Two or Twenty Minutes

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Two or Twenty Minutes

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

In pretty much any kind of labor dispute, I instinctively side with management. This, I know, is a character flaw, and yet I can't seem to shake it.

So, for me, watching a movie like The Devil Wears Prada or reading any of the recent personal assistant tell-alls is sort of pointless. I side with the psycho boss. I think the feckless, forgetful assistant with the rich interior life needs to suck it up and bring the correct coffee drink in the correctly shaped mug, or whatever it was that the psycho boss wanted and didn't get that set him or her off into that tire-chewing, eye-popping tantrum. I think the over-qualified, over-educated assistant with the unjustified high self esteem and the ludicrous salary daydreams needs to stop making so many personal phone calls and start bringing me my diet coke with ice.

Because putting out a magazine, or making a movie or television show is hard work, and sometimes the high point in your day is the turkey sandwich on sourdough toast with mayo on one side and mustard on the other and when it comes untoasted, well, that little moment in between network notes and bad news from the studio is sort of ruined. And it's hard not too get really really mad about the untoasted sourdough -- irrationally mad, yes, overreacting and inappropriately raging, yes -- because, well, you know going in that the network is going to be awful and the studio is going to be obstructionist and the production is going to go over budget and the effect isn't going to look like it's supposed to and the star is going to be irritating and the audience is going to be fickle but, really, you had a pretty good shot at getting that bread toasted. I mean, there's a toaster in the restaurant, yes? And slices of bread were proximate to that device? So, basically, what you're telling me is that even the stuff that's supposed to go right, that can easily go right, is going to go wrong?

I worked with a writer a few years ago on a show, and for some reason, every day, every single day, the production assistant got his lunch slightly wrong. The first day, it was roast turkey and not smoked turkey, so, okay, it's still turkey. He grumbled a bit, ate it. Then the second day, it was a tuna salad sandwich, not a tuna salad, and he was miffed, of course, said something cranky to the PA, peeled off the bread and sort of mushed the tuna around, trying not to think about the fact that it was supposed to be silky ahi tuna and not a white paste of mayo and celery and chicken of the sea. By the third day, what we'll call the linguine vs. ravioli incident, it was clear that either he was jinxed, or there was something seriously wrong with our PA, who could not for the life of him -- and by day six we were really talking about his life -- explain why he consistently got the same writer's lunch order wrong. The rest of us thought it was hilarious, watching our colleague eat a chaotic and unpredictable jumble of lunch items each day: calamari, reuben sandwich, turkey meatloaf, gazpacho, spicy salmon skin hand roll... but it wasn't so funny to watch the PA slowly melt down and unravel under the pressure of what wasn't, after all, a difficult task. It was one little mistake that somehow snowballed into a psychological breakdown in which the only outcome -- a tearful, lower-lip trembling apology followed by a complete nervous breakdown ("I don't understand why I keep getting it wrong!" he sobbed. "I went to Stanford!") and, ultimately, a pretty large disability claim.

He was replaced by a weird kid from somewhere who creeped us all out with his way of delivering a phone message. He came up to me one morning with a pink phone message slip in his hand, planted himself in front of me, and started to read it in a terrifying robotic monotone: "Your writing partner called and said for me to tell you that he's going to be... " and here he leaned in and squinted at his own handwriting... "um... two or twenty minutes late."

"Well, I don't think he would bother to call if he was just going to be 2 minutes late, right?"

"Um... yeah."

We took bets on which one of us would be the first to go when he ultimately snapped and charged through the office, blasting away, but the show was cancelled before that happened and one of us won the pool. When a show gets cancelled, the staff scatters pretty quickly, so I don't know what happened to those two distinctive PA's -- I think the guy from Stanford teaches yoga somewhere, and the psycho weird one, I think, invented a search engine. So, you know, we all did okay.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll get into some big, big money. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long