Christmas Bonus

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

At Christmas time, Hollywood denizens suspend their usual adult-sized greed for the simpler, more innocent greed of a child.

Hollywood -- climate and religious diversity notwithstanding -- is a Christmas kind of place. And if one doesn't send out hundreds of Christmas cards (sample message: &quotMay; the Joy of the Season Warm You and Your Family. A donation in your name has been made to an Important-Sounding-Charity."); send gift baskets of tiny, inedible muffins; and in general behave as if one day's generosity can somehow mitigate 364 days of cruelty and selfishness; well, then, just how does one expect to succeed in this town?

In what I now realize were the Fat Years -- years, that is, when we had a television series in production -- my office was a Christmas Wonderland. Baskets and baskets of fruit and wine and horrible-tasting Italian cookies jostled for space among the flowers and useless crystal items.

The office reception area was thronged with messengers and delivery men bearing gifts. One year, a television network sent out large red footlockers filled with candles and doo-dads and, oddly, a terrycloth bathrobe. (The robe I gave to my assistant: the thought of emerging from the shower, naked and dewy moist, and wrapping myself in something that came from the president of a television network was just too creepy.)

We don't care if the baked goods are stale, if the wine is obscure, if the bathrobe is pilly, or if the last thing we want is a weird crystal toe-shaped thing with the Time Warner logo on it -- we just want it, wrapped and delivered. We just want to know that we're loved, even if only by a corporation's computer-generated people-we're-doing-business-with-this-year list.

That's one way we celebrate the season. The second way is by firing all of the low-level employees, forcing them off the payroll and onto state-sponsored unemployment benefits for two weeks, and then promising to rehire them the first Monday in January. A hugely profitable television production company did just that a year or two ago, claiming that they need to &quotmake; economies to compensate for our increased level of executive gift-giving."

In other words: we're doing so much business that we can barely afford to send everyone presents. So, you're fired.

My partner and I have always given out Christmas bonuses to our employees. Cash bonuses, by the way, and fairly generous ones, we thought.

In the years that we have a series in production, the bonus pool gets quite large -- split unevenly among six or seven office assistants. In the years that we're developing a new series, the office is quite small: just us and our colorful-but-surly assistant.

Earlier this month, our assistant made it subtly clear that his annual bonus was too small. He made a few veiled comments like: &quotMy; annual bonus is too small" and &quotIf; it's going to be that small again this year, please just don't bother with it at all. It's too humiliating to take it to the bank."

Stung, we had a conference. Our assistant, though cranky and reflexively disrespectful, is in fact an excellent assistant: his typing skills are impeccable, his shorthand is efficient and complete, and when we're in production, he runs a flawless team of sub-assistants. He is, in short, a valuable employee.

My partner suggests a healthy increase in our assistant's annual bonus.

&quotBut; I gave him the lavender eye mask we got from the guy who fixes the fax machine," I say, holding out.

In the end we decide to give our assistant what is known in Hollywood as a &quotbump.;" As in: &quotWe;'re bumping up your bonus."

On bonus day, we handed the envelope to our assistant, who instantly put it aside and continued typing the script.

&quotAren;'t you going to open it?" I asked.

&quotAfter; I finish this," he said airily. &quotI; don't want to lose my motivation to do a good job."

&quotOpen; it," I said in a low, irritated voice.

He opened the envelope. The Christmas bonus check -- now adjusted north by a zero -- tumbled out.

He looked at the check. Barely a flicker crosses his face.

&quotWhat; happened?" he asked. &quotDid; you get visited by three ghosts last night?"

&quotIt;'s in recognition of all that you do," I said, with distinct irony.

&quotWell;," he grumbled. &quotMerry; Christmas."

&quotHappy; New Year," I snarled. &quotAnd; hurry up with that typing."

Christmas wishes, when they come, always have a dollar sign attached.

Except these: Merry Christmas.

For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long