This is part 2 of a rememberance I began in Part 1 here.
So for two months, I worked for the mad man, and strangely I saw him very rarely while doing it. I was supposedly restarting his car company, chasing his dreams, but I was doing it mainly solo. The working arrangement went something like this:
- When I could get away from my own writing, I would leave him a voicemail saying I was going to the office with the white Elvis piano. (I would never receive a response to the message.)
- If it was the right guard at the front desk (which was only occasionally, sometimes if another guard was on duty when I left later they would have some questions on where I was coming from), I would sneak into the building and up to my own little office.
- After playing a few chords on the piano (Who wouldn’t?), I would then go to my spot in the back, turn on the computer, write for a few hours, and print up whatever I wrote for his review.
The strange thing is he never reviewed what I wrote! Not even a word. The most I would hear from him was the weekly small check by the computer waiting for me and an occasional assignment.
Usually, those assignments involved me having to drop off a check someplace or making a phone call for him. On one occasion, I had to drop off a check at a government office, I was informed exactly which worker to meet with and a script of what to say. That experience took over four hours with nothing but old magazines in a waiting room for entertainment.
After the specific worker took the check from me (after listening to my excuse from Mr. W that the rest of the money would be in soon), he looked me up and down and asked, “What are you doing working for him?”
It was a great question. “I have no idea,” I responded. And I didn’t.
At the time I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong.
I was writing, writing a lot!
Strangely, the car stuff was almost easier than what I was doing in my classes. Because of my master classes in writing, I was writing a play, a TV episode and a movie script all at the same time, with bits and pieces from each due for their respective classes weekly.
The document I was creating for Mr. W was very simple in its structure. Nothing groundbreaking. It began with a history of the car company, followed by its current “resurgence,” and then ending with a vision for the future. For the vision bit, I went to a few nicer car dealers in the city and collected brochures. The eyes I would get from the dealers were extraordinary (as an obviously poor student, I was not exactly the target market), but when I explained I was a writer they were all too happy to hand me brochures and ask me what I was working on; which I would lie and say was a movie script about race cars, or something. I was doing a lot of lying for Mr. W.
“You know I am a writer too,” one dealer said to me.
“You don’t say,” I said, once again reminded that I was in Los Angeles.
Things began to shift for me when on one occasion Mr W was in the Elvis office with me. I was busy typing away when he arrived. At first I thought someone broke in since the arrival was so stealthily, I went through three offices carefully, until I found him in one surrounded by papers.
Like all of the other offices, it was filled with paper bags and piles of paper. And there was Mr. W sitting in the middle of the madness, mumbling to himself and sorting pages.
He didn’t say hi to me… and I didn’t say hi to him.
I went back to my desk and typed until the end of the hour.
The next day I skipped one of my classes and went to Disneyland, arriving shortly before the park was to open.
With my family back in Michigan, Disneyland became, strangely, my go-to place to clear my head. If you think about it, the charge for gas, admission, and food was really no different than what I would pay for a massage or a therapy session. At least, that is what I told myself. And I would spend days going on rides or simply watching the people there.
It was while sitting on a park bench that I watched a family greet Captain Hook.
Now, clearly that guy in the costume was not Captain Hook. The guy in the costume knew that, the entire family knew it. And yet they all were pretending together, giving into the shared magical what-if.
I thought about that the entire drive back to my student housing.
Calling Mr. W would have been a waste of time, I knew that. So I went to his apartment. I asked the person at the front desk if he was in. “I have no idea,” was the only response I got.
It took three knocks at the door before he would open it, and even then he opened it only a little crack, worried that I was not alone.
“It’s just me,” I said as I stepped in.
“So it seems,” he said, breathing almost a sigh of relief. He looked like he had slept in his clothes, his hair was disheveled.
I looked about the madness of the apartment, worse than it was before, and was definitely more secure in my decision. “I have decided that this is no longer working for me.”
“This job,” I said starting through the points I had prepared. “After I leave here, I plan to go to the office and print up the work I did. I have completed over 75 pages of material that you can use. You can either use it as the basis for a small marketing booklet of your plan. Or you can cut it down to whatever size document you want.”
“You’re leaving me?” His face fell.
This reaction surprised me. I quickly jumped to the lie I prepared. “It’s just too much writing. I have so much to do at USC, I don’t really have the energy to do more writing and…”
“Just like my ex-wife, everyone leaves me,” he interrupted, barely able to hold his tears back.
Like his ex-wife? If it was anyone else I probably would have put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, but there was still something unsettling about him. “I’m sorry, but I did do everything you needed, that we agreed to. I think 75 pages of material is pretty good, and some of the passages are pretty great actually. The history of the company section I think is…”
“Calm down,” he suddenly said to me.
“Calm down?” that surprised me. I was the one standing by the door with no emotion. Calm down?
“I’ll write you your last check don’t worry. Calm down.”
“I’m not excited,” I said, now I really wanted to leave. “And I don’t need a check.”
“Of course, you need a check, you worked for me, you helped me, you deserve to be paid.”
“Listen,” I said, watching him jump over paper piles to his table, where his checkbook was waiting. “You don’t need to pay me. I’ll be fine. Let me just go.”
I took a step back and reached for the door. I was about to exit when he turned back to me and quickly walked over with a check. “Here, take it.”
“I don’t want it, seriously.”
“Everyone takes my money and leaves, why should you be different?”
“No,” I said.
“Take the check.” he said, forcing it on me, putting it in my coat pocket.
“I don’t want it,” I said, feeling more and more awful by the minute.
“Take my money and just go.” He sounded just like a scorned person in a bad movie.
As promised, I went to his office afterwards, printed up all of the material I created. I even created a series of notes and options for what he could use my prose for. I then left the office key on the keyboard of the piano.
“Goodbye Elvis.” I whispered to myself and hit the keys one last time.
A few days after my quitting, I was at my professor’s house again. I spent an hour at the dinner sharing stories of my adventures in the car industry. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of it, and in hindsight it seemed funny, even though at the time it felt overall uncomfortable. I showed everyone the last check I got, and we all analyzed his writing. Someone compared it to the scribble you would see in a movie on the wall of an insane asylum.
I explained that I wasn’t going to cash the check. Some told me to take the money and run, but a few understood. He needed the money more than me, and I felt strangely like I did let him down. He needed something from me that I couldn’t give him, I realized that after the last meeting. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken any of his money or work from the start? Yes, I created some good writing for him, but looking back was I just feeding some insane dream? Were we playing Captain Hook together like the family at Disneyland? Should I instead have tried to get him help? Whatever the case, the money felt tainted to me, and the check was a reminder of a mistake I felt I had made.
Later, the professor pulled me aside and apologized. She explained that she met him through a friend of a friend at a party and he immediately asked about her students. I was the first writer she thought of for it. That in a way was a little flattering.
“And look at the story you have now,” she said, smiling.
Things get muddy in time.
I couldn’t tell you the name of Mr. W now, nor even of the car company. I could, however, point out the office if I had to and possibly where his apartment was located. But considering his financial problems at the time the search to find him from there would probably be a dead end now. Not that I would ever consider looking for him.
I did hear from Mr. W one more time though. It was three months after I left his employment. I had just fallen to sleep when my phone began to ring.
“What is this?” he demanded. His voice was high and almost screechy.
“Hello?” I asked, confused. “What do you mean?”
“These files? This document? What is all this?”
“Well, as my notes explained,” I immediately began hoping to end this call, “You will need to go to a professional printer to take the document and construct it into whatever you want it to be. I had written more than enough for a little booklet or something as simple as a brochure…”
“This is not what I wanted!”
“You cheated me!”
“No, I didn’t, and by the way, I had left numerous copies of what I was working on around the office for you to check whenever you wanted.” I was sitting up in bed, and one of my fists were clenched. “I could have easily stopped and restarted. But you would have had to say something.”
“You cheated me!” he screamed again and it was then I hung up.
The next day I cashed the check.
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