Another installment in the series “Several really kind of gay things I did before I was really kind of gay.”
During my brief stint in LA, I worked several jobs that fell under the heading “Production Assistant.” The particulars of each assignment may have varied, but there were a few constant rules:
- Everything is an emergency.
- The 405 is never your best option. Take Sepulveda. Are you an idiot?
- A bialy is not just a “bagel without a hole.”
- Shut up!
This last one was the most important. I learned that on my first paying gig, an unsuccessful game show pilot for FOX. I was bialy-ing up the conference room when a writer, who was from Canada, had an idea that involved the hockey concept of a “hat trick.” The producer went around the room asking if anyone knew what the eff a hat trick was. He asked me directly, “You’re who’d be watching this show. What’s a hat trick?”
“Ummm… it’s like a three-peat, right?”
“Yeah, three-peat. That actually makes sense,” nodded the producer.
I went back to arranging bialys in a pleasing manner. About 45 minutes later, the Canadian writer cornered me in the bathroom with about $40 worth of something decidedly not-Canadian clinging to his nose hairs. He got six inches from my face. “Are you a writer?” he clipped.
“Well, my masters thesis was a screenplay about a theater critic who accidentally kills William Shakespeare.”
“What?” He did that thing where people shake their heads, but their eyes stay fixed on you. “No! Let me put it a way you can understand. Who here makes more money than you?”
“Right! Everybody! That means you shut the fuck up! I busted my ass getting here.” Here being the number four writer on an unsuccessful game show pilot. “Be careful who you piss off, or you just might find yourself on the outside one day.”
So, I shut up. I didn’t talk about things germane to show quality and let a whole lot of game show questions with weird Canadian syntax –they use just a skosh too many words to get a point across –go past as I photocopied revisions. I didn’t talk about borderline offensive behavior and quietly shared an office with a production secretary who liked to share with me in graphic detail what she would do if she ever “got her hands on a Palestinian.” I didn’t talk about things, good juicy gossipy things, that I probably should’ve talked about at the time and didn’t discuss the possible reasons why a remarkably firm Lyle Waggoner would hug me, and only me, after he was done auditioning for host.
My next gig was on a made-for-TV movie for the USA Network called Into the Badlands. It consisted of three thematically linked Western tales held together through the device of Bruce Dern being weird. On this particular day, we got a rough cut into our West Hollywood office of a big scene between hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Helen Hunt and dark-brooding-gunslinger Dylan McDermott. In it Helen was giving Dylan a bath while they shared a heartfelt, expositorily necessary conversation. It was beautiful to watch two talented actors practice their craft. Helen demonstrated why she would go on to win an Oscar in a few years, and Dylan was such a professional that he eschewed swim trunks to film the scene. Several of us were watching a wider two-faces-east shot with both actors in the screen. Dylan reclined in the tub, and Helen sat on a stool behind him, tenderly washing his shoulders. “He’s a brave actor,” said my current producer.
Then I saw it.
It was ever so slight, barely just a disturbance in the surface tension. But it was a flesh-colored disturbance. I glanced to around the room to see if it registered with anybody else, but they were all fixated on Helen’s face, which now filled the screen.
I must’ve been imagining penis. Why would I be imagining penis? I wasn’t gay. No, sir. The most interesting thing about working in West Hollywood wasn’t the gays. Nope, it was that take-out food couldn’t come in foam boxes. It wasn’t the bars up on Santa Monica Boulevard. “What the hell is that?!” my dad demanded when I drove him by the crowd spilling out of Rage on a Friday night during his visit the previous month.
“It’s a gay bar… I think,” keeping my hands at 10 and 2.
The scene cut back to the two-shot. Helen comforted Dylan as he explained why he was so tortured. The production secretary sighed; they both were so convincing.
Dick bob! This time it was almost a full square centimeter of generalized tip. No one else noticed, but my brain began to feverishly extrapolate. It was like my brain switched over to cyborg-vision. All I could see was the flesh-colored VISIBLE PENIS flashing while a green wireframe assemblage of the PROJECTED PENIS took shape. Various measurements scrolled by on the right side of the screen:
SOAPY WATER BUOYANCY FACTOR
How could I properly construct a hypothetical penis with such precision? It’s not like I had any working database of penises. This was before the internet. The closest I had come I think was that time the clerk at Fred Segal attached a note that read, “I think you’re beautiful. 818-595-4938. Raphael.” to the receipt when I picked up two pairs of jeans for my producer.
“Well, it looks like someone at Fred Segal likes you,” said the producer as he dropped the note on my desk. “I assume it’s for you since it’s an 818 number.”
“Um, it’s… wrong tree… I was just being nice!” I think I was convincing.
“Well, you and Raphael have a good time,” snickered the producer as he backed away.
“HA. HA. HA. HA.” See? I’m laughing about it. I understand how ridiculous the whole thing is because… gay?
So, this whole elaborate charade I had constructed at this gig would come crashing down if I blurted out “Dick bob!” Yes, the fact that one could clearly, oh so clearly, see a penis in the two-shot rendered that footage unusable. However, I would face the line of questioning that begins whenever there’s a slip-up: “Penis on the brain much?” It would be like that time in high school French that I mispronounced finis.
It came up a third time. My brain had enough information. The display declared RECONSTRUCTION PROJECTION –99% CONFIDENCE. Congratulations, Mr. McDermott!
Still, no one was noticing. I couldn’t let these people release something with three verifiable dick bobs in it. They were all so nice. Instead of ethnic invective, this production secretary would regale me with sordid tales from her previous job on the set of Small Wonder. And that crack about the 818 area code from the producer was just bitchy enough to make him a gay. (Also, once when I went to pick up a dress shirt for him at his bungalow, I noticed that there were two very masculine alarm clocks on either side of the bed.) Maybe I was safe. Maybe I could let people know that I noticed a penis.
“Dick bob! You can see the tip!” I blurted out. There was much murmuring as the tape was rewound. Around the room people were calling out “dick bob” over and over again, sometimes at instances even I didn’t think were penis-worthy.
The producer turned to me. “You just cost us a few grand. Good job.” He was being bitchy. I exhaled –for that day.