Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, April 30, 2017

As Good As it Gets


                                          Ah, Nancy Travis -- be still my heart...

While waiting in line at the local not-so-supermarket the other day -- Senior Discount Tuesday -- I couldn't help noticing the cute young checker ringing up the groceries. She wasn't more than twenty, one of those rare rural flowers with the sly smile of an angel and a face that might never need makeup. Yeah, she had a little gold ring in her nose, but her warm smile, bright eyes, and buoyant, sunny attitude -- not yet jaundiced by the slings, arrows, and corrosive cynicism of real life -- more than compensated.*

In a town where livestock outnumbers the locals (the sign on the main road reads "Population 350"), a smile like hers is just about as good as it gets. 

A few weeks ago I notedfew things I'd miss about Hollywood once I left for good. Now that my only real "job" is to keep myself fed, make sure the fire in the wood stove is still burning, and come in out of the rain -- oh, and shave once a week, whether I need it or not -- I've got a few more additions to that list.

I certainly don't miss the pre-dawn alarm clock, the twelve-hour-plus work days, or the soul-crushing, back-breaking weight of 4/0 and five-wire banded cable... but I do miss the shared sense of purpose in being on set. Going to "coffee" (breakfast) with the rest of the crew was often the highlight of every rig day, full of good-natured carping and laughter. The mornings of shoot days were much the same, our set lighting crew forming a circle to eat, talk, and laugh after filling our plates at the craft service table.

Come to think of it, I miss craft service too, although that's probably a good thing. Ten pounds have melted from my waistline over the past two months without any effort whatsoever on my part, doubtless because I'm 400 miles from the nearest craft service table.   

What I really miss now is the the people.  Not all of them, mind you -- there are a couple of stick-up-their-ass DPs, legend-in-their-own-mind directors, and the occasional huffing, strutting First AD (for whom Otto Preminger must have served as a personal role-model) that I don't need to see again, but they're the exceptions.

And of course I miss all those beautiful women in Hollywood, whether they worked behind or in front of the camera.  

Now before you all start clucking your tongues, shaking your heads, and wagging your collective index fingers at me for being a dirty old man, I'm not talking about anything carnal here. Given my age and general state of physical decrepitude, I've been watching that game from the bench for a while now, but having the chance to talk with all those women on set is one perk that really can't be replaced. When working on a film crew, I belonged there on set -- we were all part of a family -- which meant that at the right time and place, I had the opportunity to talk with anyone and everyone, including many spectacularly beautiful women who would never even make eye contact with the likes of me out in civilian life, much less engage in conversation.

Maybe I was just kidding myself, but I figured those conversations might help bridge the awkward Morlock vs. Eloi gap that often yawns between below-and-above-the-liners, and thus strengthen the social glue that binds a crew together. Besides, it just felt good to connect with my fellow travelers on the journey that every show really was... and if that person happened to be a stunningly beautiful woman, so much the better.

Back when I worked on the The Bill Engvall Show, I loved to chat with co-star Nancy Travis, who was as warm, friendly, and gracious as she was beautiful. I had a bit of a crush on her, of course, and she knew it -- women always know. Ten years later, I was taking a break outside the stage of my show when she walked by on her way to the set of her show, Last Man Standing.

"Hey, my boyfriend!" she smiled, then gave me a big hug. 

You'd better believe that made my day. 

This kind of thing just isn't going to happen out here in the real world. Absent the cinematic immunity of being part of the industry family, I'm just another gray-haired geezer shuffling towards the grave while waiting in line at the not-so-supermarket on Senior Discount Tuesday.

Hey, ten percent makes a difference -- every little bit counts once those Hollywood paychecks stop rolling in... 

Then it was my turn, and as she rang up the tab, we chatted about this and that; the endless rain, the equally relentless flood of tourists that swamp our little town on weekends, and the Big Decision she has to make soon about which college to attend next fall. 

The stuff of ordinary life. 

Forty years ago I'd have been doing back-flips and making a complete fool of myself to get this young woman's attention, but it's all different now. At this point, just basking in the radiant glow of her smile is enough --  like warming my hands in front of a hot fire of a cold, wet winter day.

And she didn't forget to take that ten percent off my bill...


* Seriously -- I'll never understand the appeal of a nose ring...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hahaha.. about three years ago i was where you are today.. There was something special about life in the industry.. the passing friends we bond with on each show,
"Break for coffee" in the morning.. the endless conversations on endless subjects, just to get thru the daily grind not to mention the 16 hour plus days.. and a sense of pride at the end of each week after getting our ass kicked. We thrived on constant challenges that was thrown at us.. BUT you will see looking back at some point, we became institutionlized.. and going forward you will remember things you forgot, that you always thought about doing.. and now you can! always your friend k