Friday, February 10, 2006

Dining Out in the Aftermath

I’m touched...overwhelmed...floored by everyone’s kind words, calls, and emails. Though I’ve been pushed clear out of the sky, I feel almost as if I’ve landed on feathers because of the incredible people in my life. I’ve been hugged, soothed, cooked for, smoked up, taken out, gifted with bottles of scotch, and dined on one of the most succulent bone-in rib-eyes of my life in recent days. I’ve been back to my office exactly once, to retrieve my immediate personal stuff and pick up my cell phone charger, which I’d left in the wall. Everything was exactly as I’d left it the minute I left for that fateful meeting, down to the Johnny Cash album I’d paused on iTunes when I got the phone call. I grabbed my photos, a few books, some financial documents, and a number of assorted blazers and suit jackets and Banana Republic button-down shirts that had found their way onto hangers behind my door. No one saw me, and I was in and out of there in fifteen minutes.

I was pretty numb all weekend. Not angry, not sad or depressed or anything like that. More just shocked and bewildered and unable to focus on anything really. I went on a mini-bender and played poker badly while thankfully not bleeding away too much money. I had long conversations with Charlie and Bean and Showcase and Pauly. After breaking the news Friday night, I avoided talking to my family. My mother took it worse than I did, descending into quivery-voiced hystronics, which turned into me calming HER down, which kind of upset me even more.

The sun rose on Monday morning and I officially crossed over into life as an unemployed D-Girl. I rolled out of bed around 10, precisely the same time that everyone would be shuffling into the Monday morning staff meeting. I fired up a joint and wrote for a couple of hours, returned a bunch of phone calls, and then got a bunch of phone calls, mainly from confused people I used to work with who wanted to know what the fuck was going on. By lunchtime I’d had enough. I threw some stuff in a bag and got in my car. It was warm and clear and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get some sunshine and spend my first day of freedom outside.

Only my car would not start. What a goddamn joke.

The car went to the shop and Charlie bought me dinner later that night. He beat me to the restaurant and I found him at the bar, polishing off the last of the three olives he always ordered with his martini. He looked good. He always has, but since his own exodus from those hallways over 2 years ago, he’s lost maybe 40 pounds and ten years off his face. He hopped off the barstool and pulled me into his arms.

“I am so glad you’re out of that toxic fucking place ” His green eyes twinkled and I squeezed him back, laughing. Charlie flagged down the bartender and I ordered my own martini, swapping out the olives for a twist of lemon. I hate olives.

It sounds cheesy, but Charlie is like the older brother I never had. I grew up taking care of so many people that I have a really hard time allowing others to take care of me. Yet Charlie has had my back since the moment we met 6 years ago. He was a studio executive and I was a 22-year old intern for a coked-out producer with a deal on the lot. I needed a full-time gig and I heard Charlie needed an assistant. I got one of the coked-out producer’s D-Boys to hook me up with an interview. Even though I was utterly green and he had no reason to hire me, we clicked from the get-go and would stick together for over a year at the studio and then for three more at the Big Man’s. It took maybe two weeks before we were finishing each other’s sentences and bickering like old friends.

In a town where most executives are loathe to let anyone on the come in on their secrets, Charlie threw open the book. He taught me everything I know about story and structure and how to talk to writers and how to write great notes. He got me to trust my taste and not sweat the small stuff. He’s someone who truly appreciates cinema, reveres its history, stays up night after night thinking about it and dreaming up ideas. He put me on projects and took me to location and stood up for me at every turn. I drank it all in, aware at every moment how lucky I was to work for someone so caring in a business so cruel. Charlie and I fit perfectly and I loved every day we worked together, through a dozen films, three addresses apiece, two parents with cancer and the birth of both his children. After Charlie left to produce on his own and I got my promotion, we became perhaps even closer friends. We’d grown up together. And now, with both of us on the other side of our years on Wilshire Blvd., we clinked glasses over the mahogany bar of a legendary L.A. steakhouse, toasting my freedom.

We talked about surviving outside the Hollywood system while I dove into a medium-rare bone-in ribeye that moved me in ways that usually only good sex, great drugs, or winning a shitload of money can. I mean, this steak was like a religious experience. Succulent, juicy, maybe an inch thick. The garlic roasted potatoes weren’t bad either.

Charlie and I closed down the place. The valet came inside to give us our keys because he was calling it a night. The waitresses were counting their tip money and the bartenders re-racking glasses. We walked out onto a nearly-deserted Santa Monica Boulevard, a light fog blurring a string of green lights extending for what looked like miles.

“Do you remember what I told you was the first commandment of this business?”
“Never underestimate Hollywood’s ability to disappoint you.”
“That’s why you’re going to be OK. That’s why you’ll make it in the end if that’s what you want. You already get that and you’re still so young. Most people in this town will never get it.”
“Oh stop it, you’ll make me blush.”
“Call me later.”

Charlie squeezed my shoulder and headed for his silver minivan.

“Hey Charlie.”
“Is it weird that right now I don’t feel that scared?”
“No. But you’ll probably freak out in a week or two.”


Hugh Williams said...

That was a great post.

You are a hell of a writer. Have you thought of getting on the other side of the desk as a writer? You have a gift for spare writing that translates into good, readable action.

I'll loan you the money for Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter if you don't have either. You can pay me back when you sell your first tentpole.

EN09 said...

You made my morning when I saw you were back. I'm leaving my job soon as well.

Enjoy yourself. Over-complications can get in the way of Life.