He knew no one in television and quickly came to know everybody. Who will stop his rise? 5,069 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
THE EARLY YEARS
Weight was always an issue for me, when I was young. An Italian boy from Ohio, I was basically loved to fat by my mother. All the love she didn’t get from my father, she gave to me — in huge pans of lasagna, monster portions of risotto, and gigantic slabs of tiramisu. I ate it all; it was so worth it to see her smile as I cleaned my plate.
So, at 21, I was living at home, a short fat Mama’s boy, a community college graduate, and in my private moments, gay. One night, right after my father kissed me with a look of disgust that was hard to hide, I went downstairs — I was living in the basement, my star athlete brother getting the only other bedroom upstairs — and sat in the dark, thinking. I stayed down there for days, not that anyone noticed. Well, my mother would pass down food whenever she was depressed.
And to me there only seemed one place to go, one dream to live, one big, great fuck-you-to-everyone-who-ever-made-fun-of-me — Hollywood.
My first job in Hollywood was not the mailroom, it was as an assistant to the assistant of the assistant to the assistant of the assistant to the Executive Vice President of the major cable network. I could not believe when I walked through those basement doors for my interview.
The major cable network was modern, impressive and hushed — open season for a guy like me. Ready to do anything, eat anyone’s shit, wash their cars, hide them from their husbands, wives, and kids, whatever it was, I was going to do it.
Now, everyone knows the horror stories of assistants — the phone calls at two in the morning, the cup of hot coffee thrown across the room because it was too hot, the I-got-kicked-so-I’m-going-to-kick-you mentality. It’s all true and it doesn’t really matter. Take it or get out. That’s it. It’s a club with its own rules. Love it or leave it. I loved it. Every humiliating, fucked up second of it. You know why?
Because I was used to the one thing that keeps you going in this town, and leads you to the top — complete obsequiousness. The egos are so fragile in this town anything less is just too threatening. But I had a distinct advantage when I first got to Hollywood: I didn’t have an ego.
First, I was fat shamed in those early years. It’s hard to squeak down the hallway with your pants rubbing together, man boobs, rolls of lard pushing at your Brooks Brother shirt no matter how large a size you got. But the shaming in Hollywood is never as bold or brave I should say, as the shaming in Scranton, Ohio. There wasn’t much I couldn’t take.
Hollywood lives on perception, so it behooves the major fucking prick I was working for to pretend to like me, even though I disgusted him. It was in his best interest to order me an extra sandwich for lunch with the comment that hunger is not to go unnoticed. Fucker. And he never would fire me, because that would be a huge black mark against his prick ass. How do you fire a fat, gay kid, who will do anything anyone asks? You can’t. Which brings me to the second chapter of this diary.
THE FFF PROTECTOR
As the assistant to the Head of Business Affairs for the major cable network, it is my job to police the deals made by the creative people. In other words I’m the gatekeeper. The first line of defense. The protector. I’ve never been a protector before — I always was the person who needed protecting — and now I am the protector!!! It feels so fucking good.
Lying to desperate people who want their deals done by my boss. Well guess what bitches, he doesn’t see your calls or your deal memos unless I give them to him. Oh glory day what fun this is. Dangling the promise of a phone call returned. Holding someone trembling on the line as they try not to beg but know they have to. Giggling as they called back and tried to pretend that it was a mistake. Uh huh, really?
I must tell you something. The secret of this town is not money, not fucking young dumb girls, not going to premieres, not lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel with someone everyone recognizes. It is the gushing exhilaration that comes with diminishing someone who once thought they were better than you. It is Hollywood’s addiction. And I could not get enough.
It is also my job to ingratiate myself to the President of the network. Which I was incredibly good at. I learned from my mother that when the going got tough — feed them the very thing that they don’t need. I inflated their egos to the popping point. Then held back, then started again. Fucking Christ it was fun.
The way I did that was to practically memorize every line of every deal. To know the history, the precedents, the quotes of all parties. And as only a FFF could do — see with clinical precision how much we could gut the deal. And during these years as the protector, something magical happened. I became an FFF.
Hollywood is littered with FFF’s. Agents, producers, executives. We are everywhere. There is nothing nastier than an FFF. For an FFF the scars from his past become his weapons. Rather than finding compassion for others through a common experience of shaming or abuse, we pretend it never happened to us. It’s what I call the great Ripley conceit; we enter the reality of fiction — we were never fat, we were always proud fags and we never take it up the ass, in any way.
My change began almost without trying. One day out of nowhere, I was at Ralphs for my midnight run of Brie, mini Hebrew Nationals, and Cool Whip. It was after midnight, a little early for me to be there, but still it was empty. Something about the fluorescent weird light, Captain & Tennille playing at that perfect supermarket volume that seemed to alter my state. As I was going through the Brie, looking for a nice, soft, large slice, well, I looked at the Brie and I saw my own face. I swear to god my fat, ugly, gay face was staring back at me. Then I looked away, at the hot dogs, and they became my doughy arms and legs. There I was, by the light of an empty Rock’n’Roll Ralphs, having a mystical, life altering, drug free hallucinogenic experience. And it was the moment I became an FFF. A former fatty fag. Wow. Wow. Wow.
Sure it took a few months to drops the eighty pounds. Get a tan. Find what muscles I had left and work them. But it was easy. Every week I threw out another pair of boxers that were too big. Every month a pair of jeans. Every two months I bought a new suit. And with each change I became meaner and meaner. And I knew during those months that I was becoming all that I could be. Fuck you dad. And fuck you bro.
Actually fuck everyone who never saw me coming.
I found a new apartment. It was my reward for my promotion last month. I am now the Vice President of Business Affairs for the major cable network. It may seem fast but don’t forget it’s been five years, 88 pounds, two fat removal surgeries, removal of my sweat glands. They stopped my heart to do it but it was worth it. Two years of six day a week workouts, 798 straight days of my morning weigh-ins, post shower and pre black coffee and egg whites at Hugos. Bimonthly facials, pedicures, manicures, boyish but short haircuts, contacts to show off my deep blue eyes.
I know I’m probably a year, two at the most, away from becoming President of Business Affairs at the major cable network. And that means, I will be on equal footing with the President of Original Programming. And then I will matter. Because let’s face it, Business Affairs people are seen as wanks, people that don’t really matter because we don’t make anything. We say yes to deals, but we are not sitting in a room with talent, listening to their ideas and deciding if they are good or not. Deciding whether or not “The main character needs work,” or “Is there enough of an engine?” and “Is there a reason the story doesn’t start earlier?” or "Is it too inside baseball?” or “I think the reason for the break-up, which I understand is the reason for the show, is wrong.” God I’ve practiced those speeches a million times in front of the mirror.
Now, to be honest, I’ve never read a script, or written a word of a story, and truly have no idea what a story arc, or character arc, or narrative drive, is. I truly couldn’t tell you what “the engine” is for any show. But I know what those terms are and how to use them because the President of Original Programming’s assistant, Claire, is my favorite lesbian friend, and she leaves the intercom on during meetings whenever possible.
I’m thinking about all this in preparation for my return home for Thanksgiving. The last time they saw me, three years ago, I was a tub of lard, a fat fuck with nothing going on, invisible and afraid to be seen. And now — I wear a suit, I’m tan, I’m thin, I wear sunglasses and lip balm. My nails are clean, I juice, my skin is crystal clear, I get facials, I wear contacts. I’m a fucking king.
My dad and brother are standing there watching my Mom hug me. She’s crying, "There’s nothing left of you." She’s crying, "You’re so handsome." She’s crying, "I don’t know my baby anymore." She’s crying in full and total awe of me. I wrap her up and just over her shoulder see my Dad watching us. He looks old and scared. Mission accomplished.
Dinner was a bore, roles have changed and no one knows what to say. After dinner and before I leave, I look into my closet. And it was then, finally, it hit me: I’m not a part of this closet anymore.
I asked my Mom why she was keeping my things. She was at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette, and having a shot. She said she was keeping them because it was the only thing she had left. I looked at her for a minute, a long minute, kissed her good night, and left the next morning. I love her, but I love myself more now. And I know, considering what is coming, that is a much healthier reality.
So Claire has been the President of Original Programming’s assistant for five years. She knows everything that happens in his office. And she knows what happens out of the office. That is not why I began a friendship with Claire. I recognized my old self in her, a bit hard to look at but eager. Okay, maybe it isn’t why I began the friendship but it might be why I maintained it. Which didn’t take much. Twice monthly dinners at best. A phone call or two a week. Daily texts but that’s easy. Look, I liked her. A lot. I leaned on her in the early days. She showed me the ins and outs of the major cable network. Who mattered and who didn’t. What the President of Original Programming was looking for, what deals he really wanted to make and why. And yes it was through her friendship that I began to gain access. But that’s okay. I’m sure she was using me too. And if she wasn’t, she should have been.
The President of Original Programming would see me almost on a daily basis to go through deals, but soon he began calling me in just to bullshit. There were issues. He wanted advice. He was having trouble with the President of the major cable network.
They wanted more. They wanted it now. Money wasn’t the issue, was never the issue, it was something else. They wanted something else. I asked him what that was. They wanted to be thought of as the best. I asked what that meant — he clammed up. I was intrigued.
I then did something I perhaps should not have.
The President of Original Programming, who was married with three kids, seemed to be getting younger every time I saw him. Obviously looking young, even stupidly young, is not unusual in Hollywood. But his change was drastic, Billy Crystal drastic. I was curious. So one night, I asked Claire what was going on. She said she had no idea. I told her I needed to know. I needed to know because there were rumors, things were being said about him, and I truly just wanted to protect him. Claire told me he was seeing his old girlfriend again. I was shocked: the same girlfriend who held him hostage for a day all those years ago? She nodded. Then Claire drops the bomb — he’s back on his testosterone. In high doses. Crazy high doses. Claire was really upset about it.
That night I found myself back at Ralphs. Standing in front of the Brie.
Thinking about that magical, mystical moment. How the Brie section at Ralphs came to be my moral compass I will never know. I had to examine things I hadn’t looked at for awhile. What road was I on? Why? What really was driving me? I knew that as a FFF I carried a lot of hidden places. Psychic fat rolls, the ones that still covered my washboard stomach.
I walked between the cheese section and the deli section. Wandered the ice cream and stared at the cereal display forever. Wrestled mightily with my next move. Although my literary knowledge is limited, I believe it is called the long night of the soul. When one has to decide what matters most, doing the right thing for you, or doing the right thing for everybody else.
Over the next few weeks I spent more and more time with Claire. She’s a really nice girl and I was comfortable confiding in her. And she became more comfortable confiding in me. I was in no rush. I waited for a crack large enough to wiggle through. In the meantime I prepped. When the President of the major cable network came out from Chicago I made sure I was there. When Martin Scorsese’s deal was problematic, I was the one who flew to New York to kiss his ass. When I learned that top creative people were no longer making us their first choice, I made sure the President of the major cable network knew. When I had dinner with the President of the other cable network I made sure my President knew.
Everything I did for the next year was done to achieve one thing — to become the President of Original Programming at the major cable network. But that was proving much harder than anything I had achieved before. I got to the door, but I could not fucking open it.
He was taking meetings with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and I was reading fucking contracts. He was looking younger, more confident, more polished, and I gained 3.6 lbs.
He signed a new contract, and I was still working salary. And the worst, his wife knew he was fucking his girlfriend and didn’t care. She was fucking his girlfriend too!!! This town. Incredibly hard to find the cracking point. The weakness weak enough to break.
And then, and then, one night at the Soho House, sitting with my new boyfriend and his friends, out of nowhere, it dropped in my lap. Oh my fucking god — I’m in.
I’m a fucking loser. An idiot. A dumb fat piece of shit loser. I am exactly what they all see. A stupid dumbass. A fat fag. A joke. I’m crushed. Bereft. Paralyzed. I’m one dumb, fat, ugly motherfucker. One fat hand wrapped around a wheel of Brie, the other reaching for a 24-pack of jumbo Nathan’s. One dumb ugly fat motherfucker whose balls were cut off so quick I barely felt it. I am never going to make it. Never going to be one of them. Never.
I can’t even stomach writing this, but I have to. I have to. Have to face it. Face it now. Been hiding. Scale shows it. Eight pounds up in three days. Tits show it, jiggling already. Skin shows it. I see my father every time I look in the mirror.
So two weeks ago I walked down the hall to the office of the President of Original Programming (POOP), the office that was soon to be mine. Super scrubbed — new suit, hair perfect, razor cut, kind of 1960’s Mad Men but current, nails done, shoes new, popped in for a bit of color and a freeze. Even took a hit of testosterone. Felt every inch the beautiful warrior — not just the way I looked, but I was ARMED. I had the information. I had what nobody had. Four years in the making of me. The drunk boy toy of a Sony executive had given me the fucking key to the fucking office. I was already seeing the movie. Swear to god. So anticipatory I could hardly breathe. I remember every big pore on Claire’s face when she saw me — adoration and fear — I mean the combo just about put me over. I’ve never felt both at the same time. I was everything I always wanted to be. Claire said he just got in, was in a good mood. So I went in.
POOP is not tall. He’s balding. Can see it’s a fight — hair implants, but not the Travolta kind, more the Kevin Costner kind, gradual. He looks a lot like a turtle, maybe a toad. Watery blue eyes, soft, like he’s got too must estrogen floating around in him.
He’s scrubbed. Polished. Old school and new school. Talent likes him because he pretends to work from his gut, pretends he’s not afraid to admit when he’s unclear, mostly he makes talent believe they are more important than him. He’s a master at creating the perception that he is nothing more than the delivery system for their greatness. He kind of seems like a fag but everyone knows he isn’t. His last eight years as President of Original Programming at the major cable network have “changed the landscape of television for good.” He assumes his power is earned and well deserved. Assumptive power. Which makes everyone give him even more power. He is everything I have ever wanted to be.
I walked in. A smile. POOP was happy to see me. But didn’t say anything.
He smiled again. This time like he felt sorry for me. Like he was my fucking father. Cold chills, the worst kind, ran up and down my back. I didn’t spend most of my life getting fucked to not recognize that smile.
And then, and then, the fucking cocksucker, got up, walked around his ugly modern desk, specially designed, stood very close, and put his cocksucking arm around me.
I could see Plan B, Plan C, Plan D and Plan E in his face. His body. His sureness. His calmness. Like I was a big fat fucking beached whale and he was ready to cut the lard out of me and go give it to his tribe.
I didn’t know how it turned or when, but the table had turned and I knew enough to get the fuck out of there. And fast. Told him I wanted to talk about the Justin Theroux deal. Justin’s agent was not backing down. Justin wants, as part of his deal, a commitment for Jennifer, not for now, but for any time in the future. A six episode, $2 million an episode, commitment. Justin would be willing to give up his monthly $10K grooming allowance, as a gesture, something that shows how much he wanted to stay with the major cable network. I was babbling I know. But I kept going. I said, I thought it would set a bad precedent.
POOP told me not to worry about it, he already talked to Justin’s agent, we’d figure something out.
Then he asked me to sit down. Again. This time I did.
A long beat for me as the cold chills turned to sweat, and the sweat started to run down my back. Fucking shit. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Great, I said. Thanks for jumping in.
POOP nodded. Smiled again. Didn’t say anything. I took a note — power is behind the beat. Power controls the silence. I wanted to say something but couldn’t. Actually was incapable of speaking. As fucked as I was feeling, I was impressed. I had never seen anyone silence somebody into silence.
Then…then he asked me if I knew how long Claire had worked for him. Um, I didn’t. Twelve years, he said. She is his eyes and ears, has tremendous instincts, is more than his assistant, is an extension of him. He said he and Claire look out for each other. He wouldn’t be where he is without her. He said he rewards and cherishes loyalty above all. He said that we are who we are because someone once believed in us.
…Claire believes in me, he said, and I believe in her.
As he talked, I began transforming.
…You are ambitious but dumb
My face was pockmarked again. My hair suddenly frizzy and horizontal.
…You think I would have anyone close to me I didn’t trust…who didn’t owe me everything
Fat jiggled on my arms. My thighs were chafed and chapped from constant rubbing together. My shoes came from L.L. Bean.
…Of course I knew what you were doing…Claire and I laughed about it…when Claire came over for dinner…she and my wife are close…shop together..
My shirt, not Gucci, but Mr. Suit For All Sizes
…You think this business is easy…you think that bullshit about Hollywood being high school with money is true…haha…it’s war…it’s a war of attrition…a war of information…a war of not who you’re after but who’s after you…it’s a war you are fighting without any weapons…it’s a war you will never win…your belief that you can take my place…that you belong…that you can handle this is one of the most ridiculous, laughable, myopic things I have ever witnessed. People do what they are naturally good at…you are used to losing…that’s what you will continue doing…that’s why you are sitting here…incapable of saying a word…you don’t have it…and it’s okay…you have other things…
I had fat person smell again — fried fish and standing water.
POOP put his musk smelling arm around me.
…If I could fire you I would…but you’re gay…and you used to be fat…it’s tough…
All I could do was nod my head, silently agree, and thank him for not firing me.
…Oh, congratulations…you’re going to be the head of business affairs for our new reality division…
I was in the basement again. And it’s where I belonged.
IF YOU DON’T MATTER YOU DON’T EXIST
I’m in fucking Amish country. No one sees me. Creatives who used to kiss my ass walk right by me. Step over me. Agents who used to take me out for drinks won’t call me back. Every day I matter less and less. A couple more days and I won’t exist. POOP knew. He knew that nothing would break me like this does.
He watched me change, watched me lose weight, tracked my movements, knew where I was shopping, knew about my long nights at Soho with the gays, he watched, he followed, and when I was close he took it all away.
Knew I could survive just about anything but not mattering. And that’s why he didn’t fire me. He wanted to demolish any part of me that could come back and hurt him. Masterful I guess.
POOP knew the humiliation of taking the elevator down to the basement — that is where the new reality division of the major cable network is housed — my small office at the end of the narrow hall — is survivable.
Just like he knew that the people in reality, mostly young, skinny, inscrutable emotionless Asians, would torture me, because nothing gets to them, they never react. They don’t play the game, or they don’t play it any way I’m used to. You could take a shit on them and they would keep going. No wonder they are taking over the world.
But it’s more than that. It’s even more than disappearing. Then not having anyone to say no to. It’s that I spend most of my time consumed with revenge. I used to spend my time consumed with success. I’m backtracking. Instead of how do I advance, it’s how do I resurrect? How do I come back, bigger, better, faster, stronger than before.
And, who do I take down in the process? I mean other than Claire. Oh yeah, I’m starting with her. Yeah, it’s her. It was her from the beginning. Fucking Christ motherfucker I was played by that mousy cunt.
I have a deep love/hatred for both women and food. But Claire was different I liked her. Very basic. Very plain. Everyone trusted her because they never really saw her. It was like she was a box — here box let me dump this secret in you.
Every once in a while I see her in the parking garage. And she waves and says hi like nothing happened. A box. I hate her.
OH HAPPY DAY
I was at Ralphs when I decided I would go and see her. It was late. I needed to be alone. Needed the lights and the soft songs and the aisles of food.
I was staring at the ingredients listed on the pimento studded jack — looking for a reason not to eat it right fucking then and there when something POOP said came back to me — people do what’s natural to them and losing is natural to me. Is it?
I paid for the cheese and practically ran out of there.
It was like a scene in a movie, where the guy realizes he loves the girl and runs across town to get to her and tell her before it’s too late — same thing, except I hated her and had to tell her before she died or something.
It was almost 11 but I didn’t give a shit. She’s a box. Boxes don’t have sex.
She seemed sincerely happy to see me.
She apologized but said she knew what I was doing and saw a good opportunity to make some bank with POOP. She said it was her idea to move me to reality rather than fire me because if they did fire me I could stir up some trouble — which POOP didn’t need. Sorry, she said with that mousy smile that strangely looked bigger than before. It was only then I realized she had her teeth done. And I think her upper lip plumped. Fuck.
Just seeing that I knew what happened. I was her move and she made it. Good for her.
I asked her how they knew I wouldn’t go public with my info — POOP’s girlfriend didn’t hold him hostage — he held her hostage, kept her prisoner for almost 24 hours. No food, no drink, no clothes.
Claire just smiled and shook her head. Oh come on, who would believe you? You think POOP’s GF is going to turn on him? Now? When just a couple of weeks ago she was cast in the major cable network’s new pilot Going South? Fuck. No, I said, not a chance. Claire smiled again, shook her head, not a chance. And then she said she had enough info to make me look like a bitter, under qualified fuck. A sympathy hire. I nodded.
Then I nodded again. And again. And again. Like I had Parkinsons or something.
Then I did something so novel, so daring, so fucking disarming — I admitted I was outplayed. Never saw it coming. Not that I wasn’t qualified to be POOP, I was just beat at a game I was not experienced enough to play. So what?
And I saw fear in her face. I told her I wasn’t afraid. Not of her. Or of POOP. And I saw her crumble. Her entire existence was built on creating fear. And she couldn’t do it with me. And that made her nothing. Made them all nothing. If they can’t scare me then THEY don’t exist.
I had just found the real golden key.
I kept going. I had no choice, words were put in my mouth for me.
Claire, oh box Claire — here’s the real truth. I am deep. I am creative. I am not afraid. I am on the side of art. That is my new mantra.
And I saw the way forward — it was so simple and so right, I cannot believe I didn’t see it before. Fuck POOP. I was Steve Jobs in the garage.
The way forward was through talent. Control the talent, control the town. Duh. All I ever wanted was to say yes or no.
So all I was going to do was switch who I was saying yes or no to.
Instead of me sitting in POOP’s office telling Angie and Brad no — Angie and Brad and I would sit in POOP’s office telling him no. Get it?
I was going to become a manager. The most feared motherfucker in Hollywood. Fuck you old motherfuckers.
It’s me, it’s me — it is me who will win.
Two weeks later I signed my first client. A 17 year old transgender kid who made a movie. And guess who was there for our first screening. That’s right. There and waiting for me.
Television Fiction Package for Emmy Season. This short story first posted here on August 3, 2015.