Actorfone answering service

Hollywood used to be a very different town. And I used to be a completely different person.

I needed a job until I became a rock star. Most anything would have done, but the least amount of responsibility was my aim. My roommate  and local Rasta, JF, told me they were looking for operators at the answering service he worked at. Before cell phones, actors had answering services to take their calls and check in for auditions and such. I was hired immediately by a young man, JG. After my first 2 weeks, JG showed me pictures of himself in drag. He didn’t look bad. He would then go on to tell me that, if I was ever interested, I would not know the difference with my eyes closed. I politely declined. One day he sent me home to adjust my attitude. I don’t remember what I had done… I was pretty high. JG always showed me his new glamour shots and told me all the men loved him. I always declined. One day in the drive-thru at Taco Bell, a man approached JG’s car with a gun and asked for money. JG stepped on the gas, ramming the car in front of him, and the man with the gun shot him in the chest.

Benny was JG’s replacement. I really liked Benny. He just wanted you to show up and do your job. He would often send me on runs to score drugs for him. While I walked around Hollywood Blvd., he would happily sit at the desk and answer the phones, which was my job. Benny died of AIDS and it was sad. He was so broke and there was very little treatment or help of any kind at that time.

Our client base was an interesting mix of famous and not-so or not famous at all.

Sally Kirkland called in to check her messages at most once a month. She always seemed completely upset and out of breath. I would tell her she had 20 odd messages and she would moan, “Oh my god, I don’t have time for this.” I would read her 2 or 3 before she would say, “I just can’t do this,” and hang up.

I dreaded when Deidre Hall would call… she was always yelling and insulting. Not that I was a great person myself, but it just made matters worse. I would pick up the phone in the middle of a rush of calls and she would be screaming, “That was more than two rings!” Apparently someone had promised her we could pick up before the 3rd ring. Sometimes we could, but sometimes it was busy. One day she said to me, “Where are they hiring you people from? Straight off of Hollywood Blvd?!” I put her on hold.

Wayne Knight used to pick up his mail from us.  He would walk in like the Queen of England. He really loved himself… and good for him… I guess.

Most of the clients were cool most of the time. My favorite was Brian Reise, the acting teacher. He got more messages than any other client and when he called in to check them he was a pro. We would breeze through them so fast. I never met him, but he seemed like one together dude over the phone.

I always felt bad for Donna Mason. She called in every 20 minutes to check for audition messages. She never got any. It was sad and she called so often sometimes it was difficult and I was short with her. My sincerest apologies. I wish you would have gotten work. You sure kept at it well enough, but Hollywood doesn’t work like that… I guess.

John replaced Benny as my boss. He was like Benny in that he just wanted me to show up, do my job and be nice to Deidre Hall. No problem. John was from Texas but lived in New York in the 60s. He told me all about living with John Sebastian and how they (people of the East Village) pitched in to buy Richie Havens false teeth, which he couldn’t wear because they made him sing funny.

I liked John. He had a framed check from AFTRA for 15 cents that included the envelope it was sent in with a 25 cent stamp on it. The day we transferred the old system for taking messages to computer John turned white. I thought he was going to die from the stress. Neither of us knew how to run it.

John had a bad liver. He was an ex-drinker. For a month, he gave away all of his possessions to the employees. He had two of everything except his VW and his .38 Special he kept in his desk. He politely and seriously talked to me about helping him end it. He had been really sick for a while. It was a major request and somewhat daunting. I stalled. When John died, they had his funeral at a local Hollywood playhouse. A lot of people came out, mostly old actors and actresses. John was a good guy. He never asked me to imagine him as a woman.

M replaced John. The job was offered to me but the owner and I both knew I was NOT the man for the job. M was an ex-soap opera star who left the soaps for greener pastures. He told me great stories of making out with Julia Roberts before she was famous and how Tom Cruise would walk around at auditions introducing himself to EVERYONE. His first order of business was to ask all the employees if they knew where John’s .38 pistol was. Apparently it was no longer in the drawer.

A major record label took my band out for drinks one night… all we could stand. When I woke up, I was not sure I was going to make it. It was Sunday, which would be a slow day at work, but I was really feeling BAD. I remembered people talking about the “hair of the dog that bit you” and I thought I’d give it a shot… it couldn’t get much worse. There was a bottle of Jack in the refrigerator at the band apartment and I took two BIG drinks off of it. By the time I got to the office I knew I was in trouble. I got sick in the bathroom down the hall. I had to answer the phones and then run down the hall to be sick. Even being a slow day, I knew I was completely screwed. I called all the employees to try to get someone to replace me. No luck. I called our new fearless leader M and begged him to come in. He had run a marathon the day before and said he couldn’t. I pushed the situation and he said NO. I passed out for a while, which was a relief. Running back and forth to the bathroom was killing me. I awoke to the ring of the phone and I picked it up. The man on the other end started yelling that I had answered his line the wrong way and said, “What if this was an important call?” I said it’s Sunday. I don’t think anyone important is going to call you.” He started screaming at me and I hung up. His line rang again and I answered it properly (“Most Beat Records, can I help you?”). He was screaming so much all I could understand were a few curse words he was using with the word “you” in front of them. I said, “Fuck you,” and hung up. I was dying and just thought about walking out. The phone rang again and I answered his line, “Most Beat Records, can I help you?” and he said, “I am coming down there to kill you!” I said it would be a giant favor if he did and that I was not feeling well and that I only had an hour of work left so he should hurry the fuck up. I hung up the phone, ran down the hall to the bathroom, came back and passed out again.

I woke up to the sound of the door opening in the front office. I looked up to see a man walking towards me. He reached down with both hands and grabbed me by my shirt as he lifted me out of the chair I reached down and grabbed a screwdriver that was on the desk next to me. As he lifted me to my feet, screaming in my face, I raised the screwdriver over my head, looked in his eyes and thrust the screwdriver down towards his chest. I have never seen anyone jump away so fast. He jumped back so fast and so hard he smashed his entire body against the back wall. I was shaking a lot but standing still. The adrenaline was the only thing keeping me from puking. He backed towards the door and yelled, “You should be careful who you fuck with, mother fucker… I have a gun in my car!” I remember thinking, “Why is it in his car?” Then he says, “You don’t know who I am.” And I say “Yes I do.. you don’t know who I AM!” I then explained our connection.

He (the guy there to kill me) was friends with my bass player, who (ironically) had for years talked about stabbing people with a screwdriver and actually carried one in his fanny pack since the day he – a straight guy – was gay-bashed on Santa Monica Blvd.. He (the guy there to kill me) knew that we were about to sign a major record deal and had probably been promised by my bass player that, at some point, we could help him get his label of the ground.

As lame as it sounds, he saw me in a different way in that moment. He starts apologizing. “If I would have known who you were, bla bla bla.” I tell him it shouldn’t matter who I am. He leaves, and in 5 minutes the phone rings. He’s calling me from the lobby and asks if I need him to bring me anything. I say no and say “We’re cool and I’m sorry I almost stabbed you with a screwdriver.” He said he was sorry too and that he’s glad I didn’t stab him either because K (my bass player) talked about stabbing people all the time, so he knew I meant it.

My 3rd shift relief – a slightly overweight goth girl – walked in and said, “Is everything alright?” I said, “Thank god you’re here,”  gathered my things and walked out the front door. The situation was never mentioned again.

One day two men in suits came in with two cops and said they were with the IRS and that we should take our belongings and leave. I took the DVD player and left through the front door onto Sunset Blvd. It was a hot summer day and the sun felt good on my face. I had a feeling like a man on parole.

6565 Sunset Blvd