written by Zach Selwyn. Dir. by Adam Siegel.
In 1983, when I was eight-years-old, I almost played on a youth soccer team called “Anderson’s Muffler Divers.”
Until all the moms of our players put a stop to the whole thing.
Back in Tucson, Arizona in the early 1980’s – local businesses were petitioned to lend their names and sponsorship to our youth soccer teams. The small eight team league was composed of roughly 100 kids aging from 7-10-years-old. If you sponsored a team, you chose the name. Some businesses had teams every year – like the “Windsor Real Estate Falcons,” “The Century 21 Strikers” and the Eegee’s Sandwich Shop Cosmos.” I was placed on the “I Can’t Believe it’s Yogurt Eagles” before they pulled their sponsorship and left my neighborhood team without a name or financial backer just before the 1983 season started.
Enter Ron Anderson.
Ron Anderson was in his mid 30’s and was the proud owner of “Anderson’s Mufflers” on Tanque Verde Road. His feathered hair, tight coach’s shorts and high socks made him quite a looker around the little league banquets and kid’s pool parties held in our tiny neighborhood. His moustache was a dirty brown and his Aviator sunglasses were just cool enough to make him appear more Magnum P.I. and less “Dad from Family Ties.”
Ron Anderson’s son David was in my 3rd grade class. He was undoubtedly the best soccer player on our team – and was known for scoring four goals in a game the previous season. He had a BMX bike that we all envied and was training his hardest at becoming a car mechanic – so as to take over his dad’s business. His parents were still married, but the rumors had been circling for a while that Ron had a girlfriend on the side up in Tempe, where he often attended car conventions. Aside from that, they were a middle class working family with enough money to get by in Reagan-era America.
When Ron was approached about sponsoring our team, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I’m excited to have a team picture of the boys up in the shop,” he commented to my father. “Always good for business.”
Ron was in. However, he had his own idea of what to call the team.
“I’ll deliver the uniforms a week before our first game,” he said. “You’re gonna love the name I came up with.
Meanwhile, we all wondered what our team was going to be called. Some kids pined for “The Jedis.” Others wanted to be called “The Assassins” or “The Rappers.” None of were expecting what Ron Anderson had in mind.
“We were all a little taken aback by his choice,” my dad recollected a few days ago, nearly 33 years after Ron had delivered his news. “We certainly didn’t think it was appropriate for 8-year-olds to be on a team with that name.”
I laughed. I recalled the warm Thursday evening after practice when Ron opened up a box of uniforms for all of us to see. Like most kids, we scrambled to get our favorite numbers. (I was always #3 – you know, because of Babe Ruth) and we held up our jerseys with pride. Pride that would soon turn to confusion and bemusement.
“Anderson’s Muffler Divers?” My buddy Todd said.
“What’s a Muffler Diver?” Our goalie Jeff asked.
I watched our coach’s face sink. He knew something we didn’t and he took Ron on a long walk around the practice field.
From 100 yards away, we heard some arguing and yelling. We were able to make out “It’s my team and I’ll call them what I want to!”
Meanwhile, some kids were on their way home with jerseys in hand. My dad picked me up and I showed him my jersey.
“We’re called the ‘Muffler Divers!” I said.
“Oh Jesus,” He responded.
My mom had a similar reaction. She got on the phone with a bunch of other moms, including my best friend Trey’s mom, Candy, who demanded that a team meeting be held the next evening.
All this time, my friends and I had no idea what was going on. No internet, no cool older brothers to offer advice and no way of figuring this out… Until Jeff’s cousin from Florida told him that the phrase came from the actor Cheech’s license plate in the Cheech and Chong Movie Up in Smoke.
The next day, someone was able to get a VHS copy of Up in Smoke from the local video store. I was not allowed to watch it, but the talk at school the next day was that the movie was about smoking pot. A lot of pot. And that Cheech had a license plate that said “MUF DVR.” We were all still confused. What did this all mean? The VHS tape was eventually confiscated by my friend Trey’s mom.
“In one week, my son went from a gifted student to asking me about smoking pot and what a ‘muff diver’ was,” Trey’s mom said.
“Ron Anderson is a pig,” my mom chimed in.
“We need a new sponsor immediately,” Jeff’s mom demanded.
On the Friday before our game, a 6th grader named Ricky rounded us up on the playground and enlightened us to what a “muff diver” actually was. Of course, we were all grossed out by it, but the damage had been done. Our innocent thoughts had turned dirty for one week, and for the next decade or so, all of my friends had a pretty good laugh about Ron Anderson’s failed attempt at corrupting the youth of southern Arizona soccer. Trey sent me this t-shirt a few years ago…
Before our game on Saturday, Ron Anderson’s sponsorship was pulled. His son David remained on our team, mainly because he was our best player, but Ron was banned from all games and practices. Sadly, in the short amount of time it took us to hear that we had lost Anderson’s Mufflers as our sponsor, we were forced to design our own jerseys using magic marker and white t-shirts. We became the “Cloud Road Assassins.”
A few days later, Roger Dowd, a local business owner, offered up his store as our sponsor. We were re-named “Roger’s Boutique Blasters” and away we went. We finished in second place in the league that year.
Anderson’s Mufflers is now a gas station. Ron Anderson is apparently up in the Phoenix area and as hard as I have tried to track down his son David, I can’t seem to find him on social media. Anderson’s Muffler Divers never became a team, but it did manage to show us what a tight knit community of parents could accomplish when they are forced to protect their children.
In the meantime, my son just got the word that he finds out what his youth basketball team is going to be called next week…
As long as it’s not “Ted’s Clam Slammers,” I think I’ll be fine with whatever they choose…
BUY ZACH’S BOOK at Amazon!
I have been a hip-hop fan since the time I was given the first RUN-DMC cassette for my birthday in 1984. I dove into rap music full-fledged and became a true wannabe emcee once the Beastie Boys made white, Jewish rappers cool a couple of years later. I have every great hip-hop classic on vinyl. I stream the newest stuff that comes out within 24 hours of its release and I still get excited when I hear that De La Soul is touring or that there is a Wordstarhiphop video of a “weave snatch” at Drake’s latest pool party.
So, imagine my elation when my boss at my job asked me to work with a one-time super famous gangsta rapper for our website… and even gave me a budget to approach him with.
For the sake of this piece – (and for my safety as a human being) – let’s call this rapper “SEISMIC.” Seismic is one of those rap stars who had a lot of hits in the 90’s, but is now out of the music game altogether. Gangsta rap is all but extinct and even though Seismic has appeared on a few reality shows in the past few years, including one where he attempted to become a professional dog-walker that never aired, I was a lifelong fan and couldn’t wait to work with him.
“What should we get Seismic to do for us?” I asked my boss.
“I think it would be funny to have him read the children’s book Goodnight Moon,” my boss suggested.
The idea was approved and through a connection, I was able to obtain Seismic’s manager’s information. He went strictly by the name “Dope Green.” I dialed up his phone on a Monday morning, hoping to close the deal by the end of the week.
“Who dis?” A terse voice greeted me with.
“Hi, my name is Zach Selwyn from TBS Digital,” I said.
“We already got cable,” the voice said.
“No, no… I’m from TBS – I’m calling about hiring Seismic to do some web stuff for us? Is this Dope Green?”
“Oh shit. Hole up.”
I waited on the other end of the phone for what seemed like an eternity. I was obviously muted, because all I heard was silence. For eight minutes. Finally, Dope Green returned.
“What’s the deal?” He said. I don’t wanna do any talking over the phone, can you come through to our spot? We in a small warehouse by the Burbank Airport…”
I was beginning to feel like I was a molly dealer who had to drive to deliver pills to some video set. I asked my boss if I could leave to go meet Seismic and his crew. He said no.
I told Dope Green that I was not able to leave the office.
“Shit. Let me call you back from my burner phone then.”
A few minutes later, a blocked number rang up my cell phone and I explained that we wanted Seismic to read Goodnight Moon to camera. The entire process would not take more than a minute and we had real money to offer him. Five thousand dollars.
Dope Green laughed.
“You from TBS? Like the network? And you tryin’ to pull off Seismic for five G’s?” He said. “Seismic don’t do shit for less that 50 thousand… And we need crisp hunneds – in a bag. That’s how we do business,” he said.
50 K? To read a children’s book on camera? For a rapper who hadn’t had a hit since Tupac was alive? As excited as I was to work with Seismic, I had no choice but to turn down his demands.
“Sorry, Mr. Green, but 50 grand is way out of our budget,” I replied.
“Go call Ja Rule then,” he said. And hung up.
I started sweating. Not because I was nervous that I wasn’t going to get my job finished, but because I truly felt like there was a chance that Seismic’s manager was going to send some lead pipe carrying mother-fuckers after me. I went back to my boss and asked if we could sweeten the pot a little bit to get him to read the book.
“I guess we could double it,” my boss said.
“What about the ‘crisp hunneds,’” I asked. Can I go to the bank and cash a check or something?
“Are you kidding? Tell him we need a 1099 or W-2. There is no way we’re going to pay him cash in a paper bag… get real, man.”
I went back to Dope Green and informed him that the paper bag idea was out. And that we could get him a little more money, but not Seismic’s going rate. I offered 10K.
Dope Green actually said we could try to work something out. BUT, Seismic had some demands. First, he wanted a development deal with the network. Second, he would have full creative control over his original TV show idea, including handling the directing, casting and production of the 13-episode comedy he had in his head. It was Empire meets Friday. A comedy about an aging rapper (Think Chris Tucker as a Warren G. type) on the road trying to get paid. I asked what some of the storylines would be.
“It’s a rapper trying to deal with thirsty hoes, his baby mamas, his bitch ex-wife and a bunch of kids and shit.”
I never got to meet Seismic. When I informed Mr. Green that I had no power in getting TBS to pony up a development deal for him and his TV idea, he told me that I could forget about getting anyone to read Goodnight Moon. Let alone, a rapper as dope as Seismic. The deal was done.
I walked into my boss’ office and told him that deal had gone away. He was disappointed and shook his head, telling me that I should come up with an alternative personality that could read Goodnight Moon for our website.
“I bet Sisqo is available,” I offered.
My boss laughed and turned me down.
I went back to my desk and put on some RUN-D.M.C…
*Get ready for the podcast launch of “Missi and Zach Might Bang!” Follow on Twitter & Instagram! Instagram @mightbang Twitter @mightbang1
My wife recently began complaining about a mysterious “putrid foot stench” emanating from the closet in my 10-year-old son’s room. After moving around some stuffed animals I had used to hide my stash spot, she came upon the source of the funky smells that had started making their way throughout our entire house… She found the shelf where I had been storing all of my son’s old basketball shoes.
My dad got him a tiny pair of Air Jordan XIII’s when he was a baby, which he wore once. His first nice pair of Nikes was a 2010 Air Jordan 2 in the “candy blue” shade, which he wore for about a year. Then, at eight, he scored a slightly worn pair of Lebron Soldiers before moving up to the blue, white and gold Under Armour Steph Curry 2’s. When his foot got too big for those, I treated him to the latest Kyrie Irving Nikes, which he recently outgrew. When we went to a Clippers game, Raymond Felton handed him a pair of his game-worn sweaty shoes (which only ripened with time) and I recently passed him the size 23 XXL Shaquille O’Neal shoe I once drunkenly bought at a silent auction a few years back for $200.00. (Luckily this shoe lives in a glass case).
Since his birth, I have managed to save 11 pairs of outgrown basketball shoes, along with his game worn Felton’s and the Shaq shoe – hoping that one day they might be worth a fortune and possibly cover a few college tuition payments.
However, my plan didn’t exactly win over the entire household.
“Who the hell saves smelly basketball shoes?” My wife asked.
“Trust me, someday they’re gonna be worth a lot of money… People ALWAYS want basketball shoes.”
“Right,” she argued. “Because Nikes with dog shit on the bottom fetch a high price on ebay these days.”
I knew she wouldn’t understand why I was doing this, so I had to tell her the story of my own personal basketball shoe heartbreak…
In 1985, I begged my mom for a pair of the first pair of Royal Blue Nike Air Jordan shoes. The minute I outgrew them, about six months later, my mom sold them to the used clothing store Buffalo Exchange in Tucson for about $3.00. Since my foot was growing at a rapid rate (I had a size 13 by 8th grade) my mom refused to buy me any more expensive basketball footwear until my foot stopped growing.
So, between those amazing blue Air Jordans – and my eventual 1989 Nike Air Flights, I was stuck playing ball in K-Swiss, a $15 pair of Cons and even a horrendous pair of high-top Ponys.
Today, if my mother had saved those original black and blue Air Jordans, they’d probably be worth over $5,000. Instead, they are probably in some desert landfill somewhere, long ago discarded as trash, when it reality, they are some of the rarest collector’s items in the sneaker game today.
If you have ever driven by a store like Supreme or Undefeated on Fairfax Boulevard and seen a line snaking around the corner for 300 yards, you have seen the pop culture phenomenon of sneaker collecting first hand. “Sneakerheads” are people who collect, admire, re-sell and worship sneakers – going so far as to be able to recognize knock-offs from the real deal by the tiniest angle of the tread on the bottom of a pair. The sneaker collecting business is mainly relegated to basketball and skateboarding shoes and some kicks have fetched upwards of 25 grand on ebay and other high-end marketplaces… Shoes like my original blue Air Jordans are in rarified air amongst the sneaker nerds of the world.
Back in 1985, of course, nobody knew this. Kids were busy collecting comic books and baseball cards, not old shoes. My baseball cards are not worth the cardboard they were printed on. My comic books? Let’s just say I saved the wrong ones. (Anyone want to buy a Thundercats #1?) If you were lucky enough to collect basketball cards in the early to mid-80’s, there is a chance you may have a valuable rookie card if you have, say, a Jordan or a Charles Barkley. In reality, most of my friends back then liked basketball, but would have rather owned nine Wally Joyner rookies than a 1984 Sir Charles. So, if you were the kid who collected basketball shoes, you weren’t considered smart, you were considered a hoarder… or just certifiably insane.
“Mom, don’t throw those away!” My son yelled when he saw the stacks of shoes sitting in the “sell back” pile that we bring to a used clothing shop on Larchmont Boulevard every month.
“Oh no, daddy hasn’t got YOU believing this shoe nonsense now too, does he?”
“They could be worth a lot of money!” He cried.
My son gathered his shoes up and walked them back towards his room where he stashed them. I was impressed. He was becoming my little 10-year-old Imelda Marcos.
As my wife watched him, she gave me a death stare and shook her head.
“Look,” she said. “Maybe you should teach him to save something that nobody has thought about saving yet.”
“Like what, Crocs?”
My wife laughed.
“Just something that doesn’t… smell like a feral squirrel crawled into our house and died.”
My wife and I went upstairs and talked to our son about his unique collection of used, sweaty basketball shoes. After some deliberation, it was decided that I would be selling a few select shoes on ebay for him – and that we would put the profits towards some new kicks. His choices were the latest Chris Paul’s, the Kevin Durant KD 9’s or the Russell Westbrook “half boot-half basketball shoe” model that looked like something off of a Bell Biv Devoe album cover from the 90’s.
He adamantly demanded that we not buy him those “Wack-ass James Harden Lunch lady shoes.”
The first shoe I listed on my ebay was his first pair of baby Air Jordan XIII’s. I put an offer up to “Buy it Now” for $50.00.
They sold in 30 minutes…
*Zach Selwyn still owns a pair of Nike Greg Oden shoes from 2008.
Like most of us, I have Googled ex-girlfriends from high school and college to see what they look like now. I’ve found most of them online, to no immediate fanfare – (Other than finding out one girl I made out with in high school is now a grandmother…) – but nobody has captured my social media imagination more than a girl I once dated in 1991 named Jenny Herren.
I have spent the better part of two decades wondering what happened to this girl. I have hunted Linked in, Google images, Myspace and Facebook hoping to see if Jenny was still beautiful, single and yes, even alive. (When I came across an obituary of a Jenny Herren in Houston last year, I was relieved to see that the woman was 89-years-old).
In today’s world, where the Government can track you every time you visit collegeorgy.com, it might seem impossible, but I was convinced that Jenny Herren had no digital footprint.
And then my sister alerted me that she had found her.
Jenny truly blossomed into my boner jam around 1991 when we randomly sat next to each other at a movie theater, watching the film If Looks Could Kill starring Richard Grieco. The film was so terrible, we mocked and heckled it together like we were boyfriend and girlfriend on a regular date. I was sprung, and within a week I had made her a romantic mixtape featuring my “closer songs” (Chris Isaak, Sting, Dire Straits) and had asked her out to the mall the following weekend.
The mall was fun, but I couldn’t get a read on her, so I took it as a sign to not present her the mixtape just yet. It burned a hole in my pocket. I dropped her off without so much as a kiss and went home and scribbled three pages into my journal about her sense of humor, her laugh and – well – her incredible tits.
A week later at a high school football game, I carefully planned a casual interaction with Jenny by the snack bar. When I saw her, I dreamed we’d be heavy petting beneath the bleachers by the end of the third quarter. Instead, our mutual friend Tanya Brightly cock-blocked me by taking Jenny away and leaving me with my hands dug way deep into the pockets of my Guess jeans.
Finally, I got the second date I was looking for. It was a month later and I had it all planned. I would get some weed from my stepbrother, take her to see Hot Shots at the $1.00 theater and then close the deal in the abandoned church parking lot at the top of Swan Road – a notorious make-out spot overlooking the city where horny teenagers tried to get past second base.
The movie was hilarious, and things were going great. We stopped and got ice cream bars at a Circle K and made our way to the church. I lit the pipe and passed it. I became horribly paranoid. We looked out at the city. Silence. There was that perfect awkward teenage feeling arising between us… I lightly brushed my hand against hers and grabbed it. I pulled her in and we kissed… Soft and beautiful, alone beneath the Tucson sky, awash in the possibilities of what lay out in the real world ahead… I was 16 and in heaven… And then a hesher dude named Paul Humphries shined a flashlight on us from his pick-up truck.
“GET SOME, SELWYN!” He yelled, blinding both of us in the process.
“Fuck you, Paul,” I screamed back. When I turned back around, I noticed that Jenny had walked away.
“I think you should take me home,” she said. “It’s getting late.”
On the ride home, Jenny said she didn’t think we should hang out anymore. She said she wasn’t sure why, but that something didn’t feel right. I tried every move in the book to get her to reconsider, but when I finally dropped her off, she took off running inside and I have not seen her since our high school graduation night… Until my sister found her Facebook page.
“Her name is now Jennifer Klein,” my sister informed me. “Married a guy named Mark Klein. Air Force instructor. They live in San Diego and don’t have any kids as far as I can tell.”
My sister should have been a private investigator.
I immediately began cyberstalking Jennifer Klein like a tween looking for “Shirtless Zayn Malik” pictures. I wanted to know everything. I was hoping she’d be open to a conversation – and maybe she could shed some light on our night together all those years ago.
Meanwhile, my wife was in the other room asking me what I was doing.
“Writing,” I responded, feeling guilty that I was busy looking up a girl I had made out with 25- years prior.
Many of my friends have spent hours digging into online profiles of exes, looking for something that proves that there was a reason it never worked out between them. My buddy’s wife found her ex-boyfriend on Facebook, posting about how great it felt to “finally be out of prison.” My other friend’s ex had nine children and was divorced twice. In fact, the majority of people I know have revealed how stoked they were to find their exes all out of shape, full of grey hair and still living in their hometowns.
Amazingly, Jennifer hadn’t aged at all. Her profile picture was taken in a bikini in Mexico, where she posted that she had been “marlin fishing” for a week straight. She posed holding a Corona. She was tan, supple and looked terrific. I added her as a friend and awaited a response.
When she did not accept my friend request a week later, I wondered why. I felt as nervous as I did the night I had watched her running into her house. I felt like a fucking teenager again.
Meanwhile, I got out my old high school journal. The one that I had kept since I was 14. I re-read the page from my date with Jenny – and I felt like a complete horny moron. I had written the following:
October 16, 1991 – I kissed her! After packing a bowl of dirty Mexi-schwag that my stepbrother traded me for a Van Halen CD, we made out at the church. (My old hookup spot – where I macked on Marni Thomas last year in my dad’s Jeep!) My hair looked good… like Luke Perry! But then that dumb hesher Paul ruined everything. Shit. I hope she calls me back I really want to feel those heaving melons.
October 23, 1991 – I have called Jenny 15 times and she has not returned my calls. I don’t know why. Do I suck? Am I ugly? Maybe she just hasn’t been getting my phone calls?
November 3rd, 1991 – I heard she told Tanya to tell me to back off and that she might get a restraining order. What the hell did I do? I feel like a creep… I just wish she’d give me a chance… Man. I’m so pissed. Luckily, this weekend is Adam’s party and there is some freshman girl named Daisy who said she thought I was cute. Shit, I’m almost 17 – ! I’m so old!!!
After three weeks or not hearing a response from Jenny, I re-checked her page. She had been there, alright, obviously ignoring my friend request. I reached out one last time, this time just posting something on her wall – something that I thought would be funny. I wrote:
Hey – I still have a mix tape I made you in 1991 – Any chance you want it?
Jennifer Klein never responded. But, the next day, a familiar person did. It was Tanya Brightly, who had commented on my post. She added the following: Unbelievable… 25 years later and Zach still doesn’t get the hint.
I was mortified. I had been lusting after this girl for a quarter century, and Tanya Brightly was STILL cock-blocking me.
I issued a response, including a photo of me and my family – saying that I was not a stalker – but just reaching out as an old friend who was trying to hold on to whatever memories I retained from my youth. I also asked Jenny if she remembered our night at the church.
Finally, Jennifer Klein wrote me a message.
Hi Zach – long time – I’m married to a guy in the Air Force – no kids to speak of – congratulations your family looks beautiful. Re: that night at the church… I have no memory of it. Sorry! Oh, I’d love to hear that mixtape!
I haven’t sent her the mixtape yet. I think I’ll let her wait around for me this time…
Ed. Note: Zach has since been blocked from Jennifer Klein’s Facebook feed.
WATCH ZACH’S MUSIC VIDEO “DONG ON THE WHITEBOARD!”
After Reading Sean Penn’s ‘El Chapo’ Piece, I Decided to See What my Old Pot Dealer From High School was Up to…
Recently, Sean Penn made headlines when he bravely traveled deep into the heart of Sinaloa to meet and converse with the notorious Mexican drug cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Right after the story went to press, El Chapo was captured – and his latest elusive time on the lam abruptly came to a close. Penn’s piece was published in Rolling Stone this week and I found it to be an engrossing piece of long lost Gonzo journalism at its finest. Penn, an actor, long known for his political involvement, put himself in the direct line of peril and danger all while partnering with a famous Mexican film actress to infiltrate the most impenetrable depths of Narco activity. He shook hands, broke bread and slammed tequila with a man that the DEA and Mexican authorities have been unable to locate for close to six months. In my opinion, Penn’s story was a hell of a lot more ballsy than anything else any pampered Hollywood actor has attempted in the past twenty years. (Sorry, Julia Roberts. Playing an AIDS-sensitive doctor in The Normal Heart may have been considered “daring” but it pales in comparison to a 55-year-old Oscar winner risking his life to traipse deep into a jungle of death for an interview for a rock-n-roll magazine).
So, inspired by Sean Penn’s courage, I decided that the recent stories and essays I have written have felt a little too “soft.” I realized that had to step it up. Knowing that I was traveling back to my hometown of Tucson to visit my mother on Martin Luther King, jr. weekend, I made up my mind that I was going to turn the trip into my own personal “El Chapo rendezvous.” I had a great idea…
My goal was to track down Ernesto Gregory, the most successful marijuana dealer in my high school. The last I had heard of Ernesto was through a photograph taken around 2011 by our mutual high school friend, Erik. He posted a picture of the two of them on Facebook drinking in the desert. Erik had captioned the photo with He’s finally out! Welcome home boss!”
Assuming that this caption insinuated that he had just been released from some high security prison, I was under the impression that Ernesto had built up an El Chapo-like narcotics network of hundreds of foot soldiers and truckloads of contraband over the past 18 years. Why else would he have been in jail? Why would Erik call him “boss?” Plus, he was wearing the typical outfit. A Large Polo Horse logo situated on a blue collared shirt on top of True Religion designer jeans. DEA agents call this look “Narco Polo.” Now I have seen Sicario. I’ve watched Breaking Bad. I had no doubt that Ernesto had risen from low-grade weed dealer at Rincon/University High School into a southwestern drug legend – living in ranches and mansions sprawled across the Tucson and Mexico landscape.
And I was going to interview him.
I was set to fly into Tucson International Airport on January 17th. My plan was to eat a bunch of food at my mother’s house, drink wine and play three games of Scrabble all while hearing her talk about how amazing The Revenant was. The following day, I would travel deep into the center of Tucson to meet up with and interview the most intimidating and bad-ass pot dealer my high school had known.
Back in 1993, Ernesto Gregory had owned the school’s finest lowered mini truck. He had a 200-dollar Motorola pager. His “system” – or car stereo – was as custom as they came, complete with an Alpine tape deck, a Sony Discman attachment, two 12-inch Kicker woofers, some Kenwood tweeters and a constant bass thump of MC Breed, DJ Magic Mike and Wrecks ‘N Effect blasting from his trunk. He had his own apartment on Speedway, decked out with a two-foot bong, a television with cable and an unlimited financial account on a sort of early 90’s YouTube video-on-demand predecessor known as “The Box.” He always wore a black Colorado Rockies cap and Marithe and Francois Girbaud jeans beneath over-sized t-shirts of ridiculous animated Looney Tunes characters wearing 90’s hip-hop clothing. His pager code for weed was “907.” His girlfriend was the hottest girl in the senior class – a dark-haired Mexican sex goddess named Racquel Hernandez. And he was tough. As far as we knew, he had never lost a fight. In fact, I recalled him once putting my friend from Hebrew School – Adam Richford – into a headlock and smashing his nose repeatedly until he apologized for “mad-dogging” him in the parking lot. He claimed he had connections through “uncles in Nogales,” where his product came from. And everybody knew, anyone with “uncles in Nogales” was always in the drug game… In short, Ernesto Gregory was the most accomplished 18-year-old kid I had laid eyes on in my young life.
After I landed, I told my mom about my plan.
“Why the hell are you meeting with this criminal?” My mother asked on the car ride from the airport.
“He was the king, mom!” I exclaimed. “Didn’t you read the Sean Penn article?”
“Sean Penn’s an idiot, going to interview that drug dealer!”
“I thought that story was genius,” I said. “Besides, what else am I going to write? Another story about my kids not being allowed to bring refined sugar to school?”
Following a few glasses of wine at the house, my mom was trying to convince me to go to Wal-Mart to buy a knife for the meeting. I assured her that Ernesto and I were in good standing and that no concealed weapons would be necessary. She broke into a desperate sweat. We played two games of Scrabble before deciding to put the third one on pause because we were so tired that word like “uh” and “is” had begun appearing on the board.
My final memory of the evening was listening to my mom curse my name before she went to bed in the other room.
The following morning I fueled up on eggs and coffee, not knowing when I would be back to the house. The afternoon’s plans had been Facebook “messaged” to me by Erik, who I quickly learned from his profile hadn’t left Tucson since graduation. Erik wrote me that Ernesto wasn’t on social media, but he mentioned that he did watch a lot of TV and he had even seen my History Channel show and had once commented, “I know that fucker!” He also told me that Ernesto had demanded that Erik take down the aforementioned photo he had posted in 2011. Sure enough, when I searched for it, it was no longer online… All this solidified my drug-lord theory even more.
Ernesto had agreed to meet at 12:30. I took off in my mother’s Acura and sped over to an address located in the shadow of the bar-heavy downtown area. A place much hipper and enticing than it had been back in the 90’s when druggies and skinheads and homeless wandered Congress Boulevard scaring off any young people looking for a good time. Must have been all the drug money given to the city by Ernesto, I theorized.
I parked in a dirt lot and immediately recognized Erik, who looked like he had been a meth fiend since about 1994. He wore a saggy shirt, filthy pants and sported a patchy beard and shaved head. He had a kid’s BMX bicycle in his pick up truck bed, which I took as also a sure sign of a man on crystal meth. For some reason, heavy meth addicts seemed to always travel on way-too-small dirt bikes. Erik wasn’t unlike them.
I looked up just as a helicopter darted above us in the sky. DEA drone, I thought. Of course. We were most likely being followed. Hell, who knew what corner or alleyway was outfitted with a hidden camera tracking Erik’s every move. Shit, maybe the FBI had caught on to my story as well? I mean, who’s to say they weren’t tracking Erik’s Facebook page when I sent him my original message? I was starting to hit an all-time level of paranoia. Even a pigeon that flapped above us and landed on a telephone wire looked like it had a hidden camera in its eye… I tried to keep my cool.
Knowing some of the narco protocol, I began preparing for my meeting with Ernesto.
“So, should I give you my iphone for safety precautions?” I asked Erik.
“What for?” He replied.
“Oh, I just assumed I wasn’t allowed to bring any electronics to the meeting,” I said.
“We aint goin on no airplane or nothin,” he replied.
At this point, my entire drug kingpin theory went out the window. After all, in the El Chapo story, Sean Penn was told to turn his phone off in Los Angeles, nearly 14 hours before he even made contact with the cartel in Mexico. He had been forced to travel to in two separate SUV’s, two single engine planes and armored vehicles just to meet with El Chapo’s henchmen before gaining approval. He was most likely given a full body cavity search, frisked and water-boarded. Ernesto’s lone henchman was a meth fiend named Erik who was allowing me to bring my iphone into a meeting as if I was about to pitch him a new Angry Birds app to finance… Ernesto’s notorious drug cartel was crumbling before my eyes.
“Follow my truck, we’re going to shoot pool at Pockets,” Erik said.
“Pockets? We’re not going to his house or something?” I asked.
“What house?” He said. “Ernesto likes to play pool. You play pool?”
“Sure, man – I love pool,” I said.
I hate pool.
Pockets was a stale billiard hall way too brightly lit for a Wednesday afternoon. A few biker types with chain wallets and denim jackets drank Miller High Life at the bar. A Mexican guy who looked to be on his 5th or 6th Corona sat watching a soccer game on TV. One lone female, a waitress who would have slept with Bad Blake in the movie Crazy Heart after he played a set at a bowling alley, served beer. In the far west corner stood a chubby man in an Arizona Wildcats baseball cap chalking up his cue. I recognized him immediately as Ernesto Gregory.
His face had filled in and he had put on close to 35 pounds. By his footwear and saggy jeans I could tell that he hadn’t done much to change his fashion choices during the past 22 years. He wore Jordan sneakers, which were probably eight years old and had accumulated a slew of new arm tattoos, including one portrait of a woman who looked a lot like a fatter version of Racquel Hernandez. He drank what I would soon learn was Jack Daniel’s and Diet Coke and was constantly adjusting his pants from the crotch area. My first thought was that the most accomplished 18-year-old I had ever known had become the sloppiest 40-year-old I had seen in some time.
“Zach Selwyn!” He announced as I nervously approached the pool table. “What up Hollywood!”
Oh boy. He was going to call me Hollywood the rest of the day, I knew it.
“I seen you on that TV show about the words and shit!”
“Yeah, America’s Secret Slang, thanks man.”
“Yeah, American Slang! That’s it, what up big homie?”
“Nada man, just trying to catch up with some old friends, ya know?”
“Well shit, let’s shoot some stick.”
Ernesto racked up some balls and began rattling off shots. He was a damn good pool player and I knew that even at my best – which was pretty terrible – I was about to be embarrassed. But, he told me to pick a cue and even though it was 1:30 in the afternoon, I ordered a pitcher of Bud Light. The waitress brought it over and charged me for it. It cost $3.75.
As Ernesto sank shot after shot, we never once discussed drug dealing. In fact, we spent most of our time talking about girls from high school that he had always wanted to screw. Turns out, he thought I was some Olympic-level cocksman in my teens and he assumed that I had slept with every cute girl in our high school. As he dug up names from the past, I could only laugh and try to remember who some of these girls even were. Most of them I had never been intimate with, but to placate Ernesto, I played along.
“Paula Schrapner? Yeah, I nailed her,” I said. Not true.
“Jen Robbins? Blow job,” I lied.
“Did you ever get together with Laura House?” Ernesto asked. “She was DOPE!”
“Uh, we just kissed,” I said, which was actually true. One New Years Eve 1992, we had briefly kissed.
“Man, I wonder what she’s up to now?” He said, staring off at a neon sign.
As the beers flowed, I was finding that I was having a hard time getting anything out of Ernesto. He was stuck in 1993, still pining for girls who were long married, divorced and even had kids in high school of their own. He remembered football games that I hadn’t even thought about in 20 years and quoted our Economics teacher Mr. Franklin from a class I didn’t even recall taking. When I took a second to ask him about Racquel Hernandez and what happened to their relationship, he grew silent, took out a vape pen and pulled long and hard.
“You know we have three kids, right?”
“I did not know that,” I said. “Congrats. I have two. How old?”
“19, 17 and 15,” he said. “But the 15-year-old has blue eyes and blonde hair – aint no way that kid’s mine. We broke up 12 years ago. My second wife bailed on me last year. Bitch.”
Wow. Here I was, stressing out about my 9 and 5-year-old kids in Los Angeles and this guy had been divorced twice and had three kids in high school – one who he was convinced wasn’t even his. I suddenly felt like every pampered Hollywood asshole I have come to despise.
“Hey Hollywood, you never slept with Racquel, did you?” He asked.
“What? Hell no!”
There was a sudden silence. Erik looked ready to tear out my jugular. Ernesto stared me down. This was what Adam Richford would call “mad-dogging.” My mom was right… I should have bought that knife.
“Man, I’m just playing!” He said. “You should see your face, you looked like a little bitch just now!”
Everybody laughed. I pounded my beer. It was then that I decided that I had to get the whole story right here or else I was going to end up on the wrong end of a bong in the south side of Tucson come six o’clock, getting high and watching some show like Ridiculousness on a Futon. I found my courage and lowered my voice to a whisper.
“So, Ernesto – you still in the weed game?” I asked.
Ernesto looked at me and laughed. He looked at Erik and then back to the pool table.
“Man, I aint dealt weed since high school,” he said.
“I thought you went to jail or something?” I inquired.
“Shit man… I shot some endangered pregnant salamander with a rifle during bow-hunting season. Thank God it didn’t die… Luckily I only did two nights in county jail, man. Sucked ass.”
He had shot a pregnant salamander with a rifle during bow-hunting season? He did two nights in county jail? El Chapo had done something like seven years in maximum security before his first escape… As far as I know, he never complained either. Here was my one-time narcotics hero admitting to me that he was scared after doing two measly nights for shooting a fucking lizard. My story was falling apart.
“So, what about the last 15 years? I mean, what have you done for work?” I asked.
Ernesto sunk a 9 ball and looked up at me.
“I repair windshields, man. Over at Glassworx on Speedway.”
I watched him return to the table. My heart sank as he finished off the game by dropping the eight ball perfectly in the side pocket. My story was over. The most notorious drug dealer I had known had become a windshield repair guy. There was no mansion in the hills, no ranch house in Nogales… and no harem of sexy Mexican women. Ernesto had gone straight and my story was dead.
“Why do you ask, homie?” Ernesto inquired. “You need weed?”
Being that my story was a bust, I figured that the very least I could do was to go on one more pot buying deal in my old hometown. Maybe the dealer would be the drug kingpin I was looking for and I could write something about him instead.
“Yeah, sure man. Just a little bit to get me through the next two days.”
“Well, my dude sells dime bags over at hole 14 at the Golf N’ Stuff on Tanque Verde if you want to pick one up,” Ernesto said.
Dime bag? Golf N’ Stuff? I wasn’t interested. The last thing I needed was to buy Mexican weed from a kid at the same place where I had celebrated my 11-year-old birthday party. It just didn’t seem right.
“No that’s cool, man,” I replied. “I gotta get home anyway – maybe we can hook up tomorrow or something.”
“Are you sure?” He said. “This kid gets good shit… he has a couple of uncles in Nogales.”
Of course he did. I threw a five-dollar tip on the wooden table and finished off my beer. I high-fived Erik and Ernesto, promised to be in touch and promptly drove back to my mother’s house where I found her nervously pacing the living room like I was 15 again and out with a senior at my first high school party.
We opened a bottle of wine and finished our game of Scrabble…
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By now music snobbery should have gone by the wayside. After all, the state of music has been disgustingly bleak since MP3s dethroned the industry in the 2000’s. Jobs have been eliminated, rock ‘n roll clubs have closed and bands with true talent and drive have settled for Spotify streams as a means to an .08 cent residual check twice a year. It wasn’t always this way.
In the glorious 90’s, I had friends with million dollar expense accounts, closets full of CD’s and other useless swag – like the Dave Matthews Band rain poncho I still have in a garage somewhere – and pockets full of drugs. But to say you are a “music executive”… or an A & R guy these days – sort of signifies that you are hanging onto a dream that died long ago. I have a good friend still in the business whose job it is to re-package Greatest Hits compilations to Wal-Marts across America. He’s the last executive I know – and I doubt that putting together a 10 song CD called Best of Soul Asylum is what he dreamt of when he was a younger man. In a way, today’s aging execs sort of resemble the 55-year-old hair metal musicians still hanging around the Rainbow hoping their demo CD lands them a review in Hit Parader Magazine.
Sure, nowadays vinyl is popular, but not everybody can plunk down $28.00 for a new Jack White album, no matter how many awesome backward grooves and upside down hidden songs exist when you play the thing on a 1976 Fisher-Price stereo. Besides, nice record players today can run upwards of 500 bucks. Isn’t it just so much easier to have a digital device or streaming service with everything you’ve ever wanted on it? Most of the world thinks so… But apparently, the gargantuan structure known as Amoeba Records in Hollywood does not.
Amoeba Records is the last place in the world where a used “out of print compact disc” can fetch roughly $17.00. It is the last place in the world where snobby record store employees still exist- and consider themselves way superior than the people shopping in their store. It is the last place in the world where music entitlement continues to thrive, as tattooed polliwogs insult your used DVD or CD collection while snickering behind the counter about the fact that you are wearing a Black Crowes shirt.
“Another R.E.M. CD?” One super tool employee whinnied as I tried to sell back a stack of CD’s from my collection. “Sorry, wrong decade.”
In 2003 my band released the first of our now five country-rock albums, ”Ghost Signs.” At the time, the death cart hadn’t quite been dragged through the streets for the physical CD, and independent manufacturers like Discmakers were still convincing artists like myself that things like shrink-wrap and jewel cases were ever so important. I fell for it, not only because it was my first time putting out my own album, but because I had always been one of those kids with 10,000 CD’s neatly arranged in jewel case displays across my dorm room. In short, I wanted my own title to exist with those titles. And there it was, finally in April of 2003: My album Ghost Signs by Zachariah.
The minute I received my shipment of 1000 CDs in the mail, I did what any bright-eyed troubadour who harbored dreams of becoming the next Springsteen would do – and I sent them out to a hundred magazines, music festivals and bigger record labels, hoping for a bite, a lead or a review. I also packed a box of 50 and went down to Amoeba Records, hoping to get a top display in front of the store. I lugged the huge box to the consignment counter and met a skinny employee with a Descendents t-shirt on who rolled his eyes when he saw me drop my hard-fought album on his counter. In those songs were my heart, soul and dreams. I was under the impression that he would take 50 of them and then ask for 50 more. After all, this wasn’t some crappy demo tape, this was an actual well-produced bad-ass album.
The employee barely shrugged at my hard work. He giggled and yawned. He wasn’t impressed. Instead, he offered up the following.
“We take two copies.”
“Two?” I said, incredulously.
“But I have, like 1000 of these,” I said.
“So does everyone else. Here’s our deal. If these sell, you get 3 bucks. If they don’t sell in 30 days they go in the dollar bin.”
I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, expecting to unload 50 CDs and have hundreds of new fans clamoring for me to perform live at the Greek Theatre by the end of the summer. Instead, a skinny asshole with skin so pale you could count his remaining good vein had shattered my dreams in under three minutes.
As of last week, both copies of that album are still floating around the dollar bin at Amoeba Records.
11 years later, I experienced roughly the same exact thing when I dropped my band’s new album off at the store, hoping that they had opened their minds to independent artists actually trying to distribute their own music. I was greeted by a chubby woman with Betty Page bangs – who had a dozen bangles hanging from her wrist. She had strange vampire kitty tattoos and was ironically wearing an Usher tour t-shirt. I hated her smugness immediately.
“Consignment?” She asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve actually placed some of my music in the store before.”
“What an achievement,” she puked.
I laid my new album on the counter. 11 songs. Pristine and awesome. A personal accomplishment. It was called Skywriting and was my fifth album of original material. I had foregone the jewel case this time around for the plastic sleeve and single panel artwork. It was cheaper, less clunky and much easier to store. My friends had been doing it this way for years, so I took their lead and saved some money on manufacturing costs. The girl looked at me as her lip curled upwards.
“What kind of packaging is this?” She asked.
“Well, I didn’t print my new album in jewel cases because – really – who uses jewel cases anymore, right?”
She shot daggers. It was as if I told her that the world was ending in a few minutes. I wasn’t sure why. The CD game had suffered so immensely in the time since I put out my first record, I figured the days were numbered that anyone would be caught dead with a jewel case. Or a CD for that matter. After all, new computers don’t even have DISC DRIVES anymore.
“You’re kidding, right?” She vomited. “Of course we use jewel cases.”
“Oh, I just figured they were becoming obsolete and everything.”
“I have 25,000 CD’s at my house. You call that obsolete?” She said.
I wasn’t sure what to call it. I have 25,000 CD’s as well, but mine were all stored in Case Logic books and on shelves in closets. The days when my alphabetized CD collection was the envy of every Pi Phi who waltzed into my fraternity house asking to borrow The Chronic were OVER.
“You don’t use the big CD books?” I asked.
“CD books are bullshit… You can never find anything, the artwork gets folded which means you can’t re-sell it and the discs get scratched in the storage… Whoever started using those things in the first place was an idiot.”
I couldn’t believe it. I was having an argument with a record store employee about how to store compact discs. It was like arguing that the news in tomorrow’s print newspaper would be more relevant than the news just posted on the internet.
She took my CD’s and re-packaged them in some abandoned clear jewel case she had in the back of the counter and filled out a consignment sheet for me. This time, I only brought two copies of my new album, wishing not to embarrass myself by leaving down the elevator with 50 copies like I did a decade prior. I signed a sheet saying that they could sell the album for $7.99 and that I’d retain three bucks of each sale.
Then I suggested we put the CD in the country section, to which she replied, “Nobody wants to be in the country section… especially with a name like Zachariah. You think anyone is looking in the ‘Z’ section of country?”
“Maybe they’ll find it while looking for Dwight Yoakam?” I suggested.
She rolled her eyes again and hit me with even more conceit and arrogance.
“No offense, but if anybody is looking for Dwight Yoakam, they probably aren’t looking for you.”
I hated this bitch.
“Fine,” I said. “Put me next to Warren Zevon and ZZ Top in the ‘Z’ section of rock n roll.”
“Good choice,” she said. “Not that anybody is looking for them either.”
I thanked her for being so awesome and told her that she’d be surprised at how fast my CD’s would sell. She eeked out a fake smile and waved me off before moving onto the next customer who was selling a large amount of unopened House of Cards DVD’s.
Three days later, I sent my brother into Amoeba to buy both of my CD’s. I didn’t care if I was losing a few bucks by doing it. The point was to prove to these assholes that I could sell something at their store. I slipped him $20.00 and he went in and came out with both copies of my new album.
A day later, a different manager called me and informed me that I had “miraculously” sold out of my CD’s and that if I wanted to bring a few more by, he’d be happy to consign them and pay me the $6.00 I was
“How many copies should I bring down?” I asked him sarcastically. “About 50?”
“Why don’t we start with one,” he said.
I told him I’d be in that afternoon. But that I wasn’t providing a jewel case…
HOW TO SURVIVE A GRATEFUL DEAD SHOW WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR FRIENDS IN THE PARKING LOT * By Zach Selwyn
My old college friend Bernard (Or “Burner – for reasons that don’t need to be explained) called me the day before Father’s Day. He had an extra ticket to the 50th Anniversary Grateful Dead concert in northern California. I informed my wife that I would be traveling to the show the following Saturday night.
“Haha yeah right,” she said.
“No. I’m going.”
“Stop it. Now, what do you want to do for Father’s Day? Should we meet the Bartons for brunch? Or do you want to have people over to bar-be-cue?”
“I hate the Bartons,” I said. “I want to go to the Grateful Dead.”
“Are you serious?”
“Well, take your son with you, don’t you think he would enjoy it?”
I didn’t think that was the brightest idea. The smoke and the dancing and twirling was completely mind-blowing to me when I was at my first show at age 18. Back then I was scared shitless. Too many drugs, too many lost souls… too many people having a lot more fun than I was. I told my wife that I’d rather let my son find his own musical path. (Then again, if he’s following 5 Seconds of Summer around the country in 10 years I may have failed somewhere.) Plus, I told my wife that a 9-year-old boy does not need to see his 40-year-old dad clink Absinthe cups with a dude in hiking shorts who made Silicon Valley millions by inventing the Nook.
“Do NOT drink Absinthe,” she demanded.
“I won’t, I promise.”
Eventually, I got the green light – and I called Burner back and committed to his 70-dollar ticket. Which I soon found was WAY too expensive for my shitty seats behind the stage where just a few songs into the set a man would face-plant and nearly die on the concrete right next to me.
Recent online ticket prices for the Santa Clara shows had settled at $20-$40 depending on where you were seated, way down from the rumored $1500 nearly a month earlier. This was due to the “Soldier Field Panic Purchase” that nearly every Dead Head and ticket scalper had fallen for when their final two shows of this “Fare Thee Well” concert were originally announced… Thinking the tickets to Santa Clara might be listed at the same price as the Chicago shows, folks bought up dozens of seats at face value, only to find themselves losing money when trying to unload the tickets in the parking lot the afternoon of the show. (Steal Your Face Value, anyone?) Even Burner was left with a handful of tickets that he ended up trading for “pieces” (pipes or chillums), 50th anniversary bandanas, T-shirts and at one point a foot long joint being sold by a spritely blonde nymph out of a giant cardboard box.
Now, a fair amount has already been written about these shows – if you want to hear about the set lists and the fan reactions to Trey Anastasio and the supposed $50,000 “fake rainbow” – go Google that now. This is my personal adventure about smoking a lump of hash with a crazy looking scallywag who was dragging a dirty pet pit bull named “Iko” around on a hemp dog leash – and becoming so cosmically altered, that I managed to lose my friends for the duration of the show long before the first note of Truckin’ was even played.
It was a surreal experience to say the least. When I last saw the Grateful Dead in 1995, the crowd was pretty much the same… just about 20 years younger. But now, those folks have grown up. Gone are the days of living in the Vanagon and hopping from town-to-town. The “Only Users Lose Drugs” shirts I used to fawn over had been replaced by at least 25 men happily wearing a t-shirt reading “Grateful Dad.” (Thank you, honey for not getting me THAT for Father’s Day.)
A vast majority of the well-off crowd could be found eating sushi and sipping wine in the safe “red” parking lot, while the more traditional “Shakedown Street” blue parking lot catered to the jewelry designers, pushers, providers, dealers and, yes, the guys selling veggie burritos. (At $5.00 a steal – considering it was $11.00 for a nitrate-riddled hot dog in the stadium). Bottom line was, it was a very balanced scene. Which is how I went from talking about music with a doctor who lived in Marin County – to witnessing a hippie trade a T-shirt for a Churro – to eventually asking the aforementioned scraggly looking pit bull owner if I could have a hit of his joint.
“It’s hash bro,” he said.
“Nice,” I said.
“Nice,” he responded.
I took a long drag from the tightly rolled spliff. It was licorice-like in flavor… and reminded me of smoking hash on a Eurorail with a Spanish stranger during a train ride from Switzerland to Germany in 1996. I exhaled.
“Nice.” I said again.
“Real nice,” he said and pulled off the joint again.
I stared up at the clouds.
“Nice,” I laughed.
“Totally nice,” he replied.
We stood and watched the sky for a few minutes. I started to realize that for the past ten minutes, I had managed to keep a totally coherent conversation going by merely uttering the word “nice.”
I shook off my daze and decided to gather myself to find Burner and our other friends and head inside. We were 30 minutes away from the opener and I didn’t want to miss it. I looked back at my hash-providing friend and we shared an ever-knowing look of “I’ll never see you again, but thanks for the time together.” I threw up a peace sign. As I walked away to find my buddies, I heard him utter one final word as a fare thee well to our little session.
Back on Earth, I was suddenly totally confused. Burner was gone. Swirls of dreadlocks and weathered faces engulfed me. I wasn’t sure if I should head back to the blue lot and skip the show altogether or saunter forth inside all alone. Like a wilderness-trained tracker, I decided I’d take some photos to document the beauty of the signage and the sky and the colorful people and cars all around me. Scrolling through my camera roll a day later, all I can find is a few pictures of the stadium and a wasted girl passed out on a lawn. I definitely could not find my friends. I was high and wandering… but at least I had a ticket to my seat.
Having lost buddies at concerts over the years, I am somewhat used to making friends and surviving. This was certainly not the first time I had been alone at a Grateful Dead show… In fact, at the LA Sports Arena in 1993 I accidentally left the concert mid-song and walked 23 blocks away until I was lost in a Ralph’s parking lot deep in South Central Los Angeles. Luckily, the night cashier slipped me a Fentanyl and called me a taxicab. Once I lost my buddy in Santa Barbara and ended up sleeping in a bush after a Neil Young concert. At the Dead show, however, I wasn’t truly worried, because nowadays we are all lucky enough to have cell phones.
I looked down to text my friends. No service. Of course. No fucking service.
I made my way inside and ogled the crowds flittingly dancing along. Anticipating the first note of the show that would send me into another stratosphere. They started with Truckin’. The place went nuts.
Then the guy next to me almost died. His friends pounded his chest until he sat up and they forced water down his throat. Scared and afraid, I went to get a beer. I met some kind gentlemen in the beer line. We spoke about how awesome the show was that we were missing… by waiting in that beer line. I looked around. A girl next to me made sure to use all 9 pockets of her leather fanny pack. At least three guys purposefully wore cargo shorts to show off the “Jerry Bear” leg tattoos they had done in the 90’s that they were waiting all these years to uncover once again… Finally, a woman carrying a six-month old baby in what seemed like a paper bag attached to her back came dancing through the crowd. The kid’s head bobbled furiously, unstable and terrifying. In Los Angeles, the helicopter moms of Orange County would have screamed, rescued the baby and brought it to the nearest hospital. At the Grateful Dead show, however, grown men laughed and spewed forth dragon breaths of marijuana smoke into the sky as the baby drifted right through the haze. It was absolutely disturbing. I could not imagine my kids in this environment. As much as I would want them to appreciate what the music can do for everybody, the last thing I would want is my kid getting a second hand weed buzz around a group of folks sending wafts of OG Kush into the atmosphere.
A few songs later, I had settled down. It suddenly hit me that I was completely alone and that my conversations with strangers were fun but fleeting. I wasn’t making any new friends… I wasn’t analyzing every note Trey played… The worst part was, I was barely even seeing the show from my seat behind the stage. I watched the majority of it on a big screen. So, I wandered around and decided to talk to the security guard. His name was Reed.
“What’s crazier, a 49ers game, or this?” I asked.
“Well, different crowds, ya know?” He said. “Niners fans drink a few beers and try to look tough. These folks drink 10 beers and dance around like fools!”
“So is this the rowdiest show you’ve ever seen here?” I asked.
“Oh hell no, the worst was the WWE Wrestling event. I broke up about 30 fights, had to throw a guy down some stairs.”
“What’s the weirdest show you’ve ever seen here?”
“Kenny Chesney. Was like a Gay Pride Parade met the deep south.”
He shook my hand and walked off.
A few beers later, I was overwhelmed by hippies praying to the miracle rainbow in the sky yelling out things like “It’s a gift from JERRY GARCIA MAN!” (If you can imagine a bunch of high people reacting to a rainbow at a 50-Year Grateful Dead anniversary show, it’s EXACTLY how you picture it…) The argument that the rainbow has been faked is everywhere online, but in truth, if the Dead had 50K to blow on a holographic rainbow, I would hope they at least should have tried to construct a hologram Jerry Garcia instead. (Shit, I’d have settled for hologram 2Pac.)
As the evening went on, as a way to remember what I was going through, I began dictating voice notes into the “recorder” app on my iphone. These are the translations as best as I could decipher them:
A: I have just spent the last hour hanging with a giraffe
B: (Me singing a song idea for my band to record in the future) – “Sunday Ticket, who’s got my Sunday ticket… man are you with it? I wish I could stop and smell the roses – but the elements of elephants are lost among the doses – I suppose it’s the way of the Dead – I suppose it’s the way of the Dead” (Then yelling): “WAY OF THE DEAD!!! MY NEW SONG WOOOOOOHOOOOOO!!!!”
C: Hot dogs, nachos, chicken fingers… hot dogs nachos chicken fingers…
D: What hole have these people been hiding in since 1995?
The last note made sense. A lot of these fans were folks who looked like they never recovered from Jerry Garcia’s death. They had been in exile, awaiting the return of the Grateful Dead for years, sort of like those Japanese soldiers you read about who were trapped on islands with their loaded weapons unaware that the war had ended months earlier.
The highlight of my night came during the song St. Stephen. I had never heard the tune live – nobody really has – and it lifted my spirits high. For five minutes, the long drive alone had been worth it. So had the hash and the lost friends and the $70 seats. I reached high for the sky and let out primal screams of joy and happiness and thought about my kids, my wife, my career, my goals, my dreams my family. I was genuinely ecstatic. I had found my top of the mountain… It was one of those moments that I remembered having as a kid – worshipping this band for slices of perfection like that – when everybody is smiling and nothing can go wrong. A moment of calm and peace I hoped would never end…
Of course, an hour after the show I found myself cursing technology and feeling depressed about having to wait in a two-hour line for an Uber.
I left the venue alone. Got to the hotel alone. I was in bed by 1:00. I woke up before my friends – who had stumbled in at 3:30 – and shook off the cobwebs before beginning the long drive back to L.A. As I listened to the radio and heard reviews of the show it became clear how awesome the evening had been. I re-played to my voice memos and shuffled Dead songs on my iphone the whole drive, wondering how I could call my work and get out of it Monday so that I could stay and watch the second night show instead. Thankfully, I decided one amazing show was enough and I rode down California 5 with Santa Clara and the Grateful Dead in my rear view mirror. As I watched northern California disappear behind the rolling hills, one word came to mind as I smiled and traveled the golden road home…
Buy Zach’s FIRST ALBUM “Ghost Signs” on itunes!
There was something scampering behind my washing machine. Something rodential. Something with chattery little teeth that sounded like it could nibble the toenail off of a homeless man if there was a promised slice of cheese beneath it. A real man would have stood up, tore back the machine and smashed the skull of whatever creature was frolicking around his lint catcher. Not me, I heard it nibble something and screamed so loudly, my wife ran downstairs and asked me if I had accidentally cut off my finger.
I hate mice, rats, squirrels, possums, raccoons, boll weevils… whatever. They disgust me, not only for their collection of diseases, but because they have no bowel control and they love cropdusting the bowl of avocados in my house with fetid urine samples and freakish teeth marks.
I’ve never been an animal person. Ever since my dog ‘Buffy’ shook my pet kitty to death in front of me when I was a quiet, sensitive 5th grader, I have despised all pets. Maybe I’m afraid to get close to them… maybe I’m afraid one might attack me. Maybe the fact that Buffy was the subject of nearly six separate lawsuits from 1985-1989 involving other 5th and 6th graders who claimed to have been mauled by him while waiting for our local ice cream truck has something to do with it… I don’t know. I just don’t love them. Nor do I love miniscule vermin who invade my kitchen at 9 o’clock at night when I’m trying to have a glass of Malbec and watch college basketball.
I heard the scratching again. My guess was that he made his way in through the side of the house like an imprisoned Andy Dufresne before nestling near the laundry machine searching for any disgusting amount of dried food that might fall out of my kids pockets following a day at school. There was a chance that the invaders gathering behind my Kenmore were harmless and small. But I doubted it. I was guessing they were quite large. The type Westley from The Princess Bride would refer to as R.O.U.S.’. (Rodents of Unusual Size). I wanted nothing to do with these cheese-nibbling tick factories.
I was torn on what to do. Should I set a trap? Bait him? Call the exterminator? Not like they ever really help… First, they come and charge $100 to spray coyote urine all around my back yard. Two weeks later new turd droppings line the closets, the “safety screens” they installed become metallic snacks and eventually, a horrendous smell that resembles what I imagine the a rotting corpse of a tauntaun to smell like breezes through my house. I wanted to kill these little shits, but as you may have devised, I lack the courage to kill anything besides a bottle of wine. In college, I killed a few moths, spiders and cockroaches, but that was a long time ago – and these massacres took place while drunkenly squealing with my eyes shut and frantically whapping a rolled up Rolling Stone magazine against a nest of invaders who had settled into my Futon. “Bastard son of a bitch slut sons of WHORES,”
I yelled at the noisy bunch gathering in numbers behind the aforementioned washing machine. “I’ll kill all you fucks.” They didn’t listen. They just seemed to slog me off like the guys trying to get me to take a “StarLine Bus Tour” of Hollywood every time I pass through Highland.
I watched the rest of the Arizona Wildcats game admiring TJ McConnell’s presence and smiling with every play drawn up by coach Sean Miller… But every time the applause died down, I heard the little Ratatouille party happening a few feet away. God-damn disease-ridden little whiskered gargoyles. Why wouldn’t they leave? I finally had the courage to take a hand towel and smack the washing machine a few times trying to get them to scamper and disappear. Instead, what I heard was the following:
Squeakity squeak. Squeak. OoohOoh. Squeetz Sysqweek.
SQUIIZZIIZIZIIZIZIZIZI . SQUEAK! SQWZZIZIZTTZYZYZYYT.
CHRIST. At this point, they were mocking me. Laughing. Squeaking their way through my house like furry rabies-riddled bastard hobo squatters. I finally decided there was only one thing to do. I had to KILL. These beastly gargantuan monsters had to go. I was going to go all Chris Kyle on these little pricks. I was about to assassinate.
Using all my strength – no doubt brought on by the wine and some anxious anger – I ripped that Sears Model Top Load Elite away from the back wall and prepared to face the dragon I knew I had to slay. Armed with an iphone flashlight and a paper bag, I was ready to battle these medieval beasts with all my timorous might – hoping to get it done in one schmack. A kill shot on the first swing. In my mind, I was the house-husband American Sniper. I was a silent assassin. In football terms, I would have chanted “I Must Protect This House.”
When the snarling creature and I came face-to-face, I was immediately humiliated. Sitting on the floor, behind my washing machine, was the tiniest most timid, miniature little mouse I had ever seen. The type of mouse they feed to snakes in terrariums at desert museums. A little guy who was just trying to find his next meal and a nice comfy tube sock to sleep in. I stared him down. He stared back at me. His head tilted left. Mine went right. He squeaked. I smiled…
And then he screamed and ran away as if I was the John Wayne Gacy of homeowners. After he left, I went to the mirror and took a look at myself. My lips were purple. My teeth were dressed in the stains of the evening’s red-wine. My hair shot forth in a bundle of curls. The bags under my eyes spoke of a few too many late evenings. In reality, I did somewhat resemble a serial killer. If anyone was scared, it was that little mouse. He was just a cute little thing. I looked like I was about to go on a Manson-like mass murder.
I decided to drag myself to bed. Around the same time the next night, I heard similar chattering coming from behind my washing machine. More nibbling, more squeaking… more odd noises that made me think I was 90 seconds away from having a honey badger tear through my kitchen and rip my scrotem off. However, instead of panicking and dropping rat poison behind the Kenmore, I took a moment and tilted my cap to my cute new friend behind the major appliance. After all… he was more scared of me than I was of him.
In prison, that would mean I was in control.
After a few minutes, I explained to my wife that I was totally cool with having a few rats and mice run around our house. As far as I was concerned, if they don’t bother us, let’s not bother them, right?
She looked me in the eye and shook her head ‘no.’
The exterminator came the next morning.
Celebrate Zach’s 2013 Short Story collection beong published on “Dirt City Press” and his new TV show on AMC, “Immortalized” (TBA very soon!)
Cover will be cheap! Like, $5.00 * PLUS Zach’s wife Wendy analyzes his lyrics and reads his journals… Comedians stop by… The band plays on… Zach raps the news of the week…
and we show a short film… Email to be on the HARDSHIP GUEST LIST… firstname.lastname@example.org