It's almost time for the Academy Awards, one of my favorite television nights. That evening I will be ensconced on my friend's couch, gorging on some sinfully delicious party food - I particularly look forward to the little roasted tomatoes with feta on toast - and wondering what would have happened if only I had stayed in that job.
I might have been one of those glamorous people on TV. Not the ones in the borrowed designer dresses and exquisite jewels who ascend to the microphone - those are the movie stars - but the other ones, the real people who get up there behind the movie stars. I'm talking about the ones who make it happen, the little people who the stars make sure to remember to thank: the producers, directors, agents, managers and drama teachers.
What job was that, you may ask. That job. The one that always arouses the woulda, coulda, shoulda, in my life. Now mind you, I have a pretty nice life. I have a great husband of almost 40 years, three terrific grown kids, two very excellent daughters-in-law and a fascinating little grandson who can sing the lyrics to Hamilton! But on Oscar Night (as well as Golden Globe, Emmy, Tony, SAG, People's Choice... did I miss any?) I indulge in a little 'what if?'
The job ad I answered was for "Gal Friday." That job description doesn't exist anymore. But it did back then. It entailed everything that an assistant in a small start-up might do today. Minus the Internet. (What!?! There was no Internet back then?) I was tasked with script-reading, letter writing, typing, copying, phone answering, and coffee-making, before the invention of the Keurig. And dry cleaning pick-up. (Okay- maybe the boss of today's start-up doesn't have so much dry cleaning.) I did it all. Except the decision-making.
The decision-making was left to the two guys I worked for. Two bright, eager young men straight 'outta Buffalo,' winding down their college concert promotion business and embarking on a new venture in movies and talent management. Harvey Weinstein and Brad Grey opened up shop on West 56th Street in a one-bedroom apartment upstairs and to the left of Hooters. And I was their "Gal Friday."
The office was a constant hive of activity. One moment I would be skimming scripts, the next I would be stacking carbon paper behind the stationery while trying to make reservations for Harvey to meet with other up-and-coming movie moguls (Four Seasons! Lutece!) By evening, I was in the car with Brad on our way to Poughkeepsie to set up for a concert. And if I was lucky, Bob Saget, box of donuts in hand, would stop by before day's end to schmooze and entertain. I was having a great time. It was exciting. It was exhilarating.
And occasionally it was awful. Like when they both wanted their own stuff done at exactly the same time. Or Garry Shandling showed up and demanded I vacate the desk because he needed the phone, regardless of what I was doing at that moment. Remember: phones were tethered to the desk by a 15-foot black wire coil. On those days, it was not such a fun job. I was a one-woman secretarial pool with a secret desire to be a mother.
Twenty-five and already married 3 ½ years, I was eager to get on the baby train. The ob-gyn promised me that it would take at least 6 months of trying- but there it was. Bingo! First month off the pill and I was pregnant. And sick. Retching, throwing-up-your-guts sick and commuting an hour both ways from Queens to Manhattan to my sometimes wonderful, increasingly overwhelming job.
I coulda stuck it out. The nausea got better. I woulda gotten them to hire an assistant to help out with the workload and I shoulda thought about getting a nanny when the baby came. But I didn't. I didn't do any of those things. I quit my job and stayed in Queens doing temp work until my daughter arrived. During her naps, I sewed and sewed and sold my crafts to stores and at street fairs. My husband and I went to the movies and I smiled when I saw the titles unfold. MIRAMAX. That was Harvey's company!
I had two more babies, my sons, and became a youth group leader. After all, I did have a teaching license I had not yet utilized. I watched Full House and applauded Saget's success. He was as nice on camera as he was in person. I went to more movies and admired Harvey's taste in films. If it was MIRAMAX, I knew it would be good. I beamed with pride for having been there at the beginning. And I admit to indulging in a little schadenfreude when Shandling's comet eventually fizzled. He wasn't a very nice person to an underling like me and that says something about character.
But that was all in a galaxy long ago and far behind, best viewed through rose colored glasses. In the ensuing years, I have had meaningful work teaching and creating theater with hundreds of students. I have had the privilege of being home with my children when they were young and the time to cook and linger at family dinners. I have luxuriated in hours of writing and gardening in the moist, fertile earth. I have worked hard and lived richly and am enjoying the fruits of that endeavor.
So, for a few nights during award season, I watch TV and think about how self-satisfied Brad looks (he should be- he earned it now that he is Chairman and CEO of Paramount) and marvel that Harvey hasn't changed all that much: just as hefty, a little less hair, the same sly smile. I will allow myself to indulge in some woulda, coulda, shoulda. I think: that might have been me up there accepting that award. If it had been, I certainly wouldn't have worn that dress!
But who knows, had I stuck it out through my pregnancy at that job above Hooters, I might have been a contender. And it's not over 'til it's over. I have high hopes for a few of my acting students who have made it to the big time- they may yet have their moment at the podium and remember me.
But in the meantime, I will sigh contentedly, as I look around a room full of friends as we make our own picks for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress. I will know I am so lucky to be surrounded by good, solid people who always have my back. Woulda, shoulda, coulda... but I didn't. And that's just fine.