A New York City Mystery
SOLVED! JUNE 2020 (see epilogue)
“Has it really been here since before I was born?” asked Luna, our 5-month old West Highland White Terrier, when informed the purple 1978 Chevy Monte Carlo we always pass on our walks around the block had been parked in the same spot for a year. On this particular walk, a fresh orange parking ticket slipped under the car’s driver’s side windshield wiper flapped in an early December blue-skied icy New York breeze.
“Yes, Luna. Since at least January.”
“Wow! A whole year in the same spot? That’s a gas!”
“So the street underneath the chassis hasn’t been cleaned since 2017?” Luna got wide-eyed.
“Correct. The street cleaners go around it every Monday.”
“So I could poop under the car and no one would know?”
“Well,” I pondered, “sure –”
“– but let’s not add to the mess this street already is. I’d be happy to pick yours up even if it wasn’t the law.”
“Ok,” Luna dropped the subject of her number twos and returned her gaze to the purple Monte Carlo. “Any ideas what’s happening here?”
“People on the block have a few theories. Brian from 224 thinks it belongs the Mayor.”
“Well, this was the Mayor’s neighborhood until he was elected,” Luna mused. “Since now he’s driven to Park Slope every morning in a motorcade, maybe he left his car here until he’s out of office?”
“You think?” I countered. “Is he really the 8-cylinder purple car type?”
“True. He’d drive a light brown mustard car for sure,” Luna said. “Probably economy. Like a Chevette. Or some stick-figure-stickered bouncy-house like a Honda Odyssey.”
“That’s why nobody’s buying that it’s his,” I said. “Emilio upstairs thinks there’s a body in the trunk, but he cut his teeth in the Italian army in Sicily, so he’s got some bias. Mary from 253, however, has the most intriguing idea. She’s convinced it’s a ‘bait car.’”
“Bait? To catch fish?” Luna wondered.
“In a way,” I laughed. “A bait car is left by cops to goad thieves into stealing it or stripping its parts. These days, cameras are hidden inside, and GPS locators and RFID chips are embedded into all the car’s pieces to track suspects and movement of the parts.”
“So Lovely Rita Meter Maid knows, and writes tickets to make the car look legit?”
“She wouldn’t need to know,” I said. “She just needs to meet a quota of tickets written, not paid.”
“So who’s in on it?”
“Well, Lovely Rita’s bosses would be. As would all the cops on the beat, and all the sanitation inspectors, and the finance department collecting on the tickets, so on. That’s complicated to sustain, though, don’t you think? Remember Occam’s Razor?”
“Hmm.” Luna shook her head in contemplation. “The most innocent, simple, non-conspiratorial explanation of a mystery is most often the truth.”
“Now we’re in the zone,” I said. “In Occam’s case, we know the parking ticket for violating alternate side in New York City is only $45, so everything flows from there. Since this spot is cleaned every Monday, at most you’d get…?”
“4 tickets in a month?”
“Very good, Luna!” I praised her, and tossed a piece of beef lung from my pocket towards her, which she caught in her mouth. “So this car’s parking in NYC for $180 a month, where garages — many of which are outdoor just like this street — average $430 bucks a month.”
“Ha!” Luna piped up. “That’s like a brilliant scheme and a perfect scam all at once!”
“You have to admire the tenacity of it all,” I agreed. “From what we’ve seen, too, parking enforcement doesn’t always tail the street cleaners, so tickets have been issued on the car twice a month, for the most part. Almost never all four Mondays. Someone comes in the cover of darkness to check for tickets, and then pays them off. Some months, this guy’s only gotten 1 ticket. It’s only cost him a few hundred bucks to park here all year.”
“How do we know he’s paying the tickets?” Luna looked quizzical.
”That’s easy,” I said. “The car never gets a boot.”
“Of course!” Luna lit up. “Only unpaid tickets trigger a tire boot. And also you don’t get towed unless your car gets a boot. So, doesn’t matter how many tickets you get as long you zero your balance!”
“Very good, Luna,” I said, tossing her some more beef lung. “Yes, whoever takes the tickets also must be paying them and keeping all the heat off.”
“But what about the inspection sticker there?” She looked at the windshield behind the ticket, confused again. “It’s current and valid until June 2019, but the car never moved this year and never saw an inspection station.”
“Well, what do you think?”
“Hmm,” Luna pondered. “Either the guy’s got friends at the DMV, or at an inspection center, or at a certified garage. So maybe he’s a used car salesman? Or a bartender who gives free drinks to his mechanic? Or… maybe he’s a hacker who’s able to make perfect copies of registration and inspection stickers that show no flags when scanned by parking enforcers?”
“Who knows. Thousands of suspects.”
“We probably pass him every day!” Luna laughed.
“Odds are high, yes,” I said. “In any case, you can’t shuffle these stickers car-to-car. This is actually sophisticated stuff to pull off.”
“Will we ever know?” Luna wondered.
“Doubtful,” I resigned. “But no doubt, one day the car will just be gone without a trace.”
“Would be amazing if everyone in the city all at once decided to ignore alternate-side and use the streets as their $45 a week personal garages.”
“That would be something,” I laughed. “I’m more surprised the City hasn’t skyrocketed the fine. The ticket is hardly an incentive anymore.”
“I know, right?” Luna said. “It also seems unfair that this guy thinks he owns this space. Isn’t public parking supposed to be a pure free market? First come, first served?”
“Well, nothing in New York City is truly public. Something owns access to everything because there’s never enough things to go around.”
“Is that why you have to apply to elementary school here?” Luna asked.
“Yes, that’s a wonderful New York City parental choke point,” I answered. “And as to the parking spots, this year the City transferred hundreds of public parking spaces to Zipcar for a one-time payment of $765 a spot, so that’s how much the City thinks these spots are ‘public.’”
“Do the Zips move for street cleaning?” Luna asked.
“If they’re rented during that time, sure,” I mused. “The signs say to call 311 if it’s too dirty, but who knows how many calls it takes to trigger the City to action. Whole neighborhood probably needs to report one dirty parking spot. Two things we do know. One, Zipcar does not employ a squad of alternate-side Zippers who double-park every car, every week, for an hour and a half to let the cleaners through. And, two, unlike this Monte Carlo, those Zipcars don’t get issued any tickets.”
“It’s like CitiBikes, too,” Luna added. “The bikes don’t have to do alternate-side, and those docking stations take up a lot of curb.” She paused for a second, then offered, “The City should just sell all the curbside parking spots and stop cleaning the streets.”
“Maybe,” I said, “But they’ll never stop cleaning the streets. Those tickets are easy low-hanging-fruit money.”
“I’ve only been alive for 5 months,” Luna surmised, “but it doesn’t seem like street sweepers actually sweep anything except rat crap dust into the air.”
“Seems that way, yes,” I nodded. “Proof of that is under this stationary Chevy. After one year of never being swept, the asphalt underneath the car isn’t all that much dirtier than the street around it. It’s a wonderful control experiment for the actual effectiveness of the City’s current street sweeping technology.”
“It’s a vicious, beautiful circle,” Luna laughed. “A base level of urban filth and grime gets a bit thicker and thicker decade on decade, while constant but useless alternate-side sweeping lets the City look like it’s being cleaned. And since every few days, everything kinda feels a little cleaner, the City’s whole sanitation scheme need not be improved or progressed. And people are fine with it!”
“Don’t get me started,” I said. “You can’t get New Yorkers to compost because it ‘smells bad.’ And our trash is still put out in plastic bags not cans –”
“Yeah!” Luna piped in. “And some of the same New Yorkers who yell at Trump on Twitter for pulling out of the Paris Climate accords also floss-and-toss on the sidewalk!”
“C’mon,” I shot her a quizzical glance and looked around. “That’s a stretch–”
She pointed with her nose to a used neon-green DenTek Complete Clean “Back Teeth” disposable flosser on the sidewalk between us, flecks of tartar and a lonely poppy seed enmeshed in its frayed “shred-proof” strand — one of a half-dozen tossed flossers we’d seen on this walk already.
“Didn’t 80% of Brooklyn vote for Hillary?” Luna probed.
“Sure. Even higher here in Park Slope.”
“Didn’t Hillary support the Paris Climate Accords?”
“Of course, didn’t you?” I saw, however, where she was going. “But now you’re going to say that there is an 8 in 10 chance the person that threw this disposable flosser on the sidewalk wanted the U.S. to participate in the Paris agreement.”
“Isn’t that how statistics work?”
“A and B don’t always equal C, kid,” I explained.
“Here it does,” she pawed at the used flosser, dislodging the poppy seed, which skipped into the gutter, ecstatic to ramble free.
“Don’t touch that,” I warned her off. “And don’t assume the transitive property holds any weight in a modern non linear society. People today create their morality on the fly to justify their ethics.”
“Now you’re out in space,” she said. “The heck does that mean?”
“It means,” I intoned, “some people who fight climate change laugh while they litter. Some people honk at stopped school buses. This timeline’s not rational. You have to create kindness in chaos now. And often in secret. Capiche?”
“Ok, ok,” she seemed to get it. “But you can’t deny this City is full of hypocrisy.”
“Of course not,” I agreed.
“I know I haven’t been on Earth very long,” Luna shook her head, “but it’s like New York City’s sole remaining function is to be the archaeological evidence of man’s existence in 10,000 years.”
“100%. Such a crock,” I laughed at this puppy’s wisdom beyond her weeks.
“Well, you’re right about that,” Luma summarized with a youthful wry smile, “New York was never a melting pot, but rather a crock pot. With no pressure release.”
“Yeah, the absurdity level is high here. The City functions despite itself at this point, coasting on its mythology. Bassackwards,” I breathed out. “That’s why I appreciate this stationary Chevy’s purple middle-finger-held-up-to-it-all to the utmost degree.”
EPILOGUE: 13 JUNE 2020
A NYC MYSTERY SOLVED
My wife, Cat, burst into the bathroom as I showered. Easily scared by unexpected puncutations in silence, and in the midst of washing my face, I jumped and let out a little noise.
“It’s just me,” she said.
“I know, I know,” I said, my heart rate lowering, eyes clenched with soap.
“I mean, who else would it be?” Cat needled me.
I began to rinse my face. “I don’t know,” I said. “Luna?”
“Well, I had to come in here, and you have to get outside. It’s moving!”
“What’s moving?” I asked, and opened my eyes to see Cat on the other side of our shower glass.
“The purple Chevy! They’re trying to jump start it.”
I scrambled out of the shower, dried off and dressed almost in the same motion, grabbed my phone, and flew downstairs. The purple 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo was still in its familiar spot, still stationary after 33 months. The hood was open, however, and three men hovered over the engine block.
I approached the scene with a bit of caution. After all, many of the rumors on the block swirling around the car for the last 3 years, involved nefarious intention and underworld characters.
Far-out stories culminating in drug drops and/or body disposals, competed with more down-to-earth narratives spun about cousins caring for an incarcerated family member’s car, or hidden treasure buried under the road underneath, or cops planting the car as bait, complete with GPS-tracker-laden parts.
In the absence of the truth, of course, many on the block accepted one of these stories or their own unarticulated fictions as gospel. The purpose of the car’s extended staycation on our block was fluid, ready to conform to whatever theoretical vessel seemed credible.
That said, extrapolating the truth (from disparate data sets, elusive or non-existent sources, and dubious filters) is almost second-nature now. Every story about the car could eventually be the truth, even if only one story is true. That’s the way we live now.
For now, I wanted the true truth about this mystery machine. How close was it to our block’s collective imagined fancy. The car had become an object of affection for many block denizens over the last couple years. Talk of it eventually created a few nicknames for it, among the most used were “The Dubster,” “The Dubmobile,” or simply “DUB,” in honor of the sticker on its rear passenger side window.
No time to waste, I piped up. “Hey guys, this car…”
All three men looked up at me with equal quizzical side-glances.
I continued. “It’s been here for, like, 33 months, and a few of us here, on the block and out in space, are kinda obsessed with it.”
Their eyebrows furrowed a bit.
“In a good way,” I continued, through a nervous laugh. “In a good way.” Their expressions softened a bit. “Its mythology is never-ending here. What’s the story?”
“I know all about it,” said the gentleman directly opposite, peering at me over the hood and over his face mask. “I own it.”
“Ha!” I smiled behind my own mask. “Well, I need to know everything.”
He came around to the passenger side, and we positioned ourselves at a now-familiar COVID-friendly distance.
“Dave,” I intro’d myself with a peace sign.
“I’m A***. Well, my first name’s actually **** and my last name’s actually A*******, but our FDNY badges have the first four letters of our last name and our badge number, so everyone calls me A****.”
“Well, my given name’s Dave, but I’m also known as Westy. That nick-name started because no one could ever pronounce my last name.” He looked at me and blinked. I continued, “So we basically have nothing in common.”
“Nice to meet,” he smiled.
“Likewise. So you’re a firefighter?”
“An EMT, actually,” he said, and flashed me his ID.
“Well, you’ve definitely been busy of late.”
“Understatement,” A*** laughed. “In January, I went to Georgia for emergency hazmat training. [NYFD] sent about 300 of their 1100 EMTs down there. Then I spent February training other EMTs in COVID protocols at the Javits Center. Since then, it’s been 6-day weeks, often double shifts, during this whole pandemic.”
“Well, thanks for all that. Given the way this virus travels, you probably saved my life already by saving someone else.”
“It’s the job,” he said, opening his palms. “I love it.”
Not just a car, I thought. Now it’s a hero car. Brilliant.
“Ok, so, then, rewind us further. It’s a ’78 Monte Carlo, yes?”
A*** smiled. “Very good. Yeah.”
“So why this car?”
“That’s easy,” he offered. “I’m obsessed with the film Training Day since it first came out. You remember that one?”
“Yeah, of course. Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke...”
“This is the car,” he waved his arms wide at DUB. “I mean, it’s not the car. That car was a ’79 and this is a ’78. But we’re going to make this the car.”
Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke): This car is NOT from the motor pool.
Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington): No it’s not. Sexy though, isn’t it?
The track playing over this scene is Still D.R.E. by Dr Dre (feat Snoop Dogg). The car, the character, the moment. Perfect soundtrack.
“Amazing,” I laughed, and thought, Cheers to unexpected truth. Who could even write this?
“So what’s next for her?”
“I finally sourced all the parts in the last few months, and today she’s getting towed to a body shop where it’ll get the Training Day paint job. It’s a little more blue; a lot less purple.”
“You going to pick up non-critical patients with it?”
“Ha ha, no,” he matter-of-facted. “This baby’s going to drive in the Coney Island classic car parade, which will hopefully happen at some point this year.”
“Maybe if the cars stay 6 ft apart…”
“We’ll see. Would anything surprise you now?”
We both laughed.
“So you’re on a quest for half your life to replicate the Training Day car, and you find this one… Where and when?”
“I bought it in 2012 at an auction in Chicago.”
“You drive it from Chicago?”
“No. Had it hauled here.”
“How many miles on it now?”
“One hundred thirteen thousand,” he said with a nod.
“Original engine?” I asked.
“Actually, I couldn’t resist putting in a non-standard V8 in this one, a late 60s 283 small block Turbo Fire. Two-twenty horsepower.”
“So maybe drives like a ’60s Stingray? Nice. What was the standard Monte Carlo engine in 1978?”
“If you popped the hood in the showroom, you would have seen a 231 V6, which topped out at just 110 horsepower. You could upgrade to a 305 V8, but because of late 70s fuel economy standards, it only went to around 160 horses. The 283 gives her the soul she derserves, you know?”
I learned how to talk about cars way-back-when, before I could drive, from an mid teenage years obsession with Bruce Springsteen’s Racing In The Street.
I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396
Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor
She’s waiting tonight down in the parking lot
Outside the Seven-Eleven store
As I learned to play that song, I dove into the lyrics to understand the character’s experience, and also to figure out how to inhabit the character with conviction. You don’t have to have driven a modded vintage Chevy in a street drag race to play Racing In The Street, but you either know what a 1969 Chevy with “a 396, fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor” is, or you don’t sing Racing In The Street.
Once you research the track’s references, however, you discover, first, a ’69 Chevy needs to be retrofit with all those specs, which is why Bruce’s character and his “partner Sonny” had to build “her straight outta scratch.”
You’ll also uncover that a 396 is a “big-block” and that fuelie heads are for “small-block” engines. So the car Bruce describes in Racing in the Street is an impossible dream. You couldn’t build it if you tried.
In 35 years of learning and playing the track, I’ve gone through phases with Racing In The Street, thinking an older street racer tells the story in reflection, perhaps addled by dementia after a lifetime of crash concussions, or even himself a “hot rod angel” singing from the afterlife, like the returning British WWII soldier in another track of my teenage obsessions, New Order’s Love Vigilantes.
In any event, that the car can’t exist makes the song more of an achievement, as Bruce writes about the dream of adventure, not an actual adventure. The story unfolds new mysteries on each spin, much the way the Dubster inspired its own mythology in each passer-by on our block.
Townes Van Zandt performed a poignant cover of Racing In The Street on an Austin public access station in the mid-80s. A dude with whom I played a ton of Springsteen in our respective mostly-covers days sent me a link to it a decade or so ago. It stuck with me, and I return to it every once in a while.
Covering many Springsteen tracks requires you to find a raw place inside yourself that’s part living, part dead, but fully conscious of both states. His existential highwire act has always been a bit under-appreciated, overshadowed by his performance exuberance. Townes Van Zandt, on the other hand, was a Springsteen story incarnate. Rarely did he float above the scenes in his songs. He intros the song by admitting he’s been trying to learn the track for “2 years but still only knows 3/4 of it.” That’s a familiar feeling to the dispossessed and outcast.
“So wait,” I pried on A***. “You’re driving the DUB around since 2012?”
“Yeah,” A*** said. “She’s not only the oldest car I own, she’s the car I’ve owned longest.”
“So the best we could figure out from the background of a few photos people sent around, was that it arrived here in October 2017. Did it just break down here after 5 years of driving?”
“Ha. No, not really. I kept it running while trying to find all the original parts. They’re hard to come by, though. Had to buy another Chevy from the same era, and I’ve been bleeding some of them off that.”
“Another Monte Carlo?”
“No, a ’79 Nova. I got it last year, and parked it a street or two over.”
“C’mon. Another car? Parked for a whole year here?”
“Yeah,” he laughed.
Too rich, I thought. “Ok. So you’re still using this Monte Carlo from twenty twelve to twenty seventeen, while trying to find restoration parts. How did it end up here?”
“Well sometime in 2017, she did break down,” he said. “So I take her to Sammy’s Transmission over on 4th Avenue. They’re amazing, and at the time I was working a lot out of Methodist Hospital trauma center up on 7th Avenue.”
“Sammy’s fixed it?”
“Yeah, but it took them a few months. They called me one day, told me it was ready. So happens I’m working Methodist again that day. Mid-shift, my partner and I head down there, pick up the car. I’m driving around with my partner tailing me in the ambulance in case we get a call. Figured I’d drop it in the 1st spot I find, and hop back in [the ambulance].”
“So this is the spot?”
“Yes. For some reason, though, I thought to put it further down the street, near the church and school. But then I drive down there, and the only open spaces are for DOE.”
“No Parking School Days.”
“Clearly can’t leave it there, so I signal to my partner to pull over. I race around him backwards up the street, and drop it here.”
“And here we are, 33 months later.”
“Believe me, I never thought it would be here this long. Finally got the parts. Had to have all the chrome re-fabricated. Check this out.”
A*** retrieved a doubled-up plastic deli bag from Dub’s backseat. He untied the top, and produced a perfect replica of the ’78 Monte Carlo’s original chrome headlight wrap. It glinted in the sun. In that golden chrome and big glass era gone bye-bye, cars were cooler. They all glinted way more.
“The license plate frame is the first thing I had made custom.”
“Quite a rabbit hole,” I said.
He re-sheathed the chrome piece, and put it back in the car.
“I came back to move her a week or so ago. Wouldn’t start. These guys tried jumping her today, but it’s dead. So now she’s getting towed to the body shop. They have to call a different tow truck, though. Needs a different winch than these guys brought. We’ll be here for another half-hour or so.”
“So,” I pointed to a No Parking Mondays 9:30–11:00 sign up the block. “Did you never need to move it because it’s cheaper to pay occasional parking tickets than garage it?”
“Bingo,” A*** smiled. “Paying off tickets means no boot, no impound. I would come around after my shifts out here, late at night, like 2 or 3 AM, every few weeks to collect the tickets and check on her.”
The first tow crew departed as a second tow truck arrived, equipped with the correct winch. A technician alit from the flatbed’s cab, and came over to A***.
“We can’t jump it, and the tire’s flat,” A*** told him.
The front passenger-side tire had been flat for a few months. The tow tech felt around the tire.
“No problem. It’ll inflate.”
Of course they found a tire whisperer in the middle of this story, I thought.
On the block, we all thought the tire was beyond repair, but whaddya know, after jacking the car up about 6 inches and with a standard air pump attached, the tire filled back up in under a minute.
A motorcycle had been parked in front of DUB for a couple weeks. Alternate side had been suspended for over 3 months during the COVID response. That DUB had plenty of stationary company on the block in her final months here, and that she was ostensibly one of the first cars to actually get off the block in months, albeit not under her own power, was another layer of irony.
The motorcycle was jammed about a foot from DUB’s front grill, too close for the tow truck to get a decent angle of attack. A*** got in the car, threw it in neutral, and jumped out. He motioned for the tow tech and me to join him in an effort to push the car backwards.
As we rolled DUB backwards, the solid steel state of her machinery evidenced in each of our hefts and DUB’s subsequent lurches. It took us about 4 or 5 heaves to put about two more feet between DUB and the cycle, which was more than enough to attach the winch. Not only was this tow tech a tire whisperer, he was a winch whisperer, too.
After attaching the tow line, it was just a few forwards and reverses by the winch whisperer to free DUB from her spot. She ascended to the flatbed, smiling as if escaping in the fever dream of a condemned car sitting in a junkyard.
A*** and I exchanged contact info and “So longs.” Later on, I sent him links to the original story and my instagram posts. Maybe a few of us here will crash that Coney Island Car Show if the car is finished and the show goes off this year. To see this car with the spirit of Training Day coursing through its cams will be worth a (hopefully-by-then low risk) trip through a city impossible to sterilize.
In the end, harmless quirk of circumstance left the car on our block for 33 months. The Training Day angle was a more hilarious premise than anyone envisioned, for sure, and the whole affair was a perfect living middle finger to the now-even-more accelerating absurdity of NYC living.
At the same time, though, Training Day threading through DUB’s adventure lends irony and poignancy in retrospect to her time on the block. The film was directed by Antoine Fuqua at a time when “Black Blockbuster Director” was an even more elusive (exclusive? excluded?) club than it is today. Denzel Washington’s character, Alonzo Harris, was a very, very dirty cop in a nasty story of police at war with each other.
The 2001 film explores what happens when a bad cop decides to become a lone justice system, and feels even more relevant today than in its pre-911 theatrical release window. Denzel’s Alonzo Harris was certainly beyond salvation, but Harris’s car to this day remains an object of emulation to an IRL first-responder. Go figure.
My wife Cat and Ethan Hawke are good friends since the turn of the century. Back in the day, Cat costume designed 2 films Ethan directed: Chelsea Walls (2001) and The Hottest State (2006). She also designed 1 in which he starred called Tape (2001), directed by Richard Linklater.
Chelsea Walls and Tape were part of filmmaker Gary Winick’s InDigEnt Films imaginative series of micro-budget projects, all of which were shot in late 2000 on Sony DV digital video cameras with budgets south of $100,000. Key crew members took lower salaries in exchange for back-end profit-sharing, too, which is still rarer than rare. Shouldn’t be, but that argument’s for a whole nother post.
In hindsight coincidence to DUB, the InDigEnt films were also Hawke’s next gigs right after Training Day, which had shot earlier in 2000, and hadn’t come out yet. So Cat met Ethan essentially right after Alonzo Harris parked his Monte Carlo for good at the close of Training Day.
At the time, Ethan was married to actress Uma Thurman, who co-starred in both of Hawke’s InDigEnt efforts. During the filming of Chelsea Walls, Uma declared to Cat over one random lunch break, “I’m writing a film with Quentin Tarantino. It’s about a bride, wronged at the altar, who takes revenge. You’re going to design it.”
Cat at the time was still in the first decade of her Costume Design career, and an increasing fixture around the then-limitless-seeming New York City indie film scene. There was a ton of discretionary money for filmmaking through the 90s. Internet 1.0 was an ATM for a lot of folks. And you could still dream big here in NYC, and make your way.
A couple of Cat’s early productions went to Sundance. She worked a lot with NYC indie luminaries at the time, like Ed Burns (Sidewalks Of New York), John Hamburg (Safe Men), and Alexandre Rockwell (Louis & Frank). She landed an agent early on due to a burgeoning reputation as a designer who could pull off the kind of daily miracles it takes to get any film of any budget made. At the time of her InDigEnt work, though, she’d never done a film with a budget higher than a couple million dollars, and she wasn’t yet in the IATSE Local 892 Costume Designers union on the west coast.
So Cat was, like, “Yeah, ok, Uma.”
But a year later, true to Uma’s tea leaf, Cat was designing the iconic yellow tracksuit in Tarantino’s Kill Bill as a card-carrying member of 892. The rest of her stellar career blossomed from there. Crazy.
Chelsea Walls shot completely in the Chelsea Hotel. I visited the set a few times over the course of its 3–week shoot. One night, Ethan cast me as “Nightclub Goer #2” in a pivotal scene, where Little Jimmy Scott performs John Lennon’s Jealous Guy in the Hotel’s basement bar, backed by several members of Wilco and a few legendary horn session men. The performance intercuts with Kris Kristofferson’s character upstairs in his permanent hotel room, on the phone with a lover that he’s not even sure is on the other end of the line. If you want to play “Spot the Westy” as Jimmy Scott performs, I’m seated underneath the stage-right mirror he looks out on a couple times.
Playing 6-degrees of Ethan, Cat’s Hawke-number is a solid 1, and mine would be a 1.5. My non-speaking background role in Chelsea Walls, though under his direction (“Dave, sit there, between those two.”), must count only as a half-Hawke.
So everytime we walked up the street to leave our block, DUB was much closer to her Training Day dream than she ever knew.
Ok, now, Linklater’s Tape also came out in 2001, and garnered deserved buzz as a No Exit-redux with exemplary acting and tight direction. Sold to Lionsgate Films with 5 other titles from the InDigEnt DV series, Tape helped Winick, in pre-pre-YouTube days, predict our future-now-arrived, replete with democratized production and distribution in your pocket. There are more filmmakers now than V8 cars, it seems, for better and worse.
In Tape, Hawke’s character Vin is a volunteer firefighter and drug dealer, who enjoys getting high off his own supply. Ethan’s perfect channelling of Vin’s marijuana-laden character earned him, among many high-order critical accolades, a 2002 High Times Stony Award nomination for Best Actor.
About a week prior to the awards, Cat got a random call from Ethan, extendeing us an invitation to the show. I never asked him why he thought Cat & I would be his best companions that night, but never questioned it, either. Uma opted out, but Uma’s brother Ganden joined us to complete our table of 4. Maybe every person above Cat and me on Ethan’s list said, “No way.” Some things, like the Dubster, are better chalked up to fate.
The 2002 Stonys took place March 2nd at the BB King Blues Club & Grill, on 42nd Street off Times Square, and the show was exactly what you’d expect. It was a couple hours late in starting, but no one was keeping track of time after a while. It was a priceless night, and if there’d been food, I probably would’ve never left. Maybe I’d even still be there, 20 years on.
Jim Breuer (Saturday Night Live) hosted. Snoop Dogg was nominated for Best Pot Scene (for his seminal 2001 comedy The Wash) and Stoner Of The Year. Dr Dre was nominated for Best Soundtrack for The Wash. George Clinton and a few members of Parliament Funkadelic comprised the house band, and they warmed up the crowd, performed between a few awards, and then closed the night.
Ethan won for Best Actor. Hindsight coincidence also meant Training Day pedigree graced Snoop, too, with Stoner Of The Year, and Dr Dre, who won for Best Soundtrack (The Wash).
The awards taken home by winners were sterling silver water pipes. After Ethan delivered a gracious acceptance, even thanking Cat, he sat back down at the table with his trophy, and handed it to me.
“You think it’s real?” I asked.
“C’mon, man. I thought this was a smart crowd,” a smooth quiet voice somehow cut through the club din from above. I looked up over Ethan’s shoulder to see Snoop Dogg with his hand outstretched towards me. Off Snoop’s shoulder was George Clinton, nodding his head upwards encouraging me to hand off the pipe to Snoop.
“By all means.”
Snoop took the pipe and set it down on the table. He and George Clinton then pulled chairs from the table behind us, twirled them around, placed them on either side of Ethan, and sat down. Snoop grabbed Ethan’s glass of water and poured maybe a 1/4 cup from it into the award’s silver beaker mouth. Then one of his Doggppound materialized over his shoulder, packed the bowl, and dematerialized into BB King’s background noise.
“This here’s the Marvin Gaye we’ve been floating on tonight,” Snoop entreated us.
I took out a Zippo I carried at the time, and handed it to Snoop.
“That’s the kind of intelligence I’m talking about,” Snoop said. He gently motioned for Ethan to put his lips to his trophy, and lit the Zippo. The award, it turned out, really was fully real.
From that point on, my memories of the show get pretty fuzzy, and photography was not allowed, so synaptic flashes between the fuzz, and one lonely Entertainment Weekly recap, are all I have left to piece it together.
When Snoop won Stoner Of The Year sometime later in the night, the room erupted. During the Doggfather’s speech, the air hazed up to the point that, sitting at Ethan’s 2nd row audience-left table, I could only make out Snoop at the podium through intermittent clouds of wafting chronic.
I think Ethan, Cat, Ganden, and I went out for pizza afterwards.
In any event, who knew our Stationary Chevy would take us on this far-and-wide journey of self-discovery. It was an after-school special just lying in wait. Maybe one day, Ethan will meet DUB and a matrix glitch will envelop our universe, swallowing it into the belly of some more peaceful, justice-laden dimension.
So thank you, A***, for your (truly) essential EMT service, and for giving us a somehow more fascinating, yet more innocent, ending to the story of DUB. That’s about all we can hope for now for just about everything.
See you in Coney Island.