Ten years ago I used to be one of several assistants to a Hollywood film producer who was always on the go. If he wasn’t at the studio or on the set of one of his films on location, he was lunching with writers, directors, and agents in Beverly Hills. And when he wasn’t wheeling and dealing with Hollywood heavy hitters, he was throwing scripts across his desk at us, barking orders at whoever was closest, or making the interns cry and tremble with fear. Day in and day out he was as sleazy and disingenuous as you’d imagine a stereotypical film producer to be.
No matter where he was, or what he was doing, my job as his “trusted second assistant” was to do whatever was necessary to ensure he never missed a beat. That meant if he left his favorite pen at the office and wanted it before he was done with lunch, I’d have to drive across town and deliver it in person. If I didn’t get it there before he was ready to leave for his next meeting, I’d be fired! If he had a conversation with a director at a movie premier about one of the projects we were developing, I’d get a text telling me he needed a script delivered to the theater lobby where he’d meet me in exactly 30 minutes….and if I wasn’t there on time, I’d be fired! I had to get his Gucci loafers repaired at Arturo’s of Beverly Hills, and have his Range Rover serviced and washed while he was in meetings overlooking the beach at Shutters in Santa Monica. If he ever had to wait, because I was late….I’d be fired. I think you get the point.
This one time, he’d sent me to Barney’s New York in Beverly Hills to do his holiday shopping two days before Christmas and the end of Hanukah. Earlier that day in the office, we’d dusted off the previous year’s “gift list” and made the necessary updates. Anyone he was currently working with, or whom he wanted to work with and needed to impress, was added to the list. Anyone who’d declined to work with him or who wasn’t in a position to further his career, got the strikethrough. And then a few hours later, I was walking through Barney’s with a list of the most important people in entertainment in one hand, and my boss’ credit card in the other.
Normally I’d be in heaven. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to go shopping on someone else’s dime? But this was different. Not only did I not get to buy anything for myself, but if I didn’t get everyone a gift that day, when most of the store had already been picked over….you guessed it, I’d be fired! Talk about stressful.
I had two hours to race up and down the grand spiral staircases of the store, hopping from floor to floor, and scanning from one department to the next. I had to find the perfect gifts for over 100 of LA’s entertainment elite, and I knew none of them personally. I wasn’t allowed to spend any more than the dollar amount written in chicken scratch next to each name, and my boss was cheap. This made my job even harder. So I grabbed black cashmere V-neck sweaters for writers and directors, and Jonathan Adler pottery covered in breasts for all the young douchebag agents to decorate their bachelor pads with. Every ten minutes, my boss would call to micro manage me and approve my selections.
“I have thirty seconds before my next call,” he’d say, “what else?”
My arms clenched tightly around the expensive picture frames, and 30-pound coffee table books I found in the home décor section. I balanced all the expensive crap precariously, careful not to drop anything I couldn’t afford to buy myself (which was everything), while I gripped my cell between my shoulder and ear. I reached for the worn crinkled list in my pocket.
“Ummm, well, I found this shagreen cigar box that looks amazing.” I said, hoping he’d go for it. But he was silent, which meant he hated it or he wasn’t paying attention. “It’s made of stingray skin.”
“Phil!” he yelled, cutting me off. “Are you fucking kidding me! You’re gay! Which is why I’m putting you in charge of this very important task. I thought you wanted to make movies, but if you can’t hack this, then I just don’t know. Who the fuck am I supposed to give that to?”
His screams amplified by my 2002 Nokia paralyzed me and the sales clerk who gave me this look of sympathy. I quietly responded. “It’s on sale from $490 to $150.”
“Great! Buy ten of them and call me back in two minutes when you’re done.” And then he hung up.
I ended up bossing around the sassy sales people while I finished up as a way of holding on to what shred of pride i had left. Everything else had been beaten out of me by my monster of a boss. Besides, I’m sure the Barney’s of Beverly Hills staff deal with bigger egos than me; and they work on commission.
It was nearly 8pm when I’d finished all the shopping, making it a regular twelve-hour Friday, when I got a call from one of the other assistants.
“The big man wants you to stop by the Hello Kitty store in Century City to pick up $300 worth of crap for his kids,” she said. I could hear the laugher in her voice at the ridiculousness of our jobs, “Make sure you get it all gift wrapped, he wants to put it under the tree tonight, which means you’ll have to deliver it to his home in the Palisades.”
On a Friday night in LA traffic, I knew that would take me more than three hours, even on the side streets that locals take.
“Fine! I’ll do it.” I said, frustrated that I’d be late to my best friend’s birthday dinner that evening.
“But don’t ring the doorbell or call his cell.” She warned.
“What do you mean?”
“He doesn’t want his wife to know you did the shopping for her and the kids, so you have to deliver it when he gets back from dinner.”
“I don’t know, but he said you better not be park on the street near the house either, because his wife knows your car and she’ll figure it out. And you can’t call him or she’ll know something’s up. And don’t ring the doorbell or the kids will see everything.”
“So what should I do?” I asked. What was I doing for this guy I asked myself. How does a UCLA graduate end up in this situation? I thought I’d been hired to be part of a team of people who were making movies, and here I was running back and forth across La La Land with someone else’s holiday shopping in tow. “I’ve got to go if I’m going to make it there by the time they finish their dinner.” I said, “just tell him to look for me in the front yard. I’ll be out of the way and waiting with the gifts.”
“Goodluck,” she said, “and if I don’t see you Monday morning, then at least one of us is out of this hell we live in.” And she hung up.
I’d finished the rest of the errands in record time and made it to his home in the Palisades. I used the security code to get past the gate and into the yard, and thought I’d hide in the bushes near a fountain in the front courtyard. And there I was, pressed against the stucco wall of a $20 million Spanish Mediterranean mansion and a blooming bouganvilla with long sharp thorns piercing the skin of my arms, stomach, and forehead. By my calculations, they’d be home any minute if they were having dinner with friends in Brentwood, and I’d made it there just in time. I ended up standing in those bushes with two giant bags full of Sanrio Surprise clenched in my hands for 45 minutes. When they finally came home, my boss sounded drunk, slammed the car door, and stumbled into the house without even looking for me where my colleague had told him I’d be waiting. But I didn’t move, because I was terrified. Unsure of the consequences of ringing the doorbell or texting his phone, I stuck it out a little longer. Another 30 minutes passed, and I heard the side door to the kitchen open.
“Phil!” my boss whispered. “Phil!” he whispered a little louder, sounding impatient and irritated.
I wanted to yell “I’m here!” so he didn’t slam the door and spend the rest of the weekend figuring out how to fire me, but I knew I couldn’t make too much noise and risk blowing my cover. Desperately avoiding a thorn in one of my eyes, took a deep breath and I tried to wrangle myself free from behind the bushes as fast as possible so I could make it to the side of the house where my boss could see me. And when he did, he grabbed the bags and shut the door. Right after telling me to climb over the driveway gate because he didn’t want his wife to know someone was coming or going.
Watermelon Heirloom Tomato Basil Mint & Feta Salad
Not so much in December when this event happened, but the same year, I remember living in West Hollywood and heirloom tomato and watermelon salad recipes were all the rage. This simple and easy food recipe is great for when you receive a bunch of tomatoes in your CSA or for a picnic at the height of tomato season. Enjoy!
- 4 cups of heirloom tomatoes (colorful variety preferred) in 1 inch cubes
- 5 cups watermelon cut into 1 inch cubes
- ¼ cup fresh Italian sweet basil chiffonade
- ¼ cup fresh mint chiffonade
- ½ cup feta
- ¾ a medium red onion thinly sliced
- 2 tblsp good fruity olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
Toss the tomatoes gently with the tsp of salt and set them in a colander or strainer over a bowl so the tomato juice can drain. Let the tomatoes sit for at least 30 mins, tossing halfway through. If you need another ½ tsp of salt to make sure all the fleshy surfaces have been salted, then so be it.
You’ll know the tomatoes are done when there’s a pool of tomato juice in the bowl underneath.
To assemble the salad, mix the watermelon, tomatoes, mint, basil, red onions, pepper and olive oil in a large bowl. I like to use a large wooden spoon, because you don’t want to damage the watermelon or tomatoes.
Just before serving the salad, crumble the feta cheese into large irregular chunks over the tomatoes and watermelon. Guests can select the pieces of cheese they want and crumble them further on their plate.
- If you stir in the feta cheese before serving you run the risk of it turning the salad pink instead of bright red from the watermelon and tomatoes.
- Consider using a feta cheese soaked in flavored oil if you want to add more depth to the dish. I found some delicious feta soaked in olive oil infused with rosemary and garlic and it was delicious!
- Be careful about adding too much salt to the dish before you add the feta. The feta is going to add a salty seasoning that balances nicely with the sweet watermelon and tomatoes, but too much salt is just too much salt. Remember, you can always add more salt if you need it, but you can’t take it away.
- Seedless watermelon is the best! It’s not necessary, but it’s a lot easier, and more elegant, to eat this salad when you’re not spitting out black watermelon seeds towards the edge of the plate.