If there is a human being who takes himself and what he does for work more seriously than a junior Hollywood publicist, I have yet to meet that person. These fresh-faced 20-somethings make a neurosurgeon removing an aneurysm look like Pee-wee Herman in his playhouse.
I arrived at the Loews Coronado Resort at 7:30 a.m. on May 21. Fox Studios had reserved a cluster of bayside bungalows as the base camp for its publicity blast for Marmaduke, the latest rehashed fodder from a town that is creatively bleeding to death…but that’s another story.
My role in the event was as driver, the lowest rung on the food chain. And make no mistake, more than any other corporate culture in the world, Hollywood has a food chain. When your working environment is ultimately defined by a “star” — the next closest thing to God on Earth — it all falls into place from there.
I arrived at the main entrance a half hour before the scheduled 8:00 a.m. start time. Stepping out of my black Lincoln Town car I was greeted, or rather confronted, at the front door by an attractive woman holding a clipboard and pen. I would be one of six sedan, SUV, and van drivers responsible for moving the group to wherever they needed to be, whenever they needed to be there.
The woman made eye contact and asked me who I was. I told her I was one of the drivers, with special instructions to personally handle Mr. Dey throughout the duration of the event. She consulted her list. Having found my name, she made a check mark. She was then sufficiently reassured to glance up and offer a courtesy grin.
“I’m Bob,” I said, extending my hand.
“Dorothy,” she answered.
Over the next three hours, Dorothy and I stood in the lobby entrance with nothing to do, waiting for the junket members to recover sufficiently from whatever had happened the previous night.
“By the way,” I said, “I’m supposed to be assisting Mr. Dey, and I have no idea what he looks like. Do you?”
Another other young woman who’d been speaking intensely into her smart phone paused long enough to say, “Oh, you’ll know him. He was in that TV show. What was it called? And he was in Platoon.”
“Oh, yes, right,” I offered agreeably.
“Anyway, you’ll recognize him,” the young woman reassured me. She then continued her phone conversation. As she did, another young lady, who’d also been talking on her smart phone, ended her conversation. She picked up where her colleague left off.
“Actually, it’s pronounced DAY,” she said.
“I see,” I said. “So it’s Mr. DAY.” I was letting her know I was a good listener, and a fast learner too.
“You got it,” she said. She started making another phone call.
Now my attention returned to her colleague, the first smart-phone lady, whose demeanor had changed radically. She was muttering to herself, dialing her phone faster than seemed humanly possible, and pursing her lips so tightly I thought she might be on the verge of spontaneous human combustion.
“Yes,” she said into the phone. “Do you have Ray-Bans? You do? Purrr…fect. What’s your address?” She scratched something on a piece of paper, then showed me the paper. “Do you know where this is?”
I nodded yes. Suddenly I felt alive; I was on the verge of doing something, I could feel it. She clicked off her phone and said to the other young woman, “Lois, go with him and get these now.”
Lois ended her call. Soon we were on our way to the Sunglass Shack on Orange Avenue in Coronado. I knew who the glasses were for. He’d arrived earlier — Dorothy and I and another driver had watched him come in. It was Owen Wilson. Only God could prompt the kind of terror I saw in the faces of those young publicists, and that’s exactly who had arrived. God.
As we drove, Lois, who seemed a brash and unjustifiably confident woman of no more than 22, dialed her cell phone again.
“Dad, just a heads-up. There’s gonna be a charge on your credit card. It’s for Owen Wilson, Dad. He wants sunglasses!” She hung up. In the rearview mirror, she met my gaze and smiled.
“He gets a kick out of this,” she said.
I was wondering what the hell kind of company would allow an employee to use Dad’s credit card for miscellaneous client expenses. But all I could manage was: “This?”
“You know, what I do for work, this Hollywood stuff,” Lois said. She sounded honest and enthusiastic; she was having fun in a way only the young and innocent can. At that moment I decided I liked her after all.
We returned to the Loews bungalows as fast as was legally possible. Lois dashed in to hand the glasses over to someone, who probably handed them to someone else, who in turn handed them to Owen Wilson.
Meanwhile, I hadn’t forgotten my primary duties to Mr. DAY. I was turning the car around to return to the hotel’s main entrance when Lois reappeared. I powered down the front passenger window.
“He doesn’t like them,” she said. “We’re going back. But now we’re really in a rush.”
“Got it,” I said. I turned on the XM radio to a new-age station. “As your driver, I advise you to listen to this. It’ll help keep you calm.” I looked at her through the rearview mirror. The music didn’t seem to be working.
As it turned out, the second time was the charm. (Mr. Wilson preferred the traditional “aviator” Ray-Bans to the modern, slightly curvier version.) But Lois and I had little time to celebrate because Mr. Dey had summoned me.
I drove down the road to where a collection of black vans, SUVs, and sedans offered an impressive fortification to the inner sanctum of the bungalows. Exiting my vehicle, the hand of anxiety that gripped these people placed its cold touch on my shoulder. The clock was ticking. I needed to find him — Mr. DAY. Another young person appeared in front of me. This one was a man, maybe approaching 30, with the properly disheveled hair of his generation.
“Excuse me,” I said, “I’m trying to find Mr. DAY.”
Matter-of-factly, the young man said, “It’s pronounced DIE.” As in death, I thought. He offered his hand. “I’m Simon, Mr. Dey’s assistant.” Simon seemed like a genuinely nice person — or, at any rate, nice. In the environment of a Hollywood press junket, I challenge anyone to separate genuine kindness from vocational aspiration.
“Very good,” I said. “And thank you for letting me know. Standing by for Mr. DIE.” Then I waited by my car for another hour.
Catering trucks arrived. Wonderfully rich-looking food and desserts were shuttled past, into the bungalows. I realized I was starving, and I had to go to the bathroom. Always a bad combination.
At that moment, Lois approached. Apparently, she hadn’t qualified for the chuck-wagon ticket either. I liked her even more. I assumed she felt snubbed and didn’t want to make her feel worse, so I spoke to her as she passed.
“You know, I found out it’s DIE, not DAY,” I offered.
“Really,” she drawled, extending the word. She arched an eyebrow.
“His assistant just informed me.”
“Oh,” she said, with the slightest recoil and resignation.
“And I think he should be a fairly reliable authority,” I said.
“Yes, indeed,” Lois agreed.
“I mean, the only higher source would be Mr. DIE’S mother but, unfortunately, she’s not available.”
“Who is Mr. DIE, anyway?” Lois asked, finally pronouncing his name correctly.
One of the caterers walked by with a silver chalice full of shrimp. Without missing a step he said, “He’s the director.” ■
— Bob Canaan