I had just moved out to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California. I was going to get my Master’s in writing and I had dreams of screenplays and television pilots, actresses calling me and pleading for a role in my latest projects. I also imagined myself wearing sunglasses a lot. The LA dream!
Now, I did have some savings before making the move. I had even set it up so my student loans would cover my student housing, but as the weeks turned into months I saw that savings stockpile dripping away thanks to food and a car loan, and maybe one too many trips to Disneyland.
My initial hope was to find work at a studio, but anything I would have gotten would have been so entry-level I’d be surprised if they even paid me a dime. I would be working for the experience and the contacts, probably a good decision for my career, just not for my livelihood. Plus, I had no idea how to make coffee. I assumed such a job would involve coffee.
When I first arrived in LA I did my best to get to know each of the professors (thinking that each was a possible contact to someone in the industry who might want a young, ambitious writer like me). One professor was quite fond of me since I recognized her from an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. I even owned a copy of that episode and she was thrilled to see she was listed on the back of it as a guest star. After that she gave me a series of odd little jobs, including once transporting some of her sculptures (she was an artist as well) in the back seat of my car. One of the statues was of an angel fallen to the earth surrounded by little rocks. I still occasionally find some of those little rocks in my car.
After eating dinner at her house with some of my fellow students (she was always having us over), she told me about this man she knew. Eccentric, she called him, a real character (“You would like him.”) and he owned a car company.
“A car company?” That idea floored me. How does someone just own a car company? Was he Henry freaking Ford?
“Well, the brand,” she explained noticing the expression on my face. “He is an entrepreneur and he is trying to start it up. He needs a writer. Are you interested?”
Mr. W met me in a parking lot at USC. If it wasn’t the middle of the morning, it would have felt like a drug deal, since he was the only one in the lot and was leaning against his car trying to look smooth and important. It all felt odd, and I knew we could see each other as I walked over the entire expanse of the lot to him on the other side. It seemed to take forever.
Mr. W wore a very old Hawaiian shirt and cargo jeans, and he was always moving. In just the few minutes of me meeting him outside his car he had stuffed his hands in and out of his pockets a few times, played with his keys and fidgeted with his hair.
He took me to a local Chinese restaurant for lunch (the owners knew him and embraced him upon entry) and then matter-of-factly ordered for me.
My professor was right, he did own a car company! The brand had not been made in quite a few years, but he had high hopes. He just needed something in writing, some kind of a pitch to present to all of his investors. Something to convince them to invest all of their money in this strange man’s dreams.
Looking back at the conversation, I don’t know if I really ever said anything about myself. I always believed I was a fast talker, but I was nothing compared to this specimen. I was getting exhausted just listening to him. And he told me everything. He was, he claimed, once rich and very successful, and then he was swindled, putting him into this boat. He then took all of his assets a few years ago and placed them in this car company.
I wanted to interrupt and explain that I have never written anything like a marketing pitch (besides the pitches we writers always have to write for our own work), and I know next to nothing about cars. To be honest, cars have never held any interest for me. I don’t think I even really owned any Hot Wheels as a kid.
I considered options for interrupting him, but he was already giving me titles like Press Secretary or maybe Vice President of Marketing. Finally, I couldn’t take it. I had to say something and I raised my hand like a student would in a class hoping that he would understand my meaning. Instead he played a card I was not expecting. The only card that would have unarmed any argument I had.
“Did I mention I know film producers? A lot of them. They are always looking for screenplay writers, fresh ideas.”
I lowered my hand.
This gesture seemed to empower him and he smirked. “I need for you to talk to my ex-wife.” He began searching his pockets of his pants for a phone.
“Excuse me?” I asked, not sure I heard him correctly.
He brushed off my question and was already mumbling into the phone, obviously not wanting me to hear the conversation. Then in a very dramatic fashion he handed the phone to me. A women’s voice, with a slight Brooklyn accent, was on the other end. “Are you Scott?”
“Yes,” I replied, curious to know what she would have done if I said no.
“You won’t cheat him, will you? You will help him? He needs your writing magic.”
Mr. W’s apartment was the next warning sign that I should have run for the hills. See, there was no real floor, at least not one I could see. Just stacks of paper and a small path to walk through to a couch, which he obviously slept on. The small table in front of it was his makeshift table as well, since it was covered with the remains of frozen dinner cartons; his actual table was covered with old magazines.
As I carefully worked my way through this obstacle course, he continued to discuss with flourish his dream for reinvigorating this old car brand. He saw it becoming a luxury line like a Lexus, but with only a few hundred made a year. “People would have to custom order it and then wait… But in waiting it would make it all worthwhile. Waiting makes it special.”
I was having a hard time keeping up with him as he kept throwing out names and auto information at me. I began to regret not bringing a notepad with me. Even at one point he was waving in my face a book written and signed by Lee Iacocca. Somewhere in this mental scramble a plan was put in place for me.
I was to write something like a booklet or pamphlet about the history of the car and the dreams for the future of it. It was finally at this point that I emphasized I knew nothing about automobiles (“But you are from Michigan?”) and I was going to have to do a lot of writing around my classes as well.
My concerns were not heard for he was too busy rummaging through a pile by the couch. He spoke over me, telling me about the last line of the car that was built, sometime in the 1980’s. Then, to my utter shock, he turned back to face me and threw an issue of Penthouse on my lap.
“Look at that,” he said dramatically.
I had no idea what to do. It was obviously an old edition of the adult magazine, probably from the 80’s based on the hair, but I was not used to looking at such material with other people around, especially not being given a copy from a possible employer. Noting my shock, Mr. W grabbed the copy from my lap and thumbed through it quickly until he got to a page of a very naked woman who seemed to enjoy lying on a car way, way too much.
“Look at that, I tell you,” he said pointing at the picture.
I know he wanted me to notice the car, but I didn’t. As I gawked at the image he told me about how the photographer loved his car and used it in videos and magazines; and in a matter of a few more seconds he had thrown a very old VHS tape on my lap as well. This VHS also was from Penthouse, filled with naked models and big hair.
“They used my car in the video as well. You can keep them,” he said, happily. “I have hundreds. Study them.”
It was my first day with my new boss and he had given me porn.
People fascinate me, always have.
In many ways, it is hard for me to turn my writing brain off and I seem to always take notes of conversations. And Mr. W was like something out of a movie. I could see a character like him swindling someone on a TV or becoming a tragic figure like in a modern Death of a Salesman. Of course, I had no desire to become his “press secretary” and help save his car company, but I also didn’t want to leave his side. I wanted to break him down as a character, figure out what made him tick. Looking back, it is almost cold how I followed him around those first few days, as I sat in his car watching him argue with people at different buildings around the city. It almost made me think of something from a mafia story, but instead no one wanted anything to do with him, and no one was giving him any money.
Finally, he decided to take me to the office where I would be working my “magic.” It was on Vine, and looked to be made in the 1950’s. He first had me walk past the building, to see who was working the front desk. After I described the worker he breathed a heavy sigh.
“That’s okay, he is okay, when you see him you can go to work. When it’s someone else, don’t go anywhere near the office. Do you understand?”
He handed me a key and we entered the front of the building. He introduced me to the security guard (while passing him a twenty). And we went up the old rickety elevator.
Like his home, the office looked like a forest of paper, but what made this place different is that in the middle of the office was an old white grand piano. Now, I can’t play the piano, but I have always found them beautiful instruments. But this one looked like something you would have seen in a millionaire’s house, right next to a closet of far too many fur coats.
“That piano,” Mr. W said, stepping over the papers, “used to belong to Elvis.”
“Elvis?” I asked, my mouth dropping.
“Yes, Presley, they used it in many of his recording sessions,” and then Mr. W did a shake of his hips to emphasize the point. Before I could ask more questions, he then grabbed my arm a little too forcefully and led me to a back office that was almost clean with wood paneling. It housed only one desk and on it was a computer from the early 1990’s.
“That is your office,” Mr. W said and then patted me too roughly on my back. “Work your magic.”
If you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!
Need an editor? Dream of finishing that book but need some help? Learn about my editing services by visiting this page on my site. Or you can contact Rebecca T. Dickson and request to work with me by clicking the image below.