The customs woman at JFK with the annoying little FDA beagle sniffing after my rolling luggage wanted to know where I’d bought my sausages. “Schiphol Airport,” I declared. “That place is like a huge shopping mall where planes come to park.” She flipped open a stainless steel clipboard, running her finger down a list. “Schiphol is in the Netherlands,” I said. “Also known as Holland.”
“I know where Schiphol is, Ma’am,” she lied, mispronouncing it. “What’s the national origin of the gouda?
Certain that the little clog-wearing Dutch boy on the label would rat me out anyway, I told the truth. Informing me that neither item was importable, she opened a plastic evidence bag and demanded I deposit the contraband. She was a squat Puerto Rican the color and shape of a new potato with a thick Bronx accent. I pictured her whipping up a nice little sausage and cheese dinner omelet for a brood of hungry derelicts on their way to a night of wilding in Central Park.
Back in the days when I was a Big Deal Travel Writer, it was customary to bring a little nosh to the folks back at the magazine after a sojourn to parts more glamorous. These were the people who figured up my freelance invoices and cut the checks, so, despite my exhaustion from the overnight flight, I had the taxi stop at a convenience store where I picked up some Cracker Barrel and Slim Jims. My plan was to run into the office kitchen and quietly relieve the snacks of their humble wrappers before laying out a charming international sampler. Unfortunately, the kitchen was full to the gills with a gaggle of twenty-somethings I’d never laid eyes on. “Temps,” the circulation manager apologized over the din. One of the ill-mannered heathens stepped on my foot while another snatched a sizeable block of Extra Sharp Cheddar. “Just ignore them.”
This morning, a Big Deal Hollywood Temp Agency called to offer me a nine-week job at The H----- R-----, one of the two big trade magazines in town. Oh, how I welcomed the return of the self-respect and dignity I’d so casually discarded to embark on the daily ritual of humiliation and obscurity that greets the Aspiring Hollywood Screenwriter. Then I found out I’d be a fill-in clerk for the Circulation Department, where reporters returning from the field bearing dubious gifts would be told to just ignore me.
"You have done data processing, right?” inquired the girl from the agency. “Because I told them you had lots of publishing experience.” There was no more use in trying to explain to her that I had been a journalist, not a touch typist, than there would have been in appealing to the spud-shaped woman over the unhappy fate of my long lost sausages.
Besides, another thing they won’t tell you in film school is that once you’ve fallen long and hard enough, a job—any job, no matter how lowly or monotonous—may well become your only shot at getting dealt back into the game. Look out, folks. Julie's in the house, and she just might end up on all the wrong floors serving up snacks to all the right people some day very soon.