Tuesday, March 7, 2023




Johnny Staccato used to say, “reality is money.” That’s because all he had was an “un-real” life blowing a sax around the Latin Quarter in Paris, trading coinage for a baguette, fromage and pate.

If that’s true—reality is money—Montecito is the most “real” place on earth.

Start with “real” estate:  A million bucks will get you… nothing. (Two mil, a little something. Maybe.)

“Real” instead of pretend: Montecito is where TV and movie stars settle their bones when not in character. But just say “hey” and you’d prefer the characters they inhabit in front of the camera.

For every nine persons of wealth in this village there’s one conman pretending wealth, praying or preying for a piece of reality.

This means you never know what you’re running into at watering holes along Coast Village Road.

I’m sipping a Michter’s Manhattan, gazing at the grazing gangs of Montecito—a mix of plucked eyebrows, false lashes, hair extensions and face filler, add a jab of Botox (men too)—a case of money buying un-reality.

Piker rolls in, fresh from losing another job. 

Thirty-five years ago, Piker fell off a cliff, hit his head and wound-up with eight-year-old emotions plus a savant ability to cite whole passages of books and movies, especially The Big Lebowski, thinks he’s The Dude. Until Jeff Bridges shows up, a real possibility.


“Look at the bright side,” I say. “At least you broke your old record, two months.”

Part of Piker’s problem holding a job is the absence of a front-brain editor, says what he thinks. And he thinks way too much.

If you’ve ever been hollered at in Montecito for yakking on a cell phone, it was Piker. 

I call him Piker because he always wants someone to pay for his beer. If forced to ante up, he ignores eight percent sales tax and a tip—a twelve-buck-beer, unreal rents extended to the customer because reality belongs to the landlord.

“Will you buy me a beer?”


Dismayed, Piker shakes his mane and commences a ritual of sampling three beers, bang for his buck, settles on a hazy IPA.

“Why’d you lose your job this time, Piker?”

“Same as always. Attitude problem.” As if to demonstrate, he turns to face a lady two stools away yakking on a cell phone. “Would ya mind taking that outside?”

She gives him her back, keeps yakking.

I cringe. “Really, Piker?”

Piker throws up his arms. “I suffer from misophonia!”


“Certain sounds bother me.” He turns to the yakker, raises his voice.  “And it’s rude to talk on the phone loud in public!”

“Get real, Piker, Montecitans are entitled.” 

Real doesn’t count for Piker. He lives above his mother’s garage in un-real No-leta, the wrong side of Santa Barbara. Doesn’t pay rent, property tax, landscaping, maid service… and still won’t spring for a beer.

A barkeep’s evil eye doesn’t faze him. “Hey, I’ve been 86’d by the best.” 

Enter Miggle, pink linen shirt, floppy hat; chipper, dapper; eyes glancing around the babes. 

Miggle’s reality is polo. Or the pretty dyed blondes in sun dresses on polo prowl for Montecito billionaires (not Miggle), don’t matter if they’re married, or nonagenarian. As they say in ‘Cito, 92 is the new 72, ignore the oxygen tank.

“How’s polo, Miggle?”


He ain’t kidding. Anything over 80 degrees, Brits wilt.

Piker’s jealous I’m gabbing with someone else, huffs and puffs. I revert as Miggle orders gin and tonic, cool himself down. “How’s your girlfriend, Piker?”

“She’s going through a spiritual transformation of biblical proportions but it’s not always a linear progression.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means she gives me kernels and I want a whole bowl of popcorn!  I get a text from her at 2:27 a.m.”  He shakes his head, exasperated. “What is she doing up at 2:27 a.m.?” 

“Jealous, Piker?”

“No. There’s a way of programming your texts to arrive at a certain time. That’s what she did.”

I stir Michter juice with my Luxardo cherry cocktail skewer. “Why would she do that?”

“Because she knows I’m sleeping so I can’t text or call her right back.”

“What makes her think you would?”

“’I always do when she texts.  But she never answers."

“When did you last see her, anyway."

“Thanksgiving, 2019.”

I calculate the months. “You haven’t seen your girlfriend in three-and-a-quarter years?”

Piker shakes his head. “She’s avoiding me.”

“So, what’s your next step?”

“Lay low,” he says, “I’m giving it till the end of 2023. Unless someone else comes along.”

“Piker, you’re unreal. You live over your mother’s garage and can’t keep a job.  Who in this town is likely to come along?”

“I’m gonna get into computer science,” he says, as if that solves the problem.

But such a notion poses its own problem. “You’re not even good with cables,” I say.

“Let’s go hear Brandon sing,” says Piker, changing the subject.

“You can’t afford the Miramar,” I say.

“I can afford water,” he says. “And my psychiatrist gave me some capsules.”

Piker is on a psilocybin protocol for depression. Or misophonia. Or lack of a front-brain editor.  Probably all three.

“Can you spare any?” Micro-dosing on magic mushrooms used to be just a Silicon Valley thing, worked its way south to ‘Cito, taken it by storm.

“Will you buy my beer?”

Next scene: The Manor Bar, Manhattan-meets-Montecito, micro-dosing psilocybin.

When you’re on mushrooms, colorful bottles glittering on backlit shelves are suddenly significant. And since set-and-setting is important, wood paneled walls, low wattage table lamps and plush chairs are a good fit—so long as none of the usual antagonists show up and spoil the vibe.

And then there’s Brandon Wattz, singing two hours straight, never missing a note—high, low, everything in betwixt. “Me and Mrs. Jones” plus myself, lost in a new reality where money don’t matter.

Looking around, I’m struck by an epiphany: ‘Cito’s people-scape has changed. It started with the ‘slide of 2018—some call it a debris flow. A lotta folks slid away, Idaho or Montana. Then Covid struck and LA folks with money dodged the cooties by moving up here, gave us theirs.

Montecito was always Hollywood North. Now it’s Beverly Hills-Brentwood-Santa Monica-North, living behind hedges.

Lenny Black—a cross between Woody Allen and Anthony Fauci—blurs by, torso forward, hands clasped behind his back like Groucho Marx. Management should know he’s top dog at a ‘Cito saloon but they don’t—or don’t care. 

Lenny thought he’d catch a tune, maybe prowl for a gal. But after skulking the bar for a non-existent perch, flames out, blurs bye-bye.

Montecito should be a reality show, money or no.

And now it is. Only on Substack.