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The Year of No Scented Candles

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

Here's the problem: it's about a week until Christmas, and so far the only gifts I've received are a box of chocolate mint cookies and an embossed copy of the 2006 Zagat's Restaurant Guide for Los Angeles. The first, delivered in a giant tin, came from my attorney. And the second, wrapped in a highly effeminate bow, came from my agent.The trouble is, as of close-of-business this afternoon, those are the only two gifts I've received. Not exactly, of course: I'm sure when the 25th rolls around, I'll be happily swimming in thoughtful trinkets from the people I love, but those are gifts of affection and friendship, and, really, who needs those? It's sweet to know that the people you care about took the time to do a little one-click clicking on Amazon, but the truth is, it doesn't really tell you anything, career-wise.

Put it this way: whichever bland message my attorney and agent attached to their Christmas gift, the subtext was easy to grasp. Instead of "Wishing you a very happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year," what they were saying was, "Thank You for the Fees." Which is a lot more meaningful than a new sweater from my mother. See, I know my mother loves me. But it makes me feel toasty and warm to know that my agent appreciates his ten percent.

But when I'm really honest with myself, I have to admit that in the same way that I already know my mother loves me, I also already know that my agent enjoys his ten percent. (With the same intensity, I'm pretty sure. Which says a lot about both of them.) And that's why his Zagat's guide and my attorney's cookies are so unsatisfying. In Hollywood, you see, the best gifts are the gifts you get from people you don't really know that well -- studio presidents, eager agents, network development executives -- and for whom you have very little emotional attachment. By now, anyone who really counts in this town has an office stuffed with mirthless, joyless pro-forma gifts -- desk diaries and paperweights and mini atlases and designer pretzels -- from people he is either not currently doing business with or from people utterly unknown to him.

A few years back, during what I refer to as the Year of the Scented Candles, a post-production facility, stunt dog training service, high-end caterer, personal stylist, and large talent management company all sent out the same tony basket of goodies. The place reeked of something called "lavender harvest," and I'm pretty sure it made my dog ill, but it really gave me a warm holiday feeling to know that a bunch of people I had never set eyes on felt that I was important enough, in the abstract, to be worth the price of an aromatherapy candle. What mattered was that I mattered, enough to cheapen and debase a charming holiday with craven and obvious ass-kissing.

This year, though, I'm starting to get a different message. So far, only two gifts, and as noted, these are from people who know me already. Worse, I actually like my agent and attorney, which sort of puts their gifts in the friends category, which means that nobody who doesn't know me thinks I'm worth giving a gift to. In other words: my career is in trouble.

"You like that stuff?" a friend of mine asked, when I complained to him about my lack of Christmas swag.

"Sort of," I answered in a tiny voice. "You know, the candles and stuff were nice."

"You kept it?"

"What was I supposed to do with it?"

"How about give it to your assistant? Or to the needy?"

"The needy? Yeah, right, that's what they need. A lemon verbena candle and a jar of fig preserves from a music rights search firm"

"You know what?" my friend shouted. "I hope tonight you're visited by three ghosts."

"Please," I said, "don't get all high and mighty with me. You love that stuff just as much as I do."

"You know what?" he said, his voice rising in indignation. "I don't. I really don't. I just don't get the whole Hollywood thing of taking your career temperature every five seconds I think it's sick. And shallow. Who cares how many anonymous corporate gifts one guy gets compared to another guy? What does it matter who's on the mysterious -list' or who gets the iPod Nano?"

"You didn't get any gifts either" I said.

"Not one," he replied. "And it's kind of freaking me out."

"Wow," I said. "Are we in trouble?"

"I don't know. We might be."

We sat in silence for a moment, pondering our careers.

"Well," I finally said, "let me ask you: did you get me anything?"

My friend snorted. "Of course not," he barked. "I mean, why would I get a Christmas present for you? You're just a friend."

What could I say? His logic was unassailable.

For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot, wishing you a Merry Christmas.

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