school female basketball All-State player seemed impressed. The stage was set. I had a league game on Saturday! No news yet on if I’d be starting… But I was nervous as shit.
I decided that a quick pick-up game in the Jewish Basketball League wouldn’t hurt my confidence either.
Back in 2000 or so, I was a terror on the courts of the Jewish Basketball League. My old roommate Mike and I had been a lethal inside-outside combination, and even though I would enter most games sweating beer and whiskey from the night before, our Stephen S. Wise Matzah Ballers defeated the Temple Hess Kramer Lions handily for three years straight. Many of our players have gone on to Hollywood success, some are still playing and others are long gone from the city… Still, I always knew in the back of my head that if there was a place to regain my basketball confidence, it was the Jewish league. A run I specifically refer to as “Heeb Hoops.”
Thursday evening, I rolled into the Michael Milken gymnasium wearing a Carmelo Anthony Denver Nuggets jersey and cradling a Vita-Coco water. My old roommate Mike was still running the league. Not much seemed different – except for the fact that Mike was now sporting a “Rip Hamilton Face Mask” that he had been fitted with following his fourth broken nose in Jewish basketball games. (Shockingly, the nose-break is a very popular Jewish basketball injury.)
Mike gave me a silent head nod as I surveyed the competition before warming up. Convincing myself that these young players had nothing on my storied Jewish Basketball League career, I shot a few jumpers, ran some drills and worked on my left-handed penetration – a skill I had been lacking since those JV days back in high school. By the time I was allowed to get in the run, I was on top of the world. And it showed. I shook Gabe Friedman on a crossover that gave us a two-point lead. Mike fed me a pass and Jordan Mogelwitz fell for my pump-fake and ended up watching me bank in a 7-footer on his left. Even Raphie Spiegel bit on my daring long-range three that tied the game at 16 before my old homeboy Mike crossed-over a college kid and put us up by a bucket. Mike and I ended the run with a classic give and go – punctuated by his three-pointer that won us the game. Mike and I celebrated, exchanged awkward 37-year-old dap handshakes and chest-bumps. I had 9 of our points. Mike had 12. It was 2000 all over again. We even smoked a joint in the parking lot afterwards and made stoned plans to form a team that had a shot at winning the coveted “Dead Sea Cup” in the fall. It was amazing. I got home, showered and went to bed, convinced that by Saturday, I would be running YMCA regulars up and down the court beginning at the first whistle.
Oh how wrong I was.
The YMCA league resembled the All-Valley Karate Championship from the film Karate Kid. Some dudes were mad-dogging any potential challengers like Johnny Lawrence did Daniel Laruso. Teams were stretching and warming up like it was the Final Four. Guys with prison-shaped muscles ran “suicide” drills and barked out orders towards their teams. I recognized DeMar the shredded dunker from the YMCA working on his through-the-legs jam during a lay-up drill. Some other players from the YMCA were there too, representing different branches. We were Hollywood, but there was definitely a Downtown crew and an intimidating looking Westside team. Most of their players all looked bigger and more confident than I did. Even my teammate Fez seemed to be in the zone, dishing out chest passes to our team before noticing my arrival and demanding I let my wife and kid know they had to remain outside the gym until the sidelines were opened up to the public… Somehow, I immediately knew this was a bad idea.
I did not start the game. In fact, I “rode pine” the entire first half, doing what I do best… MOCKING PEOPLE. I reverted to the 13-year-old clown who developed his ESPN-worthy broadcast voice on the bench as the 10th man on his junior high championship team. I regressed into the sophomore who spit funny commentary from the bench as my team lost by 29 to Marana High School. I became the stoner kid from college who skipped our fraternity basketball tournament due to a mushroom hangover… I was simply not taking anything seriously.
“Jesus, I’ve seen better jumpers hooked to the battery of my car,” I announced.
“He couldn’t hit air if he was skydiving,” I offered.
“He’s got more turnovers than a bakery,” I joked, terribly.
I went on and on. Until two minutes before the half when our coach, Jerome, informed me that our leading scorer Gary Vernon had sprained his ankle. I was in at small forward, and that I “better not fuck it up.”
Luckily, with a minute left, I handled my own. I was able to guard their sharp-shooter somewhat easily, at least for 60 seconds, and when the halftime buzzer sounded, I hustled to the sideline, winking at my wife and son, knowing we were up by 8 points.
At halftime, I prayed that Gary would be able to return. Unfortunately, he told coach Jerome he was out. I was summoned to start the second half and I told him I was ready to answer the call.
The second half was reminiscent of the YMCA pick-up game I witnessed a few days before. Smack was talked, play was delayed, but luckily, the presence of referees helped move the action along. A minute in, and I got passed the ball for the first time. I looked inside, but had no outlet. I took a few dribbles around the perimeter before handing the ball off to our point guard. He drove the lane and was quickly rejected… the ball bounced towards me. Wide open outside of the three-point line. Now, in my life, I have performed for crowds as big as 1500 people. I have no fear of the spotlight. I embrace. It. So of course, at that very moment, I did what any lifelong performer would do… I froze.
Like a statue. Good old DeMar ran up and swiped the ball from me before beasting towards the other side of the court where he easily converted a tomahawk rim-rocker that brought the crowd to its feet. I was suddenly, the worst player on the court. I felt that familiar lump return to my throat. Sure, I could perform music and comedy in front of 1000 people, but when 18 folks – including my wife and son – were standing on a nearby sideline, I had no idea how to execute anything. The floodgates of failure had been opened.
DeMar went on a scoring tear. 12 points in under five minutes. Our eight point lead became a four point deficit. Game was 21… It was 17-13.
I felt the crowd getting into the game. I looked towards my bench and saw Gary glaring at me – as if I had stuck his pet kitten in a microwave. It was not exactly the teammate support I was looking for. As I tried to juke the opposing team with some cross-pattern routes I remembered from high school ball, I was checked by a player and felt like I had run into a concrete wall. I staggered back slightly, a bit dazed but conscious, before looking up to see Fez’s missed three-pointer bounce my way. I turned my body asunder – if only to imitate the Lebron James and Magic Johnson moves I had grown up worshiping, and felt an inescapable lack of confidence when I sent a lazy pass over the lane intended for a guy named Rick Cahill. Unfortunately, that pass was read with precision by DeMar.
I made the mistake of chasing him down the court. By the time I had come close to catching up with his super-human speed, he was already 39 inches in the air… I lept up as well, and thought for a second that I might have a chance at slapping the ball out of his hands. Instead, what happened will forever be known as the worst sports moment in my life.
He threw down a one-handed fiendishly brutish ogre-fuck of a dunk. The ball thunderously cascaded off of my head. It ricocheted against the back wall and sadly crept towards the exit of the gym before pausing against a stranger’s bag – almost as if it had been shot by a hunter with a cross-bow. It did everything but deflate itself and bleed to death. Coach Jerome called a very necessary time-out.
A few minutes later, we lost 21 – 13. I looked over towards my wife and son. She had already taken him out of the gym as if to not force him to watch any more of the carnage. Our players threw water bottles at the bench and cursed to each other. They asked Gary about his ankle and offered him 50 solutions to get it to heal. They swallowed Gatorade and water without making any eye contact with me and exited quickly and quietly. Before coach Jerome could leave the gym, I yelled out at him.
“What time’s game next week?”
Jerome looked back to me and offered, “You don’t have a game next week…”
As DeMar disappeared to the sidelines and put on a pair of Beats by Dr. Dre, I stood up and made my way down to the locker room to shower. As I walked inside, I could hear many of the members talking about DeMar’s dunk and how incredible it was. When I passed the crew of players tightly seated in a circle, I noticed they were watching something on one of their iphones… Sure enough, it was the dunk. Someone had filmed him taking flight and macerating the rim at my expense. I quickly turned away from the viewing and tried my best to tip-toe back out of the door. Before I could escape, one of the guys called after me.
“Yo, dude!” He said. “Quick question for ya…”
I stopped in my tracks and turned around, afraid of what insulting low blow he would send my way. Anticipating the worst, I took a deep breath and awaited sure insult and humiliation. Finally, he spoke.
“Are you wearing Greg Oden’s?”
I cracked a meek smile and threw my towel over my shoulder.
“Only until I can afford a pair of Sam Bowie’s,” I joked.
The guys chuckled, probably because they felt sorry for me, but it was enough to show that I wasn’t taking any of this stuff that seriously.
As they replayed the dunk over and over on the iphone, I slipped out the door and called my wife. She answered the phone by saying, “I’m sorry.”
We spoke for a minute about everything but the game. What we needed at the store, what time the kids needed to be dropped off at practice… even what Netflix we wanted to order. It was a nice distraction and one that took my mind off my embarrassing moment on the court a few minutes earlier.
I drank some water and said good-bye to some of the other players who were on their way out of the locker room. I looked around the YMCA and quietly announced my retirement from the basketball league to nobody in particular. It was rather unnecessary, but it felt better to say it out loud.
And then I went upstairs to run on the treadmill.
Zach Selwyn October 23, 2012
To read Mike’s wife cute blog entry on Mike’s mask itself – click here – THE FACE MASK
No, not as a favor to a relative… This is a job I am contractually obligated to do. A job I consented to nine years ago. A job that will pay me to slow dance with a 95-year-old great-grandmother as “What a Wonderful World” careens throughout the ballroom of the Calabasas Marriott Hotel. A job that is part of an occupation so nerve-wracking and terrifying, that I once swore I would never do again. Here’s the deal…
Apparently, I did such a good job of emceeing Goldie Thalberg’s Princess Fairy Tale Bat Mitzvah Celebration in 2003, that her father – Alan – had booked me to be a part of his youngest child Max’s Bar Mitzvah – for the upcoming date of September 29, 2012… According to my old boss, Mike, I took a $1000 booking fee in 2003 – and signed a contract. I have absolutely no recollection of this event whatsoever, but Mike said that if I returned the1000 bucks, I could get out of the commitment… Unfortunately, thus far in 2012, I have made a grand total of 329 dollars.
Looks like I’m doing the Bar Mitzvah.
My career shifted right around the time of the Goldie Thalberg party, I was given a small break on television and I began working somewhat consistently – for channels like ESPN, G4 and Discovery Channel. I have not emceed a Bar or Bat Mitzvah since. I actually thought I was out of the game forever. I have not thought about Bar Mitzvahs at all – and in fact – I haven’t even been to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah since 2003. And I couldn’t be happier…
For seven years, it was my only job.
See, from late 1997 to December 2003, I was a part of one of the biggest Bar/Bat Mitzvah/Wedding party planning companies in the world. We controlled the party business in southern California, sending out charismatic party emcees and hot female dancers, adequate young DJ’s and aging cheese-meisters with grease-pan hairdo’s to turn boring parties into the greatest celebrations of a family’s life. The company was called You Should Be Dancing – and at one point, I was a high-ranking performer, desired and requested by Jewish families alike across the expansive California landscape. I sacrificed my Saturday nights for paychecks soaring well into the low four-figure range – all while making a fool of myself in front of a bunch of smiling Jews and their awkward offspring. From Candlelighting ceremonies to mother-son dances, I witnessed it all. The stories are endless and the experience was invaluable, but in 2003, the minute I saw even a slight crack in the window to try and escape, I did – and I never once looked back. Until my old boss called me last week.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me!” I said to Mike, my onetime supervisor. “When did I do this kid’s sister’s party?”
“2003, Zach,” Mike responded. “You need to call them and start working out the details… unless you just want to return the thousand bucks.”
Hmm. Return the 1000 bucks? The bottom line is, that thousand dollars was spent long ago when I used to have something called “money” in the bank. Long before kindergarten cost 25 grand per year – and way before I knew that “escrow” was an actual thing – not Sheryl Crow’s “hip-hop name.”
Did I have the thousand bucks? Are you kidding me? My wife and I are currently scrambling to refinance our house with some bullshit 2009 Obama-bank Re-Fi that we have been rejected for nine times already. I owe my kid’s dentist $847 for my son’s eight – yes EIGHT – cavities he had filled last month… (For the record, I have never had a cavity in my life, and my kid has brushed his teeth twice a day for 5 years… I am sending this quack to the board for review). I even owe my 90-year-old grandmother five grand because she executive produced the last CD my band put out. (According to my itunes sales, it has netted me negative -3,988 dollars since its release in 2010).
Right now, it’s looking like I am going to have to emcee Max Thalberg’s Bar Mitzvah… And I am scared shitless.
Back in the day, I had a pretty impressive Bar Mitzvah routine. It was cheesy and full of feigned spontaneity, but it worked almost every night. It always started with a traditional Jewish Horah, and went into me leading a choreographed dance to Think by Aretha Franklin -which was then masterfully mixed into the YMCA and The Time Warp. Then, I’d drop the CD in the tray for a hip, new rap dance song like Gettin’ Jiggy With it before closing the set with a popular funny jam like Stacy’s Mom by Fountains of Wayne. Then came the obligatory Sinatra send-off to get people to their tables for their salads, before I would toss on James Taylor’s Greatest Hits and hit the open bar for about 5 double bourbon and ginger ales. I’m guessing that the scene may have changed a bit since then.
“Look, Zach – I’ll send you out with our hippest DJ and some glow-sticks to give away,” Mike promised. ”It’ll come right back to you, you’ve always been a natural performer.”
“I don’t know, Mike, I’m so off on the new music and everything,” I said. “Is Mase still popular?”
“I doubt it… But don’t worry, we have a bunch of Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West and Fun and all that new stuff… you’ll be fine.”
I took a deep breath. Who the hell is Fun?
“How much am I making again?” I asked.
“Well, since you already took the advance, I’ll pay you what all the emcees get these days… $250.”
250 bucks. Not bad for a night’s work, but the pressure and anxiety I used to face preparing for and executing these parties was already beginning to creep back up on me. I wasn’t sure if it was worth it. I opened a bottle of red wine before stumbling upstairs to give my kids a bath. As I soaked them in the tub, I sipped the congenial, crimson liquid and leaned back… wondering how the hell my life had led me back here.
The first time I had to emcee a Bar Mitzvah was when I was 22-years-old. It was a Saturday night, the first summer I was spending in the real world after college, and most of my friends were out at the beach, sucking down Mexican beer and talking to beautiful women, deciding between playing the Rolling Stones or Snoop Dogg on some jukebox. I was stuck in a $50 tuxedo talking to a 13-year-old girl about which song I was going to play next: Barbie Girl by Aquaor MMMBop by Hanson. That night, as the familiar words to “Hava Nagilah” crusaded off the back wall of the party room at Temple Adat Elohim, I nervously took the microphone and was forced to direct the Horah dance as best I could. I had the men grasp hands and come to the middle, circle to the left, stop and clap, circle to the right… I even had to bring in a chair on which to seat little Joshy Schnozzleman as he was hoisted into the ceiling by a bunch of inebriated uncles and proud parents. I was 22 and nervous, breaking a debilitating sweat and completely unable to grasp the concept that I had graduated USC two months earlier with a Broadcast Journalism degree – and was now officially a “Bar Mitzvah Emcee.” I gave myself three months at the job, thinking in the back of my head that some great acting job would come along and take me away from Bar Mitzvah hell…
Little did I know, this would be my profession during my 20’s. Mike even coined a phrase for all of the employees. We had to refer to ourselves as the “Pied Pipers of Party People.” I am not kidding.
By my second year into the job, I had made some good friends. We were all actors and musicians, and we had a job that allowed us to get to auditions during the week and make a decent living on the weekends. Plus, once we figured out a way to have bartenders serve us alcohol during parties, the job eased up and became a lot more fun… And then the incredible stories started coming out.
At a wedding in 1999, a DJ named Ronnie Jacobs had sex with a bride ten minutes after her first dance in a broom closet.
Rick Freed slept with a 45-year-old mother of the Bat Mitzvah girl while meeting her to organize the slide show.
Brad Billings got paid $1000 to show a woman his dick at a wedding.
It went on and on.
The name that was thrown around the You Should Be Dancing offices nearly every day, was Paul Rudd. Apparently, in 1994 or so, Paul had worked at the company as a DJ and emcee before getting his break in the film Clueless. We all aspired to be Paul Rudd, and looked at this job as a launching pad to our acting careers. (Years later, when I interviewed Paul Rudd, I mentioned to him that I used to work at the same company he did… He laughed and asked me how I “got out.” – Like I had broken out of a Civil War prison camp or something). I even saw Paul on a late night talk show spinning stories from his days on the Bar Mitzvah circuit, and even those yarns were entirely inspiring to every one of us.
If he could get out, we all could…
After overdrawing my bank account for a Trader Joe’s purchase, I realized that there was no way out of the party. Thankfully, it was then that I realized that this could, in fact, be a great opportunity. After all, I had met plenty of Hollywood folks at parties over the years – maybe someone would like my dance rendition of Greased Lightning and offer me a walk-on role on Two Broke Girls? Heck, I used to DJ Bar Mitzvahs that Jonah Hill attended… back when he was the funny fat kid who ate all the dreidel-shaped sugar cookies. Maybe this party would open an unexpected door that I hadn’t even considered? I immediately called Mike and told him I was on the job. He gave me the Thalberg’s number and I dialed it up, preparing to fill out the typical Bar Mitzvah worksheet I used to live my life by all those years ago.
Here goes… I thought to myself.
“Hello?” Alan Thalberg said as he picked up his phone.
I promptly hung up.
Nervous and anxious, I decided to look up my old friend Rick Freed on Facebook and see if he was still working in the business. Sure enough, he was. He had branched out and started his own company called “FREED YOUR MIND” and was doing quite well. I messaged him and gave him my number. He called me within two minutes.
“Zach!” He screamed. “Dude! I saw you on TV last month! You’re killing it, dude! How’s life?”
“Not bad, Rick, how are you?” I asked.
“Still sleeping with Bar Mitzvah moms, bro!”
I was taken aback. Was he serious? Was he still in the game of Bar Mitzvah MILF hunting? He must be 42 or 43 by now… hadn’t the whole novelty of that all worn off?
Rick updated me on some of our old friends from the business: Good old Ronnie Jacobs got fired in 2005 when he hit on a girl who turned out to be 16-years-old. He thought she was 25. Turns out, she was a high school junior with an Accutane prescription. Last he heard, Ronnie was DJ-ing at the Spearmint Rhino strip club in the valley.
Brad Billings was a weatherman in Piggott, Arkansas. He had 5 kids.
Rick was, indeed, still sleeping with Bar Mitzvah moms.
“Wow, man… that’s crazy,” I offered. “Listen… I have to do a Bar Mitzvah next week and I’m a little rusty… can you help me out?”
Rick greeted me with silence. His heavy breathing sounded beleaguered as he slowly let his voice drop to a whisper.
“Are you serious, man? I don’t have any positions to hire you…”
“No, no -it’s not like that, man – I made a promise to a family nine years ago that I’d do their son’s party and, well… it’s been nine years. I have to emcee a week from Saturday. I was hoping you could give me some tips.”
Rick proceeded to break it all down for me. He was a lifesaver. His main point was that nothing had changed but the pop music. The dance moves were all the same, the Candlelighting ceremony and mother-son dance hadn’t changed – and they even still played Donna Summer’s Last Dance to close the night. The only thing I might need to do is help the dancers lead a choreographed routine to “All the Single Ladies” by Beyonce.
“Watch the video on YouTube and learn the moves,” he said. “Kids LOVE it.”
You have got to be kidding me.
After thanking Rick profusely and promising him I’d meet him for a beer in the next couple of weeks, I felt somewhat relieved that I might still be able to pull off the YMCA and Grease songs, but that All the Single Ladies idea scared me blind. I quickly Googled the video and began yelling at my wife across the house as I witnessed Beyonce and her dance partners do things the human body was never supposed to do.
“White people aren’t supposed to move like this!!” I screamed.
I finally called Alan Thalberg, who it turns out, had been shocked that I was still available. He promised me a fun night – and said that his kid Max was trying to get him to throw a Playboy Magazine- themed party. He wanted to hire actual Playmates to walk around and dance the Horah in a throne rather than a chair – all while wearing a monogrammed Hugh Hefner-inspired bathrobe instead of a suit.
Max was my kind of dude.
Over the next week, I organized a musical playlist and rented a tuxedo. I learned maybe 4 moves by Beyonce and just accepted the fact that my performance was going to suck. I asked Mike to have the DJ bring the equipment so I didn’t have to lug it all around, and he told me that it was all done on laptops these days. The 350-pound equipment I used to have to carry around was long gone. Everything could be run off of an amp and a MacBook Pro. I cursed the hernia I got from this job in 1998.
When Saturday came around, I avoided drinking beer and watching football during the day so that I would be on my game that night. I combed my hair, brushed up on some Travolta steps from Grease and left two hours early to guarantee I wouldn’t be late.
When I got to the Calabasas Marriott, it was as if had entered a time warp. The same worrisome caterers were arguing over how to plate the chicken. The uptight party planner stressed out over where the chicken fingers and pizza would be stationed during the kids dinner. Even the photographer, who had long given up his dream of becoming the next Walter Iooss, jr. in favor of party photography – looked the same. It was a black hole into 2003… Except now, I had less hair and no idea what these kids were listening to anymore.
When I got to meet Max, I didn’t remember him. After all, he was four-years-old when we had first met. He took me aside and told me how he had originally wanted a Playboy-themed party. Instead, his parents had forced him to have a Hunger Games theme.
“Totally gay,” Max said, the way only a 13-year-old can. “I hated that lame movie.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen…” I began, my palms sweating as the first crowd entered the room. “Welcome to Max’s Hunger Games! Please choose a weapon from the guest table and proceed to your local DISTRICT… also known as your TABLE!”
These are the exact moments why I quit the business for good.
The DJ I had been assigned to work with was named Gus. He was 23 and told me he was really an actor – but was only doing this job for a few months until “his career took off.” I laughed and wished him luck. I made sure he knew the routine… How to transition from the Horah into the YMCA, etc. and he told me not to worry. In fact, he had cued up every song on his laptop to play back-to-back.
“All I have to do is press one button, and we can coast until the salads are served,” he said. “It’s what all the big DJ’s do too, like Skrillex and David Guetta – it’s all total show. They get pad two million dollars to play a pre-recorded EDM track on their laptops.”
Even though I had no idea what EDM was, I thought back to how miserable we used to have it. I used to make sure I had a WALKMAN on stand-by with cassettes in case of emergencies. I dealt with CDs skipping, levels dropping unexpectedly and bad beat mixes between songs. Occasionally, music would come to a complete stop in the middle of a pulsating dance set… It was a DJ nightmare, and we dealt with it all the time. I used to have anxiety dreams about it the night before parties… Now, all Gus had to worry about was pressing one button. Spoiled little prick.
As Max and his friends took their seats at the Katniss Everdeen Table I suddenly caught the eye of a fantastically stunning brunette in a blue ball gown. She was probably 21, and her flirtatious gaze caught me off guard. What was this girl doing at a party like this? It was Saturday night! She should be out hitting the clubs… dating Charlie Sheen… whatever! She was radiant and young, sexy and enticing. And she was walking towards me…
“Hey Zach,” She said, coyly.
It was then that I realized. This sparkling gem of a female was none other than Goldie Thalberg. And she was smoking hot.
“Remember me? Goldie?”
I took a step back. Here I was, 37-years-old and married, staring at a perfectly shaped young woman whose Bat Mitzvah I had emceed nine years earlier.
“I go to UCLA now,” she continued. “I kept up with your career! You did some cool stuff on TV! It’s so cool that you’d come back to do Max’s party. Can we take a picture?”
“Uhh, sure,” I said, even though she had already snapped it with her iphone.
She turned back towards her table. I caught her looking over her shoulder a second later.
“Hey, save me a dance, will ya?”
Keep it in your pants, Selwyn…
As the evening rolled along and I found myself having no problem with the old routine, I did notice one peculiar thing about the kids. They weren’t interested in glow-sticks and flashy novelty giveaway rings anymore… All they did was TEXT. Every 13-year-old kid had an iPhone and was tweeting, updating a Facebook status and occasionally taking photos. At one point, a group of young girls asked to take my picture. I happily posed for them. They asked if they could “tag” me, and I said sure. For a moment, I actually felt kind of cool! Like I was back relating to the youngsters again, the way I used to do all those years ago…
And then, three minutes later, I got a Facebook update. They had tagged me on their page as “The douchey emcee at Max’s Bar Mitzvah.”
Following my terrible rendition of “All the Single Ladies,” where I just gave up halfway through, I found myself leading a “snowball” dance amongst the kids, where everyone changes partners. It was then that Goldie Thalberg asked me to dance. I obliged, and we awkwardly embraced in that junior high way that hormone-ravaged‘tweens often do. As I spun her in a swing-dance pattern, as a way to keep things lighthearted, I happened to catch Alan Thalberg’s eye. His furious squint said it all. He gave me a signal that I quickly read as “Get the fuck away from my daughter.”
I turned to Gus and told him, “Play anything fast – NOW!”
He did. Goldie went to eat dessert and I snuck off to the bar for a double bourbon and ginger ale.
“Dude, you’re not allowed to drink at parties,” Gus told me nervously.
Two drinks later, the party was in full swing. Max shot fake Hunger Games arrows at his family during the Candlelighting ceremony and Goldie got sick and apparently puked up champagne in the bathroom. As the four-hour extravaganza came to a close, I was relieved when I turned to Gus and announced, “Play Last Dance.”
Moments later, the party came to a superbly happy end. The guests sauntered back to their cars and into the San Fernando Valley night as Gus and I went to the bar for a beer before leaving. As per tradition, Alan Thalberg came up to us with cash tips in an envelope.
“Gentlemen, terrific job tonight,” he said.
“Thanks so much,” I responded.
“Zach, at least three of my friend’s have kids Max’s age and were asking if you’d be available in the next few months… I’ll pass along your number if you like…”
I swallowed my beer and looked at Alan. Was he serious? Suddenly, I was back on top! The one time king of the Bar Mitzvah had returned! I was in demand! For the first time in about nine years, I recalled that feeling of accomplishment and recognition after a live performance… That sense that I had brought happiness to the family and had been admired by the crowd… It felt good. Almost like I was willing to step back in the Bar Mitzvah emcee game once again… And after all, you never get cash tips after you nail a take on TV.
“Uhm, you know what, Alan… sure!” I said. “Give my number to whoever you want!”
Alan thanked us again and walked away. I watched Gus gobble an olive from the bar tray before looking up from his iPhone.
“Can I ask you a question?” Gus said.
“Sure,” I responded.
“How old are you?”
“37, wow! I hope I’m not still doing parties when I’m your age!” He said.” No offense, but I’m like, with the best agent now… and I’m doing a sketch show at UCB…”
“You sound a lot like me when I was your age,” I said.
Gus rambled on about how a girl from his acting class had co-starred on “Rules of Engagement” and how he hated reality TV – and then he said something that made me want to punch him in the nose.
“Did you know that Paul Rudd used to work at the company?” He blurted. “Can you believe that? He’s like, a comedy legend, bro!”
I slammed what remained of my beer and patted Gus firmly on the shoulder. I sauntered back to the DJ booth to gather my car keys and jacket. As I strolled out to the parking lot, I took one look back at the cracked façade of the one-time famed Calabasas Marriott Hotel.
A familiar thought rushed over me…
I am never doing one of these fucking parties again…