CHAPTER 6: 16 OUNCES OF BEEF, 8 OUNCES OF BOURBON, 6 OUNCES OF CANNABIS, TWO MEN & 1 PREPAID PHONE.
Somehow, my father and I have found our way to the shady side of Toronto, or at least, as shady as Toronto can get.
I don't know where we are exactly or what this area of town is called, but we're sitting down in the greasiest of greasy spoon diners called Dangerous Dan's. Everything inside of this place is sticky. The floors are sticky, the walls are sticky, the tables and seats, all sticky.
It's small, loud, and uncomfortably congested with people. This place is supposedly well known for their burgers, a popular go-to haunt for party people looking to sober up and soak up the booze with the famously massive meat patties. It's Toronto's equivalent to Pats and Genos' steakhouses from back home. Similarly, the burgers are just as inedible here as the steaks are at Philly's most prominent tourist traps that masquerade as native landmarks but for entirely different reasons.
The meat is delicious, actually, a far cry from the Alpo served in most steaks where I come from. The problem is that I literally don't know how someone is supposed to eat this. The burger sitting in front of me consists of two eight ounce meat paddies. That's 1 lb of beef. In between the burgers is a healthy serving of jumbo onion rings, bacon, three tomato slices, an entire kosher pickle that's been halved, and an ice cream scoop of caramelized onions. All of it doused with half a can's worth of cheese wiz.
It's impossible to pick up and just as hard to eat, even with a knife and fork. There are young college kids seated at small tables taking pictures of their burgers with smart phones. Some are desperately trying to eat as much as they can on a dare as their friends egg them on. And then there are older, more hardened, grizzly looking alcoholics who seem to have found the trick to finishing their heart attacks on a plate. They're using spoons.
Across the street from the diner is a line of sleazy, wood-fronted strip clubs that look like the top of places where you might find a middle-aged amputee with a botched c-section scar wrapped around a pole.
If I didn't know any better, I would swear that I'm back in North Philly.
My father is seated opposite of me. He's nursing a pint of beer while tapping his finger on a newly purchased pre-paid cell phone laid out on the table.
He's already sold two thousand dollars worth of marijuana in a single night and he's brought enough supply to net him another eight.
While I've been drinking with my film peers and making zero advancement with any valuable networking, my father's been busy making contacts with every stoner celebrity at the festival looking to score.
He's offering me the chance to collaborate and work with him. He tells me this is a real opportunity, not some bullshit fake opportunity where I go around brown nosing assholes so that I can provide free promotion for others while I go home penniless.
My father tells me that we'll split the profits and that I'll earn a cool 5 grand with only four days work.
He's the point man, the guy who's going to be out amongst the crowds organizing the deals.
He wants me to be the delivery man.
He tells me, "Think about it. Some famous actor like Matthew McConaughey needs some premium bud for his hotel after party. There's going to be A-list directors, producers, and writers at the after party. You're the guy who shows up to give them what they want. You're the young, ambitious dealer who also knows about film. You're going to be everyone's new best friend at this festival. You have an automatic in with the people who can get you ahead. This green, it's the best they're ever going to have. You're going to be a god to them when you bring this shit to their private parties and to their swanky hotel rooms. Not to mention all the loose, aspiring actresses and groupies who are sure to be hanging around them."
I'm terrified at the prospect. I've never intentionally gone out and broke the law before. I'm not a dealer. I'm a nerdy alcoholic film blogger. This is way over my head.
My father shows me the contacts he's already got in his phone and there's some big names listed.
He smiles and says, "They're all yours. Get paid, get ahead. You want to continue to be a chump? Keep doing what you're doing. Or you can grow some balls, be a man, and get successful."
It does sound seductive, but I keep thinking back to the giant Smith and Wesson that he was wielding the other night. I'm sure he's got it on him right now at the restaurant but I'm not sure what else he might have brought with him.
So I ask, "But why are you running around in your old Goblin Crew colors and carrying hand cannon? This is Canada, not Philly."
He smiles when he answers me. He already knows that I've made up my mind to go along.
"I might not be an artist like you, son. But I'm no fool. I understand these Hollywood types. They like to pretend. They like to think that they're living dangerously. I'm selling them an act. There's an allure to this lifestyle, and rich people with no real responsibilities love to romanticize it. They eat this shit up. I know you won't like it, but I guarantee you, if I were to open carry right now, I'd only get more positive attention. That's why I brought the Smith and Wesson. There's nothing practical with that gun. No intelligent dealer would ever depend on a gun that's so heavy, impossible to conceal, and only holds 6 lousy rounds. It's for show; it's all part of the image. I brandish this thing on some Robert Downey Jr. type while we're making a deal, and he's going to feel like a real badass just for being in the same room with it. It'll probably give him a raging hard on. And he'll tell me all about his private collection of rare firearms that he overpaid for at some Sotheby's auction."
My father is nuts, but he's not dumb, and I get the sinking suspicion that he's already found and sold to Robert Downey Jr. somehow at this festival.
I eat a fork load of my burger and savor the overly rich taste while I feel my arteries instantly harden.
My dad takes another sip of his Budweiser and asks, "Well, you going to say something or what?"
No, I don't need to. I take the cheap cell phone off of the table and put it in my pocket. That's my answer.
CHAPTER 7: ALWAYS FIND THE SILVER LINING
Dad was right; the last three days have been amazing. Three days of smoking and partying with Hollywood's elite. The people I've met, the connections I've made, the hands that I've shook, none of it would have been possible as the lowly unpaid film blogger.
While selling to Eli Roth at a private after party for The Green Inferno, I met a prominent writer with Vice and by the end of the night, he introduced me to his editor who's now telling me he's interested in my book. Vice may have become a lie, but there's no denying the type of doors that would be opened by being published by them.
And now here I am, passing through the lobby of the Shangri La Hotel, Toronto's swankiest four star retreat for the one percent. The hotel's name couldn't possibly be more apt, because this place really is Shangri fucking La. For lack of any better words, this place is amazing; it is daunting, and intimidating. I've never been in a building quite as exquisite as this. It looks like the type of place where villains in a Korean action film would hang out. I imagine myself as Byung Hun Lee from A Bittersweet Life walking through the lobby in slow motion, wearing a black perfectly tailored suit, about to kung fu a bunch of evil motherfuckers in the VIP suite.
But I'm not Byung Hun Lee in a perfectly tailored suit and I feel horribly out of place here.
I generally feel out of place everywhere I go, but I really feel out of place here. A creeping paranoia sets in and I worry that everyone is staring at me. I don't belong here. I might dress dapper, but it's thrift store dapper, it's clearance rack dapper, and everyone around me here can tell. Hell, the bell hops' uniforms probably cost more than the clothes that I'm wearing.
But I have an appointment to make and I won't be deterred.
I make my way to the elevators and go to room 1057. I don't know who my appointment is with. All of the celebrities have been going to my father through their agents, using pseudonyms.
I go looking for Mickey Delasso only to find myself dealing to James Franco. Frank Smiley ends up being Scarlett Johansson.
Sure enough, I know the guy who answers the door. And sure enough, he knows me too.
It's Bradley Cooper, one of the most legitimately likeable stars in the business.
The moment he sees me, he says, " I know you don't I?"
"Yeah, we met briefly on the set of Silver Linings Playbook and hung out together for a hot minute at Sundance earlier this year."
"Well, holy shit, come on in."
He shows me into his room and I feel like I've walked onto another film set. His massive, sparse, classic, and yet oddly modern hotel room looks like something out of a Stanley Kubrick film, The best that I can do to describe it is that it's like 2001's White Room crossed with Deckard's apartment in Blade Runner.
Bradley waves his hand at me to have a seat at a small but still flashy dining table. On the table is a pile of soft pretzels, a carton of Tasty Cakes, a liberty bell trinket, a Rocky figurine, and a container of cream cheese.
I only need to raise an eyebrow for Bradley to explain.
"The pretzels are from a critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer who interviewed me today, the Tasty Cakes are from a writer at Philadelphia Weekly, the liberty bell is from a rep at the Philadelphia Film Group, the Rocky figurine is from the director of the Philadelphia Film Commission, and I don't remember who brought the cream cheese."
"Fair enough. I guess being a Philadelphian is kind of like being a Jew, whenever two of a kind run into each other, they feel a need to remind each other where they're from."
The joke makes Bradley uncomfortable. Jewish jokes are like dogs. They can kick their dogs but you can't kick their dogs. And this is the film world; get caught making even the most innocent of jokes with anything in relation to being Jewish and it's career suicide.
Bradley scans the hotel room with his eyes almost as if he's scared that someone somewhere is listening in on a hidden microphone.
When he feels confident that it went unnoticed, he responds, "Well, one difference is that Philadelphians all hate each other. That and the Holocaust and all."
"Right, right. Holocaust and all."
I remove the bike messenger bag that I'm wearing and place it on the table next to the pretzels. I open it and remove a pre-packaged baggy of marijuana, approximately half an ounce.
I also removed a pre-rolled joint from my top pocket. It's a good custom to smoke out a client up for free after a deal has been struck.
There's no reason for us to talk transactional details or negotiate on pricing, everything's already been worked out between Bradley and my father. He hands me an envelope with $300 in cash, quite a lot for only half an ounce.
I light the joint and pass it to Bradley.
He takes a substantial hit and holds it before exhaling. When he turns back to me and hands me the J, I can see that his eyes are already bloodshot. The weed is already taking effect. It's strong stuff.
So I join him and take a hit myself.
He smiles and exclaims, "Ah, this is great shit. I miss it. I haven't smoked it in two years. It's amazing really; you can't find stuff this good out in California. There's plenty to miss about Upper Darby."
I'm taken aback for a moment. Sure, Bradley knows me, he knows I'm from Upper Darby, but how would he know that's where the marijuana came from? We've been telling everyone it's California Kush.
I try to be nonchalant when I ask, "What you mean? You had this before?"
"Sure, all the time when we were shooting Silver Linings Playbook. Riley, or whatever his name, the big gnarly-looking biker guy, he used to swing by set once a week. I was pretty stoked when he texted me that he was in town for the festival."
So, my father was dealing to the cast and crew of Silver Linings Playbook. For as little as he knows about me, I guess I know even less about him.
Bradley continues, "Been out to Upper Darby much lately, then?"
"Yeah, I head out that way three, maybe four times a year to see my dad. We always end up getting dinner at the Llanerch diner, you know, the place where you filmed the big date scene in Silver Linings."
"No kidding, what's it like there now?"
"Well, your movie fucking ruined the place."
"It's always packed. And all of the wait staff now wear Silver Linings Playbook T-shirts, all of the coffee mugs and plates have the film's poster printed on them,and they've even built a little shrine to film in the booth where you have your big scene with Jennifer. For a while, they were even charging people a few bucks extra to sit at that table. And now, every time I eat there, there's some jerk off couple sitting there being all cute ordering Raisin Bran and tea and quoting the film. Twenty years from now, that place is still going to hold on to that movie. That's what Philadelphia does, right? Like Rocky, he's this Philly fucking hero and just about every film organization in town shows that goddamn movie every summer. People come from around the world to run up those art museum steps and have their picture taken with the Rocky statue. Meanwhile, who the fuck even cares that Joe Frazier, one of best boxers to ever lace up a pair of gloves, is a Philadelphian. But fucking Rocky man, we're like, defined by fucking film, that one film."
Bradley Cooper starts laughing,not because what I said was funny, but because he's really fucking high.
And then I start laughing, because I too, am really fucking high.
Our laughter grows louder and louder. I worry that Bradley might start choking as he tries to talk.
Barely getting the words out, he asks me, "Yeah, but how's the snapper soup these days at the Llannerch?"
I nearly roll over, "It's still the best in Philly, so long as no one's spit in it."
Bradley snorts, "You, my friend, have never had good snapper soup then."
"Probably not, but I spent many a late night during high school there drinking their burnt coffee and eating their snapper soup and moussaka."
Bradley suddenly turns serious and advises me, "Don't be ashamed of who you are and where you're from. You know, there's lots of successful people from Upper Darby. Seth Green and Tina Fey are from Upper Darby."
"Well, Seth Green's form Overbrook Park, but yeah, I knew Tina Fey. Us Greeks, it's a small community back that way."
"Yeah, I used to be on stage crew when she was still directing summer stage plays for U.D.H.S."
"See what I mean, man?"
"Not really, not unless you want to buy one of my scripts and get me the fuck out of Philadelphia slash Upper Darby."
"Heh. Not today, kid. But maybe tomorrow."
The only way to respond to that is by taking another hit and laughing some more.
CHAPTER 8: IF THEY WEREN'T CRAZY, THEY WOULDN'T BE AN EX. THAT'S WHY EVERY EX IS CRAZY.
For my next appointment, I find myself at The Gladstone hotel. It's a far cry from the Shangri La but it's still no Best Western. It's somewhere between a Westin and a Hilton. From the outside, it looks like an industrial factory complex.
My first assumption is that this is a hotel for the mid-tier industry types, salaried press, acquisitioners, and foreign sales agents.
I make my way through the modest lobby to the elevator and onwards to room 410.
When I reach my destination, I knock on the door three times. I'm surprised yet again by who answers the door. Just like before, I'm surprised because I already know her. I'm surprised because it's Emmy.
But I seem to be alone with my surprise this time. She invites me in as if she had been expecting me.
"Hey, Greg. This way."
Well, obviously, she was expecting me. As in, she was expecting a guy to show up with the best weed at the festival to sell her a hundred eighth. I just don't know how she could have expected it to be me, specifically.
"Hey, Greg. This way."
As I make my way into her hotel room, I realize that I could have been wrong about my initial assumption of the place. Maybe this is closer to a Hilton than I thought. The room is laid out like a Brooklyn Loft, it's huge. There are large bay windows in all directions and there is access to a small private outdoor deck that overlooks the city, and the view is admittedly grand.
And then I realize that she has company. There's another young woman sitting outside on the deck smoking a cigarette, her back facing us.
I already feel as though I know her too, there's something familiar to her neckline.
Emmy is curt and to the point with me. This is a business transaction and nothing more. No pleasantries are exchanged.
I try to ask how she met and got herself hooked up with Neumann but she ignores the questions and proceeds to negotiate the weight and price, which is a problem as that was supposed to have already been settled upon.
I notice that she's wearing the necklace that I gave her again and I feel a sharp sting to my already deflated pride.
I unbuckle the seat belt strap latch on my messenger bag and rest it on the bed that I'm sitting on.
I retrieve a zip lock bag with just about one ounce of marijuana in it and a small scale.
I feel the pre-paid cell phone in my pocket vibrate but I don't answer it. I don't take calls or messages when I'm in the middle of a deal.
I'm already annoyed. My father told me this deal was supposed to be for one full ounce for $400.
There's a significant difference between a quarter and an ounce, obviously. This means that I'm now walking out of this room, and out of this hotel with a lot of product left over in my bag.
When the deal is done, you should be leaving clean without any incriminating evidence on you.
I immediately decide that I'm going to up the price on her. If she's staying in a room like this with Neumann, then I know the two of them can afford it.
As I weigh and bag Emmy's fake California Kush, I feel the prepaid cell phone in my pocket vibrate again for the third time.
I hate to check my phone when I'm with someone, but since Emmy is being rude and inconsiderate, I decide that I'll return the favor.
There are three missed phone calls from my father and a text from the same.
I don't know exactly what it means, but I know it has to be bad news. I know something bad is about to happen in the next few minutes. I get that sinking feeling in my stomach again. Of course it's about to go bad. Everything goes bad, and then it only gets worse.
There are only seven words in my father's text, but it's enough to send me into a silent panic.
"Get the fuck out of there NOW!"
But I'm not going anywhere. Not now that Emmy's friend from outside has joined us in the
room, and I've recognized who it is.
Streams have been crossed, worlds have collided, and the gates of hell could very well open up right here and now because I'm standing five feet away from Gina.
Gina. Yes. That Gina. The Gina from Craigslist who I dated a few years ago. The same Gina who could see ghosts.The Gina whose vagina may have literally served as a portal to another dimension. The same Gina whose heart I broke at last year's Philadelphia Film Festival, who then gave birth to my demon doppelganger that attacked M. Night Shymalan. The same Gina whom I haven't seen since a hellfire inferno she created swallowed up most of the Philadelphia film scene.
I go slack jawed. I'm unable to react.
And it seems to be the same for Gina. She's just as stunned to see me.
I stutter out the words, "Ugh. Hey, Gina. How do you know Emmy?"
And Gina also stutters when she answers, "I met her through Neumann."
I think the bewildered look on my face is enough for Gina to realize that her response didn't really answer my question or clarify anything.
"I moved to New York shortly after the Philly film fest last year. I wanted to start with a clean slate after what happened. I started writing for a horror film blog and got in with a film PR firm that deals with the company Neumann works for. He was able to pull some strings that brought me out here. He knows that I smoke, and I asked him if he knew anyone who was holding out here and if he had any connections to get some of this amazing Canadian green I've heard so much about. So he set me up with his girlfriend, Emmy, earlier today and told me she would work things out."
It's my turn now because Gina's facial expression has gone from pleasant surprise to accusatory scowl. If this were a cartoon, a little light bulb would be drawn above her head flashing on at this moment.
The way she asks her question, it sounds like a high school student who finally figured out the answer to a difficult calculus problem but still doesn't understand how the formula that was used worked.
"Greg? How do you know Emmy, and what are you doing here?"
"I'm the guy bringing you the amazing Canadian green you've heard so much about. Only, it's not from Canada, it's from Upper Darby. Well, California if you want get technical... Although, I think it's just called California Kush, I don't know if that means it really came from California. I feel like this was probably grown by some Amish gang in Lancaster."
I'm intentionally using my neurotic tendencies to try and diffuse a potentially volatile situation, but it proves pointless because Emmy blurts out, "And we used to date."
Gina asks, "How long ago?"
My pre-paid cell phone vibrates in my pocket again. I'm sure my father is trying to tell me that I really, really need to get the fuck out of here. I don't know what his reasons are, but I doubt they could be any worse than mine.
Emmy answers Gina, "Well, we met during the Philadelphia film festival last year. We dated during that. Went out a few times afterward, but it fizzled out pretty quickly."
Even though I'm digging my own grave by supporting her story, I feel compelled to say, "Fizzled? Things didn't fizzle. You disappeared. You just stopped taking my calls."
Gina retorts, "Well, that sounds rather familiar to me, too, Greg."
Emmy rolls her eyes when she says, "Things weren't going to work out. You had to have had known that from the beginning. It was just a fling. You were someone fun to hang out with while I was in town."
My voice grows into a yell when I tell her, "Then you shouldn't have taken that goddamn necklace that you're wearing around your neck right now. That piece meant a lot to me. It was kind of a big deal for me when I gave it to you!"
Emmy looks down into her own cleavage, examining the sterling silver skulls wrapped around her neck.
Nonchalantly, she says. "Huh. I forgot where I got this."
Gina is staring holes into me and I'm afraid that statement could easily go from aphorism to a physical reality at any given moment.
With those fiery Gypsy eyes boring ten tons of hatred into my soul, Gina asks, "You guys were dating during the Philadelphia Film Festival?"
Emmy simply answers, "Yes."
I chime in, wishing that I could somehow telepathically explain to Emmy that Gina could end us both simply by blinking.
"Well, that's not entirely true. We met during the festival, but we really weren't dating during the festival. "
Emmy barely sighs out, "Whatever."
Gina again repeats, "You guys were dating during the Philadelphia Film Festival last year?"
The pre-paid cell phone vibrates in my pocket again.
I contemplate getting on my knees and begging Gina to not create a black hole and banish me to some Hellraiser Event Horizon dimension of pain and torment but instead opt to try and reason with her.
"Well, Gina. We were never exclusively dating, and well, I tried to deal with....your problems. And you did kind of give birth to the anti Christ during the festival gala party which almost brought about judgment day, and that was pretty heavy and all."
Gina is just staring at me blankly now, staring at me like I just took a shit in my hand and wrote my name with it on the wall.
Quietly, she says, "You're a very sick man, Greg. I don't know what you're talking about, and I don't think you do either. These stories that you've concocted in your mind, it's scary."
During all of this, Emmy has taken off the necklace I gave her last year. She shouts my name before throwing it at me.
She tells me, "Take it, you can have it back and give to someone else who also doesn't give a fuck."
I wonder if we're still making the deal when the phone again vibrates yet again in my pocket. I decide to answer it this time.
On the other end, my father says, "Don't talk. Just listen. The cops are on their way to the room you're in. Your buddy, Neumann, dimed you out and set you up. But I guess your buddy ain't so fucking popular because he's been running his mouth to everyone else here about it. I got a call earlier today about it from one of our other clients who explicitly told me that Neumann is indeed, a shitty douche bag fuck face. I don't know what the beef is between you two, but we're gonna have to handle it later. I've already taken some measures that'll buy you some time. That's why I've been calling you all fucking morning. But it's been taken care of. For now at least. Although, I'd still get the fuck out of that room if you can, while you still can."
He hangs up before I can ask any questions and I put both the phone and the necklace back in my pocket.
I hastily throw the scale back into my messenger bag, but I can't find the marijuana, neither the bagged up quarter or the remainder of the ounce. I don't want to waste time looking for it, so I don't. Between two hundred bucks of weed and doing time in a foreign country, I'd rather cut my loses on the weed.
Emmy tries to stop me.
"What the fuck, Greg? We're not finished yet."
"No, Emmy. I think we are."
The moment I finish saying this, two of Toronto's finest come barging into the hotel room. I guess Emmy forgot to lock the door behind us. How convenient? I know now that she must have been in on this too.
My mind starts racing with stories, lies, excuses, and alibis. I've talked my way out of a lot of tight spots, but nothing quite like this before. What did my father mean when he said that he's bought us some time, that it's been taken care of?
Cop #1 already has one hand on his holstered gun saying, "We've been told that there's illegal activity happening in this room and we're going to have to ask you to open your bags."
I contemplate making a run for it, but it's unnecessary, Cop #2 has already made his way straight to Gina and has already discovered the marijuana hidden in her purse, all of it.
Somehow, the entire ounce I've brought has found its way into her Louis Vuitton handbag. I don't know how, whether it was Emmy, or Gina using her supernatural powers.
But I guess I get my answer when Emmy says, "Shit, Gina. I'm sorry, I didn't think they'd search you."
Cop #2 immediately grabs Gina's hands, tying them behind her back.
Emmy points at me and protests, "He's the dealer, arrest him! He's the guy you want."
Cop # 1 holds his hand up, signaling Emmy to calm down. "We were given an explicit description of our suspect and your friend there fits it."
Gina is hysterical; she's yelling and speaking in tongues, which is what really worries me. I fear that either cop's head might explode like a character from a Scanners film. I fear that I might implode like the would-be robbers at my gold shop last year.
But that doesn't happen. Instead, Cop #2 leads Gina out of the hotel room while she screams bloody murder at me in a language that I'm not familiar with.
Being the idiot that I am, I plead to her, "I think this is my dad's fault, I promise, I'll fix this."
Gina is now looking at the ground with her eyes closed, talking gibberish that almost kind of sounds like passages from the Necronomican. And just as the cop has her out of the room, she finally looks up at me again and bluntly says, "I curse you, Greg. I curse you and your father."
Cop #1 tells Emmy and me that we're lucky, that purchasing and owning marijuana in Ontario is legal, but selling it is not. We're free to go.
And just like that, they're gone.
Emmy is shell shocked, Shell shocked and pissed. Mostly, she's pissed at me. As usual, I'm at fault. I'm the shit magnet who ruins everything, not just for myself, but for everyone near and around me.
We stand in silence staring at each other for an entire minute. A minute can be an eternity when it's spent in silence with an ex. I dare you right now, turn over, and stare at whoever is next to you, and count 60 seconds. Sixty seconds can feel like a long fucking time.
But I need to wait for the cops to leave the building before I make my getaway. But after that first minute, I make like a tree and well, you know the rest.
I opt for the stairs rather than the elevator and stall for more time by exiting through the maintenance door in the basement and then walking around to the front of the hotel.
When I finally get back outside to the street, my father immediately pulls up next to me in my own car. I hadn't realized I gave him the keys.
I get into the car and before I can speak, my father says, "We have a few hours before your friend is released and the cops start looking for us again."
I want to ask how he was able to turn the tables and make the cops go for Gina but he doesn't give me a chance. And I think I might be better off for it, even if it leaves a giant equator-sized plot hole in this story.
But then again, most stories in real life have giant fucking plot holes.
My father continues, "We have time for one more appointment, and it's a big one. I got a buyer looking to acquire a lot, just about everything else we have left."
He turns to me and asks, "Do you do still have the ounce you went in there with?"
Again, he doesn't even give me time to answer. "It doesn't matter. I'm going to drive you back to the hotel, load you up, and fill you in on the details. But trust me, this is it, this is pay day, boy. This is what we came here for."
I don't even know why I came here anymore, but at least my father does.
TO BE CONTINUED