A rollicking account of a paralyzed Gen Xer coming of age in the oft-times sordid Hollywood rock scene of the 1980’s
A midnight drive south in Pops’ Lincoln Mark V delivered a far scruffier Raz back behind the Orange Curtain. We hadn’t spoken the entire – year and a half, six schools, and felony conviction – time I lived with Ma, so we spent three minutes catching up before the stern talk about his rules: “Right way, wrong way, and my way.”
Pops took it personal that I ran away while his mother and sister were visiting, and I held a grudge for another ten years because he had discarded all my belongings. I explained my fear of going to Beirut, so I’d figured I should get while the getting was good. Pops scoffed and told me, “Every year, more people get murdered in L.A. than a year of civil war in Lebanon.”
We arrived to the same house in Costa Mesa that we had lived in prior to our Alaskan adventure. My little brothers, Hassan and Omar, were almost two and three. I was super happy to see them, and Jonelle seemed thrilled I was back.
For those of you who lost count, Newport Harbor High became the fifth school during my ninth-grade school year, and I still believed it was someone else’s fault. Because I hadn’t been kicked out, just changed guardians, it was a simple transfer. For the last two months of school, teachers and administrators didn’t keep an extra watchful eye on me, and summer arrived before my “permanent record” caught up. In that era, during the infancy of computers, bureaucracy was much easier to circumvent.
Even though there were several students I knew since grade school, Newport High was a culture shock. A few days in, I mentioned to a classmate something that really stood out. “It’s weird going to a school with no black kids.”
“We got a black student,” they replied, more than a bit defensively.
No one had heard, let alone wanted to do, “Rapper’s Delight” with me. Worst of all, it seemed like everyone was a punker with a crew cut. Even though I refused to listen to the music, I was aware of its genesis rooted in rebellion and class struggles. I did know the O.G. Brit punkers would cringe in their jackboots at all the well-to-do, silver-spoon brats with buzz cuts, wearing Dockers, IZOD, and top-siders thinking themselves “punks.” Two short years earlier, the Orange County coast was loaded with long-haired surfers, but by 1980, it felt like I was the only remaining “hippie.”
Pops bought me a bunch of new clothes, and Ma delivered my stuff once she cooled down. When Grandpa Frank gave me a 1963 Schwinn Corvette, I removed the trim and fenders, painted it flat black, and added knobbies to turn it into a beach-cruiser. I had no sense of style back then, and should have rocked it just the way it was. Pops wouldn’t let me get a job, and partying ain’t cheap, so for income I stole several bicycles a week from Newport Harbor High and sold them to a dude at the park near my house.
After I mentioned my goal of learning to play The Wall in its entirety, John, of Full Sail fame, lent me a Fender Telecaster and a practice amp. His recommended teacher owned a blond Les Paul Standard, with musical tastes that leaned toward country. But my guitar teacher promised when I was ready, he’d learn me the Floyd stuff. The guitar lesson experience was far removed from my piano fiasco. No reading music or forced practice, we just got to it the first week with some finger exercises. And the following week, I began practicing chords. After three weeks, I was having a blast with the fun, easy, and cool riffs and rhythms I learned. I’d play several hours daily, and eagerly anticipated each lesson.
By the second month, I started thinking about getting a non-punk rock band together. I put a few feelers out around school, but no long-haired rock ‘n’ rollers remained at Newport Harbor. The weekend before the last week of school, a friend’s little brother introduced me to a drummer, Charlie. He was a cool, shaggy-headed junior-high kid. We met up in his garage, where he kept his “Tequila Sunrise” colored Ludwig Vistalite kit set up and ready to rock. We smoked some pot, listened to The Who, and had his maid bring us chocolate milk and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so we wouldn’t have to think up band names on empty stomachs.
After hanging out for several hours, and hearing the kid’s semi-impressive pounding upon skins, I suggested the weekend after finals I drag my gear over to his house so we could commence to jam. But he threw a wrench in my plans by heading to Europe for most of the summer; fucking Newport Beach rich kids. I was disappointed, but also happy to have a few more months to learn enough to back up the bullshit I fed Charlie about my musical abilities. So there it was, I had the summer to learn some complete songs, and the “Prodigal Bums” would start jamming in Charlie’s garage once school began.
I told my guitar teacher my plan, and he agreed a band would be a fun way to get better. I went on a mission to learn a few complete songs. I presented a long list of material I wanted to learn, but one after another, my teacher told me the tunes were way over my head. We finally settled on “Smoke on the Water,” “Heart of Gold,” and “Sweet Pandora.”
Right around the same time, Pops got called away on business to Hawaii. Killer buds, perfect waves, and lovely cinnamon girls in grass skirts gave me a bad case of island fever. But when I begged him to let me go hang out with him for a few weeks after school let out, he said, “We’ll see,” which meant “no” in Pop-speak.
Instead of a pleasant island getaway, I spent the first week of my summer vacation at Ma’s. She liked me far better from a distance, and I was happy to get a week of free ranging, joy riding, and pot smoking. When Ma left for work, I was eager to show Joe my newly acquired musical skills, so I sent him to retrieve Ma’s Yamaha acoustic guitar. About twelve seconds after I began boogieing a bouncy little pull-off jam, Joe’s face dropped faster than the IQ of a toddler eating lead paint chips. He snatched the axe from my hands and whined, “Mom doesn’t want anybody but me touching her guitar.”
Upon my return to Costa Mesa, I got the spectacular news of Pops having to remain in Hawaii for the summer.
The best part was that his boss encouraged him to gather the whole family in paradise along with him. I was super stoked, even though Pops wouldn’t let me bring a surfboard. He said, “I don’t want you getting hurt. Surfing’s too dangerous.” Well, at least I’d still have pot smoking and guitar playing in Hawaii. The last two lessons before my flight, my guitar teacher and I went over the songs, and I sort of got them sounding like they should. He also suggested I buy the LPs in Hawaii so I could practice along with the studio tracks.
The day before departure to the islands, I was blindsided when Jonelle told me John wanted his guitar back. It bummed me out big time. During the drive over to drop off the guitar stuff, I thought about begging him to sell it to me on payments. But I knew there was a strong possibility that Pops had some sort of manipulation going on, so I didn’t put John on the spot. I let him know how much I appreciated the loaner, and hoped I could borrow the gear again when I returned. I’d just have to wrangle something up on Oahu so I could keep practicing until then.
I expected to get lei’d upon arrival at Honolulu Airport, but television had lied to me once again. As we drove to Hawaii Kai, Pops told me, “I don’t want you dealing with pot.” How the fuck did he expect me to have any fun? For the sake of plausible deniability, I did not seek clarification, just took the “dealing” word literally and told myself it was okay if I only smoked the stuff.
It seemed like everyone on that island smoked pot, or couldn’t have cared less if someone did, which I found out the very next day when Pops sent me along with a couple of his workers to cater a polo match on the North Shore. On the drive along the Likelike Highway, we burned a homegrown joint, but in Hawaii, “homegrown” is Hawaiian. And it totally kicked ass.
When bored, I was a total fuck-up. But when I worked, I worked hard while trying to do a better job than anyone else. Life’s a competition. The guys gave a good report of my work, and Pops quickly realized the best way to keep an eye on me was to give me a job at the downtown Matteo’s. It was hard work, in a hot place, inside a hot ‘n’ muggy world, and I loved it. Pops would leave after dropping me off, and three seconds after he was out the door, a bunch of us would head to the alley for “motivation,” which was pot smoking and bullshitting a bit before finishing up our prep.
Pops was in Hawaii to right the ship. He took no bull, while expecting competence and hard work from all. Most of the employees were great, but some couldn’t take the new high expectations and quit if they hadn’t already been fired. When they needed a dishwasher at the Waikiki location, I begged him for more work. At my second job, I washed a ton of dishes and peeled pounds of shrimp and calamari daily – yuck – but never worked enough hours to make any real scratch. With a bad Asteroids habit, amongst other vices, I supplemented my income by selling hash. I knew an old haolie hippie that sold me ounces at far less than market value. That blond Lebanese was like gold on the island, and I built up a hefty bankroll fairly quick.
Hawaii felt like an entirely different country, with its own TV shows, popular music, and local bands playing on the radio. Having a fairly deep tan, long, dark hair, and a knack for picking up the local lingo meant I received far less harassment from locals than other haolie. We lived across the street from Koko Head, at the swanky Esplanade Apartments. Below our balcony was a glimmering, boat-filled marina, and a short walk from our front door were tennis courts next to a pool/Jacuzzi area with cabanas and BBQs. I loved the pool and would swim at least once a day. Sometimes, after relaxing in the Jacuzzi, which sat a few feet above pool level, I’d get a jolt by diving from the spa’s ledge into the cold pool below.
The other kids at the complex called me “Pervy,” because no matter the conversation’s context, I always went there. Hawaii’s drinking age was eighteen and, looking older than my age, Pervy was the go-to guy when the kids wanted beer. While on a beer run, a haolie kid around my age pulled up in 67 VW Bug, with a couple sweet surfboards strapped on top. So I hit him up: “Where’s the spot around here?”
He gave me a smug, dismissive “Locals only, bra,” then went on his way. I stood in line right behind him with my two six packs of Lowenbrau, and chuckled when he got carded. Outside, after sweating him a bit, I went back inside to buy his beer. Dick lived in the apartment complex right next door to the Esplanade. A few days after we met, I owned one of his surfboards, and we were heading to a spot not far away, “China Walls,” where we’d carve up almost-killer waves that the locals had passed on. I kept my surf stuff at his house, and paid rent with gas money and hash.
Despite the fact they were both married, it was an open secret that Pops was shagging a cocktail waitresses, Barbara. So at the end of July, Pops sent Jonelle, me, and my lil’ bros to Kauai for a week of freedom. We stayed with his friend Raja, whose cottage sat alongside a Princeville fairway. Spending time with Raja’s family, playing golf, and feasting nightly on delicious Pakistani food was good times defined. Kauai was awesome in the truest sense of that overused word, one of the most spectacularly beautiful places that I ever visited. The time flew by much too fast, and before I knew it, we were on the plane headed back to Oahu.
On the way home from the airport, Pops informed us that in a few days he would be leaving town for business, but gave no further details. After getting dropped off at the condo, and Jonelle hitting the hay around eight, my fun-time window opened. I called my buddy Dick to see if he wanted to cruise around, but he said, “No gas.”
I solved that minor issue by taking Jonelle’s car to his place and siphoning a few gallons into his Bug. He led the way back to drop off the donor car, and I followed his Bug as it cut in between two poles. But a 1973 Pontiac Grand Ville convertible won’t fit through such tight spaces. Crunch, oooops, and fuck! I pulled the car into its spot, took the keys upstairs, and then went drinking with my buddy.
I had hoped that Pops would believe Jonelle did it, which he didn’t. Luckily for me, Pops leaving town meant he wasn’t very eager to begin disciplinary strategies that might derail his upcoming week of uninterrupted waitress banging, so he didn’t let on right away that he knew it was I who crashed the land yacht.
Since my first day at the restaurant, Pops had tried to get me to be his spy. But he didn’t need my help, because he possessed a talent for finding out shit on his own that would leave folks wondering how the fuck he had found out. While I was on Kauai, shit went down and dudes got fired. The kitchen guys seemed to think I was the rat, and upon my return, it felt as if no one knew me. Plus, a permanent pantry chef had been hired, so it was my last day.
Right after Pops split, I took a trip to the alley for “motivation.” And for the first time I smoked alone. It was super windy, so I struggled keeping the shit lit while ignoring the sound of the slamming screen door. Success was manifested in a huge puff of smoke. Failure came in the form of Pops standing before me. But he merely scowled, then turned and walked inside without a peep.
I took the bus home, and managed to avoid him all throughout the next day. The following morning, before leaving on his “business trip,” he came into my room and told me, “When I get back, we’re going to have a talk on whether you want to live under my rules.” He added, “Be nice to your mother while I’m gone.”
The car-denting and pot-smoking punishment was officially on hold. I didn’t really care what he would say or do, because I had other plans. Once Pops hit the road, I located my airline ticket and booked an L.A.-bound flight for the day before he was set to return. I actually would have split Hawaii much sooner, but was waiting on a friend’s pot plants to dry fully. Once I picked up my last paycheck on the Monday before the flight, my cash-stash would be enough to score a pound of killer pot. I would smuggle them herbs to Cali, where I’d rake in a couple grand profit providing primo pakalolo to mainland haolie.