To everything there is a season, and for Tales From the Crypt that season wrapped up after 18 episodes. The cutting rooms were shut down, the hundreds of thousands of feet of film packed into boxes that I hauled to a giant warehouse in the Valley. All of my friends moved on to their next projects, but not before exchanging phone numbers and promising to get together for lunch soon. All that remained of my year in premium cable television was a skeleton crew manning the production office.
The producer’s assistant stopped me in the hallway of the production office. “James, do you have another show yet?”
“I’m rolling off at the end of the week, and Bill needs someone to answer the phone for a few more weeks. Want to do it?”
“Yeah, I guess I could cover for you.”
The truth was that I was in a complete panic. Jody and I had no buffer. We couldn’t afford even a week without my salary. I was thinking about begging Jeff to give me my Music Plus job back.
The producer’s assistant job was easy. The phone rarely rang and nobody came into the office. I brought a sketchbook to work and started laying out an idea for a children’s story. Bill came in once and caught me drawing. “What are you working on?” he asked.
“I’m just messing around.”
“Let me see,” Bill said. “What is this?”
I wanted to run away, but he stood between the stairs and me. “It’s just an idea for a children’s book. I’m just messing around.”
“Oh, I just optioned a children’s book,” he said, and he stepped into his office. He emerged a moment later with a book. “I’m really excited about it. Give it a look and let me know if you think it will make a good film.” He handed me a copy of Jumanji. The book was great, particularly Chris Van Allsburg’s illustrations. I abandoned my cruddy picture book idea.
Bill was great to me in those last few weeks, giving me some Tales artwork as a keepsake and more importantly getting me an interview for a job as Robert Zemeckis’s personal assistant. It didn’t sound like a very creative job, but neither was Tales From the Crypt post production assistant. Besides, we needed money more than I needed job satisfaction.
Zemeckis’s office was on the Universal lot, which was enormous. It was so big that one could enter through the main gate in Universal City or a back gate on the Burbank side of the hill. For the last year I’d been taking the back gate because it was several miles closer to the producer’s office, so on the day of my interview that’s where I went.
“You’re not on the list,” the guard said.
“What do you mean?”
“You aren’t on the list. I can’t let you through.”
“I’m here every day.”
“Not on the list. Try the main gate.”
“I have an interview in ten minutes. I don’t have time to drive all the way to Universal City.”
“Not on the list,” the guard said.
I sped over the hill. By the time I hit the main gate I was already five minutes late. The guard waved me through. As I was pulling in, Tom Selleck was pulling out. I ditched my MG in the first open parking space and started running.
It was hot. It was hilly. It was a long fucking way to the other end of the lot. Twenty minutes later I threw open the door to Robert Zemeckis’s bungalow.
“Are you James?” a young woman asked me.
“Yes,” I wheezed.
“Wouldn’t let me in the back gate.” All I could think about was the ice cold air conditioning and the water cooler perched behind her.
“Oh, you should’ve come to the main gate. Have a seat,” she said. “So why are you interested in being Bob’s personal assistant?”
“Well, we’re wrapping up Tales and –”
“Tales From the Crypt.”
” — and Bill mentioned this and I have a lot of respect for Mr. Zemeckis. I mean, come on, Back to the Future, Romancing the Stone, Used Cars –”
“I know his resume,” she said, and she flipped through a magazine on her desk. “Have you ever been a personal assistant?”
“No, but I’ve been a P.A. on Tales for the last year,” I said.
She stared at me blankly for a moment, and then she said, “Are you okay?”
“Look at your shirt.”
The running, the heat, and the chilly air conditioning conspired against me. My light blue dress shirt looked like a Rorschach test, dark blotches of sweat spreading across the thin cotton. I felt the perspiration on my forehead beading up.
“I’m fine. Just the run from the car,” I said.
She went back to her magazine. “As a personal assistant you’re always on call,” she said.
“Do you? Always.”
“Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
“That’s okay. Sometimes on Tales I’d have to –”
“If Bob wants his dry cleaning at three in the morning, you’re there.”
“Are dry cleaners open at 3?”
“Doesn’t matter,” she said. “If he wants you to drive over and walk his dog or go Christmas shopping or whatever you drop everything.”
“Of course. I know he’s busy,” I said.
“He has kids.”
“I like kids.”
“He might call and say, ‘Take my kids to the beach.’ That’s a day, right there.”
“Sounds great. I love the beach.”
“Basically Bob’s life is more important than yours. Does that sound like a job you’d like?” she asked, still flipping the magazine’s pages.
“Well, it sounds like a job I can handle,” I said.
“Thanks for coming in,” she said. “We’ll let you know.”
“Hey, can I get some of that water behind you?”
I poured myself a cup. It was cold and delicious.