This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
I had lunch not too long ago with a friend of mine. We sat down, the waiter came to get our drink orders – I ordered a Diet Coke, and he, he ordered a white wine.
Which I know isn't, you know, a crime. But it is unusual in Los Angeles -– well, the entertainment industry portion of Los Angeles, anyway –- and causes the barest, hard-to-see-but-still-noticeable flicker in the eye of the waiter and a tiny little pause in the delivery of his "Very good sir. A diet coke and a...white wine." Not "very good sir a diet coke and a white wine," but closer to "very good sir, a diet coke and a, white wine."
And he wasn't the only one. People looked. People noticed. "Over there, in the booth, across from the guy in the blue shirt? He's drinking alcohol."
And my friend noticed it, too. "I don't care," he said. "I'm stressed out. I just saw my mother."
"How's your mother?" I ask.
"The same. We don't get along. She's ninety-two years old. And she refuses to die."
He takes a sip of his Sancerre. Which hardly counts as a stepping stone to full blown alcoholism, but people did take note. He's a director, and so I'm sure people in the business will cut him some slack. If he was a lawyer, or an executive, they'd be arranging the intervention to take place in his office right after lunch.
One of the reasons I like to work at home, as opposed to the office at the studio, is that at home, after lunch, I get to fire up a cigar if I want to and pace around. If I did that at the studio, I'd be arrested. A few years ago, when our company was at Paramount, we had the bottom floor of an old building on the Gower side of the lot. And after lunch, we'd sit in the conference room and smoke, totally oblivious to the fact that the stairwell behind our conference room had a chimney kind of effect, and plumes of blue smoke were getting sucked up the stairs, and into the casting office above.
We found out one day when they were casting a bunch of older actors for a movie, and some of them were waiting in the stairwell for their audition, and one of them...well, it turned out that it was just an asthma attack but, well, an ambulance was called. I still remember the dismayed, condemning look on the face of the security guard who was called to investigate. "He says it was like, the smoke that made him pass out and fall down the stairs. You guys know that smoking, is, like, a total crime, right?" And he looked at us the way a few of the patrons looked at my director friend. Like, I think, you look at a junkie.
So we stopped smoking. In the conference room, anyway, and moved to my office, with a fan on and a towel underneath the door jamb, and the windows open. But by that time we were in production, and we discovered a new benefit to cigar smoke. Sitting there in my office in the afternoons, filling the room with thick blue smoke, created a kind of toxic atmosphere, a forbidden planet, if you will. As anyone who has ever run a television show will tell you, the more accessible you are, the more you're called on to make a lot of silly decisions, to solve a lot of problems that should solve themselves – the easier it is to talk to you, the more everybody in the production wants to do it. And if you're not careful, the afternoon hours which should be spent writing and breaking stories and fixing the scripts is spent, instead, having endless ad hoc meetings about wardrobe and set colors and craft services.
Unless, that is, you create a forbidding, deathly, nauseating cloud around you, in the form of two guys smoking big cigars in a small office with the doors closed. A lot of people, we discovered, would do anything to avoid knocking on our door. They'd do anything to keep from spending even 5 lung-choked eye-stinging minutes with us. Anything, including solving their own problems.
Back at lunch, my director friend sipped his wine. It was having the right effect: he was relaxing a bit, and forgetting about the terrible reality of his mother's continuing life. He only had one glass, though I knew he wanted another. But people were watching him. One they'd forgive. Two, they'd talk about. After lunch, I went home and fired up a cigar. In the backyard. Where no one could see.
That's it for this week. Next week, we'll chit chat. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.