She wasn’t the predator. She was just the assistant warning starlets about him. 1,998 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
I got the assignment not long after I graduated from Queens Community College. I was the only one that the school’s job center was referring: they needed somebody smart and discreet. I asked if it was the C.I.A. and the placement counselor laughed; they’d never gotten a call from the C.I.A. If I was so lucky to secure the job, I would be the personal assistant to the big man himself, a Soho movie mogul. It would mean taking two subway lines from Queens but the counselor assured me that the commute would be worth it. Who knew where I could go from there?
With my straight A average, I’d been hoping to continue on at a good four-year college. Stonybrook offered me a full scholarship but it was out of the question. We simply couldn’t afford it. My part- time bookkeeping job was just not cutting it. By then, mom’s arthritis was so bad, she could barely walk and Dad was already M.I.A. We called it that, a joke between my sister Amy and me. Dad’s days in Vietnam were over before we were born, and before he even met my mother. But the way he continuously referenced that time made it a daily presence in our lives.
He had lost too many buddies over there and, according to our mother, that was the reason he turned into a drunk. I guess it’s as good a reason as any. He used to make decent money as a mechanic but blamed technology for rendering him obsolete. But it was the alcohol that did him in. Last we heard, he was living in Costa Rica with some widow he met at the recycling center. Give him that, at least he recycled his liquor bottles.
That left me to keep the family afloat. Amy, already with two kids of her own, had moved to Texas of all places when her husband got a job transfer. So the timing was perfect when the Placement Center called. My interview with the office manager followed two days later. I had arrived early and waited over an hour in her office. The walls were lined with movie posters of the company’s artistic and commercial hits. I hadn’t seen any of them, movies were expensive and at home, mom preferred to watch the nature shows, though her body was incapable of moving, she liked to travel to exotic places in her mind.
As the office manager informed me, thousands of girls with much more impressive credentials wanted this position. So why me? She knew I didn’t give a shit about show business and didn’t have my own agenda like the others who were desperately waiting for that opportunity to direct or produce their own brilliant piece of work. All I wanted was a decent living wage. My promise to keep what happened in and out of the office on the downlow sealed the deal. That and the NDA they made me sign.
I didn’t even meet the big boss — or “BB” as the staff referred to him, as in “Get off your cell phone! BB just entered the building!” — until two weeks into the job. He had been at the Cannes Film Festival and I’d spent the time cleaning up his office. God, he was a pig, and I don’t mean because of the way he treated — or in his case, mistreated women. That would all come out later. But the mess that he created. Papers, scripts, contracts were strewn everywhere, most bearing the remnants of his lunch. Everything was tossed aside like garbage which is how I guess he saw most things — as disposable objects. Only a framed portrait of his parents escaped the melee: it hung quite high on a pristine expanse of white wall, untouched by the litter below.
It was after seven on a Wednesday evening when I first met the big man. I was getting ready to leave the office, Wednesdays were the nights I had to shampoo Mom’s hair. Not an easy task considering I had to lift her from her wheelchair into the shower, plop her onto the shower bench and hold onto her with one hand while shampooing her head with the other. It was killing my back and precipitated my dependency on painkillers but that’s a whole other story.
BB’s first words to me were, “What are you, a dyke?”
When I said nothing, he continued, “What’s with the ugly combat boots?”
“I had to walk through shit to get here,” I said and he laughed.
He gestured around his office. “You better not have misplaced anything I was working on.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“I’ll let you know when I think of it.” With that he slammed the door shut to his office and then opened it a nanosecond later. “Where’s my bran muffin and cappuccino?”
“I’ll get it on my way in tomorrow morning,” I offered.
“No kidding,” he said. “But you need to get me it now.”
“I thought that was supposed to be your breakfast.”
“I just flew in from Europe, you moron. I’m on a different time zone.”
“So you want me to run down to Starbucks and get you that now?”
He just glared at me. I turned and walked briskly to the bank of elevators. I could hear his door slam as the elevator descended. The Starbucks on the corner was out of bran muffins. So were the other four I tried. The fifth had one but it was yesterday’s batch. They reheated it in the microwave for me and I grabbed a cab back downtown to the office. It was already after 9 p.m. when I entered the executive suite. Most of the staff had departed. Though his door was closed, I could hear him screaming obscenities into the phone. I quietly knocked and placed the muffin and coffee on a little melamine tray I had purchased to spare his walnut desk from future spills. He gestured for me to take the seat opposite him.
“And if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have a career. You’d still be waitressing at IHOP. So just do the damn scene like the director tells you to. That monologue was overwritten anyway. You don’t need it. Look at the great Carl Dreyer. Never mind who. Just listen to me. It’s all in the face. You don’t need words to express yourself. Just sit there and let your face do the talking, you follow me?”
I didn’t know who was on the receiving end of his tirade but thought if he applied the same approach to himself, his face would reveal a childhood struggle with terrible acne and now seemed to be making everyone pay for the pains of his youth.
“So do it my way, okay, sweetheart? You’ll thank me come Oscar time.”
With that he slammed down the phone. He took a long slow sip of his coffee.
“This taste likes shit. It’s not even hot anymore.”
“I can reheat it in the microwave.”
He shoved it aside, spilling some on the tray.
I jumped up from my seat and dabbed at the spill with a tissue.
He grabbed my hand. I grabbed it back.
“You seem to have a lot of strength for such a short person. How do you feel about neck massages?”
“I prefer feet.”
“Foot massages?” he asked.
“Yes, I love getting my feet massaged,” I said. “They ache from running around all day.”
“I was referring to myself,” he said.
“I know,” I replied and gave him a pointed glance.
“I need to take a shower,” he said. “Come keep me company.” He gestured to the executive bathroom at the far end of his suite.
“Actually, I need to be getting home. I have to get my mom into bed.”
“She can’t do it herself? What is she, a cripple?”
“Yes,” I said.
He said nothing. Then, “So go if you’re going.”
“I’ll pick you up fresh coffee and muffins on my way in.”
I left him seated at his desk. He looked a little lost and lonely. Perhaps realizing this and finding that impression abhorrent, he then screamed, “And make sure you get your ass here on time.”
It went on like this for years. We didn’t exchange pleasantries. I got who he was and got what he needed. If that was apple strudel from his favorite bakery on the Upper East Side sixty blocks from the office, or procuring the home address of the young actress who had just won her first Golden Globe, so be it.
Did I make his hotel reservations, the ones he kept hidden from his wife? No, he had his trusted travel agent do that. Did I escort the cute starlet from the independent film by another Tarantino wannabe up to his suite in Park City? Yes, on occasion. What occasion? Just about every Sundance Film Festival we attended. According to BB, he alone was responsible for changing the landscape of American film. He said it numerous times but so did the critics, and not just the ones he wined and dined. So didn’t a man as important as he deserve a little extracurricular activity? Who was I to say?
In my small way, I tried to warn these innocents. One particularly warm winter evening, I told a young babe to keep her ski jacket on no matter what. And if I was her, to say I had a STD. Being such a good actress, it shouldn’t be that hard. And then I led her to his suite and excused myself.
Did I report what I suspected was likely going on? Yes, early on. After the first visit to Park City, I told the office manager who just shrugged. When I revealed my fear that some of these girls might be underage, she told me to wise up. “They’re older than they look,” she responded. “Actresses start lying about their age as soon as they learn to talk.” She admonished me by reminding me about the NDA.
Why didn’t I quit? I needed the money. And, yes, the perks were pretty good. Not the tickets to the Broadway shows; I could live without those. But the little things added up. Those cartons of Omaha steaks that BB threw my way when he went through a brief vegan stage. They were delicious. My mom had never tasted filet mignon until I brought home that package of steaks. Whatever BB tossed aside, in terms of foodstuffs, I became the happy recipient. Those pounds of gourmet chocolates when his wife put him on the Paleo diet? Mine. All mine.
Was I really that shallow? Truth is, I don’t know. All I knew was that I was able to help my mom pay the rent and hire a caregiver for her twice a week which saved my back the agony of bathing her. So don’t judge me. I wasn’t the predator. I was just his assistant.
Until I wasn’t. I wish I could say it ended because I was the whistleblower and turned him into the authorities. But it wasn’t me. A chorus of others let their voices be heard. They toppled the big man, something I could never envision. The company’s in bankruptcy. I’m collecting unemployment. No more Omaha steaks for mom. But it’s really okay. She needed to watch her cholesterol anyway.