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!
In 1983, when I was eight-years-old, I almost played on a youth soccer team called “Anderson’s Muffler Divers.”
Until all the moms of our players put a stop to the whole thing.
Back in Tucson, Arizona in the early 1980’s – local businesses were petitioned to lend their names and sponsorship to our youth soccer teams. The small eight team league was composed of roughly 100 kids aging from 7-10-years-old. If you sponsored a team, you chose the name. Some businesses had teams every year – like the “Windsor Real Estate Falcons,” “The Century 21 Strikers” and the Eegee’s Sandwich Shop Cosmos.” I was placed on the “I Can’t Believe it’s Yogurt Eagles” before they pulled their sponsorship and left my neighborhood team without a name or financial backer just before the 1983 season started.
Enter Ron Anderson.
Ron Anderson was in his mid 30’s and was the proud owner of “Anderson’s Mufflers” on Tanque Verde Road. His feathered hair, tight coach’s shorts and high socks made him quite a looker around the little league banquets and kid’s pool parties held in our tiny neighborhood. His moustache was a dirty brown and his Aviator sunglasses were just cool enough to make him appear more Magnum P.I. and less “Dad from Family Ties.”
Ron Anderson’s son David was in my 3rd grade class. He was undoubtedly the best soccer player on our team – and was known for scoring four goals in a game the previous season. He had a BMX bike that we all envied and was training his hardest at becoming a car mechanic – so as to take over his dad’s business. His parents were still married, but the rumors had been circling for a while that Ron had a girlfriend on the side up in Tempe, where he often attended car conventions. Aside from that, they were a middle class working family with enough money to get by in Reagan-era America.
When Ron was approached about sponsoring our team, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I’m excited to have a team picture of the boys up in the shop,” he commented to my father. “Always good for business.”
Ron was in. However, he had his own idea of what to call the team.
“I’ll deliver the uniforms a week before our first game,” he said. “You’re gonna love the name I came up with.
Meanwhile, we all wondered what our team was going to be called. Some kids pined for “The Jedis.” Others wanted to be called “The Assassins” or “The Rappers.” None of were expecting what Ron Anderson had in mind.
“We were all a little taken aback by his choice,” my dad recollected a few days ago, nearly 33 years after Ron had delivered his news. “We certainly didn’t think it was appropriate for 8-year-olds to be on a team with that name.”
I laughed. I recalled the warm Thursday evening after practice when Ron opened up a box of uniforms for all of us to see. Like most kids, we scrambled to get our favorite numbers. (I was always #3 – you know, because of Babe Ruth) and we held up our jerseys with pride. Pride that would soon turn to confusion and bemusement.
“Anderson’s Muffler Divers?” My buddy Todd said.
“What’s a Muffler Diver?” Our goalie Jeff asked.
I watched our coach’s face sink. He knew something we didn’t and he took Ron on a long walk around the practice field.
From 100 yards away, we heard some arguing and yelling. We were able to make out “It’s my team and I’ll call them what I want to!”
Meanwhile, some kids were on their way home with jerseys in hand. My dad picked me up and I showed him my jersey.
“We’re called the ‘Muffler Divers!” I said.
“Oh Jesus,” He responded.
My mom had a similar reaction. She got on the phone with a bunch of other moms, including my best friend Trey’s mom, Candy, who demanded that a team meeting be held the next evening.
All this time, my friends and I had no idea what was going on. No internet, no cool older brothers to offer advice and no way of figuring this out… Until Jeff’s cousin from Florida told him that the phrase came from the actor Cheech’s license plate in the Cheech and Chong Movie Up in Smoke.
The next day, someone was able to get a VHS copy of Up in Smoke from the local video store. I was not allowed to watch it, but the talk at school the next day was that the movie was about smoking pot. A lot of pot. And that Cheech had a license plate that said “MUF DVR.” We were all still confused. What did this all mean? The VHS tape was eventually confiscated by my friend Trey’s mom.
“In one week, my son went from a gifted student to asking me about smoking pot and what a ‘muff diver’ was,” Trey’s mom said.
“Ron Anderson is a pig,” my mom chimed in.
“We need a new sponsor immediately,” Jeff’s mom demanded.
On the Friday before our game, a 6th grader named Ricky rounded us up on the playground and enlightened us to what a “muff diver” actually was. Of course, we were all grossed out by it, but the damage had been done. Our innocent thoughts had turned dirty for one week, and for the next decade or so, all of my friends had a pretty good laugh about Ron Anderson’s failed attempt at corrupting the youth of southern Arizona soccer. Trey sent me this t-shirt a few years ago…
Before our game on Saturday, Ron Anderson’s sponsorship was pulled. His son David remained on our team, mainly because he was our best player, but Ron was banned from all games and practices. Sadly, in the short amount of time it took us to hear that we had lost Anderson’s Mufflers as our sponsor, we were forced to design our own jerseys using magic marker and white t-shirts. We became the “Cloud Road Assassins.”
A few days later, Roger Dowd, a local business owner, offered up his store as our sponsor. We were re-named “Roger’s Boutique Blasters” and away we went. We finished in second place in the league that year.
Anderson’s Mufflers is now a gas station. Ron Anderson is apparently up in the Phoenix area and as hard as I have tried to track down his son David, I can’t seem to find him on social media. Anderson’s Muffler Divers never became a team, but it did manage to show us what a tight knit community of parents could accomplish when they are forced to protect their children.
In the meantime, my son just got the word that he finds out what his youth basketball team is going to be called next week…
As long as it’s not “Ted’s Clam Slammers,” I think I’ll be fine with whatever they choose…
After Reading Sean Penn’s ‘El Chapo’ Piece, I Decided to See What my Old Pot Dealer From High School was Up to…
Recently, Sean Penn made headlines when he bravely traveled deep into the heart of Sinaloa to meet and converse with the notorious Mexican drug cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Right after the story went to press, El Chapo was captured – and his latest elusive time on the lam abruptly came to a close. Penn’s piece was published in Rolling Stone this week and I found it to be an engrossing piece of long lost Gonzo journalism at its finest. Penn, an actor, long known for his political involvement, put himself in the direct line of peril and danger all while partnering with a famous Mexican film actress to infiltrate the most impenetrable depths of Narco activity. He shook hands, broke bread and slammed tequila with a man that the DEA and Mexican authorities have been unable to locate for close to six months. In my opinion, Penn’s story was a hell of a lot more ballsy than anything else any pampered Hollywood actor has attempted in the past twenty years. (Sorry, Julia Roberts. Playing an AIDS-sensitive doctor in The Normal Heart may have been considered “daring” but it pales in comparison to a 55-year-old Oscar winner risking his life to traipse deep into a jungle of death for an interview for a rock-n-roll magazine).
So, inspired by Sean Penn’s courage, I decided that the recent stories and essays I have written have felt a little too “soft.” I realized that had to step it up. Knowing that I was traveling back to my hometown of Tucson to visit my mother on Martin Luther King, jr. weekend, I made up my mind that I was going to turn the trip into my own personal “El Chapo rendezvous.” I had a great idea…
My goal was to track down Ernesto Gregory, the most successful marijuana dealer in my high school. The last I had heard of Ernesto was through a photograph taken around 2011 by our mutual high school friend, Erik. He posted a picture of the two of them on Facebook drinking in the desert. Erik had captioned the photo with He’s finally out! Welcome home boss!”
Assuming that this caption insinuated that he had just been released from some high security prison, I was under the impression that Ernesto had built up an El Chapo-like narcotics network of hundreds of foot soldiers and truckloads of contraband over the past 18 years. Why else would he have been in jail? Why would Erik call him “boss?” Plus, he was wearing the typical outfit. A Large Polo Horse logo situated on a blue collared shirt on top of True Religion designer jeans. DEA agents call this look “Narco Polo.” Now I have seen Sicario. I’ve watched Breaking Bad. I had no doubt that Ernesto had risen from low-grade weed dealer at Rincon/University High School into a southwestern drug legend – living in ranches and mansions sprawled across the Tucson and Mexico landscape.
And I was going to interview him.
I was set to fly into Tucson International Airport on January 17th. My plan was to eat a bunch of food at my mother’s house, drink wine and play three games of Scrabble all while hearing her talk about how amazing The Revenant was. The following day, I would travel deep into the center of Tucson to meet up with and interview the most intimidating and bad-ass pot dealer my high school had known.
Back in 1993, Ernesto Gregory had owned the school’s finest lowered mini truck. He had a 200-dollar Motorola pager. His “system” – or car stereo – was as custom as they came, complete with an Alpine tape deck, a Sony Discman attachment, two 12-inch Kicker woofers, some Kenwood tweeters and a constant bass thump of MC Breed, DJ Magic Mike and Wrecks ‘N Effect blasting from his trunk. He had his own apartment on Speedway, decked out with a two-foot bong, a television with cable and an unlimited financial account on a sort of early 90’s YouTube video-on-demand predecessor known as “The Box.” He always wore a black Colorado Rockies cap and Marithe and Francois Girbaud jeans beneath over-sized t-shirts of ridiculous animated Looney Tunes characters wearing 90’s hip-hop clothing. His pager code for weed was “907.” His girlfriend was the hottest girl in the senior class – a dark-haired Mexican sex goddess named Racquel Hernandez. And he was tough. As far as we knew, he had never lost a fight. In fact, I recalled him once putting my friend from Hebrew School – Adam Richford – into a headlock and smashing his nose repeatedly until he apologized for “mad-dogging” him in the parking lot. He claimed he had connections through “uncles in Nogales,” where his product came from. And everybody knew, anyone with “uncles in Nogales” was always in the drug game… In short, Ernesto Gregory was the most accomplished 18-year-old kid I had laid eyes on in my young life.
After I landed, I told my mom about my plan.
“Why the hell are you meeting with this criminal?” My mother asked on the car ride from the airport.
“He was the king, mom!” I exclaimed. “Didn’t you read the Sean Penn article?”
“Sean Penn’s an idiot, going to interview that drug dealer!”
“I thought that story was genius,” I said. “Besides, what else am I going to write? Another story about my kids not being allowed to bring refined sugar to school?”
Following a few glasses of wine at the house, my mom was trying to convince me to go to Wal-Mart to buy a knife for the meeting. I assured her that Ernesto and I were in good standing and that no concealed weapons would be necessary. She broke into a desperate sweat. We played two games of Scrabble before deciding to put the third one on pause because we were so tired that word like “uh” and “is” had begun appearing on the board.
My final memory of the evening was listening to my mom curse my name before she went to bed in the other room.
The following morning I fueled up on eggs and coffee, not knowing when I would be back to the house. The afternoon’s plans had been Facebook “messaged” to me by Erik, who I quickly learned from his profile hadn’t left Tucson since graduation. Erik wrote me that Ernesto wasn’t on social media, but he mentioned that he did watch a lot of TV and he had even seen my History Channel show and had once commented, “I know that fucker!” He also told me that Ernesto had demanded that Erik take down the aforementioned photo he had posted in 2011. Sure enough, when I searched for it, it was no longer online… All this solidified my drug-lord theory even more.
Ernesto had agreed to meet at 12:30. I took off in my mother’s Acura and sped over to an address located in the shadow of the bar-heavy downtown area. A place much hipper and enticing than it had been back in the 90’s when druggies and skinheads and homeless wandered Congress Boulevard scaring off any young people looking for a good time. Must have been all the drug money given to the city by Ernesto, I theorized.
I parked in a dirt lot and immediately recognized Erik, who looked like he had been a meth fiend since about 1994. He wore a saggy shirt, filthy pants and sported a patchy beard and shaved head. He had a kid’s BMX bicycle in his pick up truck bed, which I took as also a sure sign of a man on crystal meth. For some reason, heavy meth addicts seemed to always travel on way-too-small dirt bikes. Erik wasn’t unlike them.
I looked up just as a helicopter darted above us in the sky. DEA drone, I thought. Of course. We were most likely being followed. Hell, who knew what corner or alleyway was outfitted with a hidden camera tracking Erik’s every move. Shit, maybe the FBI had caught on to my story as well? I mean, who’s to say they weren’t tracking Erik’s Facebook page when I sent him my original message? I was starting to hit an all-time level of paranoia. Even a pigeon that flapped above us and landed on a telephone wire looked like it had a hidden camera in its eye… I tried to keep my cool.
Knowing some of the narco protocol, I began preparing for my meeting with Ernesto.
“So, should I give you my iphone for safety precautions?” I asked Erik.
“What for?” He replied.
“Oh, I just assumed I wasn’t allowed to bring any electronics to the meeting,” I said.
“We aint goin on no airplane or nothin,” he replied.
At this point, my entire drug kingpin theory went out the window. After all, in the El Chapo story, Sean Penn was told to turn his phone off in Los Angeles, nearly 14 hours before he even made contact with the cartel in Mexico. He had been forced to travel to in two separate SUV’s, two single engine planes and armored vehicles just to meet with El Chapo’s henchmen before gaining approval. He was most likely given a full body cavity search, frisked and water-boarded. Ernesto’s lone henchman was a meth fiend named Erik who was allowing me to bring my iphone into a meeting as if I was about to pitch him a new Angry Birds app to finance… Ernesto’s notorious drug cartel was crumbling before my eyes.
“Follow my truck, we’re going to shoot pool at Pockets,” Erik said.
“Pockets? We’re not going to his house or something?” I asked.
“What house?” He said. “Ernesto likes to play pool. You play pool?”
“Sure, man – I love pool,” I said.
I hate pool.
Pockets was a stale billiard hall way too brightly lit for a Wednesday afternoon. A few biker types with chain wallets and denim jackets drank Miller High Life at the bar. A Mexican guy who looked to be on his 5th or 6th Corona sat watching a soccer game on TV. One lone female, a waitress who would have slept with Bad Blake in the movie Crazy Heart after he played a set at a bowling alley, served beer. In the far west corner stood a chubby man in an Arizona Wildcats baseball cap chalking up his cue. I recognized him immediately as Ernesto Gregory.
His face had filled in and he had put on close to 35 pounds. By his footwear and saggy jeans I could tell that he hadn’t done much to change his fashion choices during the past 22 years. He wore Jordan sneakers, which were probably eight years old and had accumulated a slew of new arm tattoos, including one portrait of a woman who looked a lot like a fatter version of Racquel Hernandez. He drank what I would soon learn was Jack Daniel’s and Diet Coke and was constantly adjusting his pants from the crotch area. My first thought was that the most accomplished 18-year-old I had ever known had become the sloppiest 40-year-old I had seen in some time.
“Zach Selwyn!” He announced as I nervously approached the pool table. “What up Hollywood!”
Oh boy. He was going to call me Hollywood the rest of the day, I knew it.
“I seen you on that TV show about the words and shit!”
“Yeah, America’s Secret Slang, thanks man.”
“Yeah, American Slang! That’s it, what up big homie?”
“Nada man, just trying to catch up with some old friends, ya know?”
“Well shit, let’s shoot some stick.”
Ernesto racked up some balls and began rattling off shots. He was a damn good pool player and I knew that even at my best – which was pretty terrible – I was about to be embarrassed. But, he told me to pick a cue and even though it was 1:30 in the afternoon, I ordered a pitcher of Bud Light. The waitress brought it over and charged me for it. It cost $3.75.
As Ernesto sank shot after shot, we never once discussed drug dealing. In fact, we spent most of our time talking about girls from high school that he had always wanted to screw. Turns out, he thought I was some Olympic-level cocksman in my teens and he assumed that I had slept with every cute girl in our high school. As he dug up names from the past, I could only laugh and try to remember who some of these girls even were. Most of them I had never been intimate with, but to placate Ernesto, I played along.
“Paula Schrapner? Yeah, I nailed her,” I said. Not true.
“Jen Robbins? Blow job,” I lied.
“Did you ever get together with Laura House?” Ernesto asked. “She was DOPE!”
“Uh, we just kissed,” I said, which was actually true. One New Years Eve 1992, we had briefly kissed.
“Man, I wonder what she’s up to now?” He said, staring off at a neon sign.
As the beers flowed, I was finding that I was having a hard time getting anything out of Ernesto. He was stuck in 1993, still pining for girls who were long married, divorced and even had kids in high school of their own. He remembered football games that I hadn’t even thought about in 20 years and quoted our Economics teacher Mr. Franklin from a class I didn’t even recall taking. When I took a second to ask him about Racquel Hernandez and what happened to their relationship, he grew silent, took out a vape pen and pulled long and hard.
“You know we have three kids, right?”
“I did not know that,” I said. “Congrats. I have two. How old?”
“19, 17 and 15,” he said. “But the 15-year-old has blue eyes and blonde hair – aint no way that kid’s mine. We broke up 12 years ago. My second wife bailed on me last year. Bitch.”
Wow. Here I was, stressing out about my 9 and 5-year-old kids in Los Angeles and this guy had been divorced twice and had three kids in high school – one who he was convinced wasn’t even his. I suddenly felt like every pampered Hollywood asshole I have come to despise.
“Hey Hollywood, you never slept with Racquel, did you?” He asked.
“What? Hell no!”
There was a sudden silence. Erik looked ready to tear out my jugular. Ernesto stared me down. This was what Adam Richford would call “mad-dogging.” My mom was right… I should have bought that knife.
“Man, I’m just playing!” He said. “You should see your face, you looked like a little bitch just now!”
Everybody laughed. I pounded my beer. It was then that I decided that I had to get the whole story right here or else I was going to end up on the wrong end of a bong in the south side of Tucson come six o’clock, getting high and watching some show like Ridiculousness on a Futon. I found my courage and lowered my voice to a whisper.
“So, Ernesto – you still in the weed game?” I asked.
Ernesto looked at me and laughed. He looked at Erik and then back to the pool table.
“Man, I aint dealt weed since high school,” he said.
“I thought you went to jail or something?” I inquired.
“Shit man… I shot some endangered pregnant salamander with a rifle during bow-hunting season. Thank God it didn’t die… Luckily I only did two nights in county jail, man. Sucked ass.”
He had shot a pregnant salamander with a rifle during bow-hunting season? He did two nights in county jail? El Chapo had done something like seven years in maximum security before his first escape… As far as I know, he never complained either. Here was my one-time narcotics hero admitting to me that he was scared after doing two measly nights for shooting a fucking lizard. My story was falling apart.
“So, what about the last 15 years? I mean, what have you done for work?” I asked.
Ernesto sunk a 9 ball and looked up at me.
“I repair windshields, man. Over at Glassworx on Speedway.”
I watched him return to the table. My heart sank as he finished off the game by dropping the eight ball perfectly in the side pocket. My story was over. The most notorious drug dealer I had known had become a windshield repair guy. There was no mansion in the hills, no ranch house in Nogales… and no harem of sexy Mexican women. Ernesto had gone straight and my story was dead.
“Why do you ask, homie?” Ernesto inquired. “You need weed?”
Being that my story was a bust, I figured that the very least I could do was to go on one more pot buying deal in my old hometown. Maybe the dealer would be the drug kingpin I was looking for and I could write something about him instead.
“Yeah, sure man. Just a little bit to get me through the next two days.”
“Well, my dude sells dime bags over at hole 14 at the Golf N’ Stuff on Tanque Verde if you want to pick one up,” Ernesto said.
Dime bag? Golf N’ Stuff? I wasn’t interested. The last thing I needed was to buy Mexican weed from a kid at the same place where I had celebrated my 11-year-old birthday party. It just didn’t seem right.
“No that’s cool, man,” I replied. “I gotta get home anyway – maybe we can hook up tomorrow or something.”
“Are you sure?” He said. “This kid gets good shit… he has a couple of uncles in Nogales.”
Of course he did. I threw a five-dollar tip on the wooden table and finished off my beer. I high-fived Erik and Ernesto, promised to be in touch and promptly drove back to my mother’s house where I found her nervously pacing the living room like I was 15 again and out with a senior at my first high school party.
We opened a bottle of wine and finished our game of Scrabble…
War Stories, My Stepfather and a Sony Discman. (Part 1)
The first time I got caught drinking, my mother thought that my stepfather, a man named Steven Fishco, should have a talk with me. After all, at the time, he had been sober for eight years and was one of Tucson, Arizona’s leading drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselors, working for recovery places like Sierra Tucson where rich people would spend ungodly amounts of money to send their troubled kids. Celebrities showed up as well, along with spoiled debutantes, trust-fund babies and occasionally, politicians. In the circles of rehab, Fishco was simply known as “the Fish” and he treasured the moniker as if he was a member of some secret Government Navy S.E.A.L.S. operation and that was his codename.
Always wanting to know who had a serious drinking and alcohol problem, I would probe Fish for information on whatever ex-Major League baseball player or fading Hollywood star was enrolled in his rehab program. Unfortunately, he was a stickler for the rules and he never revealed his counselor-patient confidentiality agreement. Considering that Sierra Tucson cost roughly $45,000 a month, I’m sure many rock stars and celebrities were happy that some 14-year-old wasn’t running around junior high telling his friends about the time everybody’s favorite singer mainlined a jug of gasoline and copulated with a stuffed giraffe. Therefore, when Fish would tell us some funny stories about troubled Hollywood types and celebrities, he would mask their identities and I was always left guessing who the “serious dope fiend singer from that one band you like” was.
Because of the alcoholic horror stories, and the fact that Fish’s own mind was ruined from years of intravenous drug use and cocaine, I avoided drinking and smoking for most of high school. My friends accepted it and I occasionally lied to people to seem like I had been caught drinking and couldn’t afford to be grounded again, etc. Most everybody accepted this as my way in life. I would often quote Fish and his unique sayings that kept me away from drugs over the years. My favorite being, “Cocaine is an expensive way to get nervous.”
In the spring of 1992, At 16, I skipped school with some buddies and some cute girls to go wander around Sabino Canyon. Now that I’m much older and more environmentally aware, I recognize the canyon as a natural, beautiful Tucson national park and quite possibly the most serene place I can think of on earth. However, back in high school, it was simply a secluded place to drink, meet girls and bury empty cases of Budweiser cans in the desert as to not leave any evidence behind. (Sorry National Park Service.)
The day we skipped school was known on campus as “Senior Ditch Day,” and even though I wasn’t quite yet a senior, I knew that they were somewhat cool with me tagging along because I not only owned a Sony Discman, but because I liked to DJ parties with tapes, CD’s and my boom box. So, I loaded up the 50 CD’s I owned at the time along with my 75 cassingles and drove to go drink in the desert with a bunch of turtle-necked mullet-heads who listened to MC Hammer and loved Minitruckin’ Magazine. (For a rare few years in my high school, lowered mini trucks, turtlenecks and tight Z. Cavaricci pants were the only things that mattered to a select group of cool kids. “Minitruckin” was the art of buying a shitty truck, lowering it to the ground and spending thousands of dollars on paint, rims and 12-inch woofers to blast DJ Quik while spinning your ride around a parking lot.)
Of course, one of the seniors immediately took over my system. As soon as I loaded up the music in the desert and set up my stereo to play an endless mix of Naughty by Nature and Metallica, a guy named Adam Lancer decided that he was going to DJ and that I was going to be forced fed beer while teaching him how to seamlessly mix songs. Never wanting anybody to touch my equipment, I was reluctant at first but eventually gave in to him because, well, he was a cool senior with a killer set of Oakley sunglasses and the hottest girlfriend on campus. Admittedly, trying to feel cool, I tried to match him drink for drink. Needless to say, I soon found myself giggling and slurring, while confidently trying to brush my hand up against senior girl Heather Tyrtanna’s butt in her tight, stonewashed Guess Jeans. When she didn’t seem to mind, I kept doing it and eventually let Adam Lancer have full control of my boom box. As one beer turned into six, I suddenly developed an insane confidence to convince Heather to take a private walk with me in the desert where we made out (and dry-humped) for 15 minutes. That beautiful moment was all I needed to realize that all those years I avoided drinking were a complete waste of time.
The party was broken up about an hour later when two cops ran up on the desert gathering and the kids scattered like roadrunners. As the dozen or so lowered 1991 Isuzu pick ups high-tailed it out of the parking lot, I was left gathering my CD’s and tapes and watching Heather Tyrtanna run off with senior Miguel Arroyo in his 1990 Honda CRX. A bit drunk and confused, I was able to pull off a decent straight man when the cops asked me what I was doing in the middle of the desert on a school day. After a few questions and a lot of probing, I told them I was 22 years old.
“You don’t look 22, you got ID on you?” One cop asked.
“I don’t have it right now,” I slurred.
When they asked me what I was doing with a bunch of stereo equipment, I thought of the best lie I could possibly come up with.
“I’m actually an employee of Desert DJ’s,” I said. “A bunch of kids hired me to play this party… for 50 bucks.”
Desert DJ’s was the company that had DJ’d my Bar Mitzvah.
“Young man, are you intoxicated?” The cop prodded.
“Of course not,” I said.
I then proceeded to knock all of my music into the sand and fall down.
Having a patrol car escort you home at age 16 is a pretty traumatic experience for a high school kid. Especially since I had a backpack full of CD’s and severe penile chaffing from grinding my crotch up against Heather’s jeans for 15 minutes. When they pulled up into the driveway, my mother ran outside hysterically screaming. Once the cops calmed her down, she watched as I slumped my way inside the house and proceeded to projectile vomit all over the bathroom. Amazingly, my mother tried to convince the policemen that I was an Ivy-League bound honor student and that a “Minor in Possession” ticket would ruin my future. Somehow, they believed her.
20 minutes later, my mom brought me some water and told me to go to bed before warning me that we would have a serious talk when I woke up. The policeman left and the last thing I remember my mom saying before I drifted off into the dark abyss of my first ever drinking hangover was, “Where the fuck is your car?”
When I woke up at 6:00 that night, Fish was standing in my room.
“Yo Z!” He exclaimed. “Tied one on this morning, hey baby?”
As I scrambled my throbbing thoughts and felt the dry contact lenses cracking in my bloodshot eyes, I asked him what had happened. He simply dangled my car keys in my face and said, “Get up, mom wants me to take you to get your car.”
The ride back towards Sabino Canyon only took about 15 minutes from my house. As I became increasingly aware of the rawness I had inflected on my private parts attempting to grind Heather’s zipper open, Fish tried in his own unique way to scare me away from the perils of drugs and alcohol.
“So, how many beers did you slam this morning?” He asked, sounding like a one of my buddies and less than a parental figure.
“I think 5 or six,” I said.
“What a PUSSY, man! What are you a lightweight?”
As I opened the window for some fresh air, I was suddenly aware that Fish was not going to lecture me on the perils of drinking. Instead, he began relaying to me story after story about his 20 years in the trenches of inebriation. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they call these tales “War Stories.” Apparently Fish was the KING. He told me that every single patient at Sierra Tucson loved him and his war stories.
Like how in college when he took three consecutive spring breaks to Colombia. Not the District of Colombia, but Colombia, South America.
“Bought three grams of coke and two ‘party girls’ for me and my buddy Larry Goldbeer… Man, first time I had a semi automatic rifle pulled on me!”
“The first time?” I asked, gingerly.
Another great story involved seeing Jimi Hendrix on LSD n 1967. And then there was the drinking with Jim Morrison, the spliff rolling with Bob Marley and the three straight days he spent shooting junk with James Taylor on Martha’s Vineyard. I suddenly came to the conclusion that this wiry-haired man-child from New Jersey, who I had lived with for ten years and only bonded with over baseball and reggae music, was the coolest person I had ever met.
“Now listen Z,” he said, suddenly getting serious. “The key is moderation. Now me? I got no way to control myself. Once the bottle cap is twisted off, you might as well consider the bottle finished – once I won a rum drinking contest at Club Hedonism in Jamaica and fell asleep in the ocean.”
“How did you survive?”
“Some native chick I was banging saved my life man… Threw me in my hotel room and I woke up 3 days later.”
Although the threat of upsetting my mother and father was still the top priority on why I would probably never drink again, the stories Fish was churning out made it seem that the only way I was ever going to have any adventures at all was to begin a lifelong relationship with drugs and alcohol. I mean, at 16, my life was pretty simple. Go to school. Go to basketball practice. Masturbate. Go to Jewish youth group. Masturbate again. Watch Beverly Hills 90210. Maybe masturbate during Beverly Hills 90210… I needed some new escapades.
As we pulled into the parking lot of Sabino Canyon, I noticed my 1988 Dodge still parked by the entrance of the park. Fish pulled his car next to it and we talked for a minute about what drugs I had seen at school. Truth was, I had only seen a few hesher kids smoke pot once or twice. I heard that other kids did it, but in early 1992, weed wasn’t exactly everyone’s drug of choice. Of course, six weeks later The Chronic by Dr. Dre came out and everybody I knew suddenly began smoking dirt brown Mexican mota and fastening wooden pipes during Shop Class.
“Let me tell you one last story,” Fish said, solemnly looking out towards the Santa Catalina Mountains.
“1980, man, I went to visit my buddy Gary Guccinelli in Houston. We decided to do some coke and go to the Astrodome with his dad who had season tix… Of course we drank in the car before the game and then when we got there, we started smoking reefer up in the upper deck because the place was fucking EMPTY, man.”
All I could envision was the horrible Houston Astros uniforms on my 1980 Topps Nolan Ryan baseball card. He pressed on.
“Anyway, we went down to his dad’s seats man and then we just started drinking whatever we could find… Mainly beer, but you know it was a combo platter for me with all the dope and the blow and whatever… Anyway, Gary’s dad was kinda senile, so he gets up and starts walking up the row of seats, so Gary goes to follow him. I stayed in the seats because I was waaaay too sayonara baby, you know? Next thing I know, I’m yelling out at Cesar Cedeno (The Astros talented multi-tooled player who was at the end of his career in 1980) about when he killed his girlfriend when they were fucking blotto drunk, man. So Cedeno keeps looking back at me, and finally points his finger at me and next thing I know, two cops have me around the neck and are escorting me out of the stadium.”
“Wait, who killed Cesar Cedeno’s girlfriend?” I asked.
“In like 1973 he and some chick he was screwing were playing Russian Roulette and the girl was shot and killed and Cedeno got off,” he explained.
“So what happened after you were taken out of the stadium?”
“Bottom line was, I WASN’T taken out of the stadium, man… I got thrown in Astrodome Jail!”
Apparently, the Houston Astrodome had a jail for drunk and disorderly fans during the 1970’s. Fish was taken there and thrown into a cell with 3 other rowdy men who had been detained for various reasons. I asked him who the other prisoners were.
“2 drunken Indians and some 70-year-old guy who pissed on himself during the 3rd inning,” he said. “Anyway, Gary and his dad ended up leaving the game and I had to take a taxi back to their house 5 hours later and when I got there Gary had called my mom in New Jersey and told her that I was missing. Of course my mother told him it was the 5th time I had been reported missing that year so she didn’t get too worried. Meanwhile, Gary’s dad went to sleep and I told Gary my story about being locked up for five innings in the Astrodome.”
“Wow,” I said. “Was that when you decided to get sober?”
“Are you kidding me? Gary and I took his dad’s car and went to a bar until six in the morning!”
I decided to show Fish where the party had taken place, but Sabino Canyon was closed for the evening and we were asked to leave by the Park Ranger. I got in my car and followed Fish home, doing my best to not go even one mile above the speed limit. When we got back, my mom asked me if we had spoken about the incident. She said she hoped I had learned my lesson and I told her that I had before thanking her for getting the cops to not issue me a MIP ticket. We hugged and I crawled into bed to sleep the rest of my hangover off. After slathering my genitalia with gobs of Neosporin.
The next morning, I went to gather a few CD’s for my drive to school. It was then that I first realized that not only was my Sony Discman missing, but so were at least 5 of my perfectly alphabetized and organized CD’s. I could not find “OPP” by Naughty by Nature, LL COOL J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” “Nevermind” by Nirvana, Color Me Badd’s “CMB” and, oddly enough, “The Soul Cages” by Sting.
Later at school, I noticed that Adam Lancer was walking around the hallway with my Discman. Assuming that he had my CD’s as well, I knew I would have to confront him and get my stuff back. Of course, when I approached him in between 2nd and 3rd period and asked for my Discman back, he said, “Don’t you remember giving this to me when you were wasted?”
I didn’t. However, based on my minor blackout, I couldn’t be sure if he was lying. Still, I knew I had to get my stuff back. What would follow over the next week were some of the most humiliating events of my life. However, at the end of it all, through a carefully calculated game plan that included falsifying Government documents, blackmail and a web of deceit, I would suddenly have the reputation as the craziest partier in my junior class…
…TO BE CONTINUED
*Zach’s First Collection of Short Stories and Essays, “Talent Will Get You Nowhere” will be published in Early 2014 by DIRT CITY PRESS!*
Please Keep watching GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS UNLEASHED! on TRUtv – 8pm Thursdays!
It has been nearly 19 years since I left my childhood home for college.
In that time, the closet in my old bedroom has been housing the rotting souvenirs of my youth. Souvenirs that eternally remind me of my precious, fading juvenile memories. Items that will forever sentimentally call out to me, and ALL of us children of the 1980’s… Invaluable, beautiful trinkets that I have been unable to part with since I was 13-years-old.
Of course, I am referring to thousands of ridiculously worthless Pac-Man key-chains, Garbage Pail Kids and armless GI Joe figures. Go-Bots and Star Wars spaceships that were shoved into back drawers directly next to a myriad of autographed baseballs – ranging from superstars like Gary Sheffield to busts like onetime Cleveland Indians prospect Luis Medina. At least 120 baseball-themed posters, like the Jose Canseco-Mark McGwire Bash Brothers print and the Bo Knows Bo Nike series. And finally, a colossal amount of baseball cards littering the back wall of my closet, long ignored and cast aside.
From what I remember, there is even a small collection of stuffed animals that somehow found themselves packed into a moldy cedar trunk – not unlike the toys from Toy Story 3 – who were forgotten when Andy eventually headed off to college…
They are all there. Forgotten and lonely, praying that someday their owner would return home and rediscover them – bringing them out for one last play date…
As mentioned, the majority of the closet was packed with my onetime extensive collection of baseball memorabilia.
My mother always told me typical stories of her mom accidentally throwing away all of her toys and collectibles when she went off went to the University of Wisconsin in 1964. She never forgave her parents for tossing out scores of Mickey Mantle baseball cards and rare Howdy Doody collectibles, which were now worth thousands of dollars. So, in my early years, she encouraged me to save certain things and to collect potential items for future profits… So, I jumped into my collecting with a furious passion.
Back then it was cool to own 123,000 baseball cards.
Today, they call it hoarding.
My closet has virtually lain dormant for 19 years. In that time, a certain online website known as ebay has shattered the dreams of memorabilia collectors everywhere, revealing that there were a lot more Mike Schmidt rookie baseball cards in the world than we once would have thought. Onetime Topps Nolan Ryan rookie cards – that the Beckett Baseball Card Monthly previously listed as being worth 725 dollars – are now available online for eight bucks. And the glorious holy grail of all kid collectors nationwide – the 100 dollar Don Mattingly 1984 Donruss rookie card – was suddenly available for a paltry $14.99 on ebay.
Even the crown jewel of my collection – my grandfather’s 1920-21 Christy Mathewson W514 Strip Card – which had once been admired by a middle-aged man willing to trade me a used car for it, was now selling for 250 dollars online… or best offer…
The goldmine in my closet has officially gone belly up.
My mother finally placed the phone call that I always expected would come… The newsflash that it was time I went home to clean out my closet of all my old childhood memorabilia. The alert that she was turning my room into an office – and that she needed some ‘at home’ space.
“What?,” I said. “Clean out my museum?”
“If it’s a museum, nobody is taking the tour,” my mom responded.
So, reluctantly, this past weekend, I returned home to Tucson, Arizona to begin cleaning out the two-decade old treasure chest that I once swore would only be sold to pay for my kid’s college fund.
I arrived in town like a cast member of American Pickers. It had been so long since I had explored my collection of stuff, I wasn’t sure what was still in that closet. After all, 19 years? I wasn’t sure if moths had eaten away at everything… or if I would discover some long lost prize that would pay off my student loans and credit card debt.
When I opened the door to the lost tomb of my childhood, I was immediately hit with a warm wave of nostalgia that spread over me as if I was a 13-year-old screaming at Ken Griffey, jr. for an autograph in 1988. Everything was there. All the busted bats I convinced players like Joe Carter and Cory Snyder to give me during Spring Training. The scores of batting practice foul balls I had gathered and had signed by one time major league prospects like David Taylor and Craig Smajstrla – and tens of thousands of baseball cards. Other souvenirs like pine tar rags, batting gloves and lineup cards from my days of following the Tucson Toros and the Cleveland Indians helped compose my makeshift museum. I had stored unopened Kraft Macaroni and Cheese boxes that had cut-out baseball cards of Angels’ rookie Wally Joyner on the back panel sitting in the corner of my closet, adjacent to a Michael Jordan Wheaties box. I even found a few Kathy Ireland Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues that had been dear companions to me on lonely junior high afternoons… It was a beautiful assemblage of my long lost childhood. And I couldn’t quite figure out where to start.
From1981 until about 1990, I rearranged my bedroom in a tribute to the game of baseball. Don Mattingly was my boyhood hero, and box scores, batting averages and ERA’s practically ran my life for nine splendid and unforgettable years during my adolescence.
When other kids went to Golf-N-Stuff on the weekend to meet the cute 6th grade girls like Amy Foust and Erin Shelly, I went to Tucson’s premiere baseball card shop “The Sports Page” with my collector-geek friends. My mother would often walk by my room and see me obsessing over Dave Winfield’s career batting average or Rickey Henderson’s stolen base record and casually mention that she had heard some of my other friends were going to a local water park with some classmates… I offered up a simple shrug of my shoulders and poured directly back into rearranging my baseball cards, occasionally choosing to alphabetize them so that I would always be able to pull them out at any given moment.
Girls were certainly around, but I was way to insecure too ever do anything about them. I left the girls at school to the skater kids who were dressed in Vision Street Wear and rode designer Gator skateboards…
Me? I was a baseball card kid. The Vice President of the baseball card club and a hip-hop music fan who used to write songs like The Baseball Card Rap to perform with some of my friends at a school talent show.
Basically, I was a complete fucking geek.
My parents seemed to never truly understand my obsession with America’s pastime. Perhaps it was because my own personal baseball career had come to an abrupt end when I broke my arm in fifth grade. My much-hyped little league comeback fell through and I hit a combined .216 over the next three seasons. So, I found my true baseball success in collecting memorabilia and autographs from big league ballplayers.
My mom could only stare in bewilderment as her oldest son spent all of his allowance and Bar Mitzvah money on what she viewed to be merely useless pieces of cardboard. In fact, the only time I remember talking to my mom about baseball cards was when I asked if I could fly to her childhood home in New Jersey to look in the attic for all those Mickey Mantle rookies she claimed her mom once threw away.
My travel wishes were never granted.
I started picking through my closet at a snail’s pace. Initially, it was mind-blowing.
Old baseball cards and memorable pictures brought me back to those hot summers spent in drug stores scrambling for the newest rookies, slipping Wade Boggs rookies into plastic album sleeves and standing outside in the 92 degree Tucson weather trying to get minor league players like Craig Biggio to sign a baseball.
The majority of my memories came rushing back to me all in the cards. It was like a Rorschach test…I was thrown back into Mattingly’s clean-shaven face on his ’84 rookie… Dwight Gooden’s pre-cocaine gold tooth on his ’85 Fleer card. Even Ryne Sandberg’s impossible youth on his 1983 Topps rookie that I traded for back in 1985.
Every scrapbook, picture and signature recalled a memory of a childhood full of innocence and a passionate love for the game of BASEBALL.
It was actually a fairly peaceful and calming experience. For the first hour, I was suddenly 11-years-old again. Going through common cards and rediscovering lost names like Alvaro Espinoza and Steve Sax was both magical and cathartic… However, when I came across a poorly-forged Mark McGwire autographed baseball shoved deep inside my closet, I suddenly burst into tears.
The first friend I had ever had in my life was a kid named Nathan. Our parents had lived together when we were born -two months apart- in 1975. At age two, Nathan’s family split Tucson and moved back east to Fairfield, Connecticut. My family stayed in Tucson. Still, by that time, a brotherly bond had already been formed and as the years moved on, Nathan and I grew closer through written correspondence, summer travel and phone calls.
Around first grade, we discovered that we shared an intense passionate love for the New York Yankees – forced upon us by our fathers. We also both had an extensive collection of baseball cards, inherited from older kids who had moved onto skateboards and girls, and we both began collecting them with fervor. As the years rolled on, our collections grew endlessly, as did our friendship.
My first Yankees game was in 1983 – with Nathan and our dads – against George Brett and the Kansas City Royals. (It was the day before the Pine Tar Game). Dave Winfield hit a home run and Nathan and I split about 5 hot dogs and 3000 calories of stadium treats. A lifelong obsession had been kicked into high gear and the memories are still there – from Winfield’s homer soaring into the bullpen to that first view of the infield as we walked up from the escalator. I get chills just thinking about it.
As the years rolled along, Nathan and I continued to share our baseball card collecting stories through the mail. However, it wasn’t until 1986 or so, when I had begun obtaining hundreds of players signatures at spring training, that Nathan began to get somewhat jealous of my collection. At the time, if you were a kid in Tucson, you could walk up to Hi Corbett Field and practically stand in the on deck circle as the teams warmed up to play each other. My buddies and I would skip school and get to the field to watch guys like Mark Grace and Rob Deer take batting practice before snagging their signatures. It was the end of an era, when ballplayers still made the league minimum of $62,500 and didn’t face any threat of being harassed and jumped by some stupid drunk fan hanging around the dugout… Even though they did offer Dollar Beer Night time and time again.
Meanwhile, as my autograph collection grew, I found that more and more collectors from across the country began asking me to get them signed baseballs from the superstars of the day like Canseco and McGwire…(This was way before the steroid era and Canseco’s tell-all book Juiced).
Still, realizing that I had an inside advantage to any collector from, say… Vermont, I recognized a little business opportunity.
So, I began charging a fee.
It was actually Nathan’s idea to charge. I was so adept at getting autographs, that I would charge five dollars to a guy in Nebraska for a Canseco ball and maybe a little bit more for a team ball. I went to at least 25 games that spring and got everything I could get signed. From there, it was sold, stamped and shipped. By the end of spring training, I had made roughly $375 and was buying any baseball card I wanted at The Sports Page. It was easy money. It was actually quite perfect and even a bit business savvy… I had become an entrepreneur.
But it was about to get easier.
That August, Nathan wrote me a letter and suggested a way to make even more money.
Have you ever considered forging the autographs?
I was on it like Tony Gwynn on a knee-high fastball. Within days, I had mastered every All-Star’s signature. I spent hours perfecting Will Clark’s end of name “K-tail,” Mark McGwire’s curvaceous bubble “cG” and Dwight Gooden’s sloping, elongated “D.” I had handwriting intonations down pat… And nobody could tell the difference. I was suddenly, a MASTER FORGER.
Nathan came to visit the following spring and proceeded to take back about 50 forged items to Connecticut. We had agreed that he would sell them to his local card shop and we would split the profits. Within two weeks, after convincing his local baseball card shop that he had been collecting autographs in Arizona at Spring Training, he had pulled in 750 dollars.
All on 100 percent forged material.
I guarantee that if you ever bought an autographed baseball or card in Fairfield, Connecticut or Tucson, Arizona during the late 1980’s… Nathan and I had something to do with it…
So that moment, when I held the poorly forged Mark McGwire ball, it made me cry.
I knew I was feeling emotional, but it was for many different reasons. One was because Nathan passed away 15 years ago at the age of 21, long before we ever got to reunite and laugh about our little criminal business venture. Back then, our operation was so easy to pull off, because nobody would question 13-year-old kids who were selling really legitimate-looking autographs. In the years following, I have read about dozens of teenagers and adults getting arrested and caught in the forgery game. (Most recently Babe Ruth baseballs were the subject of a criminal investigation).
I am happy to say that we got out before there was any industry crackdown.
Our little gig continued for a few years, until Nathan and I both stopped caring about baseball cards and retired from the forgery racket about $2500 richer. Girls and music and pot had entered our lives and we suddenly realized that maybe those cool skater kids had the right idea all along…
So, there I was. In my childhood bedroom, holding that poorly forged Mark McGwire baseball – obviously feebly done with a nervous, shaky hand back in 1987. It was a touching return the last days of my innocence… Long before overdue bills and property taxes. Long before I followed a girl named Leslie around the country on the heels of a Grateful Dead tour just to hope she would consider me as a boyfriend, and long before I had a family of my own to feed… And long before Nathan’s demons got the best of him.
And now, here was my mother demanding that I throw away everything in my closet. I decided to take a stand.
“Mom, I can’t do this right now,” I screamed from across the house.
“Oh shut up and get rid of that crap,” she responded.
I wiped the tears from my eyes and approached her in the living room about five minutes later.
I sat down and relayed some of the stories and forgery adventures I had shared with Nathan all those years ago and told her I wasn’t able to emotionally get through the memories stored in the closet just yet. Having recently lost her best friend to cancer, my mother sat me down and talked me through it.
She totally understood.
She also informed me that it had been 15 years since his death and that I needed to get over it. She had to go clean out her best friend’s house in San Francisco just after she had passed away a year earlier… All I had to do was throw away some baseball cards and get back to my family in Los Angeles.
It was as intense of a moment I have ever shared with my mother and we have never felt closer.
After agreeing to keep a few items, but sell the majority of the cards to a baseball card shop, I managed to get through the rest of my closet somewhat easily. I found some special bits and pieces that, worthless or not, meant the world to me and tucked them away for my son.
My grandfather’s Christy Mathewson card passed down from my uncle for my Bar Mitzvah.
A Craig Biggio Tucson Toros cap.
Even that 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly card.
The rest of my collection was bundled up into a box and headed towards a baseball card shop. I decided I was going to sell it all to the “Sports Page.”
I dialed the number from memory. 886-5000, expecting to hear Mike or Orby answer, the way they did back in 1988.
Instead, a woman answered. She did not work at the Sports Page.
She went on to inform me that the Sports Page had closed roughly 12 years earlier, and that she used to get people calling her looking for the shop all the time. Turns out, I was the first caller looking for The Sports Page in about 9 years.
Wow. Had it been that long?
I was shaken again, but I eventually managed to find another store in Tucson willing to look at my collection. As I brought the nearly 120,000 cards into the shop, I looked around at the changing face of what was once my obsession. Gone were the display cases full of modern rookie cards. The new collector’s items of choice were LeBron James or Kobe Bryant autographed game-worn jerseys. Both of which came with a certificate of authenticity. I couldn’t blame ‘em.
I sat and talked to the two baseball card employees for roughly 45 minutes about the changing face of collecting, the effect ebay had on the hobby and the future. After they scoured through my cards, they told me there wasn’t really much they’d be interested in, and I told them I kind of figured that would be the case. They suggested Goodwill. I admired a Derek Jeter autographed baseball mitt in a glass case and a Josh Hamilton signed bat before thanking my new friends for their time.
However, before I packed it all in and left for the parking lot, they informed me that if I had any autographed items of value I’d be willing to sell, to come back and they would take a look.
I surveyed the store and thought long and hard.
“Well, I do have a Mark McGwire autographed baseball…”
I looked towards the sky. Nathan would be so proud…