This is Rob Long with Martini Shot for KCRW.
The scariest words in the English language are, -You don-t remember me, do you?-
Well, maybe not the scariest. The actual scariest words are probably, -The chef doesn-t believe in printed menus, so I-ll just describe what we-re offering tonight,- but -you don-t remember me, do you?- is right up there.
I heard those words recently, at a meeting with the president of one of the biggest studios in Hollywood. I had been presented the customary bottle of water, guided to the plush suede sofa, and just at the moment that the small talk puttered to stop, he fixed me with a half-smile and dropped the bomb.
I didn-t remember him. At all. But we-re roughly the same age, so our paths could have crossed and double-crossed lots of times: school, college, film school, the early days of our careers - really, when you think of it, the past is filled with dozens (maybe even hundreds) of moments in which one is, to say the least, not at one-s best. And those moments are preserved in someone-s memory, like tiny buried stink bombs, ready to be dug up and exploded with a simple -You don-t remember me, do you?-
Think of the terrible possibilities: I-m the guy you threw up on in college. I-m the guy who was up for the job you eventually got. I was the guy answering the phones the day you decided to let the first guy who answered the phone have it. I was you waiter. Or, worst of all for someone who has worked in Hollywood for 14 years, I was your assistant.
This story, though, has a happy ending.
About a dozen years ago, when I was a just-hired young television writer and he was a just-arrived aspiring studio executive, his mom and my mom somehow met, and mothers being mothers, a couple of hours of my time was pledged to help the new kid figure out the town.
Which I did, apparently. We had breakfast together, apparently. Advice was given, a bagel was toasted and buttered, and I, according to him, was nice and encouraging.
Lucky for me I was, because now the guy is a pretty powerful studio executive, the maker of the very crucial funds disbursement decisions that I, as a writer and producer, like to be on the receiving end of. Which just goes to reinforce the only rule in Hollywood worth remembering: be nice to everybody. Because you never know.
Luckily, the standard of good behavior in Hollywood is so low, though, that to be known as a nice guy is really more a matter of not being known as a not nice guy.
I recently heard a story about a hot young producer and her assistant. Stuck on a story pitch, the producer decamped to a swank Las Vegas hotel, bringing along her assistant for some poolside brainstorming. As she floated, blissfully, in the hotel pool, her hapless assistant, clicking away on her laptop, sweltered in the desert sun. As the summer heat approached 105 degrees, the producer looked up at her sweat-drenched, fainting assistant and said, airily, -You know, if you like, you can dangle your toes in the water. Just don-t get the keyboard wet.-
There-s a lot about the universe that-s unknowable, of course, but there are three absolute certainties. One, there will come a time when that assistant, motivated by memories of heatstroke and a thirst for revenge, will have risen to a high and powerful post; two, there will come a time when that producer will be temporarily down on her luck and in need of a friend in high places; and three, the two will meet over a couple of bottles of water around a suede sofa. And by then it will be too late.
Be nice to everybody. Or at least, in Hollywood, don-t be not nice to anybody. Because you never know.
Next week: you get cancelled.
For KCRW, I-m Rob Long. This has been Martini Shot.