Zachariah’s new song explores the corporate logo marketing travesty that all of us 90’s kids endure every time we see a Nirvana or Ramones shirt for sale in Target or Wal-Mart. Back in 1992 I had to go to the concert to buy a $30 shirt. Now the logo is on onesies.
My wife and I once hired a hippie nanny named Sioux who hid little bags of weed for me around our house. I remember the day we interviewed her – she was about 19, naturally slender with long blonde hair and she was wearing a skirt that looked like it was stitched out of the AIDS quilt… She had on Birkenstocks. She smelled like lavender. She was gorgeous. My first thought was, “I would have totally dated this girl back in college.”
When you’ve been married as long as my wife and I have, the best way to say you think somebody is attractive is to say that you would have dated ‘back in college.’
Of course, I told my wife this very fact.
“Well keep your hippie dick in your jorts,” she responded.
I laughed. I love my wife. Meanwhile, after a few conversations, I was sold on Sioux to become our nanny for our then five and two-year-old kids… but my wife wasn’t so into it.
“I don’t know – she seems flighty,” she remarked.
“Cmon, what’s the worst that can happen?” I asked. “She gets high and eats all of our ice cream?”
My wife agreed, mainly because we had a wedding that Saturday night and our other go-to nannies were already busy.
“If she fucks up, that’s on you,” she said.
She didn’t fuck up. At least that first night. In fact, when we came back from the wedding a little buzzed from the wine, we stayed up late with her and talked about the kids, how hard it was to meet guys in Los Angeles and eventually, she secretly told me that she hid a tiny bag of weed for me underneath the sage candle she had lit to ward off bad spirits on the coffee table. As she left, I thanked her and imagined that if she was my age in 1995, we would have been one of those hippie power couples that I was always jealous of at Phish concerts.
The second time Sioux babysat, I casually came downstairs wearing my old Grateful Dead 1992 Spring Tour shirt. She went ape shit. Told me it was the coolest thing she’d ever seen. I immediately felt like Phil from Modern Family, pretending that I didn’t even know I had the shirt on… even though I had been calculating the move since the week before. From the corner of my eye I saw my wife shaking her head while watching my pathetic attempt to connect with Sioux over a t-shirt.
“Nice shirt, babe,” she said.
“I guess I’ll go get ready,” I added before running upstairs to change.
When I came back downstairs, Sioux had prepared some food for the kids (all macrobiotic) and smiled one of those young hippie smiles at me – as if we were college sophomores peaking during a Run Like an Antelope solo. My wife smiled at me. I smiled at my wife. She smiled at Sioux. I kissed my kids. Sioux leaned in and hugged Wendy. They separated. The kids ate. My wife watched me as I leaned in and hugged Sioux. As I did, I stupidly whispered a single word into her ear…
Sioux smiled. My wife looked confused. I brought myself out of this fantasy hippie love triangle and said, “OK, bath at 7:15 and bed by eight.”
My wife and I walked outside to catch our Lyft.
In our ride to the birthday party that night, my wife cleared her throat and calmly asked me exactly what “candle” meant.
I told her.
“Last time she babysat, Sioux left me a part of a joint underneath the candle on the coffee table and I smoked it.”
“Oh great, so she’s high around our kids?”
“Well, I mean… so what? Sometimes I’m high around our kids.”
“This is her last night babysitting,” my wife said.
I could understand her frustration. It wasn’t because Sioux was this macrame Goddess with rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes… but face it – if your nanny was sneaking joints around your two-year-old daughter, you might think about getting rid of her too.
Still, I argued that we had nothing to worry about and that by the time we returned home, we would be thrilled to find our kids in bed and that maybe we could even split the little bag of weed I was expecting to find underneath the sage candle on our coffee table.
Until we got back around 11:45 p.m.
As it turns out, Sioux had started a bath for the kids upstairs… and forgot that she began running it. She turned on the water and then came downstairs to get the kids and somehow got distracted… By what, nobody knows – food? A text? A documentary on YouTube about the benefits of Dr. Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar? Whatever the case, she suddenly remembered that the bath was on just as drops of water began seeping through our living room ceiling and landing on the floor. The puddle stain on the roof was large and substantial and we knew we were looking at some serious water damage and mold repair.
Sioux was in shambles.
As she tried to explain how she forgot to turn off the water, we examined the damage and quickly lost the hippie buzz we had all generated earlier. I informed Sioux that we would pay her for her time, but that we fully expected her to be responsible for the damages once we had the roof inspected. She agreed and left, her head hung low, embarrassed and ashamed.
“OK, so she was probably high and forgot about the bath,” I said.
Stupidly, I checked beneath the candle for some weed.
There was nothing.
The damage came to over 1000 dollars. Sioux was broke and we felt bad charging her, so she offered to babysit for free until she could pay us back. Amazingly in Los Angeles, that’s only like, five nights of work…
However, my wife and I chose to not use her again.
The last I saw on Facebook she was living in Oregon with a Spanish guy named Pau.
Zach and Missi Pyle have a new podcast called “Missi and Zach Might Bang!” Exec. Produced by Anna Faris and Sim Sarna of “Anna Faris is Unqualified” – the show takes on celebrity guests, improvisational music and offers entertainment business advice as well! Head to http://www.ewpopfest.com to buy tickets now!!!
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…
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…
A Musician’s Dream Dies at Amoeba Records * By Zach Selwyn
By now music snobbery should have gone by the wayside. After all, the state of music has been disgustingly bleak since MP3s dethroned the industry in the 2000’s. Jobs have been eliminated, rock ‘n roll clubs have closed and bands with true talent and drive have settled for Spotify streams as a means to an .08 cent residual check twice a year. It wasn’t always this way.
In the glorious 90’s, I had friends with million dollar expense accounts, closets full of CD’s and other useless swag – like the Dave Matthews Band rain poncho I still have in a garage somewhere – and pockets full of drugs. But to say you are a “music executive”… or an A & R guy these days – sort of signifies that you are hanging onto a dream that died long ago. I have a good friend still in the business whose job it is to re-package Greatest Hits compilations to Wal-Marts across America. He’s the last executive I know – and I doubt that putting together a 10 song CD called Best of Soul Asylum is what he dreamt of when he was a younger man. In a way, today’s aging execs sort of resemble the 55-year-old hair metal musicians still hanging around the Rainbow hoping their demo CD lands them a review in Hit Parader Magazine.
Sure, nowadays vinyl is popular, but not everybody can plunk down $28.00 for a new Jack White album, no matter how many awesome backward grooves and upside down hidden songs exist when you play the thing on a 1976 Fisher-Price stereo. Besides, nice record players today can run upwards of 500 bucks. Isn’t it just so much easier to have a digital device or streaming service with everything you’ve ever wanted on it? Most of the world thinks so… But apparently, the gargantuan structure known as Amoeba Records in Hollywood does not.
Amoeba Records is the last place in the world where a used “out of print compact disc” can fetch roughly $17.00. It is the last place in the world where snobby record store employees still exist- and consider themselves way superior than the people shopping in their store. It is the last place in the world where music entitlement continues to thrive, as tattooed polliwogs insult your used DVD or CD collection while snickering behind the counter about the fact that you are wearing a Black Crowes shirt.
“Another R.E.M. CD?” One super tool employee whinnied as I tried to sell back a stack of CD’s from my collection. “Sorry, wrong decade.”
There are two things the Amoeba employee despises: Your band and your CD/DVD collection.
In 2003 my band released the first of our now five country-rock albums, ”Ghost Signs.” At the time, the death cart hadn’t quite been dragged through the streets for the physical CD, and independent manufacturers like Discmakers were still convincing artists like myself that things like shrink-wrap and jewel cases were ever so important. I fell for it, not only because it was my first time putting out my own album, but because I had always been one of those kids with 10,000 CD’s neatly arranged in jewel case displays across my dorm room. In short, I wanted my own title to exist with those titles. And there it was, finally in April of 2003: My album Ghost Signs by Zachariah.
The minute I received my shipment of 1000 CDs in the mail, I did what any bright-eyed troubadour who harbored dreams of becoming the next Springsteen would do – and I sent them out to a hundred magazines, music festivals and bigger record labels, hoping for a bite, a lead or a review. I also packed a box of 50 and went down to Amoeba Records, hoping to get a top display in front of the store. I lugged the huge box to the consignment counter and met a skinny employee with a Descendents t-shirt on who rolled his eyes when he saw me drop my hard-fought album on his counter. In those songs were my heart, soul and dreams. I was under the impression that he would take 50 of them and then ask for 50 more. After all, this wasn’t some crappy demo tape, this was an actual well-produced bad-ass album.
The employee barely shrugged at my hard work. He giggled and yawned. He wasn’t impressed. Instead, he offered up the following.
“We take two copies.”
“Two?” I said, incredulously.
“But I have, like 1000 of these,” I said.
“So does everyone else. Here’s our deal. If these sell, you get 3 bucks. If they don’t sell in 30 days they go in the dollar bin.”
I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, expecting to unload 50 CDs and have hundreds of new fans clamoring for me to perform live at the Greek Theatre by the end of the summer. Instead, a skinny asshole with skin so pale you could count his remaining good vein had shattered my dreams in under three minutes.
As of last week, both copies of that album are still floating around the dollar bin at Amoeba Records.
11 years later, I experienced roughly the same exact thing when I dropped my band’s new album off at the store, hoping that they had opened their minds to independent artists actually trying to distribute their own music. I was greeted by a chubby woman with Betty Page bangs – who had a dozen bangles hanging from her wrist. She had strange vampire kitty tattoos and was ironically wearing an Usher tour t-shirt. I hated her smugness immediately.
“Consignment?” She asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve actually placed some of my music in the store before.”
“What an achievement,” she puked.
I laid my new album on the counter. 11 songs. Pristine and awesome. A personal accomplishment. It was called Skywriting and was my fifth album of original material. I had foregone the jewel case this time around for the plastic sleeve and single panel artwork. It was cheaper, less clunky and much easier to store. My friends had been doing it this way for years, so I took their lead and saved some money on manufacturing costs. The girl looked at me as her lip curled upwards.
“What kind of packaging is this?” She asked.
“Well, I didn’t print my new album in jewel cases because – really – who uses jewel cases anymore, right?”
She shot daggers. It was as if I told her that the world was ending in a few minutes. I wasn’t sure why. The CD game had suffered so immensely in the time since I put out my first record, I figured the days were numbered that anyone would be caught dead with a jewel case. Or a CD for that matter. After all, new computers don’t even have DISC DRIVES anymore.
“You’re kidding, right?” She vomited. “Of course we use jewel cases.”
“Oh, I just figured they were becoming obsolete and everything.”
“I have 25,000 CD’s at my house. You call that obsolete?” She said.
I wasn’t sure what to call it. I have 25,000 CD’s as well, but mine were all stored in Case Logic books and on shelves in closets. The days when my alphabetized CD collection was the envy of every Pi Phi who waltzed into my fraternity house asking to borrow The Chronic were OVER.
“You don’t use the big CD books?” I asked.
“CD books are bullshit… You can never find anything, the artwork gets folded which means you can’t re-sell it and the discs get scratched in the storage… Whoever started using those things in the first place was an idiot.”
I couldn’t believe it. I was having an argument with a record store employee about how to store compact discs. It was like arguing that the news in tomorrow’s print newspaper would be more relevant than the news just posted on the internet.
She took my CD’s and re-packaged them in some abandoned clear jewel case she had in the back of the counter and filled out a consignment sheet for me. This time, I only brought two copies of my new album, wishing not to embarrass myself by leaving down the elevator with 50 copies like I did a decade prior. I signed a sheet saying that they could sell the album for $7.99 and that I’d retain three bucks of each sale.
Then I suggested we put the CD in the country section, to which she replied, “Nobody wants to be in the country section… especially with a name like Zachariah. You think anyone is looking in the ‘Z’ section of country?”
“Maybe they’ll find it while looking for Dwight Yoakam?” I suggested.
She rolled her eyes again and hit me with even more conceit and arrogance.
“No offense, but if anybody is looking for Dwight Yoakam, they probably aren’t looking for you.”
I hated this bitch.
“Fine,” I said. “Put me next to Warren Zevon and ZZ Top in the ‘Z’ section of rock n roll.”
“Good choice,” she said. “Not that anybody is looking for them either.”
I thanked her for being so awesome and told her that she’d be surprised at how fast my CD’s would sell. She eeked out a fake smile and waved me off before moving onto the next customer who was selling a large amount of unopened House of Cards DVD’s.
Three days later, I sent my brother into Amoeba to buy both of my CD’s. I didn’t care if I was losing a few bucks by doing it. The point was to prove to these assholes that I could sell something at their store. I slipped him $20.00 and he went in and came out with both copies of my new album.
A day later, a different manager called me and informed me that I had “miraculously” sold out of my CD’s and that if I wanted to bring a few more by, he’d be happy to consign them and pay me the $6.00 I was
“How many copies should I bring down?” I asked him sarcastically. “About 50?”
“Why don’t we start with one,” he said.
I told him I’d be in that afternoon. But that I wasn’t providing a jewel case…
My grandmother is 92. She has spent the last 37 years in Tucson, Arizona, trying to remember why she agreed to move there in the first place. In reality, she knows it was to spend more time around her grandchildren, exhaust her retirement in a peaceful community with plenty of golf courses for her late husband to play and to relish the clean, crisp desert air that draws so many retirees from colder, more polluted climates. However, now at 92, she just wishes she had never left New Jersey.
Whatever the case, New Jersey was a long time ago. And now, for the first time in her life, she is reaching an age when she is losing her motor skills and abilities to function on a daily level, which is absolutely heartbreaking. Still, she manages to make us laugh daily. To my family’s amusement, she has kept herself satiated these past three or four years with a voracious diet of nitrate-rich foods, like Oscar Meyer hot dogs, Kraft singles and garlic bologna. Whenever my brother or sister confront her about her less-than-healthy food consumption, she always responds with the same comment:
“What – do I wanna live to be 120? It’s ENOUGH already!”
I always suggest to my grandmother that as long as she is at it, she should take up smoking or heavy drinking, to which she responds, “Ehh, I’d forget where I left my cigarette and burn the house down.”
Born in 1922, Florence Lazar (Who would not let me reveal her middle name – which she hates), has always been the sharpest woman I have ever known. Quick, hilarious and witty, she turned her unique view of the world into a way of life that my entire family has admired for as long as we can remember. As recently as 2011, she was starring in a web series my brother and I put together called “NJ LADY” based on her hilarious commentary on the world that has changed so much around her. She riffed on Justin Bieber’s voice, thumbed through an old photo album telling us who was “dead” and who had affairs with girls in their offices and she even tried medical marijuana. Had her life served her differently, she would have been a Betty White-type of performer. (See marijuana ep below!)
It is only now, at 92, that she has started closing the curtain on an otherwise adventurous and charming life, somehow forgetting things that took place mere moments earlier or even where she might be at any given time. It is why she has gladly volunteered to splurge on weekly beach house rentals for her family every summer for the past five years, as long as one thing is made clear: Someone has to fly out to Tucson and drive her and her overweight lap dog “Lucky” to California for the celebration. After all, flying has become too much of a burden, and the dog, more importantly, must have a comfortable seat if it is to ever travel across state lines.
My mother often books these annual trips for our family at my grandma’s request. Usually, after seeing the price of the beach house rental, my mother will ask my grandma if she is sure about dropping such a large amount of money. My grandmother’s response?
“Who cares, I’m only spending your inheritance!”
Earlier this year, my mother phoned me about coming out to Tucson to drive my grandmother out for our weekly family summertime beach vacation in Malibu. Always willing to travel through the desert, I volunteered my services and in July, flew out to meet my grandmother and mom for the nearly eight-hour jaunt through the cacti and blue skies that separate my home state with my adopted one. There was only one issue: My grandma didn’t want to drive all the way through to California. After all, ‘Lucky’ needed a break to run around, do his business and get a good night’s sleep. Plus, some room service (My grandma’s favorite thing in the world) was definitely going to be necessary following a long drive. Going all the way to L.A. was out… That meant my mother, grandma and I needed a place to stay. I started searching online. At first, I recommended a $93 dollar-a-night Motel 8 I found in Blythe, California, situated directly on the border of Arizona and California.
However, my grandmother had other plans.
“I want to stay in Palm Springs.”
My first thought was to find a kitschy, Sinatra-like desert oasis in Palm Springs for all of us to crash in before making it out to the Pacific Ocean the following day. I even looked into the fanciest hotels online, but couldn’t get behind $350 dollar Friday night rates for queen-sized bedrooms that didn’t even allow pets. In fact, a lot of places were not pet-friendly or were booked for some weekend party happening in town, so my mother and I eventually decided to get a room at a small, renovated former Howard Johnson at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains. I had read about it before, and had heard that it was, ‘cute.’ Still, the price was somewhat affordable and the rooms looked cozy. So, my mom, 92-year-old grandmother and myself decided to book a room on a Friday night at the trendy hipster flophouse known as the ACE HOTEL.
I had no idea what to expect. At $230 a night, I was hoping for a classy, somewhat peaceful confine full of working professionals and possibly a “Rat Pack” tribute concert in the Sammy Davis, jr. Hall at 9:00 p.m. Instead, it was the exact opposite.
My grandmother’s first shriek of terror occurred when I couldn’t find a handicapped parking spot near the check in. She does have a handicap parking pass, mainly as a way to alleviate the 15-minute shuffle she makes to a doorway, but this afternoon, there were no spots available. A Red SUV happened to be parked in the lone handicapped spot that afternoon and carried a vanity license plate reading “I SPIN.” I suddenly found myself praying that it didn’t belong to some DJ setting up his pre-programmed music for a set in the bar that evening. When I saw a 20-something blonde guy with short sides and a backward black Mitchell and Ness OKC Thunder hat, I knew he was, in fact, the entertainment for the evening.
As I helped my grandmother across the parking lot, I took it to myself to yell out at the wannabe Tiesto for his mercenary act of swiping the only handicapped spot in the hotel.
“Thanks for parking in the handicap spot, guy,” I yelled.
Perhaps my grandmother’s presence was what made him shudder for a second, but in my mind he was not apologetic, just shocked to see a senior citizen check into the hotel. He had a look on his face that we were breaking the unwritten Friday night rules of the Ace Hotel stating that nobody over 40 was allowed inside.
“Oh, my bad man… didn’t know you were, ya know, with an old lady,” he said.
“Yeah, thanks brother,” I snarled.
Even though I hated him for the comment, he was right. Most of the packs of hotel guests walking around the grounds looked to be about 25-30 and in great shape. Many had committed to body-covering tattoos and strange piercings and even though it was only 3:00 in the afternoon, numerous amounts of open containers. In fact, everyone was shirtless and partying. If you analyzed the crew I was rolling with, I had my 68-year-old aging hippie of a mother, my 92-year-old grandma and me, who at 39 was still the third oldest person at the hotel that evening. It would only get worse.
During check in, the young girl working the front desk presented us with three pink VIP Poolside wristbands that would guarantee we could skip the line and get into the raging party that went on until 2:00 in the morning that night. I put my wristband on, as did my mom. I gave the other one to my grandma, hoping for a funny, ironic photograph, but she just tucked it in her purse.
“What is this, a hospital bracelet?” She said. “Did somebody have a heart attack?”
After receiving a terribly sophomoric explanation of the hotel layout, I gathered the luggage from the car and dragged it around the bend and up the flight of stairs to the second floor room we had been assigned. My grandmother was horror-struck that there was no elevator.
“Where are we, a military base?” My grandma asked as we settled into our room full of funky artwork and an old vinyl record player. I recalled the episode of Portlandia when they check into the fictional “Deuce Hotel” and the obnoxiously hip staff hand the guests turntables and vintage typewriters. Still, somewhat intrigued by a night away from my own family, I was looking forward to throwing on a swimsuit and hitting the pool for a few beers before eating.
And then my grandma decided that we should have dinner at 5:00. At first, this idea seemed fine since we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. The reality check came five minutes later, when I realized that we were the only three people in the restaurant.
And then the 23-year-old waitress opened with, “Are you guys here for lunch or dinner?”
“What do you think we’re here for?” my grandma responded.
“Well, about 10 people just left breakfast, so I have no idea,” she said.
“Who eats breakfast at 9:00 at night?” My grandma said.
“Grandma, it’s 5:03,” I said.
“Do they have hot dogs?” My grandma asked.
They didn’t. Instead, we all ordered red wine and chicken with potatoes. To the Ace Hotel’s credit, the restaurant, which resembled an old rotted out Denny’s that Sonny Bono probably nursed a hangover or two in, was delicious.
“Welp, it’s 6, I’m ready for bed,” my grandma said.
“Mom, it’s 6!” My mother said. “You don’t go to bed this early at home!”
“Lucky needs to make,” my grandma explained. “Zach, walk Lucky for me, make sure he makes.”
I escorted my grandmother upstairs, and took Lucky for a walk. I decided to check out the hotel, which was actually a pretty incredible and alluring place. I strolled past a swimming pool full of drunken weekend partyers waist deep in 80-degree water and margaritas. I passed a random acoustic guitar in the lobby where a guy who looked like a band member from MGMT strummed an acoustic cover of the band Fun’s “We Are Young” for an adoring crowd of beauties straight out of the Ace Hotel brochure. I overheard a bachelor party dressed like characters from Fletch discuss how hot the UCSB girls were they met at the pool. It made me feel young and old at the same time. Young, because I still felt like I could hang with these people as if it were 1996 and I was at some party hotel in Europe, but mainly old because I guaranteed that I was the only man at the hotel that night who was traveling with a woman in her 90’s and who had a Propecia prescription.
“The dog has made,” I announced as I re-entered the hotel room where my grandma was already snuggled up in the covers, ready for bed. She thanked me and turned over, summoning Lucky up to her arms for their nightly bedtime routine.
“C’mon Luck,” she said. On cue, Lucky jumped on the bed and licked her face. My mom and I smiled before watching as my grandma slowly drifted off into sleep. We looked at the clock. It was 7:02.
“Let’s go sell her VIP wristband,” I said to my mom.
“Let’s at least go explore the hotel and have a glass of wine,” my mom said.
The bar next to the hotel pool was crawling with casualties of the afternoon. Sunburns, yawns and weary eyes accompanied the faces of the patrons who had spent the past six hours wading in the water hoping for some miraculous Penthouse letter to present itself. Others had changed into jeans and more comfortable clothes for the evening festivities, which, as predicted, include the “DJ STYLINGS” of the same dildo who had taken up the valet parking spot from my grandmother earlier in the day.
I overheard some guys drinking at the bar exclaim, “This DJ is sick, he plays everything.”
My mom and I talked to some strangers and took notes that the two bartenders seemed to continuously skip over us in favor of younger, hotter clientele clad in bikinis and bandanas. I snarked to my mother that, “you’d think they would serve one of us who actually look like we may have jobs.”
That garnered a severe stare-down from the Gosling-wannabe behind the bar who then poured us two shots of bottom shelf tequila.
“On the house,” he said.
My mom and I both tipped him a dollar and took the shots outside where we both promptly tossed them into the pool.
Returning back to the room, we found my grandmother packing her things, preparing to depart the Ace Hotel altogether.
“What time are we leaving,” She asked.
“Not until tomorrow,” I told her. “It’s only 11:30.”
“You know, Grandpa and I once stayed in a hotel like this, full of nudity and all these people shaking their you know what’s,” she said. “Back in Florida. Bunch of idiots if you ask me. Zach, can you call room service and see if they have any garlic bologna?”
“I called earlier, grandma, they don’t.”
“What kind of place are we staying in anyway? Who ever heard of such a place that doesn’t serve hot dogs or garlic bologna?”
“Mom, we’re not at the circus,” my mother said.
Finally, my grandmother and mom went to bed and I decided to take one last round of the bar scene adjacent to the pool. I mainly stayed to myself, avoiding any unnecessary conversation with the Fireball-swilling patrons dancing to Jason DeRulo. After another 9-dollar beer, I made my way upstairs, folding a 27-dollar bar tab for three beers into my wallet and harboring a feeling that perhaps my grandma was correct…
“Bunch of idiots if you ask me.”
The continuous partying and noise echoing from the room downstairs was enough for my grandmother to lodge a formal complaint against the Ace Hotel, which led to an extremely uncomfortable late-night phone call between my mother and the front desk. Ultimately, as my family is often able to do, we scored 50 dollars off of our bill and a free breakfast, which included toast and coffee that was delivered to the room by a waiter who looked like he was rattling off the final twitches of a cocaine bender.
The money we saved led us to the Cabazon Outlet stores just five miles outside of Palm Springs, where my grandmother bought essentially the same purse at three different stores as my mother tried hard to stop her from spending any more cash. As my grandma shrugged her off and tossed her loot into the mechanized wheelchair we had picked up in the parking garage, she mumbled under her breath a familiar phrase that was beginning to discomfit my mom:
“Who cares, I’m just spending your inheritance.”
As we continued on through the Cabazon Outlet stores, my mom and I looked at each other as if there was nothing we could do about the situation. It was only then that my grandma entered a Michael Kors outlet for yet another look at another purse and uttered the following request:
“Zach, walk Lucky for me, be sure he makes.”
I took Lucky out into the parking lot and stared down the road at the San Jacinto Mountains overlooking the Ace Hotel. I doubted they would ever play host to anyone over 90 again. They would certainly never host my grandmother again. As the dog did his business, I reached into my grandmother’s purse for a plastic bag to pick it up with. It was only then that I came across the unused pink wristband that allowed all access to the Ace Hotel pool area for the entire afternoon.
I approached a crew of young women, impossibly sexy and in their early 20’s, giddily perusing the outlets for brand name discounts. I found the cutest and sexiest one, made eye contact with her and pressed the pink wristband in her hand. Feeling pretty good about the move, I hustled Lucky back into the shopping area, imagining how the crew of hot girls must be feeling to have a handsome man like me give their gorgeous leader a VIP all day bracelet to the Ace Hotel.
Instead, as I walked away, I overheard one of them comment under her breath: