This morning I drove past two skinny homeless men with multiple missing teeth who were smoking cigarettes before nearly running over a mangy stray dog panting in the street. I made a left turn at the Hustler Hollywood store, narrowly averting a woman who was squatting and urinating into a discarded water bottle. I eventually parked and walked around my car, side-stepping two discarded needles some dog crap and a used condom. I dodged a speeding Hyundai that was being driven by a dude vaping and texting at the same time before opening the passenger door… and helping my kid get out of the car.
“Ready for school?” I asked.
Welcome to Hollywood.
I was raised in a peaceful, quiet corner of the desert where coyotes and jumping cholla cacti were my biggest fears while walking to school. I didn’t see a homeless man until I was about 13. Hustler was a magazine that only prisoners and truckers read and needles were something only a doctor could get a hold of. Yesterday, my son asked me why the guy who lives in the dumpster across the street from his carpool pick-up lane is always shouting, “Ho ass bitch” while shuffling down Selma Avenue.
I am raising my children in Gomorrah and it’s starting to freak me the fuck out.
This school year, my son’s entire fifth grade class was moved to a new school campus – about 10 blocks north of the previous campus where they had been since kindergarten. The new campus is on Selma Avenue and is a stone’s throw from the Hollywood YMCA. It’s also a block south of Hollywood Boulevard, nearly 10 medical marijuana dispensaries, six seedy bars, smoke shops, two run-down hotels, a vintage street clock that has been permanently set to 4:20 and about nine tattoo parlors.
Back in my 20’s, when I was stumbling out of the bar Boardner’s (a block away from the school on Cherokee), I could never imagine that someday my son would be taking “Beginner Spanish” 50 yards from where I once puked after a night of Vodka – Red Bulls. I never thought I’d be raising my kids anywhere but some pristine little tucked away school with manicured lawns and open fields and morning sing-a-longs. Little did I know that barbed wire fences, metal detectors and cement soccer fields were going to be the norm for my children…
At a back-to-school meet and greet two weeks after the first day, some other parents expressed their concerns as well.
“We just don’t like the way the school feels,” an angry parent offered.
“We are striving to make everybody comfortable,” the principal, a 40-something man named Reggie replied.
“It’s hard to be comfortable when I smell marijuana every day when I drop my kid off,” another mom piped up.
Hollywood has changed immensely since the rundown 1990’s. Tourism is up, souvenir stores are making great money and people from all over the world are still traveling here to take photos of the sidewalk where an actor’s name is etched into a star. Of course, when the tourists come, so do the hustlers. You’ve seen them selling rap CD’s, trying to get you to take the TMZ Tour and drunkenly swaying into your photos while dressed up in a piss-stained Spider-Man costume demanding five dollars.
Look, my high school was no picnic. I witnessed a shooting, a lot of fights and certainly saw my share of LSD and dirt weed from Mexico, but I was in high school… Not fifth grade. Being raised in the desert certainly shaded me from the inner city realities of gang-ridden America, but I was also lucky enough to travel to places like New York and LA to see how other kids were growing up. Ultimately, their fast-paced lives had a strong effect on me because I headed for college in Los Angeles the minute I turned 18. Thinking back about my childhood dreams, I turned my son one day after school.
“Hey dude, where do you want to live when you grow up?” I asked him.
“Probably the beach… or New York I guess.”
Obviously he hadn’t thought this one out. Not me. By the time I was ten, I had it narrowed down to Los Angeles and Los Angeles.
My son is also already planning out his first tattoo, based on a conversation we had last week. After pouring over NBA star Brandon Ingram’s arms as we were watching a basketball game, he asked me a question.
“Dad, if you could get a tattoo, what would you get?”
“Oh wow, I dunno – probably your name and your sister’s name,” I said. “Something small and hidden and meaningful.”
“I’d probably get Savage in cursive across my eyebrow,” he said.
“You’re not getting a tattoo,” I told him.
“Why not? All the sickest rappers have face tattoos now…”
As we listened to my kid’s Spotify playlist, I heard no less than ten “N-Bombs”, three songs about abusing Xanax, Percocet and Molly and over ten about Gucci, 80,000 dollar watches and ‘Lambos. Every song featured sound effects like “Skrrr” for a cool car or “Skrrrrratatatatata” to mimic an assault rifle peppering an enemy with bullets… Look, I love rap music. I chased a rap career myself at one point… but no 5th grader should be asking his dad what Codeine, Mountain Dew and Jolly Ranchers taste like together.
Alas, the reality of this situation is that I can’t afford to shell out 35,000 dollars to private academies like Campbell Hall or Oakwood… Although from what I remember from college – most of the heaviest partiers came out of these schools. Which gives me some hope… And truthfully, other than the dead guy who was wheeled away from the apartment down the block last week, the school is fun, diverse and growing and I’m actually proud to be a part of the community.
So, as the years roll along, I’ll just have to deal with the syringes, homeless guys and Hustler Hollywood foot traffic for a few more years until junior high. Luckily, that campus is located downtown in a much more secure location…
It’s across the street from an outpatient clinic for opioid addicts…
Re-Examining the 1997 NBA Draft – If I Had Been Selected…
(Originally published @Nerdist Sports 2017)
At the end of my senior year in college – despite having not played organized basketball since high school and maintaining a 1.8 blood alcohol level for four years straight, my friends dared me to declare for the NBA draft. I wrote an official letter the NBA commissioner David Stern and presented my accolades: Six-foot-two. 3.8 G.P.A. Fraternity scoring leader and dunk contest winner on the 8-foot hoop in the parking lot.
I wasn’t selected.
Looking back now, I have to argue that I might have been a better pick than 75% of the players in the 1997 NBA draft. Sure, the draft produced perennial all-stars Tim Duncan (#1), Chauncey Billups (#3) and Tracy McGrady (#9), but for every one of those guys, there are three Ed Elisma’s (#40), Bubba Wells’ (#34) and Ben Pepper’s (#55). Who’s to say that if I was chosen in the late second round I wouldn’t have made a better impact than a guy like 44th pick Cedric Henderson?
I was too short to be a forward, my high school position. My handle wasn’t strong enough to compete for a point guard slot, so basically, my only shot was to be drafted as a shooting guard – and my guess is I would have been picked somewhere around 46 – where Orlando took Alabama marksman Eric Washington. (Whose best year came with the Idaho Stampede in the NBA D-League in 2010).
Due to some late garbage time minutes, I estimate I would have averaged roughly 1.2 points a game… Which is more than draft picks C.J. Bruton (#52), Roberto Duenas (#57) and Nate Erdmann (#55) ever averaged in their careers.
The 11th pick of the draft was a guy named Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Nobody past the top 10 picks truly ever made a big statement in the NBA. Sure, Stephen Jackson (#42) was a key piece to the 2003 Spurs, Bobby Jackson (#23) was a sixth man sparkplug and Mark Blount (#54) was a dependable center for a few teams – but overall, 1997 was pretty mediocre… Even though I once bought into the ESPN theory that Jacque Vaughn (#27) would be the next Allen Iverson.
My own personal draft journey began after a two-game playoff run in the annual 1997 fraternity basketball challenge.
It was in a game against Pi Kappa Alpha. Their starting point guard tried to take me off the dribble to the left. I stuck my arm just above his bounce and poked the ball free into the open court. I ran after it, scooped it up and laid it in for the victory. My fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi had won our first play-off game in 10 years. In our next contest, we gave the brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon a good run, and I poured in 21 points. Ultimately, we lost on a late technical foul call when I got kicked out for calling the referee a “dickbag.”
It was after that game, while consuming a lot of Natural Light beer, that I decided to declare for the draft.
On draft day 1997, I sat on my mother’s couch with baited anticipation as the others had their moments. I ordered some pizza for my family. My mother thought I had lost my mind.
As the evening progressed, I had seen enough of the long, tailored mustard and pinstriped suits making their way to the podium to shake David Stern’s hand. I watched as guys like Tony Battie (#5), Danny Fortson (#10) and Antonio Daniels (#4) put on those crisp new NBA caps. I accepted the inevitable as the first round telecast came to an end.
The second round was only on the radio, so I sat in my Civic, listening in.
“And with the 48th pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, the Washington Bullets select Predrag Drobnjak from KK Partizan, Serbia.”
Really? A guy named Predrag was taken? Nobody could even pronounce his name. So what if he was a six-foot-eleven three time Euro League National Champion? I played on the frat tournament second runner-up team!
Most of the players from the ’97 draft ended up overseas, injured or, in Ron Mercer’s (#6) case, involved in a strip club assault or two. I was no different – except for the fact that I never played one minute in the NBA.
Then again, neither did Serge Zwikker (#29), Mark Sanford (#30) or Gordon Malone (#44).
I still think I would have had a shot.
Ed. Note: Zach Selwyn currently averages 15.2 points per game in his over 40-YMCA league.
I am uncomfortably straddling a white folding chair with 40 other people, ages ranging from 21-60 on a 103-degree day in Alta Dena waiting to work as an extra on a network TV show for the day. The pay isn’t terrible – $142.37 – or something like that, plus whatever gargantuan amounts of Craft Service snacks, candy, sodas and mini sandwiches I can shove into my shoulder bag to take home, but the overall feeling is grim. There is some old Greek food suffering beneath a sneeze guard nearby, a lot of discarded banana peels and a large fan blowing cool air towards us to keep us comfortable – like we’re NFL running backs playing a September game in Phoenix.
The scene has a prison-like feel to it. There are the lifers, the newbies and the guys who are only here for a few days trying to get their health insurance. I fall into that last category, but the fear of getting sexually assaulted by one of the older “inmates” is very real. Only problem is I can’t kick anyone’s ass to prove that I’m “tough.” Instead, I choose to bury myself into my iphone and hope the 45% charge lasts another 8 hours.
A year ago I was in New York City promoting my own TV show in Times Square for Tru TV. Now I am listening to a 22-year-old kid talk about how Hot Tub Time Machine is the main reason he dropped out of college to try to make it as an actor. You gotta love this business.
The majority of chatter amongst these “background players” or “atmosphere” is about the world of extras. Many relay the legendary scene in Ben Hur where an extra forgot to take his watch off during the chariot race. (Look it up – it’s hilarious). Others talk about how Ricky Gervais ripped off their idea when he did his Extras TV show. However, the subject that keeps coming up time and time again is the “bump up.” A “bump up” is when an extra is promoted from an extra to a principal role. Suddenly, the lucky bloke can go from zero to hero and earn Screen Actors Guild daily rate. However, according to everyone, incidents like that are more rare than finding a piece of sushi that hasn’t been in the sun for six hours beneath the cast and crew food canopy.
I am here today because I need to make $6300 before the end of the year as a way to qualify for Screen Actors Guild health insurance, a plan I have somehow managed to attain for the past twelve years. This year, however, the jobs dried up, a ton of work went non-union and I have finally aged out of the commercial actor category of “young, shaggy haired beer-drinking party guy.”
At this pay rate, it will take me working nearly every day for three months to earn the necessary SAG income to keep my family on the health plan. Alternative options – Obamacare and Cobra – basically guarantee that I will be paying 75% more money for lesser benefits. It has long been noted that SAG has terrific health care. The problem is that you need to earn an outrageous amount of money to qualify for it, and this year has been an ice bath as far as SAG work has been going.
“My dad was Jimmy Smits’ stand-in on LA Law,” a man named Sonny who was dressed as a Native American jewelry salesman bragged to the lot of us huddled beneath the blue pop-up tent. “He told me to find a niche as an extra. When I started out I only played Latino, only roles were for prisoners or a gang members. Now that I play Native American, I work all the time.”
I suddenly found myself wishing I had some Native American cheekbones.
As the day rolled along, I began to hear everybody’s story. You coop someone up for long enough, they will eventually tell you their life’s narrative. Every extra on set seemed to have a tale about the one legendary time they were “bumped up” to a principal role. One woman claimed she was bumped on Two and a Half Men because Charlie Sheen fired the original woman who had been cast for her one line of “Suck it, Charlie.” A guy who often plays blue-collar types said he got his bump on Dharma and Greg and had his career-defining moment in a bar fight scene when he raised his fists and said, “Meet my two friends… Mary-Kate and Ashley.”
And then there was Sonny, who said he specifically learned the extinct Native American language Kiowa to nab a line in a Civil War series. His line was “D’on T’ap Piii.” Which translates roughly to “See deer eating.”
I stared at Sonny for a long while. He did look familiar, as that Native American guy you sort of see in films, but I wasn’t sure. Which meant he was a great extra. One who blended in. He bragged of his work on The Alamo, Oz, The Longest Yard, Texas Rising, Hatfields and McCoys. Dances With Wolves and of course, That 70’s Show. The way he saw it, he was an integral part of these films. A guy who went uncredited – but felt he deserved all the success.
“There should be an extras lifetime achievement award,” he offered.
As a young actor, I did some extra work at age 22. At the time, like most young dreamers, I thought I was a small break away from my own series and I treated the other kids in the high school dance scene like castaways and future failures. When I started booking some jobs and enjoying the confines of an air-conditioned trailer with a private bathroom, I swore I’d never go back to the extras holding again. Yet, here I was. A 15-year TV veteran with a decent resume that I was too embarrassed to share with the other inmates. I decided to shut up and do my time and maybe get out of there with a few Clif bars and some coconut water.
Then, there was a call to action.
“Peter, Mike, Donna, Marla, Zach – party scene, now!” An Assistant Director yelled at us, directing us towards the makeup department to get touched up.
I put down my phone and walked over to the area, when Donna, one of the younger extras, mentioned that she often worked on the show. She then proceeded to refer to one of the makeup artists as her “glam squad.”
A short, effeminate man named Ty erupted in her face.
“Don’t call me ‘glam,’ don’t call me ‘glam squad’ or I’ll shove this hairbrush up your ass,” he screamed.
Emily, another makeup artist stopped him before any penetration took place. It was surreal. Never in my life had I seen a fight between an extra and a makeup artist. It was like the Cubs-Pirates bench clearing brawl in the National League Wild Card this season. You couldn’t believe it was happening.
It was a major altercation. Apparently, Ty was sent home and Donna was threatening to sue the show for harassment. It didn’t make sense. In my opinion, being called the “glam squad” wasn’t nearly as bad as being referred to as “background” or “ambience.”
My scene was fairly easy. I had to drink some iced tea and mouth the words “peas and carrots” to another extra. The entire time I was placed in the corner of the party and they shot about 9 angles and we let the main actress do six takes before she was happy. As the director stood merely three feet from me, I tried to convince him that a line would be appropriate for my character. I pitched him ““D’on T’ap Piii.”
He didn’t respond. Apparently he didn’t speak Kiowa.
Lunch was at 1:00 and the extras were told to not touch or come near any food until the entire cast and crew had eaten. I was actually quite full from snacking – so I didn’t need to rush, but a lot of the extras bitched and moaned about the lack of respect. I turned to a fellow extra named Tony, who was about my age.
“Why can’t everyone just relax?” I asked him.
“Welcome to the Screen Extras Guild,” he responded.
An hour later, following one of those naps when you fall asleep with your chin in your hand, there was a small rumbling about a potential bump up for one of the extras. Apparently, a producer had seen one of us and wanted to add a line. The bit was that the lucky person would confront the female star of the show – who was wearing a fur jacket – with an uncomfortable long hug and then said, “you feel like a plushie.” All the extras began rehearsing their lines as if this was an audition for the next Coen Brothers film and we all got excited. I even took a walk around the tent and worked on my delivery.
Eventually, the female star and the director came to the extras tent and started looking around at all of us as if we were cattle being sold at a livestock auction. The female actress passed the first few folks, skipped the youngsters and then whispered to her director, “I need a middle-aged schlub.”
I am certainly creeping up on middle age, but I don’t feel like I look that way. I’m in great shape and still have hair and my skin has been hiding from the sun throughout the years as I write my life away. However, I was chosen as one of the three finalists to play “middle-aged schlub.”
We all went and had a private audition with the actress and director. I immediately messed up my hair, raised my jeans to mom-jean height and did my best to look like a total Midwestern chump who would give a hot girl a “long hug” and make her uncomfortable.
“Mmm, you feel like a fluff – wait, what’s the line?” The first guy said, immediately messing up his chances.
“You feel like a plushie,” said the next guy who was 40 pounds heavier and 100% balder than me.
When my turn came, I looked deeply into the actress’ eyes. She stared back at me for about five seconds. I knew this was my job to lose… so I did my best to “eye-bang” her and get the job on the spot. Instead, before I could get my line out, she interrupted me.
“You look like that guy from that Tru TV show,” she said.
“I am that guy!”
“What are you doing in the extras tent?” She replied.
“Trying to get my health insurance,” I said, hoping she would feel my pain and give me the bump up on the spot. I dug deeper into my plea, mentioning that my family had been sick a lot the past year and I was a huge fan of the show.
“You might be too recognizable,” she blurted. “Second guy, you got the job.”
And with that, the fat, bald guy went off to his own folding chair, better food and a holding area behind the video village where the producers and directors hung out.
I returned to my spot in the tent. All the other extras wanted to know what had happened and I told them I relayed the story as best I could. When I mentioned that the female star had said I was “too recognizable” the tent wanted to know why. After all, not one of these folks had any idea who I was. I told them. Nobody had even heard of my show.
“I get recognized all the time,” said Sonny. “People stop me when I walk down the street.”
The rest of the day I watched my phone dwindle down towards the 3% range and eventually die. In a way, I felt like that iphone charge… A year back I was flying high at 100%. Now, I was hanging onto 3.
Before I left, I managed to fill my bag with enough high fructose corn syrup snacks to kill a small village and I hopped into the first awaiting white van that would shuttle us back to the parking lot. Luckily, I ended up in the same row as the female lead actress from earlier.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m sorry about that moment back there… I just recognized you from that other show – I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”
“Amazingly, you’re the first person to know me from that like, ever,” I said.
“I’ll tell you what. Give me your manager’s name and I’ll make sure we get you in for a small role this season,” she offered.
I couldn’t believe it. Here she was telling me that she would go out of her way to get me a speaking part on her show. I got her personal email and said I’d be sending my demo reel and headshot over immediately. We exchanged good-byes and I returned my mom jeans to the costume department and signed out for the day.
As I walked to my car, the lead actress shook my hand and said I would be hearing from the production office very soon.
I could have fucked one of my teachers back in high school. I didn’t. But I could have. She was into me… She told me I made her ‘quiver…’ She said I looked like a movie star. She tried to kiss me. This was 25 years ago… I still think about it.
Nowadays these stories are everywhere. Open any internet browser and you are greeted by a photo of a young teacher who was recently arrested for seducing their 16-year-old Biology student with marijuana and booze and throwing group sex parties and shit. Their mug shots get splashed all over websites and people everywhere shame these women for fucking underage boys…
Back in the day you never heard about this type of shit. If you did, it was always a creepy male Phys Ed. teacher who wore New Balance sneakers and sported a filthy Don Mattingly moustache. Now it seems these sex-starved teachers are women who look like Charlize Theron with John and Kate Plus Eight haircuts.
In the early 90’s, these women didn’t exist.
Except in my high school.
During my senior year, a really cute teacher’s assistant/college student named Debbie joined my AP English class. She was responsible for grading our shitty essays about the “Grapes of Wrath,” and helped with our teacher Mrs. Kelly’s syllabus… and she also happened to give me ‘fuck me eyes’ nearly every single day.
One day after school in the parking lot, Debbie caught me by my Dodge Lancer as I was preparing to roll a Mexi-shwag joint to smoke with my boy Adam.
“Zach, can I talk to you for a second?” She asked.
At first I thought she was going to criticize my schoolwork or something, but instead she ended up asking me on a date.
“Look, Zach – so I know you mentioned that you want to be an actor when you are older… and uhmm… Well, Les Miz is coming to the U of A next Saturday and I actually have an extra ticket – so if you want to go…?”
She smiled at me. The ‘U of A’ was the University of Arizona… and I had been hanging around the campus since I was a kid. I had always noticed the frat guys and the cute girls, but here was one of them actually… hitting on me. Or at least I thought she was. She was confident and she certainly had something none of the high school
girls I had been dating had… a MAJOR.
I wasn’t sure if this invite was a come on, but I liked it. I felt invincible and dominant. Typical 17-year-old shit. I nodded my head, told her, ‘sure’ and we made plans to meet around seven at Centennial Hall on the Arizona campus to see the show. She even gave me her phone number just in case I got lost. Cell-phones weren’t a thing yet, but she promised to check her answering machine from a payphone.
I went back to see Adam.
“What was that all about, dude?”
“Dude, I think I might fuck the English T.A.”
I went home and told my mom that I had plans to go out on Saturday night. My mom went ballistic. My mom can read anybody. Especially back then. She immediately began getting suspicious of this woman’s intentions.
She wanted to know who she was, how old she was, what exactly this teacher wanted with me, etc.
“Mom, don’t worry, she’s like, 22, and she just knows I want to be an
actor – that’s it!”
“Don’t kid yourself, Zach, this woman has ulterior motives… don’t be so naïve.”
Amazingly, I somehow convinced my mom that this could be my only chance to see Les Miserables, and since my mother is a Broadway Theater geek, she relented at the last minute and let me go. But with a warning…
“Keep in mind, Zach, you have way too much going for you to
impregnate a teacher.”
I ignored her and drove off to meet Debbie at the show.
Debbie was waiting in front of Centennial Hall as I walked up from the free parking spot I found six blocks away. I had no interest in dropping $4.00 on the valet… although today, that seems completely reasonable. Meanwhile, Debbie had dressed up for the occasion, much differently than her usual school jeans and sweater. She was wearing an above-the-knee dress and a leather tank top with fringes angling from them. This was no high school girl…
Meanwhile, I wore Banana Republic jeans and my favorite striped shirt from a long extinct mall fashion store called Structure.
During the show, Debbie ‘accidentally’ grabbed my arm a few times as if we were watching a horror film like Nightmare on Elm Street. The thing was, the show wasn’t that scary… It also wasn’t that good.
It may have been the touring company, or the Centennial Hall acoustics, but I was lost for most of the performance. About the only thing I remember about it was that I was hiding a massive chubby in my pants and that New York Yankees pitcher Tommy John had a kid who was performing in the show… I thought that was pretty cool. (Taylor John RIP).
After it wrapped and we stood and applauded, Debbie suggested we walk around the university for a little bit. She actually asked me if I would be interested in getting a beer. I was 17. I rarely drank in high school, but I did have my stepbrother’s fake I.D. He was 5’9”. I was 6’2”. It only worked at one liquor store on Columbus Avenue where the clerk actually believed me when I told him I had, “A big growth spurt last summer.
“I could have one, I guess,” I said.
Debbie smiled and we walked over to U of A Liquors and she bought a six-pack of this relatively new beer called Icehouse.
Growing up in Tucson, you spend a lot of time drinking beer in the washes and deserts hidden off the sides of the streets. She found her little familiar spot where she liked to drink with her college friends and we drank and talked for quite a while… about my Hollywood dreams, our English class and movies we liked. Eventually, near the end of beer number two, she told me that she thought I have “it” and told me that she was confident that I will absolutely make it as a huge movie star.
She then leaned in and began kissing the side of my neck for roughly four seconds.
“Woah,” I said, pulling away and hiding my awkwardness behind a weird laugh.
“I…I…I’m so sorry!” She blurted out. “I thought you wanted this!”
Debbie turned deep red. My stomach twisted. That sinking feeling in the stomach where you just don’t know what the right words are.
“Look, I’m only 17, ya know?” I said.
She wasn’t comfortable. She began rocking back and forth.
“I’m so stupid, this was – this was so stupid,” she said.
“No, no, it’s fine – I just – I’m not sure it’s… right,” I said.
“You’re really sexy, Zach, you know that, right?”
“Uhmm, Thanks,” I said. “I mean, you’re sexy too but…”
And then we sat there in silence for close to ten minutes. Those awkward high school silences…
“Listen,” she said sometime later. “Can we please never tell anybody about this – especially Mrs. Kelly?” She said.
“I will never tell anybody,” I promised. Another five minutes of silence followed before I suggested it was time to call it a night.
As we made the walk back to my car, I began to feel somewhat guilty. I was sort of one of those high school make-out kings – the guy who always loved kissing almost more than anything else… I thought, that when we got to my car, I would grab her and kiss her – just to lift our self-esteem and make the night less disappointing and more epic… But when we got back to my Dodge… I just couldn’t do it.
I looked at her. She seemed confused. She seemed lost, most likely feeling guilty. I told her that Monday morning would be no different than any other day. I told her she shouldn’t worry and that I wouldn’t tell a soul. I thanked her for the ticket to Les Miz and I drove home and masturbated into my pillow.
25-years later, a big part of me wishes I would’ve had sex with her… This was the pre-internet world. Nobody would have cared. She would have not been able to ‘friend me’ on Facebook or post pictures of us in that wash posing with beers in the Tucson night… There would have been no mug shot… She probably had an apartment nearby the campus and life would have just rolled along so easily back then… My God, it would have been so simple to get away with it and I would have a killer story for my friends when I got to college…
Alas, the moment faded, much like my movie star dreams… and my adolescent fantasies. That following Monday morning in class was far less awkward for me than it was for her, although we never seemed to even acknowledge one another.
I recently typed Debbie’s name into Google and found out that she was newly divorced and a mother of three… She was in Scottsdale. She looked old.
It’s funny how life speeds up and people come and go from your lives – I often think back… What if we had fucked? Maybe she gets pregnant and I have a 26-year-old son in Scottsdale right now? Luckily, I don’t. Life is pretty fucking crazy.
I never saw Les Miz again.
I’m not sure if they still make Icehouse beer.
I haven’t smoked Mexi-shwag in decades.
But you’re God damned right I got an ‘A’ in Mrs. Kelly’s AP English class…
Please watch Zach’s NBA2k Vlog from New York City!
As far as we know, nobody has ever attempted to read from a BOOK out loud at The Powerhouse – BUT ZACH IS GONNA DO IT Wed. June 18 at 7:00 pm
Because they are shutting the doors on this venerable bar for good next Monday –Yes, the rumors are true.
Those of you who have seen Zach’s band here know how much fun it is. Sadly, we cant play any music anymore, but I can read a drunken passage from my book, dammit! And I hope you can all come down for one last PBR from the best bartenders in Los Angeles…
When: Wednesday Night June 18, 7:00 pm
Where: The Powerhouse 1714 N Highland Ave, Hollywood, CA 90028
Why: We need to say good-bye to this historical dive bar in true fashion. Elvis, Jim Morrison, Janis and the Beatles all drank here! (So has Johnny Knoxville and many other Hollywood barroom regulars…)
Loyal readers of this blog… Thank you for your years of support – especially in regards to the SHORT STORY writing. We have compiled many of the essays you have read (And many you have not read) into Zach’s first ever published collection of stories for sale as a PAPERBACK . (Kindle coming soon!)
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.