The front desk man at a talent agency for Reality TV finds the job too real too often. 2,375 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Security calls me and I say, “Send him up,” with the air of a gatekeeper. Any second now, this guy will be pushing the buzzer and I have no idea why he’s here. It’s 4:25 on Friday. I thought we were done for the day.
The guard downstairs says the guy’s here for Daniel Turner. I have access to Dan’s calendar on Outlook, and I see no appointment for 4:30. I have five minutes until then to figure this out.
The buzzer sounds and the camera’s feed lights up. There he is, the mystery man, his hand already on the agency’s front door handle. An eager beaver, this one. I unlock the door with the push of a buzzer and he walks in, glancing around the space. He spots me and flashes a smile. He’s tall and handsome but has an air about him that suggests he’s used to the royal treatment.
Usually, visitors approach my reception desk to check in. Many are already familiar with the procedure and simply give a wave and go straight for the sofas. But this guy stays rooted where he is, probably expecting me to come to him.
“Hey there, I have a 4:30 with Dan Turner,” he tells me with a snap of his fingers.
“And your name?”
It’s brief, but I catch the flash of annoyance. He’s one of those.
“Josh Rivers.” He then gestures wildly at nothing in particular. “You know, this set up you guys got, it’s worse than getting into Fort Knox.” The guy waits for me to say something, but I have nothing to contribute. “You need anything else from me?” he asks finally.
“I’ll let them know you’re here.”
Josh plops down on a couch and gets comfortable in front of the coffee table. He looks over his choice of magazines, a mixture of everything from Variety and Awardsline to The New Yorker. Last I checked, all the literature we had to offer was at least a month old.
I have access to a lot of calendars in this office so I can see the meetings scheduled for each day. Some people are more cautious than others and want their appointments to be confidential, which I understand. Because of the security of this building, though, it helps to know who and what to expect. They get that, so usually the assistants who are secretive about their agents’ schedules give me a heads up with an email or phone call or even just a quick pass by my desk to let me know so-and-so is coming in. If it’s a big deal and requires the use of our largest conference room, which the execs here like to use to bedazzle, then I get a notice weeks in advance.
But no one told me this guy was coming in.
My desk is probably forty to fifty feet away from the lobby seating area. It provides the necessary distance for me to be sneaky and figure out situations like this. First thing I do is Google “Josh Rivers”. Looks like he’s a host on some Bravo music show. Makes sense he’s here since we represent a lot of people making unscripted bullshit. I briefly look over his Instagram and see behind-the-scenes pics of him. One photo features a Pomeranian and a caption raving about the “great” guard dog. I sadly get halfway through Josh’s caption with its twenty hashtags before I wise up and click out of the window.
I dial the extension for Dan’s Samara. She’s the executive assistant to one of the company’s lead agents. She’s important, despite how little respect I have for her. She started off as an intern here and now, after a relatively short period, she acts like she’s running the place. She never addresses me by name unless she needs something. But the phone rings until it hits her voicemail, which she hasn’t bothered to set up yet. This isn’t unusual. With the amount of unsolicited calls we receive, it’s not worth encouraging more.
Shit, I think, if she’s already gone for the day, then I’m really screwed.
I quickly write her an email, my fingers racing across the keyboard. Hey, Josh Rivers just got in now for his 4:30 w/Dan.
I press send. A few minutes slowly go by. Josh has now moved from the magazines to one of the many TVs in the lobby. Our agency reps mainly reality stars so that’s on the screens most of the time. I’m surrounded by it all day and have grown numb to the programming, to the point I’m oblivious. It’s only when someone makes a comment about a show and gestures to it that I remember they exist. I’m too busy trying to stay sane to pay attention to them.
My phone rings and the Caller ID displays Samara’s name and her extension. I quickly pick up. “Hey, Samara.”
“I’m just about to leave. Who’s here?”
I lower my voice. I always have to be careful in this type of situation. Usually, when an assistant wants more intel on someone in the lobby, the person tends to be right in front of me or at least close enough to overhear me.
“Josh Rivers.” I glance over and make sure my voice isn’t carrying. “He got in a few minutes ago for his meeting with Dan.”
“Dan doesn’t have a 4:30 meeting. He left hours ago.” Her tone is basically code for, this isn’t my problem, you deal with it.
After a year with this agency, as the frontline for dozens of outside calls – anything ranging from a long-ago client calling for agents who don’t work here anymore, to someone wanting to sell their script, to a desperate kid wondering about a mailroom application – I’m used to people dumping their problems on me.
“He said Dan specifically?” Samara asked.
“Could the meeting be with someone else?”
“Maybe. Get more info and see what’s going on,” Samara said. “But I don’t know who this guy is.”
I barely manage to reply before she hangs up. I get up from my desk and step into Tim’s office. He’s my boss, the Facility Manager. This talent agency operates out of three floors and is made up of two hundred employees, and quickly growing. So Tim is always generally very overworked, and not respected at all. He’s an errand boy, like me. I find him slumped in his chair, furiously battling his superiors by furiously sending and responding to emails.
“There’s a guest here who says he’s got a meeting with Dan Turner, but Samara says there’s nothing scheduled.”
“Is there something you need me to do?” Tim replies, still not looking away from his computer.
“No, just giving you a heads up in case this gets ugly. Remember that time a guest parked in the wrong garage so we couldn’t validate his parking?”
“That was a nightmare. Please don’t tell me this is going to be similar.”
“It won’t. I’ll figure it out.”
I step back into the lobby and make my way to Josh, my mind hurriedly plotting how to proceed. His head faces the TV but the corners of his eyes follow my approach. He turns in anticipation.
“I’m still trying to track down Dan. He might be in another meeting or on a call. You’re sure it was with him, right?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Josh says in disbelief that I’d ask such a question. “His assistant set this up for me.”
“Okay, I’m just checking. Sometimes, when Dan is busy, one of his coordinators fills in for him.”
“No, we confirmed this last week. I can pull up the email.”
“Not necessary. Sorry for the delay.”
I return to my desk, hoping to get Josh out of here soon.
“Is there a way I can get coffee?” he asks, no longer hiding his disdain for me. “Can that happen?”
I have the ability to retrieve that magic liquid for this guy – our kitchen is just down the hall – but my priority at the moment is still figuring out if this meeting is legit. And I also really don’t feel like it.
“Dan’s assistant can get you a cup when you get inside.”
It’s so clear he’s not used to this.
I sit back down in my seat and see I missed a message from Samara. Just about everyone in the company, except for the ones that really don’t want to be reached, uses Skype to IM back and forth. Samara’s reads: hey any news?
I’m about to respond when she calls instead.
“Shit, you know what?” I hear her clicking rapidly on her computer. “This guy does have a meeting, but it’s not until next week. He fucked up.”
I know the question, the favor, the request – whatever you want to call it – coming in her next breath.
“Do you think,” she starts, “you can let him know that he should come back next week?”
I almost let her get away with it, but decide to take a stand. “I’d rather not, considering I have nothing to do with this. I think it’s best if you let him know.”
Samara sighs and the line goes dead. What the hell does that mean?
“Hey,” Josh calls out to me, “they know I’m here, right?”
It’s now 4:45. The look on his face tells me everything. While he’s annoyed, he’s also in a panic that he’s been overlooked. Nothing in his world or in showbiz in general is worse than being forgotten.
And just like clockwork, Samara steps into the lobby. She gives me a quick glance that I can’t read very well. It looks like she swallowed her pride. Composed, she marches over to Josh who hears the footsteps of someone new and then his eyes land on Samara.
The expression on his face is priceless. It’s clear he thinks he’s finally getting his special treatment. His features soften.
“Hi, Josh. I’m Samara, Dan’s assistant.”
The Reality TV host flashes her a grin as he looks her up and down. But her next words wipe away the smile and leer from his face.
“Look, I don’t know how this happened, but it seems like there’s been a huge mix-up,” she tells him. “This meeting’s not until next Friday.”
Josh pauses. “Are you fucking kidding me…?” he finally sputters.
“Yeah… I mean, no. The meeting’s definitely not for today. Dan’s not even in the office. It looks like there was some miscommunication.”
Ah, the classic “miscommunication” line. The six-syllable excuse. It always sounds clever when used, but, from my experiences here so far, it’s nothing more than cover.
Josh whips out his phone. I’ve never seen anyone tap their cell so hard to open an email. His shoulders slump when he sees it.
“Yup, there it is. Goddamn it.”
“We’ll see you next week. We’re still set for it,” Samara concludes.
“Always fun driving over the hill at the end of a Friday. That’s the best you can do for me, 4:30 really?”
He makes his way to the door, about to tear it down, when I stand up from my seat behind the desk. “You need validation?” I ask.
If looks can kill, Josh’s would’ve burned me alive right there and then. He strides over and snatches the 30-minute parking validation. He takes off without uttering another word.
Samara is about to exit the lobby, her hand on the door. “How about next time you help me out?” she says.
“I can’t do everything.” I snap. “In that guy’s eyes, I’m nobody. What you just told him, he can’t hear from the receptionist.”
“I think we could’ve made an exception. That was an awkward situation for me.”
“No offense, Samara, but that’s your job. You’re the one that forgot who he was.”
She scoffs in disbelief and turns to leave, unwilling to deal with me anymore. That’s when she realizes she can’t get back into the suite. She feels her pockets for her missing employee badge.
“Can… you buzz me back in?”
After I push the switch, she swiftly enters and slams the door behind her. I’m left alone once more on the island consisting of my desk and phone. After I redirect a few incoming calls, my boss Tim makes sure the coast is clear and steps out with this amazed expression.
He’s overheard everything.
“Wow, that was pretty intense. You’ve got some balls talking to an EA like that.”
“I’m tired of just rolling with it and everyone having this expectation that I’ll say ‘yes’ to everything. Maybe back when I didn’t know any better. But now I do.”
“All I can say is, choose your battles wisely. You still want to be a writer, right?”
“I think so.”
“You think so? Look, kiddo, first piece of advice: figure out what you want to do, otherwise you’re going to just stay the receptionist. People like Samara, they’re competing with you.”
“I don’t know about that…”
“Believe me, she is. Everyone here is continuously looking over their shoulder. I graduated with a film degree from UCLA and worked on the lot at Universal for years, first as a PA and eventually as a producer. But then I stood my ground one time and burned the wrong bridge, and that set me back. Now I’m here and I’m ordering the premium grade of toilet paper for these people. I’d love to create content and have someone here represent me, but no one even knows I’m capable.”
“So what do I do?”
“You play your cards right, and be nice to everyone, and maintain your distance. Don’t get too close or invested, but don’t turn your back on anyone, either. Just wait for the right moment to speak your mind and get noticed. It’s a tough game and world, but you’re smart. People know you won’t be here much longer.”
“Tim, you’re coming with me,” I laugh. Then say seriously and softer. “You got me this job.”
“Everyone’s going to be working for you someday. Keep your head up,” Tim replies and disappears back into his office.
The phone rings again. I grab the receiver, take a deep breath, and dive back in.
Television Fiction Package for Emmy Season