Oh, The Places You Were Supposed To Go
It’s 3:42pm. I’m standing in the lobby of a shitty building in North Hollywood. There’s an entrance to a bank outside the elevator bank where I’m waiting, and judging the covers of every “book,” I’m fairly certain this place could be robbed at any moment. Is someone going to come down to get me or what? I was supposed to go up for an interview at 3:30. I’ve now read the woman from HR’s email 15 times (yes, I did “dress appropriately,” thanks for reminding me. I didn’t realize it was 1992). I have called her desk line and cell phone, like she said, in order to get buzzed up. I’m assuming I need to be buzzed up because of all the bank robberies that must occur. WHY AM I HERE. I call again. No answer. 3:48. I send an email to HR lady and the guy I’m supposed to meet with. Subject line only: “In Lobby Waiting for Access Up.” I realize this already makes me looks demanding, but my legs are cold because I’m wearing an “appropriate” dress and the wind tunnel between the parking lot and entrance to the bank will undoubtedly cause hoo-ha hypothermia if I stay here any longer. I realize I better text Peter and tell him if he never hears from me again, it’s because I was caught in the line of fire during the bank robbery shootout. 3:53. I’M GIVING IT TWO MORE MINUTES AND I’M OUT OF HERE. I do want to join “the workforce” again, (aka make money) but I already hate this job. And this building. It smells like an old ashtray. 3:57. I check my email for a response. Nothing. Let me guess, the server is down… probably because the robbers have cut the wires in the bank. Why does my luck suck. This is not how I want to go. In 3 minutes I’m FOR REAL calling an audible and getting out of the world’s most dangerous building. I need to go to Whole Foods for more Miracle Noodles. Because Miracle Noodles are god’s gift from plant-based heaven.
A man emerges from the elevator and extends his hand. I know who he is. (The intra-web is a wonderful, wonderful thing).
“I’m so sorry, “ he says shaking my hand. “I just saw your email.”
“No worries. I was just about to leave. I’m glad you caught me,” I say with every ounce of patience and sweetness I have. I want to be at Whole Foods taking pictures of Cauliflower Tortillas and Coconut Chips and texting it to my girlfriends to find out if they’re approved on our diet. That’s my true calling. Food finding. Is that a job? It should be. I have a friend who can find anything you want on eBay for like a fraction of the price. I should find food for people.
Oh wait. That’s called Instacart. Ugh. I always miss the boat.
But back to this interview. This goddamn interview. That I applied for. Yep, I, ME, put MYSELF up to this. No one has a gun to my head. There’s no pressure, per se. Just three children. And our dwindling funds.
The party’s over. I need a job.
Be nice, Jenny. Be open minded, I tell myself as I walk through the office past a bullpen of what I assume are marketers- the kind that call me from some weird number in Colorado and I pick up knowing that I don’t know anyone in Colorado and hang up as soon as I hear them say, “Hi, Jennifer. This is—“ Click. I know it’s a water purification company (no it’s not), but the pool of marketers don’t look like they belong here. I feel like they should be selling me cell phones. From 1998. They’ve all got a special twinge of cheesiness- from overly gelled hair to black button downs with red ties, I wonder HOW I GOT HERE and feel a piece of my soul die as I walk past their desks with Fred leading the way. (Spoiler alert: That’s not Fred’s real name either).
Growing up, my mom used to tell me to always: “Play the game, Jenny. Play. The. Game.” It was basically her way of saying, suck it up, smile, and do what you need to do to get whatever it is you want. Well, I wanted to be an actress. From the time I was Oliver’s age, becoming a Broadway sensation was all I ever wanted. Once I got to NYU though, I shifted from dreams of singing on Broadway (‘cuz apparently you have to have a good voice for that) to dreams of being the next Neve Campbell. (Btw, If Party of 5 wasn’t everything to you at some point, we should not be friends). So from 1994-1998 I played the game by of course attending school, but also by taking on extra jobs… I nannied, I waitressed, I worked on campus for the registrar, and I waitressed some more. Oh, I also interned for a casting agent… I must have felt in my gut that acting wasn’t going to be my forever… Because for a brief moment I thought maybe I should be a casting agent. I had been told I was good enough but it was always about my looks—too fat, not fat enough, etc… And I thought: if I wasn’t going to ever have a role like Angela Chase aka lover and hater of all things Jordan Catalano (we are speaking the same language right?), then maybe I should FIND the next Claire Daines. Maybe I’m supposed to be behind the camera. Maybe I’m supposed to have a real job. Have a 9 to 5. A life. A family.
I did really want a family. I wanted to be a mom. I always knew that… from an early age. I mean, you don’t adopt 3 Cabbage Patch Dolls and give them names like Lorraine Scarlett if you aren’t serious about motherhood. So even in college, while studying under theater giants like William Macy and Felicity Huffman, I think I sort of had one foot out the backdoor, so to speak. Perhaps I didn’t “want it enough?” That’s what one talent manager once told me.
Of course, I was also told this 4 years later when I was back in LA and working as a programming assistant to two big executives at a television studio. “We don’t think you want it enough,” they said to me after 6 glorious months (or maybe it was 3), of working their desks. “Also, you’re a super shitty assistant.” Okay, they didn’t say that but they didn’t have to. I dropped calls, I forgot to schedule appointments, and I didn’t kiss their asses. It also didn’t help that I cared more about auditing the writers’ workshop they mentored than doing whatever it was that I was supposed to do. Like order them lunch? Can’t these ladies walk to the commissary themselves and pick out their own salad.
Well, a couple months later I discovered that all industry executives expect a certain level of chopped salad ordering skills. This time, I was going to get it right (because I needed money) and because I was a temp for a MAJOR, I mean MAJOR Studio Head. I was filling in as the 3rd assistant and tasked with helping his wife who had her own production arm. In addition to holding the garbanzo beans on the salad and putting shoes on hold for her at Nieman’s, I also was asked to read a script and give my thoughts. I turned in my coverage and apparently did it well. I was then asked to stay on and be their assistant, but stupidly I declined. I wanted to move up. I feared that maybe I would be stuck making dinner reservations for them and delivering messages to their kids through their nannies. *I* was the one with IDEAS. STORIES. EXPERIENCE. (Did I mention I had already spent a year as a production assistant on a show featuring celebrity homes. No spoiler needed: It was actually called that). I was more than a lunch picker upper. So hear me fucking roaaaar.
Unfortunately, my next job/ boss liked my lunch picking skills too and I found myself on daily calls with Koo Koo Roo placing his order. (Goddamn this motherfucker likes chicken. Change it up, dude. Change it up). My favorite thing about being his assistant was the fact that I had full access to his Variety and Hollywood Reporter; every morning he would walk by my desk, sweep them up, and politely PLOP them back down on his way back from the bathroom. Glamorous, I know.
One day though, the pooped on trades became my lucky charm. I had had this idea brewing for a screenplay about a girl who is cast in a dating reality show but falls in love with the producer instead. People, if you think this is lame and unoriginal, let me remind you this was 2002 or maybe 2003! I got the idea from my “acting days” when I auditioned for a little show called “Blind Date.” They needed actors, because there wasn’t a thing called “reality” yet. Anyway, one day, post poop (his, not mine), I picked up the Hollywood Reporter and read some article about some management company that just sold a romantic comedy. The name of one of the executives rang a bell… I looked at my boss’ calendar. They had a call coming up in the next day or so. I have no idea what gave me the courage to do it, but when she called in, before plugging her through, I told her I read the article and that I too had a romantic comedy written (I did not. Not yet) and would she maybe consider reading it. She said yes, and I then spent the next 4 months banging out a pretty cute script with my then writing partner. Not only did this executive read it, but it shopped around at dozens of production companies and we met with many of them- including the one where I temped as the third assistant.
Sadly, the script came very close to selling, but it never did. And I found myself ordering Koo Koo Roo for another few years.
Speaking of chicken, as I sit at this interview across from Frank, I envision what future lunch breaks would look like if I ever had to work there. I wonder who might be the Michael Scott of the office. Would I be the Pam? Frank is definitely Dwight.
I mean that’s how bad this is.
“Tell me a little bit about your experience with photo shop,” Frank asks with a piercing grin.
“I don’t have any experience with photo shop,” I say a bit apologetically.
“Okay, well that’s fine. We can teach you.” I smile and nod but my heart is saying, “I’m really not interested in learning photoshop, okay. I just spent the last month having my 10 year old teach me how to use certain filters on instagram. This is about all the photo editing skills I can handle at this moment.”
Fred asks me a bunch of lame questions about my experience as a Web Content Strategist and Social Media Manager. As I explain to him my role(s), I realize that I probably register somewhere near “Meh” on this particular career trajectory. Is that really where I was supposed to end up?
“So I think I will want you to meet (Insert the name of a man that sounds like he runs the Russian Mafia). When you meet him though, you’ll have to sell yourself. You’ll have to impress him.”
“I can do that.” You know that feeling of shame combined with nausea you get after you consume one too many taco supremes and bean and cheese burritos while crammed between two screaming babies on the ride home from Palm Springs after a 3-day weekend? (Oh, wait. Is that just me?) Well, that’s how I felt.
Frank ended our interview by asking the most important question: “What is your desired salary?” I’ll spare you the back and forth on this short-lived convo, but let’s put it this way. My answer basically made him choke, shut down the interview and the chance to ever work there. (Was it wrong to ask for 2 million dollars a year?)
I walked to my car and took a deep breath. That was a big fat fucking waste of time.
But as I sit here tonight, coming down from watching The Golden Globes, I kind of feel like maybe my little meet and greet with Frank was worth every second. Maybe it was an out of the way – cheesily dressed- roasted cauliflower sacrificed-opportunity to tell ANOTHER STORY. Tonight Queen Oprah said “speaking your truth is the most powerful thing we all have.” I know this mostly pertains to the brave and courageous women that have come forward during the #MeToo movement, but her speech resonated with me (as they are wont to do). My interview with Frank and the 30 minutes I spent rehashing every career step that led me to an office that made me feel like I could leave with a staph infection, was ultimately the chance for me to once again walk away feeling like I should be doing something else. THIS. WRITING THIS. MY truth. Telling my story.
So…Frank… Thanks for the memories I guess. By the way, should you call me and not be able to reach me, please know that I am likely at lunch, attempting to eat my own chopped salad while my assistant (aka Oliver, age 2) deletes every app from my phone. Kids these days….