Saturday, February 25, 2012

Miracles CAN Happen!

“You will be HER until at least noon” the ominous text from my AD informed my antiquated flip phone looming with a red flashing beacon in my purse as I stepped out of the shower and into my bedroom to get dressed and ready for work last week.
“Seriously, does he just hit ‘resend’ every day?” I rhetorically asked my feline best friend Pretty who stared at me blankly for a moment before tunneling into her current favorite open-ended plastic shopping baggie.  
I was happy to have work!  I was blessed to be employed in my occupation of choice!  But I was also trying to balance my enormity of gratitude with an annoyingly pesky feeling of being somewhat overly-extended in my humble job capacity.
Granted, I’d heard over the weekend about a fellow Stand-In who had the BALLS to file a grievance against her previous show for making her do the job of an actress who only showed up Fridays for four hours of pre-taping; and as such, that particular Stand-In was demanding financial compensation for what she deemed a “hostile work environment”.
Now, I couldn’t help but feel sincere empathy for a fellow Second Teamer who was under the pressure to live up to the expectations of performing on behalf of her actress for the Network and Producers (been there; do that often), and on the one hand, I’m rooting for her!  (PLEASE let there be a change in pay when we lowly peons are expected to go so far beyond the usual call of duty!)
But on the other hand…
Well, we do sign on as Stand-Ins to be whoever “The Powers That Be”, need us to be.  Mine is certainly not a “hostile work environment”; but would it kill the budget to give us a small financial bump in pay once in awhile?!
Frankly, I needed a couple of sounding boards…
“That’s absolute BULLSHIT that they expect you to do a LEAD ACTRESS’ JOB for her and yet they pay you the SAME puny rate as every OTHER Stand-In who doesn’t have to perform and be on-set all the time.  BULLSHIT!” was the fervent opinion of one AD whom I used to work with; the righteous indignation of his feverish rant the equivalent to a beckoning whistle to one of my High Horses named “Fairness”; a rather gentle and forgiving pony in my stable who is always willing to give the benefit of the doubt for an apple or a carrot (or a mini-chocolate chip cookie!)
Clippity-clopping our collective hoofs over to my Camera Coordinator who has dealt with his fair share of “standing-in” for tech-challenged Directors, “Fairness” and I nibbled at the man’s brain, nuzzling around for a nugget of his personal perspective.
“In MY experience” he explained openly, “yeah, it sucks when I have a (insert air quotes) Director that doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing and hands the whole show off to me and expects me to do his job for him with my regular pay.  And yet, because I CAN do the job, I GET the additional calls to work in this business to cover someone’s ass.  So how do you decide?”
Suffice it to say I did my job as expected; I received a warm hug from my Actress when she arrived on set whilst I was still performing in lieu of her (thank GOD she’s gracious and gets a laugh out of my impersonation of her!); and content in the satisfaction that I’d given a decent enough performance by both our standards, I patted “Fairness” on the flanks as my High Horse retreated quietly to the stables.
By all accounts I still felt somewhat over-extended:  but trying to keep a mind at peace and mentally satisfied that as long as I stick to my consistent work ethics, I chose to believe that I’ll continue to be hired and counted upon to perform whatever is required in the land of television sit-coms.  So no worries, right?!
“Appointment Notice:  Failure To Attend This Appointment May Affect Your Eligibility To Receive Unemployment Insurance Benefits”
(Oh, FFS!)
Ever have one of those days when you looked up to the sky, and shouted “Really?”
Yes, according to my notification, I “have been scheduled to attend a Personalized Job Search Assistance Session where (I) will receive employment services from the Employment Development Department (EDD).”
Again…   REALLY???
Hey, my Kingdom and all the stables of my High Horses to EDD if they have the power to hook me up as a Co-Star on a successful sit-com and I never EVER require unemployment assistance for the rest of my life!  (Yet somehow I think that’s unlikely…)  So despite the fact that I’m actually WORKING, it would appear that I have to attend a mandatory face-to-face meeting to prove that I’m actively seeking employment.
I understood that my summons needn’t be taken personally – the EDD interviewer I’d encounter would be simply trying to do his or her job to the best of their ability, and God knows I can empathize with THAT!  But unfamiliar with where I’d need to travel outside of my comfort zone into something called Marina Del Rey, I logged onto my four-year-old laptop computer (which had randomly updated itself overnight), and discovered that for no discernable reason, I no longer had any Audio.
(Say it with me one more time…  REALLY???)
Consenting to allow The Geek Squad to remotely access my computer on-line, I sat in awe as the pointer-thingy whizzed out of my control, hovering and clicking at the speed of lightening.  Menus that I’d never seen before were pulled up, clicked, scanned and scrutinized.  And whilst I was mesmerized by the flurry of activity, I found myself feeling a wee bit uncomfortable as trusty “Agent Bill” continued the ongoing clinical gynecological probing exam of my PC.
“I’m handling a couple of other clients at the same time” Agent Bill typed in the chat box; “so I apologize if it takes me a moment to get back to you, Penny.”
EEK!  My computer was being assaulted with total strangers in a ménage a trois!
But just like that (insert finger snap), my world made a bit of sense in my pea-brain.
Despite Agent Bill’s efforts to ravage my RAM (if you will), and despite his inability to restore my Audio capacity until I can eventually laboriously carry my poot to the local Best Buy for repairs, I decided to appreciate the one realm where I have the opportunity to do as I deem fit: Stand-In for my gorgeous Actress, and until I’m told otherwise how to perform or where to move on her behalf, embrace my Control Issues and OWN the stage.  (Even if it’s only briefly!)
“I enjoyed that, Penny!  I enjoyed watching you!” our Leading Lady smiled in gratitude for allowing her some time to relax.  “But why did you move over there on this line?” she wondered, pointing to her script.
“Um, because the Director told me to” I winced (not particularly comfortable being a go-between for two people that have the power to fire me).
“Well, ya gotta check the plausibility of our movements, Penny!” she mock-admonished me with an amiable laugh; the word “our” not being bandied around as in the “Royal We", but as an affirmation that she and I mesh well together as a team to get the work done.
And I took that as the highest of compliments!
Resigned to the fact that I’d set a precedent of being trusted by our gorgeous Actress, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to get the morning text message, that once again, I would be HER until 11:00am (or there-about).  “Let’s start with the kitchen scene” our AD shouted to the stage as I hovered awkwardly behind a celebrated Director (that I’ve never met before), hoping for an introduction from my AD (that never came).  (In his defense, he had waaay bigger fish to fry!)
“Hi, I’m Penny” I eventually extended a tentative paw to the massive, muscle-bound tattooed arm of our Fearless Leader.
“Hi Penny, I hear you are an amazing Stand-In!” the Gentle Giant smiled warmly, guiding me to the chair where he wanted our Leading Lady to be seated.  “I hope they’re giving you a shitload of money for filling in for her!” he nodded to the skeleton crew who all suddenly found something infinitely more interesting in staring blankly at their shoes or down at their smart phones.  “Hmm, well I’ll take that as a ‘no’” he whispered, squeezing my arm comfortingly and making me feel safe in his enormous directorial hands.  (Frankly, if he didn’t already have a husband, I’d have married him on the spot!)
Picking up the phone the next morning to call EDD to discuss my obligatory meeting and hope beyond hope that they might allow me to move up my meeting by two days, I greeted the answerer respectfully, knowing that he too, was just doing his job.
“Hi and good morning!” I began cheerily.  “I understand that missing this meeting could potentially disrupt my unemployment benefits, but I’m actually working that week, so is there any chance that I could possibly move my appointment up earlier to the 28th?” I fretted (not particularly comfortable with losing the trinity of work, potential OT pay on a camera blocking day AND my benefits!).
“Oh, I can’t change your time since that’s set by the offices in Sacramento…” he sighed as I wilted like an orchid.  “So let me just take you off the list!” his voice smiled as he entered my information and working status into the computer.  “There you go!  You are free to roam about the world!”
And a chorus of angels SANG!
“We’re not going to use Second Team for Lighting tonight, but thanks everyone, for sticking around!” our affable DP grinned as we swarmed him en masse to say thank you and sign out for the day whilst the sun was still shining.
And a second chorus of angels sang AGAIN!
My mind was at peace:  and cozying up with my kitty, a cocktail and my laptop (that sans Audio had taken to scaring the CRAP out of me with angry BEEPS whenever touched inappropriately (Stranger Danger!  Stranger Danger!), I sifted through a few available sound-free emails.
*Pling.  Pling.* my cell phone tinkled at 9:30pm.
“You are HER for the entire run-thru with the Cast and until 3pm when we start pre-shoots” my AD texted me.
“I’m trying to look surprised” I texted back, “but I’m not that good of an Actress…!”

OK…  So the third chorus of angels would have to tuck in their wings and stay mute.

But for some unknown reason, the next day, and for ONE day ONLY, I opened up my laptop and found myself blessed with Audio!
Cue those angels!!!
Wishing you your very own miracles,
~Grateful P

Author’s Addendum:
Although I’m not at liberty to discuss the details, suffice it to say that someone at work recognized and appreciated all the effort that I put into my job. 
And stopping at Trader Joe’s for my usual weekend bottle of voddy, I found myself in a unique situation wherein I could financially justify scanning the top shelf liquor…
Tonight:  we drink Ketel One!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Masters of the Universe


Notified by mail that I was subject to a judiciary telephone hearing regarding my Unemployment Benefits, I set my alarm clock for 7:30am on a Saturday morning; ever the earnestly prepared Capricorn, awaiting the scheduled impending call between 8 and 10am.  My paperwork was in place next to my landline; all relevant employer documentation was close at hand and I was ready to justify my claim; nay, my very existence and worthiness of maintaining the occasional hiatus week of receiving Government assistance despite the absurd reality that The Universe had graced me with my current ongoing television series.
“Are you actively seeking work, and who are you seeking work from?” the extremely professional lady inquired on the phone; the eerie click-clacking of red-tape computer typing filling the uncomfortable void of silence as I chose my words carefully.
“Yes, I’m always looking for employment.  And mostly I rely on calling ADs and Producers” I stammered stupidly wondering if I was making any sense.
“I see” she continued in monotone, nails flying busily on her keyboard.  “And are you, as indicated by your email, indeed self-employed?” she paused momentarily as I gulped a little air.
“Ya know, it’s funny…” I offered feebly, “but I just got a lesson in vocabulary this past week.”  (True story!)  “I thought I was self-employed since I have to book my own jobs, but since I’m actually PAID by outside payroll companies, I learned that I’m technically an ‘independent contractor’” I smiled brightly, pleased that my Set Dresser (who happens to be notorious for misinformation) had randomly properly schooled me three days prior (and for once knew what he was talking about!)
“OK then, let me just unfreeze your account, and you’ll be good to go” the Government lady clickity-clacked a few more times after only a few more embarrassing questions as to my various job titles, pay rates and willingness to sign a W-2 Form and accept “a regular job”.
It was only 8:36am on the first day of my hiatus when I hung up the phone, and I was already feeling violated!
By Tuesday, my vacation groove had pretty much kicked in, and despite the ongoing opportunities to sleep well into the late afternoon I found myself rising early; relaxed, refreshed and invigorated no later than, um, well, noon-ish.
“Why are we up so early?” I pondered to my Zen Master Pretty, who merely stretched her four furry legs in feline defiance of the word “we”.  And squinting her eyes, sacrificially offering up her fuzzy chin and embracing a warm patch of sunshine beaming through the window; I realized that you have to pick your battles.
“When you’re right, you’re right” I acquiesced, nestling back into bed for a proper cat nap. 
Ohh, my hiatus was everything I could ever want it to be!
While it’s not as blaringly obnoxious as an alarm clock, for those of you unfamiliar with a hairball, nothing really bolts a pet “owner” out of bed faster than the guttural eruptions of your kitty attempting to expunge the contents of her stomach all over the duvet.
And with one fell swoop I managed to plop Miss Pretty on the floor, mark the territory to be sanitized, and checking the clock for five minutes after spraying the area before daubing up the remnants of her barfiness whilst she disappeared into the closet, I made peace with The Universe that some things would always be out of my control.
That is, until I checked my mailbox.
With the arrival of one lengthy-overtime, meal-penalty-laden check, I frowned at a miscalculation of the double-time pay…  A whole HALF HOUR was missing!
Surely this was simply a mistake made by my one of my ADs that could be easily remedied by a phone call or two!  And grabbing my cell, I dialed up the man who had officially signed off on my voucher who could certainly come to my rescue and financially rectify my situation!
“Huh.  Well that’s between you and the payroll company” he dismissed me unenthusiastically.  “You’ll have to call them personally” he added blandly.
Note to self – should I eventually achieve status as a real live Super Hero for my fellow underdogs in the world, guess who’s NOT on my list as a potential future side-kick!!!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that you’ve got to stand up for yourself.  You do what’s right, you find your voice and you don’t let anyone unjustly walk all over you.
And with the alarm clock set once again in order to discuss my payroll discrepancy in an orderly fashion, I requested to be patched over post-haste and forth-with to the Accounting Department.
“What is this regarding?”
“An under payment” I asserted myself, an authoritative hand on hip.
“Through what company exactly?” the Operator asked as I clearly and logically explained my situation.  “Oh, well then you’ll have to call the following number between 3pm and 5pm to speak with an official Pay Master.  Have a nice day.”
“Wait, wait, WHAT?” I clung to the phone.  “I gotta speak to a WHAT?” I inquired.
“A Pay Master” she reiterated sternly before hanging up abruptly.
Who knew that there are Pay Masters of the Universe who only work two hours a day Pacific Standard Time, five days a week?!
“Hi, yes, I have an error on my check from February 2nd”, I informed the Almighty High Payroll Mistress of (below-the-line) Hollywood Accounting.
“That’s impossible,” I was reproached with a snort.  “Let me pull your voucher and put you on hold” she scoffed, disconnecting me and blasting my ears with creepy elevator muzac for the next ten minutes. 
“Pfft…  Who died and made her Xena the Warrior Princess?” I smirked to my Battle Cat.
“OK, let’s see what we have here…” the Pay Mistress sighed with annoyance, the reminiscent sounds of computer keyboard clacking once again ringing in my ears as she reached down from her High Horse.  (Trust me; I know the smell; I have a full stable of my own.)  “Call time at 8am… lunch from 2 to 3pm… out at… 9:42…  Well look at that…” she exhaled deeply in disbelief.  “Well you just go ahead and cash the check, and we’ll send you the difference.”
“Problem is” I interrupted, “I have money direct deposited into my credit union; so can I void this check, send it back and have it reissued so that all my taxes and deposits are in order?”
“Ugh…  Let me talk to my Supervisor…” she sighed again, reconnecting me to her ongoing auditory assault of muzac.
I guess it’s hard to work two whole hours a day!!!  (And I’m STILL waiting on that check!)
Perhaps Super Heroes are over-rated.
Maybe no such thing really exists anymore outside of our childhood imaginations…
But opening my door on a chilly Sunday evening to go put my Unemployment Continued Claim Form into the outgoing mail, I nearly tripped over the box left on my stoop the day before.
And tearing open the contents, I embraced the joy within.
“Call me if you need any back-up!” I squealed, as a random squad of police cars happened to barrel down the boulevard towards someone in need of assistance.
Bolting the door shut for the time being in my Bat Cave, I swaddled myself in the BESTEST $30.00 EVER spent on-line:
No, that's NOT me, and yes, I nearly broke my neck tripping over the damn thing...

May YOU be someone’s hero this Valentines Day,
~Sentimental P

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bad Dog? No Biscuit?!?!

Head hung low, and tail between my legs like a puppy that had accidentally pooped on the new Persian area rug, I slinked onto the stage 45 minutes before my call time. 
I had two gift bags full of alcohol in my paws - an attempt at small bribes in efforts to regain my owner’s affections – and although I’d been metaphorically smacked on my nose with a rolled up newspaper for leaving work fifteen minutes early the prior week (spoiler alert, if you didn’t read my last post!), I was desperate for an affectionate pat on the head or anything that might make my tail wag happily once again on our sit-com.
“Mea Culpa” I whimpered to my ADs in their office before the Monday production meeting, placing the bags on their desks like slippers at their feet; my ears pinned back in fear awaiting the verbal assault of what a bad puppy I’d been followed by an expected lengthy reprimand for my “crappy” behavior.
“Are you kidding me Dawg?” my First AD laughed.  “Your phone apology was MORE than enough!  I hope you didn’t live with that guilt all weekend,” he hugged me warmly as I nodded stupidly.  “Forget it.  You’re like the best in show business, and these gifts were totally unnecessary…  But thank you!” he beamed as he dug into the individually wrapped items hungrily.  “OH!  I know what THIS is by the SHAPE!” he squealed in a high pitch that only my sensitive puppy ears could hear.  “That’s PATRON Tequila!  That’s my FAVORITE!” he giggled.
“I figured you guys could swap for whatever you each like better!” I offered, dancing on my tea-cup poodle hind legs (as it were).
“Now that’s MY favorite!” my other AD beamed, peeling the tissue paper off of the tiny bottle of Bacardi Rum.
Ahh… Success!!! 
I had effectively rolled over, showed my soft underbelly, and won back the hearts of those who control my collar and leash! 
Wrapping my paws around our visiting Director (one of the most laid-back, easy-going, yet speedy guys who doesn’t belabor the sit-com process), I wiped my wet (winter allergy) nose (on a tissue) in JOY!
“Hi ya Pen!” he embraced me like a long lost stray that had just been rescued from the pound.  “It’s great to see you again!”
So not surprisingly, with the pressure relieved as to whether or not I’d be allowed to continue to compete in the arena with the rest of the big dogs in Hollywood, I sighed happily that night as my feline sidekick and I curled up together; our collective tails tucked in, my job secure, my mind at peace.
“Hey Pen, so, uh, for tomorrow, you are HER all day.”
“WHAAAT?” I shook my head in disbelief, possibly slinging Great Dane slobber ala Marmaduke all around my living room.
“Yeah, she’s a bit under the weather, so you’ll be HER while she gets some rest before we do the pre-shoots later in the day.”
“And of course there will be a big fat bump of pay on my daily voucher?” I sat and spoke for the financial treat that rightfully ought to be mine.
“Well… I can ask…” my AD squirmed uncomfortably.  (Frankly, squirting me in the face with a hose and shouting “NO!!!” would have been more humane than pretending to find out if they might deign to pay me!)  “But how about I bring you in at 8am instead of 8:30 and give you some additional time to prepare?” he offered sacrificially, like a friendly hand for me to sniff and approve of before I allowed him to scratch my ears.
“What scenes are we pre-shooting?” I wondered casually, grabbing a pencil and jotting down the info as he tossed nuggets of Intel in the air for me to jump up and catch in my teeth.
And mulling over the biggest possible bone of contention regarding time constraints, I licked my lips in anticipation before sitting down to speak once again.  “I’ll be there by 8am” I confirmed, gnawing on the joy that we had stunts and Stunt Doubles as well as Special FX and there was no way in HELL that we’d accomplish everything on time!
I’d performed the entire show with our cast in the morning, camera blocked nearly the whole episode with our technical departments, and as the evening pre-shoots began, I whimpered quietly, hoping that I’d done a decent enough job.  Sure a few adjustments might have to be made once our Leading Lady took the stage, but all in all, I was one (very tired) yet pretty-pleased pooch.
So when 8:30pm rolled around, I stuck a friendly wet nose into my AD’s ear, casually reminding him that at nine o’clock I’d be moving into double time pay even though we still had a two more scenes to shoot.
“Thank you.  I do appreciate you telling me that” he nodded sincerely, ever mindful of balancing my Actress’ needs versus the UPM’s budget.
To the best of my recollection, it was nearly 9pm when the crew began sporadically disappearing to Craft Services, returning to stage with the newest round of food to help keep us going.  And with my Gorgeous Actress still involved in a wardrobe change, I abandoned my script and scurried down from the audience seating eagerly, only to find three disappointing various bins of Pop-Eye’s Chicken (I don’t eat chicken), and one highly desirable pan of mouth-watering fluffy biscuits!
Grabbing a plate, I slit two biscuits open, slathered them with butter, and reaching for a jar of honey, I began the slow delicious drizzle of sweetness that would elevate my blood-sugar level as well as my attitude towards still being on my leash.
“Penny…!  PENNY…!  PEN-NAY…!” my AD beckoned me with a whistle.
“I’m coming!” I hollered back cheerfully, stifling my inner growl and snarl as I set my plate aside on the edge of a neighboring set.  “What’s up?” I inquired pleasantly, skidding on stage like a Chihuahua on freshly waxed linoleum.   
“We’re gonna rehearse this a few times on camera with you until She gets here” he informed me as I hustled to grab a random script nearby. 
And with Cameras, Booms, Lighting and our Director happy after only two reviews of the scene, my AD took center stage to make a small announcement:
“Ladies and gentleman, that’s our Penny!” he shouted as our forgiving crew applauded graciously.
“Can I eat my biscuits now?  Huh?  Huh?  Can I?  Can I?  Huh?  Huh?” I jumped up and down wiping some drool off my face and eyeballing the thin-waisted carb-free Audio ladies who were hovering uncomfortably close to my plate.
“Have at it” my AD grinned.
In the end, this lil pup came home with not only a base pay for the day, but four hours of OT, forty-two minutes of double time and two meal penalties to boot!
So not surprisingly, with the pressure relieved as to whether or not I’d be allowed to continue to compete in the arena with the rest of the big dogs in Hollywood, I sighed happily once again as my feline sidekick and I curled up together; our collective tails tucked in, my job secure, my mind at peace, and a few words of wisdom from our Audio department ringing in my ears…
“Ya know, if you put those biscuits in the microwave for like five seconds, they’ll be warm again!”
Drooling happily and embracing my first week of hiatus,
~Sleeping Dawg P