As much as my passion -- not to mention my respect -- for the news business has plummeted over the past several years, there is one fact about the job which I never take for granted: for the most part, it requires very little contact with the general public. Field producers are often called upon not only to interact with the average man on the street, but occasionally to placate, cajole, strong-arm, sweet-talk or perform whatever other action might be necessary to get him to say or do what will make their story work so that they can get it done and return to the important business of drinking themselves to death. Show producers on the other hand don't typically have this problem; for the most part -- barring mammoth stories like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina or the Runaway Bride -- we're lucky enough to stay safely locked in an air-conditioned building with hot and cold running coffee, a constant supply of Fritos and the obligatory secret bathroom tucked away in some remote corner where you can sit for hours undisturbed should it become necessary to do so.
One of the more memorable moments from the infancy of my career, in fact, involves a particular morning when I sat with one of my managers in an empty conference room and watched him delete -- one by one -- every single suggestion, rant, complaint and compliment which had been left on the station's viewer comment line. His words to me when the speaker-phone finally proclaimed that the message box was empty: "If they have the time to call us, we don't really want them watching anyway." Although the extreme nature of this point-of-view was specific to the newsroom in which we worked -- you'd have to see the on-air product to truly understand -- for someone who had always believed Sartre's claim about hell being "other people," this was nothing short of a revelation. It was the moment that I felt as if I had finally found a brotherhood which would accept and laud my misanthropy, rather than look upon it with the usual amount of scornful disapproval.
I had found a home among the assholes.
Despite the fact that I'm often accused of proudly exhibiting the interpersonal skills of a 13-year-old runaway, I admit to a certain envy of those who have the ability to deal with people they don't much like without having every interaction with those people end in a fist fight. This is one of the reasons -- one of the many -- that I hold my wife in such high esteem; unlike me, she has the ability not simply to deal with people in a perfunctory fashion, but to actually make it seem as if each individual she interacts with is the only person on the planet. A cynic like myself would see this kind of behavior as a natural talent for manipulation, and would admire it as such; normal people would just say she's incredibly nice. Whether it's the Jedi Mind Trick, genuine concern for others or some combination of the two, her ability to put people at ease and her desire to make them comfortable is preternaturally unparalleled.
This is important, being that she's in the hospitality industry.
Jayne is a manager at one of New York City's most stylish, hip and expensive hotels. This means that for ten hours a day -- sometimes more -- she willingly caters to the every little whim of a clientele which generally sees nothing ridiculous about the entire concept of chihuahuas in handbags. She does this with style, grace and a sense of responsibility that I sometimes find perplexing, and other times flat-out horrifying. There's no shortage of irony to the fact that many of the celebrities I thoroughly despise and openly skewer are the same ones my wife bends over backward for, in an effort to ensure that their bottled water is specifically Fiji and is always chilled to exactly 43-degrees.
Many an evening has Jayne come home, kicked off her high-heels to reveal scarred and inconspicuously bandaged feet, and regaled me with stories of the obscene demands of one spoiled, self-obsessed uber-celeb or another -- and the figurative mountains she and her staff are forced to climb to make sure those demands are met. One hugely popular female singer refuses to allow anyone other than her manager to look at or address her, books a separate suite for her dog and insists that the entire menu be reworked to reflect her incredibly exacting tastes; One young TV star will settle for nothing less than having an entire upper floor to himself, while his staff of handlers is forced to double-up in a pocket of smaller rooms far below. Some throw angry fits if they find unapproved colors of M&Ms in their complimentary Nambe' bowls; some lock the cleaning staff out for a week and leave the room looking as if they'd exploded a hand-grenade under the bed. They have fifteen pages of requirements; they have a thirty person entourage. And they expect nothing less than unwavering compliance from my wife and her staff of underpaid and overwhelmed wage-slaves.
Although heaping the requisite amount of derision on it in private, my wife rationalizes the acceptance of -- and acquiescence to -- such an offensive sense of entitlement by reminding herself and others of the obvious: these people are paying good money for the right to demand anything they want, and it's her job to ensure that they get whatever that might happen to be.
It would be a purely Quixotic gesture to suggest that anyone capable of making such juvenile stipulations -- anyone so psychotically intolerant of even the most infinitesimal inconvenience -- is inherently undeserving of having those stipulations met; of course it's true -- and of course the realization that it's true changes absolutely nothing. It does however bring up a fact which becomes indisputable when you consider that not every celebrity who walks through the doors of my wife's place of work insists that the entire world -- and everyone in it -- accept that reality is his or her own private fantasy and act accordingly.
That fact: making a lot of money doesn't make you a bad person -- making a lot of demands does.
The other night I showed up at the end of Jayne's shift to meet her for dinner. As we walked out the doors and away from the hotel -- safe in the knowledge that in the penthouse high above us, the hugely popular singer's life would be free of the catastrophe of sub-standard chicken salad for at least one more night -- there was an old woman sitting on the sidewalk. She was hunched over silently with her back against a wall.
In her hand was a small sign; it read, "Lost job. Have three children. Need money for food. Anything will help."