THEY CALL ME WALRUS WOMAN
I’m different. (It’s quite likely you have discerned this already.)
Most business people seem to have a sixth sense about what is appropriate in certain situations. I possess the same keen insight, but there’s a part of me that wants to buck traditional etiquette and be outrageous—not hang-from-thechandeliers outrageous, but something real close.
I was working as a writers’ assistant on EDDIE DODD, a television series which unfortunately never received a proper send-off or chance from the network, dooming it to an early and undeserved cancellation. You probably never
heard of it; it was canceled during its second episode, before it had even properly informed its audience where and when it might be found on the dial. But that’s not the funny part, unless you’re a sadist.
We were working during the holiday season. One of a writer’s assistant’s unwritten duties during Christmas and Hanukkah includes wrapping gifts. Well, we were all dutifully wrapping gifts during a very long, hectic day (in between the usual duties required of assistants in a production) and no one was looking overly holiday-spirited.
I noticed the long faces. I also noticed that several of the longest gift wrap tubes were standing in a corner, empty. There was certainly no expectation of levity in that room, so I went over to the corner, picked up the tubes, crammed the ends of two of them into my mouth, slapped my hands together in front of me, and barked—walrus-like—several times.
My comrades fell apart. It was just what they needed. (They wanted to get me my own comedy series then and there.) Then they decided that when the executive producer, Clyde Phillips, returned from the set, it would be just what HE
I looked at them. “Fine,” I said. “YOU do it.”
“Oh, no,” said Jamie Anderson, Clyde’s strong right arm. “WE could never get away with it. But YOU could.”
I considered that. I considered Clyde, “our” Rxecutive producer. He was a cool guy, with a hit comedy series (PARKER LEWIS CAN’T LOSE) and a great sense of humor—but he was really pretty much all business when he came into the
office. He had a lot to do, and very little time to get it done, so this was a well-ordered, efficient, no-nonsense place. But I was high on the results of my earlier success with his assistants, and quickly agreed, “Okay, I’ll do it!”
I sweated bullets as I awaited his return from the stage. I was not noted for this sort of antic at work…not at all. This was extremely unlike me. (This was INSANE, frankly!)
I chickened out about seven times, but the others kept telling me how funny it would be, so I recommitted to the task
At long last, HE walked in the door. He was dressed, unusually, in a very nice business suit, not in his usual jeans and shirt.
The other assistants looked at me, wondering if this new wrinkle might convince me to drop the great plan. One of them
gave me the whirling-hand motion indicating ” C’mon. It’s now or never!”
I crammed the tubes back into my mouth, walked up behind the immaculately-clad Clyde, and barked loudly
several times, slapping my hands together.
Clyde turned around. He looked at me. He looked skyward. He looked at me again. He shook his head and mused, “It must be the radiation from the computer. Yeah, that’s it.” And with that, he left the room.
The other assistants addressed his cool reaction to my antics with confused, apologetic shrugs and then “casually” made themselves scarce.
I wilted. I was wondering if this had suddenly become my last day of work at Clyde Phillips Productions…
For the rest of the day, I feared seeing him again. Fortunately, the meeting for which he was so well dressed was a long one, and I was saved another face-to-face encounter with him.
At about seven-thirty that night we were released to go home, after a ten hour day. I gathered my belongings and started to bolt happily down the two flights of stairs to the ground floor, certain that I had lucked in and missed seeing my boss again.
I skipped down the first flight of stairs, turned the corner at the landing, and skipped…halfway down the last flight.
There, at the bottom of the stairs, in his suit, HE stood.
He had heard the thunder of my descent, and he looked up, spotted me and demanded, “And just WHERE do you think YOU’RE going?”
I stepped down the balance of the stairs a whole lot less gingerly and responded (in an excruciatingly respectful manner), “I’m going home…sir…if that’s okay with you.”
He said, “That is NOT okay with me.”
I said, “Oh.” (I paused, trying to read his deliberately impervious face.) “How much longer do you WANT me to stay?” I inquired.
“Forever,” he replied, smiling.
Then he clapped me on the shoulder and told me to go home.
For Christmas that year, from Clyde, I got a battery-run alarm clock, so I would never be late for work.
From his assistant, Jamie, I received an ornament for my tree, which I proudly and grinningly hang every year.
The ornament is a walrus in a rubber-ducky floating ring.
THE OREO AFFAIR
It’s not my fault, but wherever I go in life, embarrassing things happen to me. I’m a magnet for them.
As mentioned earlier, I worked as an assistant to two writers on Bay Watch. It was a terrific job—my first in this terrific industry—and I felt very lucky to be working long hours for some of the nicest people in entertainment.
Writers’ assistants very often get swamped with revisions, script copying, script distribution and other details, so that occasionally lunch time will either disappear altogether or will be delayed until 3:30 or 4:00.
It was one of those days. Luckily, I worked in an office only a couple of doors down from a small kitchen area, so when it became apparent that my stomach wasn’t going to rest until it had leaned up and taken a bite out of my heart, I stepped next door to find something to pacify it. I found: ONE Oreo cookie. That was it. Other ravenous appetites had preceded me to the pantry.
Well, okay—better than nothing.
The water cooler stood empty, too. But, hey, I grew up on a ranch in the Pacific Northwest and the forty pounds of water sitting in a large plastic jug on the floor held no terror for ME.
I put the ENTIRE Oreo cookie into my mouth (possession being nine tenths of the law) and strong-armed the five gallon jug onto my forearm. I was just upending it onto the water cooler when the door opened next to me. I heard the Executive Producer’s voice: “Well, Kris!” You’re a STRONG lady, aren’t you?!” And he reached over and checked my upper arm for a bulging muscle.
Beside him, grinning, stood actor Monte Markham.
I had never met Monte Markham until just this moment—and this was NOT the time, had I been given the option. There I stood with my mouth clamped tightly over a half-chewed Oreo cookie.
They stood expectantly, awaiting a reply.
I managed to respond (I hoped without mumbling AND without opening my mouth more than a fraction of an inch), “Oh, this is nothing. I grew up on a ranch.”
Monte joked, “Oh, nothing! I suppose you’ve been out there on the range abusing cattle and horses for years!”
It was a VERY funny comeback, and I desperately wanted to respond to it with a big grin and laugh, but I was still working (surreptitiously, I hoped) on that black cookie (without chewing), praying it would melt down soon. It was taking its
own sweet time.
I focused on trying NOT to smile, but to look…pleasant. Possibly shy. Yes. That might work…
Monte thrust his hand out and with a friendly grin introduced himself. “Hi. I’m Monte Markham.”
I took his hand and replied, “I know who you are.” (I could say THAT without opening my mouth too wide. “Hello,” would have required an accompanying smile.)
I desperately WANTED to smile. I smile a LOT; it is my usual attitude and demeanor! And this was one of those situations where a smile seemed not only natural but MANDATORY!
But I knew better. I kept my mouth shut. “Hi..” i finally said, meekly.
The executive producer probably wondered why the normally ebullient Kris Smith had clammed up like a star-struck teenager. He carried the ball: “Kris is the assistant to the executive story editor and one of our other writers. She’s a great help and…incidentally, is a very nice gal.”
I was sure Monte was wondering about THAT by now!
“Thanks,“ I mumbled.
After about a million years, they turned and left. I FLEW to the mirror and smiled into it. Not a trace of Oreo remained. I was relieved and upset all at the same time. “I COULDA SMILED! I COULDA SMILED!” I thought, and moaned
I went home, morose, and told my sad tale to a friend, who became absolutely hysterical. I admitted finally that, yeah, it was pretty funny, all right—if you didn’t happen to be the person harboring the Oreo cookie…
That evening, unbeknownst to me, myfriend/my buddy/my pal/ my confidant wrote to Mr. Markham” and EXPLAINED why the normally ebullient, smiling Kris Smith was closed-mouthed and unresponsive the day he met her. No, she wasn’t star struck, nor was she experiencing the monthlies. And my friend, further, requested two autographs—one for herself, and one for me, his bizarre co-worker.
A few weeks after Bay Watch “wrapped” for the season, I received a large envelope in the mail. The cancellation stamp proclaimed MALIBU.
“Malibu?!” I pondered. “I don’t know anybody in Malibu!”
I opened it. Inside was a glossy 8 x 10 of—You guessed it.
The inscription read: “To Kris, the Oreo Cookie Girl. Your teeth never looked lovelier. Monte Markham.”
Once in a while, friends are for strangling!
FLOATING AROUND HOLLYWOOD AND OTHER TOTALLY-TRUE TALES OF TRIUMPH
© 2003 by Kristine M. Smith. All rights reserved.
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ISBN: 1-4107-4710-7 (e-book)
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