I began to think that every thing would be okay. I had two part time jobs and the anxiety drug experiment. For two weeks my life consisted of getting up at 8:00 am taking the dog for a two hour walk, by the marina and rushing back to my horrid apartment where I would shower, dress and run off for the two hour bus ride to Nielsen where I would knock out seven hours of desperate dialing only to return to the horrid apartment to talk to the creepiest sounding men in the world about their absolutely disgusting sexual fantasies. Ladies, if you ever want to be celibate just take a phone sex job.
The phone sex company insisted that the girls took all calls on a land line and that we only took brief bathroom breaks on any given shift. The calls were back to back and you were not allowed to end a call even if it was the end of the shift. If a guy flipped too fast a supervisor would come on the phone and tell the girl what she did wrong as they monitored every single call. The Boulevard Entertainment dominates the phone sex industry in Los Angeles. They own many a 1-800 number. If you Google them you can find the legal documents detailing their attempts to register the name 1-800-Jack-Off with the US Patent office. It is funnier than any comedy I have ever seen Hollywood produce.
One of my weirdest calls included a man who asked over and over again if he should send a picture of his penis to his girlfriend. He went on and on for four hours about the socio- political ramifications of this decision. He talked a little about his job and his mother then he went back to the picture of his penis thing.
There was a man who had very labored speech and told me that he was in a wheel chair. He told me that he’d never had sex; just phone sex. He wanted me to walk him though the process. I have never been so uncomfortable.
My job at Nielsen wasn’t much better. In spite of making hundreds of calls a day it wasn’t uncommon to leave with no completed surveys. This was because we only wanted to talk to people who liked crap. The majority of people we called said they didn’t go to the theater very much and that they had no intention of seeing any of the garbage we were peddling. The film companies didn’t care what most people thought they just wanted to advertise their films in the form of a survey and see how they could get even more money out of the people who were dumb enough to go see mall movies in the first place.
I was doing pretty well that first week I had several completed surveys a day and my boss Pam really seemed to like me. The office was sort of like the high-school experience I never had. I was kind of accepted there. There were all kinds of aspiring whatevers there. There was a man who resembled George Costanza who was the star of many an indie horror film. There was a woman there, who had come to Los Angeles at the age of 34 to become an actress. She was one of the sweetest people I had ever met. We had an awful lot in common, a hatred of work an obsession with the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She wanted to be an actress since she was little. Unlike me; she was normal looking. When she told people she wanted to be an actress they accepted it, if I had said it they would have laughed. She had lots of friends there and was nice and friendly to me right away. The popular kids never were nice in high school. There was Dante, the boy who was so handsome that I felt nervous every time he talked to me and he talked to me often. There was Greg, an ex- Texan who was older than me who had come to LA to pursue acting and writing . His favorite director was Ed Wood and he had a series of films that he made with his girlfriend about a very sexist detective. He was very shy about showing it to anyone. I felt honored that He would show them to me. He told me never to tell anyone about it. I knew how he felt, there were certain places that I would never show my work.
This is more common then you might imagine. People come to Los Angeles and they are afraid to show people their reels or scripts or CD’s. They will use the excuse that they don’t feel they have enough material yet, or it’s just a first draft or the quality of the recording isn’t good; but that’s not the real reason. We didn’t want the fantasy shattered, We didn’t want anyone to tell them that it wasn’t going to happen for us because if they did; what would be left? We would just be a bunch of middle-aged losers doing telephone surveys for a living. It was better to let the fantasy live than to kill it with what we all knew the real outcome would be. If we didn’t try we could tell ourselves that it might come true, just like in the movies. But deep down, we knew what we were.
Leonard Cohen said it best, “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded everybody rolls with their fingers crossed”.
There was also a rather geeky kid named Mark who fancied himself a singer and an actor. He was a rather odd looking character, pear shaped and balding with plain features and a pot belly. He constantly spoke in a high squeaky voice. At first I thought it was his real voice, but it turned out he was imitating a coworker of ours. He was given to bursting out into song and constantly kept tabs on how many surveys everyone in the office had. I felt sorry for him at first, he clearly just wanted attention.
It was at Nielsen that I was to meet Chris, the class clown. Chris was about my age with blond hair and pretty blue eyes. He was tall and skinny and had a yellowing Cheshire smile. He was sitting next to me one day in the break room when a basketball game was on TV. The crowed went wild when someone made a shot.
“God, a man threw a ball through a hoop you would think it was VJ day”. He said and I laughed.
I’ve always liked men who were funny and hated sports, it makes me think they can think for themselves. I can be quite foolish sometimes.
He gave me a ride home that night. We had a lot in common we both loved the Simpsons and sail boats. We both were desperately miserably poor and working at Nielsen.
Back at home I got one of about ninety calls in the barely legal category. I braced my self and said hello.
“Hi, this is Frank who’s this ?”
This is Tracy.” I said trying to sound young.
“What are you doing, Tracy.”
“Homework,” I said. “”What are you doing?”
“I’m just sitting around thinking about my daughter.”
I couldn’t speak. I felt like I was gonna throw up. I didn’t say anything and he hung up. I expected someone to come on the phone and chastised me, but no one did.
The next day I went to the psychiatrist office in Beverly Hills for my weekly check up to see how the drugs were working. When Dr. M examined me I burst out crying. I told him about the phone sex job and the guy who was thinking about his daughter. I asked him if there was anything we could do about it. He told me that if someone confessed a crime to him he was legally obligated to tell the authorities. I suggested that the next time he called I could get information out of him then the company would be obligated to call the police. He suggested that I didn’t do this. He told me that he was sorry that I had to work for them. He told me he’d treated many woman who worked in porn and they were all miserable.
I told him that I didn’t know what was going to do If didn’t get another job soon.
“Look, I’ve had fantasies that I don’t act on you’ve had fantasies that you don’t act on. Look at it this way, maybe talking to you about this gets it out of his system. Maybe he talks to you and then doesn’t have to do it in real life..”
He told me that if I still had the job by the time the experiment was over he would get me some anti depressants and sleeping pills to deal with the problem.
As I walked back to the bus with my hundred dollar check and my next two week supply of drugs I thought about what had just happened. A medical professional had just told me to tell a pedophile what he wanted to hear. He had ensured me that he would drug me up enough that I was able to do it. I popped two pills on the bus and headed back home.
That night a creepy old man with a southern accent called in wanting me to stick a variety of various household appliances up myself. Even though I was supposed to be off a 2:00 AM , I was up till 4:00 AM talking about this nonsense.
“ Do you have a can opener, not the electric kind, but the hand held kind?” he asked.
“Yes”. I replied excitedly.
“I want you to stick it up your pussy and twist it.”
His bag of tricks included a glass bottle a plastic bottle, a hammer, the paper roll from a roll of paper towels and a screw driver to name a few. I wanted to kill him or myself by the time the call was over and I had to pee like a race horse. I never wanted to talk about anything that had to do with sex ever again. I comforted myself with the fact that my check from the company was arriving that day. I checked the mailbox and it wasn’t there. I waited another day and then called the company. I was coldly informed that the check could sometimes take five days to arrive. When it didn’t arrive in five days I called back and they said it would be two weeks before they issued a new check. I screamed at them.
“ What are you fucking kidding me?” (this was getting to be my standard response to everything that happened in Los Angeles.)
“No”, it’s just our policy” , she said coldy and hung up.
My hands shook what was I going to do? I wasn’t going to be able to pay the rent. The supervisor at the phone sex company called me that night and asked me why I wasn’t logged in. I told her I would log in when I got paid. She actually tried to make me feel guilty about it.
A week later when rent was due, I called Vito and told him that I would have to post date my rent check to the tenth and just pay the late fee he said okay, when he got the check he cashed it before the tenth anyway and I was charged an overdraft fee by the bank.
Back at Nielsen Chris and I had begun dating. The goofy theater chick dating the smart ass. Pam my boss, did not like Chris and began to take it out on me. She suddenly began picking on everything I did.
The phone sex company paid me and fired me. I told them I would see them in court. I went back to doing audience work and I signed up with Central Casting.
Central Casting has a system where you wait in line for two hours and pay $25.00 to get your picture taken. Then than give you a number that you can call to find out what jobs are available for the next day. If you were not eighteen to look younger and size six or under you were disqualified from eighty percent of the jobs . If you were not attractive you were disqualified from ninety percent of the remaining twenty percent of jobs. If you did qualify you had the privilege of calling the casting director over and over again until you finally got through to him or her to see if they wanted to cast you on the show.
I called the following day and was booked as a detective on Prison Break. I told them that that I had a business suit to wear on the show and I didn’t I ran off to Wal-Mart and found something claiming to be a Calvin Klein. I had to get up at 4:00 the next morning. It took two hours to get to FOX Studios on the bus. We sat at a round table all day at what was supposed to be the annual Angels and Eagles dinner for fallen cops. William Fichtner was there ( the guy who played the cop in GO!) Even though I know its stupid I felt a little intimidated upon seeing him.
The day lasted 12 hour. It was boring, but it wasn’t that bad. I called again the next day and got booked on Ghost Whisperer which was being filmed inLong Beach on the Queen Mary. I was excited it was a four day job at least 12 hours a day. I would have to call in sick to Nielsen at least two of the days. I realized I had to do it , it meant way more hours. They were paying us $10 extra for travel and and additional $10 for bringing our own suitcases. Visions of sugar plums danced in my head.
Chris and I got up at five ( we got to sleep in!) he drove me over the bridge and dropped me off. There were at least a hundred other extras milling about. We began by filming a scene where we were on deck waving bye bye. We then filmed a scene where we were walking aboard the boat.
Right after the seen was filmed we took a break on our way back to holding I saw the director of the episode ‘Save Our Souls” Gloria Muzio talking on the phone to Central Casting.
“What did you send over I said upscale clothes. Half of them came in rags. I said I wanted good looking people half of them aren’t. I might as well be in the background. Hey Artie. Can’t you see me in the background.”
Apparently Gloria is a self hating ugly chick. Instead of giving opportunities to those of us who aren’t cute she has decided to be part of the problem by only putting pretty people on TV.
She was about forty with glasses and braces. (I’m not kidding). She kept telling us that we were supposed to be rich people on a European cruise who were all millionaires. Then she told us that this was a trip of a lifetime (if we were all millionaires why would a cruise be the trip of a life time?)
At one point a man told me to sit in a lounge chair. I sat for a few moments then I saw the man being yelled at by Gloria. The man then came back and told me I was sitting in the wrong place as if I had decided to sit there by myself.
We were told that the job may actually only be two days for some of us. ( The ones who weren’t cute enough to be in the close up shots.)
As on the set of most shows the stars did not look at us or speak to us. Most of the actors will just give you a polite smile and a nod. Jennifer Love Hewitt took this a step further by literally sticking her nose in the air every time she passed us. She was a producer of the show and every now and then she was asked to look through the camera. She would generally find a flaw and tell them to change the shot. I had to laugh I remembered seeming her on some show where she was being interviewed about being a producer.
She had giggled girlishly and said , “Well I am a producer but that doesn’t mean that they always do what I say.”
I I’d seen her “act” and I ‘d heard her “sing” was amazed at how someone so talentless could be so mean and pompous.
The day wore on and on Gloria wanted to shot every seen a million times. At one point a guy with a big nose and I were sitting out of a scene while everyone else worked. He complained that if he was never allowed to be in a seen he would never get a speaking part. I felt so sorry for him. After being treated the way we were why would you even want a speaking part anymore.
All of a sudden Big nose grabbed me and shoved me out of the way. A tray of glasses was flying towards my head. I got out of the way right before it landed right where I was sitting. One of the main actors asked me if I was okay. No one else did. We worked til midnight and came back the next day at noon we then stayed til 2:00 AM. Gloria got more and more demanding as the night went on. You would think she was directing a work of art and not some crummy TV show.
Half of us were informed we wouldn’t be needed for the next two days.
I felt like telling Gloria that she should have a little faith in people. That Roseanne had feature plain frumpy people and it had been one of the biggest hits on TV ever. That When given the opportunity Kathy Bate had proven herself to be an amazing actor who could bring in an audience. But, I knew she wouldn’t listen to me and I would only be burning a bridge.
I returned to Nielsen the next day where I was chastised by Pam for calling in sick.
I didn’t think it was possible, but things were about to get infinitely worse.