I now work in corporate America, at a talent and literary agency. I sit in an office for 10 hours a day. It’s essentially the exact opposite of being a professional athlete, but that doesn’t mean I should have stopped writing. Just because I now get paid to make phone calls and cappuccinos (ALWAYS removing the frothy top layer) doesn’t mean I’ve run out of interesting things to say. I hope.
I’ll start by giving you the inside scoop on how to get a job working for a top Hollywood agency. First, look at job boards. Second, blindly send out this gem of a resume:
Knowing what I know now, it’s surprising the person in HR didn’t auto delete this. If you think it looks like I typed it up in 15 minutes, without using any resume formatting software and without even bothering to google “how to make a resume,” you would be correct on all fronts. I am redundant. I switch up tenses. I bury the lead by putting Harvard at the bottom. I mention poetry. In spite of all that, the cooking thing is what kills me. It’s like I was applying to be a sous chef at Applebees.
But it somehow warranted an interview, and I was hired into the mailroom. The agency world is old school, and some people have to literally start at the bottom. At our company, about 6 to 8 people work in the mailroom at any given time.
Inexplicably, I assumed the term “mailroom” was just a nickname for an entry level position. They weren’t really going to dump a bunch of college graduates into a small, windowless, basement and make them sign for FedEx packages for 12 hours a day, right?
I learned very quickly that is almost exactly what happens. You really do spend 60 hours a week in a cluttered room, sorting and delivering mail. The mail arrives, you put it in the appropriate cubby, and then at 3 hour intervals you load the mail into a cart. You then shove said cart around the floors handing letters to the assistants and taking their outgoing mail. You feel like some sort of medieval times trash collector. Complicating matters was the fact that the carts were so dilapidated you wouldn’t want your worst enemy pushing them around Costco. They were ancient, bent, pitiful things. At the start of every mail run I’d say a silent prayer that my cart wouldn’t spontaneously dissolve into a pile of rusted bolts.
Assuming you removed successfully loaded your cart without a wheel falling off or a mesh pocket snapping out of position, the next step was to check for scripts that might be in need of delivery. These scripts came from the duplication center, which was the hub of all the printing in the building. The man in charge was a mammoth of a human named Fred (I should note that all names are made up.) Fred wasn’t cut, body builder huge. More like offensive lineman, my shirt size has more X’s than Larry King, I would probably kill you if I fell on you huge. He’s the kind of guy you want on your good side. Problem was, Fred was not at all interested in talking to guys. He was jovial, warm and smiley around every woman in the office. The guys were contagious lepers to be spoken to as a last resort. I saw him every day for 6 weeks and there is absolutely no way that he knows my name. Fred subscribed to the Milford School philosophy, believing guys should be neither seen nor heard.
I always wondered what would happen if he was provoked by a someone with a Y chromosome. I got my chance one morning when the local news was showing live coverage of a fugitive chase. Fred was totally engaged, animatedly pointing out that the guy was a fool for trying to hide in a mobile home.
It was all fun and games until Harold, the man in charge of the mailroom, made an appearance. Harold, who was almost as riveted by the chase as Fred, exclaimed “This is happening in Compton? Isn’t that where you live, Fred? Hahaha.”
Harold thought that was hilarious. Fred pointed out that he lived in Long Beach, and he wasn’t laughing. Neither was anyone else. There was some serious tension. Had Harold made an equally distasteful follow up comment there was a chance Fred would’ve flicked Harold’s head clean off his shoulders like he was playing human tee ball.
Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Harold slinked away. Fred returned to pointing out that you’d have to be dumber than a just-sacked Vince Young to think you could win a footrace with the LAPD. So, there was no real resolution to the conflict. But I am convinced the effects lingered, because a few days later Harold took the microwave out of the basement. He said he “didn’t like smelling people’s lunches all the time.” This royally pissed off Fred the first time he went looking for a way to heat up his grub. When he found a filing cabinet where the oven used to be, he had some harsh words for Harold. To his credit, Harold didn’t budge. If Fred ever so much as brushed against me I’d probably offer up my first born child to avoid conflict. But Harold never did reinstall a microwave. The Lesson? Laugh at your bosses jokes, even if they are poorly timed and the tiniest, slightest bit racist.
That whole incident provided a brief respite from pushing mail carts, building cardboard basketball hoops, and forlornly staring at our reception-less phones. Another fun way to pass the time involved opening fan mail.
I’m sorry if this is like telling a child that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, but if you write to a celebrity your letter is going to be opened by an agency employee, ruthlessly mocked, and then thrown out. Megan Fox is never going to the prom with you. Eminem will not attend your charity event. Ellen Degeneres won’t buy you a new house. And hell will freeze over before Wentworth Miller falls in love with you after reading your disturbingly graphic note and seeing the taped on locket of your pubic hair.
It’s kind of a bummer that none of this mail reaches the intended target. How hard is it to sign some pictures? Lindsay Lohan really has better things to do than scribble out a few thank you notes? I briefly decided I was going to start faking signatures and sending them back to people, because it would make their day and they would never know the difference. I would be like a one man Make A Wish Foundation. But then I realized that my precious free time should be spent doing productive things, like watching NBA finals highlights online. I decided the whole thing would be kind of annoying. I now empathize with the celebrities.
(Side note: I wrote to Barry Sanders when I was little and received a signed picture in return. I cherished it. This experience makes me think my prized possession could have been the creation of some overworked Lion’s intern who scribbled out thousands of autographs a day. I’m not mad at the guy. He was making 10 year olds happy. I actually like to think he was the lone voice within the organization trying to stop the team from drafting Charlie Batch, a move that basically crushed poor Barry’s will to live. Detroit Football!)
There were actually a few work related things to be done when we weren’t making fun of the latest wave of bizarre head shots from dorky mid-westerners who seemed to have not a single person in their life providing them with solid advice. Twice a week we had to walk the floors and re-stock the cupboards with all the basic office materials. We were told to go upstairs, make note of what envelopes and papers were running low, then go back down to the mailroom, collect these specific supplies and return to top everything off. Often you would go down in search of one particular size of envelope and spend 20 minutes looking for it amidst cobwebs and low hanging pipes. It was horribly inefficient.
Why on earth didn’t we just take a bunch of supplies at once, of all different kinds, and then top off what we needed as we went from station to station? Takes out all the thinking and takes half the time. I figured that after brining up this strategy I would be hailed as the Elon Musk of organizing letterhead, and likely would be promoted out of the mailroom. Not quite what happened.
The problems arose partly because I entered into a situation where I was one of three new people amongst a group of eight. The 5 other members had been down in the mail room for over 3 months. That is a long time. I ended up being in the mail room for 6 weeks, and it felt like an eternity. 3 months is like doing a bid in San Quentin.
These mail room veterans were not happy with my plea that we change some things up. It get’s real Stockholm syndrome-y down there. They liked their system and stuck to it doggedly. I will never concede that their way was better, but I will say that it is probably smart to not rock the boat, especially when you’re fighting over how to stock a cupboard full of 8 x 11 envelopes.
Yet, I couldn’t let it go. A friend and I would frequently comment on the inanity of it all. Most of the time people would laugh as we discussed how the current system was the equivalent of hoeing a field with a toothpick, but at a certain point one of the other people in the mailroom started to take things personally.
Things came to a head when I forgot a script during a mail run, which in her mind was an inexcusable offense. What were the consequences of this blunder on my part? It was office Armageddon.
Clients were lost, agents were fired, and everyone’s pay was frozen.
Oh wait, never mind. Absolutely nothing happened.
When I finished my mail run I said, “Oh damn, I forgot those scripts.” Then I grabbed them, delivered them, and all was right in the world. Except for Colleen, one of the vets, everything was not all right. Not at all.
When I got back and instantly started joking around with Kevin, Colleen approached with a sour look on her face. She took a seat next to us and launched into a 5 minute sermon about how we weren’t taking things seriously. She said our lackadaisical attitudes were reflecting poorly on us, that every piece of mail we delivered was a direct reflection of how we were going to perform as assistants, and that maybe we thought we were too good to be down there because we were 25, but that was no excuse for being flippant. It felt like we had just been blown out in a basketball game and then got caught by a coach laughing in the locker room.
Problem was, we were not being reprimanded by a devoted, hard-working authority figure with a right to be upset. We were getting upbraided by a recycling obsessed 22-year-old who thought Macklemore was the next Prince, who once spent an entire week using the company phone to talk to her lawyer after getting a DUI, and who thought that studying abroad in New Zealand made her the queen of culture. She was prone to taking brief pauses between telling us how much better life was in the South Pacific to dig through the trash bins in search of misplaced items. Often she would find a plate that had been inadequately cleaned and prepped for recycling. She’d then make it a personal mission to seek out the offender, damn near comparing food fragments from the plate to people’s lunch items the next day.
This love child of Captain Planet and Nancy Drew was absolutely furious with us, and we didn’t really know what to say. “Good thing there are no mailcart sobriety checkpoints!” seemed a little distasteful. So we just sat there and took it, promising to be better, acknowledging that yes, if we didn’t get our act together we would probably never be hired as a full-time assistant upstairs. She walked away in a satisfied huff, and proceeded to not get hired on any desk, ever, to this day. Kevin and I have both been on desks for months. Who would have thought there was more to being a viable assistant than blind self-righteousness and properly disposing of aluminum cans?
Just to be clear: I only write all these bad things about this young woman because I have it on good authority that she is fond of saying nasty things behind my back. So I am lashing out behind hers. It really is like middle school at this company. All I’m missing is a locker, a Green Day CD, and a rockin’ bowl haircut.