Los Angeles, 2002
I was looking in the mirror, futzing with my hairdo, when the phone rang. I saw that it was Jon (caller ID was still newish to me), a boyhood friend turned Hollywood bartender. I flipped open the phone, said hello. “Jimmy!” Jon said, “How fast can you get your ass down here? There’s a guy at the bar with a shitload of drugs!”
Jon was calling me with the kind of information that would’ve seemed absurd had we been in most other cities. There was a gentleman at his bar, claiming to be the lead singer of the multiplatinum-selling British rock band, The Moody Blues. And he had a purported potpourri of drugs: coke, weed, and mushrooms. “What the hell are you talking about?” I said.
“His record company called here looking for him. He’s hiding, but he’s got a plane to catch and he wants to dump this shit before he goes. I’m broke and we’re running out of time. You were coming down anyway, weren’t you?”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t gonna leave yet. Are you sure this guy’s for real?”
“I told you, he’s the lead singer of The Moody Blues. His name’s Ray Thomas.”
The thoughts came like a B movie trailer. A rock star suddenly remembers that he’s due for a flight and recruits a random bartender to help move his stash, which he somehow forgot about. What is he doing with all these drugs? Who the fuck eats mushrooms anymore? Don’t they grow naturally in cow shit or something?
I was skeptical. But this was the Hollywood and Vine Diner, right there on Hollywood and Vine, home of Capitol Records. Everything Jon was saying was within the realm of possibility. Plus I was getting caught up in his fervor, an effect he’d always had on me. “Something about this stinks,” I said, “but alright. I’m on my way.” I didn’t want Jon to think that he’d sold me. I was probably more excited than he was.
I could never get fully satisfied with my appearance, and now I was rushed. I went with the staples: Diesel jeans (boot-cut, my only pair), Nike Dunks from Undefeated (maroon-colored and kind of ugly, but Jon had the same ones), and a beat-up western shirt from either Jet Rag on La Brea or Wasteland on Melrose. My hair was transitioning. I’d been experimenting with cheap pomade called Sportin’ Waves, the idea being to look like I wasn’t trying, which was everyone’s goal. I grabbed the necessities: wallet, keys, cell phone, cigs, and of course whatever coke I had left.
I fired up my Geo and went careening down the nameless dirt paths around Vasquez Canyon. I was living in Canyon Country, thirty miles north of Hollywood, but I had the route down cold. A straight shot south all the way from the 14 to the 5 to the 170 to the 101. Once I hit the 101, I knew I could be anywhere in Hollywood within 15 minutes.
I hit the high beams, alerting the desert rascals and sending them scurrying. How could there be so many bunnies, I wondered, and why do they seem so attracted and yet repelled by my headlights in the night? I made my way down to Sierra Highway and onto Soledad Canyon Road where I blew through an intersection so brazenly that I’d have been pulled over for sure had I been clocked by a local. There isn’t much north of the San Fernando Valley save for strip malls, aqueducts, tumbleweeds, coyotes, and cops. And the cops are always idle and on the lookout for reckless interlopers like me. I still had out-of-state plates. Fuck it, I thought, hitting the gas harder. There were drugs waiting and the situation was time-sensitive.
I was speeding down the highway—indicating, merging, flashing my beams. No one in the fast lane was moving fast enough. I cracked the window and lit a cig. I’d just started smoking, so I was still a bit goofy with it. I wanted to smoke like Rock Hudson. He had such nimbleness about him, the way he’d slink his finger over the cig like a snake slithering around a stick. I practiced, couldn’t come close.
I decided to call Jon, check on the status of the situation. “What’s up,” he said, “you almost here?”
“Yeah, is everything on track?”
“Yeah, but he’s getting bitchy, this guy. Did I tell you that the record company called here looking for him?”
I found this questionable. Who knew if The Moody Blues were even signed to Capitol? And then there was another strange assertion. According to Jon, this guy was claiming to be the father of one Rob Thomas, lead singer for Matchbox Twenty. This made absolutely no sense to me. How could an icon of the original British Invasion end up fathering the front man of an Orlando pop band? Jon had no older siblings, no one’s record collection to pillage as a youth, so he couldn’t appreciate my puzzlement. (Today, of course, we’d have just gone to Google.)
I found parking on Vista Del Mar. When I finally got to the restaurant, there was no straggly guy at the bar, no one fitting Jon’s description.
“I couldn’t wait anymore,” Jon said, “so I told the guy to meet me in the bathroom—you know, so I could see the shit.”
“He said that he could get it…but he wanted the money first.”
I laughed. “Are you fucking kidding? What’d you do?”
“I threw him out.”
“Good for you. Was he ashamed at least?”
“No,” Jon said, “he was offended. ‘Fuck you if you don’t trust me,’ he said.”
Annoyed as I was, I had to admire the guy for staying in character.
I sat at my usual barstool at the corner by the server’s station. Brian, a bartender and newish friend, drew a pint of Stella from the tap, ineptly, and foam littered the bar. Brian groaned characteristically, baiting me to comment. I didn’t bite. I knew my place. He still had to burn through his shift, do his side work. All I had to do was wait. Soon enough we’d all be headed to The Well for last call.
Brian moved down the bar to clean some glasses. “Got any mints?” he shouted. I reached for my meager stash. I kept my cocaine in one of those breath mint cases: small, round, opened with a firm press on the lid. Pop. It fit perfectly in the tiny pocket displaying the label on my Diesel jeans, which I’d taken to wearing dirtily and daily.
I slid the “mints” down the length of the bar and into Brian’s eagerly waiting fingers. He hurried off to the bathroom. Why, I wondered, did we even bother using code?