The Road to a Carne Asada Quesadilla

It’s 2:30 in the morning and I’m in the back of a hired car with a greasy carne asada quesadilla in my lap. I’m firing questions at my driver like I’m Charlie fucking Rose. The subject, of course, is the Egyptian American experience. My driver looks back at me through his rear view and questions my credentials. “Are you kidding me, man?” I say. “I’m legit. Look at these eyebrows! Look at this beard!”

“My sister pays to make her eyebrows look like yours, and yours look better.”

Because I can take a compliment I say, “Shukran.”

“I can say ‘thank you’ in Chinese – does that make me Chinese?”

“Maybe. But I thought you said you were Egyptian.”


“Never mind the Chinese — what about this beard?! I mean, I grow beards the way other people grow…” But I’ve lost my train of thought. I can’t think of anything that grows quickly except for weeds and people don’t intentionally grow weeds. Also, my goal is hyperbole and I’m not sure weeds grow that much faster than my beard. I should spend more time at Home Depot and learn about plants. And horticulture. And other stuff.

“We’re here,” he says.

Yes, but how did I get here?

I’m at the Tacos Arizas truck and I’m speaking Spanish, because, well, I can still taste it on my lips now – I’ve been drinking tequila. And the speed at which I’m speaking leads me to believe I’ve had quite a lot. Like enough to put a teenager in the hospital. Even though I’m speaking Spanish, the tequila is doing all the work. Of course my time in Spain, my degree in the language, and the years wasted translating sentences from a text book so I can learn how to say: “In the summer, I like to go jetskiing with my family on the lake” – those things might be helping.

In the end, the only thing I really say is, “I’ll have a steak quesadilla. For here please.” Here being a side street next to a Walgreens in Echo Park. Behind me are two brothers. Yes, they’re clearly brothers. You can tell just by looking at them. But one speaks with a thick Boston accent while the other has no detectable accent at all. Which might be confusing if I didn’t know these guys, but I do, so I’m not confused. Yes, we arrived here together. Now it’s coming back.

Before the taco truck: We bust into the Gold Room sometime after 1:30. I ask about the drink specials, but I already know the drink specials. Three tequilas. Three beers. Six, seven years ago, this place used to be scary. It was thick with cholos who had been pushed out of their homes, but still came back to drink in this bar where you can throw peanuts on the floor. People got murdered within a police baton’s throw of this place, but now they have Firestone 805 beers in the fridge. Adios, Tecate, Bohemia, Victoria, Corona. There’s a new lager in town and it’s crafted on California’s lovely Central Coast.

Fuck me. Of course I order a Firestone. Where is my moral compass? Why do I pine for the days when shit-faced cholos would give me and my friends menacing looks while we slurped our bargain-priced drinks before last call? Now this place is as mundane as the lines at Costco. Everybody just minds their own business.

But before that, there was the Thirsty Crow, the Black Cat, Bar Stella which actually didn’t happen, and then Jay’s Bar which did.

At Jay’s, Frank Sinatra is on the TV and Dinesh from Silicon Valley is next to us at the bar. I’m drinking mescal. The same mescal that I drank a week earlier on Balboa Island where one can buy frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and watch very blonde women go on uncomfortable first dates with very leathery men who promise jaunts on the yacht to Cabo and Cannes. I did not have a chocolate banana then or now. But sometimes I think I could drink mescal forever. Then I remember what happens to the Consul in Under the Volcano.

“How, unless you drink as I do, could you hope to understand the beauty of an old Indian woman playing dominoes with a chicken?” 

Goddamn, that is an exquisite sentence. But it’s just bleeding with insanity. The nectar of the Oaxacan gods is not to be overindulged.

Before all that, I’m on my couch with my feet up reading a review about a biography of Saul Bellow even though I don’t like Saul Bellow. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve even read anything by him. I often confuse him the guys who wrote The Swimmer or Rabbit, Run. Maybe that was Bellow. I don’t know. All I know is I’m quietly having a couple of tequilas. A tequila nightcap because it’s the day after Cinco de Mayo and the stuff was lying around. And, as of Sunday, I’ve quit whiskey again, so I might as well drink this stuff. I have one tequila knowing full well I’m going to have a second, and by the time my phone buzzes with an invite to a bar down the street, I’m on my third. I’ll go for one drink. Maybe two. I’ll be back before midnight.

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Blood & Olive Oil

I’m at the top of my stairs with a pair of scissors in one hand and a dozen roses in the other. My fingers are bleeding, but it’s dark out so it’s not the puddle of blood that’s off-putting so much as the fact that my dog is at my ankle sniffing it.

I turn on the patio light to examine a rose’s stem. I’ve lost track of which ones I’ve trimmed. My dog laps up some blood, coughs, then trots inside to watch TV.

Having spent the weekend in the country, (under the too hot February sun, drinking too much red wine) it now seems that I should pack up the house behind me and drive 85 miles north to make a life for myself as an olive farmer. I’ll be tan, wear Carharrt overalls and reek of small batch extra virgin olive oil.


I’ll string together a narrative for the back of the bottle for my Sunday farmers’ market pitch.

I was born of olive mongers. It’s in my blood. My grandfather came to this country with nothing, but an olive pit, a cold press machine and a recipe in the language of the old country tattooed on his forearm. His eldest son, my father, would get the same tattoo. As would I,” I say, rolling up my sleeve to display the family recipe.

And why wouldn’t they believe me?

I’ll point to a black and white photo of nine presumably Mediterranean men with dark, curly hair and eyes varying from green to hazel. “My great uncles. My forebears,” I’ll say, choking up a bit. “That’s the family farm. It’s still there, but the harvest was never the same after the war.”

They’ll nod knowingly, maybe even put a hand on my shoulder, but have no idea what war I’m referring to. I don’t know which war I’m referring to.

“Yo, you order a pizza, man?”

My dream of farmer’s-markets-to-come is interrupted by a ruddy man wearing a Dead Kennedys shirt.

“Yes,” I say. “Can you hold these for a second?” I thrust a dozen roses into his hand. He’s not pleased, but fuck him. Those roses are delicate and should be treated as such.

I take the pizza and I cross into my living room where I pass my dog. She’s watching an episode of “30 for 30” on Jimmy Connors. It’s a good one.

I hand the ruddy man the requisite cash and take back my roses. “Long stems. Beautiful, but they’re a real pain the ass.” He lingers, presumably admiring the roses. “They’re eighty centimeter stems if you’re wondering.”

“Dude, your hands…”

I pick up the scissors again and do a bit of dethorning. “You’re lucky you’re in the pizza delivery business. Good racket. Personally, I’m thinking about getting into olive oil.”

He starts to back away so I take another step toward him, all the while whittling away thorns. “Maybe you can tell by looking at me, but I actually come from a long line of olive oil purveyors.

A drop of my blood falls at his feet. He turns and starts running across my front yard.

“My grandfather came to this country,” I call out, “with nothing but an olive pit–” But he’s out of earshot. I turn around and head back up the stairs, following the trail of blood to the door. I can’t remember if I ordered cheese or pepperoni.

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The Increasingly Burdensome Road to Not Being a Shitty Person

Hear, hear!

I applaud myself for  quitting coffee while drinking an antioxidant-rich green tea in a converted warehouse. I read on the chalkboard that this particular green tea is grown in the shade under straw mats for twenty days prior to harvest. The warehouse, in its current state, prides itself on fresh pressed juices and onsite colonoscopies. I went to a party here once about six years ago. Back then, the space prided itself on throwing parties that went so late McDonald’s would no longer be serving breakfast by the time you got out.

Downtown has changed.

So have I.

Instead of my thrice-daily coffees, I’m drinking about twelve green teas a day. I feel no guilt about this. I imagine this is how Buddhist monks pass their days. It strikes me as evolved. After all, these are a people who have protested by setting themselves on fire; sitting cross legged until their skin falls from their cheeks and chins, their bones crumble into each other and their ashes land on the ground, at the mercy of the wind. People watched. People took pictures. Everyone admires a man who can set himself on fire.

I’ve tried other forms of moderation.

No whiskey.

All that happened was I started skating through bottles of Malbec like they were Capri Suns.

There’s always cold turkey.

“I’m trying to start smoking more weed,” my friend said earnestly as we sipped mescal.

We’ve talked for years about smoking more, about getting into the habit of it; the way others resolve to go to the gym. Or to read more. But we are creatures of habit.

Guy comes here all the time.

While I’m at it, I’m thinking of other things I might give up. I gave up haircuts and sunscreen some years ago, but that wasn’t really a conscious decision. I’ve also quit seeing the dentist and the doctor with any regularity, but that wasn’t intentional either. They just kind of fell away. They stopped calling and I lost interest. Maybe it was the other way around. I’ve heard of people losing girlfriends this way. I guess I’m lucky to have only lost a general practitioner.

I’d like to go on, to build this list, but a militant homeopath with hair down to her waist and without an ounce of body fat to spare, tells me I must follow her. Between the neon lights, under the wind chimes that no wind ever reaches, just central air, if it blows hard enough. The woman is either thirty or a hundred. It’s impossible to say for sure. It must be all the chia seeds, all the nutmeg.

Anyway, I’ve sat on the wrong couch and now I have no choice but to let them thread a hose up my ass. It’s their specialty. That and the juice. It’s the fountain of youth, they say. In reverse.

I object once again, but she tells me it’s too late. That I consented when I signed the iPad for my cancer-curing green tea. I’ve brought all of this upon myself, she says. She hands me a burlap sack that once held coffee beans from Kenya. She instructs me to wear it like a smock. There’s a hole for my head. “Please,” I say. “Anything but the–” I gesture toward the hose.

“It’s the Gravity Colon Hydrotherapy or…” she dangles a lighter then points to a red five-gallon gas can. “The can is vintage. The gas is 4.59 a gallon.”

“That’s absurd!” I say. “Gas is three dollars a gallon down the street from my house.”

“Well, we’re not down the street from your house. We’re at Juicetopia Co-Op Exchange, est. 2014.”

She has a point. “You have a point,” I say.

“So?” she says. In one hand, the coffee bean smock, in the other, five gallons of gasoline. “What’ll it be?”

“Sorry to be vulgar,” I say.  “But what’s the price difference?”

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Car Talk #2

cdtI once had lunch in La Mancha with a man named Victor. We drank wine, ate paella, and two hours later I watched him kill a bull with a sword. I left Spain shortly after that, but not before he gave me the slain bull’s ear. It was bigger than my hand. He wanted to make sure I didn’t forget him.

I’ve never killed a bull, but I have helmed a 1994 Camry that bucked with the same force as those bulls that Canadians on amphetamines ride at rodeos. Unlike those canucks, I don’t own a truck. Or a horse, so I had to get my bucking hooptie fixed.

The time had come to retire my largely incompetent mechanic’s coveralls. Sure I never understood a word of his broken English. And yes, he cost me thousands of dollars and tens of hours in his incompetence. But we had fun. He’d grumble something presumably related to my spark plugs or Soviet Armenia and then he’d take my credit card for a joy ride. I’d leave with a handwritten receipt, the Check Engine light still glowing.

The new shop I moved on to is very corporate. They keep the mechanics in the garage and they have girls working at bistro-style check-in tables. The girls are nice, but instead of asking about my car, or its problems, we go into their life story: their fiance’s job, their gym routine, the pros and cons of fish oil. For a moment, it feels as if I’m stuck on an airplane next to a nice lady who is probably flying to Sacramento or Santa Fe. Before I leave she says, “Well, it’s a good thing you did stop bartending, because you aren’t always going to be pretty.” She takes my key and she promises to call.

I stop by after work to have them swipe my card and retrieve my car. The girls smile and say, “If there are any problems, just drop it off again.”

I do. Every morning. For the next five days. And each day they call me to say they’ve spotted the elusive problem and for a nominal fee they’ll address it. I agree.

Each day I return to work, several hundred dollars poorer than the day before. After a week of hearing about my automotive woes, my co-worker says, “You’re familiar with the definition of insanity, right?”

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The Age of Enlightenment: Ah, Adulthood!

Ah, Sausalit

A guy walks into a bar.

Who am I fucking kidding? I walk into a bar. I walk into a German bar on a Thursday night to meet a man who is about to become a father. It’s a celebratory time, but with his pending fatherhood and my pending adulthood, a quiet pint is where we will start and where it will end.

But this is a reunion and we’re short two, which means that this quiet pint(s) is really just a precursor.

Still, everything has changed and even though I used to drink well into Wednesday morning with these guys, the times have changed. One is almost a father, one is almost a professor, one has been growing his hair and talking about moving to Istanbul. We’ve all matured. All that tequila at the Roosevelt, all those Bloody Marys on Cahuenga minutes before last call; they’re all behind us. We have credit cards now that are mostly paid off. We have life partners and lovers turned tantric masseuses who just want what’s best for us. They tell us so in postcards from Montreal.

Yet, despite all of that. Despite uncorking sophisticated beers in a strip mall in Echo Park, despite a lack of identification we still find ourselves in a car, a hired car, trying our best to find something that might raise our blood pressure and give us something to question in the morning. A young Bruce Lee type in a Toyota Yaris takes us to a fire station that moonlights as a bar. We miss it three times. What ivy and a lack of signage do for credibility, just complicate things when you reach a certain level of maturity.

But it’s closed and our driver finesses us through Silver Lake until we’ve found a place that will have us – we the would-be father, the novelist, a man headed for New Orleans in the morning and myself. One of us grabs a microphone and starts singing a song that I should probably know, but I do not. Then there’s a round of whiskey in front of us. Then there’s another. And another. The lights come on, but we’re not done yet.

The world has expanded for me. Everything is greater than it once was. It’s multiplied. Which is to say I’m seeing double. Luckily, I’m not behind the wheel. No, I’m in front of a stage explaining to a woman in a leather bikini that my lapdance days are behind me – I gesture to my friends as evidence of my maturity – our maturity really, but they’re at the bar getting drinks, probably explaining to the girl who’s too war-torn to dance, the cultural significance of Je Suis Charlie. Or maybe they’re just sussing out the bourbon selection. Either way, my hostess, who has been enjoying Los Angeles greatly since relocating here from Victorville six months ago, has moved onto a Korean guy with a ream of singles. I think he goes to my gym, but I can’t say for certain. I haven’t been since the spring.

I slap the backs of my friends, delighting in all the change that has taken place. Look how far we’ve come, I say. Can you believe it? My god how we’ve grown!

There’s only one place to go from here. I’ve been there before. No, not the speakeasy with the Thai matron, a farmer’s market of coke dealers and the watered-down whiskey near Hollywood and Normandie. No, I don’t think the bouncer with the two eyes that are running away from each is in any rush to see me. Plus, I’m a fully realized mature adult. That means that buck stops at gentleman’s club, and not an inch farther.

My god, I’ve grown. Before leaving I do a lap, looking to see if there’s anyone from my youth still working here. Alas, even the grizzled bartender who is too chubby, old and acned to gyrate for singles isn’t from my era. How the times have changed. I whip out my phone. If it’s 3:26 a.m. now, and I have to be at work at 8:15… I ask the bartender for a pen, a napkin and a calculator. Mature I may be, but a mathematician I am not. We order another round of whiskeys. There’s no sense in solving this equation on an empty stomach, and in my old age, I’ve earned this.

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Panama: A country, and also a very difficult place to get a slice of pizza.

plaza herrera

It’s just before 3 a.m., and I had been drinking steadily for two days when I find myself in front of a hotel off of the Plaza Herrera. The Spanish used to hold bullfights in this same plaza, but now tourists pose for photos in front of the fountain and pet stray dogs where bulls were once slain. A security guard opens the door of the hotel for me and I approach the man working behind the front desk. He’s polite, wears a mint green guayabera and possibly a name tag that reads “Nelson” but I can’t say for sure. I’m not wearing my glasses.

I ask Nelson for a room service menu and a bottle of water. He hands me both in sequence. I flip open the menu, but, of course, I’m still not wearing my glasses so there’s really no point. Besides, I know what I want.

“I’ll have the ceviche as well as an omelet with brie and bacon. And a coffee. Better make it an Irish coffee.”

As I start to head to the elevator, Nelson, as I’ve come to know him, breaks the news to me in this order. Neither ceviche nor omelets are on the room service menu. Secondly, the kitchen has closed for the night. And lastly, and he says this in a whisper, “I wouldn’t be able to deliver room service to you even if the kitchen was open because you’re not staying at this hotel, sir.”

“Nelson, that is a goddamn shame! But I appreciate your honesty. Por favor, me puede llamar un taxi.”

I step outside and into a late eighties Japanese car with slick gray seats and Pitbull rattling the car speakers. I ask my gentleman driver to take me to my hotel, which I’m more easily able to identify by showing him my room keycard.

We bump along the cobblestone streets of Casco Viejo where drivers honk to merge lanes, scare dogs and alert boozy tourists. As far as I can tell, the honking doesn’t really work. As we’re pulling up to my hotel, I remember I’m hungry and I ask to be re-routed to any place that might be serving pizza within the city limits.

I’m told such a place does not exist.

I call my gentleman driver a liar and a traitor and a drunk. I demand to be taken to the finest pizza dispensary in all of Panama City. “Money is no object,” I say thumbing through the twenty-three bucks I’ve got in the front pocket of my shirt.

El Chorrillo

I’m dropped off in front of Pio Pio, which is offensive not only because it’s a fried chicken place of the Popeyes grade, but it’s also located in El Chorrillo. And El Chorrillo is like the Mogadishu of Panama City. It was invaded by the US Army in 1989 and today it’s run by Mara Salvatruchas working the track between Mexico and Colombia. So yeah, I’m scared shitless, but I’m also incredibly hungry.

I step inside and I can’t decide if I’m more or less scared by the fact that I can see everything and everyone around me. I examine the menu and I’m cut in line several times by what seems to me, after two days of drinking cold red wine and rum, the same two teenage Panamanians. It appears they both have the Last Supper shaved into the back of their heads and they keep cutting me, ordering, then switching shirts and doing it all over again. It’s my understanding that they are both hungry and impatient and indecisive.

By the time I fight my way to the register, I’ve broken a sweat (which isn’t remarkable given how fucking hot Panama is at all hours) and the girl wearing a neon visor does not seem impressed with me. Still, I do my best to try to order chicken tenders in Spanish. Tragically, “tenders” isn’t a cognate and pretty soon we’re talking about chicken and breasts, which are tender, and for a second there her face lights up and I think we’re transcending the language barrier. But then she pulls out a flyer for a topless bar. She tells me “Elite II” isn’t the only place to find breasts in the city, but theirs are the tenderest.

I leave with a fountain lemonade, an empty stomach and a flyer that promises “Entrada Libre.” I saunter out into the street where I’m approached by an older man wearing a LA Sparks t-shirt who says, “Coke, weed, perrico, mota, coke, weed.”

“Where were you a few hours ago, hombre?” I say resting my weary hand on his shoulder. “Hey, any idea if I can walk to that canal that’s so famous from here? I’d like to get there before all the tourists.”

He points to the rising sun. “It’s like a two hour walk.”

“Gracias, compa.” I take a deep breath, then trudge toward another feat of engineering built by imported slaves and underpaid immigrants, fully ready to assume the role of an American abroad.



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The Maoris Brought the Rat

PRedator Free NZ

I’m not asking for much. Just a cause to die for where casual observers can casually compare me to Che Guevara. Is that so much to ask?

Really, bro?

A cause! Not unlike the one that drove American Matthew Vandyke to join rebel forces in Libya to fight Gaddafi with a camera in his hand[1].


A cause! Such as the one that prompted Eduard Limonov to give up the comfort of being a Russian memoirist in Paris to carrying a Kalashnikov on behalf of a group of fascist Serbians for reasons that are still unclear to me.

Huge fan of vinyl

A cause! Like the one that catapulted Jessie Andrews from a career in pornography to one as a dj.

Yes, I’ve been on the hunt for a cause of my own. Or I was until I found it just the other day.

The place: New Zealand

The cause: To exterminate all non-native mammals (read: all mammals except for the humans doing the exterminating) from the mainland and surrounding islands.

For real?????

This is not a joke.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has been successfully exterminating weasels, rats, and ferrets for decades but only recently has it come to the attention of Kiwilanders (no one actually calls them that but I do not fear retaliation) that if they don’t do something quickly, their prized indigenous kiwi bird, as well as several other native avian species, will no longer land on park benches and in suburban backyards. No, their numbers could be scaled back to the point where the only place Kiwis, will be able to see kiwis, is the zoo. And to New Zealanders, that’s simply revolting.


So there’s been a call to arms by an organization called Predator Free New Zealand.

They’re promising to “rid NZ of harmful carriers of disease.” The disease carrying mammals in question are possums, mustelids (no idea what that is) and rodents.

bird killers

And the threatened are chiefly the flora and fauna, as well as a bunch of “ground-dwelling birds.”

Now if the slow disappearance of non-flying birds doesn’t make your blood boil, then you’re dead inside. But I’m not dead inside[2] which is why I’m packing my bags and heading to LAX with nothing but a smile on my face and suitcase of rodenticides.

Once I’m there, I plan to get myself to the front lines. As a foreigner, I assume it’ll be important that I prove that I’m sympathetic to the cause and not a mole trying to infiltrate NZ’s extremist Eco-Conservationist Party. I’ll have to do something bold, like kill a bunch of possums and then wear their furs as a coat, or a hat. Apparently Genghis Khan’s soldiers used to wear coats of mice fur and they kicked a lot of ass, so I’ll probably go that route.

Wish me luck!

[1] Anything done with a camera in-hand is slightly less sincere and likely vainglorious, but still…

[2] This is contestable.

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