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Earth-Bound Fish

For months before it opened, Mukashi seemed like a presold hit: Everyone who ate at Avenue 5, just across Nutmeg Street, could see the sign in the window, announcing a new sushi bar with a fish shop attached. Sushi, sure, but sushi-grade raw fish at retail — whoa, Nelly! The ads and coupons went out in early May. I’d already made a date to eat there the first week of June but luckily checked the website the night before. The restaurant  wouldn’t open until June 12. And even now, the fish store is still a dream, with no sign of  arrival.

Mukashi’s name means “One day, long ago” — possibly inspired by a classic anime, Nihon Mukashi (One Day Long Ago in Ghostly Japan). Now that it’s open, it’s an attractive restaurant with shiny-enameled wooden rectangular tables, soft brown cloth napkins, and one wall occupied by a sushi bar, staffed the night we were there by multi-ethnic chefs (one young Asian-American, one long-haired American, and one midlife Hispanic-American — probably the head chef, John Paul Zamora). There are huge TVs behind the sushi bar, but happily, with the Olympics over, they were all turned off that night; instead, ’80s soft rock played on the sound  system.

It was a Thursday, and only one other table was occupied, along with one spot at the sushi bar — an East Coast guy (by his accent) who seemed to be in the restaurant biz and was gossiping about other sushi chefs. (You heard it here first: Taka-san, the sweetie who founded Taka in the Gaslamp and the later eponymous restaurant in La Mesa, has gone back to Japan for his retirement. Sayonara, Taka-honey.) But when I called to fact-check the next night, on the Friday kickoff of the Labor Day weekend, the joint was jumping, voices roaringly audible even though the call was taken at the hostess stand on the street, just outside the open front  door.

Our waiter was sweet, and we got there just in time to snag a few happy-hour specials before the witching hour. A tempura eel roll had light, greaseless batter around thin, wide rounds of sticky rice, featuring centers with minced eel and only a tiny waft of cream cheese. Very pleasant. But our other happy-hour choice was less rewarding. In the salmon skin roll, the rice was clumpy, sticking to the fingers, as though it had sat a bit too long after cooking. (All the rice here is neutral in flavor — no problem, that’s Ota-style.) In the center were chopped carrots, celery (or was that cuke?), and the salmon skin, more veggie than fish. After the first cautious bite, I made up a soy-wasabi dipping sauce. I  don’t always. With great chefs, sushi is often perfect “as is.” I’d be needing the dip  here.

The proof of that came in the ama ebi, “sweet” shrimp (raw freshwater shrimp). The meats were good, satiny, fresh (and would be even better on the weekend, when the restaurant gets in live shrimp). But there were no seasonings on the rice. This is one of the factors that differentiate great sushi (e.g., Ota, Samurai, Kabuto, Taka, Nobu) from the corner sushi bar — the subtle, distinctive seasonings that serious ita-mae (sushi masters) apply to their creations. Those aren’t just wasabi and soy (and the sweetened sushi vinegar gently flavoring the rice) but also various citrus juices or rinds, herbs, Japanese spice blends, etc. (Order ama ebi sometime at Samurai Sushi in Solana Beach. Feel the shivers up your back.) Given the lack of any chef-devised seasoning, I dotted the rice under my shrimp with wasabi and it was better for it. The flash-baked heads were fine. Not sure, but there might’ve been a touch of hot pepper on  ’em.

Had to try a hand roll, too — spicy scallops, in honor of my late boyfriend (and sushi sensei) who, when they were good, was crazy about them. These were decent, with fresh, chopped scallops swathed in hot sauce and Japanese mayo running all the way through to the tail and overflowing the top — but there seemed to be nothing more than scallops (no cuke or scallions or shiso or whatever) to lend interest with contrasting, cooler flavors and crisper  textures.

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I looked over the long list of futo maki (“party rolls”) and spotted the usual suspects — California, rainbow, caterpillar, Philadelphia, et al., not seeing anything very original. I should have focused in on the “Banker’s Hill Roll,” the most popular roll here, and possibly an original (shrimp, crab, avocado, eel sauce, tempura crumbs, etc.) but, oops, I  didn’t. We went with Cheryl’s choice of a soft-shell roll. It  wasn’t the fat, exuberant extravaganza that I expected but was nearly as slim and tight as the nigiri — basically just a regular sushi roll run longer. I  wouldn’t have been able to guess what species was in there if I  didn’t already know. That is, there were carrots and other veggies and a modicum of soft-shell meat. It could have been any crab. Even Krab. If I had to do it over again, I’d order the Banker’s Hill and either a rainbow or a caterpillar. Sometimes convention is on your  side.

Moving into sashimi, Cheryl and I liked the “rainbow tartare” plate, a trio of mounds of chopped salmon, yellowtail, and maguro tuna, each subtly dressed in a different sauce (lemon juice, balsamic, soy) and a different garnish (kaiware microgreens, fried leek shreds, chives). Sam found the sauces too subtle — nearly imperceptible. He had a point. None of us could tell what they were until Cheryl asked the sushi chef. Once we knew, we could taste  them.

It’s so rare to find uni (sea urchin) as a sashimi that we had to try it. Sam challenged me before the first bite: Would I be able to tell what grade the uni was? (The grade is determined when the soft meats come out of the shell, before anything else happens to it — it’s a natural-born thing.) I said that, without being an expert, as far as I understood it had to do with both firmness and flavor: firm but melting like a marshmallow on the fire is top class, while mushier is lower. Briny-sweet and vibrant is tops, over more neutral flavor. (Mushy, neutral uni is fine for making sauces and some soups. Uni that tastes distinctly of iodine — either naturally or, most often, because it’s been held in the refrigerator until it’s too old to eat — is bottom class, really no use for anything.) When restaurants order uni (most here buy it from Catalina Seafood in the Morena district, which also sells retail at certain hours), they can specify grade according to the price they want to pay. Then we tasted the uni sashimi: it was fresh (no off-tastes, no iodine) but quite mushy, starting to fall apart when lifted by chopsticks. The flavor was pleasant, not blow-your-head-off. Hence, maybe B-plus grade. At $16, it seemed overpriced, as there was not very much of  it.

Now we were ready to transit into a few fusion dishes. Our favorite was a special that evening of “ahi Napoleon” — a quartet of fried wonton skins topped with marinated ahi, avocado, onion, and a little Kewpie Japanese mayo. These were fine, reminiscent of the fusion flashes that chef James Holder (now at Nozomi in Carlsbad) used to do for happy-hour noshes at Del Mar’s Zen. And black cod bypassed the now-standard Nobu miso formula: instead, it came with teriyaki sauce and chive oil. The teri, we all agreed, was way too  salty.

Kobe beef roulades were roll-ups of rare steak wrapped around mashed potatoes and Gorgonzola cheese. The cheese came in tiny cold chunks, unmelted, falling out of the wrap-ups. The beef was shockingly tough. “Well, the menu says Kobe,” Angela noted, “but it  doesn’t say what cut. Could be chuck steak.” We chawed and we chawed. This is not the same Kobe you get at Quarter Kitchen, translucent with fat-marbling, falling apart on the tongue. This is just beef. Of course, it  doesn’t cost nearly as much, but still, it’s  pointless.

The menu goes on to fusiony entrées, but we  didn’t. There’s a section of affordable Japanese noodle dishes, then a sharp escalation (into the $30s) for steaks and fish. Not only were we already full, but nothing we’d tried led us to believe that the kitchen was sufficiently inspired to justify those prices. What we’d eaten so far was more expensive and less exciting than the fare at the average neighborhood sushi  bar.

Great sushi leaves an afterglow, a persistent craving for more. It’s not just raw fish that makes sushi (in fact, sushi isn’t the fish, it’s the rice — sashimi is the fish). But with great sushi it’s the other subtle flavors, the inspired artistry that makes it memorable and haunting. Great sushi reminds me of snorkeling — fully sharing the life of the sea, but through the palate rather than the eyes and skin. At best, it resembles the moment when the improbable (but real) banana fish brushes your leg as you hover over the reef — as the I Ching says, “shock, then laughter.” That’s why I never buy packaged sushi in delis or supermarkets or even Trader Joe’s. (If I want a fast fishy fill-up, I open a can of sardines or tuna, or a bottle of gefilte fish, with plebeian expectations.) I  don’t insist on Ota/Samurai/Taka/Kabuto/Nobu quality and purity every time and everywhere — I can still enjoy the zesty creations at Lizard Lounge in Coronado, Surfside in PB, Zensei in North Park, the great uni sashimi at Zenbu in La Jolla, and the brilliant party rolls at Sushi on the Rock. San Diego is probably the best sushi destination in America, so there’s no reason but a convenient address to settle for  less.

After I got back from dinner, I checked Google in hopes of finding a printed menu (no luck, the PDF file was hors de combat at the time) and to see what other people were thinking. The only blog reporting was Yelp, which usually I  don’t much trust, as I’ve heard rumors that money is involved. (I’m more into Chowhound, Blurt, Mmm-Yoso, for their pure, dedicated eaters.) This time I found a surprising chorus of Yelping agreement, repeatedly likening Mukashi to a higher-price, lower-quality version of Sushi Deli and Ra, with one astute blogger noting it as, at best, a good place with nice decor to take a sushi-naïve date (especially if she’s  paying).

The owner is named Mike Verzosa, and the kitchen is headed by master chef John Paul Zamora. (The only Google reference to him aside from Mukashi’s own website is Zamora’s son’s wedding invitation, which Dad catered — at Mukashi.) The way a sushi chef becomes a master chef is normally through a rigorous apprenticeship (in Japan, typically eight to ten years) and then a long journeyman stage, until a master-chef teacher finally dubs the student a master. I  don’t know who trained Mr. Zamora and named him a master chef. Time constraints involving the Labor Day weekend (the restaurant was riotously busy Friday and Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday) and my deadline made it impossible to do a chef’s interview, which I really  didn’t want to do anyway since I  didn’t like the food very much. I very much liked the decor and service, and the seafood was certainly fresh enough, so it breaks my heart that the food seemed like competent, uninspired journeyman work rather than what I’d hope for from a master chef. (And, of course, I was deeply disappointed by the nonexistence of that fresh fish market.) But having eaten at so many great local sushi bars, I  can’t pretend that Mukashi soars into the skies or dives deep into the coral reefs. It’s good, simply good — it’s not snorkeling among the banana fish, but simply earth-bound.

Mukashi

  • 2 stars
  • (Good)

2706 Fifth Avenue (at Nutmeg Street), Banker’s Hill, 619-298-1329, mukashisandiego.com.

  • HOURS: Lunch Monday–Friday, 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.; dinner Monday–Wednesday 5:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m., Thursday–Saturday until 10:00 p.m.
  • PRICES: Sushi, $7–$14; appetizers, $5–$15; noodles, $9–$12; entrées, $16–$34; desserts, $10–$15. Happy hour weekdays 5:00–7:00 p.m., selected nigiri sushi about  $5.
  • CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Sushi and fusion cuisine; serious wine list, sakes, Asian  beers.
  • PICK HITS: Tempura eel roll; ahi Napoleon (special). Popular favorite: Banker’s Hill  Roll.
  • NEED TO KNOW: Announced fish store attached to restaurant not yet operational or evident. Best nights for sushi: Friday and Saturday (more choices, fresher); reserve for weekends. Women’s restroom may be awkward for  wheelchairs.

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Cassie and crew at the Las Vegas Sphere.
Cassie and crew at the Las Vegas Sphere.

Basketball great and San Diego icon Bill Walton died on May 27. The next day, sports commentator John Canzano posted an interview clip on TikTok in which he asked Walton how many Grateful Dead concerts he had attended. “Not enough,” replied Walton, before recounting that his first Dead show had been when he was in high school. “I was 15. I’m listening to FM radio and the disc jockey, it had to have been Gabriel Wisdom, that was the guy that everybody listened to, and he said, ‘Boys and girls, that last jam you just heard, that was a new band from San Francisco, and they call themselves The Grateful Dead.’” Wisdom then said that so many people had showed up to the Dead’s recent show in San Francisco that everyone got in free, and that maybe the same would hold true for their upcoming show in Los Angeles. “We said, ‘Yeah, that’s us, let’s go chase the dream!’ So one of the guys stole their parents car for the weekend, right? Nobody had driver’s licenses, nobody had any money, we just went up there in our shorts and our tennis shoes and a T-shirt. We just went up there, got in free somehow, went right to the front, and our lives were never the same.”

“Not enough” Grateful Dead concerts translates, in Walton’s case, to somewhere north of 850. Many of the stories written after his death made mention of his devotion, sometimes to the point where his storied basketball career seemed to be secondary. What were two decades on the court compared to more than five decades in the stands — and on the stage? (Walton famously joined the Grateful Dead offshoot band Dead & Company onstage as a white-bearded, rose-crowned Father Time for its 50th anniversary celebration in 2015.) Drummer Mickey Hart recalled that his dear friend Walton would “regularly send messages that said, ‘Thank you for my life.’ He was the biggest Deadhead in the world and used our music as the soundtrack of his life.”

Three days after Walton’s death, Dead & Company paid tribute to him during a performance of his favorite Dead song, “Fire on the Mountain.” The biggest Deadhead got the biggest sendoff: his image, name, and player number 32 splayed across the gargantuan curved screen of the Las Vegas Sphere, where Dead & Company are in residence until August 10. They started their run in May, after finishing their farewell tour in July of last year, and my wife was in attendance opening night. When she returned, she insisted that she needed to go back — this time, with me. She insisted that Dead & Company was not simply a glorified cover band, rehashing old favorites with the help of relative youngster John Mayer. She insisted that the band was revitalized, in an almost literal sense: the Grateful Dead were alive again, somehow, lo these 30 years after the death of founding member Jerry Garcia.

She knew just what to say. Like many fans, I had thought the Grateful Dead era ended when Garcia died. My wife understood my feeling, if only because she was a little like Walton and other devotees who talked about the Dead — and Garcia in particular — in tones that bordered on the religious.

Garcia was a reluctant high priest — he saw himself as a working man — but that didn’t stop the true believers, even if the best they could offer to explain themselves was, “They are a band beyond description,” one that provided, through their music and the community that formed around it, the closest thing to a religious experience they had ever found. “I am the human being that I am today because of the Grateful Dead,” Walton once said. And like converts, it wasn’t enough for them to attend; they had to tell the world, convince them to come along. “You’ve got to get on the bus, man!” They were friendly, wide-eyed, hopeful you’d join them. But for many, including myself, it felt like they were trying to describe a rainbow to a blind person.

On May 5th, 1990, I got on the bus — or tried to. My best friend at the time was a drummer named Steve Harris. He know I was into progressive rock: polished bands delivering tight performances of frequently complex music. He did not care. He insisted that the Dead were something I had to see, “a band beyond description.” He bought me tickets to see a set of weekend shows in a field at Cal State Dominguez Hills. He proudly declared that these were his first Miracles. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he had a sincerity that was hard to resist, and it seemed important to him that he share this experience with me. Besides: free tickets.

We wound up sitting on the grass, fairly close to the stage. It was extremely hot. A lady seated in front of us said, to no one in particular, “I wish I knew somebody who was at their first show.” Steve quickly let her know that I was just what she was looking for. “Here,” she said, handing me a tiny square of colored paper. “Eat this.” I looked at Steve for reassurance. He was happy to provide it. That set us up for a 16-hour psychedelic ride. But before the acid kicked in, the band strolled onstage and spent what seemed like five minutes tuning their instruments. I had never seen that before, or heard it. It sounded…disorganized. And when they started playing, they kind of fell into the song. The vocals seemed sloppy. I didn’t hear any of the songs I had heard the band play on the radio. The rest of the crowd seemed to approve, but I didn’t get it.

Then they took a break, and when they came back, well, only the drummer came back. The drummer played for what seemed a long time, and when the rest of the band came out, they started doing the strangest thing I had ever heard musicians do. It seemed like they were playing badly on purpose, making sounds that did not link together in any discernible way. By this point, I was thoroughly altered, and the discord sounded weird and even ominous.

By way of consolation, Steve leaned over and said simply, “Space.” I was not consoled. I was annoyed. I had heard so much hype about how good these guys were. Then, finally, they started in on a song that the crowd seemed to recognize, and it was like the whole audience exhaled and relaxed in unison. Then this guy who looked more like somebody’s grandfather than a rock and roll star started to sing something about needing a miracle every day. Steve leaned over again, and explained that a miracle wasn’t just a free concert ticket — it was a gift.

By this point, the LSD had taken hold. I had never experienced it before, and after an hour, I found it close to overwhelming. When we left the venue, we were in no condition to drive. So we sat in Steve’s car, and he played his current favorite Dead song on his car stereo — a slower number called “Box of Rain.” He explained that the song was about the bass player’s father dying of cancer. I remember still not getting it. I remember saying that they sounded like a low-budget Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with passable but loose harmonies.

Later, my friend Steve died of cancer. Now, when I hear the song “Box of Rain,” I am taken back to the good times we shared before the sickness blossomed in him like a poison flower, and invariably, I will weep. The song has become a time stamp for a moment in my life. It hits deep. But even so, and even though I saw the Dead again a year after that first “miracle,” I did not become a Deadhead until I saw the band’s current iteration at The Sphere. The Dead are an acquired taste; it took me three decades to acquire it.

My wife kept showing me videos taken of Dead & Company at The Sphere. She told me it was a must-see event, that the venue was as much a part of the show as the band, and the internet seemed to share her opinion. Okay then. But our flight out of San Diego was delayed, and despite skipping dinner and making a mad dash to the venue, we arrived after the show started. I should have been soured on the whole experience, but the experience was too sweet for that.

Trying to describe The Sphere makes me sympathize with Deadheads trying to describe the Dead. I will say this: it feels like the future. There are something like 40 individual speakers per seat, and the sound is focused like a laser beam. One section might receive audio in Chinese and another in English, and there would be no confusion. Despite the sonic excellence, it was hard at first to judge the band’s music, because the visual experience was placing such a massive demand on my attention. The curved screen behind the band was enormous; the graphics, all but overwhelming.

But as I settled in, I found I couldn’t help but be impressed by the musicianship of John Mayer (and the rest of the Dead’s new blood). He was doing Jerry Garcia’s guitar licks, but taking them further. And while he got all the words in all the right places, he wasn’t trying to sound like Jerry. He was doing his own thing, and it was working. In short order, I was dancing along with the rest of the crowd.

Back in my younger days, when the band did their “drums and space” thing, that was bathroom and beverage time. No longer. This giant contraption with dozens of drums and assorted instruments was played by three members of the band — and that’s when I noticed the haptic seats. When the drums hit certain notes, I could feel it through the chair. The sound seemed to be three-dimensional, at times bouncing noticeably off the front, back, and sides of the Sphere. But it wasn’t like panning a speaker left and right; it was all around me. And then Mickey Hart did something with an instrument called The Beam that triggered light effects that were unlike anything I had ever experienced before. A one-hundred-and-fifty-foot brain appeared on the screen, the nerves pulsating as if stimulated by whatever it was he was doing. It was incredible! I would pay the ticket price just to see that one aspect again.

As it was, we came back for the Friday show with better seats, and again on Saturday. Each night, the emotional impact grew. The old favorite songs were new again. I started to get it, to understand why the Dead got so big, so ongoing, and why the scene is still so vibrant today. It’s something profound, something beyond music. After the last show, while we were doing the exit shuffle, riding the escalators down, we found ourselves face-to-face with people on another escalator. Our eyes met, and we started cheering, not for the band, but for each other. That’s the kind of love and goodwill I encountered.

Back home, I sought out the local Dead cover band scene. To my amazement, I found around a dozen. Does any other band have a dozen cover bands in one town, or 1800 nationwide, with at least six being full-time touring acts? Dead & Company called their Sphere residency “Dead Forever;” given what I saw and felt, it does seem like the long, strange trips will be going on for a long, long while.

— Albert Barlow

In 2023, Dead & Company announced that their current tour would be their last. They hadn’t played San Diego since 2021. I had to travel to Los Angeles to see the second show of that last tour at the Kia Forum and then to San Francisco to see the very the last one at Oracle Park. But just because they’re no longer touring doesn’t mean they’re no longer playing, which explains their residency at The Sphere. Or helps to explain it.

I frequent a bar in Coronado. One of the bartenders there is Cassie. She’s tall, with dusty blonde hair, the most beautiful brown eyes I’ve ever seen, and she’s drop dead gorgeous. That aside, she’s got heart and soul and is a Deadhead. One day, I went in for a beer. Cassie gave me a wide smile; her eyes sparkled. “I just got a bunch of tickets for Dead & Company shows at The Sphere.”

My interest was piqued. “How do I get in on that action?”

“I got tickets for the first weekend and second weekend. I think we’re going on the second weekend.”

“That’s the weekend I want to go!”

Buzz began to build within the local Dead community; people wanted to know who was going to which show. It intensified when the first clips hit the internet after the opening show on May 16. I didn’t want my experience to be spoiled, so I resolved to avoid them. But the thing about spectacles is that you want to look at them. Happily, they didn’t lessen my excitement about the real thing.

Cassie, her friend Fil, Evan and I were the Coronado Tribe, headed for the May 24 show. Unlike Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, we opted to fly instead of drive. (Cassie let me know which flight to book and already had a hotel lined up.) Like Duke and Gonzo, we had plenty of drugs to keep us company: eight hits of LSD (4 microfiche and 4 liquid gels), five infused joints with kief and rosin, one pressed Ecstasy pill, sixteen Molly caps, four cannabis pens, one bottle of 1000 milligrams of THC tincture, and a quarter of mushrooms.

That Friday morning, Evan came to pick me up in his golf cart. Golf carts are not uncommon on the streets of Coronado. Evan is 26, and is in the Navy. The Navy promises one sort of adventure; our journey promised an entirely different sort. We met Cassie and her roommate Luke at their place to catch a Lyft to the airport. (Luke was heading to London and his flight was around the same time as ours.) Fil was already inside the airport bar, waiting for us and drinking a beer. Cassie and Evan opted for Starbucks, but I stayed with Fil and ordered a $14 Tito’s & soda on the rocks. I’m not a big fan of flying, so a stiff drink was in order. Fil is 43, svelte, and has eyes that pierce into one’s soul. That gives him authenticity.

We arrived at our hotel around 1:30. Fil had arranged for a suite at the Hilton Grand Vacations Club. After unpacking, it was time to change into our Dead attire and head out to Shakedown Street. For non-Deadheads, Shakedown Street is the designated vending area set up in the parking lots of Grateful Dead concerts. Vendors sell clothing, jewelry, arts and crafts, food, drinks, and illicit items. In this case, Shakedown Street was at Tuscany Suites & Casino, less than a mile away from The Sphere. We arrived at 4 pm, and after we had taken a couple of laps around the lot, we concluded that it wasn’t as robust as others we had visited. (I recently learned that the vendors eventually moved inside the hotel due to the heat.) Fil noticed something odd: “I don’t hear any tanks or see any balloons! Headshops sell tanks here in Vegas, though.”

Cassie bought a hoodie and we decided to walk towards the Sphere. Along the way, we passed by Lawry’s Prime Rib Steakhouse on Howard Hughes Parkway. I was telling my crew that the place was an iconic restaurant when I noticed something else: “There’s a headshop!” Inside, we learned that 2.2-liter nitrous oxide tank prices ranged from $45-$99. We all pitched in for the $45 tank and some balloons. People sell nitrous balloons for up to $20 at shows.

We found a staircase at a shopping center across the street from the Sphere to do our balloons. But we got kicked out by security immediately after doing our first round. We decided to head into the Sphere parking lot to see if there was a space for us to do our thing. First thing we saw were police officers getting ready for their concert shift. We needed a different spot after that encounter. We looped around and found an abandoned parking lot. There, we were free to do our derelict activities: inhaling balloons, smoking joints, and playing music.

After our frolic it was time to march to the Sphere (but not before hiding what was left in our tank in the bushes). We found the line to the entrance. While in line, I saw fellow wordsmith Emily Elizabeth Allison from San Diego. I went to say hello and get her thoughts. This is what I got.

Dead Forever

Giant round belly

against the sky,

an egg, giving birth

within itself

to itself.

Outside-in

swirling dervish

calling across dry sun,

an unforeseen spectacle

so full of nothing

but offering something…

spiraling dreams

in a bubble

that no dawn can burst.

You are a memory

of past desert days

and simpler times.

You are the magic ball

of the future

telling fortunes

in rapid blinks,

sensory reminders

of parts of ourselves

that had been forgotten

and now beg to be

remembered.

You are a balloon

with its exhale

catapulting itself

against hopeful blue

sky water.

You are my bucket of joy

and then my hollow of grief.

I never could have known

how I would be swallowed

into your orbit

and spun within your cycle

of a million stars.

You remain for me

a single planet

unmoving

like a gift

with no corners

or ribbons

and seemingly no end.

Perhaps,

like Christmas,

your smile will subside

and you’ll start a new list

of naughty and nice.

But for now,

you are the wizard

behind the curtain

showing all the love

and unexpected tears

are my own.

Decades ago

I never could have imagined

you are rolling up to my gaze

like God’s spaceship,

offering a portal

that demands no vehicle

but breath.

You, round star,

watch my arrival

then spin behind me

as life pulls me away

back to the sea.

You are indifferent

to my comings and goings

and still, I see your wink

inviting me back

each week

to swim in your sphere.”

Our seats were in the 300 section. Once at our seats, we ingested our LSD. The information I was getting on social media was that the 300 and 400 sections were the best for catching all the visuals of the show, and the floor was good for dancing, spinning and being up close to the band. I haven’t experienced the floor yet. (I stress “yet!”), but confirmation can be provided that the 300 section is good for the visual aspects. Viz: the doors opened to the Grateful Dead House in Haight-Ashbury while the “Music Never Stopped” and then everyone was floating up into outer space. Not to mention standing underneath a waterfall, letting the water run between my fingers and catching the rain with my mouth, only to arrive at that cathartic moment viewing Jerry’s silhouette during “St. Stephen.” The crowd on the floor looked like amoebas moving in their pseudopodal state.

The show ended and it was time to find our tank. Cassie had a pin on it, but wasn’t confident one of our brains would work enough to get us there. Good thing I’ve had children, because my fatherly instincts for finding the child kicked in, and we found our parking lot and continued our derelict activities. There was enough in the tank for two more balloons, and we smoked a joint. That was night one.

Next day was recovery by the pool, drinking beers, hitting the vapes, putting tincture under our tongues and relaxing. At one point, Cassie sat up from her lounge position and declared, “We fucking deserve this! I know all of us work so hard!” After sufficient relaxation, the plan was to get cleaned up and head to the Venetian for the Dead exhibit they had there. When we arrived at the Venetian, we learned the exhibit was (and is )at the Palazzo. Exhibits about the history of the Grateful Dead; I probably don’t need to recommend that. Cassie, Evan and I started eating mushrooms at a microdose pace; we didn’t want to trip out too hard before the show.

The Palazzo connects to the Venetian, and the Venetian connects to the Sphere. Because we were in Vegas with some time to kill before the show, we all splintered off to do some gambling. We set a meeting spot, and after meeting at our designated rendezvous location, we shared our stories of being up and down and happy to lose only around $60. We all considered that a win.

Time to go to the show. Night two was not as intense and I was able to grasp and capture everything better because I was in a more stable state of mind. We all opted to head back to our hotel after the show because we had to wake up at 7 am for a 9:30 flight. Our flight back only took thirty-six minutes, but we were stuck on the tarmac for over an hour because there was a plane with maintenance problems stuck at our gate. That was the worst thing that happened on our trip.

There were firsts for each one of us. It was my first back-to-back shows. It was Cassie and Fil’s first indoor show. It was Evan’s first Dead show ever, and the first time he did LSD. He had moments of going deep inside himself, trembling and being confronted with moments from his youth. He made it out with enlightenment. None of that can explain, nor can anyone explain what happened. As Cassie said, “It’s inexplicable!” Our own experience is the one we have. I got to share and rejoice with my sister and brothers.

As the late Bill Walton (Rest In Power) once said, “We all won, and everybody wins.”

Gabriel Garcia

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