Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Toto, We're Not in Kansas Anymore

One lovely day, working the Glamor side of the entertainment business, i.e. in close proximity to the actual Skid Row, brought me in close contact with one of the finer examples of homo sapiens kansiensis hypercredulous, or as they're known on sets, P.A.s.

In healthcare, a P.A. is a Physician's Assistant, a highly-skilled Master's level graduate of an accredited university trained to do high-level assessment, treatment, and write prescriptions for patients under the supervision of a licensed M.D. They make roughly between $70-90K/year hereabouts.

But in Hollywoodland, a P.A. is a Production Assistant, a virtually unskilled, untrained graduate of getting off the bus from Kansas (also Alaska, Alabama, or Arkansas to Wyoming, plus 9 territories and 180 other independent countries worldwide), running directly to the nearest studio, and getting abused as traffic cones with legs, sandbags with legs, runners, shushers, doormen, doorstops, idiot wranglers, and pretty much anything else not covered by a collective bargaining agreement with a specific union local, under the direct supervision of the 1st and 2nd Assistant Directors. They make roughly between $100-300/day hereabouts, usually divided by 20+ hours per working day. Really. They're generally enthusiastic, eager, frequently rather intelligent and educated, always under-appreciated and thoroughly battered, and occasionally, in a street sense, dumber than a truckful of bags of hammers.

The nearest military equivalent is the guy they hand a pointy stick to and send into a minefield to clear it, hang over the side of a ship en route at the end of a rope with a paintbrush and rust scraper, the kid with a potato peeler and 10 tons of unpeeled potatoes in the back of the mess hall, or the guy out behind the CP on some lonely mountaintop burning half a drum of $#!^ every day to keep the disease and vermin down.

So I feel for them, root for them, help them a bit when I can, and try to keep a close eye on them so they don't hurt themselves until they learn a thing or three.

Thus, standing on a suitably deserted street bordering on Skid Row, with its plethora of homeless humanity flotsam and jetsam, found P.A. Butch outside with me. I, enjoying the warmth of the sun on a Santa Ana wind day before our day turned into a long night in Pissville. Butch running to and fro with each new update over the radio, fecthing this, carrying that, and generally building leg muscles while wearing out an already well-worn set of Nikes. But at least he's working in show business.

And Butch was actually (I swear it's true, I'm not picking on Jayhawks) from Kansas, having arrived some two weeks earlier, in his hand-me-down beater car, and with visions of someday thanking the Academy for recognizing his latest blockbuster masterpiece of cinematic art one day.

But at the moment, Butch, like most diligent and dutiful P.A.s, was trying to do the 14 things he was asked/ordered/commanded to do simultaneously, and sailing into the wind in heavy seas.

His particular bugaboo at the moment was doing the other things, while carrying a sheaf of call sheets, script side excerpts, start paperwork for new folks, a wiring diagram for the Space Shuttle, a Manhattan telephone book, detailed lunch orders for half a dozen prima donnas, and random scraps of paper from the 1st AD, 2nd AD, director, and various other folks.

Which, on this blustery day, was no small impediment. So Butch, realizing the obvious solution, carefully picked a less urine-smelling patch of Skid Row pavement, and set everything down very meticulously. Then between gusts, set about to find a suitable weight to hold his arm-carried office in place until he should next have the chance to retrieve it.

Something about his behavior got my other eye towards him, and as it happened, just in time.

Butch was reaching for Just The Thing to hold his papers in place, when I used my seldom-deployed Command Voice, and told him rather urgently to "FREEZE!"

Heel. Roll Over. Play Dead. Good Doggie.

Which Butch did, although not without wondering WTF, as evidenced by the mixture of annoyance and shock on his normally cherubic little newby face.

So as I approached him, I asked him nonchalantly, "Butch, what're you doing, exactly?"

"I'm going to get something to hold down my papers before the winds pick up again."

Sigh. "Okay. What were you going to use?"

"One of those dirt clods right there."

Sigh. Smirk. "Butch, work with me for a minute. Look around here. Do you see any vacant lots in any direction, for blocks?"

Head shake "No."

"And do you see any rocks, trees, or anything organic and natural at all within sight that isn't concrete, brick, or steel, pretty much everywhere around?"

Another headshake "No."

"And have you noticed all those smelly, dirty, and generally horrific-looking folks who live all around us, under, behind, or inside of dumpsters, cardboard boxes, and inside plastic garbage bags?"

Headnod "Yes."

"Okay. So here's the tricky parts: Other than our own crew's portajohns on that trailer yonder, do you see anything within a mile that looks like a bathroom?"

"No, but what does that have to do with...?"

"Work with me just a moment longer. So Butch, what makes you think those lumps all up and down the street are dirt clods??"

And then puzzlement, followed by the slow dawnlike rising of understanding, and then the thoroughly puckered visage of pure disgust, crept across Butch's sadder, but now much, much wiser, face.

"You mean...?!? Right on the sidewalk?!?!?"

Headnod "YES."


Exit Butch, stage left, to retrieve all but the bottom-most and now sacrificial paper from his stack, never to be set down in this neighborhood again.

And swear to Buddha, Butch tiptoed everywhere he went, from then until we wrapped for the night, and left.
Poor kid probably burned his shoes too.

But he'll never pick up another "dirt clod" from east of Broadway for the rest of his days.

Ah well, another life spared, another soul tragically scarred, and a little more gilding rubbed off the luster of Tinseltown.

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