When can you start

When Can You Start?

by Jordan Pope

Entertainment companies say they want diversity. But this job applicant isn’t so sure. 2,615 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Finally, the miracle arrived and I made it to my stop. The journey through Laurel Canyon had taken an hour, and even once I landed in West Hollywood the bus driver took some nonsensical route. This only reaffirmed that Los Angeles was not a city for pedestrians. For the person who can’t afford a car, that liberty had been taken away decades ago.

After getting off at 3rd and Fairfax, I rushed down the sidewalk – a feat impossible in the heels I wore. I still wasn’t used to them. I had bought them at Target just two nights before. I kept glancing at my phone to make sure Google Maps was taking me to the right place. I’d never been to this part of the city so I was checking and rechecking the address every five seconds. All that did was remind me how late I was and waste the phone’s battery even more. I didn’t even know how to get back home from here. West Hollywood was thirteen miles from my house, but it might as well have been a different country.

I walked right by the entrance at first. It had no logo, no sign, nothing to tell someone it was a film production company. I backtracked when I realized I had gone too far and returned to a grey building with blacked-out windows. Around the corner, I pushed the intercom buzzer and a voice came on.

“Yes?”

“Hi, I have an interview at nine with—.” My mind went blank. I couldn’t remember the guy’s name. The voice repeated the question. “Uh, I’m sorry. My name’s Jessie and—”

“Last name?”

“Mejia?” I said, in a tone that indicated even I wasn’t sure who I was.

The gate unlocked and I pulled on the door for a brief awkward second before realizing I needed to push it open. Inside the two-story building, the design was simple but sleek, and the ceiling windows offered a lot of light inside. There was a large fully stocked kitchen that looked available to anyone and equipped with at least three espresso machines. Near the entrance were various seating options, from stools to beanbag chairs.

People milled about, juggling coffee mugs and laptops in their hands.

First thing I noticed: everybody was white.

I’m usually not so self-conscious about the color of my skin but I couldn’t help it at that moment. Even if no one was looking in my direction, it still felt like I stuck out.   One of the receptionists at the front desk noticed me.

“Jessie?”

I nodded stupidly and approached the desk. “I know I’m so late, but I have an interview with—” I hesitated again and then the name came to me. “Patrick Moore.”

“It was for nine o’clock. It’s almost nine fifty now.”

“I know, but my bus was late.”

I hoped I wasn’t sweating. How pathetic I must have looked. I felt so self-conscious, like everything about me was off. I reached into my handbag to fix my hair and check the time on my phone again. I wasn’t sure how these things worked. What if Patrick was not available anymore?

“What was your name?” I asked the receptionist, who glanced at me with this slightly annoyed expression. Just a hint of it, but enough to be known.

“Adam.”  The receptionist looked at me with a silently questioning face. “I’ll let Patrick know you’re here,” he said, then swiftly disappeared up the stairs.

Eyes Wide Shut was playing on the monitor. I knew this company was mainly known for documentaries, so I couldn’t imagine why they’d chosen this film. “Such a weird movie.” I blurted out to the receptionist when he reappeared. This was one of those moments where I couldn’t control my mouth. It was like a nervous tic.

The receptionist nodded slowly with a bemused half-smile. “Patrick can see you now. He’s upstairs, third office on your right.”

I had this clear image in my head that the heels would betray me and I would trip on one of the steps or my foot would catch at the top landing, and I’d fall face forward and wipe out. People would take pity, before they quietly motioned me to the exit and asked me to leave.

Luckily, none of that happened. Instead, I made it upstairs where all the assistants were. They ran back and forth between the cubicles, printers, and their boss’s offices. I could feel the energy. Is this me someday?

I saw Patrick’s nameplate and took a deep breath. He had curly hair like Bob Dylan’s, wild and out of control. He was dressed casually in jeans, collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a pair of Vans.

“Patrick?” He grunted at me without looking away from his laptop. “I’m Jessie Mejia. I’m here for the interview.”

“Oh yeah,” He stood up from his desk and shook my hand. “Have a seat. Was the interview scheduled for nine or ten?” he asked. It wasn’t a test. He genuinely didn’t know.

“Nine,” I replied as I sat in an armchair that probably cost more than the entire furniture in my parents’ apartment.

He looked at his watch. “Did you have trouble getting here? Which way did you come?”

“I took the bus.”

“You don’t have a car?” The way he asked that question I’ll never forget. It was like he couldn’t possibly fathom how I existed in this city on foot. A look of judgment that’s specific to L.A. “Where do you live?”

“In the Valley. I’m really sorry for how late I am.”

The apology bounced right off him. “You’re interviewing for an assistant’s job here, my current one is leaving for a better opportunity, so we need someone to start soon, and we need this person to be here on time. If you don’t have reliable transportation, that’s a huge problem.” I nodded at everything he said. “Where were you before this?” he asked and then held up a paper which I guessed was my resume. “You worked at Universal? That’s great, I know a few people over at that lot.”

“I’m not working at the studio,” I said slowly and felt my voice growing quieter with embarrassment, “I work at the park. In retail.”

“Oh.” That word said so much. And with such finality. I knew that his interest in me had completely dissolved. Just the vision of me in a uniform with my nametag colorfully displayed killed the job prospect. I even imagined him pulling a lever next to his desk that flung me out onto the sidewalk.

I had to jump in. “Patrick, do you not remember me?”

“What?”

“We met last year. You’re the one that told me to move out here.”

He seemed perplexed and then it all slowly came back to him. “In Bogotá, right?”

“No. We met in Honduras. You guys filmed a documentary down there with America Ferrera. My dad worked in the embassy, and it was through the people there that you got the security clearance to film.”

“Oh, that’s right. Jessie. You were our camera assistant.”

We’re both remembering the dirty and dangerous streets of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The kids on neighborhood street corners, solitary, acting as scouts for gangs. Many of them carrying a gun, ready to call the first number on their phone when they saw a car they didn’t recognize. “We rode in the same car from, what was the name again, Tegucciblata?”

“Tegucigalpa.”

“Right. Is that where you’re from?” He asked but didn’t wait for a response. “Beautiful place. That’s the murder capital, isn’t it?” he mused with a combination of excitement and energy, like that was something cool. I was in the murder capital of the world. I had a great time. “It’s crazy how dangerous it is there.”

“It’s awful.” I tried to change the subject. “How’s America doing?”

“I have no idea. I haven’t seen her since the doc’s premiere. I think she’s got a new show.”

“She was so nice,” I recalled. “I was the only one from the embassy that knew phrases like ‘single cam’ and ‘multi-cam show,’ and it was like my one moment to shine with her.”

Patrick’s face was blank, uncaring. “So you made it out, huh?” he asked.

“About three months ago. I couldn’t afford the last year of college, so I just decided to move here.”

“None of us finished college. It’s not mandatory, especially for this business.” He regarded me differently now. “So what is it you want to do?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“You need to figure that out.”

“I’d like to be a writer.”

“That’s good. Are you working on anything?”

“I’ve written a few short pieces. Stuff from the perspective of Hispanic people trying to find success despite the lack of opportunity.”

“Nice direction, but it’s broad. Are you writing from your own experiences?”

“Yes. I think it’s authentic. I mean, I know it is. It’s a struggle just to be noticed and even get an interview somewhere. Any time I tick that Hispanic box on an application, I feel like I’m already eliminating myself from consideration. I look around at successful people, even just here, and none of them look like me. How am I supposed to do what I want to do when I’m not even given a chance?”

Patrick looked at me thoughtfully and it seemed like he wasn’t going to say anything, just gaze at me, until he finally asked, “How’d you get this interview? How are you sitting right here in front of me?”

“Uh, I emailed you.”

“That’s right. And how’d you get my email?”

“I had your card. You gave it to me before you left Honduras.”

“See? That’s all it took,” he said and gestured in circles at the air around him. “The only reason we’re here right now is because of somebody we knew. It’s as simple as that. You can fill out application after application and send your resume out to hundreds of places, but unless you have an in or a recommendation, no one’s going to look too hard at you. Regardless of your race. And that’s the truth. And I’m looking at your resume, Jessie. That work you did with us, why is it near the bottom? Why am I having to go through all this retail bullshit to find that actual filming experience?”

“Because that’s not my most recent—”

“I don’t care. Cut it out. In fact, you need to change all this. Give it a professional makeover and highlight your unique background. You speak Spanish, right?” I nodded. “List that. Say, ‘bilingual.’ I’m going to let you in on another secret and it’s not meant to offend. Entertainment companies always say they want diversity, but they don’t want to be that diverse. They want a brown person, but they don’t want the person to be too brown. HR would love to boast they have a Hispanic staffer but if she sounds and looks too much like a maid then they’re not going for it. They want educated, they want good-looking, they want presentable.”

I wasn’t sure where we were now but it was nowhere I thought we’d be going when I stepped into Patrick’s office.

“I remember you now, Jessie, and I remember liking you.” How can people talk like this? “You were great out in the field,” he continued. “You translated for us and, yeah, you made a lot of mistakes, but you were still able to do what we asked. But this is different. This is assistant-level work. You’re not on location. You hardly leave this office, actually, unless it’s to come with me to a meeting. You’re taking a lot of calls and setting up things for me and following my every step because I forget a lot so you need to remind me. Constantly. Is that something you can do?”

“Oh yes.”

Patrick smiled. “All right. I’ll let my current assistant know you’re interested and you can meet with him to go over the details. He leaves Friday so if he thinks you’re a good fit then ideally we’d like to get you in for a few days. That way he can train you. How’s Wednesday sound?”

“Wednesday? Like this Wednesday? I’m sorry, but I can’t. I haven’t put in my notice at Universal yet. And on top of working at the park right now, I’m also covering for someone over at a toy store. His mom died and they needed me to work while he left. I can’t just take off.”

“What?” Patrick couldn’t wrap his head around my last sentence. It didn’t make sense to him. “Jessie, this is a great opportunity for someone like you.” Someone like you. “I’m sure they can find somebody else, right?”

“Not right now. It’s the start of the holiday season and it’s crazy. I actually have to get over there right after this. I took a few hours off and dropped a shift so I could make this interview.”

“So when would you be available to start, then?”

“Maybe after two weeks?” I could tell from his face that was the wrong answer. Even though it showed what kind of worker I am. “A week?” I offered hopefully.

My response to Patrick was not necessarily a Hispanic thing. More of a Jessie thing, in that I simply couldn’t abandon anyone, especially when a small business is down an employee and I was needed. To me, turning my back on a situation like that to embrace the ultimate opportunity was unthinkable. Even though I had desperately wanted to make the jump into entertainment for so long. And Patrick was my one connection to the industry, my only way in, and I knew this interview with him now was my best shot at making the leap from dream to reality.

Believe me, I was torn. I would have absolutely loved to say yes in a heartbeat. But I also was so new to this city and didn’t understand how things worked just yet. Maybe further down the road, I’d look back and reflect on how idiotic I was not to accept Patrick’s offer right then and there. But at least I knew I made the correct decision based on my own morals. And that was important to me. I placed that over personal gratification, which is something I eventually learned Hollywood strips from people.

I never heard back when I emailed to follow up. I never got Patrick’s direct extension, so I called the main line but I was always given the runaround and put on hold. I got the message.

There was one time, about a year and a half later, when I was working at the Rite Aid in Beverly Hills and I bumped into Patrick again. I rounded an aisle with two baskets full of go-backs and we almost ran into each other. He was in a hurry. His eyes glanced down at me and there was a flicker of recognition, but he didn’t linger in case I initiated a conversation.

I wanted to say so much to him but couldn’t find the words. Despite my aspirations to be a writer, there were times like this my lips didn’t know how to deliver a coherent thought. So I remained silent. Patrick walked right by me and probably never thought of me again.

Feelings of anger rose, all these emotions I’d buried long ago, and threatened to ruin my day. So I just took a deep breath and got back to work. No time to dwell on the past. Keep moving forward.

About The Author:
Jordan Pope
Jordan Pope is a Guatemalan-born writer who graduated from the Savannah College of Art & Design with a film and TV degree. He currently works for Discovery and before that Universal Studios Hollywood. His writing consists of short stories, novellas and screenplays in the drama and sci-fi realms.

About Jordan Pope

Jordan Pope is a Guatemalan-born writer who graduated from the Savannah College of Art & Design with a film and TV degree. He currently works for Discovery and before that Universal Studios Hollywood. His writing consists of short stories, novellas and screenplays in the drama and sci-fi realms.

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