Tonight, Monday, a quiet Summer night in the San Fernando Valley. “Stranded” at the Universal Sheraton Hotel, waiting for my visa to India to come through, where’ I’ve booked Guns N’ Roses, Phantom of the Opera and many more over the next year. I write this from the lobby “lounge,” a great glass of red in front of me, flanked by my pit bulls, who are crashed out on the couch on which I work. All of this, how extraordinary this is, has just been pointed out to me by the cocktail waitress. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all of this, but for me…this is my life.
Saturday, my first night in LA, I was deciding whether to accept an invitation to dinner at Matsuhisa with the CAA bosses, or to a barbeque at The Hells’ Angels’ Clubhouse. Alas, I chose neither, and instead opted for a quiet dinner with my new friend, a 25 year old Russian model, who just the week before had made the drive from LA to Big Bear, and came bearing gifts, amongst other things, a very expensive bottle of Scotch. How –and why—does my life keep happening like this? As I find myself more and more often… “not bad for a short, bald, funny-looking old guy.” Yeah, yeah, I know. A little heavy-handed on the self-deprecating tip, but truth is…I mean it. Just as I appreciate the hell out of all that has happened, continues to happen, and will happen.
So, Saturday was um…nice. And Sunday, after a day out with friends, I returned to my poolside room at The Sheraton, exhausted and ready to take a nap, only to find a raging pool party in progress. Who knew? So instead of a futile attempt at sleep, me, Ramone and GoGo decided to join the party. And make new friends.
The adventures of life continue to get greater and greater, and so long as I have someone, anyone, that wants to hear about them, than I shall continue to write about them. Just as I’ve recounted some stories from my past, in the TALL TALES section of Been There, Done That, like one adventure in Kauai, gone badly awry…
Been There, Done That
Diving for dignity, or death, in Kauai.
In the course of things, I’ve become friendly with Randy Ortiz and Vance Pascua, two warm, endearing Hawaiians based on the Garden Isle of Kauai. They’ve visited me at my San Clemente gym, OC Dojo, have attended my Valor Fighting shows, and have met up with me on Oahu when I’ve brought main event clients Tank Abbott, Butterbean, Kimo and others to fight at Blaisdell Arena for Rumble on the Rock. First introduced by brother Taurus, we quickly develop an easy affinity.
Randy and Vance pretty much run the Garden Isle, including being THE MMA promoters there. They are running a big, outdoor Summer show, and I’m their invited guest. Not only is my airfare and hotel condo taken care of, the treatment they afford me is a true testament to the spirit of Aloha.
I’m well into my forties, and absolutely appreciating those “How cool is this?” moments, and this entire trip is ONE BIG MOMENT. It’s a blessing to be surrounded by such beauty, such good friends –albeit new friends, it feels like lifelong brotherhood—and such good times.
That I’ve travelled there with friend and MMA icon Kimo, with brother Adam(Watts), Head Instructor at my OC Dojo, and friend/director par excellence Brent Deal –who is shooting “Amongst Giants,” a sizzle reel about us, that we’ll soon be shopping—only adds to the beauty of the experience.
Hawaii…it’s vibe, it’s people, have captured my heart. Although I had visited the Island as a teen and again as a young adult, I had never been there. Until I went over to Honolulu, as manager for Kimo and for Tank Abbott, who were fighting on the Rumble on the Rock card there. The day after Kimo had dispatched the giant Marcus Royster, and Tank had knocked Wes “Cabbage” Correira out cold, Kimo asked if we wanted to take a ride around to the North Shore of Oahu. Land of the fabled Pipeline and Waimea Bay. Where the “real” Hawaiians live.
It is then that I first meet “Uncle” Eddie Rothman, who absolutely does run The North Shore. Ensconced in a big compound at the end of a road that he owns –Eddie is known far and wide, and especially in Oahu—for many things. Primary amongst those is being a benefactor to many. And I can see why right away. While outwardly gruff and initially intimidating, his heart is as big as the Pacific Ocean on which he lives. Eddie presides over a North Shore-based group known as “Da Wolf Pac.” While legend says that you don’t want to get on the wrong side of them while visiting their turf, if you’re “in” with them, the opposite is true. And through Eddie, right away, I’m in. Eddie’s heir apparent is Kala Alexander. He is an amazing guy. As Hawaiian and “local” as they come, Kala has been featured in many major movies and as a model, has gone as far as appearing on the cover of Vogue. In Eddie and Kala, I see everything I love and admire about the human spirit. Living life on their own terms. Able to take care of their own business. And business for others, when the need or desire arises. Not giving a damn what others think, yet ready to open their hearts to all who are genuine. To me, these two men embody all that Hawaii is supposed to be, and all that Hawaii is. And I have come to love this Hawaii.
Through my affiliation with Eddie and Kala, one thing leads to another leads to another, and I find myself in center cage, at Randy’s and Vance’s sold out show, after a big introduction. I’m addressing the crowd, “putting over” this great event in comparison to those elsewhere, and thanking all for their generous welcome. These moments tend to lend themselves to a bit of grandstanding, but the love and appreciation, for me at least, is beyond sincere. As I stand there, at a FIGHT show, before thousands of STRANGERS, I am at home.
Taurus Cabbab has become my ultimate Hawaiian brother. Loosely related to Kala and Eddie, Taurus is as troubled as he is brilliant. As accomplished a singer/musician and athlete/fighter/surfer, as he is a simultaneously rough-around-the-edges troublemaker. I think of Taurus as a bigger, louder, more outlandish version of…me. In forsaking many of his God-given talents, always on the lookout for a “better,” more expeditious way, oftentimes –and totally unintentionally ignoring the best interests of others in the process—this brilliant man just as often squanders a great opportunity on the way to, well…hopefully somewhere great. I see ourselves in one another.
Taurus is a the last addition to our “cast” for “Amongst Giants.” As we chronicle the rocky lives of exceptionally talented but cursedly flawed fighters and wrestlers –me amongst them, he is a perfect choice for this project. One that REVOLVES around triumph of will and spirit.
Brett Deal joined me on the North Shore a few days earlier, where I had been staying in a tiny, bug-ridden cabin the hills, fleshing out the concept for the shoot. Brett’s arrival –which has also brought much-needed perspective to the project—has solidified the vibe of what I’ve been after. To date, I’ve not been able to articulate it, but Brett has captured it perfectly.
We fly to Kauai together, where we are met at the tiny airport by Taurus, Adam, Vance and Randy and checked into our beautiful, oceanfront condo. That night, we’re part of a huge dinner at Kauai’s most boisterous restaurant/bar. The next day, Taurus takes us to the back of the Island –the type of place where Haoles just don’t go uninvited—where we meet up with Chava Greenlee, Kauai’s local legend of a big wave surfer, lifeguard/enforcer. We all go for a long hike, in the most beautiful and remote terrain I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Across rickety, Jurassic-park like, swinging bridges, that connect one lush slope with another. And then later, back at Chava’s house, smokin’ out with some of his pals and a few of the local ladies. (Probably the only time I’ve every enjoyed smoking weed in my whole life; just caught up in the vibe). The next day, as we hang out on the show site, Randy’s Mom commandeering a section of the parking area for a family barbeque. She calls me “my Son.” I like that.
Brent is capturing all of this, and I know we’re getting some great stuff.
As we are the day after the show. Myself, Adam, Taurus, Kimo and Chava, with Brent on camera, on a long, walk, from a beautiful oceanfront cove, up a loooong, gradually sloping hill. Oblivious to destination. Then, suddenly, the walk is over. Because we’ve hit a dead end. That “dead end” is the last step of the path, which halts at the edge of the hill (read: mountain), which is seventy-some feet over the churning ocean beneath us. I stop to catch my breath; with my diminished lung capacity, walking and talking has always been a bit of a challenge to me. But more so, I take deep breaths, sucking in and appreciating the beauty, the tranquility, the camaraderie.
When my reverence is broken, by Taurus, unexpectedly and without announcement, diving off the cliff. Seventy some feet! I tentatively peer over the edge, my only phobia in the world –that of heights—abruptly taking hold. And as I’m doing this, Taurus breaks through the surface, a big smile on his face and…Adam dives off. Kimo and I stand there, shuffling nervously. Chava turns to us. “So brash, you gonna do this, or what?.” Kimo doesn’t say anything. My response, which is a truthful one, “Uh, I’m not a very good swimmer.” Our walk has taken us on meandering turns, ending SEVENTY SOME FEET UP from the ocean, and over a quarter mile from the beach, which would be my only destination, should I go for it. Earnestly, Chava replies, “brah, I’M a lifeguard.” He turns and dives. Kimo, a muscled up two hundred and thirty pounder –not exactly the best candidate for a long ocean swim– and I look at one another. I can tell we’re sharing similar a thought. Like, “if I don’t do this, I’ll never live this down.”
And I internalize another dialogue as well. I “talk” to the me who will take an icy shower on a cold morning, simply because I believe that to progress, to do things one doesn’t want to do to progress, he must be willing to force himself into discomfort. Yet, I’m afraid of heights. That’s real discomfort. And I don’t swim so well. Nah, I really don’t want to do this. So, what the fuck. I jump. (No, NOT dive. Just jump).
And BAM! Having zero concept of the type of “technique” one employs while attempting such an endeavor…I hit the water like a ton of fuckin’ bricks. And after what seems like an eternity, resurface with a huge grin on my face. “HOW COOL IS THIS?” That’s what I’m thinking at least, until I realize that I’ve blown my knee out. AND I’m in a heavy current more than a quarter mile from shore!
I start to swim. NOT SO COOL. After maybe a hundred yards, my knee is killing me and I’m sucking wind. Hard. I don’t think I can do this. My inner dialogue continues. “Man up, you pussy! Go, go, GO!” I manage maybe another fifty yards. At least I think I do, but the shore doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. No, I’m definitely NOT going to make it. Adam and Chava are nowhere to be found. I see Taurus way off in the distant horizon, pulling away at a steady pace. And I yell his name out. Nothing. He pulls further away. Now screaming “TAURUS!” Nothing still. And I realize, with the distance between us, the water in our ears, the crashing swirl of the surf, there IS NO WAY HE CAN HEAR ME. And I make another realization…”this is it.” I’M GONNA DROWN.
I’ve often said I’d rather be eaten by a shark while bodysurfing in South Africa than die an ignoble death in traffic on the 405 during rush hour. Or be shot or stabbed to death saving someone’s life, than dying a slow death from cancer. So while I haven’t exactly visualized this scenario, I figure drowning-in-Kaui-after-jumping-off-a-seventy-foot-cliff-with-world-class-fighters-and-surfers-into-big-waves-even-though-I’m-afraid-of-heights-and-can’t-swim-so-good, is, in the grand scheme of things, a pretty good way to go.
So, I relax. I AM GONNA DROWN. Of that, there is no doubt. And as I think this, Taurus whips his head around, sees me, and starts in my direction.
I lay on my back on the sand. Half-paralyzed from exhaustion, thanking the Gods, and feeling like a real idiot.
The following day, in a light rain, Brent, Adam and I drive around the other side of the island to the storybook town of Hanalei. Adam and Brent, himself an excellent surfer in his own right, want to challenge the surf there. By now, in addition to my knee, I’m pretty sure I’ve blown an eardrum as well. Both are killing me. I have them drop me in town. I find the local medical clinic, hoping to pick up some painkillers, but it’s closed. I hobble to a picturesque coffee house, where I settle into a coconut latte and a good book. Although I hurt, I love it here. As I sit in this rustic spot, knee and ear blown, I think about how, in the blink of an eye, I went from the top of the word to fighting for survival.
And pretty much every day prior and since is more of the same. Welcome to my life.
As I take in the sites of rural Hawaii, my thoughts are back on the cliff, in the ocean and on the beach, where I recovered. It took me until this very morning to learn that Kimo, rescued by Adam and Chava, laid on the beach on the other side of the cove for nearly twice as long as I did (hey, nearly double the body weight, you know?). And that the previous year, world-class stud Frank Shamrock had to be rescued from the very same spot. Wish someone had told me! Had I known about that, I almost certainly would not have jumped. On second thought, glad I didn’t know. Makes for a decent story.