The following is an email chain I exchanged with my Hollywood agent, who I have paid 10 percent of my income to these past ten years. In that past decade, he’s brokered a deal or two for me and has also bought me lunch three times. His agency is a big one, but I am a lowly peon in the cable TV hosting game, dwindling way beneath the Seacrests and Trebeks of the world. However, I am undoubtedly the biggest sports fan on the roster. Which is why, as a die hard NBA fan, I began asking him for tickets to the agency “luxury suite” four months ago to watch the Los Angeles Clippers play the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Staples Center on January 16, 2015…
Oct. 12, 2014.
From ME: Yo – Looking for Clippers – Cavs tickets on Jan 16 2015. I think the Cavs are gonna be great this year – and their new coach is a mastermind. Clips look strong too. Both teams will be in top playoff mode around January. If possible, might I be able to get into the agency box seats that night? Asking early to make sure… Thx – Z
From AGENT: Z! Of course buddy. Emailing tickets guy. You need two, right?
From Me: Yes Thank you so much.
Nov. 8, 2014.
From ME: Checking in on Clippers – Cavs tix for January. Has anyone asked about them? Thx – Z.
From AGENT: You’re #1 on the list. I got you covered big Z.
From Me: U Rule. Thx.
Dec. 9, 2014.
From ME: Hey brother – any news on those tickets? It’s getting close and I want to make sure I get in here before the office shuts down for holiday season.
From AGENT: Thank you for your email. Our offices have closed until January 7, 2015.
Jan 7. 2015.
From ME: My dude. Zach here – Hope your holidays were awesome… I was in Seattle with the fam. Checking in on Clippers – Cavs game for January 16. Wanted to see if you could email the tickets to me? Or maybe messenger them? Very excited – thank you sooo much.
From AGENT: Hey Z. Checking in with tickets guy again today.
Jan 8. 2015.
From ME: Any news?
From AGENT: Hang tight.
Jan. 12, 2015.
From ME: Hey man, sorry to bother you – but game is in 4 days – trying to figure out babysitter and all that stuff… Looking forward to seeing LeBron.
From AGENT: (No reply).
Jan 16, 2015.
From AGENT: Hey Z, so sorry bud but we had an overflow of ticket requests for this game… Apparently both teams are playing really well. Matthew Perry snapped up a pair this morning and Giuliana Rancic is top of the list for the other pair. Sorry bud. We’ll get you into a game. I know we have seats for the Lakers – Nuggets on February 10… Chace Crawford just turned them down.
In the world of celebrity, free stuff is king. Matthew Perry and his 500 million dollars does not need free basketball tickets… Plus, he’s sober, so all the free booze in the luxury box was going to be ignored anyway. Giuliana Rancic? Or DiPandi or whatever her name is? Are you kidding me? She makes fun of celebrity dresses for a living. She probably heard the word “Cavs” and thought it was a leg workout. And Lakers – Nuggets tickets? The Lakers are led by a guy who is famous for being Iggy Azaleia’s boyfriend. Kobe is out for the year. They’re not exactly a hot ticket. The point was, I was not considered successful enough to snag the Clippers tickets. I was looking at some washed up pretty boy from Gossip Girl named Chace Crawford’s rejects… Perry and Rancic were gonna be on their iphones in the suite the entire time and most of the so-called Hollywood celebrities who were going to the game probably think “Chris Paul” is a type of champagne.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, the Lakers were all that mattered. They had Del Harris, a young Kobe, Van Exel was being name-checked in Jay-Z songs, Eddie Jones and huge NBA stoner Sam Perkins. (Who looked blazed in 99% of his games). My friends and I would drop $25.00 to sit in the nosebleed section of the Forum just to catch a fading glimpse of what the legendary teams of the 80’s left behind. They were likeable underdogs who fought hard and always battled. Then came Shaq. And Phil Jackson and Kobe became Kobe. Those were the last years I liked the Lakers. Kobe lost his appeal when he shaved his mini afro and faced his legal troubles. Still, going to games was fun because, hey – going to the games are always fun. Still, these last ten years I stopped rooting for them and began just appreciating all professional basketball in general.
Now, Los Angeles is all about the Clippers. A recent text from a buddy read: Lakers are for Fakers…I’m going to the Clips game. The abundance of Lakers flags that people used to display from outside of their car’s windows are long gone. The sea of purple and gold has been replaced by red, white and blue. And let me tell you, I have never seen anyone play pick-up basketball while wearing a Carlos Boozer jersey.
Still, the luxury box is indeed, luxurious. I emailed my agent back a few days later and accepted the Lakers – Nuggets tickets. At least I could see Arizona Wildcat-alum Jordan Hill and possibly watch a few Jeremy Lin up–and-unders. Plus, my brother is a huge hoops fan as well and neither of us are Matthew Perry – sober. Watching two out-of-the-playoff race teams loaf up and down the court over free hot dogs and Stella Artois isn’t a bad way to spend a Tuesday night.
I emailed my agent a week before the game to make sure he could send the tickets over.
Feb. 3, 2015
From ME: Hey man – excited for Lakers – Nugs game on Tuesday… Can you messenger the tickets or email them? Thx brother – Z
From AGENT: Yo, Z – Hey man… looking into this. Looks like Chace Crawford might want the tickets after all… but it depends on if we can get him seats on the floor or not.
From ME: You’re fired.
When it was all said and done, Chace Crawford ended up not going, so I snagged the tickets. The game was poorly attended and didn’t even get exciting until the 4th quarter. Jack Nicholson wasn’t there. Neither was Leo. Or any other familiar celebrity face that we have all come to associate with the Lakers. Instead, it was my brother and myself, sitting amongst a bunch of 22-year-old agent assistants in the luxury suite, sipping Stella Artois and filling up the stat sheet with junk food.
I looked long and hard down at the floor as the game wound down. I was having the time of my life. I guess watching LeBron James would have been a lot more entertaining, but this was still a pretty awesome way to see a basketball game. As a sports lover, sometimes it doesn’t even matter who is playing. And after Swaggy P made a three-pointer and did the eye goggles gesture with his hands, I suddenly became a Lakers fan again for the first time in ten years.
And as I squinted hard at the row of folks seated on the floor, I believe I recognized a celebrity typing away into his iphone three seats down from the Lakers bench.
It was Chase Crawford.
Buy Zach’s newest album “Skywriting” on itunes NOW!
Recently, on social media and my website, I have made no secret of my modern return into the world of competitive basketball. I play full court four days a week at the Hollywood YMCA and recently entered a Three-on-Three tournament against other fathers at elementary schools, which I happened to have won. (My proudest athletic achievement in my life to date – not counting the time I took Colton – the star 7-year-old pitcher – DEEP in a father-son Little League game last summer…)
I have re-discovered a love for the game I haven’t had sine 1993 and I’m actually a better player now than I have ever been.
Throughout my life and into high school, basketball was everything. As a 6’2” inch eighth grader, I was groomed by my coach to become the next great Arizona Wildcats big man. Unfortunately, I haven’t grown an inch since eighth grade. I switched to the wing, where I lacked certain skills, but was still able to hold my own mainly because I was actually grabbing the rim with ease and in top physical shape. However, around age 18, I discovered the usual pitfalls – Weed, beer and women – and decided that since I had no chance, or interest in walking on my college team, I would hang up my Air Jordan XII’s and I only stepped on the court a handful of times over the ensuing decade.
A few years ago, however, I was listening to UCLA great and fellow Grateful Dead-Head Bill Walton broadcast an Arizona- Oregon basketball game, when something he said struck me deep inside. After he spent a few minutes comparing some obscure 1970’s Bob Dylan song to the Oregon Ducks’ fast-break technique, he discussed his history of injuries he attained while playing. At the end of this sidebar, Bill Walton claimed to have broken his nose 13 times.
“That’s what happens when you play defense with your face,” he exclaimed.
He also mentioned his surgically fused ankles, incinerated spine, broken wrists, 36 surgeries and broken leg – all suffered on the basketball court. Walton’s lifelong injuries, along with his 1978–1979 year-long protest of the Portland Trail Blazers unethical treatment of his injuries, gave him the record of missing the most games during an NBA playing career, when taking into account the number of years he was officially listed as a player on a team roster. He spoke of how debilitating it became to walk and I researched even deeper to see that Walton once even contemplated suicide due to severe depression from debilitating back pain.
However, Walton then made a comment that made his life on the disabled list seem even more surreal… He observed a certain move power forward Solomon Hill had made and remarked, “That is a move to study – for those of you who are still lucky enough to play basketball…”
Lucky? How could 13 broken noses and suicidal thoughts be considered lucky? I felt that I was lucky to have quit basketball with my original nose still in place. What was Walton talking about?
Attempting to find out, the next day I dusted off some 10-year-old shoes and made my first trip to a court in what was nearly five or six years. I checked out a basketball at the YMCA that looked as if it had spent a good majority of its life underwater, and went to shoot around. It took me awhile, but eventually I was making short jump shots and working on my cardiovascular fitness while running up and down the gymnasium floor. Some of my old spin moves came back to me, and I put up a couple of nice finger rolls and hit some three pointers. It actually felt amazing.
About an hour later, a few guys asked me if I wanted to play “21” with them, but I declined, afraid of shooting 9 air balls and getting embarrassed. Instead, I continued to work on some post moves and drives and watched them from the corner of my eye. They were laughing, having fun and playing just above the level where I was – which made me think I might have hung in there if I had accepted their challenge. Instead, I returned my ball and went home and told myself I’d be back the next day.
I did come back the next day. And the next. I ran that court nearly every other day for months until I was actually joining the games of 21 and winning a good majority of the time. For the first time in over a decade, I was having a lot of fun playing basketball. I soon found myself in the full court games and now, three years later, found myself coming home and discussing the games with my wife as if I was playing in the NBA Finals. It became an obsession to the point where if I missed a lay-up during a game, I got depressed for the rest of the day. Still, it drove me to come back again, improve and remedy the situation.
My wife thought I was nuts. Every time I would bring up my day on the court, she would roll her eyes and remind me that I’m more Kevin Arnold than I am Kevin Durant. She also warned me to be careful, to which I reminded her that I was playing against a bunch of guys in their 30’s and that I was in better shape than most of them.
And then, about six months ago, I got smashed in the nose by a teenager who lowered his shoulder into me on a penetration. My nose now cracks in both directions when I try to move it, but I luckily avoided a full break. Then, a couple weeks later I was slightly concussed after being run under by a guy who was pissed that I was outplaying him. I ended up sitting out two days nursing my brain – which luckily was not permanently damaged. In December, I took an elbow to the bridge of my nose, which caused it to bleed profusely all over the court and earned me 75 “likes” on Instagram.
In February, I jammed my left thumb so hard during a rebound that I am still having trouble operating the zippers on my jeans. Then I jammed my right pointer and ring finger in consecutive games. I’m consistently fighting shin splints and a bone spur. Finally, last week, I discovered that I have bursitis in my right shoulder and that I might not be able to play for three weeks or so. This will be my first trip to the disabled list in my athletic career. And I’m a month away from 40. According to my dad, the injuries will now just start piling up. In short, I am about to enter my Bill Walton years. Now, my family is giving me all kinds of advice.
“Maybe think about not playing anymore,” my mother offered. “You know, you’re no spring chicken.”
I hung up on her.
“A spin class is much better on your body,” my dad suggested. I simply sent him pictures of my three-on-three trophy and told him I’d be back on the court in a month.
“Don’t do anything stupid, you don’t want to really hurt yourself,” my wife told me.
I rolled my eyes and studied Russell Westbrook highlights like it was important game film.
During the past week, I have found myself watching Bill Walton again. I guess recently there have been petitions to remove him from the Pac-12 broadcast booth, which upsets me entirely. Sure, he can go on tangents about the time Bob Weir and him spoke Arabic to camels in the Egyptian desert, but his unique and loveable qualities are what make him a treasure in the booth. He’s not a cookie-cutter color guy. He’s quotable and full of basketball wisdom. In fact, he may be my favorite college basketball announcer working today. Not only does he know the game, he makes it fun. I know he seems like he might be high or severely “out-there” once in awhile, but his love for the game is like nobody’s I’ve ever heard before. Not only that, his passion for the game is what got me playing basketball again.
Without Bill Walton, I’d still be jogging three miles on a treadmill. Not competing and not getting any sense of accomplishment.
For that, I thank you Mr. Walton. For inspiring me to lace up my sneakers that early morning three and a half years ago and return to the sport of my youth.
The evening after I won the three-on-three “Dads” championship, my wife said I had a “glow” about me. I knew what she was talking about, because I felt it. It was a sense of invincibility and achievement. I felt young again. Above the rim. It brought to mind a famous Bill Walton quote I had read years ago when he said, “You don’t win championships by being normal, by being average…”
I may have only defeated a bunch of dads in a Saturday pick-up tournament, but for those of us who are just hanging onto the final glimpses of what we might be able to accomplish as men, it was as if I won an NBA Championship.
Now if you excuse me, I have to go ice my shoulder. I’m planning on returning to the court earlier than expected…
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…
I live about a mile from the building that was once the famous swing dance club known as “the Derby.” In the mid-late 90’s, when the swing music revolution twirled its way across the streets of Los Angeles and turned regular farm boys from the Midwest into Rat Pack wannabes, “the Derby” was the swing club to frequent.
In 1996, Jon Favreau was so inspired, he made a pretty great film about it called Swingers and suddenly star Vince Vaughn had the entire town looking for “beautiful babies” and saying that everything was “money.” I passed a bootleg VHS tape of the film around my college friends and soon fell in hook, line and sinker. After graduation, I dove head first into the post-Swingers madness that raised dirty martinis all over Hollywood. Lines formed around the Hillhurst/Los Feliz street corner where the Derby resided awaiting entrance into the ultimate haven of swing-cool.
I owned 15 bowling shirts, white “creeper” shoes, Cadillac-emblazoned pants, shoulder-pad heavy sport coats, a flask, three Big Bad Voodoo Daddy CDs and a t-shirt that said “It’s Frank’s World, Were all Just Living in It.” I went to Las Vegas monthly, drank gin and tonics and swept my hair up into a James Dean-inspired pompadour. I remember feeling so confident that my “swinger” image would live with me for the rest of my days, I traveled to New York City around 1999 and searched out underground West Village swing clubs to show Manhattan that a “Real Life Hollywood Swinger” was in their presence. Somehow the façade worked and after ringing up a $290 credit card bill, I managed to make out with a girl named ‘Kitty’ who had a Stray Cats tattoo on her shoulder before retiring to her floor mattress in Brooklyn where she woke up six times during the night to smoke Marlboro Reds.
It was all because of Swingers.
And then, about five years ago, it was announced that the Derby was going to be transformed into a Chase Bank. The bar where I spent my early 20’s was suddenly going to be a place where I would curse the teller for charging me a checking account fee… The club where I once dated the hottest bartender in town was turning into a place where a gal named Evelyn would inform me my mortgage was ten days late. When I heard the news, I knew this was not good. The Derby? I thought… A bank? WWJFD? (What Would Jon Favreau Do?)
Turns out, Favreau had bigger fish to fry. Even though he could have easily bought the Derby and used it to store his Iron Man memorabilia, he ignored my twitter plea for him to buy the bar and turn it into a museum. I’m sure Vince Vaughn most likely drank at “Mess Hall,” the restaurant next door, toasting the ghosts of the barroom that made him a movie star… but he was also too busy and uninspired to save the bar. I even tweeted actor Patrick Van Horn, who played SUE in the film. He at least took the time to write me back by quipping “End of an Era.”
A week before the Derby was to be gutted, I gathered my old “Swinger buddies,” – now dads who had traded in slick sport coats and suspenders for Old Navy hoodies – and we poured out some gin for Favreau and Vaughn, for Sinatra, for dirty martinis, for the incredible wooden Derby ceiling, for the memories we had shared at the bar and for the debauched nights spent watching amazing swing bands like Royal Crown Revue sing “walk right in, walk right out…”
We even quoted the movie a few more times to make sure we still knew all the classic lines. “Get there…” “This place is deaaad anyway…” “He’s all growns up… I would never eat here.” “You’re the fun-loving out going party guy, and you’re sweating some lawn jockey?” The night went on and on.
As the evening died down, we all retired a lot earlier than we had in the late 90’s and excused ourselves back to our families. The next week, the Chase Bank transformation had begun and the last remaining memories of my first few years out of college were carried out and discarded.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in line at the Chase, staring up at the exact same wooden ceiling that I had spun girls beneath in the past. The ceiling beneath which I had done shots of Crown Royal a hundred times. The ceiling that watched over me as I tried to find assimilation with a unique sect of people during those weird times when you’re not yet quite sure who you were – who you are – or where you are going.
I got up to the bank teller and deposited my meager check, taking a moment to remark that this building was once my one-time favorite nightclub.
Without making eye-contact she mumbled, “Yep, every one of you middle-aged guys who comes in here has the same story.”
“Fuck off,” I whispered under my breath.
I took another glance at the ceiling and thought of the days gone by. Hollywood is forever a town of transformation. Very few restaurants and bars make it ten years… hence the stories you read about now defunct clubs like The Trip, The Cathouse and Gazzari’s that were the most happening places to be. In my life, the Derby was certainly my place. The place where I was part of a nationwide fad that engulfed my youth when I was a mere lump of clay awaiting to be molded into the lump of Play-Doh I am these days.
As I looked down at my bank receipt and realized how far this journey in Hollywood had taken me, I thought of the dreams I had at age 22 that were still somewhat unrealized. When places that mean so much to you as a kid disappear, you fail to immediately recognize that they will be gone for good and the memories will fade or melt into new ones until all you have left are a few photographs and some journal entries. I look back at my two years as a pseudo-swinger as important remembrances that I will take with me through all of my life. At the time I thought I’d be 22 forever, twirling cute tattooed ladies across slick wooden floors only pausing to sip drinks and wipe the sweat from our brows. I never thought I’d be 40-years-old and in the exact same room looking down at a bank statement stressing about the fact that I barely had enough money that week to cover my DWP bill.
Again, my thoughts turned to Jon Favreau. As the worlds most in demand director, he probably never imagined he would achieve the level of success he has back when he was simply searching for familiarity amongst the Hollywood night-crawlers of the mid 90’s. I reached back out to my old swinger buddies and arranged another drinking night to sit back and reminisce about the Derby days gone by, and we all agreed to get together on a following Tuesday night.
Of course, by Monday morning, everybody had flaked and the plans were cancelled so we could spend some time with our families. We all agreed to try again later, and I thought about how a little piece of all of us died the day the Derby did…
And a part of me knew, that somewhere, high up in those Malibu Hills, Jon Favreau was feeling the same thing…
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Yesterday, like I do most days, I dropped my kids off at school. Then, instead of racing to the gym to run five miles on a treadmill, I went to the grocery store and bought some orange juice and roll-your-own cigarettes. Now, normally, at this point I usually turn my car back towards my house to continue writing screenplays that nobody will ever read… However, this morning was different. I merged onto the 10 Freeway heading west. My destination: Venice Beach.
I should probably mention that I had an eighth of psychedelic mushrooms in my back pocket.
I’m not really sure what inspired me to ‘shroom all by myself on the sands of Venice Beach on a random Tuesday afternoon, but I’m hearing from some friends that it had something to do with feeling middle-aged. Something to do with the routine existence I have been living ever since I had kids. Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that I recently re-read an old college “drug journal” where I spent nine pages describing how I, “shook hands with a very nice lawn chair” during a mushroom trip in 1995.
Whatever it was, I knew one guy who had a connection to mushrooms and he lived in a 1973 Volkswagen Hatchback on the outskirts of Bronson Canyon. He traded me the ‘shrooms for some Screen Actor’s Guild Award screener DVDs… I hope he likes The Imitation Game.
The last time I did psychedelic drugs of any sort was sometime in early 2000 when I hiked into Sabino Canyon in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona and had a spiritual love-making session with the Sonoran Desert. I wrote about five songs in five hours, including one called “Tucson Afternoon” which I filmed a video for years later in the same desert vortex. I was in my mid-20’s and I thought that one last act of frivolity would guide me past the disappointing years I had been coasting through in Hollywood and help me find a new path. Lo and behold, I ended up connecting with a vibe I never even knew existed in my life, which is why if you look at younger pictures of me, a tremendous amount of turquoise jewelry began sprouting around my fingers and neckline around this age. Following my little desert sojourn, I immediately gave away my collection of Vince Vaughn Swingers-inspired suits and began dressing like a Laurel Canyon cowboy from 1972. That was 16 years ago.
It was time to change things up.
Venice Beach on a Tuesday morning is not the Venice Beach you know on a crowded tourist-filled weekend. There are a lot more junkies in plain sight. The smell of weed is even more prevalent – as if cops have just given up – and a dozen or so 1960’s holdovers still worship the decade on the steps of a head shop where they play side one of The Soft Parade on repeat until lunch. The hot women on roller skates are much harder to find. Surfers are packing up from their early rides and beach cops twirl batons while overlooking school-aged skateboarders dropping into the inverted cement bowl. A few human wrecking balls work out in bikini briefs at Muscle Beach (Why this is an acceptable outfit in this day and age I still don’t know) and pose for pictures. Finally, scores of young aspiring rappers hustle their CD’s to Hungarian pedestrians by making them put on headphones and listen to their latest hip-hop creations. It’s a racket, but one that works. In two hours, I will be smoking a blunt with one of these rappers – a mediocre emcee named Philly Phill, telling him about my failed hip-hop album from 1999. He will be telling me how he made 75,000 dollars selling his own CD on the boardwalk in the past year.
I decided to eat a cap and a stem in order to time out my peak just as I arrived at the beach. In mushroom speak, a cap and a stem is a small amount – but probably enough for a good 8-9 hours of full tripping. With any luck, I’d be able to drive home safely around 5:30 and greet my kids as they walked in the door. Plus, I had promised my wife I would clean the kitchen.
It was 8:45 a.m. when the bitter fungi hit my mouth and it tasted as I remembered. Like chalk dipped in vinegar. I gulped down some of the orange juice and went to find a spot on the beach where I could lay out the Mexican blanket I had bought in Sayulita ten years earlier.
Now if I were to go hiking, at most, I would probably pack a water bottle and a cell phone with me. Let’s just say I packed a little heavier for this trip. In my backpack, which made me look like a college kid with scoliosis traveling around Europe in the 90’s, I had two Nalgene water bottles, an iphone charger, a Bluetooth boom box, my laptop, a portable electronic charger, a Wu-Tang Clan hoodie, some sunglasses, contact lens solution, three loose joints, two lighters, a blanket, a floppy beach hat, a cowboy hat, a pair of Dizm sunglasses, a pocket knife (In case I needed to skin a possum), a banana, a four pack of Golden Road IPA beer, my journal and three cans of La Croix sparkling water.
I could survive a month in an internment camp with that much shit.
I also had my guitar with me, in case I was able to find musical inspiration the way I did all those years ago. So, that was how my day began. Freezing my balls off, strumming my guitar and staring at the sea.
Around 9:30, I noticed it all start to come alive. The ocean was inviting, the sands swirling and the marine layer was showing good promise of burning off. I began to smile incessantly, the way that actor does at the end of Boyhood when he takes mushrooms and traipses into the Texas wilderness with that hot freshman girl. My mind immediately went back to the beach memories of my college days. Suddenly, Danielle Watts was in a bikini ten yards away. Melissa Dirks was handing out cigarettes and I was filled with the false promise of the summer of 1995 lasting forever. Only problem was, I was not 18 anymore. I was three months away from 40. Those frivolous anything-can-happen years were long gone, washed away out to the oceans of time where they will forever tread water. As I shook off the memories of the beautiful girls of my youth, I swear to God that I suddenly saw my old mushroom buddy Dan walking towards me. His hair was still long and blonde and a Grateful Dead shirt was where a daily three-piece suit rests now. I was hoping he’d come over and join me in playing a cover of Uncle John’s Band like the old days. He walked over, clasped his hands together as if to say “Namaste” and sat down next to me. At this point, I was so high, I actually called him ‘Dan.’
“I’m not Dan, brother – My name’s Epic,” he said.
“Zach” I told him, unsure of how he invaded my space. Had I invited him? Did I wave him over thinking he was Dan? Was this guy safe? Luckily, my pocket knife was within reach in case I needed to cut someone.
“What are you playing?” He asked, his brown teeth slurring through a prickly beard that resembled the druggy kids I had managed to avoid in parking lots my entire life.
“Nothing, really – man. Just strumming, looking at the waves,” I said, slurring my speech somewhat to a delivery that was part Spicoli- part McCounaghey but sounded very convincing and inviting.
“You know Melissa by the Allman Brothers?” He asked.
I did. I tried to play. The frets melted in my hand. My motor skills were down. I was not fully operational.
“You know what’s weird?” I said. “Legs.”
He nodded. I didn’t know if he could tell if I was on mushrooms or not, but we spoke about how small we all are in the grand scheme of things – How weird it was that when my guitar was made in the 70’s, there were probably 40-year-old dreamers hanging on this same beach just like we were. Now, those guys are 81.
That tripped me out. But it made me believe that this little outing was a very positive thing to do. A good decision. I was aware that the majority of men my age were stuck in some shitty job they hated, pushing emails and paper – definitely NOT on drugs on a beach watching a palm tree behave like Bart Simpson.
Epic said he had to leave. He rolled about 9 of my cigarettes before taking off and I thanked him for being a part of my day. He said he’d write, but we never exchanged any information. I looked at my watch. It was 11:30. I had spent two hours with a complete stranger, watching his facial hair crawl around his lips thinking they were ants. I wrote the following entry in my journal:
Venice. An Epic adventure. One with the anthill beard who melted away as I watched the Simpsons dance in the background. Wish my son wasn’t 8 and he could do this with me. That’s a terrible idea. I have been holding my guitar for two hours and I’ve played one E Minor chord. The clouds are beginning to chloroform. The sky is beginning to shift shape. Interrupted by seabirds longing for the cape. That cloud looks like fondue. OMG! Her shape her shape… Oh how I miss her shape. I’m ship shape.
I peed in a hole I dug in the sand. I smoked, even though I don’t really smoke. I put my guitar away and listened to Black Beauty by Love and Two Sides to Every Story by Gene Clark about 15 times. I smoked a little weed and tried to count the grains of sand in my palm.
I remember suddenly wishing I had brought sunscreen. I thought of all the rich people living up the strand in Malibu. I used to want to live there. I thought a lot about red Tic-Tacs and Fleetwood Mac.
The next thing I knew, a crew of the aforementioned rappers smelled the weed I had been smoking and decided to come join me for a quick puff.
“You like that hip-hop?” One of them called out, perhaps noting that I was now listening to Black Sheep A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing on my iphone.
“Check this out,” a guy with the letter ‘P’ tattooed on the right side of his eyelid said, forcing a homemade burnt CD-R into my hands. “Fifteen dollar suggested donation.”
Intimidated, I put on his Sony Discman headphones and listened. It was rap. Bad rap. In fact, it was terrible. Still, I bobbed my head, acting as if this guy was the second coming of Kendrick Lamar. A beach hustler who would someday open for Drake… Instead, I knew I could out-rap the dude on the spot. I didn’t dare suggest that.
Maybe as a way to just avoid any more coercion, I gave him fifteen bucks and thanked him for the CD. On the top of the record, written crudely in Sharpie marker was his name, a weed leaf and the album title: Philly Phill: Tha Game Done Changed.
Phill and his buddies passed a blunt. I took a few rips of it, mainly appreciating the crawling visuals of the exhaled smoke sailing skyward like dragon vapor from our mouths. We looked cool. I think I said something like, “I loooove smoke.” Phill then grabbed his Discman and moved back to the boardwalk to hustle some more white people the way he just hustled me.
It was now 1:00 p.m. I wasn’t hungry, but I was thirsty. I drank some water and felt the gross warmth of the beers in my bag. I put my guitar in its case and decided that I needed to take a walk. Get the bones moving. Rattle the cage. I made it about 50 yards before salivating over a group of four sorority girls tanning near a lifeguard station.
My whole life, I have seen drugged out dudes leering at young girls. On city streets, in shopping malls… and yes, especially on beaches. I sat and smoked and stared. I wanted these girls so badly. I wanted them to walk over and say I was handsome and then offer to take me into their parent’s beach house down the strand where we would drink margaritas and have surly, mind-bending sex… Oh, you guys want to film this on camera for your million-dollar porn site? No problem…
I think the girl in the pink bikini noticed me first. She used some phrase like, “Ew, creeper, two o’clock” and they looked over at me and turned away. Fantasy shattered. Cover blown. Game over.
I went back over to my blanket, where I was astounded to find my iphone, wallet, laptop and guitar untouched. I had just left everything I owned in the great wide open – amongst the homeless and the crack fiends and the beach bums – and NOTHING had been taken or touched. Miraculous. The only out of the ordinary thing that had happened was that my wife had called.
I had told her I was going to Venice Beach to find some inspiration, but I may have failed to mention the mushrooms. She left a long message. I knew my mind wasn’t quite yet ready for communication with my real life, so I didn’t listen to it. Instead, I packed most of my stuff in my car and walked over towards the cheesy T-shirt shops along the boardwalk to find something beautiful to immortalize my journey with.
I bought a dream catcher.
I passed on the T-shirt of a fisherman getting a blow-job from a mackerel.
I spent way too long in the Native American flute store listening to an R. Carlos Nakai album and smiling at the cashier.
Finally, I sat and watched a mediocre full court game of basketball where, in two hours, roughly 11 minutes of game play took place due to the fighting, foul calling and shit-talking.
After spending a few hours around a community of people like this, you really begin to see everyone’s personalities. Familiar faces reappear on different parts of the beach. A level of contentment sets in. I began to understand how people come to these places, get sucked in and never leave.
Around 4:00 I was beginning to come down, but I knew I had to catch the sunset. A Los Angeles smog-drenched sunset is a miraculous thing to witness, whether you’re on mushrooms or not. Still, I did promise my wife I’d be home by 5:30. I called my brother, the only person I told about my little mushroom journey, and he convinced me to stay.
“No way you’re leaving the beach – you have to see last light,” he said.
He was right. The sunset was tangerine and mesmerizing and sweeping and everlasting and inspiring and I sang a few bars of a new song idea into my phone recorder. I spent an hour looking at photos of my family, realizing how lucky I was to have THEM. How lucky I was to not be sleeping on the beach that night and hustling my CD to tourists with Philly Phill year-round. I was a father and I suddenly didn’t want anything else but my family.
I thought about the traffic I was about to face on the way home and decided to wait it out, rather than get caught in the Waze vs. Google Maps battle that I would have on my journey back to Hollywood. I wrote one last journal entry:
Umbrellad beneath this canopy of calliopes. Her feathers float from her hair. The Stellar sinister society… always calls me back on there… French Fry French Fry. I would make a bad waitress.
I had to go. I winked good-bye to my tripping field and fumbled my way back to my car. I was Jim Morrison. I was Jack Keuroac. I was Hunter S. Thompson. At one point, I dictated into my phone that I was as talented as Ewan McGregor. I don’t know why I did that. The point was, I had discovered a fresh creative line… A new moment of light – and a beautiful reaffirming of my current position on this earth.
On the way home I slipped Philly Phil’s CD into my car stereo and turned it as loud as I could. There were only five songs. They were as wack as it gets. Still, he made more money as a musician than I did that day.
It had been 16 years since I tripped in the desert and emerged swathed in leather, denim and turquoise. Now, as I looked at my much shorter hair in the mirror and the white V-neck t-shirt I was wearing that I had bought in a 12-pack from Target a week before, I peered in the rear view mirror at the fading memory of a wonderful day at the Pacific Ocean.
Philly Phill repeated the one lyric on his CD that I had to agree with.