Things For People

No strong convictions about this blog site to speak of. Just occasional musings inspired by things that transpire outside my window: LAPD helicopters searching for fugitives, transvestite prostitutes wrestling with their pimps at 3am, and the chubby kid next door who sings in the shower 4 times per day.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I'm a married man now. Most married men I know can know...stuff. Fix cars. Put a new roof on. Plumbing. Surely, now that I am also married, the knowledge of these mysterious arts were bestowed upon me when I uttered the pivotal words, "I do." Much in the way that a baby bird one day is pushed from the nest by his mother and suddenly grasps the majesty of flight. I have a giant bald spot like a married grown up. I find that I can drink 3 cups of coffee before bed and still sleep through an earthquake like a married grown up. I have had more than one casual conversation about my prostate with other married men. It all fits right?

So when I discovered a tiny leak in the water supply valve connected to our downstairs toilet, I instinctively knew that I could fix it. So off to the hardware store I went. "Excuse me, can you tell me where the plumbing section is?" I felt so proud asking this question. Now Jimmy, the guy who works at OSH, knows that I am a married grown up. A real-high roller I am. He points me in the right direction and I head to an area to find a replacement toilet water supply valve. There were about 500 of them. All different. Some had nuts sticking out on the sides. Some had a nut on one side and threads on the other. Some had 3 nuts and no threads, all at different angles. Some nuts were in the bag, not connected to anything. Then I started to go nuts. Not a single one looked like the valve on our toilet.

But, confidently, I knew that my newly acquired knowledge of all things fix-it would point me in the right direction. So I picked one. I bought that and a large bag of black licorice which I mostly finished before I was out of the parking lot. Because grown-ups eat black licorice. I knew it would make me strong for the job ahead.

I arrived home and went into the basement for the toolbox. I sifted through the ragtag bunch of hand-me-down tools, trying to decide what I would need. Windshield ice scraper? Mmm...probably not. Can of Fix-A-Flat that expired in 2003? Perhaps. Let's start with a wrench and some pliers. I headed back upstairs to the bathroom and laid out a nice work area with my tools, parts, and a hot cup of joe. I even had black dress socks on with my flip flops. Now that's grown up. I inspected our leaky water supply valve. Like a doctor examining a patient. Very thoroughly. Then I looked over at the replacement part I purchased from OSH. Then I looked at our leaky valve. Then back at the replacement part. This went on for about 5 minutes. I needed a break.

Being somewhat computer savvy, I decided to check out some videos on the You Tube for a little guidance. What a great resource! Not only was I able to discover several step by step videos guiding me through the whole process, I also discovered that I didn't have a single supply required to do it. Back to the hardware store. Only this time I chose a different hardware store. You see, if you go to the same hardware store twice because you mistakenly bought the wrong thing, then you're caught. Then they know you don't know what you're doing. They'll talk about you on their smoke breaks. "Did you see that jackass in the plumbing section?" It's like taking a mistress to the same restaurant that you frequent with your wife and kids. At TruValue, I was anonymous. An anonymous plumbing expert.

As I stared at a wall containing 500 other replacement supply valves that didn't look anything like the 500 at the first hardware store, Cesar recognized the stroke affecting the left side of my face and helpfully asked me if I needed anything. "Is there a standard size for replacement supply valves on home toilets?" Cesar asked me if the pipes were galvanized. I wasn't sure how to answer that question since the only context I could think of for using the word 'galvanized' was 'The rebels were galvanized in their plight to overthrow a ruthless dictator.' My confidence was waning. But I really wanted to be a big-shot, so I couldn't bear the thought of telling him I didn't know what a galvanized pipe was. "I think it's partially galvanized." He looked at me for a long, long time. "Why don't you just take these two. If one of them doesn't work, you can bring the other one back for a refund." Thanks Cesar.

Our condo complex only has one water shutoff. If I turn the water off in our condo, I have to turn the water off in the other 5 condos connected to our building. I thought it neighborly to wait until midnight to start this project so as not to interrupt everyone's Sunday afternoon. So off I went to wait tables for 6 hours. So many unruly children. So many unhappy people. So much pain...

Back at home from work. I was really quite excited to start this project. Plus, Anne was home, so I could show her what a reliable and resourceful husband I am. "You need any help?" "Nope, I'm good. You just relax." I've got it all under control. All under control...

It only took me about 20 minutes to remove the old supply valve and install the new one. I did it just like the You Tube video instructed. Everything fit nicely. I went down to turn the water back on to the condo and came back to congratulate myself on a job well done. I went into the bathroom and there were no leaks where there had been before. was a new leak. The mother of all leaks coming straight out of the copper pipe. Shooting up to the ceiling. Shooting me in the crotch. How the hell did that happen. I wadded my ego up into a little ball and threw it into the trash. "Anne, can you come help me?"

I asked her to go to the front of the building and shut the water supply off so that I could readjust the fitting. Just like the video. I mean, exactly. I called her to turn the water back on. Hallelujah! Now the leak is even bigger! "TURN IT OFF, TURN IT OFF, TURN IT OFF!"

We were at Defcon 5 now. I started the reassembly process over. Only this time I needed Anne to hold one tool while I turned the other tool. So as to ensure that everything was perfectly snug and pointing in the right direction. I don't know why they put the water supply valve in a place where only a spider monkey with a contractor's license can reach it, but we were on top of each other. Anne's face almost in the toilet tank. My legs cramped around the bowl and my head sort of upside down-ish. By this time my patience was running out. I was getting that adrenaline surge that allows a baby to lift an overturned car off of his mother. Man, that fitting was on tight now. You'd need a blowtorch to get it off again. I sent Anne back down to turn the water back on. Our HOA president came outside because he thought that a burglar was lurking around in the bushes. By this time it was 1:30 am. I called Anne. "Go ahead and turn it on." The leak...was...even...bigger. "S**T! F**K! ASSBASTARD!!!" My outburst sent Pickle, our dog, upstairs and under the bed, where she shivered in the dark for 20 minutes before Anne found her. I'm sure our next door neighbors were convinced that things weren't working out too well for the newlyweds.

See, the problem we had now was that I had to admit to myself that I could not fix this problem. But that also meant that I couldn't turn the water back on for the condo at all until a plumber could fix the problem. So when 5 other units awoke to have showers, brush their teeth, and make coffee on Monday morning...there would be no water. Anne suggested we should call a 24 hour plumber. I knew we would pay a ridiculously high price for that. I had experienced it with a 24 hour locksmith. 24 hour also means 24 times what it would normally cost to do the job. I think she saw some crazy in my eyes, so she didn't push the issue. She's good that way. I paced, and I thought, and I paced, and I thought of any possible solution to this problem. We went downstairs to watch the "how-to" videos that showed me how to do this in the first place. "You see Anne? You see? Didn't we do exactly that? Didn't we? Here, watch it again. Isn't that what we did? I did that right there right? Didn't I"? I found myself talking defiantly to the computer. Scolding the teacher for giving me a bad grade when I followed instructions exactly. As if You Tube would come upstairs and fix the leak since it was its fault that the problem wasn't solved. Anne just quietly looked at me. The way that we look at the yelling people all over Los Angeles who push around shopping carts full of empty cans and bags of garbage. She finally had had enough and decided to go to bed. I couldn't blame her. I wasn't good company.

As a last resort, I went upstairs to the leaky valve to give it a last once over. Then a Eureka moment came over me. I picked up my hammer and I banged it. And I hit it, and I banged it, and I hit it. It didn't fix anything, but it made me feel a little better.

I decided that the best thing to do would be to set my alarm for 5:30 am and turn the water back on for the complex so that people could live their lives in the morning before work, and sit under the leak with some towels and a mixing bowl to avoid any water damage. I had let my neighbors know the day before what was going on, and sent them a follow-up email at 2:30 am, hoping they would check their email before work. I shut the water off, and went to bed for 2 1/2 hours.

5:30 AM -- The alarm goes off. "S**T! Where am I? Am I at summer camp? NO! I'm late for school!" It took a couple of minutes for the confusion to wear off. I took Pickle down with me for her morning walk. It was still dark, so she seemed a little out of sorts. On my way back, I stopped at the water shut-off and turned the water on, as I had promised my neighbors. Back in the house, I discovered that the leak seemed manageable by just setting a bowl under it to change out every few minutes. But as the pressure built, things began to get out of control again. I had no choice but to shut off the water supply again, hoping that by 7:00 everyone else had already taken a shower and would soon be heading to work. By this time I just decided to take the whole leaking assembly off of the copper pipe leading into the bathroom so that the plumber would be able to start fresh with the pipe.

After shutting the water off I went downstairs to look for plumbers who could come over fast. As I meandered through various websites, I heard a familiar sound. Like a shower or sprinkler. "NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!" I sprinted back upstairs in a panic. As I flew past Pickle, she got spooked again and hid in the pillows on the couch. Some jerk had gone to the water shut off valve and turned the water back on. Now, mind you, maybe they hadn't checked any of their emails. So I gave them the benefit of the doubt. But wouldn't you think that if the water supply valve is shut off, it's shut off for a reason, and might be worth investigating?

Since I had only an exposed copper pipe leading into the downstairs bathroom, a flood of water was spewing forth as if a prankster had run a garden hose in through the open window into the bathroom. I was almost up to my ankles before I was able to jam the leaky water supply valve back onto the pipe, to at least mitigate some of the leaking. By the time I was able to get outside to find out who had turned the water back on, whoever it was already was enjoying a nice, warm shower.

A few of the neighbors called me to find out how the plumbing was going, so I was able to narrow down the mysterious water-turner-onner culprit to 2 units. One is a really nice couple with a new baby. But he has had some plumbing problems of his own, so I suspect that he wouldn't just go turn the water supply back on without checking to see if something was going on. The other is a couple who really don't speak to anyone and I have found to be somewhat off-putting. But, the HOA is starting legal action to begin foreclosure on their property as they haven't paid their HOA dues in over a year. I'm on the HOA board. Payback's a bitch.

The plumber showed up at 9am and fixed the problem in 4 minutes. I laid down to try to sleep for a couple more hours, but Slingblade who lives at the adjacent house decided to mow the lawn just as I crawled back into bed. So, I'm on my 5th cup of coffee, and am wondering if we should look into getting Pickle into therapy for PTSD.


Well...after 7 years I finally did a commercial spot as a featured extra that now allows me to join the Screen Actor's Guild.  People have told me along the way that, "You'll start booking commercials when you don't care anymore."  I had definitely reached that point.  After almost a decade of being trapped in the catch 22 that is union work in California I was basically done with auditions. 

See, to book any union commercials, you need to be a member of the Screen Actor's Guild.  But to become a member of the Screen Actor's Guild you need to have booked a union commercial.  It's like walking into a store called "Hank's Hammers" to buy a hammer only to be told, "We only sell screwdrivers."  I had auditioned for SAG commercials before and had some callbacks, but ultimately they wouldn't hire me because I was non-union. 

I had practically forgotten that I even had a commercial agent.  She called me last week to go in for a Jenny Craig spot.  I didn't have much information, and at the audition the casting director told me to eat chips and pretend to watch a football game.  If I can do nothing else in this world, I know that I can eat and watch football.  I thought, "If I can't nail this I'm going to have to renounce my citizenship."

The whole process took about 70 seconds and the casting director said, "Okay, thanks."  Two days later my agent called me to say that I needed to be available for the shoot.  That didn't necessarily mean I had been hired.  It meant that they had a small pool of people that the client was looking at, and that I had managed to end up in the pool.  So I cancelled a lunch appointment with a friend and gave away my shift at work.  I was a little nervous about giving up any work since it's so close to mortgage time, but I didn't want to put my bosses in a bind.  They've been very flexible with me over the last several years.

On Wednesday evening my agent called.  "Hey Adam, quick question, are you SAG?"  ", I'm not." (just like it says on the top of my resume' which I assume is in front of you)  "Oh...uh...well...let me call you back."

I just knew it.  I had raced across town to make the audition, cancelled a lucrative work shift because the production company was seriously considering hiring me, and here I am...once again, ineligible because I'm not part of the union. 

My phone rings again.  It's my agent.  "Uh, yeah, they're not going to use you because you're not SAG."  So...great.  I'm out $150 for giving up a work shift and my agent doesn't even know I'm not in the union.  Needless to say, I wasn't pleased. 

This is precisely the type of scenario that had led me to conclude a couple of years ago that acting just isn't really my thing (besides the fact that I'm not a particularly great actor).  It wasn't the first time it had happened.  3 years ago I spent 12 hours of a 2 day low-budget science fiction shoot in a fancied-up bathrobe after being told, "This job pays $150 per day and you'll get a SAG voucher."  5 vouchers equals Screen Actors Guild eligibility.  At the end of the 12 hour shoot, looking like some kind of futuristic Euro-gay I asked the assistant director what I needed to sign to get paid and claim my voucher.  "Oh, your role doesn't pay anything.  You're non-union."  Oh, how neat.  That's neat.  "Well, then I won't be showing up tomorrow.  Hope you can hire someone who looks exactly like me in the next 7 hours."

So here I was again last week, interrupting a music recording session to field phone calls about why I was once again not going to be hired on a project that I didn't really want to audition for in the first place precisely because I knew they wouldn't hire me since I wasn't part of the union.  Just as I am preparing to call my agent back to say, "Just go ahead and take me off your roster," she calls me.

"It looks like they really want to use you anyway." 

"Uh...well, okay..."

Pardon me for being a cynic, but at this point I genuinely expected to show up at 7am for the shoot and spend 30 minutes in a makeup chair, only to be told, "Oh, there must be some mistake, you're non-union, we can't use you."

Realizing that I had to accept the things over which I had no control, I woke up at 5:30 and showed up on set at 7am sharp.

The location was a 9 million dollar house in Beverly Hills.  50 to 70 people were milling about like a factory, setting up enormous lights, wiring microphones, decorating rooms.  A guy who was dressed a little like me introduced himself.  "I'm Drake."  The assistant director walked over to us.  "Okay guys, you'll be out here for now."  He led us to a garage which had become a sort of staging area.  "We need to put together a holding area for actors coming in and out, so go ahead and clear out one side of the garage."

It seemed a little odd that I was being asked to work as a production assistant and an on-camera actor, but I'm not the type of person who says, "I can't be bothered to work, I'm a thespian."  Besides, moving gear seemed more appealing than standing around looking like I had no idea what I was doing there.  So we started moving things around.  A couple more crew guys showed up and introduced themselves.  We set up chairs, hauled cables, moved tables.  Once the garage had been cleared out, I took a seat and waited for someone to tell me what I was supposed to do.  The crew moved their operation to another area.  For 10 minutes or so I sat in the garage/dressing room by myself, listening to the sounds of a film set. 

Another actor showed up.  Full of energy, she sat down next to me and introduced herself.  And then she started chatting.  And chatting.  And chatting.  "I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this and I did this..." 

I'm not really the chatty type.  Even less so at 7am.  "Mm Hmm" I said.  "Mm hmm."  "Mm hmm."  (oh someone help me) "Mm hmm."  (anyone) "Mm hmm."   

Drake the crew guy re-entered the garage.  "Hey man are you working with us or not?" 

I stood up quickly and eagerly, "What do you need me to do?"

The actor next to me said to Drake, "Oh, he's on-camera, not production."

Drake looked at me, bewildered.  "And you were helping us move stuff?  Aw man...I'm sorry.  Thank you, thank you so much.  Man I'm really sorry."  He exited the garage.

I slowly sat down, defeated.

"...And then I did this and then I did this and then I did this and then I did this and then I did this and then I did this..."

"Mm hmm."

I wanted so badly to go help Drake move something...anything.  It also struck me as odd that he was so shocked that an actor picked up something heavy.  I really didn't mind, and it wasn't bad exercise.  As I discovered throughout the day, on a union set, everyone is in a different guild.  The members of that guild only do their job.  No one else gets involved with another person's job, even if it is deemed helpful.  Must be some kind of bylaw violation. 

Over time, more actors began arriving.  We all got to know each other a little bit.  Production put us in makeup and whisked us inside to the set.  The assistant director explained the scenario.  Basically we were to be featured extras, meaning we were "Joe Anybodys" at a football party at Valerie Bertinelli's house.  That sounded easy enough.  I started feeling a little uneasy though.  Internal alarm bells were slowly going off. 

See, members of SAG who work as extras on a commercial make around $300 per day.  I was the only non-union person there.  In fact, one of the other actors said, "I didn't think you could do this if you were non-union."  I just replyed, "I don't know man, I stopped asking questions a long time ago."  I did some non-union extra work when I first moved to Los Angeles.  It paid $55 dollars for 8 hours. 

Standing on a terrace overlooking a wooded area of Beverly Hills in a 9 million dollar home, I pondered whether I was going to earn a fraction of what I would have earned had I just kept my shift at the restaurant that night. 

I decided to brush all of that mumbo jumbo aside and just have fun for the day.  After all, I'm already here, right?

I leaned over to the 2nd assistant director, "Hey man is there a bathroom in here we can use?"  He wasn't sure, so he walked over to ask the 1st assistant director.  "You should have taken them all to the bathroom downstairs long before bringing them here."  The 2nd AD was trying to go to bat for me -- "I'll tell him to be quick."  I could tell the 1st AD was getting angry with the 2nd AD.  I walked over to them, "You know what guys, I'm good.  It's all good."  Man I really had to pee.  But how long could this take, right? 

We were escorted on set.  The director flirted with various scenarios for us to keep busy in the segment as Valerie Bertinelli delivered her lines.  He wanted it to look like a party after all.  The director decided all we needed to do was cheer for a touchdown and walk over to a table filled with party food.  And this table was FULL of food.  The set designer must have spent 2 hours cooking, arranging, rearranging, rearranging, and rearranging the food so that it looked perfect for the camera.  In fact, shooting was delayed 30 minutes while we waited for freshly baked pies to arrive. 

Once the pies were in place, and I mean meticulously in place, the director decided that there wasn't enough fun going on in the scene.  He thought it would be more exciting if, halfway through her lines, Valerie Bertinelli tossed a football over to me.  That's easy enough right?  Sure it is, except that the director had already decided to have me stand directly against the table full of 2 hours worth of meticulously decorated food.  The ball would be coming from Valerie Bertinelli, all the way over the food table, to me; just above the pies which had to be specially ordered from a bakery, and had already delayed production by 30 minutes.  So, basically, no matter how many takes we had to shoot of this scene, I had to catch 100% of the tosses that came my way.  If it took 3 takes, I had to catch 3 tosses.  If it took 50 takes, I had to catch 50 tosses.  Not 49...50. 

I don't have great hands.  I was a pretty good tackler and blocker, but my coaches passed on me at runningback because my hands just weren't good enough.  Not consistent enough.  The actor who was standing closest to me looked down at the pies in front of me, and then up at me.  He leaned over and whispered, "Man, if I was you I would be sweating my balls off right now."  Thanks buddy.  Thanks for the reassurance.

No rehearsal.  Just action. 

I had no idea if Valerie Bertinelli could toss a football.  Would she throw it poorly?  Would it come fast?  Slow?  High and arcing?  Did she have an arm like Brett Favre?  She was only about 12 feet away, but there was so much room for error.  So very much room for error.  And if she threw a bad pass that I couldn't catch, well, there go the pies.  The pies that would have to again be reordered, further delaying production. 

In Beverly Hills, if you go over production time, the police shut you down, and you have to come back the next day and start all over.  So basically, one of the only things assuring that this multi-million dollar commercial didn't have to spend another million dollars to set up and shoot the next day...was me.  Me, not dropping a pass into the pies in front of me.  And it didn't matter if it was Valerie Bertinelli throwing a bad pass, or me making a bad catch; if I dropped one, I was going to be so incredibly fired, and likely blacklisted from any commercial shoot ever again.

(please don't drop it please don't drop it please don't drop it)
(whew!  I caught it.  She tosses pretty good)

"I'd like to see another one, it just wasn't working for me.  Action!"
(here we go I can do this just catch it don't kill those pies and your career)
(thank God, another good toss)

I took the ball over to Mrs. Bertinelli.  She politely said thank you.  I said, "Thank you."  She probably didn't know why I was thanking her.  But the sweaty balls actor next to me who stood looking at me with wide-eyes that silently declared 'I hope you don't have to do this too many times' nodded.  He knew why. 

So we did another take.  And then another take.  And another.  And another.

As her arm warmed up, Mrs. Bertinelli grew more confident.  So she began tossing the ball more casually, without looking over at me.  And the tosses got wilder.  In one take I vertically leaped and caught it way over my head.  I caught one with one hand that zipped way to my left (I have never caught a football with one hand).  The actor next to me was right.  My testicles did in fact begin to perpire.

On the last take, when my senses had heightened to the point of being prepared for a sword-fight with a ninja, she threw a really bad one.  It made a beeline for the pumpkin pie in the table's centerpiece.  It was one of those end-over-end tosses where the ball just flops around in the air.  I must've said a little prayer to Jesus as my hands reached out over the pie.  The ball gingerly landed in my hands as the hairs on my knuckles ever so slightly brushed into the top micro layer of the pumpkin pie. 

"Cut.  Let's move on to the next take!" 

The assistant director whisked us back into the holding area and told us to wait for lunch.  As we all waited, napping, text-messaging, reading...Anne called to tell me that she was putting my headshot and resume' out by the front door because a courier needed to come by and deliver it to the casting company responsible for the commercial shoot.  They were going to "Taft-Hartley" me.  I don't understand all of the stipulations of the Taft-Hartley Act, but it basically means I don't have to scramble to collect vouchers over the next 30 years trying to accumulate enough to finally join the Screen Actors Guild.  I'm immediately eligible.  Just like that.  After 7 years.  And I couldn't care less about being an actor anymore.  Funny how that works.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Excuse me sir...

I had my first commercial audition in several months the other day. Occasionally I forget that I moved to Los Angeles to find work as an actor. I've become a pretty good waiter, though. Sometimes I even wash my uniform. I was instructed to show up at an address dressed as an upscale clothing salesman for a commercial that will air in Korea. That was all of the information I received. Sounded easy enough. The location was in an industrial area of downtown often referred to as skid row. It's an interesting melting pot that brings together a wide array of cultures. In many ways it resembles a U.N. retreat for tourists looking to experience immersion into a foreign society without actually leaving home: Little Tokyo, Little Bootleg Knockoff, Little Crackpipe Ho, Little Are You Looking At Me Hard? I made two professional mistakes before arriving at the casting location: 1. I hadn't stapled my headshot to my resume', 2. I hadn't left early enough to make sure parking would be available. My roommate assured me that a stapler would be available at the casting office, because "they have to staple the Polaroids to the headshots." She's an actual working actor, so I relied on her expertise to solve the first dilemma. To resolve the parking issue, I squeezed into a spot that allowed for my bent license plate to slightly caress the soft underbelly of the bumper of the car in front of me. I walked through an alleyway covered with gang-tags that indicated who owned the bricks on the lower quarter of the wall. I guess the business owners who pay taxes on the property own the top 3 quarters. But don't mess with the Eastside 50s. They own the bottom quarter. It says so in spray paint, so it's official. I entered the casting office and approached a Korean man serving as the gatekeeper. "Can I borrow your stapler for my headshot?" "I'm sorry, we don't have a stapler." Great. I have managed to fail at the most rudimentary level of any audition. I looked around at all of the other actors waiting to audition. Their headshots were all stapled to their resumes. One actor had a black bag that was large enough to contain a wide assortment of office supplies. "Can I borrow your stapler?" "Sorry, I don't have one." He had a stapler in that bag. I know he did. But he knew that I would have an advantage if he let me borrow it. I had to find a stapler somewhere before I went into the audition. I saw a man at a copy machine. Surely he had access to the coveted but elusive stapler. "Is there a stapler around here that I can use?" "Sorry, we don't keep staplers down here." "Hmm. Okay." Are you kidding me? What kind of an office building doesn't have a stapler? There is a copy machine the size of a Yugo, an artificial river running through the bottom floor of the building with decorative bridges allowing pedestrians to cross the river, and wall architecture that looks like an M.C. Escher illusion, but no stapler? It was as if the TSA had made a clean sweep through the building in case someone might eventually leave the casting office and hijack an airplane with a stapler. I needed a plan. I approached the Korean gatekeeper, whistling a happy tune in my head to make myself appear real innocent-like. He didn't know I was whistling a happy tune in my head. I just thought that if I was whistling a happy tune in my head he would surely know that my intentions were nothing but noble. "Do you have a bathroom here?" "Just across the bridge at the back of the building." The happy-whistle-tune in my head became the theme-song for Mission Impossible. Or maybe it was Spy Hunter. Or Peter Gunn. In any case, it was something covert. I casually sauntered across the bridge over the mysterious ancient indoor River of Lies and Stapler-Hiding on my way to the "bathroom." Surely there was an unoccupied office with a stapler sitting on a desk somewhere in this building. I would hold my breath, walk as if walking on air, tense my muscles as perspiration beaded upon my brow, and staple my headshot with ninja-quickness, escaping long before the absent office worker could smell my fingerprints. In the distance, I heard the familiar sound of fingers typing on a computer keyboard. Cautiously, I followed the direction of the sound, looking out of the corner of my eye to ensure that the Korean man at the front desk wasn't monitoring my relative distance to the bathroom. I observed a man diligently working at his computer. Near his computer screen sat the mother of all staplers: an Aceliner. "Excuse me sir, can I borrow your stapler?" "Are you talking to me?" Her voice confused me a little, as I was sure that the person I was talking to was a man. "Oh, sorry, I mean, ma'am." Think of something to cover yourself idiot! "I'm so sorry...I'm half from a distance you looked like a man." I could barely detect the scowl from behind her thick, coke-bottle glasses. As she handed me her stapler, she calmly and unemotionally said, "Boy, you're batting 1000 today aren't you." "I just...I..." "Just save yourself and don't say anything else." "Yes, ma'am." I stapled my headshot and resume as if I was doing it with my pants down in front of this lady who looked like a man. "Sorry." As I exited her office, she said "Good luck." She didn't mean "good luck." She wanted me to die. Die right there in her office. From something ugly. Like a mace or hammer. I walked back across the indoor man-made River of Shame and Disgrace and took my seat in front of the Korean man who looked at me like he knew I never went to the bathroom, even though I had asked where the bathroom was. "Mr. Adam, you're next." He pointed at me. Not in an indicating way, but in an accusing way. Like I had told people that Kim Jong Il had a funny haircut and I was going to pay handsomely. I sighed, and slowly walked up the long spiral staircase. (As I took each step, I remembered the first audition I ever had, 6 years ago. It was in Dallas. I was so nervous that my hands wouldn't stop shaking. I went into the bathroom to calm myself. I decided to pee with my headshot in my hand, managed to drop my headshot into the toilet while I was peeing, and peed all over my own face. All over my own ridiculous face, smiling up at me from inside the toilet bowl). As I reached the top of the staircase, I wished I had taken some business classes in college, so that I could do some business with the Power Point and the neckties and the meetings instead of this. The staircase led to a room resembling a doctor's office. There wasn't a bed or any medical supplies, but it was all very clinical. Behind a table sat 3 Koreans who didn't acknowledge me. I stood there patiently, weirdly. One of the men looked up. "Oh, sorry. Go over there and get the blouses." I walked over to the wall and picked up two women's blouses. "Stand in front of the camera. When I turn the music on, start dancing." I can't dance. No matter how hard I try. I can tackle pretty well. I can't dance. He pressed play on a boom box and a techno song came on. "Action." I started dancing, I guess. "More subtle, like you're having fun." I wasn't having fun. I felt naked, beaten. I danced some more, I think. "Okay, that's enough." The 3 men sat back down and looked at some paperwork as I stood there holding the blouses. "Okay, you can go." I hung the blouses back on the wall and made my way down the staircase. As I exited the building, I encountered a stray dog pooping on the grass in front of the casting office. He growled at me as he pooped.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Customer Service

There is a lot of discussion about the quality of customer service these days. Letters to the editor, radio call-in shows, etc. "Just ain't like it used to be...blah, blah, blah." I'd like to take a moment to discuss the quality of customers these days, just to put everything into perspective. Let's first take a look at the typical customer service representative -- Probably between the ages of 20 and 30, deeply in debt from college/automobile/home loans, maybe with a child. Maybe single with a child. This person once had, and likely still has ambition. Probably entered some sort of customer service field because it would help develop "people skills." This person wants to be reasonably safe, comfortable, and secure. Logically, one might conclude that this person would want to be as helpful as possible in their particular customer service job, as this is a quality which enables the customer service representative to advance in the field. With that in mind, it is perhaps unlikely to expect that the customer service representative wakes up every morning and decides, "I cannot wait to ruin someone's day -- maybe I can tell someone 'no' and back it up with the old 'that's just policy' routine. Or better yet, I can't wait for the fun I have when someone belittles my intelligence because they didn't read the directions on their VCR. Then we can argue and argue and argue. Then they can demand to speak to my supervisor and I'll get a nice reprimand." No, they probably don't think along these lines. More realistically, the customer service representative says some kind of prayer for patience and understanding, knowing that the average American is totally self-interested and determined to get what he/she wants, regardless of whether it is earned or deserved.

Having spent a good long while in the restaurant industry, I have experienced every possible customer service scenario imaginable. With this knowledge, I am providing the following guide to achieving the best possible customer service during your next visit to a restaurant.

"How to Be A Good Restaurant Customer"

1. Don't call a restaurant to ask them how busy they will be at such and such time. Ostensibly you are asking this question because you want to be able to micromanage every unforseen detail of your life. Subconsciously, you are in effect asking for a verbal contract that allows you to swell with righteous indignation if the restaurant is busier than they thought it would be. I have never seen a crystal ball at a host stand. The answer is, "We don't know." If the restaurant is successful, it will probably be busy. If it is not successful, you should probably eat somewhere else anyway. Plan accordingly. You would be surprised at how many times we have to answer this question on any given day. If the restaurant doesn't take reservations, it isn't to thwart your ambitions. If they take reservations for 6 or more, that means if you have 5 people in your party, they won't take your reservation. The short reason for that is 5 is a number less than 6, and whining will not change a universally agreed upon numerical system. The long reason is that in a small restaurant, if every restaurant in the table is reserved and all of the reservations are late, walk-in customers have nowhere to sit despite the fact that there is a restaurant full of empty tables. Don't make a reservation for 6 and show up as 5 with the old, "Herbert had to cancel." We're not stupid, and we're not non-profit. You are taking money away from the staff and from the restaurant when you try to bend a restaurant's policy to suit your needs. You will probably just end up waiting in line like the rest of the patient people who understand that businesses have reasons for running things the way that they do. Don't go to a busy restaurant during its peak hours and tell the staff you are in a hurry. There is virtually no way that you will be satisfied, and you will leave angry because the restaurant made you late to your next engagement. Do the math there and see if it adds up.

2. After arriving at the restaurant, wait patiently for your table. Don't ask the host every 10 minutes when your table is going to be ready. It's like a child in the back seat asking, "Are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet?" If you are asking about your table, so is every other person who can't seem to see that the restaurant is full. The answer is, "Your table will be ready when the people sitting at the tables finish eating." The host has no control over how long a family sits at a table. Can you imagine how a restaurant would do if you were told you had to hurry up and finish eating so that the next family can sit down? Your paranoia that the host will cut someone in front of you is unfounded. There is no need to walk around the restaurant to check how soon the tables will be finished. The host will do that. That's what they were hired for. I know that when I go out to eat I find it a little disturbing when strange people are hovering around my table, staring at me and my food. Restaurants aspire to make everyone happy. No matter how rude, how drunk, how cheap, or how loud you are. Restaurants will try to please you and will embarass themselves by tossing aside anything resembling dignity or justice to do so. Later I will discuss why you should not take advantage of this characteristic.

3. If you are sitting at the bar waiting for your table, order something and tip the bartender. It seems that no one has any money these days -- just credit cards. If that's the case, run it with the bartender and tip him, and then run it again with your server. If that's too inconvenient, it might become just as inconvenient for the bartender to put the top shelf liquor that you're paying for into your Pina Colada. Once he sees where you're sitting after taking up space at his bar and then giving him nothing, you may be drinking lots of bay rum out of a plastic bottle for premium prices. Yum yum, drink up.

4. When you have been seated at your table, stop talking when the waiter approaches. You can finish your conversation when the waiter leaves. This includes cell phones. Many waiters won't even approach a table if someone is talking on a cell phone, no matter how spastically you wave your arms to get the waiter's attention. Why? Because it's rude, and invariably there will be some kind of miscommunication while you argue with grandma over the phone about the green Christmas lights while trying to explain to the waiter that you can't eat red bell peppers. Waiters smile and crack jokes and make it look like their job is a real joy. They literally have 50-100 crucial things they are trying to remember and keep organized at any given time, and 15 to 20 other people at other tables demanding the waiter's undivided attention at all times. The waiter's job is to bring you what you want promptly and efficiently. It's just one of those fundamantal things about eating in a restaurant. Help the waiter do that by listening to what they have to say. They aren't there to make friends with you. They are there to provide valuable information that will improve your overall experience. I can't tell you how many times I have recited all of the ingredients in a special when 75% of the people at the table bothered to acknowledge my existence, only to be chastized for not telling the table about the peanuts and how they're allergic, when I had in fact told them about that very thing. Make eye contact with the waiter. Waiting tables can be a humiliating job at times. Customers who show even the most rudimentary level of respect can count on great service.

5. Order in a reasonable amount of time. For instance, if you sit at a table nursing a beer for an hour before ordering any food, you are essentially taking money away from the server. Restaurants are not lounges. In a lounge, you more or less order your own drinks from the bar, or sit at a table and spend money all night. In a standard restaurant, waiters make their money by customers coming and going -- sheer volume. If you take your sweet time ordering (i.e. more than 15 minutes), you have become an afterthought in the waiter's mind. Chances are you will be the last table on the server's list of things to pay attention to, because the waiter is now focused on giving the other tables extra special care to compensate for the money lost while you take up space in his/her section.

6. Don't create your own menu. Unless you're allergic to a particular food item or overly sensitive to spice, eat what's on the menu. If the restaurant is generally health conscious, you can rest assured that the chef, who spent years in culinary school and has likely studied the basics of nutrition has designed a menu that is reasonably tasty and health-conscious for the right price. Obviously if you hate cucumber, ask to have it removed. But don't ask to have a pasta dish that is made with cream sauce, linguini, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and scallops to be made with fettucini, broccoli, pine nuts, shrimp, and onions. The kitchen moves fast, they make what's on the menu every day, and English is often not their first language. When you design your own menu, it will probably take longer, and might not come out to your specifications. As a result you will complain and demand some compensation and tell all of your friends that the food at such and such restaurant is terrible. But remember -- you designed the menu. If you don't like the fare at a particular restaurant, eat somewhere else. At Burger King you can have it your way. It says so on the sign. Another scenario I've experienced more often than is humanly reasonable is this one: A person sits at the table, never looks at the menu, and then orders something like chicken fried steak. "I'm sorry sir, we don't carry chicken fried steak." "Well, what do you have then?" "Umm...why don't we open up the menu and take a look."

7. Get to know your server. I don't mean where they live, when they were born, etc. Pay attention to what they look like. This person is working for you. You are paying for their service. If you need something, talk to the person with whom you have been dealing since you sat down. If you know that you are high-maintenance (you know who you are) anticipate all of those idiosyncratic things you need and let the waiter know in advance. Otherwise you will be playing fetch with the waiter every time he/she brings you an item. They have other tables to attend to. The world doesn't start when you wake up and stop when you go to bed. Don't ask every other server who walks near your table for stuff. They are focused on taking care of the people who have hired their services in other sections of the restaurant. It is always amusing to see a table ordering from the bussers who walk by. The busser smiles and nods, and the people at the table have the "now that's how you get things done" kind of satisfied expressions on their faces. Fact is -- the busser has no idea what you just said and you probably won't get what you just asked for, even though you will blame your waiter for forgetting to bring it. The bussers don't usually speak English, but they work very, very hard to make sure that the tables are ready for people at the front who keep asking "When is my table ready, when is my table ready, when is my table ready?" Let them do their job. If you're wondering where your server is when you need something, you can bet they are tied up by a customer who thinks the server is their server and has them running back and forth for minutia. We aren't allowed to say no. Again, this is not something to abuse. Those of you who suffer from separation anxiety need not worry. The server will be back in a reasonable amount of time. It's their job to do so. If they have done a truly poor job, you can make that clear by the way that you tip. 20% for great service, 15% for average service, 10% for below average. It is never in your best interests to tip a server 0. I've met a few servers who always seemed like they were on the verge of going postal for any reason. Maybe she was a coke addict. Maybe his wife was leaving him. You don't want to end up on the front page of the paper over a meal do you?

8. When you have finished eating and don't intend to order anything else, pay your bill, and go away. If you sit at a table for 2 hours after completing your meal, you are effectively opening up a server's wallet, removing money from it, and lighting it on fire. It's cute that you haven't seen your ex in 5 years. Why not go back to your place and make out with him?

9. Paying the bill -- Don't argue in front of the waiter about who is going to pay the bill e.g. -- wrestling each other to give the credit card to the waiter, grabbing the check from the waiter and then wrestling over who gets to look at it, insisting that the waiter let you pay rather than the other guy. Let's face it -- we don't have time for that nonsense. Picture a group of schoolchildren in a sandbox. The teacher stands over the kids wrestling over a ball, yelling about it, and then blaming the teacher for not doing the right thing. It is not our responsibility to decide who pays the bill, nor do we care who pays the bill, so long as it is paid. Learn to make a decision and stick to it. That way you can avoid this absurd scenario. If you want to separate your checks, tell the waiter in advance. If you are a large party, pay with one bill. No, it is not because waiters are lazy and can't do math. Waiters walk roughly 5 miles per night with something in their hands at all times, running numbers like a calculator. It is because it is a waste of everyone's time. Invariably, someone from the party leaves early, drinks too much and forgets what he/she ordered, or doesn't effectively communicate what needs to go on each bill. While 7 credit cards are being run, one gets denied, and we have to fetch another one. Meanwhile, the 4 other tables that we are trying to take care of are wondering, "Where the hell is my waiter?" So in all of this melee', our tips are dropping with each passing moment. But clearly, it is our fault -- never the customer's.

10. When everything is said and done, if you truly feel that you have had a bad experience, don't tell on your waiter. Again, unless the waiter is drunk, rude, or dangerous, vote with your tip. You could have a good waiter who just happens to be having a rough night, or is dealing with a number of factors that cannot be controlled (kitchen is backed up, entire rack of glasses broke in the dish area, so forth and so on). They work hard at a job that doesn't pay a hell of a lot. Often they are single parents and/or are trying to put themselves through school. Will it really improve your quality of life by trying to get them fired? Remember the sandbox scenario? "Where's teacher? I'm telling, I'm telling, I'm telling!"

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do to get stellar service. Much of it comes down to common sense and simple decency. Things like -- not coming into a restaurant after it is closed and demanding to be seated (so that the employees can be home when their spouses expect them); not telling the restaurant employees how they can be doing their job better (feel free to leave us a business card and we'll come to your office to tell you how to do yours); asking when your food is going to be ready over and over again (most likely it will be ready when it is finished cooking), etc.

Getting back to why you should not abuse the restaurant's staff (which is probably why Europeans don't like Americans very much), there are "things" that can take place in a restaurant that you won't see. These "things" are not, of course, sanctioned by the restaurant. You won't even know that anything "strange" has taken place. For those customers who are merely obnoxious and childish, waiters will gather and discuss what an incredible moron you are. We will walk by one by one just to get a look at the bizarre, ridiculous specimen of a human being at table 67. Like a person at the zoo going to the baboon cage to look at those weird, weird butts. We will then regroup and dissect those very attributes about which you are most self-conscious (what a fat pig, look at that ridiculous toupee', holy crap that nose is hideous). For those customers who are downright offensive and demeaning, other "things" which you will remain unaware of may occur. And we'll just keep on smiling. Use your imagination -- like we do. I'll leave it at that.

I know, I know -- there are plenty of you out there who love to come back with the retort, "Nobody's forcing you to take a job in a restaurant." That's right pal. That's exactly right. Instead, we could be carjackers. Carjackers who noticed what you drove while you were berating the valet guy.

And finally -- when it just absolutely ruins your entire week or requires an additional trip to the therapist because your dressing didn't come out on the side, or because the lemons were slices rather than wedges, or because the beer wasn't quite cold enough -- maybe you can trade places with the woman in Indonesia who has an untreated broken jaw and has been walking barefoot through raw sewage for three months searching for her baby's corpse.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Laundry Day

Today is laundry day. There is a bar next door to the laundromat that serves up the best cheap hot pastrami sandwich in LA. The bartenders have loose wrists, so it ends up costing about the same to drink vodka and eat a meal as it does to feed an infinite number of quarters into the shaky yellow machines that have a maximum capacity of 2 shirts and a towel. There is a really pretty girl in the laundromat today. After a couple of drinks I decide that this will be the day I will employ some sveldt charm and approach her confidently. "What am I supposed to say to her? I'm wearing shorts that fit like a skirt, a poorly crafted, overly tight t-shirt, black socks, and tennis shoes. Plus, I smell like alcohol, cigarettes, and sweat." hmmm. ummm. hmmm. ummm. "Hey, wait a minute. She's wearing her laundry day clothes too. Maybe I should casually mention how everyone wears their worst clothes on laundry day because they don't care when they get washed again. Then I will give her the old heh heh. But what if that's what she wears all the time? She'll be offended. I could just be bold and ask her to join me at the bar next door. No, that's no good. She probably doesn't drink at noon on a Sunday." So, I decide to wing it. I follow her (non-threatening like) to where she is putting her clothes into a dryer. I put my clothes in the dryer right next to hers. "Ask what her name is, tell her you like the book she's reading, something, now you're just staring at her like a weirdo." Back to the bar. As I sip a vodka tonic I watch a hillbilly sporting event that turns out to be quite fascinating. A cowboy on a horse separates a cow from the rest of the confused herd of cows locked inside of a rodeo arena. Cows instinctively flock together (is that the right word? Do they bovine together? Bovine probably can't be used as a verb). When one is separated it desperately attempts to reunite itself with the herd. The cowboy and horse's job is to prevent the cow from reaching the herd. I notice that the cowboys aren’t doing much during this cat and mouse game. The horse knows what its role is, and with the cow it plays the old 'walking down a hallway as a stranger comes toward you, and you both try to avoid each other in the same direction, and subsequently compensate by shifting laterally in the other direction at the same time, and back and forth until someone finally says, "Would you like to dance?"' Maybe nobody says that, but they should say that because it's funny. Funny in the Gallagher way. Gallagher and his melon-smashing shenanigans. Time to pull the clothes out of the dryer. There she is. Looking all pretty and laundry day casual. She’s folding her clothes neatly as she removes them from the dryer, while I pull mine out in a lump sum and dump them into the cracked laundry basket that is lined with dog hair. One of my articles of clothing manages to fall from my dryer into the basket of clothes she was folding. Oh boy that's golden. Oh crap that's my underwear. Oh double crap that's the underwear that looks like it suicidally leapt into a blender. "Sorry," as I reach into her basket. "That's okay," as she smiles in such a way that makes my heavy, drunken breathing sound even more gross in comparison. Laundry day has become a special day. Special because I tend to overhear a multitude of conversations that transpire when no one realizes I'm listening. My favorite laundromat. At the end of the laundry session, the attendant always chases me down holding some article of clothing that I have managed to drop on my way out the door. "Hey, you forgot this!" He always runs. Always waves the sock or underwear or dishtowel like a surrender flag. I don't even know his name. I should know his name, because he keeps me fashionable. White socks, black shoes. Fashionable. Maybe someday I’ll ask him what his name is. For now, it is Miguel. Miguel Fernandez. A few weeks ago I managed to acquire a blue thong that slithered its way into my laundry basket on one of the special laundry days. I should get rid of it. A stranger's blue thong is technically unsanitary. But, I think I must have acquired it in a dryer, which means it was probably already washed, thus rendering it not-so-unsanitary. I tried it on. I guess it isn't really a thong. It's underwear for a girl who is 60 pounds lighter than me. It's a thong when I wear it. Can't say for sure why I tried it on. I thought it would be funny to walk into the kitchen while my roommate was cooking breakfast wearing nothing but the stranger's blue underwear at the same time that some poor girl was asking herself, "I wonder what happened to my blue underwear?" She probably thinks she left it at an extra boyfriend's house. She's biting her nails over it. I still have the underwear. Still wash the underwear as if it is mine. Still think about trying it on again.

On my way out of the laundromat, Miguel Fernandez does his thing, I say "thanks" without asking his name, and load my wrinkly clothes into the truck. White socks, black shoes. Fashionable. As I round the dented bumper to climb into the driver's seat I notice the homeless heroin addict that washes his clothes on the same arbitrary days that I do. He also seems to have discovered a kinship with Miguel Fernandez. "Ya know, there's nothing worse than being a drunken slob. But when a man puts his clothes into a washer and fills it with that sweet, sweet Mexican laundry soap...It's a beautiful thing." Laundry day is a special day.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

I am a barista

I am a barista. The worst barista in history. It is difficult to imagine that one could describe a job that pays $7 an hour as “complicated.” For me, it is quadruple bypass surgery. This is a typical Sunday --

Arrive at 5:45 am. Fifteen minutes late. Smelling like bourbon. Forget to clock in. Not wearing the same type of shirt that everyone else is wearing. And the one that I am wearing is wrinkled and has mustard on it. My boss (who was 8 years younger than me) asks me how much sleep I got the night before. It was never enough. My boss and I didn’t have much of a relationship. He didn’t particularly care for me, but his thick Italian accent tended to buffer the derogatory comments. “Adam, why are you such a jerk?” “Adam, why don’t you just kill yourself?” After contemplating that for a few moments I would assign myself a cash drawer. Always on the wrong register. I had a 50/50 chance of signing on to the correct register. Always the wrong register.
For several minutes the “fur is murder” vegan has been standing outside the front door waiting for us to unlock it, pacing around vigorously and dramatically shivering in the freezing August sunrise as if to indicate that her pacing should induce us to open earlier than the clearly posted time of 6:00 am. I am milling about the entryway, pretending to arrange things, pretending that I don’t see her while humming a sweet tune that goes something like, “Bacon, oh bacon, delicious delicious bacon.”
Unlock the door. She marches through full of indignation, throws a plastic bag in the general direction of the garbage can, and misses it completely without giving a damn. It lands on my foot and oozes a mystery liquid into my shoe. "Triple grande soy caramel macchiato, easy caramel, easy vanilla. I’m in a hurry." "Okay, grande caramel frappucino. Do you want whipped cream on that?" "Macchiato." "Oh, sorry. Nonfat milk or whole milk?" "Soy. I'm vegan." Spend 2 minutes searching for the soy button on the computer screen. Head to the bar to make the drink. 4 pumps of vanilla syrup. 2 in the drink, one on my hand, one somewhere near my crotch. Steam the milk. Then remember that it was supposed to be soy. Spill the 170 degree milk on my hand reaching for the soy. Drop the tin bucket thingy onto the floor. Milk all over the place. Steam the soy. Forget to monitor its temperature while trying to get the metal doo-dad with the espresso to fit into the slot. 210 degree soy milk. Forget to put the espresso in the drink. A cup full of hot soy milk and caramel. "Double half grande big 2 pump, er...double I mean triple caramel mocha, um latte, know what you ordered right?" She looks at me with utter contempt. I try not to take it personally, for after all, I am a carnivore, and she harbors contempt for all carnivores, including puppies. Ravenous, bloodthirsty puppies. Off she storms into the LA morning on a one woman mission to usurp the Republican party. I resume staring into space for 5 minutes, wondering what box my college degree is packed in.
“Hi.” “Excuse me, hello?” I don’t know how long the new customer has been standing there. She has a refreshingly sincere smile lighting up her face despite the fact that she’s on crutches. They are colorfully artistic. The foam pads that rest underneath the armpits are designed like something you might find at the Taj Majal. As a barista, I was encouraged to strike up conversation with the customers. “So, how long do you have to be on crutches?” "Well, I'm an amputee so I guess forever." From behind the register I can only see her from the waist up. My inner dialogue runs rampant -- “You stupid! I can’t believe how stupid…why did you have to say something so…” She cuts in -- “I’ll take a frappucino.” She’s still smiling. Still sincere. That makes it even worse. Just let it go, and make the frappucino. My head is spinning with a hybrid of embarrassment and self inflicted anger. During the internal melee I forget to put the lid on the blender. Frappucino helicopter crash to clean up. Bodies everywhere.
My boss emerges from the office -- "Adam, why don't you go ahead and take your break?" It's 6:05 am. I have been at work for 20 minutes. Grab a bagel on the way out the door. Knock the rest of the bagels onto the floor. There will be no more bagels today. Stand outside for 10 minutes and watch the homeless people deal with rejection. Back to work. Drink another coffee with 2 shots of espresso, a concoction that should induce productivity, but instead renders me hyper and confused. Log back onto the register. My boss walks by. I know that look. The look that says he’s about to ask me a rhetorical question masking itself as an actual question to catch me at the core of my incompetence. "Adam, do you need any change?" "I don't know. Maybe, probably not. Probably." My boss opens the cash drawer. "You know you're supposed to put your $20 bills in the drop box, right?" "Yeah." "There are 7 $20 bills in your drawer." "Yeah." Meanwhile, in the background Brownglasses Manlady is huffing and puffing, "Where's my mocha!? I said two pumps of mocha! Two pumps! Can you take the foam off? I just hate foam." I guess I'm a simpleton. To me, coffee is caffeine. A stimulant to get you going. Milk is a cutter. Takes away the bitterness. Put coffee and milk together, the job interview goes fine. People actually take the time to call the official complaint line to express their disdain with the fact that they had 2 inches of foam in their vanilla latte' instead of the standard 1 inch. We would get memos about it with the date, time, and our names highlighted at the top of the page. If I were running the show, everyone who calls the complaint line would be prompted with a message from a little boy in Iraq, "I lost my legs yesterday when I stepped on a landmine. I haven't seen my parents for three days. I fear that they might be dead. I have no running water or electricity, and I'm very hungry. To complain about the temperature of your double tall extra foamy half decaf half pump vanilla 2 raw sugar 2 ice cube soy latte', press 1.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003


I've had the hiccups for the past 45 minutes, and every home-grown remedy has failed me -- holding my breath, drinking a lot of water, standing on the neighbor's front porch naked. It reminded me of a long, strange weekend many years ago. Come and sit on grandpa's lap and I'll tell ya a little story. A few summers ago my college roommate invited me to a friend's lakehouse for water-skiing, barbecuing, and other assorted shenanigans. We loaded up the truck and set off for hillbilly fortunes aplenty. Our rallying point was a restaurant in the land of non-alcoholic beer and decaffeinated coffee -- Bedford, Texas. We had patronized the local liquor establishment for some potent potables. Once we had reached destination #1 I opened the passenger door of the truck and knocked the bottle of whiskey we had purchased out onto the pavement. I thought I could somehow salvage it by grabbing hold of the shattered glass. This only resulted in multiple lacerations, but at least they were sterilized by the high alcohol content of the quickly disappearing beverage that had once been contained inside the bottle-shards. Bad omen. We drove a couple of hours to beautiful Lake Granbury and set up camp in a friend's lakehouse. We spent the evening catching up on embellished stories (much like this one) and pulverizing our livers with firewater. At dawn, all of us you Americans say...rarin' to go. We loaded all of our gear onto the ski boat. The driver of the boat cranked up the engine, and...nothing. Since none of us had any mechanical skills, and all of us had already consumed multiple beers for breakfast, we were dumbfounded. I've always regretted the fact that I can't fix anything unless it has mayonnaise and bread on it. I suggested that we “prime the carb.” I think I had heard that on TV once, and since no one else had any suggestions, we went-a-priming. We grabbed a gas can from the tool-shed and poured it in with reckless abandon. The gasoline had a strange greenish hue to it, but that didn't seem to bother us at the time. Lo and behold, the boat started up immediately. I was so proud of myself. I was glowing like a pregnant woman with axle grease under her nails. We roared off toward the middle of the lake in anticipation of a great day of skiing. About 5 minutes into our journey, the engine started sputtering. So much for the grand priming suggestion. Unfortunately for one of our good friends, the contents of one of the water hoses burst onto his leg, causing unforgiving burning and blistering. The painful shock caused him to get the hiccups. Here we were, stranded in a boat with no propulsion, while the burn victim hiccuped continuously. None of us really knew what to do, so we just waited to drift ashore. We came upon a group of Mexican construction workers and asked if they could help us out. The language barrier made it difficult to explain what we needed from them, so we presented them with the universal language of negotiation -- beer. I can't recall what magical spell they placed on the engine, but we were back out into the open water in no time, while the burn victim hiccuped. Our victory was short-lived. The engine died within minutes. My roommate, another friend, and I decided to swim for it. After 10 beers, 400 yards doesn't seem like a great distance to swim. Besides, there was a spot in the middle of the lake on which we could stand, so we collectively assumed that we could just walk back to shore. We were only able to walk about 40 yards before we ran out of places to stand. Time to muster up our "Allowed to go into the deep end without parents" skills from 15 years before. I was in pretty good shape at the time, but I quickly succumbed to the "Don't go into the water after you've eaten, especially if you've been drinking alcohol" rule. My hamstring cramped up so badly that I couldn't move my right leg. I basically swam in circles until I ran out of gas. I was still a couple hundred yards from shore, and I knew I was in trouble. I noticed that a good samaritan had already towed the rest of the party. They were on the dock having a good ole' time while I bobbed for air. I knew that I couldn't hold out for very much longer since I couldn't swim in a straight line. I started screaming for help. Two of my friends jumped into action on a paddleboat that was tied to the dock. They were both so drunk that they couldn't paddle it straight, on top of the fact that paddleboats have a top speed of about 5 knots with a tailwind. I had given up trying to swim at this point, and resorted to doggy-paddling since I couldn't bend my right leg. Eventually they reached me, which saved my life. They hauled me back to the lakehouse, where I promptly passed out. I woke up 3 hours later to the sound of the burn victim’s hiccups. We had dinner, reflected on the wacky day's events for a couple of hours, and decided it was time to go to sleep. The burn victim had finally gotten rid of his hiccups (after 10 hours) and all was well. There were only two beds in the lakehouse. If I recall correctly, there were 7 of us on the trip. I figured that since I had almost died earlier that day, I deserved to have one of the beds. I sauntered off toward the twin-sized in the guest bedroom and I noticed that my roommate was headed the same direction. Our eyes locked, and I could practically hear the townsfolk whispering about who was going to draw first. My roommate was about 6'1" 220 lbs., but darnit I was going to have that bed. We both charged like bulls toward the guest bedroom. We wrestled each other for about 3 seconds until I finally said, "Okay, you don't touch me, and I won't touch you." We both crawled into the tiny bed. I crashed out within seconds. My roommate suffered from what are commonly known as "night-terrors". I can sleep through anything, so I didn't think it would bother me much. At about 3:00 am I was awakened by a blood-curdling scream and immediately looked over toward my roommate, who began punching me with all of the force he could muster. I struggled with everything I had to deflect the punches, fearing for my life. One of his punches missed me and hit the bedroom wall, causing a painting to fall off the living room wall and land on the burn victim, who had been sound asleep on the couch. I frantically tried to wake my roommate up. Once he came to, with my arms and legs wrapped around him, he calmly asked, "What's going on?" The next thing I heard was the sound of the burn victim hiccuping from the living room. The owner of the lakehouse, who was asleep in the master bedroom, was so terrified by all the screaming that he crawled under the bed, thinking that someone had broken into the house and was murdering all of us. Good times, good times.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Movie Star

I worked on an infomercial last Friday. I couldn't sleep the night before because I kept having dreams that I had accidentally taken an airplane to Arizona and had to jog to the shooting location in southern California. I set my alarm for 5:30 am to make it by 8:15. I followed the directions exactly as I had written them down. Somehow one of the roads ended at the ocean. There was a sign on the guardrail that said "Dead End." I wondered if maybe the money that was spent on that sign could have been put to better use. After all there was a pretty obvious guardrail, and just behind that, the ocean. I started calling everyone involved with the production to find out where I was. Nobody answered, so I stopped at a gas station for directions. The attendant had never heard of the street I was looking for and the gas station map was useless since I was in the wrong town. I had to wake Ethel up so that she could put the address in an internet mapmaker. I should have stopped driving while we were trying to put everything together. "Sidra Cove." "Fidry Road? Got it." "No, S-I-D-R-A." "F-I-B-R-A?" "Can you hear me?" "What?" "Can you hear me?" "Yes. Hello?" In the meantime I was driving all over the place. Somehow I managed to stumble upon the exit. I was thirty minutes late, but nobody was upset with me. The interns that they had "hired" were still trying to figure out how to put the camera together. So I passed the time by eating 5 pounds of doughnuts. Once we got started, the girl that was playing my wife and I kept cracking each other up. We're both almost 30 and the director had to tell us to behave several times. We were laughing so hard we were crying. It will probably look like we're both crying throughout the whole infomercial. Between camera setups my “wife” and I were discussing the ironic nature of the roles we were playing. She lives in a cheap motel while she's looking for a place to live in LA, and I sleep next to the dining room table in my apartment. So here we are, a newly married couple with a baby on the way (my “wife” looks like she's been pregnant for about 10 minutes) in a multimillion dollar home that overlooks the ocean. Ah, the magic of Hollywood. Actually, the budget was probably more suited to Hollywo. At one point my “wife” mentioned that she'd like to have children at some point (in real life) because of her good motherly instincts. Immediately after that she asked, "What the hell is that weird noise?" I replied, "It's the baby upstairs that belongs to the couple that owns this house." Naturally, we started cracking up again and the director had to reprimand us. It's always a little awkward filming in a house when the occupants are there. It feels a little invasive, but they didn't seem to mind too much. Their baby didn't seem very happy about it, though. The second location was at a home loan office in Newport Beach. People were trying to do actual work, which my “wife” and I were disturbing as a result of our childish giggling. We felt so rude and were really trying hard to stop, which only made us laugh more. I thought we finally had ourselves under control until she asked me just before a shot, "Does my lipstick look weird?" "No." "What do you mean, no?" We lost it again. At one point we were sitting in the office of the president of the company. We were filming a scene in which husband and wife were securing a loan for their gigantic house. Between takes I thought it would do me some good to learn about my chances for securing an actual loan. I asked the CEO some questions about the process. I was listening very attentively, but I could see my “wife” out of the corner of my eye trying not to laugh because it was obvious that I had no idea what the guy was talking about, even though I was trying really hard to make it look like I did. I should have taken some business classes in college.