Pumping Iron!

chiraq

At my local 24 Hour Fitness, I discretely listen to music that glorifies violence and preaches misogyny. The goal is that by listening to teenagers from Chi-raq shout about murder, I’ll be motivated to do, like, one more set.

This morning, while laying on the mat half-napping, half-studiously listening to what it’s like to be a young black male living on Chicago’s Southside, I spot Ricky. He’s carrying a basketball, and is flanked by a small entourage of big Armenian men.

Ricky is in his late twenties, has short dreds and he’s built like a guy who spends all day at the gym. After hi-fiving his way through all the forty-year-old men in stringger tanks doing concentration curls and incline bench, Ricky gets beckoned over to more men in tank tops doing lat pull-downs, twirling kettle bells, grabbing each other’s biceps.

roid gut

At this point, I realize I’ve been laying on the ground for a bit too long, listening to a song that consists of gunshots and Chief Keef in autotune declaring that all he cares about is money. Which is a little much, even for me. I proceed to finish whatever exercise I was in the middle of not doing, and then hit the showers.

It’s a joyous locker room. As it turns out, Armenian men love to sing in the shower. It’s also not uncommon to see a man standing in front of the mirror blow drying his balls in the middle of the locker room at say, 11:30 in the morning.

“My man,” I turn around to see the most popular man in the gym standing behind me. “You interested in a personal training session?”

“No,” I say.

“You looking for gear?”

While I google search “gear” in my brain, Ricky ushers me to the other side of the locker room, which doesn’t seem any more discreet. “I mean, you’re a fit dude. Kind of small, on the weakside, a little flabby but with some assistance, I’m talking about high quality, pro shit, you’ll be putting up big plates. You could go from zero to hero. Tell you what, it’s your first time, I’ll cut you a deal.”

At this point, three men walk over to Ricky and shake his hand, smiling, proud to know the man. Proud to be associated with him.

“Not that I’m interested in either, but are we talking about personal training or the other thing?” I ask.

“The other thing. And I want you to know this: there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not the lazy way out, you’ll still have to work hard, watch your calorie in-take. You’ll have to be accountable if you want to reach your goals—”

“Goals?”

“I’ll make sure you’re pushing your limits. I’m here for you, bro.”

“I—uh…”

“Let me dispel facts: one, your dick isn’t going to shrink. Your testicles, yes, probably, but as soon as you’re off it’s reversible. Two, no one has ever died from taking steroids. Three, the results are real and that can’t be disputed. Also, roid rage isn’t a real thing and your sex drive will go through the roof.” Ricky puts his hand on my shoulder, looks around then says, “Sometimes, I’ll fuck my girlfriend like thirty or forty times a day. No joke. No exaggeration.”

If there was an appropriate response, I didn’t have it.

boardwalk

“So,” Ricky spins around his fanny pack, “we can do this with cash, Paypal or I’m actually using Venmo now. It’s pretty dope. You use it?”

“I do.”

“Cool. I fucking love technology. Do you watch that show Silicon Valley?”

“I do.”

“Awesome. So we’ll use Venmo.”

“Sounds good.”

“Pills? You seem like a pill guy. It’s your first time. Let’s go with D-Bols. You should be able to gain like four to six pounds of muscle a week. Minimum. Although, I should warn you that pills are for pussies and they’re mainly water-weight so when you’re ready for the real shit, you just say the word.”

“I will.”

Ricky looks around then hands me a small bottle that’s been stripped of its label. “This is going to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship, my man.”

“Great. Thanks, Ricky.”

He pulls out a piece of paper and hand writes a receipt. He keeps the carbon copy for himself. “Uncle Sam was on my back last year.”

“I totally get it. Thanks a lot.”

“Anytime, or in six weeks!” Ricky laughs. “By the way, you might experience some male pattern baldness, oily skin, backne, and after the initial increase in libido, a gradual decrease.”

With that, we shake hands. Ricky turns on his heels, slaps the guy next to him on the shoulder and says, “My man, you looking to get serious about your fitness?”

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Finding the Next __________ of American Cinema: Casting!

CastingHard work. Mining for coal. Chopping firewood. Patching a hole in a submarine while it’s submerged. Picking lettuce. Casting iron. Casting actors.

It’s all hard work, am I right?

There was a time when I was open to the casting couch. The hopefuls would come flooding in at the chance of the glory that comes with being paid with “Meal + Credits” or, if we’re really going for broke: SAG Ultra Low Budget. It’s not pretty. I’m not proud.

But they are. They’re pretty and proud, and they love living in Studio City or by the Grove or Santa Monica. Something about the salt air makes it easier to book commercials for allergy medication.

The Real Casting Couch

This time I’ve stayed away from the couch. It’s all word of mouth. There are four actors. Three of the roles have been filled, but this final role, well, it hasn’t been easy.

It’s the title character. She’s the star. Or at least, it doesn’t work without her. She has to be great. She has to be everything that’s likeable about Scarlett Johansson, only without the bedroom eyes. And eight years younger. She has to be at once ethereal and authentic and preferably American. And we don’t have her, so I’ve been writing love letters.

Actually, they’ve been emails. They’ve looked like this.

SJ

Dear Scarlett Johansson,

Do you have a sister who looks like a version of you without the bedroom eyes who is preferably seven or eight years younger? If so, I’d like to cast her in a short film we’re making. I know she’d be perfect.

Or the one I wrote to Melanie Laurent.

ML

Dear Melanie,

I hope this email finds you well. Speaking of finding and well and you, I’m looking for an actress, like you. How’s your American accent? If it’s great, what’s your schedule like in May? And what’s your stance on a team of special effects superstars trying to make you look ten years younger? Well, that about sums up my requests. Looking forward to hearing back!

And then, I thought of Emma Watson.

EW

Dear Emma Watson,

It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that you’re not right for the title role in the short film we’re making. I wish you nothing but success going forward, but you’re not getting a job from me.

Finally, I landed on it. It was so simple, so obvious.

EO

Dear Elizabeth Olsen,

Will you work for cheap or for free? If so, I’m relatively, kind of, nearly, or with very little doubt, thinking that you probably or might be suitable for the role in this cinematographic masterpiece that lives on my desktop. Your sisters can come and watch, but don’t expect us to feed them.

The responses came pouring in.

Scarlett Johansson: Funny that you should email me. I was just thinking of you. Here’s a picture of my sister and I. She’s a bit younger than what you were originally looking for, but she’s only getting older. Let me know if you think she’s right for the part. Xo

Fenan

Melanie Laurent: “Au milieu de l’hiver, j’ai découvert en moi un invincible été.”

Emma Watson: I’ll do anything. This would be the role of a lifetime for me. Please. This could be my THE WRESTLER. My THE GODFATHER. My DALLAS BUYERS CLUB!

Elizabeth Olsen: There’s nothing I’d rather do in this whole world than to work on one of your short films for cheap or for free, but I have an appointment at the Apple Store’s Genius Bar regarding my MacBook Air, which has stopped working. Like completely. It won’t turn on at all. Do you know what’s wrong with it? Anyway, I can’t reschedule. I hope you understand.

And just like that my prospects came crashing down.

Scarlett, God bless her, is too pure at heart for her own good.

Melanie, I had to strikethrough because I hate Francophiles, even if they’re actually French and that quote reads like, well, I don’t know. I took Spanish in school.

Emma’s too desperate. Too wrong. I feel bad saying this, but this isn’t some Sophia Coppola movie we’re trying to do. We need star power. We need…

Elizabeth Olsen. But that fucking Genius Bar appointment. And don’t get me wrong, I know where she’s coming from. Rescheduling an appointment at the store at the Grove? At the Beverly Center? At the one on the Third Street Promenade? Not going to happen. You might as well just drive out to fucking Glendale and we can’t expect Mary-Kate and Ashley’s sister to do something insane like that.

genius bar

I’ve put one last email in the interwebs. It’s an offer to Gwyneth Paltrow. We want her to do a cameo as a meter maid. It’s a non-speaking role, but I know she’ll be perfect for it. I can see her now: getting out of her little meter maid go-cart, chalking the back of a tire, getting back into her go-cart and driving six feet forward to the next car to do it again. Then she’ll be off.

We’ll roll credits. People will laugh. People will cry. We’ll lock hands and take a bow while getting slaughtered in the comments section of anything with a comments section. Well, that’s enough hard work for one day. This is where I say goodbye.

 

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Soviet Serj and the Wheel of Misfortune!

Serj in Action

Serj charges anywhere from $200 to $1,200 for an oil change.

It’s not random though. He has a system. So when I pull up to the shop, I expect the same treatment. It’s a two-stall garage. In one, he parks his cherry 1963 Mustang. The other stall is, as it always is, empty.

I call out, “Hey Serj, can I get an oil change?” Serj is about sixty-years-old and mostly mustache, but I still wouldn’t mess with him. As I idle in front of the garage, he polishes his fingernails on his mustache and squints at me. “An oil change,” I say again, and then after a good bit of sizing up me and my car, he recognizes me. I am, of course, his only customer.

Serj the Tank

Serj asks if I’m going to stick around while he changes my oil, but Jiffy Lube, this place ain’t. There’s no lobby, no stale coffee, no TV playing TMZ. Serj knows this and I know this, so I decide to give him his space. He’s pretty quick anyway. There’s not much to do when it comes to my car. So I bid Serj adieu, planning to kill 30 minutes attempting to walk to the next sign of civilization.

Serj goes back to his office where there are three black office chairs, a computer that he’s never turned on, sugar cookies from Ralph’s, a vase of walnuts (a symbol of good luck for former Soviet mechanics) and the Wheel of Misfortune.

Under the hood

The Wheel of Misfortune is lined with all your basics for a superstitious and fatalistic mechanic. Some of the categories are: New Timing Belt, Transmission Leak, Broken Catalytic Converter, etc. Of course on the low end, there are things like: Replace Brake Pads and even, or so I’m told, a straight up $45 oil change. But that’s like the fucking unicorn of the Wheel of Misfortune. That’s the grand prize. That’s the mythical beast. That’s Global Warming in 2006.

Today when I return, Serj is eating grapes and watching the traffic go by. Because Serj works all day with wrenches and pencils, I’m fairly certain he only eats with his hands. To ask a man who makes his living with tools to use utensils at the end of the day would be totally inhumane. It would be like asking a police officer, who has carried a gun all day, to then come home and murder his dinner. You just don’t do it. That’s why God invented Trader Joe’s and Seamless.

We stand there in silence before he asks, “How long have you had this car?” Serj always opens with this question when I return to pick up my car. I learned long ago that there’s no right answer, so today I think long and not very hard before saying, “Four years.”

He grumbles, as he always does. My answer both disappoints him and confirms exactly what he was thinking. He tells me in no uncertain terms that if I don’t do something about one of the things that’s under the hood of my car that has something to do with how it runs it’s going to cost me tens of thousands of dollars and maybe the lives of innocent women and children.

Innocent Women and Children

I exhale. I’ve gotta think about this. Serj encourages me to take my time; all the time I need. Of course, he’s closing in five minutes because, well, once your only customer has already stopped by, what’s the point of staying open?

Serj can see I’m not sure so he offers to pop my hood and show me exactly what he’s talking about. With one hand he holds up the hood and with the other he points while words sputter out from under his mustache and into the abyss that is my knowledge of cars. I nod my head very seriously. I notice there are several things under the hood that are various shapes and colors. Some appear to be metal, others rubber. I know that African warlords prefer Toyotas, but Serj isn’t interested in what I have to say.

Serj closes my hood. “How did the oil change go?” I ask. He shrugs and leads me back to his office where I can see the Wheel of Misfortune resting on: Replace Spark Plugs.

“Well,” I say, “I guess it’s gotta be done.” Serj nods and I hand him my credit card. He runs it for $784.93. I sign his copy, then he hands me a piece of paper where he’s scribbled something, in maybe Cyrillic, along with some numbers. It’s about the size of a post-it. We shake hands and I thank Serj for his time and his service both to myself and my car, but also to the community. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he says, shooing me away, “see you next week.”

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James Franco Has (Allegedly) Slept with Everyone in Silver Lake

james-franco involved

I’m five feet from the counter when Kat shouts, “You know how James Franco lives up the street? Well, I’m pretty sure he’s fucked everyone in this neighborhood, but me.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Kat. Truly, I am. But I did some horrific things to my liver last night and I—”

“Jesus, you smell like The Smell.”

“The Smell?”

“It’s punk club. Or a sort of wannabe punk club because punk doesn’t exist anymore and—”

“A double shot of espresso would be great.”

She pulls at her gaping earlobe. You could fit a clementine in there. “After Operation Ivy, there really wasn’t punk at all. It only lasted like three years, tops. Everything else is bullshit.”

“They broke up like six years before you were born, Kat.”

“I know and it bums me out every fucking day.” Kat looks past me to the girl that’s now next in line. She’s wearing a flannel shirt, has blonde hair, and hasn’t taken her sunglasses off yet even though it’s foggy outside. “Iced coffee?” Kat says.

The girl smiles, picks up an apple then digs into her purse. A nickel falls and because she’s pretty, and I’m chivalrous as fuck, I reach for it. The floor is concrete and the nickel is slick. It takes me about thirty second longer than it should have to pick it up. “Here you go.” I say. “I know you were desperate for it.” She laughs, says thanks, then takes her iced coffee from Kat. Kat winks, the girl turns on her heels and walks out.

“I would bone the shit out of her,” Kat says. I nod because that’s maybe the most reasonable thing she’s ever said to me.  “She hasn’t paid for a coffee here in weeks and what do I get out of it? Nada. Not even a thanks.”

“I’m pretty sure she said thanks.”

Kat ignores me or doesn’t hear. “And now she’s taking apples and shit? She’s gonna get me fired. Still…” She leans on the counter, presumably lost in some sapphic daydream. There are now four people behind me in line. I clear my throat and she says, “Last week, she told me she fucked him.”

“Who?”

Kat looks at me like the idiot she clearly thinks me to be. “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response,” she says. “You know who.”

“Kat, please,” I implore her. “Coffee, a tea, anything.” She rolls her eyes then slowly pours a sad cup of coffee. “Happy?” she says. I’m not, but I thank her and put a buck in her tip jar.

“You know I live off tips, right?” Kat rattles the tip jar. I drop in a $5. She nods approvingly then says, “Next.”

I’m headed out the door, wondering how I ended up paying six bucks for this “free” coffee when  James fucking Franco walks in dressed like he’s fresh off the set of the “Rebel Without A Cause” reboot. He smiles and  in voice that’s smoked five thousand cigarettes, he says to me, “Hey. ”

Before the second passes and we go our separate ways, I’m certain James Franco has fucked everybody in a five mile radius. And maybe the world. And why wouldn’t he? What else is one to do with eighty-seven doctoral degrees?

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Ring! Ring! Kurdistan’s Calling!

I knew my brother was out of town. I’d seen the pictures on Instagram. It looked like he was somewhere hot, dusty, crowded, and with tents—like Coachella, sort of. I kept scrolling: waves in Peru, dogs in grass, craft beers and cuticles. I meant to send him an email, but soon the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into catching up on “Breaking Bad.” Things came up.

Insta

Then my brother rang in the middle of the day. I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling fan, wondering if I had ever disappointed anyone as much as my fan was disappointing me. I figured, nah, but I applauded myself for asking.

the other iraq
Below is a transcript of what was said the second time he called. I missed the first call.

DT: Hey, how’s it going? Where are you?

Unnamed Brother[1]: It’s going well. I’m in Belgium. Just got back from Kurdistan last night.

DT: Iraq, eh? Nice.  How was that?

UB: It was really interesting. 70,000 refugees poured from Syria last week and we were working with U.N. to set up various  camps in 130 degree weather, so–

DT: 130 degrees? Damn. It’s actually disgustingly hot here in LA. Too hot to even drink coffee. Can you imagine that?

UB: Um…

DT: Anyway, I’m trying out a new system to deal with the heat. By the way, do they have A/C out there or did you guys just set up the refugee camps in caves?

UB: There’s electricity in the camps and air conditioning units in every tent that the Kurdish—

DT: Lucky bastards! I’ve only got a window unit myself—that and an underperforming ceiling fan that might be the death of me. Silver Lake has never been more unlivable.

UB: Sounds rough.

DT: You can’t imagine. How was the food?

UB: Awful.

DT: That sucks. How were the chicks?

UB: Bundled up.

DT: Interesting. I gotta tell you. I had a hell of a long couple weeks at work. I’m sitting around all day listening to people pitch jokes and talk about their dogs, cars, diets. It’s exhausting. How was the work there?

UB: We started at six in the morning and usually finished around midnight. It wasn’t so much the hours that were hard, but the heat took its toll.

DT: Wow. Brutal. I can relate. As you may recall, I went to college in the desert. Sometimes it got so hot that literally the only thing we could do was strip down to bathing suits and drink tequila at an impromptu pool party. Anyway, I’ve gotta run. Great talking to you!

UB: Okay, but re—

CLICK.  Do cell phones have a dial tone? I don’t know. I was the one who hung up. I just remembered that my neighbors said I could use their pool, and this heat and that pool, wait for no man.


[1] Although, I don’t know what my brother does or where he does it, most of the time, I’d like to believe that it’s a necessary courtesy to not attach his name to anything I claim on his behalf without his permission.

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A Quiet Stroll Along the L.A. River

LA River - homeless camp

On occasion, I have been known to walk a dog.

I am also a citizen of a neighborhood that’s well-stocked with beautiful, stroller-wielding mothers, and their I was a drummer in a huge band in the 90s which explains why I’m fantastically wealthy, have a neck tattoo, and a wife that was born the year after I graduated from high school-husbands.

hipster dads

Hip dads make me violently ill. Every time I see a dad with a tote bag, an occupied baby bjorn, and the biography of some seminal Irish punk singer, I instantaneously projectile vomit. Which is a bit embarrassing, but there’s nothing I can do about it except avoid yoga studios, cafes, parks, Trader Joe’s, bicycle shops, wine bars, bookstores—basically my entire neighborhood. Thus I am forced away from the well-manicured park near the reservoir and sent under a freeway overpass to the L.A. River when the occasion arises that I must walk a dog.

The L.A. River is a nice combination of overly zealous “dad cyclists” from the valley and legitimate Glassell Park/Highland Park/Echo Park cholos who fancy drinking Tecates in the middle of the bike path. There are also homeless people who take solace by drinking cough syrup along the surprising lush cement basin.

So untamed and wild is the L.A. River that I once saw a woman crossing a two-inch deep stream of water on horseback. The woman was wearing a helmet. Up until a few days ago, a horse was the oddest thing I’d seen in the L.A. River since Ryan Gosling brought an Irish chick and a Mexican kid to have a romantic moment in Los Angeles’ puddle of flotsam.

Chilling, like all celebs do, on the LA River

But there I was, walking, strolling really, reflecting on how disappointing my tax return was this year when I heard the wails of a grown man. I peeked down the side of the basin and spotted a man in a tattered black suit. He was supine along the bottom of the dry river, and he was crying, just bawling while simultaneous masturbating. Which is a physical and mental feat of almost heroic measure. It’s honestly something that I would’ve assumed was impossible. I mean, really, how can a person cry and pleasure himself? It seems inherently contradictory. It’s such a deep and philosophical question that I feel inclined to avoid the subject entirely. Although, I have to believe it’s rooted in masochist tendencies.

But enough intellectual heavy lifting, I want to focus on the fact that he was masturbating with such fervor that I truly thought he might dislocate his shoulder and/or throw-out his back. And were these tears of pain? Had he in fact torn his rotator cuff and was gritting-down to finish the task “at hand” despite the agony? Or were these simply tears of joy?

The sad truth is I’ll never know. The dog, which brought me there in the first place, tugged onwards. There were poles and plants and concrete to sniff elsewhere.

Meanwhile, in the Silver Lake Meadow a hip dad is instagramming a picture of his child flipping through: An Abridged History of Second Wave Ska. As you read this, he’s busy revising the witty caption that will accompany the picture.

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Phone-tapped!!! The Manti Te’o and Lennay Kekua Conversations

MT + LK

Thanks to Rupert Murdoch’s phone-tapping I was able to come across conversations between Manti Te’o and his late girlfriend Lennay Kekau.

January 21, 2012 – 2:01 p.m.

Manti Te’o: Hey Lennay. What’s up?

Lennay Kekua:

MT: I’m just walking to geology class. I know you go to Stanford so you’re probably studying something really important right now, but I’m just studying rocks.

LK:

MT: Listen girl, I don’t know if you’re mad at me or what—I really don’t understand. You’re always so talkative on Gchat. Anyway, I love you.

February 14, 2012 – 9:35 p.m.

MT: Happy Valentines Day, baby!

LK:

MT: I really wish we could be together right now.

LK:

MT: I guess this is our first Valentines Day and hopefully the last one we’ll spend apart.

LK:

MT: It sounds like you’re really tired. Why don’t you go to sleep and I’ll just talk to you because you don’t really say anything anyway. Deal?

EIGHT HOURS LATER

MT: Lennay, I love waking up to the sound of what I think is either you breathing or maybe it’s just what my phone sounds like when I’m talking to myself. I really don’t know.

LK:

MT: Wish I didn’t have to, but I gotta go babe. Can’t wait to hear your voice (or the sound of you breathing) later!

SPRING BREAK – March 14, 2012 – 10:15 a.m.

MT: Hey babe! I’m in Cabo San Lucas and it’s fucking awesome! Sorry, to swear, but it’s amazing down here and yeah, you can probably tell I’m FUCKING WASTED! I know I’m Mormon and I’m not supposed to have caffeine or Tecate, but it’s my junior year and I love you Lennay Kekau. There. I said it. I love you!

LK:

MT:  You don’t have to say it back…

LK:

MT: But I wish you would. Anyway, I don’t want to force it, but I love you and I love Mexico! Viva Tequila!

hey girl

SUMMER VACATION – June 12, 2012 – 7:40 p.m.

MT: Lennay, baby, I wish you could see this Hawaiian sunset. It’s like, the sun was setting and it was so beautiful. The wind sounded like your voice. The sun looked like your face or Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young. Anyway, it was beautiful, just like you.

LK:

MT: What did you say? You just got in a car accident? Oh baby. Say it ain’t so! (sniffling, groans, outright crying). Don’t you worry. I’m leaving Hawaii right now. I’m coming to see you.

LK:

MT: Leukemia! NOOOOOO! Are the doctors positive? NOOOOO! Should you get a second opinion? NOOOO!

LK: ….

MT: Just tell me where you’re staying. I want to see you. I need to see you.

LK:

MT: Fine, if you really want me to just continue going to school and giving interviews where I talk vaguely about you. I will. Love you, Lennay. I love you…

Heisman Trophy Presentation

Between September 10-15, and the time of the above conversation, Lennay Kekau died. Manti sent flowers, gave interviews, and almost won a Heisman. He also got her Twitter avatar tattooed over his heart.

What the future holds for Manti, I do not know, but I do know one thing: without illegal phone tapping we might never have known what was actually said between Manti and his wonderful, soft spoken significant other.

R.I.P. Lennay Kekua. Joseph Smith is looking down on you from Utah.

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