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.
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…
I had been at the Great Wolf Lodge for roughly an hour when a drunk and angry ex-firefighter threatened to kick my ass at the indoor water park. He was pissed off at me for disrespecting the “sanctity” of the Great Wolf Lodge… I am 100 percent serious. Let me start at the beginning…
Spring Break. These are two of the most beautiful words in the English language… if you are a child. To parents, these words concur up feeling of hopelessness, anguish and despair. And for some reason? Today’s elementary school kids get two whole weeks off for “Spring Break…” TWO WEEKS! When I was a kid we got TWO DAYS. In college we only got a week. And as far as I recall, it wasn’t even a thing in high school.
But sure… the rigorous schedule of counting, handwriting and connect the dots can be so gruesome and torturous for a second grader – that a two-week vacation at the end of March is exactly what the school nurse ordered… So, if you’re like me, you suddenly begin scrambling to find activities for your kids to do during this gratuitous vacation. So, you make plans…
You drop $75.00 to go see shitty movies like Sherlock Gnomes.
You gain 12 pounds by not being able to go to the gym on your regular schedule. And, in some extreme cases, you agree to take your kids to the GREAT WOLF LODGE for two days…
Which is exactly where I found myself last week, riddled with anxiety as I nibbled on a chicken finger ten feet from a wave pool full of screaming children. Praying for death.
If you have never heard of a Great Wolf Lodge, let me put it this way… Consider yourself lucky. With 13 locations across the country, the kid-friendly indoor water park is to people like me the end of the fucking world. Known for its indoor water park and “wolf-themed” decor, the franchise has drawn families from far and wide to spend their entire monthly paychecks on shitty food, arcade games and the guarantee that you will contract the Norovirus within three spins in the “Lazy River.”
I mumbled something under my breath as I loaded the car, preparing to journey down to the hotel with my wife, our second grade girl and my very unenthusiastic pre-teen who was pissed because he was missing roughly 48 hours of the video game Fortnite.
The drive down was actually somewhat exciting. I was anticipating the water park summer days of my youth, when I met a cute girl in line at the snack bar, chatted up an 8th grade crush and passed a Sony Walkman around with my buddies listening to Straight Outta Compton. Those days were nothing but innocent and fun… and I was hoping my kids might make some amazing memories of their own…
When we arrived, however, my entire demeanor changed. After looking for a space in the self-parking garage for 30 minutes, I was met with the sudden reality that there were a lot of people here during Spring Break. I mean, a lot of people. Like, thousands. And all of them had kids. Small, sweaty, stinky, gross, fat, weird, uninhibited kids…
My first moment of clarity happened when I was presented with a pair of felt “wolf ears” as I entered the lobby.
“HOWL you doing today!?” A bubbly 20-something dude named Bryan asked.
“PAW-SOME!!!” I responded sarcastically.
“Woah! Someone’s got the Great Wolf spirit!” He screamed. “AWWOOOOOOOO!”
I looked around at the hundred of fathers traipsing through the lobby wearing these ridiculous wolf ears… The looks on their faces all read the same: FAILURE.
There is a certain look a man knows when he runs into another man at a place like the Great Wolf Lodge. It is a look of defeat. Of mediocrity. Of deficiency. Like we all expected to be the dads who take our kids in Hawaii or something, but ended up at the Great Wolf Lodge in Anaheim. I recognized this look on every man’s face I encountered.
We checked in and got to our suite, which we were sharing with another family we knew from from LA. Everyone changed into bathing suits to go hit the indoor water park. A small part of me was hoping it would be a fun day, and after all, as long as they had a jacuzzi I figured I could kill a few hours relaxing and hanging out with strangers.
There was no jacuzzi.
And the water park was massive. And loud. And it smelled like feet.
“Daddy! Come in the lazy river with me!” My daughter squealed.
I took a deep breath and stood up. I took off my shirt and walked over towards the lazy river. The first thing I noticed about the water park was that somehow, I had THE BEST BODY THERE.
In my 42 years, I have never been the “ripped” guy at the pool. Ever. Even when I was 18 I had the beginnings of a dad bod and now, at my age, I had been keeping trim and eating well to the point where at the Great Wolf Lodge in Anaheim, California, I was a SWIMSUIT MODEL. Seriously. I was 30 pounds lighter than the average man. My wife, who has always been in terrific shape looked like Hannah Jeter posing for Sports Illustrated. We were “Anaheim 10’s…” and pretty proud of it.
As I strutted around my new Adonis-like physique, I watched as my daughter slowly dipped into the lazy river among what seemed like hundreds of other kids. I put my leg in, noticed it was much colder than I had anticipated, and began walking around the river behind her.
And then some kid’s fleshy leg rubbed up against mine under the water. I froze. It was like in Star Wars when that Dianoga Monster rubs up against Luke in the trash compactor. A gross little bare human leg rubbing against my inner calf. I stopped to gather myself. I felt like a part of the #metoo movement. I was rattled… And then another kid wrapped himself around my chest for support as he floated by… I shuttered. Looking around, I suddenly became keenly aware of little yellow swirls of urine accumulating in certain areas. I also counted three loose Band-Aids and numerous clumps of hair floating in the water. A few more kids hit me with inner tubes as they raced by and finally, when a little girl wiped her snot off of her face and tossed it into the water beside me, my afternoon at the water park was OVER.
“Baby, I’m getting out,” I yelled as she floated down the river.
Her frown broke my heart, but the place was already too much for me. I was done. I had been at the Great Wolf Lodge for less than an hour.
After drying off, I noticed the small line of men waiting for beer. I grabbed my “Wolf Band” which had my credit card and room number on it, and bought my first beer of the day. It was 3:30, but if I was going to get through this place, a buzz was certainly needed. Looking around, I noticed that day-drinking was certainly the norm here, like the way it is in airports when people order beers at 7:00 in the morning and nobody thinks twice about it.
After paying, I turned around, noticing three men behind me waiting for drinks. Two of them had “Lakeland County Fire Department” shirts on. The other was shirtless, proudly showing off a fading Tazmanian Devil tattoo from the early 90’s… I toasted the guys with my beer.
“Gentlemen,” I said. “What happened to us? We were all once virile men… with dreams, passions, desires… goals. NOW? We’re on vacation at the fucking Great Wolf Lodge. What the fuck, am I right!!?”
Suddenly, the shirtless man took a threatening step my way and got directly in my face.
“Are you disrespecting the LODGE, bro?” He asked in an accusatory way.
I wasn’t sure if he was serious. I laughed.
“Sounds like you are,” he continued aggressively, the vapor of liquor prominent on his breath. I felt scared. I backpedaled.
“No, man.. I was just, you know – joking-“
I was taken aback. If I said the wrong thing here, there is no doubt in my mind that this guy would start throwing punches. And whereas a pool fight might be the perfect excuse to get banned from the Great Wolf Lodge forever, I decided to lay off. Meanwhile, his friends tried to calm him down.
“Don’t get into another fight, Jim,” his friend told him.
Another fight? Holy shit… this guy Jim was out here kicking dad’s asses all day.
“No, man, I was just joking around, you know…” I mumbled.
“No, I don’t know, bro,” he said. “I’m a retired firefighter… I don’t back down from shit.”
And then, suddenly, there was an extremely loud wolf howl coming from the wave pool – This was the signal to swimmers that a fresh set of waves was about to begin… 200 kids screamed in delight as the call of the wolf echoed through the waterpark.
“Ohhhh shit, what’s that?” I asked the guys.
“That means the waves are starting up…” Jim said. “That’s the call of the Lodge, bro… you better embrace your inner wolf… because like it or not? You made the decision to come here.”
He was right. I could make the most of this experience and embrace my inner wolf… or make myself suffer.
“Hey man, I’m sorry – it’s my first time here… I was just making a bad joke…”
Jim calmed down. His whole demeanor changed and he became aware that he was not in the octagon, but was at the Great Wolf Lodge. If he had wanted to kick my ass, he would have… but my honesty seemed to have chilled him out.
“Screw it,” he said. “Sorry to get up in your face, bro… come on, I’ll buy you a beer.”
Jim and his pals bought me another beer and I returned back to our deck chairs and told the story to my wife and her friend. They weren’t interested. They were concerned about something much more important.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Apparently, another mom had just told my wife that Pink Eye was going around the lodge that weekend… The woman’s two kids had been infected on the water slide and her husband was in the hotel room with his eyes swollen shut.
“Welp, I’m fucking out of here,” I said.
I took my beer upstairs and went to the bar to watch a baseball game. As I walked back through the water park, I began observing a few things.
I never realized how many adults have tattoos of their children’s baby footprints.
I had no idea that BIG DOGS Clothing was still a thing. There were also a lot of “Exercise…Eggsercise…Eggs are sides… Eggs are sides for Bacon” t-shirts and ‘water pun’ shirts. Like a picture of a snail holding up a seashell to his face beneath the words “SHELL-FIE!”
Finally, the majority of these adults seemed fine eating garbage for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One dad in line at the snack bar even highly recommended the pork nachos.
I thought we were in Anaheim. Somehow we ended up in Wisconsin.
Upstairs, I found a few other dads watching the Dodgers game. I made some new friends – including a pest control guy from Alhambra and a Target general manager from Riverside. We drank a few beers and talked baseball. As a way to make my new pals laugh, I recognized Bryan, the same guy who had checked me in earlier, eating on his lunch break. I approached him.
“Hey Bryan, quick question… do they have a Great Wolf Glory Hole up in this piece?”
The bar got silent. My new pals hid their laughter. Bryan did not seem amused. Within 30 seconds the bar manager tapped me on the shoulder.
“Just a reminder, sir…” He warned. “This is the Great Wolf Lodge… not the Great Wolf of Wall Street Lodge.”
My afternoon concluded in the arcade, where the kids have given up on video games requiring any sort of skill in favor of games where you spin a wheel,… and win tickets. It’s not even a challenge. It’s just a prize wheel. When I arrived, I found my daughter hoarding what looked like 15,000 prize tickets.
“I’m saving up for the stuffed wolf!” She said. I saw the wolf on the wall. At any CVS store across the country, this dumb little stuffed animal would cost $3.99. My wife told me they had already spent $60.00 trying to win it. I went back to the bar.
That night, after ordering pizza to our room, my wife and I shared some wine as the kids fell asleep. At that moment, we heard a rustling in the hallway. Peeking outside, I noticed two security guards dragging a very drunk man from his room.
“How long has he been drinking today?” They asked his wife, who looked terrified.
“Since brunch, I think,” she said.
“We’ll take him to the first aid area and get him some fluids… We’ll check back in 30 minutes.”
I asked the lady what had happened.
“It’s just my dumb husband… every time we come to this place he gets blackout drunk.”
“That makes two of us,” I said, raising my wine glass.
She shut her door on me.
The next day we were set to check out. I was excited to get home and back outside – as we had been indoors for roughly 18 hours straight. The Great Wolf Lodge is like fucking Vegas in that way. You have no reason to ever leave the place… I started packing and preparing to head back to LA.
“Wanna meet us at the pool?” My wife said.
“We’re not leaving?” I said.
“I figured the kids would want another day at the pool,” she said. “I mean we paid for it.”
And just like that, we did a second day at the water park. At this point I officially gave up. I began day-drinking at 11:00. I howled every time that dumb wolf noise started in the wave pool. I contemplated buying a Great Wolf Lodge t-shirt in the gift shop that was on sale from Halloween (Or as they put it… HOWL-ween…)
Deep down I knew that finally, I had reluctantly embraced my inner wolf.
I looked around the pool again. I was a little bloated from the first day and slightly hungover. I was no longer had the best body there. I was one day into my “Midwest” period.
I went over to our deck chairs and ordered the pork nachos…
WATCH ZACH’S NEW SERIES “ONE MINUTE MUSIC MINUTE” at OLE TV! @oletvofficial
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…
In 1995, I had hair to my back, owned 329 bootleg Phish cassette tapes and dated a girl who didn’t shave her armpits with whom I shared a cat named “Fee.” Phish was more than a band. They were a way of life, and whenever they sauntered within 300 miles of Los Angeles, I was out the door, in my Honda Civic that I had named “Hayley’s Comet” (After an obscure Phish song), en route to another show somewhere down the road. In the 19 years since my first concert, I have seen Phish in 13 different states (and many altered ones). I have snuck into their dressing rooms during long, improvised jam sets and taken pictures of their guitar cases. I even made a long trip to Europe in 1996 to follow them around as the opened – yes opened- for Santana. The highlights of this trip included meeting Trey Anastasio in an Amsterdam café and shaking Mike Gordon’s hand outside of the venue in Paris… (As well as making out with plenty of European women, who didn’t speak a word of English). Yes, I was fanatical. Phish was even the reason I decided to “join the internet” – just to check out their website Phish.net – and they were the benchmark by which I held a person’s character. Did you like Phish? No? Sorry, we can’t be friends.
Every one of my close friends was right there with me. We would write letters of set lists from East Coast shows to buddies stuck in LA, send tapes, make mixes and throw listening parties. Throughout the years, some of us had been cited for possession, arrested for selling bootleg t-shirts and handcuffed at DUI checkpoints. One friend – Frisco Freddy – in an ecstasy-fueled dare – once got married to a girl he met at the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas at a drive-through chapel following the show. The danced to “If I Could” and made love in a hotel room shared by 12 people that night – as we all giggled listening to Frisco Freddy reach his climax. It was all part of the adventure. (The marriage was annulled 2 days later. Frisco Freddy is now Fred Goldfarb, commercial real estate agent).
It seemed so normal. It was our existence. If we timed our chemicals right, we might peak during a terrific “Chalkdust Torture” that would stoke college apartment discussions for weeks on end. My favorite moment/lyric of any Phish show was in the same song when Trey erupted into the brilliant line “Can’t this wait ‘til I’m old? Can I live while I’m young?!” The lyric clanged through our heads like the National Anthem.
The words were a true celebration of our freedom. Of being young, making our own bold choices and not wanting to face any responsibilities of the reality of survival in the real world. That lyric was my unofficial catch phrase for my way of life.
When Phish concerts were announced, a plan was hatched to buy tickets and block out the dates roughly an hour after the show was revealed. We traveled anywhere, drove in any state of mind – and slept five deep on friend’s apartment floors. It was all part of being 20 and being in love with a band of 4 vagrant virtuoso musicians from Vermont who had captured the hearts of our generation. Nothing could ever distance me from my brothers – both onstage and in that endless, dancing crowd. The nameless faces who said to me “Have a good show” before every gate opened – and the post show strangers who would sell me a Pheelin’ Phine sticker and joint for ten bucks in the parking lot to help face the impossible comedown on the drive home.
And then, something happened.
Around 1998 – somewhere between college and the real world, something changed. I remember going to the July 20, 1998 show at the Ventura County Fairgrounds – and for the first time, at age 23 – feeling as if the band and I had suddenly grown apart. Maybe it happened during “Poor Heart” when I didn’t get up and dance like a maniac like I used to do – or maybe it happened somewhere in the second set during “Maze” when I suddenly developed a bunch of insecurities about my career choices and lack of girlfriend – I was never quite sure. All I knew was that there was definitely a grand abyss that suddenly presented itself before me. And my old friends in Phish somehow took the unlucky slack. I contemplated a drive to the following night’s show at Desert Sky Pavilion in Phoenix– site of some of the most memorable concerts of my youth… and I decided against it. It somehow seemed a little irresponsible and desperate. It seemed like another distraction from chasing my new path.
Don’t get me wrong, plenty of my friends attended and sent me letters telling me that they couldn’t believe I missed my home state gig – but I somehow didn’t care. (I think I saw Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at the Derby in Hollywood that same night and felt pretty damn good about myself…) Needless to say, the tides had turned. I was a different man.
I guess it seemed like Phish was a band that would keep me treading in the same spot rather than blazing a new path forward. The recent passing of a dear friend – who I last saw at a Phish concert a year prior – had brought a vague sorrowful cloud over the frivolity of my youth. It was as if a window of life had closed and a dream had ended. I sold Hayley’s Comet that summer and bought a more sensible 1998 Honda CR-V. It went unnamed.
My final show was September 17, 1999 at Shoreline. I sort of wandered around during a long jam session during the second set, seemingly bored. It was as if the drug had worn off and I couldn’t wait to get back to my room and climb into my bed. I was only 24 years old, but I had peaked. It was time to settle in, make some money and follow my own dreams of leading my own band – instead of just following someone else’s. I felt like the pupil who was about to overtake the instructor. When I finally got my band together, in 2002, the goal was to outdraw Phish in five years… Didn’t quite happen. (My band went on to hit some extremely minor success on the zombie country – rap music movie soundtrack circuit, but other than that, we never quite sold out Madison Square Garden…)
Oddly enough, a year after my last show, Phish would break up. I felt like I had timed it perfectly. For six strong years, I followed a band to the ends of the Earth – Draining my wallet while feeding my head and my soul. I was 25, and engulfed in Hollywood – listening to new finds like The Band, Gram Parsons and Little Feat. Suddenly, Phish seemed like a tiny speck on the musical map and I was done with their guidance. It had been a gorgeous journey but it had to come to an end. The CD’s and tapes began collecting dust as I opened my mind into a deeper track list of song and only occasionally reminisced about getting to do the clapping thing along with 13,000 people during songs like “Stash.” The band had broken up, my hair had been cut off and things like set lists and rides to shows no longer mattered. I didn’t think I’d ever see Phish live again.
The phone call came in two days before the concert. Our old friend Larry had bought four tickets to the 2012 West Coast summer tour kick off show at the Long Beach Arena. His first instinct was to gather the tribe back together for a reunion show. It was brilliant. Larry had assembled a crew of former fraternity brothers and Phish-heads alike, none being bigger than me – a man with nearly 35 shows to my name – including some back as far as 1993. Our pal Mike was coming – his first show since 1997. Also along for the ride was a man known as “The Sauce” for his heroic drinking capability back in college – a longtime fan who had seen over 12 shows. And Larry. As advanced a partier as I have ever known. Never without a pocket full of Percoset and a bottle of 18-year-old scotch in his back pocket. We were four old warriors returning for one more battle with the great gentle giant of our past. Prepared to run the place, the way we did in 1997… Prepared to experience an earth shattering revolutionary moment of clarity. Perhaps at a time when we all needed it the most.
All of us are in our late 30’s and married. Three of us have steady every day high-paying jobs. I’m the one without one. (Still coasting along in the entertainment industry). Amazingly enough, whereas we used to compare make out stores and conquests, now, all these years later, there are 9 children between the four of us. There is one stepdaughter and one baby on the way. It was a far cry from the days of smoking an ounce of weed in an old Ford Explorer with our sorority girlfriends. It was our time to prove that we could pretend we were 20, but always be aware that we are 37.
Larry’s offer was impossible to refuse.
See, I had actually broken my Phish hiatus a year earlier. The summer of 2011, I had gone to see Phish at the Hollywood Bowl, my first show in 12 years. It had blown my mind. The songs were familiar and inspiring and even new jams like “Backwards Down the Number Line” had me believing for a few glorious hours, that my life with the band was all worth it. I hit peaks, flashed back to marvelous memories on highways and in hotels, with girls and old friends and eventually simmered into a state of serenity as I took a $5.00 cab home from my neighborhood venue. I had never seen a more perfect concert. So, the possibilities a show in Long Beach held were endless. Old friends gathering once again in a beach community to smoke a little, drink a little and dance a little? It was a no-brainer. I signed up immediately. Mike and the Sauce were in too. The stage was set. We would meet down at the Long Beach Hilton around 5:00 pm and pre-party before hitting the show. If all went too crazy, we’d share a hotel room. We’d even try to carpool down to save money for parking and gas. We were planning on being more responsible, trying to spend a night not thinking about the troubles at work, our kid’s schooling and whether or not to sell our Facebook stock. Larry had even mentioned ecstasy. After a minute-long consideration, we all passed, but the knowing smiles we shared with each other only reminded us of a time more innocent when rolling on a tab of E was a guaranteed path to a brilliant Phish experience. Now, we decided to just have a few beers and maybe split a joint. We had grown.
The 5:00 meeting did not happen. When work let out, the traffic to Long Beach from Los Angeles was unbearable. I left my house at 3:30 and met up with the Sauce at 5. We then spent another hour and a half on the 405 and 710 to the LBC. It took us roughly three hours to get to the concert. I was fuming.
Back in the day, a two- day drive to Texas for a show would have never been out of the question. Now, however, spending three hours in a car these days is not my idea of a “night out from the kids.” And years ago, joints would have eased the pain of the ride as we blasted some live tape from 1992 smiling at the cars we crept along the freeway with. Now we were afraid to hold our cell phones up to our ears to avoid getting pulled over for not having “hands-free” devices.
The Sauce and I made a wrong turn off the 710, but somehow ended up meeting Mike and Larry at the hotel. After long lost friendly pleasantries were exchanged, the immediate recognition of spotting the familiar Phish army sank in once again. Kids showed up in John Fishman dresses – kooky Phish t-shirts from 30 years of merchandising gone right and plenty of MAN-dals. It was all as familiar as a “Bathtub Gin” guitar riff. As we approached the venue, we became aware that we were definitely amongst the older generation – probably by 7-10 years – and we quickly noticed the similarities between 1995 and 2012. Except for instead of being the longhaired young kids with hot girlfriends, we were the dirty old dudes drooling over hot 20-something hippie girls who were there with their boyfriends. It should also be noted that the hairy armpit girls of the 90’s were nowhere to be seen. The California crowd was HOT. Young, bountiful, blonde, sexy, natural, curvy and gorgeous. A far cry from the dreadlocked smock-wearing wanderers that would hitch rides with us from town to town in the 90’s. Somewhere in the past 15 years, Phish’s female fan base somehow got SMOKIN’ hot.
I smoked a joint with my old friends. We laughed, shared pictures of our kids and split decent gyros we bought from some dude on a bicycle. It started to feel like home once again. As we saw the throng of concert goers celebrating the very fact that it was a religious night we began smiling like we were all young and innocent again, We were transported back to a time of peace and incorruptibility, purity and clarity. We were in heaven.
I’m pretty sure I made my first mistake when I stood in a 30-minute line to get a wristband to buy beer. Nobody had told me that inside, there was a smaller line – so I freaked out and wasted a half hour. I also made the mistake of not using the port-a-potties outside. I saw five people waiting to pee and got frustrated. But when I went inside, the line was 75 dudes deep. Took me another 20 minutes to hit the head.
Still, as the anticipation mounted, the familiar feeling returned. I knew I was seeing one of my all-time favorite bands and I couldn’t wait to get into the music like I did one year earlier at the Hollywood Bowl. It had been five hours since I left my house. I had drunk a few beers and took a long hit off of another friend’s chillum pipe. I was flying high when they opened the show with “Suzy Greenberg” – an old school jam that I used to LOVE. I hadn’t even thought about the song in 16 years. But it sounded as boisterous and thunderous as it had all those years ago. The set continued. “Kill Devil Falls” is one of my newest favorites. “Bouncing Round the Room” made me reminisce of old friends and women dancing around my apartment. Just young and dumb and free… Fucking FREE.
The funny thing was, back in the 90’s I would have been able to tell you what song was beginning by the first three notes. I knew every opening riff, line, bass thump, drum kick, you name it. Now, it took me half a song to even recognize what it was. I wasn’t as up to the familiarity as I thought I was. Still, it didn’t matter. That first set was perfect. We were all happily stoned, shrugging off the $10.50 Miller Lites and ignoring the fact that the Long Beach Arena should really have been reserved for a WNBA game – and not a Phish concert in a fine-looking slice of California near the sea. Even the dozens of people near us smoking cigarettes didn’t bother us just yet. We were all in a Phish trance, heckling stadium vendors trying to sell kettle corn and churros to a bunch of drugged out super fans and doing our best to remember our killer dance moves.
Everything was conscious. Everyone was free. Everyone was happy… Until they played “Stash.” It was then that I decided to make my first journey into my iphone to see what the name of the song was. (Back in college I would have had the lyrics tattooed on my arm, but now, I was struggling with the title). As I looked at my phone, my wife’s name appeared in a text. As did my brother’s. And a text from a possible business opportunity. Suddenly, Phish was GONE. I had to return my wife’s text to make sure the kids were OK. I had to send my brother a pdf file. I had to go talk to my business contact about the TV show idea he had. I was distracted. I suddenly realized it was Wednesday. Oh man, I had shit to do.
The classic “Stash” lyric “Was it for this my life I thought? Maybe so, maybe not” began.
It made sense when I was 20. It made perfect sense again.
I made sure I clapped at the right places and sang the “Ohhwooahh woah woah ooh” part in the song somewhat properly, albeit less enthusiastically than I had all those years ago, but I listened to that lyric repeat itself as I embarrassingly dove back into my phone. Afraid my friends would make fun of me for not being as entranced in the show as they were, I was pleasantly surprised to look over and see that Larry, Mike and the Sauce were all frantically texting into their phones as well. We were once slaves to the music. Now we were slaves to technology, wives, kids and work.
I decided to wait to go outside to call my wife until after the first set, which was a good move. But when Phish crushed the arena with “Quinn the Eskimo,” I was as as festive as anyone my age can get. As I drooled over some ridiculously hot dancing brunette who reminded me of half the girls I had dated in the 90’s, I began whispering to my friends about how old I felt at the show. We all nodded, laughed and high-fived.
I think The Sauce was the first one of us to yawn.
Still, I knew I had to go find a quiet place where I could calmly call my wife in peace and let her know I wasn’t wasted and that I would be home on time to wake up with the kids so she could go to work in the morning. As the set ended, and the place erupted, I darted for the doors. Somehow, I beat the bathroom line and even got a beer before getting stuck in sweat-filled traffic towards the front entrance where a full cell phone signal awaited. I called. It rang. My wife was asleep. I looked at the time. 9:45 p.m. Once, the beginning of my nights. Now? Fucking LATE,
I looked around at all of the fans around me. Most of them were texting, tweeting and updating Facebook pages, which I chalk up to the generation. However, when I saw the crew I had rolled with come outside, it was thoroughly predictable. We were all blowing kisses to our wives, checking on kids and even taking business calls. (Larry opened and closed a lawsuit between sets).
The Sauce took a 10-minute business phone call.
Mike went off to buy a churro and didn’t return for 40 minutes.
I sent photos of the crowd to my brother.
The guy next to me played Angry Birds.
30 minutes later, we were all exhausted and ready to call it a night. Still, we forced ourselves back inside. The anticipation was gone, the reality of an hour long drive back to L.A. sank in and we all crowded around the Long Beach water fountains for free cups of polluted tap water – just to avoid $4.50 twelve ounce Dasani’s from the concession stands.
As we sat in our seats, the lights came back and an unfamiliar tune came on. After five minutes of pretending we knew what it was, a guy behind us finally used his “Shazam” app on his phone and figured out it was “Rock and Roll” by Velvet Underground. The Phish version went on for 25 minutes. It was amazing. But then. The pdf file I sent earlier didn’t go through. Larry’s lawsuit took a turn for the worst. Mike’s churro sucked and The Sauce had to discuss hotel design with somebody in Macau. We were suddenly no longer the four Phish phreaks who would bed five girls before the night was through. We were grown men with responsibilities and allergies, children and long drives home. We were fading fast. When “Ghost” started, I shrugged it off. It was never one of my favorite songs, but I knew it well. It was one of those songs I had heard back when I began to separate myself from the band. Still, the song sounded great, and my body seemed to once again start buzzing… Until I realized it was just the buzz from another iphone text from my wife. Our two-year-old daughter was awake and crying. I felt guilty for not being there.
I’m pretty sure I was the second one to yawn.
Larry soon informed me during “Guyute” that he had a place for me to crash on his hotel room floor. My contact lenses were burning – and the drive home seemed impossible, but I figured it would be better for me to get home and not wake up in Long Beach hitching a ride back to Hollywood at my age, so I decided to go get some water from the tap once again. Four glasses later, and I was in the bathroom, staring at the bags below m eyes in the mirror while listening to two 20-something kids discuss some Festival in 2008 that I had obviously missed. I heard “Guyute” climax into that space age three chord re-birth that always made me happy and I smiled again. I was back inside, full of energy and ideas and resilience and glee. Until I returned to our section to find a good amount of the fans in my section seated and unconsciously bored.
“I’m bouncing like a newborn elf,” sang Trey.
Really? I didn’t see any newborn elves dancing near me. I saw four guys who were exhausted, rubbing their temples and beginning to worry about their hearing.
I stuck it out for “Julius” – one of my all time favorites – but when I noticed that our crew was all in the wife-texting mode we all looked at each other with an unspoken knowledge that it was time to go home. Yes, we had blossomed into the OLD GUYS AT THE PHISH SHOW. We weren’t quite what we used to be. And I think, truthfully, we were all a little grateful that we weren’t.
I remember waiting in line to buy Phish t-shirts as a kid to wear around college and try and instigate conversation. I made it a ceremonial task to buy a shirt at every show I went to. I have something like 22 Phish t-shirts in a closet in my house and I’ll hold onto them forever. Mike, Sauce, Larry and I thought we’d take a look at the newest merch and maybe drop a few bills. Of course, the only item that appealed to us was the baby onesies. Mike bought a toddler t-shirt and a newborn onesie. Larry got a onesie as well. I decided against it, as my kids were a little older, but it was the final moment of truth. We were now here just to tell our kids that we were there. The thrill had somewhat faded and we were all just looking forward to a decent night’s sleep.
It was the first time I had ever left before the encore. It was the first time I was happy to do so. It was the first time I hadn’t bought a beer, weed or burrito in the post-show parking lot. It was the first time I hadn’t left completely blasted out of my skull.
When Mike suggested taking a taxi back to the hotel three blocks away, all four of us smiled. Yes, a taxi! Brilliant! We were close enough to walk, but forget that idea, man. When we arrived at the Hilton, We split the $5.25 charge amongst four of is, said some pleasant good-byes and split apart. We had come to do what we came to do… sort of. It was a new experience on an old battlefield. WE were the decorated aging generals of yonder.
On the way home from Long Beach in my car, I fired up the MP3 player to “Chalkdust Torture.”
There was that magical phrase again.
“Cant this wait ‘til I’m old, can I live while I’m young…”
Well, I guess I let it wait ‘til I was old. I lived when I was young! And even though 37 still seems young in a way, when there are babies to feed and diapers to change at 6:00 in the morning, 37 is really fucking old.
Still, Phish will forever hold a deep piece of my heart – and should they play anywhere within 10 miles of me (haha) I will go anytime. The band is one of the reasons why I became a confident stage performer, a songwriter and a well-traveled man. They were a part of my youth, but also of my adulthood. They continue to offer inspiration and wild creativity but they also continue to keep me grounded. To know that nothing lasts forever… be it friendships, bands, trends, beauty, money… you name it. All we have is belief, love and music. And that ain’t bad at all.
Still, if anybody has an extra ticket for tomorrow night’s San Francisco show, I’m totally in… I’ll drive….