May 19, 2008
Experiment: Day Fifteen
In my former LA life (back in '93 and '94, the first time I lived here), I assisted the president of a major recording artists' management firm. Basically, I did everything from creating a program that could calculate the Billboard Top 100 before it came out each week based on sales reports and information in the trades, running "supplies" over to the homes of "creatively blocked" rock stars, working with police to track pop stars' stalkers, and spending hours on the phone with one very drunk new wave star from the '80s whose divorce was killing him, four bottles of Merlot at a time.
My real job, though, was doing whatever it took to make my boss look awesome. And he was pretty awesome, so this wasn't too tough. But it was certainly a LOT of work. And this was the first "real office job" I ever had (and the last, pretty much). I rolled around on a plastic pad behind a desk for 50 hours every week, answered phones, sent faxes, drafted cover letters for recording contracts, bundled show tickets for VIPs, approved set models, forwarded fan mail, and endured a LOT of meetings in which people yelled about the importance of everything as if we were curing cancer with this singer's next album's cover art.
In the bullpen, there were three assistants' desks. Mine, the-ever-changing-desk-occupied-by-Carol's-ever-changing-assistant, and Harvey's. Harvey was a career assistant. He had been working in this position for years before I got there and stayed in it years after I left. Older than I, he acted at first like he might want to mentor me into "how to assist an exec in the music biz," but I had no interest in getting very good at this job (beyond the level of "very good" I get at anything I ever attempt to do), because I had moved to LA to pursue my acting career and this was just a survival job. A 50-hour-a-week survival job. Yeah, right. Golden handcuffs, anyone?
Now, I earned a buttload of money in the year I was in this position. And the perks were amazing. Free computers for my home use, free trips home when I missed my mom, a Cadillac of health insurance plans, and all the "rock and roll lifestyle" trappings I might want to tap into at any time. Not bad for a 23 year old who once ate "government reduced lunch" at public school. And that meant Harvey was certainly doing even better than I was. And because he was getting married soon and planning a family after that, I could imagine that the money was even more important to him than it was to me. (I was just happy that I could send home money to Mom when she needed it and pay off my car note. And buy furniture. And toys.)
Anyway, Harvey was a cross fellow, let's just say. Gruff, NY-like, he would answer the phone: "_____'s office!" as if he were accusing the caller of interrupting some very important flow. And then he would sternly grill the caller to determine whether _____ should receive the call. And then he would listen in on the call in case there were action items for him, based on _____'s conversation. And if another call came in while he was listening in on _____'s calls, he would be even more angry when he would answer: "_____'s office!"
Me? I'd never answered the phone for anyone other than myself at this point in life, so I decided to try, "Good morning, _____'s office," with a nice, Southern lilt to my voice and an upturned end, as if asking what I could do for the person so kind as to call us today. Every morning, "Good morning, _____'s office," over and over and over. Smiling. Laughing. Making friends with assistants in other bigwigs' offices and enjoying this very novel job I had in this crazy Hollywood place.
Within a couple of months, I heard Harvey answer the phone, "Good morning, _____'s office."
*blink* *blink* *blink*
Couldn't have been. No way. I totally didn't hear that right.
And then it happened again. And again. And again.
Holy crap. I modeled behavior that resulted in a change in someone else, rather than letting my choices be molded by the behavior of someone older, more experienced, more down-with-this-gig, more powerful. I could've easily become the gruff, busy, grunter Harvey showed me how to be with his repeated behavior, but instead, he became friendlier, he became more open, he smiled.
That was really cool.
And as I type this up, I realize I answer the phone, "Casting!" nowadays. Very fast, very busy, very much a habit I picked up working in casting for Fox back in 2003. I think it's time to add my "Good morning" back. That extra few seconds doesn't cost me a damn thing and maybe it'll feel good to hear... and to say.
I am grateful for modeling good behavior.
(What is the Experiment? It is this.)
Posted by bonnie at May 19, 2008 11:24 AM