On my first official day of work with the Agency, I went to the main office on Wilshire Boulevard and was told to report immediately to a separate location in West Hollywood. The Agency was expanding and setting up a new office, and I was one of the lucky elite who would help set up that office. It sounded neither lucky nor elite to me, but like some of the lousy temp jobs I’d hoped were a thing of my past.
It was a standard spring day in Los Angeles, which meant the weather was ten time better than anywhere else in the country, so I didn’t really mind the drive. The address they gave me led to a small but very modern office building on Sunset Boulevard. There was a moving truck parked in front of the building and the movers were taking office furniture into the building. No one had given me a suite number, so I followed the movers to what I presumed would be the new offices. It turned out we had the entire building, so I asked “¿Habla ingles?” until I found a mover who spoke enough English to find out where I could find the people from the Agency. He pointed to a door down the hallway and said, “Conference room.”
The only way you know it was a conference room was that it was big and there was a picture window. There was no table, just a bunch of chairs and a single desk. I recognized two administrative assistants I had met during orientation: Dee and Jorden with an E. They were both surprised to see me. Neither was sure why I had been sent there or who I was supposed to see. They quickly surmised I must have been sent to help them, which came as a surprise because no one had ever assigned them a PA before. While they discussed what duties to give me, I stood near the windows and watched the movers unloading the truck.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this job?” Dee asked. She was holding a piece of notebook paper with a list of items or tasks. She seemed to be offering the list to me.
“Of course,” I said, reaching for the list.
She drew the list back. “What are you doing?”
“I thought you were handing that to me,” I said. “Sorry.”
She frowned. “I’m going to read the list to you,” she said. “Can you remember everything, or do you need to write it down?”
“Why don’t you just give me the list?” I asked.
“This is my copy,” she said. “Do you need your own copy?”
“It would make probably make things easier.”
She sighed loudly and ripped a piece of paper out of her notebook. She bent over a nearby desk and began copying the list. “The ability to remember things is a skill you’ll have to develop,” she told me.
“I can copy that if you want,” I said.
“I might not be able to read your handwriting,” she answered.
“That would be my copy anyway,” I said. “Besides, I have very good penmanship.”
She ignored me and kept copying.
Jorden was unpacking files and stacking them on the floor. “Do you need some help with that?” I asked her.
“Do I look like I need help?” She spoke quietly but distinctly.
“Sorry,” I said, thinking I had angered her.
“No, seriously,” she said. She looked at me, her eyes wide. “Do I look busy? I’m trying to look busy.”
“You look busy,” I said. “What are you going to do with all those files?”
“Put them in a filing cabinet.” She acted as if it was the stupidest question she had ever heard.
“Well, I was watching them unload that truck,” I told her. “I didn’t see any filing cabinets.”
“They have the whole office on that truck,” she said. “We ordered a whole office suite.”
“There’s a lot of chairs and desks, even some sofas and such,” I said. “But no filing cabinets.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure because I thought maybe this was one of those paperless offices I’ve been reading about since the eighties.”
“We ordered a whole office suite.” She turned away from me and shouted to Dee, who was less than ten feet away from us. “Dee, we ordered a complete office suite, right?”
“I didn’t order anything,” Dee said. “You ordered it. It was your job.”
“But I ordered the complete suite, didn’t I?”
“You were supposed to order the complete suite,” Dee replied. “I don’t know if you did but you were supposed to.”
“Do you want me to go talk to the movers and see?”
They both looked at me as if they had forgotten I was there. “What would that accomplish?” Dee asked.
“They might know.”
“They won’t know whether we ordered a complete suite.”
“Maybe not, but they’ll know if there are filing cabinets on that truck.”
They looked at me again, then looked at each other. “Okay,” Dee said. “You go talk to the delivery guys. Jorden, you find out if we ordered a complete suite.”
I walked outside and found two movers who were less active than the others. They were leaning against one of the trucks and having a conversation. One of them appeared older. The name tag on his shirt read “Ben.” The other guy, “Sam,” had longer hair and seemed younger. “One of you guys the supervisor?”
“Who says there’s a supervisor?” They chuckled.
“Can you tell me if there are any filing cabinets on the truck?”
“I don’t know,” Sam told me.
“You don’t know?”
“I haven’t looked.”
“Are there supposed to be filing cabinets?” Ben asked.
“Yeah,” Sam said. “Have you checked the manifest?”
“We ordered a complete suite,” I told him.
Sam shrugged. “That doesn’t mean anything to me.”
“Complete suite don’t have filing cabinets,” Ben said. “At least, I don’t think it does.”
“So there aren’t any filing cabinets in the truck?”
“I told you, we haven’t looked.”
“You said something about a manifest? Would the filing cabinets be listed on there?”
“Maybe,” Sam answered.
“Probably,” Ben answered.
“Maybe we can take a look at that and see if it has any filing cabinets listed.”
“You can look at the manifest or you can look in the truck,” Ben said. “I know which one I’d do if it was me.”
I walked to the back of the truck and the two of them followed. Most of the truck was unloaded now. Only a few desks remained. “No filing cabinets,” I observed.
“Nope,” Ben said.
“I don’t see any either,” said Sam.
“And you say it’s not a mistake?” I asked. “Or rather, it’s our mistake, if there is a mistake?”
“I didn’t say that,” Ben told me. “I just said I don’t think a complete suite comes with filing cabinets.”
“How is an office suite complete if it doesn’t have filing cabinets?” I asked.
“Maybe it’s one of those paperless office,” Sam said.
“I keep reading about those,” Ben offered.
“Bottom line,” Sam said. “If you ordered a complete suite, and there’s no filing cabinets, then there’s no mistake.”
“At least, not our mistake,” Ben confirmed.
“I got that,” I said. I decided to take a different approach. “What if we need some filing cabinets?”
“You can order them,” Sam told me. “Just go online.”
“How long will it take to get them out here?”
Ben thought about it. “Probably no more than three days. Assuming they are in stock.”
“What if we needed them today?”
“I don’t know about that,” Ben said cautiously. “If you didn’t order them to be here today, I don’t know how we’re going to get them here today.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed. “It’s not like we drive around with filing cabinets on the truck.”
“Keeping in mind that I’m not telling or suggesting how you do your job,” I said. “Is there any way someone could make a phone call and maybe someone else could bring some filing cabinets, as if we had ordered them and they were supposed to be on the truck?”
“I don’t know about that,” Ben answered. “There’s the whole matter of the sales department, and inventory, and that’s all before you even get to shipping, which is mostly scheduling.”
“Maybe there’s a way around sales and inventory and scheduling. Maybe someone can talk to someone in shipping,” I said. “You never ran into a problem similar to this, where maybe somebody made a mistake and you had to get a dozen file cabinets somewhere quick?”
Ben shook his head. “There’s procedures, and policies, in place for all that.”
“Bottom line,” Sam added. “If you didn’t order them to be here today, they won’t be here today.”
“Somebody ordered filing cabinets,” I said.
“You got the paperwork to show that,” Ben told me. “I’ll get you those filing cabinets today. Otherwise, you won’t get them until Monday at the earliest.”
“Unless you get lucky,” Sam said. “And some filing cabinets fall of a truck right out here on the sidewalk.”
They both laughed and then looked at me with sly smiles.
I got it. “Does that happen a lot?” I asked. “Filing cabinets falling off of trucks?”
“More than you’d think,” Sam answered.
“I don’t know how I’d get that lucky,” I told them.
“Maybe you’ve got a lucky number,” Ben suggested.
“Or a favorite President,” Sam added.
“My lucky number is nine,” I told them. “But I’ve always been fond of Andrew Jackson.”
“I like Ulysses S. Grant myself,” Sam replied. “And fifty is my lucky number.”
“Fifty is a good number,” Ben agreed.
“It’s good you have the same lucky number,” I said. “Maybe you double your chances that way. Let me go check on that paperwork.”
When I got back to the office, the other movers were busy setting up the entire suite. Dee and Jorden were in what they said was the “break room,” but it looked like every other empty office to me. Jorden was trying to explain to Dee about the complete suite and its lack of filing cabinets. Dee could not imagine a complete office suite without filing cabinets. When I entered the room, Dee turned to me for confirmation.
“How can the complete suite be complete if there are no filing cabinets?” she asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not a philosophy major.”
“I’m trying to explain it to her,” Jorden said. “But she keeps getting stuck on this one point.”
“I just don’t understand it,” Dee said. “I ordered the complete suite. How is the suite complete?”
“Maybe they thought we already had filing cabinets,” Jorden theorized. “A lot of office do. They just move their old paperwork in their old filing cabinets.”
“Maybe the filing cabinets are on the truck and those movers just don’t know it.”
“They’re not on the truck,” I told her. “I can confirm that.”
“So we have no filing cabinets,” Dee accepted. “What do we do now?”
“They said the earliest they could get them here would be Monday,” Jorden added.
“I talked to the movers about that,” I said. “There might be a way to get them here today.” I explained what the movers had suggested.
“Filing cabinets that fell off a truck?” Dee said. “Doesn’t that mean they were stolen?”
“Plus,” Jorden said. “Won’t they be damaged?”
“No, it doesn’t mean that. Not literally,” I said. “I think what they mean is they will dummy up the paperwork that says we ordered the complete suite with filing cabinets, and that way we can get the filing cabinets rushed over today.”
“Why would they do that?” Dee asked.
“Because we’re going to pay them to do it.”
“A bribe?” Jorden seemed excited.
“Think of it as an incentive bonus.”
“Fifty bucks,” I said. “Each.”
“Fifty dollars to each of the movers?” Dee said loudly. “That’s over 600 dollars.”
“I think they just mean the two of them,” I said.
“So a hundred dollars?”
“Where are we going to get a hundred dollars?”
“Do you have a petty cash fund?” I asked.
“Yes,” Jorden said. “But it’s for pizza at office parties.”
“Plus, we don’t have it with us.”
I took out my wallet. “How much do each of you have?” I had thirty myself.
“We’re not going to pay them!”
“You want the filing cabinets don’t you?”
“But someone already paid for them to be delivered.”
They were both staring at me, angry and confused. “I’ve only been here a few minutes,” I said. “I’ve only been in LA few a couple of days even,” I told them. “I was an English major,” I added, as if that was something applicable to this situation.
The anger melted from their faces, which were now completely filled with confusion.
“Where I’m from,” I began the story. “Things like this happen all the time. It’s Thanksgiving and you want a twenty-pound turkey. The guy at the market says the biggest he’s got is eighteen. So you mention how if you could find a twenty-pound turkey, you’d be willing to pay extra, above and beyond the pound-for-pound price.”
“Who wants a twenty-pound turkey?” Dee wondered.
“It’s not even close to Thanksgiving.” Jorden sighed.
“Never mind that,” I said quickly, suddenly realizing the weakness of metaphor when dealing with alarmed pragmatists. “The point is, you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you can, if you’re willing to pay for it.”
They nodded, looked at each other, nodded again, and walked to their purses. Together we had enough to provide each of the movers a $40 incentive. I took the offer to the laborers. Ben and Sam accepted the cash but with enough reluctance that I was certain one of those filing cabinets really would fall off the truck when it arrived.
“Look, I know it’s short of fifty,” I explained. “But let me ask you both something.” I looked around conspiratorially and motioned them close. “You know what we do here, right?”
They exchanged glasses and shrugged. “Some kind of talent agency,” Ben offered.
“Sure, generically speaking,” I said. “But I mean specifically.”
“What specifically?” Sam asked.
“What we do here, specifically.”
“What do you do here, specifically?” Ben asked.
“We represent beautiful, talented women who perform in a particularly lucrative and high-pressure segment of the entertainment industry.”
They both frowned at me. Then Sam said, “I think he means porno.”
“I know he means porno,” Ben said. “That sounds like one of their ads in the LA Weekly.”
“Very perceptive,” I replied. “But I don’t mean porno. I mean underwear models.”
“You mean like Victoria’s Secret?” Sam asked.
“I mean exactly that,” I responded.
“What’s your point?” Ben demanded.
“Maybe I could get you a signed photo from one of our clients. Something personal.”
“Instead of twenty bucks, you’re offering us a glossy?”
Everyone in this town knows the lingo. “Not just one,” I said. “As many as you want.”
Ben started to object but Sam tapped him on the shoulder. “We could probably sell those on eBay, man.”
Sam negotiated. I promised them ten photos each, eight-by-ten color glossies, signed but not personalized. When we reached an agreement, Ben took out his cell phone and made a call. It was quick. “Turns out there’s a truck full of those filing cabinets making a delivery just down the street,” he told me. “The guys stopped to get a milkshake. They should be here in a minute or two.”
They moved the filing cabinets off the trucks as I gave Dee and Jorden the news. “So we need twenty or so signed photos of various models,”I said. “Preferably in their underwear.”
“That’s easy!” Jorden exclaimed. She went to one of the boxes and began pulling photos.
“We get requests like this all the time,” Dee explained. “So we keep dozens of these on hand.”
“They’re all over eBay,” Jorden said as she slipped the photos into two envelopes.
“Well, don’t tell these guys,” I said. “They think it’s some kind of gold mine.”
When the movers were finished I handed them the envelopes. “You may not want to put those all on eBay at once,” I offered.
They took the envelopes and left without a word. I wondered if I’d see them again. Probably not. I’d bet the $40 each was still twice what they expected to get.
It was the end of the day by the time the movers had left. The office was mostly set up. All the heavy pieces of furniture were in place, but there were still chairs placed here and there. The boxes of paperwork and supplies were still mostly unpacked. I walked around the empty offices looking for something to do. Jorden found me and told me to come back to the conference room. Dee was ordering pizza and wanted to know if I was a vegetarian.
“People hunt and kill vegetarians where I’m from,” I told Jorden.
“Wow,” she said. “I bet you’re glad you got away from that!”
To be continued…