Hollywood wannabes grow tired of climbing the corporate ladder. So this guy jumped. 2,601 words. Part Two. Story and illustration by Mark Fearing.
On another beautiful Los Angeles morning, Bruce Walker pulled into a parking space a little before 9:00 a.m. He parked on the Basement 9 floor which was actually eleven levels down but entertainment corporations have their own way of looking at numbers. As a halftime coordinator and part-time reader for Entertainer Entertainment, Bruce was lucky he even got to park in the headquarters.
Entertainer Entertainment created everything and anything that ended up on TV. A dozen years ago, the company was bought by Conglom Worldwide Entertaindom and now the “Conglom” building, as it was called, took up three blocks in every direction and was topped by a rooftop garden for the enjoyment of the almost unseen executives who worked on the 8th and 9th floors. This elite area was called Heaven.
Cathy sat at the front desk coolly answering, transferring and chatting, using a phone control pad that belonged on the space shuttle. Cathy had been up front for longer than Bruce had worked there. She was smart, efficient, good-humored and did her thankless work so well that she would never be promoted beyond it. So much for excelling at your job.
Most everyone ignored Cathy, but Bruce enjoyed spending a few minutes each morning receiving her rundown on everything happening in the building. “Three calls came in for Swain this morning from the Heaven floors,” Cathy confided, leaning over the front of the desk in mock dramatic fashion. “I think your favorite boss is having a tough time.”
“Maybe the six-hour lunches are finally catching up with him,” Bruce replied. “I don’t know why he doesn’t just use the restaurant on Robertson as his business address.”
Cathy smiled. “Lunch is business, Bruce. You know that.”
“Hey, I like lunch as much as the next cubicle rat. But isn’t he still supposed to get something done?”
Cathy snorted a quick laugh. “Bruce, I have to prepare the monthly phone list. Has your title changed and are you still at extension 456?”
Bruce began to picture his morning. Researching residuals under the fore mentioned Vice President of Comedy, Drama and TV Movies. As long as Bruce completed the residual report each month, he was on easy street. Of course, after five years and no promotion, easy street looked low rent.
“I’m still at extension 456…” Bruce hesitated. He was struck by a vision: he was 80 years old and still waiting for that promotion. His shaky hands hit the wrong keys while his boss shouted at him from a corner office. But the boss is only 9 years old! “Dammit, Bruce! I told you I wanted universal vid-rez demographics from last night’s stream by 8:00. Not 8:03!”
Bruce had spent his time at the company as an assistant, a researcher, and a reader while new VP hires either self-destructed in a cloud of accusations or moved into corner offices with a company Gold Card. Bruce still lived with an underemployed roommate who left dirty socks in the microwave and still saved quarters to do laundry in machines that made his clothes smell like garlic. And then he said it.
“I’ve been promoted, Cathy. I’m a Vice President.”
Bruce knew that a new type of Vice President was created every day in Hollywood. A Vice President of Domestic Distribution, a Vice President of Regional Domestic Distribution, a Vice President of Large Market Regional Domestic Distribution. It never stopped.
But this was a self-promotion.
“Yup, I’m moving up,” Bruce told Cathy. “I better hurry into my office.”
Cathy said, not very quietly, “I’ve been wondering how long it would take for them to recognize your ability.”
After Bruce said his “Good Mornings,” making sure everyone knew he was in on time, he slumped down in his chair. He was sweating. He wiped his upper lip. There was no going back now. But he wanted to run back to Cathy and tell her he’d made a mistake. But change it back to what? Hard working dork? The sign on his cube could just say, “Welcome, why don’t you kick me in the ass while you are visiting.” Bruce knew nice guys didn’t stand a chance in showbiz. Not unless they lied and cheated and killed. Of course, at that point, they weren’t really nice guys anymore.
Bruce was too damn nice for that stuff. All he could do was give himself a fake promotion. So he started planning his next steps to make it real.
Shortly before noon, Margaret Von Tiers from Promotions poked her head in. “Congrats, Bruce!” Bruce looked up. He had, as best he could remember, never talked with her before. “Marketing and Promotions will have to take you out to lunch soon. So, who are you reporting to?”
Bruce had prepared for this question by mumbling and jumbling the reporting structure. “I’ll be active in all the new initiatives in comedy and drama, co-reporting to domestic production and to Mr. Davis for original development.” Margaret looked startled. Because Bruce had gone straight for the top. He’d picked Mr. Archibald Davis, the President and Chief Creative Development Executive for Comedy and Drama, because Archie was a hundred and something years old and never left his Beverly Hills estate to come into the office anymore. He was still a mover and a shaker even if a nurse did most of that for him now. But one call from Mr. Archie Davis and anyone in Hollywood was available for a meeting.
Bruce spent the next hour shuffling papers on his desk. He picked up one page and pretended to read it. He moved his lips, since every executive in Hollywood moved their lips to read. Brandon then came by. The newbie had only been working in the division for about two months. He was currently an assistant in accounting but wanted to do something more exciting than bean-counting. Brandon wanted development.
“Way to go, dude. Will you need an assistant?” Brandon asked, lowering his voice to make his pitch. “Because I am so ready to move up.”
“Listen, Brandon, it may still be a few days before the office is set up. But if you are ready to start pushing really cool creative work through this town, then you’re my new assistant.”
Bruce didn’t need to stay and see Brandon’s reaction. Instead, Bruce headed for the front lobby.
“Cathy, I’ll be out the rest of the day. If you need to get me, call the cell. And if there’s a message, tell Brandon. He’s my new assistant.”
Cathy smiled. “That Brandon, I like him.”
Bruce headed home. By not staying in the office, Bruce avoided any more unexpected encounters. He’d use the down time to plan his next move.
At home, Bruce changed into shorts, watched some TV and made a burger. His roommate Tom was just getting home from another day of temping. He was still trying to find an in at an entertainment company.
“Tom, I think I have a job for you,” Bruce greeted him. “It’s my old job. I’ve been promoted and we need a new guy as soon as possible.”
“Way to go! I guess it just takes time to catch a break, huh?”
Bruce put his beer down. “Something like that…”
The next morning, Bruce patrolled the first floor parking looking for his name alongside the other VPs. Executives had their names painted on the walls. He didn’t see his name yet. He would force the issue with HR.
When Bruce walked into his cubicle, the phone was blinking madly with messages. “Bruce, we should get together. I have a great idea for an hour long drama.” “Bruce, it’s Marge over at Disney; we should have lunch soon.” “Bruce, congratulations and let’s start working together!”
Bruce was shocked. How did all these industry people know so soon? Brandon shot into his office and twisted the computer screen around to show the Deadline Hollywood website. There was Bruce’s picture and a headline that made the fake VP feel dizzy: “Bruce Walker promoted to VP of Domestic Production, Original Programming and New Material.”
The news was in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and all the industry blogs. This changed everything. No more time for Bruce to quietly arrange for his promotion. From phone list to headline in 24 hours seemed impossible. But Bruce’s next step had to be made immediately.
“Brandon? I need you to call on some of that high school acting talent you told me about a few weeks ago and phone Stacy in HR. Tell her you need your desk assignment as Mr. Walker’s new assistant now. Let her know I’m on a rampage and raising hell. I’ll be right back.”
Bruce casually walked towards the Human Resources office. A few people from around the office waved congratulations. One held up a copy of Variety with a big grin. Bruce arrived outside of Stacy’s office. Her title plaque read “Director of Human Resources” as he pushed the door open.
Stacy was no pushover, but she could be buffaloed. Bruce knew it would take the nerve of Chris Pratt and the timing of Kevin Hart. She was currently flustered dealing with Brandon on the phone. The tension of the situation was already eating away at her usually stubborn resolve.
Bruce entered, smiled and shut the door quietly. Stacy curtly cut Brandon off. She put the phone down and braced herself, expecting Bruce to go berserk. But that wasn’t his plan. She looked startled to see him.
“Hello, Stacy. I’m sorry to bother you. By the way, you look great today. Did you get your hair cut?”
Stacy brushed a curl away from her plump cheek. “No, but this dress is new.” Truth was. the dress made her look like the wall of a museum.
Bruce waited for Stacy to start. “I just got off the phone with Brandon…”
“I know. I’m sorry. You know that Brandon is a hard worker. And we all know Mr. Davis is a tough person to work for. And I know you are trying your best and that’s why I decided to stop by and take care of this directly. You saw the trades this morning?”
“Yes. I mean, congratulations. I first heard about it yesterday from Cathy. It’s just that I have no paperwork, no parking assignment, no contract drafts, no salary confirmations, no anything…” Stacy stammered.
She was shuffling through a thousand folders on her cluttered desk. Bookends consisting of a statue of a beagle in a tutu and another of a cat in a sundress were laying on their sides as she searched in vain.
Bruce needed to plow through this quickly.
“Look, I’m not going to get mad about this now. It’s fine if the papers were misplaced because we can draw them up again. But you know Conglom doesn’t like to do things twice, so if you lost them, I don’t want you getting in trouble.”
Stacie’s face went white. The full impact of this being her mistake hadn’t even entered her mind.
“My promotion was decided a month ago. I mean, Cathy already has it on the phone list,” Bruce stood, checking his watch. “Look… Why don’t we get the parking space assigned and the office set up today. By the end of the week, I’ll get my attorney again to give you a copy of my contract. Of course, no one wants to revisit that negotiation.”
Stacy nodded, moving her ample neck from side to side and curling her lower lip in thought. Bruce kept at it.
“If we do it this way, no one has to know all the HR paperwork was lost. I’m sure the copies are still up on the Heaven floors.”
Bruce’s ace in the hole was the fear and awe experienced by everyone when Heaven was mentioned. So Stacy handed over the parking registration form with her signature. She pulled out a multilayered laminated man of every office assignment. Of course, every Vice President held court from a corner office. It was a Hollywood ordinance. Bruce often had wondered how that was even possible in a building that had only four corners on each floor. But now Bruce spun the map around.
Bruce decided to be demanding as he played out his new role.
“I need a large space because I’ll have several assistants working for me. All part of Mr. Davis’ focus on new entertainment platforms. We’ll be reviewing 200 projects a week. And Brandon will be an Executive Assistant Level One. He gets a starter office.”
Stacy pressed her lips together tightly as she drew red Xes by the assignments. Bruce made a big show of looking pleased.
“Great. I know my office has a window that actually looks out towards the ocean. I like that. And my old space will be taken by my replacement, Tom.” Bruce handed Stacy his roommate’s resume with “hire” on it.
Stacy looked glum and her eyes darted back and forth.
Bruce smiled. “Mr. Davis will see everything happening as quickly as he wants.”
Bruce spent the afternoon packing up his cube. He took a two-hour lunch with Brandon, giving notes and setting directives. People to work with and listen to, whom to ignore. Projects to get moving, projects to bury. When they returned, everything had been moved into the new office.
Bruce was trying to decide his next step when a booming voice came through the door. “Hello, Bruce. Nice view.”
It was Swain, looking tan and fit like every 54 year old in Hollywood.
“Thanks, Henry.” Bruce knew that calling Swain by his first name would set the record straight.
“You won’t be reporting to me anymore?”
“No, you’ll be seeing the new hire Tom for residuals. I’ll be working with Domestic and of course working for Mr. Davis on original content.”
With those words, Swain visibly lost some nerve. “I’ve heard about this New Material initiative. Mr. Davis is a brilliant man. I just didn’t know you were heading it up. Have you spoken to Mr. Davis about it lately?”
Bruce guessed that Swain would try something like this.
“Me? I work primarily with a couple of people up on the Heaven floors. Jim Moan and Paul Liebowitz.”
Bruce was pulling names from the last company newsletter, executives so high up that they were phantom spirit gods in the company, people who buy islands instead of just taking a vacation. Actually, Bruce had valet-parked Mr. Moan’s car several times at Trader Vic’s in a previous job.
Bruce decided to end this interrogation once and for all. “I had lunch with all three of them a few weeks back when the initiative started.”
Swain was defeated. Any reason to question the promotion had just been sabotaged. As a VP, Swain would have to pretend to know everything that was going on as if he’d played a role in the decision. A corporate initiative, added to an executive lunch Swain didn’t know about, meant his full and unconditional surrender. “Well, I’m glad they finally got the initiative off the ground. I spoke highly of you to everyone upstairs.”
“Thanks, Henry. I think it was Paul who said you were doing a great job of organizing and developing new licensing opportunities.”
“Glad to know our work was appreciated!”
Swain’s eyes blinked a few too many times before he left with a wave.
Bruce made sure the work order was delivered to the union guys who would actually paint his name on the parking garage wall. Then Bruce started sending emails with a Vice President title on the signature.